Palawan had me from the very first moments. With the breathtaking waterfront, spectacular cliffs, lush mountains, hidden lagoons and lovely beaches all over, its beauty is beyond words. And I would immediately jump into a storytelling mode every time it becomes the topic of a conversation.
This travel was the most unexpected yet my favorite so far. We’re originally booked for Boracay but since the government announced its closure for six months for a much needed clean up because of its sewerage problems, we needed to think of an alternative place to spend the labor-day week. We thought of Palawan right away- the nirvana for nature lovers. We are thankful that AirAsia allowed us to reroute our flight to Puerto Princesa with no additional cost even if it’s less than a week before the labor day.
Palawan was declared for the third time as the best island in the world due to its exceptional biodiversity and rich flora and fauna. It gained world’s attention after Palawan’s Underground River in Puerto Princesa was voted as one of the 7 wonders of Nature and now it’s gaining more popularity because of the lovely beaches, crystalline waters and limestone cliffs of El Nido. In this trip, we decided to visit both Puerto Princesa and El Nido. However, this article will focus mainly on our Puerto Princesa experience. I will write a separate one for El Nido.
Puerto Princesa, Palawan
After slightly more than an hour of flight, we landed in Puerto Princesa City, the capital of the island province of Palawan. Apart from visiting the world’s longest navigable underground river, I’m more excited to see why it was acclaimed as the cleanest and greenest city in the Philippines several times.
Puerto Princesa, Palawan Airport
Their airport is small although it was classified as an international airport. It is located in the city proper and is very accessible. There’s a tricycle lane across the arrival area that offers a ride for Php50 and there are car rental booths located on the left side of the exit door. An information desk is also available together with the police help desk for additional assistance.
Puerto Princesa, Palawan Accommodation
We booked a room through Airbnb for 2 days only as we plan to travel to El Nido on our third day. We stayed in Color Mansion for just Php950 per night- the cheapest rate that we found online. They have good reviews in the Airbnb app and was given 4.5 or very good ratings by TripAdvisor. What I like about this place is its accessibility- 5 minutes tricycle ride to the airport and walking distance to fast food chains like Jollibee and McDonalds, restaurants like Kinabuchs Grill and Ka Lui and to club and bars like Tiki and E-Republic. What’s not so good about it is the noise coming from the airplane engine as it is close to the airport.
Color Mansion has a playful interior of bright colors. It is located in the residential area of Puerto Princesa, Palawan. Their neighborhood is quiet especially during night time. It operates a 24-hour front desk and provides complimentary Wi-Fi access in its public areas. It offers air-conditioned rooms with a wardrobe and cable TV. It gives you a home feel with a view of the in-house garden. You can enjoy a siesta time in their common living area where you can read books or interact with other guests. There’s a kitchen and clean common toilet and bathrooms you can use.
Day 1: Puerto Princesa, Palawan City Tour
A good option to do the city tour is to rent a tricycle to visit some attractions as you control your pace. There are tourism accredited tricycles that offer a tour that includes 6 attractions for just Php600. We just checked-in our luggage upon reaching the hotel at around 1 PM and then we chartered a tricycle and headed to do the city tour so we can maximize our time. However if you have more time, there are also travel agencies and hotels that offer city tours but usually, it is more expensive and requires you to join a group.
1. KaLui Native Restaurant
This is not part of the attractions they usually offer for a Puerto Princesa, Palawan city tour but we asked the driver to bring us to this highly rated restaurant first as we are already starving since we haven’t eaten in the entire duration our flight and at the same time, I’m curious about this place as I’ve read a lot of good reviews and recommendations online.
Since this restaurant is quite popular, it is recommended to call for a reservation as they are fully booked most of the time. We’re just lucky that there are still tables available when arrived as we did not make a call.
We were warmly welcomed at the reception area. The staff asked us to remove our shoes and placed them in a shoe box with a corresponding number. Dining in KaLui requires guests to go on barefoot as they enter the native Filipino home inspired restaurant with nipa roof, wooden floor, and woven walls. We were given a corner table where we have to sit on a traditional handwoven mat. The interior is bursting with native artworks that depict Filipino culture.
Their menu offers a set meal that’s good for a family of 5. We ordered the Kalui special that includes a starter soup, a vegetable dish, fish steak, prawns and my favorite fish rolls in coco cream and rice. It was a nice dining experience- the food is awesome, the ambiance is perfect and the staffs are very friendly. It was a good decision that we started our city tour with this. Truly a must-try!
2. Crocodile farm (Puerto Princesa, Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Center)
I actually would like to skip this as I was just in Davao a few months ago where we visited a big crocodile farm but since my companion hasn’t seen a crocodile in person yet, we decided to give it a visit. The farm was initially set up for the conservation of the crocodiles but they later hold other endemic species like the Palawan bear-cat, porcupines, bearded pigs and other exotic animals. Entrance fee is Php100.
The tour started with a talk from the curator discussing the history of the center that started as a veterinary care facility. Inside the receiving area is an exhibit that displays crocodile skeletons in a glass chest and a crocodile skin mounted on the wall. After the lecture, the guide took us to the public area of the research center where we got to see the crocodiles up close.
3. Butterfly Eco Garden, Puerto Princesa, Palawan
This is a net-enclosed garden holding butterflies and caterpillars. It is a sanctuary where you get to walk and watch butterflies feed on nectar and flap their colorful wings. The garden is amazing filled with plants and flowers of different kinds.
