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Saturday, April 25, 2015

Coron: The Hidden Gems of Palawan



When you mention the islands of Philippines, many would think of Boracay (pronounced Bo-ra-khai, khai of 'kailan'). But if you want to explore real and unspoiled nature, Palawan is the place.

The main tourist hubs in Palawan are El Nido and Puerto Princesa. We decided to go to Coron instead because it is the most suitable for a short weekend retreat. Situated in the north of Palawan, Coron is definitely Philippines’ best kept secret. It was like heaven on earth for island and beach lovers.

When to go

The best time to go is during dry season March - June. We went there early March (off-peak season) and the weather was perfect. Do not go during wet season July – February as the area is prone to typhoons.  

How to get there

Only 45 minutes flight from Manila to Busuanga, the municipality of Coron. There are 4 flights per day via Cebu Pacific. We managed to grab promo fare of PHP 988* (RM 80) one way during their December Promotion.

*not including tax and other fees and no check-in luggage.

Tips

- Sit at row AB for both ongoing and return flight to get the best view of Coron coastline.

- You don't have to pay to pre-book your preferred seat. Just make sure you arrive super early at the airport and check in using the kiosk where you're able to choose any seat you want. The same goes to the flight back from Coron, just inform the officer your preferred seat.

- You are not allowed to bring the mangoes out from the island. It will be confiscated.

- It's cheaper to go to Coron from Cebu than Manila.

Upon Arrival

From the airport, if you have made arrangement with your place of stay, transportation will be arranged for you and the driver will drive you straight to your accommodation. However, if you haven't made any arrangement, don't worry as there are vans available to Coron Town for the same price of PHP 150 (RM 12) per person.

Vans waiting for passengers outside the airport.

Getting around

Coron Town is a small town and mostly everything is within walking distance. Tricycles are also available to bring you around the town. Only PHP 10 (RM 0.80) per person for each trip.

The main transportation in Coron.

Our Itinerary (3D2N)

Day 1 - Coron Town

We arrived in Manila in the morning, took the flight to Coron on the same day and arrived in Coron in the afternoon. Soon after we checked in and settled down, we walked to the travel agencies to survey the package price for island hopping.

We end up choosing operator that offers PHP 2000 (RM 161) for private boat with cooking service. After making the arrangement, we went to the market with tricycle and bought some mangoes. Since there was nothing much to do at the market, we walked back to the town centre to buy souvenirs. The price for t-shirt is starting from PHP 120 (RM 10) and PHP 55-65 (RM 4-5) for fridge magnet etc.

The market. Business is slow in the afternoon but very busy in the morning.

Our highlight of the day was the sunset at the jetty.

Tips

- We found out that there is a boat operator association at the jetty that offer the same price for the boat and other packages. You can skip the hassle of going to travel agencies and make arrangement with the boat operators directly.

- Most of the shops close at 9 pm and the town is very much alive and safe at night for a night walk.

- Other activities to do at Coron Town are hiking 700 steps to Mount Tapyas and relaxing at Maquinit Hotspring for PH 350 (RM 28) return per person by tricycle.

Day 2 - Island Hopping 

Meet up with our guide at 7 am. He brought us to the market to buy seafood for lunch. The market usually starts around 8 am so there were not much choices of seafood but we managed to buy some fish, prawns and squids. We also bought mineral water, charcoal, rice and mangoes. We gave our island hopping list to the captain, paid the entrance fees and off we go.

The jetty.

For our customized tour, we chose 3 snorkeling spots, 2 lakes and 1 beach for lunch stop. These are our reviews for each spot we visited in order.

Siete Pecados Marine Park

Only 10 minutes from the jetty.  The water was calm and it was very relaxing to just float around. Many fish and corals but the water was either too shallow or too deep.

 This area was a victim to cyanide and dynamite many years ago. It's now reinstated as a preservation area for rehabilitation purposes.

Colourful fishes under the boat. You must be very careful not to touch the coral with your body or fins.

Entrance fee: PHP 100 (RM 8) per person
Verdict: Good way to start the morning.
Recommended length of stay: 45 minutes - 1 hour

Kayangan Lake

The most popular spots in Coron Island and our favourite among them all. Truly magical and enchanting.

Boat parking area. FYI, the boats are designed this way so that the bottom doesn't hit the corals.

There are 150 steps up and then another 150 down to get to the lake. We found the stone steps to be a bit tricky and dangerous in some parts and be prepared to sweat a bit on the way up as well. 


The view up top, Coron’s most photographed part of the island.


This lake is so beautiful. All we could do was just to marvel the beauty of mother nature. 


The mixture of salt and fresh water was very relaxing and well worth the effort to get there. You can also snorkel and see the awesome rock formations and caves underwater.


Enjoying the serenity before leaving this paradise.

On the way out of Kayangan Lake.

Entrance fee: PHP 200 (RM 16) per person
Verdict: The Crown Jewel of Coron.
Recommended length of stay: 2 hours. Take your time to swim around and explore the lake.

Tips 

- Come early to avoid crowd.

- Bring your snorkeling gear.

- Wear appropriate footwear as the walking path can be slippery.

- You might also like to visit the second famous lake in Coron Island, the Barracuda Lake.

Twin Lagoons

About 15 minutes from Kayangan Lake. The Twin Lagoon got it's name because there are two lagoons but the second lagoon is hidden and the only access to the second lagoon is a small crevice underneath the rock, or during high tide, a ladder over the rock.

As opposed to Kayangan Lake where fresh and salty water combined creating a warm atmosphere, the temperature of the waters in the Twin Lagoons does not mix and the temperature alternates between warm and cold.


