Palawan

Every island is an adventure

No. 1 island destination, proclaimed by the world’s top travel magazines

For several years now, Palawan in the Philippines continues to take pride of place in the annual “best” lists of such upscale travel magazines as Conde Nast Traveler, Travel + Leisure, and National Geographic Traveler.

And for the best of reasons: this archipelago of 1,780 islands and islets offers one-of-a-kind tropical adventures and astonishing vistas, including limestone bluffs rising from the sea, secluded sugar-fine white beaches, awesome scuba diving sites, and swathes of coral reefs and virgin forests, among other superlative treats.

What’s more, this island-province straddling the South China Sea and the Sulu Sea is not beset by tourist overcrowding…yet.

Boasting not just one but two UNESCO World Heritage Sites, Palawan is a treasure trove of wildlife and biodiversity—and gentle, friendly people welcoming you to its thrilling seascapes and mountainscapes.

Palawan has a lot to offer for adventure ­seekers out there. From fun water activities such as snorkeling and diving to exciting island­ hopping and caving, the island has what it takes to keep any outsider want to stay.

The Puerto Princesa International Airport in Palawan’s major island is the main gateway, with daily flights from Manila, while the Francisco B. Reyes Airport in Busuanga Island welcomes tourists smack right into Palawan’s picturesque northern islands.On land, you can hop on motorcabs, motor taxis, jeepneys, buses, vans, and minivans to go to most destinations. Cars are not recommended due to intermittent stretches of rough roads.

While urban hubs such as Puerto Princesa have ATM machines and most popular tourist establishments accept major credit cards, it is best to carry cash with you when exploring the island villages.

The Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, at the St. Paul Mountain Range on the main island’s western coast, some 80 km. from the city center of Puerto Princesa, is the best way to start your Palawan adventure. You can paddle-boat your way through this underground river, which has been named a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is also included in the New7Wonders of Nature.A great side trip to the underwater river ride is a traipse to nearby Ugong Rock. The more adventurous travelers might wish to squeeze through its holes and cracks to reach the top of this 75-foot limestone formation jutting up the sea.Off Coron town in Busuanga Island are the Coron Reefs—ancient limestone cliffs quietly cradling seven lakes. The reefs not only teem with an amazing aquatic wildlife but they also offer dramatic dive sites: a dozen World War II Japanese shipwrecks, which Forbes Traveler Magazine selected as among the top 10 scuba sites in the world.

When you’re in an archipelago within an archipelago (a quarter of the 7,200 islands in the Philippines can be found in Palawan), you can have your fill of island-hopping, swimming, boating, snorkeling, scuba diving, kayaking, hiking, caving, and camping in the great outdoors. You can go fishing, or pick sea shells in the shallows, or harvest sea weeds—and eat them, too. Or watch the locals scamper up sea-battered cliffs to harvest yummy birds’ nests.

Claim your isolated white-sand beach getaway at the El Nido Marine Reserve Park. Sister island resorts offer cottages on stilts, giving you primal views, such as of giant clam gardens, in this faraway paradise.

At the Calauit Game Preserve and Wildlife Sanctuary, giraffes and zebras as well as mouse deer and bearded pigs are among a global mix of wildlife sharing space in this Noah’s ark of endangered species.

The Tubbataha Reef Marine Park, a nesting site of marine turtles and migratory birds, is another UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The Philippine national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal, famously called the country “the pearl of the Orient.” If you don’t know it yet, the best pearl buys are in Palawan. There are also fabulous handicrafts, shell crafts, woodcarvings, and handwoven bags to snap up. Haggling is part of the shopping experience.

Fresh seafood, of course. Lots of Filipino adobo, grilled meats, and vegetable-laden soups. And fresh fruits. Have fun looking for the yummiest coconut flan in Puerto Princesa. A number of European chefs have decided to stay all over Palawan, notably in El Nido, Coron, Port Barton, and Puerto Princesa, making the island-province a culinary adventure destination as well.

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