Travel Guide to Palawan: Paradise With a Thousand Virgin Islands Edit

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Michelle Tobias  • Contributor
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Cover photo by Chester See. Graphics by Manel Solsoloy.

At a Glance

Limestone cliffs, sandy islets, hidden coves, and lagoons—these are a common sight in Palawan. Island expeditions to the dreamscapes Bacuit Bay and Calamian Islands are fool-proof the best experiences. The breathtaking Underground River and Tubbataha Reef are UNESCO World Heritage Sites that should not be missed.


The most protected island group in the Philippines, Palawan’s sacred territories never fail to stun even the most jaded of travelers. Located in west central Philippines, the Palawan archipelago has a mind-boggling 2,000-kilometer coastline and almost 1,800 islands and islets. There is no other place in the Philippines that has more concentration of tropical islands.

Going on an island expedition that last up to a week is one of the best ways to relish the uninhabited and surreal, powdery islands of Calamian, which are scattered at Palawan’s northernmost end. Some of the most enchanting sites in this area are its seven brackish lakes, such as Kayangan Lake and Barracuda Lake, each with clear-blue, glassy waters, walled in by craggy limestone cliffs.

At the northern tip of mainland Palawan lies El Nido and its enchanting Bacuit Bay. Like an aerial scene from a Jurassic Park movie, this bay is speckled with a number of jungly islands, emerald-green lagoons, secret coves, and blade-sharp walls of karst limestone. Travelers aiming for a longer stay often take a break at the idyllic Port Barton in San Vicente, or visit the country’s longest beach, the 14.7km Long Beach.

Heading to the forested city of Puerto Princesa, you’d find two UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The Underground River is part of an half-submerged, extensive cave system, recently hailed as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature. East of the city in Sulu Sea is Tubbataha Reef National Park. This highly commendable dive site covers 332 square kilometers of atoll reefs, with a remarkable 100-meter wall, two coral islands, and extensive lagoons.

Every June, people from all over the province come together to celebrate Baragatan Festival and showcase their songs, dances, and music, alongside cultural presentations, exhibitions, float parades, and street dancing.

8 jaw-dropping destinations that capture THE BEST OF PALAWAN

Written by Colleen Cabili


Nestled between Coron and the Calamian Group of Islands is the headliner of Daily News Digs' "35 Clearest Waters in the World to Swim in Before You Die" list, besting Thailand's Koh Phi Phi and even Maldives. Aside from its crystalline waters, this 52-island town boasts of talcum-like sand and plenty of marine life, which one can witness through snorkeling.

Photo by Dennis Silva.

Taraw Peak

Travelers brave the steep and dangerous hike towards the top of this limestone karst for a breathtaking bird’s eye view of El Nido.

Photo by Christian LeBlanc.

Bacuit Bay

To call Bacuit Bay beautiful would be an understatement. Composed of 45 islets, this archipelago is brimming with white sand beaches, crystal clear lagoons, and limestone monoliths.

Photo by El Nido Boutique and Art Cafe.

Tabon Caves

Known as the Cradle of Philippine Civilization, this limestone cavern in the quiet town of Quezon used to be a prehistoric shelter where a 22,000-year-old human skull was discovered.  

Photo from palawandays.com

Port Barton

For travelers seeking a more laid-back getaway in Palawan, there’s the quaint, unspoiled village of Port Baton located 23 kilometers off the coast of Roxas. Apart from its stark white shores, Port Barton is also known for its stunning snorkeling sites that could rival the ones in El Nido.

Photo from travelimagez.com

Puerto Princesa Underground River

Located 70km away from the city proper, this UNESCO World Heritage Site rose to fame in 2011 when it was hailed as one of the new 7 Wonders of Nature. 

Photo from Puerto Princesa Tourism Office.
Photo from Puerto Princesa Tourism Office.

Tubbataha Reef National Park

The Tubbataha Reef National Park is a government protected marine sanctuary that’s home to a staggering underwater community. This 130,028-hectare atoll reef is considered as one of the greatest diving spots in the world. Booking a trip should be done at least a year in advance.

Photo by Joel Larsson
Photo by Mok Wai Hoe, instagram.com/mokwaihoe2001.

Calamian Group of Islands

Floating in between Mindoro and mainland Palawan is the Calamian Group of Islands. Each of the 94 islands and islets boast of distinct natural features—Calauit, for instance, is home to a rich biodiversity of endemic and African wildlife, while Coron is teeming with karst formations amidst crystalline waters. 

Photo from instagram.com/eleonorava987.

Where is Palawan

Palawan is part of the MIMAROPA Region located in western Philippines.

How to get to Palawan

From Manila or Cebu, the fastest way to get to Palawan is by taking a flight to Puerto Princesa, El Nido, or Coron (Busuanga). Travel time is about an hour. Traveling around mainland Palawan is made by van, bus, or jeepney, which comes with scheduled trips during daytime. Exploring a town requires chartering a tricycle or renting a motorcycle or boat. Many of Palawan's favorite locales are also walkable.

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