All the people we had met who had been to the Philippines had recommended the island of Palawan so we booked a flight from Manila. After spending a couple of days in the island’s capital, Puerto Princesa, we headed to Port Barton (five hours in a very uncomfortable jeepney).
Port Barton was a typical small Filipino town with dusty streets, intermittent electricity and cockfights. However, due to Lonely Planet talking it up it was also full of travellers (mainly the sort we are not to keen on – long hair, fisherman pants, haggling over 5p). It didn’t really tickle our fancy so the next day we took a small boat over to Cacnipa Island.
Occupying its own beach was the Coconut Garden Island Resort with a few cottages rising up the hill tastefully hidden by palm trees. The beach itself was perfect – blindingly white sand and clear turquoise water. We spent three days relaxing on the sand, taking a boat trip to a nearby beach and playing chess with a nice English couple we met.
After the relaxation it was time for another lengthy Filipino journey (the second-worst thing after the food!) to El Nido (after setting out at 6.30am we arrived about 4pm, having travelled less than 100 km). In contrast to the relative solitude of Cacnipa Island, El Nido was abuzz with tourists but it was still a sweet little town surrounded by the most amazing limestone cliffs.
The Philippines is only the second country we have visited in high season and the first where all our accommodation hasn’t been reserved in advance (like in Thailand) and this has been a bit of a problem, especially in Palawan. Most of the hotels listed in the guidebook have been full and in many places we have had to walk round for ages trying to find something acceptable (a compromise of quality and price). Maybe we have been really lucky with the weather, but travelling off season is places like Indonesia and Malaysia did not have any downsides.
The reason we had journeyed to this end of the island was to see the Bacuit Archipelago, an area of beaches, turquoise water, jungle, sheer limestone karsts and stunning inlets. It is often compared with Halong Bay in Vietnam or Krabi in Thailand.
We took a boat trip (the travel agents offer three – imaginatively named ‘A’, ‘B’ and ‘C’) around the various sights which were all beautiful but there were a lot of other tourists (and consequently boats) at each stop and I didn’t enjoy it as much as Halong Bay where you could stay overnight on the boat and there were fewer people. A few snaps:
All in all, Palawan was good but a bit overhyped and very busy compared to other places we had been in recently.