We know, we know—you’ve heard all about the last frontier. But this island province has more than enough gems to last a few trips. Here are a few we found on assignment. Ready to go?
Where to stay, what to do, and what to see.
Busuanga Bay Lodge
One look at the Bermuda-inspired villas that overlook Busuanga Bay could tempt you to indulge in the comfort of your own room and never step out. But take a peek outside and you’ll find it hard to resist going wreck diving or paddle boarding out into the sunset. By dusk, the sound of cocktail hour will summon you for a mojito by the infinity pool. Don’t worry about having a few glasses too many; you can request for a wake up call so you won’t miss your flight. If you booked a seaplane with Air Juan, you can enjoy a hassle-free experience of boarding into a plane that’s waiting just a few steps outside your room. Now, that’s luxury.
Qi Palawan is the definitive refuge for the mindful traveler who seeks meaningful experiences during a rejuvenating vacation. Choose between a bamboo cottage or villa; the only thing you’ll need to worry about is whether you’ll get up early for yoga class or hit the snooze button. Beyond the comfort and consistent service, a passionate sense of responsibility is at the core of the resort’s business model. Refraining from plastic, making their own all-natural insect repellant and installing solar panels are just some of the ways Qi Palawan tries to minimize its impact on the environment. Since the beginning, the resort owners have strived to maintain a harmonious connection with the local community by hiring local-based staff within San Fernando and Sibaltan and offering cultural visits to the surrounding towns. Resist the urge to cocoon inside the privacy of your cottage; go out for a dive or go kitesurfing and make the most out of this tropical paradise.
Farmbelle Cottages is definitely not a hotel, but it does a fantastic impression of your relative’s home in the province. They go big with everything, especially the food at their outdoor restaurant—you can expect to leave every meal feeling more than satisfied. Their quaint closed cottages appear simple and unassuming from the outside, but are secretly packed with everything that you might find in a flamboyantly furnished bedroom: home appliances, kitschy décor and all. If the eccentric, rustic charm grows on you, you might even want to indulge in their nightly river cruises.
San Vicente, Palawan
+63 917 790 1523
Budget travel doesn’t always have to mean roughing it out in grungy places. Finally, here’s the answer for practical travelers who enjoy shared spaces and also appreciate comfort and style. Select among the different types according to your budget and privacy preference. The open kitchen and cozy hangout areas will make it fun and easy to meet new friends—just like a hostel should be. If this sounds like the place for you, make sure to reserve early as possible as they are often fully booked.
El Nido Art Café
It’s impossible to go to El Nido town without stopping by this icon café, whether it’s for a cup of coffee, or a drink with your new friends, or to grab some souvenirs on your way to the airport. Being among the earliest commercial establishments in El Nido, this cozy restaurant definitely feels like the center of all that’s fun and happening around town. Unless it’s a full-house as it often is, try to get the chance to meet and chat with the charming owners Judith and Tani; they always have the best recommendations.
Non La Aromasit
Palawan is arguably one of the best places in the Philippines to get your fix for Vietnamese cuisine. Non La Aromasit, settled in town of Roxas and right along the National Highway, makes a bánh mì and fresh noodle dish that makes a strong case for why it needs to be your stopover. Their extensive menu covers all the bases, from authentic Vietnamese specialties and classic Filipino dishes; it had us scratching our heads wondering how to order best. The happy ending is that it didn’t matter—you can’t go wrong here. Pro-tip: Watch out for their extra spicy sauce. This place doesn’t joke about spice. A couple of drops were enough to have our biggest guys breaking more than a sweat.
Living in an archipelago also means having to deal with the challenges of interisland travel. Going off to any other region means having to take land, air, and sea transport—sometimes all three in one trip. In many ways, a seaplane provides the perfect transport solution for our kind of geography.
Air Juan is the first (and so far the only) commercial seaplane operator in the Philippines; as a private charter, the service is, of course, not for everyone’s wallet, but travelers are catching on that the time and effort saved can very well make up for the price tag. With docks in Manila Bay and in Boracay, offices in Taguig and Cebu City, and with operations in Palawan, Air Juan’s Cessna Grand Caravan seaplanes provide the missing link between tourism hotspots—between Coron and Boracay, for example, or Manila and just about anywhere.
It’s more than just another luxury option for the well-heeled. By providing ready access to our more remote islands, seaplane transport might be the great equalizer that infrastructure-challenged regions might be waiting for.
The number of diving schools and shops in El Nido Town has grown by tenfold within the last few years and it can seem daunting to find the right one for you, especially if you’re new to the island and have no idea where to start. As one of the pioneer diving schools in El Nido, Palawan Divers has over a decade of experience, as well as a holistic understanding of the seas, to guarantee the utmost care and expert training for their students. And if the idea of exploring underwater without heavy equipment excites you, visit Palawan Freedivers and inquire about their lessons.
Here’s a boat tour service that promises to take you all over El Nido’s best sights and truly delivers. Skipper Charters, together with Suzuki Marine, has developed its own fleet of powerful speedboats to let you explore the last frontier in comfort, style, and half the time of traditional vessels—allowing you to see and do more on your trip. Whether it’s hopping around El Nido’s remote beaches and lagoons, or exploring the virgin beaches of Linapacan islands, you’re guaranteed privacy, comfort, and safety onboard and off the boat. Choose between the Open or Private Tours, and find the perfect experience according to your schedule, group size and budget.
Does the image of sleeping in a cozy pod beneath a blanket of stars on a private beach sound too good to be true? That’s what we thought until we actually spent the night on Ginto Island, one of the 24 unexplored islands in the Linapacan area. This full service campsite is offered by Isla Expeditions, for those who sign up for their multi-day tours to spend a few days on a boat and different islands. Feast on Asian and Mediterranean meals, prepared with care on site by the staff, and allow yourself to indulge in siesta on one of the native hammocks right by the shore.
If you’re going to Culion, skip the usual day trips from Coron and instead book with Kawil, the only tour agency local to Culion. They promote ethical and responsible tourism, and facilitate volunteer activities.
The well-kept and well-designed museum is housed in what used to be the medical laboratories inside the sanitarium. Take your time during your visit: the museum offers a rich experience that presents an impressively informative and empathetic approach to Culion’s history.
ISSUES FEATURING PALAWAN
By bike, by boat, by seaplane—we take three different trips to Palawan and come out with three takes on what this beaut has to offer the traveler on the paths less traveled.
The Lazarus Effect. The story of Culion–its past, present, and the people bringing it into the future.
The Nest Gatherers. Photographer Katherine Jack takes us to the cliffs of Pabellon in the western Philippines to look for bird’s nests.
Luxury in a New Light. Inclusive, not exclusive: El Nido Resorts redefine luxury by encouraging interaction with nature and El Nido’s community.
Paradise Lost and Regained. Residents and resort developers are helping the jewel of the Calamian Islands in Palawan keep its shine.