Palawan is perhaps the least developed and most enchantingly rustic of the major islands in the Philippines. It lacks completely the urban sprawl on Luzon. The
commercial atmosphere of Boracay and Cebu is almost completely absent.
It is possibly the most neglected tourist destination in Asia. Palawan's beaches easily rival the sand and surf of Boracay, Phuket, or Kuantan. Accommodations are
available, ranging from pampered luxury to the beach hut of a castaway. And the province's capital, Puerto Princessa, can be used as a base for exploring the
region's 1,769 smaller islands.
But in addition to the normal attractions which draw the sun and surf crowd, Palawan may be Asia's ecotourism capital.
By and large, over land travel on this 400 mile long island is not possible. This is the largest province in the Philippines; yet on most of the island the rainforest
begins where the white sand of the beach ends. Travel takes place on boats or planes.
If you're looking for nature, Palawan is the place. The beauty and life under the surface of the surroundings crystal seas is as impressive as the rain forests. The
island offers more than can be taken in: orchids and cherry blossoms, coral and tropical fish, monkeys and parrots, anteaters and turtles. With 323 animal species,
the province a reputation as an wildlife refugee - a reputation which simple sun-worshipers could miss completely if they allowed themselves to become too
enthralled with the superb beaches.
The province has been declared a protected area, making it one of the world's largest nature reserves. In addition to its ample swimming and snorkeling, Palawan
offers divers an undersea playground which is difficult to rival. The Tubbataha Reef Marine Park provides a marvelous dive spot; its two atolls are a World Heritage
Site. The atolls are a 10 to 12 hour ride from Puerto Princessa, and diving in the area is usually based on live-in dive boats between March and May. Tubbataha has
a reputation as the country's best dive spot. The abundant marine life can provides beginning divers with their first encounter with a native Tubbataha shark. The
reef's gradual slope and variety of invertebrates and reef fishes is a great classroom for scuba.
Tabon Cave is known locally and in academic circles as the Cradle of Philippine Civilization. The caves have a series of chambers where anthropologists found the
remains and tools of the 22,000 year old "Tabon Man". The caves are 155 kilometers south of Puerto Princessa, near the city of Quezon. Quezon is 3 or 4 hours by
bus and the caves are another half hour by boat ride from Quezon pier. There are 29 caves. Several of the caves are easily accessible.
Palawan also offers visitors foot trails into the rain forest. Monkey Trail is a great way to see the tropical flora and fauna. The trail is a well maintained series of
wooden steps and leads to a central ranger station on the island. Guest cottages and camp sites are available at the ranger station for overnight stays. The walk to
the station takes about an hour if you’re in decent shape. One review calls the trip "a religious experience." Campers generally awake to a symphony of tropical birds
The island is mountainous, though not volcanic; its highest point is Mt. Mantalingajan, at 2086 meters.
Be prepared: Palawan's undeveloped landscape and rich terrain is a breeding ground for mosquitoes. Before traveling to Palawan you should obtain a prescription
for anti-malaria pills to be on the safe side.
Palawan's northern tip is home to some of the most exclusive and beautiful island beach resorts in the Philippines and is peppered with reserves and parks.
> Calauit Island, on the northwestern coast of Palawan, is a game preserve and wildlife sanctuary which stretches 3,700 hectares.
> Tubbataha National Marine Reef Park, Rita Island at Tres Marias, Pandan Island, and Panglima Reefs are all perfect diving and snorkeling spots.
> Ursula Island provides a birds sanctuary where thousands of birds come to roost each evening.
> El Nido Marine Reserve occupies almost 100,000 hectares and is the home of a number of diverse ecosystems - rainforest, mangroves, white sand beaches,
coral reefs, and limestone cliffs. It is now one of the island's leading destinations. Innumerable species of fish share the reefs with manta rays and rare sea cow
Serious climbers and mountaineers can avail themselves of the 1605 meter Cleopatra's Needle. The peak offers a panorama with the city of Cabayugan in the
distance on the island's coastline. The climb starts with a four-day hike from Taqnaya to the mountain. That trip takes trekkers past rock-filled rivers, white water
streams, grandiose rock formations, wild flowers and ancient trees.
It is possible to enjoy much of the best that Palawan has to offer without traveling far from Puerto Princessa.
Puerto Princesa itself is a compact and well kept little city of about 150,000 people. It has won several prestigious awards for environmental and ecotourism
activities. The city was only founded in 1970 and its youth probably adds to it environment-friendly status. Puerto Princessa regularly wins the country’s Cleanest and
Greenest City award.
Puerto Princessa has managed though in a short 35 years to become a bustling urban center with an airport, an electrical plant, universities and schools,
telecommunication facilities, banks, etc.
It is also a major shipping center for the Philippines. Most of the city's residents, though, are engaged in farming or fishing.
Besides ecotourism, Puerto Princessa offers some history. A visit to the Palawan Museum to see archeological artifacts and fossils is worth some time during your
The city has a visible Vietnamese community who settled there after the war. They are active in the business sector and their restaurants offer delicious authentic
The most popular attraction in the immediate area of the city is St. Paul Subterranean River National Park, which includes an 8.2 kilometer navigable underground
river - the longest such river in the world. The park was started in 1971 and occupies just under 4000 acres of land. The river meanders through an incredible cave
before reaching the South China Sea. High chambers, wide hallways, and odd geologic formations will fascinate the voyager in the little grotto hidden under St. Paul
Mountain. At the mouth of the cave is a clear lagoon surrounded by aged trees which come to the very edge of the water. Large monitor lizards, monkeys and
squirrels find spots on the beach to sun themselves. Not far off is a wide beach where travelers can recover from the trip down river of trek of to hidden little coves
which offer more privacy. The trip to the park takes three to four hours on bumpy roads; then there is a 30 minutes boat ride to get to the park. The scenery on the
river itself is well worth the trip.
Also south from Puerto Princessa is Salakot Falls. The moderate-sized water fall offers a nice place to play in the crystal water. A resort with clean comfort rooms
and cottages is available.
Honda Bay is about half an hour north of Puerto Princessa by boat. The bay's small islands could feel up days of exploring or provide the perfect spot for sun
worship on one of the dozens of white sands beaches. Snorkel to you heart's content. There are dive sites galore on the coral studded reefs.
Puerto Princessa and the larger province of Palawan is a beach lover's dream come true. It is also one of the best nature getaways you'll ever find.
- Greg Cruey / Asia for Visitors