You have not truly traveled the Philippines if you’ve never been to Palawan. It is the country’s last frontier where you can immerse yourself in earth’s natural wonders.
I always thought of Palawan as touristy and expensive, but to my surprise, it’s not that expensive. There are many B&B and cheap tours nowadays.
But indeed it’s tourist-packed, especially in December and during the summer months of March to May. Tourists from all over the world flock to this tropical paradise to indulge in spectacular seascapes and landscapes with rich wildlife and underwater bioversity. That’s more than enough reason to travel here as a turista sa sariling bayan (tourist in your own country).
Top Tourist Spots in Palawan
Underground River Tour + Honda Bay Cruise + El Nido Island Hopping & Puerto Princesa City Tour
To make planning and traveling hassle-free, we booked a 5D4N group package tour that’s great for families or barkada (group of friends). Definitely a convenient way to travel with the old folks or even with kids because it already includes airport return transfers and private van transportation to and from El Nido. The all-in Palawan tour can be accomplished in 5 days and 4 nights stay, including tours and breakfast/lunch meals.
Now let’s explore the top places to visit in Palawan with family.
Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park
This voted New7Wonders of Nature destination is a must-visit when in Palawan. Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park or famously called Underground River is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and is known as the second longest navigable underground river in the world, next to 2007-discovered Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico.
The Undergound River runs 8.2km through a maze of underwater caves, but the boat tour only travels about 1.5km into the cave. Tourists are allowed to travel as far as 4.3km but this will need a customized tour arrangement. Also, a special permit is required if tourists want to explore the last 3.9km.
What’s fascinating is that the area contains a full mountain-to-sea ecosystem and is one of the globally significant habitat for biodiversity conservation. The place is full of tall trees, thorny pandan, wild rattan and other exotic plants. You can easily spot several macaques and monitor lizards roaming freely.
A beautiful limestone mountain will welcome you upon arrival at Sabang Beach which has lovely beige powdery sand.
It was about two hours of waiting before we finally hop on a canoe which acccomodates around 8-10 visitors. It took us long to start cruising into the dark cave because of the numerous visitors. Moreover, the unfriendly waves at Sabang slowed everything down.
But don’t let the long wait ruin your day, the Underground River tour is worth the wait. It’s better to arrange the Underground River tour with a local operator. If you don’t, it’s going to be more expensive and much of a hassle.
While waiting for our turn, we enjoyed watching adorable long-tailed macaques or Old World monkeys. They are used to being fed by tourists that one monkey grabbed a biscuit my dad was holding. Also, there are many monitor lizards crawling around and climbing trees.
Inside the dark underground cave, you’ll get to see some amazing rock formations such as the “nativity scene”. It stinks with bat urine and droppings which is normal for a large cave. I had my own headlamp which I use for multi-day camping but you don’t have to bring one. The banca guide, of course, is equipped with ultra wide-beam headlamp designed for caving. He kept talking about underground river facts, blurted out scripted jokes, but still funny nevertheless, and led us with what direction to look at for different types and shapes of stalagmites on the floor and stalactites at the ceiling.
Such strange forms of nature. I won’t list all the interesting rock formations we saw inside to leave something to your imagination.
Honda Bay Island Hopping Tour
Island hopping around Honda Bay is one of the top things to do when visiting Puerto Princesa. This is the first tour we had during our Palawan travel. It was a wonderful experience island hopping to 5 charming beaches.
That time, the wharf was packed. Most tourists shifted to Honda Bay Island Hopping Tour because their Underground River Cruise was canceled due to the heavy rain and rough waves at Sabang that morning. I heard some complaining, but we are patient enough to enjoy the white sand beaches.
In spite of that, it was a fun-filled day on the beaches of Pandan Island, Starfish Island, Snake Island and Luli Island—where we had a great time snorkeling and jumping off a wooden springboard. By noon, we had buffet lunch at Cowrie Island.
Traveling to El Nido from Puerto Princesa by Van
The trip to El Nido was long and tiring, especially for my parents, but we enjoyed the lush green scenery and the beautiful sunset along the way.
It took us five hours to reach El Nido by van from Puerto Princesa. Later in the evening, we had a simple dinner in a local restaurant and enjoyed walking around the town.
The night was lively. There are yummy street foods and a peryahan (local funfair) because it was their fiesta week. I was able to watch local groups performing folk dances during a friendly competition in their sports complex.
