I'll just jump in and say it: the Philippines is quite possibly the most beautiful country on Earth.
I know there are lots of other contenders for the title and there's a good chance you're yelling at your screen right now, but I've never been so blown away by the world around me as I was on our Palawan trip. I mean, just look at it...
Why visit Palawan?
Palawan has a strange sense of familiarity about it, most likely because it looks like one giant movie set. Fun fact: quite a few Hollywood films have used Palawan as a backdrop. And from its perfectly placed palms trees to the lush blue seas that splash against the thousands of islands, Palawan has all the perfect paradise vibes that you thought only existed in Hollywood films (and travel brochures - remember those?).
But Palawan is very, very real - even if the photos you take will look like they've been Photoshopped. Despite all it has to offer our eyes and Instagram feeds, however, the Philippines is still relatively off the radar of most travellers.
Why? I have no idea. Who wouldn't want to see this cluster of 7000+ islands for themselves?
If you're ready for some adventure, beaches and boats, it's time to add the Philippines to your list - and there's no better place to begin than in Palawan.
Palawan is one of the most popular areas of the Philippines for visitors, but don't let that put you off. The Philippines is still relatively untouched by tourists compared to most of the surrounding countries in South-East Asia, even if it's beginning to grow. My advice? Get in there now before the secret spreads and the Philippines becomes super popular!
Before we start talking about the best places to visit in Palawan, let’s clear up where Palawan is. Palawan can refer to the island of Palawan, or the wider province of Palawan (in which Palawan island is located - confused yet?). The islands of Palawan are located on the western side of the Philippines, close to the north of Malaysia.
If you only have one or two weeks in Palawan, you’ll probably want to spend most of that time in two main places: El Nido, on Palawan island, and Coron (or Coron island).
Palawan has no shortage of things to do and see. From diving and snorkelling to kayaking into hidden lagoons, they're all the kind of things that dreams are made of but most of them are accessible only by boat.
To make of most of your Palawan trip, I'd recommend booking on to one of the many boat tours. There are plenty of boats you can join, but if you're travelling in a group - or don't mind splashing a little more money - a private boat with a local tour guide will make those memories even more special (and those 'grams even more like-worthy).
The Ultimate Palawan Itinerary
Let's get on to the good stuff, shall we? Here's how to spend your time in Palawan!
I've created this Palawan itinerary based on a 7-day trip to the region, but you could of course spend longer there. I know I could happily spend several months there, soaking up the sun and enjoying the 'laid-back with a side of adventure' lifestyle. If you do end up staying in Palawan longer, you can fill the extra days with more of the boat tours or exploring the mainland beaches and viewpoints. But these are the ones I'd recommend no matter how long your Palawan trip lasts.This Palawan itinerary begins in Coron and moves on to El Nido afterwards, but you could easily do things the other way around. There's no real advantage or disadvantage to either, so check the flights and take your pick!
Travel tip: Download the Skyscanner app to find the best flight deals
Coron Palawan itineraryDay 1: Arrive in Coron
The easiest way to get to Coron is to fly in from Manila. The flight takes just over an hour in total and there are several flights every day. Plus, you'll get to go on one of those super fun propeller planes.
As an increasingly popular destination, there are quite a few hotels in Coron and will probably be more opening soon. We checked into the Corto del Mar and had zero complaints. It'll set you back more than a hostel, but you'll get a very large room to unwind in, a beautiful pool to cool down in and the breakfast is second to none.
Hint: try the tapsilog, a dish consisting of marinated beef strips, fried egg and rice. It doesn't sound like breakfast but it sure makes a good one!
Other top-rated hotels in Coron:
Best budget option: MO2 Western Lagoon
Best luxury option: Two Seasons Coron Bayside Hotel
Day 2: Coron boat tour
Time to get out onto the water! Since a lot of this Palawan trip is water-based, we may as well get out on the sea as soon as possible, right?
Even though there's not as much to explore by boat as there will be in El Nido (we're getting there soon, don't worry!), there's enough to see in Coron to fill an entire day. And a little word of warning: it's going to be a long one.
If you can organise a private boat tour, set off bright and early to beat the crowds and ask to be taken to the following spots:
KAYANGAN LAKE: A beautiful lake that you'll just want to jump into! You'll also get a pretty amazing view on the short climb up to it.
THE TWIN LAGOONS: Remember that photo at the top of this post? That was taken at twin lagoons. the twin lagoons are best seen by kayak, so try to hop on a boat tour that includes one.
