Ranked as one of the best islands in the world, with crystal clear beaches, world-class diving and coral reef snorkeling, countless islands to explore and some of the nicest people in Southeast Asia, Palawan is a place you’ll never forget and forever want to come back to. Even if you only have one week in Palawan, we’ve got you covered with a day-to-day travel itinerary, money savings tips, and a general guide to help you get the most out of 7-days in Palawan.
What to expect from this itinerary: This is for travelers looking for a balance between the “authentic” Filipino experience, and those wanting some comforts while on vacation. You’ll spend a few days in Port Barton, far removed from common tourist traps, spending each day island hopping, snorkeling, paddle-boarding, shopping alongside local villagers in town, and sipping cheap beers by a beautiful beach. From there you’ll hop a 30-minute boat ride to an isolated beach, spending a few days “luxury” camping with a small group of other adventurous travelers from around the world. You’ll fish, kayak, hike, play volleyball, and enjoy the most pristine private beach you’ll see in Palawan, all while enjoying mouth-watering home-cooked communal dinners and firepit story-telling. You’ll end your trip with a journey north to the limestone cliff town of El Nido for world-class snorkeling and island hoping before catching a flight home. It’ll be a short trip, but it won’t be one you regret.
What You Need To Know
Currency: 1 USD = P48.
Plan Ahead: Don’t expect the same conveniences you might be used to when you travel. Electricity is limited and unpredictable, and you may only have electricity for a few hours a day. Charge your equipment when you can!
Bring Cash: Limited to no acceptance of credit cards and no ATMs–bring cash. Even though El Nido recently got an ATM (as of late 2015), it’s known for running out of cash. Put simply: plan on paying for everything in cash.
Travel light: Everything you need should fit in a backpack under 10kg. This won’t just make travel easier, it’s a requirement to fly from El Nido to Manila.
Etiquette: Tipping is not common in the Philippines, but typically you round-up on the cost of a taxi. Dress conservatively in town: bikinis are fine on the beach, but wrap a sarong around you when you head to restaurants, shops, or through town.
Days 1 thru 2: Port Barton
Travel from Puerto Princesa to Port Barton, a small coastal town halfway between Puerto Princesa and El Nido. A rough 30-minute off-road ride from any major road, Port Barton was once imagined as the new, smaller El Nido, but tourism never really came. As a result, you’ll find much of what El Nido has to offer at a much cheaper price and without the crowds of tourists. Expect to walk the streets with locals (and many stray dogs) and spend your days relaxing on a hammock or exploring near-by islands. You will be woken up every morning by roosters or dog fights, so don’t count on sleeping in.
- Getting There: Arrange for a Recaro van (+63 909 351 3037 or +63 905 485 8597) to pick you up from Puerto Princesa’s Airport or your hotel at 9am for P900. It’ll be a 5hr air-conditioned ride in a 12-seater van with one bathroom stop along the way. Expect an additional hour at start while passengers are picked-up and bags are strapped to the roof. Roads will be windy and bumpy: if you get motion sickness, bring your medicine.
- Where to stay: For P1200/night, stay in the bare-bones cottages of Elsa’s Cottage and Restaurant right along the beach. While the cottages aren’t much, they offer some of the most consistently delicious food in town. For a little more, stay at Sunset Colors, which is also along the beach, and enjoy their morning yoga routines in a tree fort (P200). You can go cheaper by looking a block in from the beach for local rooms or homestays.
- Where to eat/drink: For consistently tasty food with remarkably slow service, check Elsa’s Cottage and Restaurant. If you’re looking for somewhere to grab a drink, try the tree-fort overlooking the beach at Ausan Beachfront Restaurant.
- What to do: Charter a boat from a hotel for P700/per and spend a day snorkeling and island hoping, your captain will also cook you a delicious meal of fish, veggies, and rice mid-day.
Days 3 thru 5: San Vicente
Remove yourself from civilization and stay on a private beach near San Vicente with a small group of other adventurous travelers. Spend your days borrowing kayaks, boating to rural villages, hiking to waterfalls, fishing with other travelers, sharing stories over campfire and home-cooked meals each night, or just enjoying the clearest, most pristine waters on Palawan. This will be the most memorable and special part of your trip, and you will never want to leave.