It is also nice to walk along El Nido’s sandy beach with the night’s cool breeze. I got myself a bottle of beer as beachfront bars are still open late night. Some were doing fire dances to freely entertain us.
El Nido Island Hopping Tour
El Nido is a gateway to paradise. This is the primary base for exploring Bacuit archipelago—a group of islands with karst rock formations, utopian islets with fine sandy beaches, and breathtaking lagoons. Tours to the islets are offered in different island hopping packages and the rates are standardized. To encourage multi-day tours, the highlights are intentionally scattered throughout each itinerary. You can choose from Tour A to D — call this Bacuit list!
Part of our Palawan family package is El Nido Island Hopping Tour C that includes a sumptuous seafood lunch by the beach.
Snorkeling in Helicopter Island is amazing! But sadly, there are parts where I saw dead corals. More damage was seen especially near another islet where we had our lunch. But I saw a tv documentary though that they are rebuilding the coral reefs using artificial corals which reminded me of childhood jackstones.
Next, we sailed to Matinloc Shrine which has a stunning overlooking view and the amazing Hidden Beach, where I got some scratches because you have to swim through the rough waters with sharp black coral stones underneath.
We didn’t get to see the Secret Beach because it was high tide with strong waves, making it dangerous to pass a small hole passage to get there.
Instead, they took us to the Big Lagoon, which I think is equally amazing with such clear bluish green waters.
While returning, I envied a couple kayaking on their way back to El Nido Proper.
There are many other amazing islets in El Nido. If you have extra time, go indulge in island hopping tours and check out all other off-the-beaten tracks in Palawan.
The only thing that’s worrying is the huge waves in December which can hamper your island tours in El Nido and your visit to the Underground River. Palawan is facing South China Sea so that is expected here especially during the monsoon season.
During our boat tour, we experienced light rain. Seriously, I had never previously experienced such big swells while on a riding a boat.
En route to Hidden Beach, the waves seemed monstrous while we’re on a regular-sized banca. Our boatmen deserve a salute – they are cool, collected and confident that nothing serious will happen and they maneuvered the boat very well. Mom and dad were holding hands together, scared during our island hopping ride. They kept saying it’s the most unforgettable and scariest experience of their lives. For someone with an adventurous spirit like me, it wasn’t that scary.
Also, expect December and January to be crowded with western tourists taking their winter vacation and local tourists alike for the Christmas season break, especially tours to Honda Bay and Underground River.
Puerto Princesa City Tour
Here’s a list of other tourist spots in Puerto Princesa which are part of our tour package. But if you have limited time, I recommend that you forego the city tour or skip some spots as these are less spectacular than the rest of the beautiful places in Palawan.
- Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm – Has a spacious in-house gift shop full of souvenirs that are handcrafted and sold by the prisoners themselves. Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm is an ideal, if not the best prison in the country with inmates learning life skills such as cooking, farming and carpentry. Unique among penal institutions, prisoners can roam free around the extensive area without guards. I got to talk to one old inmates who murdered his wife out of extreme jealousy. He was sentenced for life and suffered a great sorrow for committing such crime of passion. He sounds okay now and is proud to earn a skill in making woven backpacks. Nearby, there’s a firefly watching opportunity in the riverbanks of Iwahig River via night river cruise on a canoe. If there’s anything worth checking out from this city tour list, it’s Iwahig.
- Baker’s Hill – With a pastry shop where you can buy pasalubong treats like hopia and brownies. A restaurant is also open serving some local food such as the exotic Tamilok dish, a woodworm which tastes like oyster. Baker’s Hill also serves as a theme park with manicured gardens where you can stroll around for free. Funny-looking statues are installed such as of Marilyn Monroe, Shrek and Snow White with her seven dwarfs.
- Mitra’s Ranch – A picturesque hilltop place where you can get an overlooking green landscape around Honda Bay. It serves as a farm with cows and horses being raised, but is now primarily a tourist spot. Here, you can enjoy a zipline, skywalk, and horseback ride.
- Souvenir Shops – We stopped by a couple of places to buy souvenirs from: LRC 908 Market Mall; Delma Pearl and Souvenir Shop. I was happy to find good quality pearls (incl. South Sea Pearls) for a cheaper price.
- Plaza Cuartel – A historic plaza that once served as a garrison of American and Filipino soldiers which turned into a horrible prison during the Japanese invasion of the Philippines. Better skip this gloomy place.
