Palawan is probably one of the best island destinations for riders in the Philippines. It’s the largest province in the country in terms of total area of jurisdiction and the main road network is just excellent. You get to scratch that urge to just ride on a long stretch of road and get the benefit of relaxing in beautiful beach-side towns at the end of each day.
For Wrangler’s True Wanderer competition in 2016, Art got to bring his Royal Enfield to ride around Palawan, while I got assigned to ride around and explore Cebu. He raved about the quality of the roads there and the beach in San Vicente though warned me that El Nido was a lot more developed since we last visited. I was really jealous of his ride there and kind of wished we got to do that adventure together. Since we spent our honeymoon in El Nido in 2010, a Palawan road trip would have been a cool way to revisit the place.
Thanks to free RT tickets won from AirAsia, we decided to celebrate Art’s birthday by renting a couple of motorbikes to ride from Puerto Princesa to El Nido and back on the main Palawan Island. For those who want to ride around the island, I’m sharing some travel tips based on the route we took.
WHERE EXACTLY IS PALAWAN:
Palawan is an archipelagic province of the Philippines located in the region of MIMAROPA composed of the main Palawan Island (which it is named after) and a number of other smaller islands surrounding it, totaling roughly 1,780 islands and islets. The islands of Palawan stretch between Mindoro in the northeast and Borneo in the southwest. The province lies between the West Philippines Sea and the Sulu Sea.
WHY IT’S GREAT FOR ROAD TRIPS:
The main Palawan Island is long and narrow, measuring 450 km (280 mi) long, and 50 kms (31 mi) wide, giving riders lots of roads and gorgeous coastlines and views. Unlike riding in the mainland in Luzon where you have to go through Metro Manila or major cities, traffic here is non-existent (except for some minor choke points in Puerto Princesa and El Nido). Sure, you can ride a van or a bus to get around, but riding on your own will give you the freedom to explore and stop wherever you want. I actually found riding here less tiring (and more fun!) than being shuttled in a van during our first trip.
HOW TO GET THERE:
The easiest way to get to Palawan is by air. Palawan is connected by air from the international as well as domestic airports at Cebu, Manila and Caticlan (Boracay) through four gateways: El Nido Airport in El Nido, Puerto Princesa City Airport, and Cesar Lim Rodriguez Airport in Taytay and Francisco Reyes Airport in Busuanga. Most tourists get here through the capital (where the international airport is located) in the city of Puerto Princesa, located on the western side and the middle of the island.
For the main Palawan Island, Air Asia, Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines all fly to Puerto Princesa City every day. Travel time is about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Travel time between Puerto Princessa and El Nido usually takes 5 to 6 hours by van, 6-8 hours by bus, or however long you want with a self-drive car or motorbike rental. Air Swift also offers daily flights from Manila, Cebu and Boracay to El Nido. Travel time is around 1 hour on a 50-seater ATR aircraft. From Lio airport you can take a 20-minute tricycle ride into El Nido town.
Ships operate between Manila and the ports in Coron (a separate island of Palawan) and Puerto Princesa. You can now travel by fast craft directly from El Nido to Coron. Boats leaves daily El Nido at 6am and travel time is around 4 hours. The boat leaves Coron at 12:00. Fare is Php 1,760 one way.
MOTORCYCLE RENTALS IN PALAWAN:
You can ship or bring your own motorcycles to Palawan via 2Go, but it is not cost-effective if you’re just going to be there for a short trip. Ferry trips are not as frequent, cargo fees can be a bit expensive and it’s a major hassle to pick up and ship bikes back from the port if you’re traveling by air. If you have time, you can just ride the RoRo direct to Puerto Princesa. However, motorbike rentals are widely available all around Puerto Princesa and El Nido, so renting motorcycles is the more practical option for riders compared to bringing your own bikes.
For this trip, we rented 2 Honda motorbikes (XR 150 and an XRM), which are suitable for all types of terrain. The main roads are fully concrete and paved, suitable for all types of motorbikes and big bikes, but we passed through some patches of rough roads and sandy beach areas in the area going to San Vicente. I spotted a few foreigners riding on scooters, which allowed them to stash large backpacks on the footrest. Motorbike rentals range from P500-800 a day depending on the type, inclusive of helmet. There are gas stations, tire service and roadside cafes along the way from Puerto Princesa to El Nido. Gas is also sold in bottles in small stores along the way.
For motorcycle rental, contact Gibb’s (they offer Motorbike Rental, Car Rental, Money Changer, Luggage Depot, Travel & Tours). Rizal Avenue, Brgy. San Miguel, Puerto Princesa City, Palawan near the city center and welcome arch to Puerto Princesa. Cel: 0936-6766964. 0910-691-1755. Foreign tourists will need to leave their passports to rent bikes. Since we didn’t have our passports with us, we had to pay up front, leave IDs (not driver’s license) and a refundable deposit of Php 2,000 per bike. Extra charges apply for any scratches/damage on the bikes and for late returns.
