The Palawan island group is known as the "last frontier" of the Philippines, and with the myriad of islands and spectacular scenery, there's no question why. I found paradise in Coron!
To avoid further confusion, when I say Coron, I mean Coron Town and the surrounding attractions. Coron Town is actually on Busuanga Island, and Coron Island is a short boat ride away from that.
Ultimate Coron Tour.
There are a whole bunch of tours and tour providers for the highlights of Busuanga and Coron, and as soon as you arrive you'll see posters and brochures offering a range of them. We went with the Ultimate Coron Tour from Be Cool Tours. We chose this one because there were a bunch of highlights that we wanted to see and little time to see them as we had already planned our other days.
This trip took us to 8 destinations for 1300 PHP, which included lunch, entrance and table fees, and use of their kayaks. We didn't spend a lot of time in each destination as a result, but we had done a lot of snorkelling in Cebu and I was happy to try focus on getting drone footage for a bit. The tour left at around 9am and brought us back around 4:30pm if memory serves. There were 20 others on the boat plus two staff.
The first stop was Siete Pecados (the Isle of the Seven Sisters), which was a nice snorkelling spot. Next, we went to the famous Kayangan Lake. It was at this point that I truly understood why a lot of blogs recommend the private tours over the larger ones like ours. It was so packed! It's a stunning destination but I didn't spend much time at the lake itself because of all the people. Instead, I hung around in the entrance area and flew my drone; I found it more beautiful anyway.
Lunch was up when we arrived at Banol Beach. This was another lovely spot for me to fly my drone, and the food was quite good too. We had fried fish with some interesting seaweed, a salad and some watermelon. Guests on the tour were also allowed to use the tours kayaks here. Then, it was on to the shipwreck and Coral Gardens, both snorkelling spots. The shipwreck was from an old Chinese fishing boat, and it was a really cool spot for swimming. You couldn't miss it, there were about 40 people swimming in a small area. I swam down to the wreck a few times, but it was terrifying trying to find a clear spot amongst hundreds of strangers' legs when trying to surface! The Coral Gardens were nearby, but they weren't overly remarkable compared to any of the other snorkel spots we'd been to, in fact, most of it was dead coral.
The Twin Lagoons were definitely the highlight for me. We had about 30 mins there, which was nowhere near enough. The one that we entered was the larger of the two, large enough that there were decent areas without other swimmers. You have to swim under a bit of limestone cliff, or take the stairs over the gap, to get to the other lagoon. It was much smaller and had a few boats moored in the actual lagoon, and with their music blasting, it wasn't the best experience. Back I swam to the first lagoon, where Nat pointed out a monkey in the surrounding trees, the only one I saw on the whole trip! I could've stayed there the whole day.
The last stop was CYC Beach, which was on a tiny island, and not overly remarkable. Maybe by that point we had been too spoilt and were exhausted, but we still had a swim around and enjoyed the last of the daylight.
Private tour from Sanctuaria Treehouses.
We were very lucky that we managed to piggyback onto a trip that the other guests of Sanctuaria had already organised. Sanctuaria do have contacts for private tours done by the locals, and these can end up being a bit cheaper and are much more personalised. The other guests mentioned at dinner that the next day they were hiring a boat for 4000 PHP to take them out to the Black Island. The way they were describing it, mostly based on rumours, it sounded a bit like the island DiCaprio visits in "The Beach"; not mentioned in the tourist brochures, much further than the usual stops, stunning beaches and mysterious caves. We didn't have to swim to the island, and didn't join a commune, but one of the guests bore an uncanny resemblance to Tilda Swinton and two others were French, so there were quite a few parallels. Including the island itself.
The Black Island was worth the 1.5hr boat journey, it was indeed secluded, there were only 2 other private boats with a few people (as opposed to 4 or 5 boats of 20+ people on the regular tours), with pristine beaches, striking limestone cliffs and so interesting caves to explore. We had to pay 200 PHP to the locals and between our group we split the 100 PHP to sit on the table, but that's not very much. Nat and I were shown the cave by our boat driver; one had a large lake to swim in and the other one had two openings that you could crawl between. The snorkelling there was pretty good and the water was lovely.
After the Black Island, we went to another, much smaller island that I've forgotten the name of. It was beautiful but the snorkelling wasn't great unless you made it through all the gross weeds and swam to deeper water. We didn't stay on that island too long before returning back to the treehouses.
We were pretty pooped for the last day, and being quite far out of town, opted to spend the day locally. We rented a 2 person kayak from Bella Louise House, a short walk down the road from Sanctuaria. I think it was only 200PHP but I'm not 100% sure. We kayaked out to a beautiful beach, about 30 mins away from the House. It was so lovely but because it wasn't a popular tourist spot, it hadn't been cleared of rubbish, and at the start of the trees there was a depressing amount of trash. While I was sitting on the sand, 4 used diapers floated past too, it was pretty disgusting and ruined what would've been a perfect beach. Heading back we went against the current and were quite tired so decided not to go anywhere else. We had lunch at the House, a delicious Hawaiian pizza and fresh mango juice. The owner and staff were so lovely! After that, because Nat had blisters and I had lost a jandal, we headed back to Sanctuaria for a chill afternoon. There is a little local, organic farm that we wanted to check out, so will have to go next time!
There is so much more to see and do in and around Coron and Busuanga, so if you are staying longer than a few days you'll still have plenty more things to add to your list!