CALACHUCHI BEACH: We stopped here for lunch and almost had it entirely to ourselves. Let's just say there are worse places to enjoy a boat BBQ!
JAPANESE SHIPWRECK: Just what it sounds like - a shipwrecked boat that you can dive down to or see from the top of the water with a snorkel mask.
CORAL GARDEN: If you're into snorkelling, you'll be pleased to know that your Palawan trip can include as much snorkelling as you like. There are heaps of snorkelling spots around Palawan, but we all agreed that this one was our favourite. It's absolutely breath-taking, so don't miss a stop at the Coral Garden.
If you'd rather book onto an organised tour in advance, these Coron island hopping tours cover all or most of my recommended places:
Coron Ultimate Tour: For a little bit of everything
Coron Tour D: If you want to spend more time above and below - rather that on - the water
Coron Tour B: If you want to spend as much time swimming as possible
Day 3: Explore Coron by land
Don't limit your time in Coron to island hopping. Even though the focus of any Palawan trip will always be water-based, Coron has some drier sights worth visiting too.
Start your day with a walk up to to Mount Tapyas, where the big 'Coron' sign sits. You'll want to set off early to avoid making the same mistake as us and getting caught in the scorching mid-day heat! After a 700-step climb, you'll get to enjoy what is probably the best view of Coron, so leave some time to enjoy it.
The other main attraction in Coron is the Maquinit hot springs. Here, you can relax in the natural baths before cooling down with a drink. They're a little way out of town, so hire a scooter to explore, hop in a taxi or flag down a trike to drive you out there.Spend the evening exploring the streets of Coron town, checking out the local food market and meeting the cutest kids in the world.
Palawan El Nido itinerary
Day 4: Transfer to El Nido
Take the Montenegro fast boat from Coron to El Nido. A one-way trip costs 1,848 Filipino pesos, which is roughly £26 ($34), and can be booked on the Travel Palawan website.
Ferries need to be booked in advance and can fill up quickly, so it's best to book as soon as you know your travel plans.
Once you arrive in El Nido, the main area is just a few minutes' walk from the harbour. Check into Shipwreck Pension, one of the friendliest places I've ever stayed. It's on the main street, one row back from the water's edge, so you're perfectly located for exploring El Nido.
Day 5: Island Hopping in El Nido - Tour C
There are four main boat tours that you can take from El Nido: the imaginatively named Tour A, Tour B, Tour C and Tour D.
Begin with Tour C to make sure you get to see the best of Palawan's islands and beaches, including Helicopter Beach, Matinloc Shrine - where you'll stop for a fresh seafood lunch - Secret Beach and Hidden Beach.
There will plenty of chance to swim, snorkel and sunbathe, so make sure you bring a bikini and a towel. Book your tour in advance here.Day 6: El Nido land tour
Just like Coron, El Nido has plenty of places to explore on land too.
One of the best places to visit in El Nido is the Nagkalit Kalit waterfall. It's a short trek in (around 30-45 minutes, depending on your speed) so it's best to start early again.
After visiting the waterfalls, reward yourself with an afternoon at the beach. El Nido has some of the best beaches in Palawan - make sure you check out NacPan beach and Corong Corong Beach.
As everything's a little out of the way, you'll need to hire a scooter or (better yet) a driver for the day - especially if you plan to enjoy a rum coconut or two.Day 7: Island Hopping in El Nido - Tour A
We've made it to the final day of the Palawan itinerary and, even though that's a little bit sad, it's going to end on a high.
El Nido's Tour A is the one that most people book onto first (probably for obvious reasons). I say save this one until last so that you leave with fresh memories of the bluest lagoons and beautiful beaches. Tour A has possibly the most photogenic stops of all, with three stunning lagoons, a stop at 7 Commando Island and a beach you won't want to leave.It's the perfect way to end your Palawan trip and one that you won't want to miss during your time in the Philippines. Book your tour in advance here.
This Palawan itinerary has, of course, just scraped the surface. If you have a little more time in Palawan, take a few days to enjoy the beaches, meet the local people and explore the areas around El Nido and Coron. Many people visit for the island hopping tours and move on to the next spot as soon as they're done, but there's more to Palawan than its boats and beaches (as incredible as they are!).
If you want more inspiration for your trip and to see this Palawan itinerary in action, check out my Philippines playlists on YouTube. Warning: you might end up booking a flight!
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