- Immaculate Concepcion Cathedral – A walk away from Plaza Cuartel is the neo-classical church standing in Rizal Avenue. Painted with light-blue color, this historical landmark is a century old. It started as a small church built during the Spanish period and was reconstructed into a cathedral in 1961.
- Crocodile Farm and Nature Park – A mini-zoo and research center for conservation which houses hundreds of large & small crocodiles and other endangered species such as the Palawan Bearcat and Palawan Forest Turtle. In the lobby, you will be greeted with an exhibit of animal remains (sperm whale, huge crocodile exoskeletons). We didn’t get to visit here because it was closed for the holiday.
- City Baywalk – Later in the evening, we came back for a sumptuous fresh seafood dinner. We enjoyed walking for a while in this coastal park.
Palawan is worth coming back to. There are plenty of other great places to visit such as Port Barton, Tabon Caves, Mt. Mantalingahan and why not Tubbataha Reef. I’m such a dreamer!
Palawan Family or Barkada All-in Package Tour
[Accommodation + Tours + Transfers + Breakfast/Lunch]
iGo Travel and Tours
We however did the Honda Bay Island Hopping Tour first prior to enjoying El Nido because you might not appreciate Honda Bay that much after you spent time in the lovelier El Nido beaches. The Puerto Princesa City Tour was moved to our last day because our flight was delayed and there wasn’t enough time to do it all during the first day of our trip.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org (Jonel Racuya) / Rheyel – 09061074551
Proposed Itinerary & Quotation
Family or Barkada Package Type: 5D/4N Rickson’s Place- El Nido, Jlais Balai Turista- Puerto Princesa for 5 persons
Price/person: Php 9,500 (Twin/ Triple Sharing)
12Noon – Arrival Check-in @ Jlais Balai Turista
1:00pm- Pick up for City Tour
Destinations: (Crocodile Farm, Baker’s Hill, Mitra’s Ranch, Souvenir Shop, Plaza Cuartel, Baywalk, Immaculate Concepcion Cathedral)
6:30pm- Back to Jlais Balai Turista
6:45am Check-out @ Jlais Balai Turista,
7:00am Pick up time for Honda Bay tour with lunch (Cowrie & Pandan islands)
2:00 pm Back to wharf
2:30 pm Bound To El Nido. May have stopover to eat. Travel time going to El Nido takes 5 ½- 6 hrs. (via tourist transport service)
Check-in @ Rickson’s Place Bed & Breakfast
7:00 am – Breakfast 8:30 am – Pick up time Island Tour C with lunch (Helicopter Island, Matinloc Shrine, Secret Beach, Hidden Beach)
5:30-6:00 pm – Going back to accommodation.
Rest of the evening is free.
6:00am- Breakfast/ Bound to Puerto Princesa Underground River
1:30pm- Tour Proper
4:30pm- Back to City proper
Check-in @ Jlais Balai Turista
End of the tour Back to accommodation
10:00am Airport transfer / Departure**
- 2 nights @ Rickson’s Place Bed & Breakfast El Nido (Twin/Triple/Quintuple Sharing )
- 2 nights at Jlais Balai Turista Puerto Princesa (Twin/Triple/Quintuple Sharing)
- 4 breakfasts & 3 lunch
- Underground River Tour w/ lunch
- Honda bay Island Hopping Tour w/ lunch
- El Nido Island tour C w/ lunch
- Services of an air-conditioned tourist van (Puerto Princesa – El Nido – Puerto Princesa)
- Services of a licensed tour guide
- Round trip airport transfers
- Applicable boat fare, eco-tourism devt. fees, entrance fee, permits
- Travel Safe Insurance
Does not include:
- Expenses of personal nature e.g. telephone calls, room service, laundry, and additional food or drinks
- Extra hour room charges after the 12:00 noon standard hotel check-out time
- Gratuities and tips to the tour guide and driver
- Snorkeling and other swimming gears
Deposits & Billing Procedure – Upon confirmation, they require a deposit equivalent to 50% of the total estimated charges and the balance to be settled ten (10) days prior to your arrival. Payments should be made through bank deposit.
Exclusivity – Rates quoted and arrangements made shall apply to a minimum guaranteed number of persons indicated above.
(Palawan family or barkada all-in package with Underground River Cruise + Honda Bay Island Hopping Tour + Puerto Princesa City Tour, and El Nido Island Hopping – Tour C)