Puerto Princesa, El Nido and Coron. Where to visit in Palawan and how to get there
Palawan is an island an hour southwest of Manila. There are three main destinations in Palawan: the capital city of Puerto Princesa, the north-island village of El Nido, and the town of Coron, located on Busuanga Island, about an 8-hour boat ride north of El Nido. This post should help you make sense of what these places are and how to get around. Monthly rainfall info just added at end of this post. (Wow. This post has now had over 16,000 views. Thanks for reading, everybody!)
Before starting, here’s an overview of where these places are located.
Puerto Princesa is tiny for a regional capital city, with only 3 or 4 primary traffic roads. Although it has an airport with daily direct flights from Manila, it is incredibly provincial. People are friendly and welcoming and have that charming uncertainty you feel from people not quite sure how to deal with strangers. The city center is not anything special and is primarily a trike-congested series of dusty roads and run-down shops.
For most people, the main reason to visit Puerto Princesa is as a gateway to the now famous Underground River on the west coast of the island. (Pics, intel and a video here). Other than the Underground River tour, there is precious little to do around Puerto Princesa.
El Nido is on the northwest coast of Palawan. (See the “getting around” section below for details on how to get here) and is most famous for the island hopping tours that originate from there (Click for post about Tour A.). It’s also where I had my 48th birthday with some awesome travelers I met on the tour — check out the restaurant we ate at — Altrove — if you’re hungry for amazing pizza!
In spite of popular belief, El Nido is not a super expensive resort. Instead, it’s a fairly quiet beachside town that is populated almost entirely by tourists, or former tourists who have set up shop there. The streets are narrow and lined with shops, tour agencies, cafes, hotels, guest houses, and some pretty decent restaurants. Surrounding the city are sheer mountains, both on the road into the town, as well as lying in front as islands you can see as you have your morning coffee, thanking your lucky stars that you are lucky enough to experience such impressive beauty.
Coron is a town on Butsuaga Island, about 8-9 hours boatride north of El Nido. It’s a part of the Palawan region, but an entirely separate island.
As with El Nido, Coron is a gateway community for people planning to island hop. Coron city itself is like a very tiny…and expensive…version of Puerto Princesa. It’s cluttered with trikes and doesn’t have much in the way of flavor or entertainment. This might change, however, now that there are direct flights available from Manila.
Or maybe not. Coron tours are more expensive overall than El Nido, as you have to pay 100-200 pesos to the local government for each and every beach area you visit (in El Nido you pay 200pesos for an all-areas 10-day pass). While some might be just fake charges, anything where you get an official receipt means it’s government supported. This money clearly isn’t being channeled back into the Coron infrastructure. Which, in the Philippines, means that is IS being poured into the new houses in Manila, swimming pools and high end cars of high ranking local politicians.
This actually pisses me off beyond belief since The Philippines SHOULD be kicking the tourism ass of Asia given its abundant natural wonders. I really hope this changes. If politicians would ensure that revenue is heavily re-invested in their community, things would improve quickly and dramatically. More people would have a reason to stay longer and spend more in the town instead of just for the tours. This kind of spending would go directly toward the local community.
If you don’t have the time or stamina to get over to El Nido, Coron is a great place to do some island hopping mostly because it’s an easy direct flight from Manila. Check out the Sunz en Coron hotel for a quiet and atmospheric place to stay.
Getting around Palawan
To Palawan and Coron
Fly direct from Manila
El Nido to / from Palawan: Daytripper Van
I highly recommend booking the 6-hour Daytripper van ride. Charging 900 pesos (approx $20) one-way between Puerto Princesa and El Nido, these guys have an amazingly well run booking system. They pick you up at your hotel (if you’re going from Puerto Princesa) and they even give you a call the next morning with the exact pick up time. The van itself is pimped – very comfortable and has a great suspension – which you’ll appreciate on the VERY windy and bumpy bits of road. Minimal bobblehead action all the way! It was a safe, comfortable trip that got us to El Nido on time.
Note that vans are not allowed past the final checkpoint of El Nido, so you’ll need to take a 50-peso trike ride to get in or out of the town proper.
El Nido to / from Coron: Ferry
The other option to get to El Nido – one that I don’t recommend – is the 8- or 9-hour boat ride from Coron port. It costs about 1800 pesos. Be sure to do it on a nice-weather day. I don’t even want to think how bad it would have been in rough seas. And go after your morning bathroom routine and without drinking too much coffee before the trip. Believe me, you don’t want to be using the on-board toilet if you don’t have to, particularly if you’re a woman.
Palawan Rainfall Info
I must apologize to a dedicated reader who asked me about the weather…and I said that January is the best weather month in SE Asia. I was so wrong!!! It turns out she had a lot of rain in January…and when I checked…yes, January is still a heavy rain month. My deepest apologies for giving bad intel on that. Sorry, Leni!! Here is the actual average monthly rainfall for Palawan. April and May are now officially the best-weather months for Palawan.