I’m from Vietnam, and I’m proud to say we have our fair share of beautiful beaches. However in Southeast Asia, our neighbour the Philippines with their 7600+ islands do give us a run for our money 😀
My latest trip to Palawan in March 2018, especially to Coron, has left me mesmerized. With all the stunning beaches, crystal clear turquoise water and smooth white sand, it’s not hard to understand why this area has been voted among the best beaches in the world.
In this post, I’m gonna share with you my 8-day itinerary to El Nido and Coron – the two most famous destinations in Palawan, as well as some tips to make the most out of your trip. Feel free to ask any questions or give me your comments 🙂
1. an overview of palawan
when to go and how long
The weather here is quite similar to our Ho Chi Minh City with dry and rainy seasons. The best time to go is certainly during the dry season, especially from December to March, although this is also the time with the most number of tourists and accommodation is the most expensive. Avoid rainy season, especially June to October.
The duration of your trip should be at least 8-9 days, as the traveling alone will cost you 2 days already. There should also be some relaxing time planned in between.
If you can afford more time and would like to explore the beauty of Palawan more thoroughly, 15 days would be ideal. In that case, apart from El Nido and Coron, you can stop by Port Barton (a beautiful and secluded part that’s way less crowded), other off-the-beaten-path islands in Busuanga, or the underrated south of Palawan. In short, there is no shortage of places for you to discover 😀
Between El Nido and Coron I prefer Coron hands down. El Nido was probably enjoyable 5, 10 years ago when it was less popular, but now I fear it is slowly becoming a second Boracay – too crowded with crappy overpriced accommodation. Luckily I anticipated this in advance and planned to stop there first for 3 nights only, and keep the more beautiful Coron for later and longer (4 nights). El Nido is better in terms of nightlife and entertainment though – there are way more interesting restaurants, bars and activities here compared to a pretty small and boring Coron Town. But you cannot have both 😀
- The total cost of my trip was around 21 million Vietnam Dong (nearly US$1000). I suppose this is the average level (I did not book the cheapest hotels, and my flight ticket was bought only 2 weeks in advance so it was a bit expensive).
- The exchange rate when I went (March 2018) was 1 PHP = 445 VND, or 100 PHP = around US$2.
- Food in Palawan is quite reasonably priced in general by Southeast Asia standard, considering this is a touristy area. Just remember to always bargain a bit whenever you purchase things on the street.
- The most expensive and overpriced thing here is the accommodation, especially in El Nido. A crappy 2-star hostel will usually cost you almost 50$/night already, and some 3-star hotels even charge you over 100$/night! It’s crazy as when you look at the photos their facilities aren’t that much better to justify the price difference. The cheapest option is perhaps dorms, or you have to be willing to stay a bit far from the main town. For me, staying near the center was important as I didn’t have that much time in El Nido, so I had to opt for an overpriced 2-star Airbnb place, planning to spend most of my time outside. In Coron where accommodation is cheaper, I booked a better place.
You can use some of the coupons below for discounts if you book through Airbnb or Booking.com. These codes only apply upon signing up for the first time or first booking, but if not, just create a new account then you can use them.
Airbnb (you will be given 35$ upon signing up): http://www.airbnb.com/c/quynhh14
Booking.com (you will be refunded 10% of your booking value upon first booking): https://www.booking.com/s/44_6/quynh230
Internet in palawan
Internet here is pretty bad in general, both wifi and 3G, especially in El Nido. Even though we already bought a 3G sim card from Smart at the airport upon arriving, it was almost useless. We had nearly zero internet access during our time in El Nido. Luckily the situation improved a bit in Coron.
By the way, Smart sim card was recommended to us by our local friend but I guess it’s only good in big cities like Manila. For Palawan, you may try the other big provider Globe and see if it’s better.
- Insect repellent
- Aqua shoes
- Waterproof bags
Now let’s start our journey 😀
Day 1-3: EL NIDO
day 1: vietnam – El Nido
From Vietnam there’s no direct route, we have to transit through Manila. Cebu Pacific is the most common, however you must be willing to take the night flight for the cheapest fare. I booked only 2 weeks in advance so it was a bit expensive (around 330US$).
