In autumn of 2012 while I was living in Cebu I took a long weekend break to Coron in the north of Palawan. Palawan is starting to get well known for El Nido; it’s limestone cliffs and emerald waters offer a more unspoilt alternative to Thailand’s Koh Phi Phi but there are far fewer tourists who make the trip to Coron Town and the neighbouring islands.
One of the best things about South East Asia is the cheap and relatively abundant low cost flights. The Philippines is slightly less well connected than it’s neighbours, but as a country of over 7,000 islands domestic carriers are booming, no more so than Cebu Pacific Air. I’m not particularly interested in fights or airlines as they act as merely a vessel to get somewhere; the more comfortable the better but it’s never the highlight of a trip – but I feel the need to mention Cebu Pacific Air based on how insanely low their fares get. They have 1 peso fares – that’s 1.4p. ONE POINT FOUR PENCE FOR A FLIGHT. Even with fees added that’s less then £10 to get to some of the most beautiful and undiscovered beaches in the region. A return flight Cebu-Busuanga ended up costing me only around 850 Pesos, or £12.
As I recall I think it was only the second day of operating the route that my flight was on, and while we were travelling on a smaller passenger plane there were still some seats empty. The airport in Busuanga is tiny, and you’ll need to grab a lft in a minivan into Coron Town
While in Coron Town, the best attraction is climbing Mt Tapyas. As the highest local point, it provides a great view across the bay and surrounding islands.Going here late afternoon enables you to catch the sunset over the horizon, basking the landscape in a golden glow. Watch out, the 700 odd steps are a killer and may take you longer than expected – it’s the equivalent of climbing over 50 storeys in a building. At the time of my visit there was a giant cross at the top of the Mountain, however from what I’ve read this was unfortunately destroyed by Typhoon Haiyan
The main draw of Coron and in fact the whole of Palawan is the ability to island hop. Day tours run from the town on several different routes, while longer trips lasting several days can be booked for those into serious diving of even to visit Calauit, probably the most isolated and unexpected ‘African’ Safari park in the world.
On the normal tours you will be taken to a selection of islands, beaches and snorkelling spots (such as Siete Pecados) with lunch usually included. If your time in Coron is limited, make sure you go on a tour including Kayangan Lake, offering crystal clear water and the iconic ‘Coron Postcard View’ below.
Other Things to Do in Coron
- Dive among Japanese wrecks and one of the biggest reefs in the world
- Swim under rocks to reach the hidden Twin Lagoons
- Join a Dugong watching tour to the outer islands
- Spot to CORON Hollywood-style sign on the nearby hill
- Rent a Kayak or Mountain Bike to explore the area yourself
- Splurge on a luxury resort on one of the private islands
Where to Stay
A lot of the budget accommodation and guesthouses in Coron won’t have online booking services, so either phoning up beforehand or walking through town may be the best way to get a bargain. However, if you don’t fancy the risk or are interested in some fancier digs, here’s some options:
- Kaba Kaba offer budget cottages close to Coron Town
- Coron Paradise Bed and Breakfast provide clean and simple standard hotel rooms
- Coron Hilltop View Resort offer 4* amenities while in town and on an affordable budget
- For full on luxury, 5* Two Seasons Coron Island Resort and Spa on nearby island Malaroyroy is a simple speed boat away.
Until next time, Coron!
Following on from my previous post about Isla Mujeres, I wanted to go into more detail about the afternoon I spent at Capitan Dulche. This is a unique beach club which mixes relaxation with culture, as it also has a sculpture garden and hosts the only museum on the island.
Like all other attractions from the island, Capitan Dulche can easily be reached by fixed rate taxi or by renting a golf cart for the day. If you order food and drink at the bar the entrance fee is waved and you are welcome to spend all day on the private beach which includes loungers and a volleyball net.
By far my favourite thing about Capitan Dulche is the extremely unique boat bar – you can see the ship’s mast rising up from the surrounding landscape. The style evokes imagery of pirates sailing the Caribbean and the barrels of rum they’d consume.
The beach has a small dock that expands out into the bay, providing a scenic walkway or place to sit and watch the local wildlife.
The grounds of Capitan Dulche also act as a sculpture garden, with maritime pieces and musical figurines dotted on the dock, grass and hillside.
The main building hosts a formal dining veranda that can be rented for events and weddings, while the downstairs is the island’s Maritime Museum. The museum collection includes model ships and items from throughout the local naval history, including details about Mexico’s most famous diver and oceanographer, Ramon Bravo, along with his even more famous contemporary, Jacques Cousteau.
I found Capitan Dulche to be a real treat while on Isla Mujeres as it managed to mix the two things I love most while travelling; beautiful beaches and cultural history.
When Filipinos and visitors a like talk about Boracay there’s usually a caveat of “it’s a bit touristy” on whatever statement they have made. And sure, the island is small, there is a McDonalds, and it’s no where near as “undiscovered” as the rest of the country to foreigners, that’s all for a reason. When I lived in Cebu, Boracay was my favourite long weekend destination if I wanted to sunbathe, unwind and party. The island is beautiful and charming, and the powdery sand and crystal clear waters are one of the things I miss most about my time in the Philippines.