What made this place memorable is my encounter with a scorpion for the first time that I was able to hold with my bare hands. I was very proud of myself being the only one courageous enough to hold the scorpion among all of the of visitors during that time. Also, it is my first time to see a peacock-pheasant which is the animal in the official seal of the city and is considered part of the endangered species.
4. Tribal Village, Puerto Princesa, Palawan
Among all of the attractions, this is my favorite. Nothing feels more indulging than to interact with the tribe that is the original dwellers of Palawan. The province is home to several indigenous groups such as the Tagbanua, Palwa’an, Tao’t Bato, Molbog, Batak, Agutaynen, and Cuyonon. These groups of people live in remote villages throughout the province that are found in mountains and coastal areas.
It was a nice experience to learn about these indigenous people, hear them play their native instruments, watch them use their spears and other weapons that they primarily use for hunting, see the inside of their houses, learn about their dialect and be able to personally speak and mingle with them. They are very friendly and it seems that they are already used to socialize with the tourists.
It was also an amazing experience to be able to hold and lift an average adult length snake with the help of the members of the tribe. Kindly notice that there’s no plaster or tape surrounding the snake’s mouth when I lifted it. Very scary yet a fulfilling experience.
5. Kuyba Almoneca, Puerto Princesa, Palawan
This is a meditation garden where you get to see the holy face inside the holy family cave. Kuyba means cave and Almoneca is the combination of the owner’s children names. We spent a long time in the Tribal village that when we reach Kuyba Almoneca they are about to close. Outside is a big tarp of the image of the Holy Face that they believe to be Jesus Christ.
Day 2: Puerto Princesa, Palawan Underground River Tour
We booked a tour package for the underground river as soon as we arrived at our hotel. We were informed that we needed to book early because the local government only allow a certain number of people to enter the cave per day and because of the influx of tourists, the tickets easily get sold out. The tourism office issues a permit for every visitor who opted to enter the cave and you have to go to their office at the city Coliseum to apply for it. We’re glad that we don’t have to go there anymore as our tour package already covers the permit, the van to Sabang Port and the boat from Sabang to the underground river that saved us a lot of time. The tour also includes a buffet lunch. We paid Php1800 for the package.
7 AM- Travel to Sabang Port: You need to allot an entire day to do the underground river tour. We were picked up by a van from our hotel at 7 AM and got back at 5 PM the same day. The reason why we departed so early is because of the number of vans racing to get to the port to get listed first and be in the queue which is first come first served basis.
The travel to Sabang port is around 3 hours with a stopover of 30 minutes at a restaurant for coffee and snacks. We reached the port at around 10 AM and we waited on the queue for 2 hours before we were allowed to board a boat to the underground river. We were not surprised with the wait time as our tour guide was able to set an expectation during her discussion inside the van while we travel. We had a knowledgeable and very accommodating tour guide that made our travel fun and easy. To Ate Mae, you did a good job!
10 AM- Waiting for our queue and buffet lunch: When we reached the Sabang Port we were gathered in a pavilion where we stayed while waiting for our turn to board the boat. For the meantime, our tour guide left us to check for our time-slot. To kill time, we went to the lane of souvenir shops and enjoyed fresh avocado and mango shakes from the fruit stalls scattered all over the place. There’s also a nice beach next to the pier that you can visit to keep you busy. After an hour, they served our food in a buffet setup. We waited for roughly around 2 hours before we were allowed to go to the boarding area and take the boat to the Puerto Princesa Underground River. So expect for a long waiting time. That’s just the way it is.
12NN- Boat travels to the Puerto Princesa Underground River: It’s a 20-minute ride from the pier to the heritage site. We stepped off the boat on a small beach and headed to the jungle inhabited with many monkeys. The tour guide did not allow us to bring plastic bags as the monkeys may think that it contains food and they may snatch it from us. We were told not to feed the monkeys and not to smile showing our teeth as it is a sign of aggression for them and they may attack us. We stayed for another hour on the river bank waiting for our paddle boat to start our tour of the cave.
1 PM- The Puerto Princesa Underground River Tour: With our life vests, hard hats and audio guide gear on, we explored the underground river in a paddle boat. I appreciate that they provided an audio guide with commentary about the river and the cave with theatrical music that adds drama to our tour.
The speaker talks about the history of the cave, what to do and not while inside the cave and discuss the stalagmite formations (a mound or tapering column rising from the floor of a cave) and stalactite formations (a tapering structure hanging like an icicle from the roof of a cave). Providing audio guide with an earphone instead of the boatman to do the talking lessen the noise that avoids disturbing the creatures inside the cave.
Overall, it was a great experience. No wonder why it was regarded as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the ‘New 7 Wonders of Nature. The tour lasted for about 40 minutes and we headed back to the boat after so we can go back to the hotel and rest. We were dropped back to our hotel at 5 PM.
Night Life in Puerto Princesa
After sun soaking and watching the fabulous sunset in the beaches of Puerto Princesa, you may want to end your day listening to a live music with a bottle of cold beer, dancing all night at a club or laughing your heart out at a comedy bar. You have plenty of options to get your night started.
The Rizal Avenue is the place to go for a night out as you will find numerous bars such as the Tiki bar which is the biggest club in town, Kataboom- a reggae style bar, E-Republic- a comedy music bar and Kinabuchs which is an outdoor sports bar and restaurant. We went to Tiki bar first but it was very crowded so we decided to go to E-republic instead which is just a walking distance away from it. We had a great laugh. Their show was entertaining, lively and pretty cool.