It’s a 3.5-hour flight. You will arrive around dawn and be welcomed with an absolutely gorgeous view of sunrise 😀
Next, to get to El Nido there are 2 ways to fly:
Option 1 (which I took): Fly by Cebu from Manila to Puerto Princesa (capital of Palawan), from there continue to take bus or sharing van to El Nido.
Since I had to wait for several hours before this flight, I had plenty of time to linger around the airport. Nothing much to do besides eating. There is this Pure Nectar shop with great cold-pressed juice and smoothies.
I got a Restore & Renew cold-pressed juice made from orange, lemon, ginger, tumeric, celery, basil, etc. (190P) which was very nice. Their chicken salad was good too.
After landing in Puerto, proceed to the arrival gate and you will see plenty of booths selling bus and van tickets to El Nido. You can buy directly here or in advance to be safe. Van would be faster but have less leg room, while bus is the opposite.
I bought van tickets through my Airbnb host at 500P/pax, the van was from Eulen Joy. In the beginning the driver was circling around a bit to look for more passengers, but after that it was quite ok. Totally it took about 5 hours, including a few toilet and dinner breaks.
Puerto Princesa Airport arrival gate (on the right) with lots of van/bus ticket booths (near the gate and on the other side where the green tent is)
Sharing vans to El Nido
Our dinner stop on the way
Their view to the sea is quite picturesque
They sell many different types of food
They look quite ok though I haven’t tried
It was around 9pm when we arrived at El Nido. All cars/buses have to stop at the terminal, and from there we need to take tricycle to hotels. If your hotel is near the main town, this will cost you just around 30P/pax extra.
Option 2: You can fly directly from Manila to El Nido by Air Swift (several flights per day). It will be a bit more expensive, but you will save lots of time. I would recommend this option if you choose to go to El Nido directly from Manila.
- If you can plan a longer trip, take option 1 to fly to Puerto, then you might consider going to the Underground River which is also one of the most famous sight-seeing spots in Palawan and an UNESCO heritage. I didn’t go as from the online photos it looked a bit similar to Phong Nha Ke Bang in Vietnam which I already visited.
- On the way to El Nido, you can also consider staying one or two nights in Port Barton and go island hopping around here. Port Barton also seems to be a beautiful place, and more importantly still relatively secluded and less developed (which is not the case of El Nido). It sounds ideal if you are the type who hate overcrowded touristy places (like me), like staying in nature and don’t mind a bit less comfort (there will be very limited electricity and internet access). There are tours when you can even stay a night in a tent on nearby islands.
- If you plan to stay a bit in Manila, you can also check out one of my previous posts about food recommendations here: https://www.facebook.com/nomadquynh/posts/1906426949613715.
Hotels in El Nido
I have one word to describe the hotels in El Nido: overpriced. I looked through many options but didn’t find anything really worth it, and ended up settling for CED Pension House through Airbnb at 142$ for 3 nights. Bear in mind this price is only hostel standard, and if you want some 3 or 4-star hotels, be prepared to pay over 100$/night! I know, it’s crazy. Anyway, the only things I liked about CED Pension was the location (very close to the main town center), the friendly staff, and the communicative host, but the room itself is small, dark and has plenty of insects (to be fair, this insect issue is common in Palawan in general as you’re on islands).
It was very close to El Nido beach, and there are lots of restaurants and bars where you can have dinner and chill out.
This is where we had dinner. Just choose whatever kind of meat or seafood you like and they will grill for you. The price was reasonable – 200P/pax including rice and some vegetables on the side.
day 2: nacpan beach
Since the previous day was quite tiring, I decided to spend this day mainly for relaxing. I started the day only around early afternoon to go to Nacpan – the beach that was rumored to be the best in El Nido.