This road trip covers a total of 600+ km from Puerto Princesa, San Vicente & El Nido and back via all paved roads and some rough roads. This route is doable on all types of motorcycles including big bikes and low-displacement scooters. It is possible to ride from Puerto Princesa to El Nido in a day (8-9 hours at a chill pace), but we decided to divide the ride into 3 days to have more time to enjoy each spot.
Ideally, you will want to spend at least 5 days to cover the main highlights of Northern Palawan and have time to do island-hopping tours. But since we had done those before, we just concentrated on the ride part.
- Day 1: Puerto Princesa City – Roxas – San Vicente via Alimanguhan (188 kms)
- Day 2: San Vicente – Taytay – El Nido (123 kms)
- Day 3: El Nido – Taytay – San Vicente – Roxas – Puerto Princesa (294 kms)
LANDMARKS & POINTS OF INTEREST:
Puerto Princesa is the capital of the province of Palawan. It is the least densely populated city in the Philippines and the second largest city geographically (after Davao City) with an area of 2,381.02 square km. It’s one of the most popular tourist cities in the country with many beach resorts and seafood restaurants. Puerto Princesa is often acclaimed as as the cleanest and greenest city in the Philippines.
For this trip, we went straight from the airport to a motorcycle rental shop in Puerto Princesa and drove directly to San Vicente, but for first-timers in Puerto Princesa, the highlight is visiting the Puerto Princesa Underground River and doing Island-Hopping tours around Honda Bay.
READ MORE: 10 Things to Do in Puerto Princesa, Palawan
Roxas is on the main east coast road of Palawan, running between Puerto Princesa and El Nido. There are daily buses and shuttle vans from the new marketplace terminal in San Jose, Puerto Princesa. In general, buses take an average of 3-4 hr to reach Roxas while shuttle vans take 2 hours. Roxas is generally a stopover place on the way to El Nido or Port Barton for those who want to take a break.
San Vicente is located in the north-western side of the main island of Palawan, roughly 186 kilometers or 4-5 hours drive direct from Puerto Princesa City or El Nido. The top draw here is Long Beach, a beachfront area with 14.7 km long coastline, currently the longest wide sand beach in the Philippines and an emerging tourist destination.
San Vicente is not yet as touristy as Puerto Princesa and El Nido, but I don’t know for how long because of new tourism developments in the works. The Long Beach spans to the coastline of four barangays namely Poblacion, New Agutaya, San Isidro and Alimanguan. Tours around San Vicente include:
- German Island
- Twin Reef
- Port Barton*
TRAVEL WARNING: As beautiful as the beaches are in Palawan, particularly San Vicente, I have to warn all potential tourists that the area is known for having nik nik or sand mites. They mostly bite around sunrise and sunset and can cause extremely itchy bites. If you are bitten, serious lesions and rashes can develop in only a few days. The most effective way to prevent this is to apply insect repellent with a high concentration of DEET. In Palawan, “OFF!” lotion is widely sold and has the recommended high concentration of DEET. You can also mix the repellent with sun tan lotion, coconut oil or any other oil. Filipino locals use mostly coconut oil or eucalyptus oil.
WHERE TO STAY & EAT IN SAN VICENTE, PALAWAN:
There are a few high-end resorts around the Long Beach like Club Agutaya and Peace & Love Resort, as well as more budget-friendly homestay accommodations. However most are far away from each other and public transportation is scarce. It’s really better if you have your own form of transport to have easy access to spots.
We stayed in Turublien Long Beach Inn & Beach Bar, a simple and rustic lodge with just 10 rooms located with a good beachfront area of San Vicente. The main structure with the rooms are separated by a short small river from the beachfront area, but you can cross anytime by boat or raft.
The rooms are pretty basic, but come with air-conditioning and have their own private bathrooms. You will want to spend most of your time at the beach area anyway. They have working WiFi near the beachfront area (not in rooms). TIP: Bring a hammock and find your own spot on the beach. For those driving, there’s a parking area near the beach accessible to motorcycles.
Turublien Long Beach Inn also runs a Beach Bar where you can have food, including fresh seafood and native specialties, prepared for you. Beer is available. There are a few eateries in the small poblacion of San Vicente, including an open air food park near the market area that serves fruit shakes, grilled specialties, and fresh seafood.
The town of Taytay is about 207 km from Puerto Princesa City. You will pass this town on the way to El Nido. The main historic landmark here you can visit if you only have limited time is Fort Sta. Isabel or Fuerza de Sta. Isabel, a historic landmark in the town of Taytay that was built in the year 1667. It was named in honor of one of Spain’s royalties, Queen Isabela II.
