Known for its biodiversity as well as its natural landscapes and seascapes, Palawan is undoubtedly a favourite tropical destination among tourists. The “last frontier” of the Philippines is located on the southwest side of the country, offering spectacular sceneries of white sand beaches, azure waters and golden sunsets. With so many things you will enjoy in Palawan, between Puerto Princesa’s famous underground rivers and El Nidos enchanting lagoons, your 7-10 days of vacation will definitely be an unforgettable one. In this guide, we will take you through an adventure from Puerto Princesa to El Nido so you wouldn’t miss a visit to some of the iconic sites that make Palawan truly the Philippines’ crown jewel.
1. Stay in Astoria, Puerto Princesa
Get a perfect and quiet escape on the first leg of your Palawan trip by staying at Astoria Palawan for at least three days. Considered as one of the best in Puerto Princesa, this luxurious resort advocates responsible tourism and takes pride in being one of the most sustainable and eco-friendly resorts in the city. It spans five hectares which include a collection of rooms and villas, amenities and restaurants, as well as Palawan Waterpark, the only waterpark in Puerto Princesa.
Designed vibrantly to reflect the beauty of the tropical island, the accommodations in Astoria Palawan is sure to keep you comfortable and energized. Choose among the private rooms and suites housed in one of the 13 leaf-inspired villas, the Annex building, or the newly launched Premium Villas. The resort is situated right by the shores of the Sulu Sea so you can have magnificent views of the water. There are also fun-filled outdoor activities like off-road biking, kayaking, and golf putting that you can enjoy for free.
2. Take the Underground River Tour
One of the biggest reasons why tourists choose to stop at Puerto Princesa before going directly to El Nido is to visit this unique and famous spot. Named as one of the Wonders of Nature and listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park is home to some indigenous wildlife and is a popular spot for birdwatching. It is also considered as the world’s longest navigable underground river.
It is best to book your tour in advance if you want to visit the underground river. We booked ours through World Holiday Travel and Tours. The underground tour usually runs for 45-60 minutes where you can see thousands-year-old stalagmites and stalactites formations. Don’t miss the bats hanging inside the cave too! If you’re craving for more adventure, you can add Sabang Zipline and Ugong Rock to your stops.
3. Explore Port Barton
If you are looking for a relaxing and peaceful beach time, Port Barton is the perfect place to go. This tiny village is situated three hours away from San Vicente town proper and offers a quieter and more laid back atmosphere as compared to that of El Nido. Very much different from its famous neighbour, Port Barton has limited access to fancy hotels and restaurants, ensuring 100 percent tranquillity and relaxation.
There are different options to reach Port Barton from Puerto Princesa. However, you can simply ask the concierge at Astoria Palawan to help you arrange your van transfers. Once there, spend a peaceful morning while walking on the long white sand bar or visit the turtle sanctuary and the waterfalls. You can also join tour packages or rent a private boat that can take you island hopping. For an overnight stay, there are beaches that offer rental tents so you can enjoy a night camping and a bonfire.
4. Enjoy a culinary experience at Astoria Palawan’s dinner buffet
There is nothing like a selection of good food and awesome entertainment to mark the end of the day. Enjoy a sumptuous buffet dinner at The Reserve while being entertained by superb performances of a live band and fire dancers. Don’t forget to try their award-winning drink too! Made of mint, honey, calamansi, rum, and its main ingredient, tamilok or woodworm, dirty-mansi is definitely a unique drink that shouldn’t be missed.
The Reserve, Astoria Palawan
Location: Kilometer 62, North National Hwy, Brgy. San Rafael, Puerto Princesa City, Palawan 5300
Opening Hours: Daily 6:30am-10:00pm
5. Check out the Palawan Waterpark
While in Puerto Princesa, make sure to bring out the kid in you and spend a day in Palawan Waterpark. A part of Astoria Palawan, the theme park occupies one hectare of the property and is the first and only water park in the city.
Kids and kids at heart will surely love zooming down giant Vortex and Velocity slides or sliding down the Surf’s Up pool and enjoying its six levels of waves. If you feel like having a lazy day in the water, just grab a floater and let the calming currents of the Lazy River take you on a peaceful tour around the entire waterpark. Sculptures of Palawan’s endangered species and structures inspired by an indigenous tribe in the country are also displayed at the waterpark.
Location: Kilometer 62, North National Hwy, Brgy. San Rafael, Puerto Princesa City, Palawan 5300
Ticket Prices: ~S$32 (adults) | ~S$25 (child 3-5)
Opening Hours: Daily 9:00am-6:00pm
6. Travel to El Nido from Puerto Princesa
The travel time to get to El Nido from Puerto Princesa varies depending on what mode of transportation you will take. The cheapest option is to ride the bus. However, it is also the longest and may take up to 9 hours. If you have the budget and want to reach the heaven on earth that is El Nido as fast as you can, then taking a 50-minute direct flight is your best bet.
Taking a van is the most popular way to travel from Puerto Princesa to El Nido. It is a bit more expensive than the bus but is also more convenient and faster. Take note though that drivers tend to wait for their vans to be filled so for your convenience, you can book your trip in advance and arrange for a hotel pick-up. Better yet, you can book a private van to avoid the hassle in waiting. World Holiday Travel and Tours Palawan offers transportation to any hotels in El Nido. They also only allow up to 10 persons per trip so space will not be a problem and your comfortable journey is guaranteed.