Nacpan Beach is about 10km far from the main town. You can come here by renting scooter (around 600P/day), tricycle (1000-1500P) or shuttle van (600P/pax, return ticket). If you like adventure, try scooter, but if you prefer comfort, shuttle van is the best choice as the road (especially the last km or so) is quite bad, plus with the van you can return late (the last van back is at 7pm, enough for you to watch the beautiful sunset there)
Entrance fee at Nacpan: 50P/pax (tourism development fee paid to the government)
I was pleasantly surprised there were quite few tourists here, perhaps because of the far location. It feels a bit like a private beach 😀
The water is quite clean and ideal for swimming. Just beware of jellyfish sometimes
You can rent a tent and stay relaxing all day 😀
Nacpan is also famous as “Twin Beach”, as on its opposite there is another less well-known one named Catilang.
You can’t swim here but the view is also lovely
If you google you will see plenty of shots from up above with a stunning view of both beaches. However at the moment, due to some conflicts among the land owners, the road up the hill where you can take this shot is banned from the public.
Lovely kids playing on the beach
The sunset view’s beauty is beyond words
A completely unedited panorama photo
If you have one more day in El Nido, check out Las Cabanas Beach. It seems to be another popular sunset spot. The view would be less stunning but there are plenty of restaurants and bars there for you to chill at. It’s also closer to the main town (about 150P by tricycle)
day 3: island hopping tour a
These tours are must-try when you come to El Nido. There are 4 main ones: A, B, C and D, among which A & C are the most popular. There are also options of combined tours (eg. A&C) if you are really short of time but want to see as much as possible. I have only one day for island hopping, but decided to take tour A only as I don’t like cramming at all. Besides, for me El Nido was just a stepping point, as I was more interested in Coron.
I booked tour A at 1200P/pax including snorkel and lunch through my Airbnb host. The price is kind of fixed so you can book from anywhere.
If you come in a bigger group or have a bigger budget, consider renting a private tour. Tell the captain to take you to less crowded places or avoid the itinerary that all the other tours take, and it will likely be a much better experience.
You will get on the boat from this port. Bring a waterproof bag, or you can buy there
My tour A includes Seven Commandos Beach, Small Lagoon, Secret Lagoon and Big Lagoon. It should have also included another beautiful spot named Shimizu Island, however our boat departed a bit late as they were trying to get more tourists on (at the end our guide even announced that our boat was overload with 22 customers lol), so it was a bit bad that this stop was left out.
seven commandos beach
Our first stop of the day. The beach itself was quite nice with smooth white sand and clean turquoise water, however it was too crowded. Snorkeling can be fun here though.
The boats will stop outside, then you can swim in or hire a kayak for 400P. It’s a small lagoon so kayaking is not really worth it, you’d better save that for the big one later.
Snorkeling is nice here too.
As the name suggests, this lagoon is rather “secret”. You have to queue then climb into a hole on the rock like what the people below are doing in order to access it. However, the lagoon itself is pretty small and nothing really impressive, the sort of place you will love if you have all of it to yourself or your group, not when there are 20+ other strangers inside with you 😀
After this, we walked to a nearby beach for our BBQ lunch.
Our last stop and my favourite of the day. Again the boats stop outside, but here they say you can’t swim in (is that a rule to make us rent their kayak? The people in my tour weren’t very happy with this as the tour agents didn’t tell you that in the beginning). Anyway it’s worth to rent a kayak here as there are plenty of things to explore inside. Thanks to an insider tip from our guide, we found a very cool secret tunnel where only one boat can go in at a time. Chek that out when you’re here 🙂
We came back to the main land at around 4pm. I wanted to find a good place for dinner, and since we’re not big fans of local food, we opted for the place that’s rumored to have the best Neapolitan pizza in town – Altrove.
We somehow stumbled into Altrove Express instead, and when the waitress told us the other one is just around the corner but there will be a long queue, we decided to just stay here. At this express branch only pizza is served, whereas at the main one there are other dishes as well (antipasti, pasta, wine…)
I ordered half Mediterranean half Con Prosciutto crudo. It was indeed amazing – top quality ingredients on perfect crispy crust. Service just needs a bit of improvement though.
We went to Mezzanie nearby for a drink and dessert afterwards.