El Nido is about 238 kms north-east of Puerto Princesa or about 8-9 hours direct drive at a chill pace from Puerto Princesa. El Nido is famed for its white-sand beaches, coral reefs, limestone cliffs and as the gateway to the Bacuit archipelago. El Nido is currently ranked #4 in Conde Nast Traveler’s list of “20 Most Beautiful Beaches in the World.” It’s regularly listed as one of the Best Beach and Island destinations in the Philippines. If it’s your first time in Palawan, you will probably want to spend the bulk of your time in El Nido to visit all the beautiful beaches and lagoons.
To manage the influx of tourists, tour operators offer neatly packaged island-hopping and land tours to different island clusters, namely: (prices as of Feb 2018)
- Tour A: Small Lagoon, Big Lagoon, Shimizu Island, Secret Lagoon, 7 Commando Beach – Php 1,200/pax
- Tour B: Cathedral Cave, Snake Island, Hidden Beach, Pinagbuyatan Island, Entalula Island – Php 1,300/pax
- Tour C: Secret Beach, Matinloc Shrine, Hidden Beach, Star Beach, Helicpoter Island – Php 1,400/pax
- Tour D: Cadlao Lagoon, Pasandigan, Paradise, Natnat Beach, Bukal Beach – Php 1,200/pax
- Tour E: (Land tour) Twin Beaches, Marimegmeg Beach and some waterfalls – Php 1,500/pax
You could also explore on your own, ride to Nacpan Beach, go diving, take a tour to Linapacan Island, or just make your own itinerary. To be honest, I kind of have mixed feelings about El Nido as it is now. The poblacion area has developed at a shocking rate since my first visit in 2010. There are loads of establishments and a bustling nightlife reminiscent of areas like Ubud in Bali or Khao San Road in Bangkok. I just hope the natural beauty of the beaches, cliffs and smaller islands will be preserved despite El Nido’s increased popularity.
WHERE TO EAT IN EL NIDO:
As of 2018, there are so many restaurants and cafes and El Nido, with lots of international choices that it’s kind of overwhelming. You can find any type of cuisine here to suit your mood. Just walking along one street, we saw restos serving Japanese sushi, Mediterranean cuisine, artisanal gelato and good old Filipino grilled specialties. We just stopped by El Nido Boutique & Art Cafe, one of the long-time homegrown haunts. This resto serves craft beer from Palaweno Brewery based in Puerto Princesa which goes great with their Seafood Pizza.
We also stumbled upon Boodmo, a new Ukrainian nano brewery established in El Nido in 2017. They serve Cadlao IPA and Pale Ale brewed for the tropical climate. Price range is P150-180/glass here. They also serve Ukrainian beer chow (like mussel & shrimp dumplings with pesto) which is pretty good.
WHERE TO STAY IN EL NIDO, PALAWAN:
There’s no shortage of places to stay in El Nido, Palawan, from secluded high-end luxury hotels on remote islands to backpacker-friendly joints right smack in the poblacion, walking distance from restaurants and cafes. During our most recent visit, we stayed in Peak House Garden Pension, a cozy lodge with comfortable AC rooms very near the main beach area and walking distance from the top cafes and bars in El Nido. They have secure parking for motorbikes and offer complimentary breakfast and WiFi.
BACK IN PUERTO PRINCESA:
We allotted one night in Puerto Princesa to rest and relax after the ride. If you still have time to spare and are looking for more things to do (other than visiting the Puerto Princesa Underground River and island hopping around Honda Bay), you can:
- Visit Nagtabon Beach
- Go on a City Tour
- Relax at a beachfront resort
- Go Food Tripping
- Drink Craft Beer
Of course, no visit to Puerto Princesa is complete without passing by Palaweno Brewery, which serves bar chow now!
You can also have the customary chao long and seafood meal at Badjao Seafront Restaurant.
READ MORE: Food Trip: Puerto Princesa, Palawan
WHERE TO STAY IN PUERTO PRINCESA, PALAWAN:
For our last night, we stayed in Skylight Hotel, which is conveniently located just 10 minutes away from the Puerto Princesa International Airport and near the motorcycle rental shops. It’s also near the city’s financial district and top attractions as well and has its own live seafood restaurant on the ground floor. It has parking, free breakfast and WiFi. It’s also walking distance from Palaweno Brewery. All our hotels for this trip were booked via Traveloka, a flight and hotel booking app.
If you’re not on a budget, a good option is Microtel Puerto Princesa. The hotel is a bit far from the city center, but their beach area and lounge is a nice place to hang out and kill time before checking out for late night flights. They provide van shuttle service to the airport.
I’ll be writing experiential posts about this Palawan road trip per day, but hopefully this travel guide can help those who are planning their rides around Palawan island. I’ll link to the daily posts here soon:
- Day 1: Puerto Princesa – San Vicente
- Day 2: San Vicente – Taytay – El Nido
- Day 3-4: El Nido – Puerto Princesa