Boracay’s White Beach is currently Trip Advisor’s 19th Best Beach in the World, and while Pinoy pride can skew online international polls (like when Palawan’s Underground River was being pushed as one of the world’s natural wonders), it is the closest to beach perfection I’ve personally experienced.
For such a tiny island, the local government have done a great job of keeping the sands and roads trash free, a small miracle considering how much of a problem this can be elsewhere. Even if you get a seaweed filled tide, the seaweed is fine and softer than moss.
Station 2 and 3, where the majority of bars and restaurants are, can get crowded, especially during the day. However Station 3 and onwards past Willy Rock (a small group of rocky islands just offshore with a shrine enclosed) is usually quiet, and the beach gets broader here.
Even those who find Boracay too crowded (when in reality it’s much quieter than most of the Thai tourist stops) will find the golden sunsets hard to resist. White Beach faces directly east across a breadth of water, making evening the worst, rainiest evening beautiful.
Head further along White Beach, past Station 1, and you’ll find a cliffside walkway to the much quieter and more rugged Diniwid Beach.
Small boats and fishing nets rest in the coves leading there, and mostly Filipino families and honeymooners can be seen enjoying the beach.
I liked the colourful corks used within the fisherman’s nets, and the variety in the small boats, nestled on the rocks, and even sometimes in the trees.
Next time I’m in Boracay (hopefully this Easter), I’m considering staying at the Spider House – an open cliff-side hotel where all the rooms face into the ocean.
Exploring the Island
A great way to see more of the island is to have an a trip around it in a Banca boat (Jukung). Uusually 5 or 6 people can share the trip for the half day. In 2012 the going rate was around 1200 pesos (£16).
The boat will take you to some good snorkeling spots, and stop off at a few of the other beaches. I highly recommend spending time at Puka Beach on the Northern tip of the island. It’s not unheard of to have the entire beach to yourself, and is a great place to relax, catch up with reading, or go for a shell collecting walk.
Another great option is Bulabog Beach on the West side of the island, parallel to White Beach. This is one of the best places in the world for Kite and Wind Surfing.
My Top 6 Tips for Boracay
- Stay at Frendz Resort if you want to socialize and meet other travellers
- Check Cebu Pacific Air for cheap promo deals on flights – Kalibo is an extra hour away by minibus but is often a third of the price of flying into Caticlan
- You can pick up free copies of My Boracay Guide nearly anywhere on the island for maps and tourist information. The website has a PDF version if you want to look before you arrive.
- Eat at Smoke for tasty and authentic budget meals, they even have some great veggie options
- If you’re a fan of fresh seafood, head to Talipapa Market where you can buy the ingredients and have your dinner prepared for you.
- The beachfront at Station 2 is the best for evening entertainment, with many of the bars offering happy hours, fire dancers or live bands. For late nights, Club Paraw on Station 1 is always busy and avoids being too cheesy – the islands so tiny you can easily check out a mixture of bars until you find your favourite.
What are your tips for Boracay?
For my second post about my bucket list for my upcoming trip to Mexico, my thoughts are still with the turquoise waters of the Yucatan.
The Mystical Cenotes
The Cenotes found along the Riviera Maya are sinkholes formed in limestone bedrock, creating cavernous pools from a few meters to a few hundred metres deep. While some are a scuba diver’s dream, others are suitable for paddlers like myself to try out for a splash. The Sacred Cenote at Chichen Itza is the most famous and accessible, previously being a central site within the Mayan community and now one of the main tourist spots. Once I’m in Mexico I’ll ask the locals which Cenotes they recommend and how to avoid the crowds, hoping to float in the cool waters serenely.
Photograph by Catherine Karnow via National Geographic
Photograph by John Stanmeyer via National Geographic
The Hidden Beach
The Playa Del Amor hidden beach is part of the Marieta Islands, just off the coast of Puerto Vallarta. These uninhabited islands were used by the Mexican Government in the early 20th Century for military testing. The results were damages to the local coral and fauna, but also this one of a kind beach joined to the Pacific Ocean by an eighty foot tunnel. Visitors have to swim through to access the shore, but with plenty of headroom there’s no need for scuba gear. I can’t wait to see it for myself next month.
For more Mexico inspiration read my first post about Cancun’s Underwater Museum
I’m finally heading to Mexico next month! This means that I’ll be able to tick off some of my Mexico bucket list activities, although I’m sure they’ll be plenty left for a another trip in the future. Somethign that I’ve been eyeing up for some time is the Underwater Sculptures of Jason DeCaires Taylor in the MUSA (Museo Subacuatico de Artes) between Cancun and Isla Mujeres.
The exhibition called “The Silent Evolution” was placed in the water in 2009 and aims to deflect tourists from the natural reefs, providing them time to recover and regrow. Initially I was worried that I’d need to learnt o dive to visit the sculptures, however the websites shows that both snorkeling and glass bottomed boats are available for at least some of the locations. While I’m sure diving provides the best experience, it’s not really an option for me.
The photos below are form the artist’s website where there are even more amazing shots. you can also see where over time these sculptures have become part of the ocean bed, with the reef starting to crawl across their surfaces.
I also need to decide whether the nearby Isla Mujeres is worth a visit. The beaches look lovely but a bit overrun with tourists, so I might decide my time is too precise to try it out. Let me know your thoughts if you’ve been!