7. Stay at Seda Lio and book one of their suites
Situated within the Lio Ecotourism Estate, Sedo Lio is the one of the first in El Nido to offer complete facilities to their guests. Enjoy traditional Filipino massage and Seda’s signature treatments at Seda Spa. For the young and young at heart, Seda also has a game room with video games and air hockey tables. You can also do some aqua sports like windsurfing and kayaking in Lio’s lagoons, or ride a bamboo bike as you explore the vast beauty of the estate.
Each room at Seda Lio has its own veranda to enjoy the views of the resort and the sea. Misto, its in-house restaurant, serves local and international cuisine. If you are up for a food crawl, the Lio Ecotourism Estate has many establishments to visit. There are even shops for cool trinkets and locally-made eco-friendly goods. Kalye Artisano, for one, is a stop that you shouldn’t miss, boasting a wide variety of artworks and handicrafts made by local artists.
8. Arrange a private tour via Corazon Travel & Tours
Allot at least two full days for island hopping in El Nido. A must-do when visiting Palawan, the island hopping tours will take you to some of the most breathtaking places you’ll ever see. The tours are divided into 4 standard packages. Our favorites are Tour A which includes stops at the famous Big or Small Lagoon, Secret Lagoon, Shimizu Island and Seven Commandos Island; and Tour C which includes Hidden Beach, Matinloc Shrine, Talisay Island, Secret Beach, and Helicopter Island. Make sure to request for the Big Lagoon if you’re joining Tour A.
For a more relaxed trip and freedom to tweak your itinerary, opt for a private tour rather than joining a group one. We booked ours at Corazon Travel & Tours and requested for Tours A & C combined with some spots from Tour B. Snake Island and Cadlao lagoon were both nice to see, but my personal favorite is Entulalala island’s small cove with very smooth sand and clear turquoise water. Our guides were very helpful and prepared a sumptuous lunch for the two tour days. They also took nice photos of us. Another magical moment is when we stopped at an unnamed island where we could keep the white sand beach and clear, warm water to ourselves.
9. Check out El Nido town
Take advantage of Lio Estate’s free shuttle and explore El Nido town proper. A 30-minute drive away from Seda Lio, this little town offers an interesting mix of tourism and culture. With terminals for vans and busses and docks for boats, it is usually bustling with both locals and tourists alike and is considered as the centre of tourism in the area.
It’s best to rent a motorbike and spend a day to explore what the town offers. Start with a hearty brunch at ArtCafe and try their homemade bread and espresso coffee while enjoying the beach view from the veranda. Just below ArtCafe is El Nido Boutique where you can find everything a traveler needs as well as some souvenirs. If you are craving Italian, head to Trattoria Altrove and indulge in their traditional oven-baked pizza and their mouthwatering pasta and gelato. Last but not least, you definitely shouldn’t miss going to the Boodle Fight Restaurant Bar and feasting on Filipino dishes served in a banana leaf.
10. Spend a day in Nacpan Beach and stay till sunset
Do not let the bumpy road discourage you from driving to this breathtaking beach. Voted as one of the most beautiful beaches in Asia on TripAdvisor, Nacpan Beach is winning locals’ and tourists’ hearts with its untouched landscape, golden sand and clear waters. You’ll have to ride a motorcycle for about an hour to get to this treasure. Along the way, you will pass by lots of palm trees, rice fields, and farmlands full of crops that will give you a provincial vibe. Once you’ve reached it, the 4-kilometre stretch of golden beach will make all your efforts worth it.
Nacpan Beach is the perfect spot to wind down after your exciting adventures in Palawan. The untouched beauty and the lack of crowd bring a different kind of tranquillity. You can just spread a beach mat and sunbathe or you can walk a bit and check out Nacpan’s twin beach, the Calintang Beach. The soft waves are also great for surfing. Before nightfall, you can check in to one of the accommodations near the beach, grab a beer and have some fresh seafood in the nearby restaurant, and witness the magical view of the sunset.
Location: Sitio Calitang, Barangay Bucana, El Nido, Palawan Island 1131, Philippines
11. End your stay with a spa session at Seda Lio
Experience the utmost rejuvenation on your last day with a session at Seda Spa. The spa has four dedicated villas for its services, each of which has glass walls that will let you admire the view of the surrounding flora as you get treated to an invigorating massage. Try Hilot, a traditional Filipino massage, or Seda’s signature combination of Swedish and Shiatsu techniques to get you energized and ready for your next flight.
Seda Spa, Lio Seda
Location: Lio Tourism Estate, Bgy. Villa Libertad, El Nido, Palawan 5313, Philippines
Opening Hours: Daily 11:00am-12:00am
Traveling from Puerto Princesa to El Nido could indeed be quite an adventure. There are so many things to do and so many beautiful places to discover. Seven to ten days is barely enough to cover everything. To make sure that you make the most of your stay on this island, it is best to organise your trip with a travel agency for a hassle-free and convenient vacation. Once you get to know the beautiful places that Palawan is known for and discover new things along the way, you will definitely keep coming back to experience all the best things that this paradise has to offer.