Palawan is often cited in news features and magazines as one of the best islands in the world. And if you’ve been there, you’ll probably agree. Limestone rock formations, turquoise sea, white-sand beaches, fresh seafood, friendly locals and peaceful vibe. This tropical paradise offers the best representation of the Philippines.
Palawan’s islands stretch between Mindoro in the northeast and Borneo in the southwest, making up the biggest province in the Philippines in terms of total area of jurisdiction. Though many tourists head to El Nido and Coron in the Northern tip of Palawan, the capital of the province Puerto Princesa in the middle of the island serves as the main gateway.
With the opening of the Puerto Princesa International Airport, more and more international tourists can book cheap flights to Puerto Princesa and go directly to Palawan without having to pass through Manila. While Puerto Princesa is a highly urbanized city governed independently from the province, it provides a good mix of laid-back beach vibes and city comforts.
I’ve really been wanting to go back to Puerto Princesa for the longest time since it’s been 7 years since my last visit here. Thanks to a media tour hosted by Microtel Inn & Suites and AirAsia Philippines, I got to revisit old favorites in this lovely city and tick off a few items on my bucket-list that have been haunting me the past few years. For first-time visitors, here are ten must-try experiences in the Puerto Princesa, the capital of Palawan.
1. Visit the Underground River
Puerto Princesa is the gateway to the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park (popularly called the Underground River), a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature. This protected area located about 80 km north of the city center is located in the Saint Paul Mountain Range on the western coast of the island. It is bordered by St. Paul Bay to the north and the Babuyan River to the east.
Visitors can take a short 15-minute boat ride or 2-hour hike from jump-off point in the town of Sabang to get to the area where boats ferry passengers through the cave. To cater to the high number of visitors, tours are now standardized, there’s a strict queuing system and all guests are provided with audio devices in different languages explaining the history of the park and the various rock formations throughout the duration of the boat ride.
Show me the Money Sidequest 5/6 collected!
After visiting the Underground River, you can take a sidetrip to visit Ugong Rock to visit a cave complex named after the gong-like sound some of the hollow rock formations make when tapped. After hiking up 20 minutes, you can zip down via a 300 meter long zipline from the mountaintop.
2. Go Island-Hopping around Honda Bay
Another popular activity in Puerto Princesa is going on island-hopping tours around Honda Bay located in the mid-eastern coast of the city. The most popular islands you can visit during day tours include:
- Starfish Island – known for having a large population of Star Fish (Sea Stars)
- Luli Island – short for “Lulubog – Lilitaw”, which means Sink & Rise, because the island disappears during high tide and reappears during low tide
- Cowrie Island – named after the sea snail, a marine gastropod mollusc called “cowrie.” Cowrie Island has several cabanas, a pavillion and thatched-roof spa huts, making this an ideal lunch stop. Cowrie Island has recently been opened to the public as an alternative to the more crowded Pandan Island.
3. Chill Out at at the beach
Aside from the islands, you can also head to resorts and beaches on the mainland of Puerto Princesa including Nagtabon and Talaudyong Beach for swimming, day trips and picnics.
For a more relaxing stay, choose a hotel or resort with a beach vibe instead of those located along the highway in the city. Microtel by Wyndham Inn & Suites is the only beach-front hotel in Puerto Princesa. Located on the white-sand shores of Emerald Beach, Microtel offers dazzling waterfront views any time of the day.
Microtel provides an ideal location for those who want a more secluded getaway with their own private beach. You’ll want to just lounge in the hotel all day, take a nap on the hammocks or relax by the poolside. Microtel has its own own in-house restaurant called Senordamla, where breakfast buffet and ala carte meals are served.
READ MORE: Hotel Review: Microtel Puerto Princesa
4. Get active with water sports
There are various dive sites around Palawan for divers and snorkelers. Before heading out to do island-hopping tours, you can rent out snorkeling gear so you can enjoy the beach more.
Microtel is located right next to the Emerald Playa Beach and Nature Park, which happens to host a local kite surfing club of Palawan, so you can try kitesurfing if the wind conditions are right. They also have kayaks that you can use to paddle around the mangrove forests nearby.
Talaudyong Beach near Nagtabon Beach is also a popular surfing spot for locals with advanced surfing skills. Some beaches like Cowrie Island also offer water sports activities including jet-skiing, kayaking, and parasailing.
Cowrie Island Water Sports activities:
- Banana Boat – P300 each (min. 5 pax, P1,500; max 8 pax, P2400) good for 15 mins.
- Jet Ski – P1,800 for 15 mins; good for 2 or 4 pax
- Parasailing – P2500 for 15 mins. ride
- Fly Fishing – P1,800 for 15 mins; good for 2 or 4 pax
- Sailboat – P2,500 for 1 hr. 30 mins ride; max of 4 pax
- Sports Fishing – P15,000 for 3 hours. max of 6 pax
5. Go on a City Tour
For those who want to learn more about the historical side of the city or have half a day to spare, you can book city tours to visit various historical sites. The most popular sites usually included in city tours are:
- World War II Musuem
- Heritage Museum
- Running tour to: PPC Cathedral, Baywalk, Rizal Park
- Binuatan Creations
- Bakers Hill
- Palawan Rescue and Wildlife Center (Crocodile Farm)
Lots of travel agencies in the city offer half-day city tours which you can easily join (just ask help from your hotel to arrange it), or you can just hire a tricycle for a couple of hours to do it DIY style. If you know how to drive a motorcycle, it’s easy enough to get around on your own around the city. Scooter and motorcycle rentals are widely available around Puerto Princesa City.
