I recently spent two weeks in the Philippines, exploring the islands of Palawan, Cebu, Bohol and Panglao. Our trip was full of sunshine, turquoise sea and beautiful sunsets.
But the island that really stood out for me, with its stunning beaches, untouched islands and out-of-this-world snorkelling spots was definitely Palawan. If you’re looking for paradise on earth (and underwater), Palawan Island, Philippines might just be the destination for you.
The best season to visit the Philippines is during the dry, cooler season, from December to February. We went in November, and despite getting heavy rain for a couple of days at the start, we generally had good weather. The benefit of going during the shoulder season is that everywhere will be less crowded.
You can fly direct from London with Philippines Airlines, or stop over on the way with other airlines such as Emirates. We flew with Cathay Pacific and had a 2-day stopover in Hong Kong on the way out, which was a nice bonus.
After flying into Manila for the night, our first stop was El Nido on Palawan Island. We boarded a small plane from Manila first thing in the morning, which took about an hour and 15 minutes.
After arriving at the most charming little airport, we jumped into a tuk-tuk with our suitcases strapped to the back and whizzed off on a 20-minute, bumpy ride to El Nido. This thriving little town offers a variety of places to stay, restaurants, massage places, shops to browse, and a beautiful long white sandy beach with warm turquoise water lapping at the shore.
One of the main attractions of El Nido is to do an island-hopping boat tour and you can choose between four main itineraries. You will head off about 8.30am and won’t be back until about 4 or 5pm. It’s a fun day of riding across the ocean with 20 to 30 people per boat, plus a few other boats as well.
You will snorkel amongst corals and will see some really beautiful sea life, beaches and lagoons. To top it off, the Captain and his crew will cook up a feast of freshly-caught barbecued fish with salads and exotic fruits, and you’ll be able to enjoy lunch on an uninhabited island, which is just wonderful.
As most visitors come to El Nido to explore the nearby islands and snorkel in the clear waters, the town itself is very quiet during the day. But in the evening, El Nido really comes alive: there’s a great vibe and everyone is out mooching around the shops, eating, drinking, mingling, dancing and singing.
From El Nido, we booked a minibus to take us down to the secluded village of Port Barton. The journey took about 4.5 hours and is a good way to see some of the countryside, going through jungles, mountains and rice fields.
Port Barton is a delightful, unspoiled little village on the coast, surrounded by lush jungle. It offers mainly basic accommodation, and many places don’t have electricity all day (expect power cuts when it’s on!), but you will be rewarded with its natural beauty and super-chilled vibe. It’s somewhere you might just want to stay for a while, peg up your hammock, read some books and hang out.
In my opinion, the boat trips from Port Barton are far superior to those available from El Nido and are very much like Port Barton: laid-back! There are fewer boats and fewer people on each boat, so the snorkelling spots are less crowded, and you’ll also have more time at the different stops. The ocean is crystal clear and the snorkelling exceptional: we saw all kinds of fish (from tiny ‘Nemo’ Clownfish to huge Lapu-Lapu Grouper fish), starfish, plenty of colourful corals (soft corals, stony corals, jar corals…) and even swam with sea turtles!
The boat will stop at some spectacular islands, and your day will have plenty of opportunities to enjoy walking on pristine beaches and swimming in the shallow turquoise sea. Again, we were treated to a wonderful barbecue seafood lunch. We really felt we had a very special day on this trip, one to remember.
Back on the shore, if you’re looking to relax after so much excitement, why not treat yourself to a massage on the beach? You can just lay back and listen to the waves, dreamy!
The evenings in Port Barton are very relaxed. Everyone wanders along the beach to watch the beautiful sunset, then most people find a bar to sip a cocktail or head out to a restaurant for some fresh seafood. You can just take your time and enjoy a leisurely dinner, maybe listen to a local playing guitar and singing some songs, and you should definitely try the delicious home-made banana rum!
An important note is that you’ll need to bring cash with you to Port Barton. There are no ATMs and you’ll find that credit cards are not accepted anywhere, so you must come with enough cash to pay for everything. The nearest town with an ATM from here is Puerto Princesa, which is 3 hours away!
These are two very different places on Palawan, both offering a different vibe and pace. El Nido is more developed, meaning you’ll be spoilt for choice for hotels, restaurants and bars, but if you’re looking for a more isolated, paradise-like place, then Port Barton will fit the bill. Personally, we would not have missed out on either of them!
If you’re interested in visiting Palawan in the Philippines, get in touch. We can help you arrange every aspect of your trip, including multi-stop flights, transfers, accommodation and tours. We can also tailor the holiday to your style and budget, just ask! Call Travel Nation on 01273 005 891 or request a quote by email.