Escape to Palawan Island for a conservation haven
Is this a good time to visit Palawan Island in the Philippines? We’re thinking of a week-long trip at the end of the month, but we’re not sure about the climate at this time of the year. Can you suggest places on the island that aren’t too crowded with tourists?
Palawan was declared a marine and wildlife sanctuary in 1967 and to this day remains one of the best conserved islands in the Philippines, boasting nearly 2,000km of coastline fringed with coral reefs. While north Palawan is relatively easy to tour, poor infrastructure makes south Palawan difficult to access.
The climate is hot and humid right through the year, much like the rest of the Philippines, but late February to May is the best time to go – after this, the islands receive torrential downpours thanks to two monsoon seasons (June to October; November to February).
If you want to avoid the crowds, drive straight through Puerto Princesa, the capital and a busy tourist destination, to Taytay, a quiet town that used to be the island’s capital. Most tourists give Taytay a miss – it’s a good eight hours by road from the capital (300 pesos [Dh26] per person by van) – but is worth an overnight stay. Spend the day snorkelling and diving off the pristine beaches, kayaking and birdwatching on Lake Manguao, Palawan’s largest lake, and swimming under the Canique waterfalls. Taytay is also home to Fort Isabel, a 17th-century Spanish citadel that’s worth a visit.
Further down the coast is the picturesque town of El Nido. Comprising 45 islands and tiny islets, El Nido is a paradise of seascapes and jungles, and is relatively free of tourists because of conservation efforts. The seven to nine-hour drive down bad roads by van (from 700 pesos [Dh60] per person) from Puerto Princesa also works as a deterrent, but is quite worth the trouble. From the reefs to the freshwater springs, El Nido has enough to keep visitors absorbed for days at a stretch. Bacuit Bay is wonderful to explore by boat, (hired locally, from 700 pesos [Dh60] per person) and is surrounded by limestone cliffs.
Port Barton is a lesser known fishing village set around pretty Pagdanan Bay in north-west Palawan, about four hours from Puerto Princesa by bus (400 pesos, Dh34). Uncluttered by touristy attractions, it is a good base from which to enjoy water-based activities. Further north is Coron Island, designated as the “ancestral domain” of the indigenous Tagbanwa people, and famous for its granite cliffs, cave systems and the wrecks of Japanese ships from the Second World War that lie a few kilometres off the coast.
Christine Iyer thenational.ae