READ MORE: DIY Puerto Princesa City Tour by Motorcycle
6. Get an adrenaline rush on or off the road
I was really looking forward to trying out MAX Palawan, a wild exploration on the trails and the views inside the Mango ATV X-treme Palawan, but unfortunately our tour there got cancelled. For those who check out the best off-roader’s playground in Puerto Princesa, you can hop on ATVs, quad bikes and dune buggies at MAX Palawan at Km 25.5, Puerto Princesa North Road, Bacungan (on the way to the Underground River).
- X-Treme Trail Ride. 2-3 hours. P2500
- Adventure Trail Ride. 2 hours. P1800
- Experience Trail Ride. 45 minutes. P750
Nearer the city, you can also try fun kart rentals and go kart racing at the Palawan International Circuit in Sta. Monica. Motorcycle riders might want to try Scooter and Underbone Racing or check out the dirt cross for motocross riders nearby. The Palawan International Circuit is open from Tuesday to Sunday from 9am to 6pm. Obviously, I was in the wrong get-up and didn’t have enough time to try this, but it’s something I wouldn’t mind checking out next time I visit.
7. Visit the Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm
Possibly one of the best prisons in the country, the Iwahig Prison is a model penal colony where instead of placing prisoners behind bars, they get get to roam around in a vast area with fields, shelters, ponds and natural surroundings.
The people walking around in color-coded shirts are actually prisoners, who just do chores, do farming, fishing, make and sell souvenir items and the like. While you’re here, you can buy souvenirs like wooden carvings, magnets, bags and other handicrafts made by inmates.
8. Go on a Food Trip
Palawan is a great destination for foodies with homegrown establishments like Ka Lui’s, Badjao Seafront and Kinabuch’s Bar & Grill having been around for years. These are all well-known establishments worth visiting especially for first-timers.
A newer restaurant you should definitely check out is Ka Inato, which serves good Filipino cuisine and employs servers who are hearing impaired. Their specialty is inato or chicken inasal, but I highly recommend the chicken skin, sisig and gising-gising. Aside from pretty good food, the resto has artistic interiors showcasing lots of colorful Palawan wooden sculptures and paintings.
One of the best food experiences we had during our trip was our seafood feast at Skylight Hotel, which serves a wide menu and has fresh live seafood. We got to sample amazing crabs, buttered garlic prawns, tropical seaweed salad, pineapple shrimp salad, squid and lots of other dishes. Highly recommended for groups.
For those looking for a heavy merienda-type meal or classic comfort food before their evening flights back, McCoys Pizza near the airport serves really good wood fired pizza, pasta, chicken and mojos.
A specialty of Puerto Princesa is the Filipino-Vietnamese dish known as chao long (or pho) paired with Vietnamese bread. There are various chao long eateries around the city, but for the most authentic version, you can visit the Vietnamese village Viet Ville. Bona’s Chao long is another popular eatery in the city.
If you’re a vegetarian, you might want to try Namaskar Vegetarian Cafe, a small cafe popular with foreign tourists, which serves a vegetarian take on chao long along with other affordable dishes like spring rolls, salads, vegetarian salmon and fruit shakes.
9. Sample the exotic delicacy: Tamilok
Tamilok is an exotic delicacy you can find in Palawan and Aklan. Also known as woodworm or shipworm, tamilok is not a worm but rather a mollusk that lives in mangrove areas. It’s served kinilaw-style and tastes like creamy oysters, with a slimier texture and saltier flavor. I got to try it at Kinabuch’s Restaurant but preferred the fresh ones being sold near the Underground River (P120/serving).
This may not be at the top of most tourist’s lists of things to do as most people feel squeamish just looking at it, but eating tamilok was actually one of the main reasons I wanted to go back to Palawan, just so I could add it to my collection of exotic eats. If you don’t like eating fresh oysters or have a sensitive stomach, I’d suggest you skip this as it can be pretty hard to swallow.
10. Drink craft beer at Palaweño Brewery
The number one reason I wanted to go back to Puerto Princesa was to visit the tap room of Palaweño Brewery, the first and currently the only craft beer in Palawan. Palaweño Brewery is one of the first local craft brewers in the country (established in 2013) and is the country’s first female-led craft brewery. Their line of craft beers are named “Ayahay” which means relaxed, which captures the laid-back style of the island and the beers.
Beer variants include Ambog Ale (American Amber Ale), Palawan Wit Belgian Wheat Beer, Palaw’an Honey Kolsch, Ayahay IPA, Hunter Honey Nut Brown Ale and Mango de Palawan (seasonal). Aside from the tap room, bottled beers are also sold in top establishments around Puerto Princesa (like Kinabuch’s & Ka Lui), Club Agutaya in San Vicente and Art Cafe in El Nido.
Beer tasting session with Journeying James. Thanks for the impromptu city tour!
Palaweño Brewery’s Tap Room is open Monday – Saturday 1pm – 9pm.