The Palawan islands of the Philippines is one of the last frontiers of unexplored territory. A host to nearly 1,780 of the most remote beaches in the country, Palawan was internationally voted as one of the world’s top beach destinations in 2013 and 2015.
The Captivating Palawan Islands
Famous for its massive caves, crystal clear waters, offshore islands, gorgeous sunsets, stunning viewpoints and wide range of animal wildlife, it is no surprise that the Palawan Islands are becoming one of the most sought after tourist stops in the world. Here on the islands, which are about 760km from Manila, the Puerto Princesa Underground River and El Nido Bay are two of the most popular spots in the province, and for many good reasons. They are accessible by airplane, and many airlines have daily flights to the Puerto Princesa Airport.
The Underground River
On December 4, 1999 the Puerto Princesa Underground River, officially known as the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Then, shortly after in 2011, it was also recognised as one of the Top 7 New Natural Wonders of the World. Puerto Princesa, a town nicknamed “The City in a Forest”, was named as the Philippines’ cleanest and greenest city and has also been internationally recognised for its environmental excellence. Be sure to plan in advance because in order to keep the pristine nature intact, the government has put strict limitations on the number of visitors allowed here each year.
“In 2011, the Underground River was recognised as one of the Top 7 New Natural Wonders of the World.”
It is from the city that you reach the Underground River, the longest navigable river of its kind, stretching 8.2km through the St. Paul Caves and exits into the East Sea. It is roughly 80km from the city centre and one can reach the caves with a tour company or by private boat.
The St. Paul Caves
The cave system itself, eloquently weaved throughout a stunning Limestone Karst mountain range, is roughly 24km long and contains many unique chambers one can visit. While navigating the Underground River, there is much more to see than just the ancient stalagmites delicately hanging above. The Subterranean River National Park is a true model of biodiversity which displays over 800 plant, 300 tree, 195 bird, 30 mammal, 19 reptile and 8 bat species. This means you are very likely to see some form of wildlife tranquilly interacting in its natural habitat. The blue-naped parrot, white breasted sea eagle, macaque primate, bearcat, monitor lizard, python, sea cow and over five kinds of sea turtles dominate the area and can frequently be spotted by enthusiastic travellers.
“The Subterranean River National Park displays over 800 plant, 300 tree, 195 bird, 30 mammal, 19 reptile and 8 bat species.”
The National Park covers about 222km of land and consists of a complete mountain-to-sea ecosystem made up of 8/13 forest types found in tropical Asia. The wide range of plant, animal and marine life is one of a kind. Considering the interest in maintaining the natural beauty of the region, it is no surprise that there are always new discoveries being made as researchers further explore the caves. Just a few years ago in 2010, scientists discovered an entire second level to the renowned caves. This level includes a complex waterfall system and a striking new dome. Other areas of the caves are so deep, they are inaccessible due to a dangerous lack of oxygen.
Whether you are navigating the river or caves, there is no doubt you will be in awe as you trek through this aqua and limestone wonderland. With the serene translucent waters and countless kinds of colourful marine life swimming below, there is always something to catch your eye. Here, you are surrounded by panoramic beauty that puts your mind and body at ease.
El Nido: The Gateway to Islands
El Nido is a province of the Palawan Islands about 238km northeast of Puerto Princesa’s capital. It is a fully managed resource protected municipality and this is the first of its kind in the Philippines.
El Nido Bay has been nicknamed “The Gateway to the Bacuit Archipelago”, which consists of over 45 islands offering a mesmerising view at every turn. You can choose to stay in El Nido City where one can find cheap accommodation, or travel to a smaller, private island resort if you prefer a more posh setting. From the city centre’s pier, you can take a day trip to one of many islands of your choice (from about VND600,000 per day), where you will experience gorgeous scenery filled with jungle-canopied islands and water with unmatched visibility.
“El Nido Bay consists of over 45 islands offering a mesmerising view at every turn.”
El Nido is a scuba diving and snorkeling heaven for beginners and professionals alike, offering over 50 untouched, white sand beaches for your swimming pleasure. Bacuit Bay offers over 30 famous dive sites where one can swim with wildlife such as sea turtles, mantas, and whale sharks.El Nido Bay also contains over 3 different marine habitats, 100 species of coral, 813 species of fish, mesmerising marble cliffs, mangrove forests, prehistoric caves, and lush jungle waterfalls. The bay is jam packed with alluring islands and there are plenty of destinations to visit as you carefully decide which islands will be best suited for your personal preference.
This the most popular spot in El Nido Bay, and it’s known for its two elegant lagoons - named Big and Small Lagoon. This has become an exclusive area due to the glistening blue waters beneath the breathtaking limestone caps towering above. You can swim or take a kayak from one lagoon to the next by peacefully going through a small passageway upon entering the sublime pool of the lagoon.
The Twin Beaches
Calitang and Nacpan Beach comprise what are referred to as the Twin Beaches. This section of El Nido Bay is accessible by tricycle, bike or taxi and takes about 45 minutes on an unpaved dirt road.
Once you arrive at the twin beaches you can choose to relax, sip some cheap beer or, if you’re the more adventurous type, hike up to the lookout point for a dazzling view of the scenery below.
Vigan Island (Snake Island)
Named for its snake-like shape, Vigan Island is another highly frequented island by many tourists. It is known for its huge S-shaped sandbar which allows you to swim on both sides of the shore. However, be careful, as you can only visit this island during low tide as it will disappear under the mysterious blanket of the high tide.
This is the closest island to the centre of the city and also contains the highest peak at about 640m above sea level. It is loaded with hidden lagoons (again, only accessible by swimming or kayaking), nature trails, and plenty of white sand beaches to pass the time. Sabong Beach is the most notable on this island and also serves as a major departure port for island hopping tours.
This cave has received its notoriety because of the many significant archaeological discoveries made here. Since 1998 there have been more than 20,000 artifacts discovered, and scientists have proven that this cavern was inhabited by humans more than 12,000 years ago. Researchers have also found animal and human bones, ancient pottery and primitive tools on site. In addition, there is an 8,000-year-old crematorium inside this prehistoric wonder that visitors can see on their trek through. Whether you plan on visiting for diving, relaxing on the beach, cave and jungle trekking, kayaking, or anything else, the Palawan Islands have made a distinguished mark for themselves amongst all the top beach destinations the world.
For more information please contact PDOT-Vietnam at +848 3 551 2202 or itsmorefuninthephilippines.vn. Like them on Facebook: Philippine Tourism – Vietnam.