- Where to stay: Stay at Toby & Thelma’s Camping Adventure for P1600/person per day. No need to bring anything (except maybe snacks): they’ll set you up with a tent (a glorified tent at that, complete with a mattress), towels, complimentary on-site water gear, and three delicious home-cooked meals a day at a communal table.
- Where to eat/drink: You have no choice, but you’d also have it no other way: you have to eat there. Expect three delicious home-cooked meals each day at a communal table. Breakfast and lunch are small, so bring snacks if needed, but be prepared for a massive buffet dinner each night. For post-dinner, there’s a house bar powered by a generator and a firepit to trade stories around each night.
- What to do: Kayak to a nearby village and hike to a waterfall, go fishing with Toby and island locals, swim to one of many nearby islands, play volleyball as the sun sets over the water each night, shower at the natural spring, or just relax on the beach. You will find no more peaceful of a stay than your time here.
Day 6 thru 7: El Nido
Ignore the hype and only spend a couple days in “top travel destination” of El Nido. Sitting on the northern coast of Palawan around massive limestone cliffs, you’ll find beautiful island hoping, the island’s best snorkeling, plenty of restaurants and bars, but also loads of tourists. If diving is what you’re looking for, hop a 5hr ferry ride to the quieter island of Coron instead, and fly back to Manila from there. El Nido is not worth missing, but it’s also not worth overstaying your visit.
- Getting There: Notify your hosts at Toby & Thelma’s and they’ll get you on a 10am boat and 4hr air-conditioned van ride to El Nido. From the bus terminal in El Nido, hop a P100 ride into town.
- Where to stay: Directly in the middle of town, and still quiet, crash at Shipwrecked Pension House for P3000/night and enjoy your first air-conditioning and reliable power (generator) of the trip. Request a 2nd floor room, just don’t expect hot water or water pressure! For a much more affordable and also lively atmosphere, stay at HakunaMatata Hostel (P800 for private room).
- Where to eat/drink:
- Happiness Beach Bar: Excellent views for sunset, so expect crowds.
- Sunset Republica: Beautiful sunset views from Corong Corong and delicious, though very small plates.
- Habibi Restaurant & Shisha Cafe: Chill 2nd floor bar along the beach and a perfect place to relax end of night.
- Atmosphere: A sushi restaurant that does not serve sushi. Get their house noodle bowl.
- L’assiette: Get to the 3rd floor view amazing views of the harbor. Just be aware you’re going to be spending more for your meal as a result.
- What to do:
- Island Hopping via Tour C for snorkeling and private beaches. If you’re traveling with a group, spend the extra P500/per and opt for a private tour to skip on the massive amount of tourists you will run into during the day. A private tour can help you avoid a packed boat and some of the most crowded islands. Looking to do a second tour? Try Tour A to see lagoons.
- See the best sunset view in town at the hip bar Sunset Republica in nearby Corong Corong, a P100 tricycle ride away. Get there an hour before sunset if you want a good seat (or a seat at all) and expect it to be crowded. Great food but small portions.
Catch a P150 tricycle ride to El Nido’s airport and fly directly back to Manila on a 50-seater for P6750. Note that there’s a 10kg weight limitation on all baggage, and they will search your bags to remove any shells you’ve collected. Once you land at ITI’s terminal in Manila, ask an ITI employee for the 20-minute shuttle to the main terminal for P120. These flights do book-up, so either book in advance or from ArtCafe in town to reserve your seat. To book in advance, contact ITI via email. You will be asked to send them payment via PayPal, but rest assured it’s trustworthy.
Anything we forget? Ideas of other places to check-out? Things not to miss? Leave it in the comments!
- Tao Expeditions: Got some more time? Do a 3-5 day boat trip between El Nido and Coron, living on a boat and stopping at uninhabited and tourist-free islands all along the way. Fly home from Coron. $550 USD/per.
- Room Availability: If you’re booking rooms in advance, take hotel warnings of “only 2 rooms left!” with a grain of salt. Many of these places only have a few rooms, so while it looks like the hotel is filling up fast, in reality there’s just as much availability today as the next day.