The churros could use a bit more sugar, but overall it was still quite good
From the second floor you can see Art Cafe next door, which is also a famous tour agency, cafe and restaurant complex in El Nido.
Me after a long day and a glass of wine. Time to go to bed 😀
day 4-8: coron
day 4: leaving for coron
First there are some geographical facts about Coron you need to understand:
- Coron Town is on Busuanga Island – the biggest island in the area, NOT Coron Island. It’s about 15km from Busuanga Airport, and most hotels, restaurants, etc are located here.
- Coron Island lies next to Busuanga. This is where you have some of the most beautiful and famous sight seeing spots in Coron.
The most popular route from El Nido to Coron main town is by fast ferry – Montenegro at 6AM or Phimal at 8.20AM. They say it’s a 3.5-hour journey but in reality it took 4,5-5 hours. The fare is the same, 1760P/pax, plus port fee 20P/pax. I went with Phimal this round.
There is no seat number so better come early if you want to sit next to each other. Prepare some jacket as it could get cold inside.
We arrived at Coron around 1PM. The weather was perfect.
From Coron Port, we took a tricycle to the main town at only 20P/pax.
This is Coron-Busuanga Road – the main road here where you will find most restaurants, cafes and bars. This town is quite small and still relatively undeveloped compared to El Nido.
Blue Moon Resto Bar where we found the best wifi since the beginning of the trip 😀
Blue Moon is owned by Discovery Island Resort & Dive Center where we stayed. This resort is located on a separate nearby island named Dicanituan, which takes about 10 min to get to.
Bayside area at Coron Town where we caught a boat to our resort. In the middle of the photo is Mt. Tapyas – one of the most famous sight-seeing spots here. You can climb to the top in around half an hour (700 steps) to get a view of the whole town
I booked this resort through Booking.com at around 3000P/night. From the online reviews, looks like it’s the perfect place for someone who likes a bit of quietness away from the fuss and buzz of the main town but still not too far from the center. After an overcrowded and expensive El Nido, this was a pleasant change for us.
When staying here, the only way into town is by the resort’s boat. It’s free during the day but you will have to book 30 min in advance. The boat ride itself is tranquil and lovely, especially during sunset.
A very skillful boat captain 😀
The rooms here are separate bungalows
The interior is pretty basic but clean and spacious. However there are no aircon, only a small fan so it can get quite humid during the day. There are also lots of ants since you’re surrounded by trees, so don’t keep any opened food inside.
There’s also a small pool. The food here is quite decent and reasonably priced.
day 5: coron island ultimate tour
There are many Coron Island tours offered, but this is the one covering the most famous spots.
We rent a private boat for 2500P/day, not including lunch and entrance fees. In total it’s about 900P/pax more expensive compared to public tours, but the experience was well worth it.
We asked the captain to arrange the itinerary so as to avoid crowded places, and this was where he recommended us to go first. There are 2 lagoons next to each other, and similar to El Nido, we have to swim in. Since it was way less crowded than El Nido, we enjoyed it much more.
Entrance fee: 200P/pax
balinsasa yaw/ siete pecados
The perfect spot for diving or snorkeling fans, with stunning coral reefs and schools of colourful fish. We loved it! Can you imagine there’s a whole different amazing world just below this tranquil surface?
Entrance fee: 100P/pax
This is a shipwreck site where you can see part of a sunken Chinese ship, as well as a lot of fish.
Entrance fee: 150P/pax
Then it’s lunch time. Staff on the boat is making a BBQ lunch for us.
Our lunch stop and perhaps also the prettiest beach I’ve seen since the beginning of the trip. Thanks to a tip from our resort’s manager, we asked the captain to take us here a bit late in order to avoid the crowded Chinese group tours 😀
Entrance fee: 150P/pax
The water was absolutely amazing with this stunning turquoise colour.
I really admire our Filippino friends for being able to keep most of the beaches so clean, despite the constantly growing number of tourists.
You can get beautiful shots from any angle.
As much as we wanted to stay more, it was soon time to leave Banol for the next and last stop of the day – which is perhaps also the most well known place in Coron – Kayangan Lake. It’s called the cleanest lake in the Philippines and its pictures appear regularly in any Palawan pamphlet.
Entrance fee is also most expensive here: 300P/pax
The view at the entrance is already stunning.
From where the boats are parked, you need to walk further inside.
From here, climb 300 steps up and you will reach the lake.
Ta daaaa, we arrived 😀 This is for sure the most crowded spot I’ve seen since the morning. It appears to be popular not only with foreign tourists but the locals also. Not hard to understand why. Just look at this beautiful water 🙂
The rule is very strict: you can’t swim here unless you wear the life jacket.
And this is the most famous view from the top of the hill. Isn’t it lovely!
After coming back to the main land, we took a rest then went for dinner. I chose Winnie’s which people say is one of the best restaurants here. It’s on the main road Coron-Busuanga and quite easy to find.
This place is owned by a Swiss – Filipino couple, therefore the menu features both Western and local food. The interior is quite simple and unassuming, and the price is reasonable. Their schnitzel (290P) was good.
Filipino style springrolls (80P), completely different from our Vietnamese ones 😀
Octopus salad (220P), quite interesting as they use balsamic sauce which is not what I usually have with this dish. It took a bit of getting used to, but after that it actually tasted good.
After dinner, we walked around to explore the main town.
A popular local streetfood stall selling grilled skewers
Pedro’s Gelato – the most famous dessert shop here. My Oreo cheesecake flavour tasted ok only though, perhaps because I’m already used to Ralf’s Gelato in Hochiminh City which is so so good 😀
day 6: resting
We have been moving around a lot, so I set aside one day just for sleeping in and relaxing at the resort’s pool.
The view from this pool is also lovely
Late afternoon, we took the boat again to go to town. I was so happy the first day when accidentally finding Altrove here as well. Turns out they have about 4-5 locations all over the Philippines.
This time I ordered a different pizza – Quattro Stagioni (Four Seasons) (470P). However I think I prefer the last one.
On the other hand, their special pasta – Crema e Funghi (580P) with Porcini mushroom, white wine and cream was amazing!
Their pizza chefs were very friendly 😀
One of the few bars with cool live music here
Another grilled skewer joint that seems popular among the locals
day 7: Island escapade tour
This is the second must-try tour in Coron. I booked it at 1700P/pax (some other agencies might offer 1400P only but I already went with Got Lucky Ticketing Services next to Altrove the previous day and trusted their service).
This time although it was a public tour, it was much better than the one I took in El Nido. There were only about 10 people instead of over 20, and the destinations were way more beautiful and less crowded. They were just a bit far from Coron town, about 1.5 hrs by boat.
bulog dos (AKA. waling waling island)
Our first stop of the day, also called the Maldives of the Philippines because of the signature turquoise water. During low tide in the morning, a sand path also appear in the middle of the ocean.
It’s not surprising that Two Seasons – the most expensive 5-star resort in Coron – is located here, their price according to Booking.com is around 600$/night ^^ It’s behind the hill on the left side of the below pic and off limit to the public.
Having been to Maldives already, I find Bulog Dos even more mesmerizing. The photos speak for themselves.
Heaven can only be as beautiful as this 😀
This is the view from top of the hill:
So many picture-perfect angles
I wished I could have stayed more at Bulog Dos but soon it was time to leave again. Our next stop – Banana Island – is another beautiful beach with long stretch of white sand and crystal clear water.
This was where we had a good BBQ lunch too
Our last stop of the day. Another perfect spot for swimming.
Boats have to stop on the opposite side of the beach, and from there we need to climb over this small path to get to the other side.
day 8: end of the trip
If you have a few more days here, these are some other tours for your consideration:
The fastest way to go back to Manila from Coron is via Busuanga Airport. As for me, I had to take ferry back to El Nido first since I would fly from Puerto Princesa. This time I went with the other fast ferry operator – Montenegro. The interior looks a bit nicer and there are clear seat numbers.
Puerto Princesa Airport’s departure gate.
One of the very few cafes inside the airport.
Goodbye beautiful Philippines. I’ll be back to explore more of your beautiful islands 😀
The Nomad Quynh