At the first lagoon. The boat anchored quite far from the entrance to the second lagoon and we had to swim for about 5-10 minutes to reach there.

Few more meters to go..

Finally reached the entrance. You can swim straight underneath the ladder.


The hidden lagoon. It was amazing to experience the different temperature of water while surrounded by huge limestone rocks.

The hut of Tagbanua people, one of the tribes in Philippines who protect the sacredness of Coron Island and maintain the condition of the lakes and its surroundings.

Entrance fee: Free
Verdict: A completely unique experience you can't get anywhere else.
Recommended length of stay: 1 hour and 30 minutes

Banol Beach

Our second favourite spot after Kayangan Lake. With white sand and crystal clear water, this is one of the most beautiful beaches we have been to.

Arrived at the beach. The water was so clear and we were immediately awed.

The beach is small and may get crowded but we were lucky because only 3 boats docked there and we get to enjoy the beach like our own private beach.



Lunch with a view. Seafood freshly grilled on the boat and served in the hut. You might want to bring air assam or kicap for your trip. 


The soft sand and crystal clear water.


After lunch, you can relax and enjoy swimming at the beach.


Entrance fee: PHP 100  (RM 8)  per person
Verdict: Choose this beach for your lunch stop and thank us later.
Recommended length of stay: 1 hour 30 minutes

Tips

- For beach bummers, it’s highly recommended that you take the Island Escapade Tour to Malcalpuya Island, Banana Island and Bulog Dos Island.

Coral gardens

As seen by its name, there are an abundance of corals here. But the extreme currents make it difficult to enjoy snorkeling experience. If you are not a strong swimmer, please be sure to wear your life jacket.

You can already see the corals from above the water.

Gorgeous fish(es)!

Entrance fee: Free
Verdict: Complicated relationship.
Recommended length of stay: 1 hour or so, depending on the current.

Twin Peaks

The best spot for snorkeling compared to Sietes Picados and Coral Gardens. The water was warm and calm with colorful corals and lots of marine life. Enjoy our video below!




Entrance fee: Free
Verdict: A happy ending.
Length of stay: 1 hour and 30 minutes

Actually we had the time to explore 7 places because we departed from the jetty as early as 8 am but since Twin Peaks is the nearest one to Coron Town and furthest away from the other spots, our boat captain refused to accommodate our request as there was not enough time. So unfortunately, we were already back to Coron by 4 pm.

Tips

- Before you decide to go to Twin Peaks, ask the boatman if you still have time to go to other spots.

- Be extra careful because there are a lot of sea urchins.

- There are many other snorkeling spots at the island such as Skeleton Wreck and Balinsasayaw. But if you want more snorkeling adventure outside Coron Island, try the island hopping tour to Lusong Shipwrecks and Reef.
Day 3 - Manila

We arrived in Manila from Coron in the afternoon. We left our luggage at the airport for PHP 150 (RM 12) per small luggage for half day and took airport shuttle bus to Baclaran Market for PHP 20 (RM 1.60) per person.

Just like Petaling Street, the market sells almost everything. You can try halo-halo ice cream for only PHP 10 (RM 0.80) and sweet grilled corn at only PHP 25 (RM 2).

With just 7 hours transit time, we decided to spend the rest of the day at SM Mall of Asia. We took yellow mini jeepney from the market to the mall for PHP 15 (RM 1.20) per person. Their department store sells awesome Philippines t-shirts starting from PHP 190 (RM 15).  There are also other souvenirs you can choose from.

Tips

-  You can stroll along the bayside walk and enjoy the sunset at SM Bay Area.

- Be sure to only use taxis at the Mall’s official taxi stand. It costs only PHP100 (RM 8) from the Mall to the airport despite the traffic jam. Thanks to our 'Fast and Furious' taxi driver.

- FYI, there are many cases where tourist being scam by taxi drivers in Manila so make sure you request them to turn on the meter and take note of the taxi registration number before the journey to avoid being scammed.

- The money changer at Manila airport Terminal 3 offers good currency value. Look for money changer with red "FOREX" signboard at the departure area (you need to show your tickets to get in).

- For all outgoing international flight from Manila, please prepare PHP 550 (RM 44) for airport tax. In case you're run out of cash, you can pay by credit card but make sure you card is activated for international use.

Accommodation

We stayed at Balaibinda Lodge for two nights. Comfortable room, great ambiance and excellent services. PHP 1445 (RM 116) per night for the Roadside Queen Room with breakfast and free Wi-Fi. The breakfast was delicious but the Wi-Fi in our room was not strong enough and you may want to avoid the roadside room if you're light sleeper.

Tips

- Book the room directly from their website. A lot cheaper than online booking websites.

- Upon check in, let them know your flight details and they will arrange the airport transfer on the spot.

- There were four of us, so we took two rooms instead of family room because it was cheaper that way. But if they are 5-6 of you, the family room is a better choice.

Other options,
Jazmine's Palace from PHP 1500 (RM 121) per night
Marley’s Guesthouse (Backpackers Dorm) from PHP 500 (RM 40) per person

Food

There are many restaurants here but as far as we know, there is no halal restaurant and all the restaurant serve pork including the seafood restaurant. Nevertheless, you can always bring your own food.

At Balaibinda, they offer easy access to unlimited hot water to cook our Maggi cup. If you prefer to cook your own food, Marley’s allows their guests to use their kitchen. There are also a lot of bakeries and the market sells a variety of fruits. We recommend the bananas and mangoes. Sweet and fulfilling! 

Island Hopping Packages

For solo travellers, you can join package tour starting from PHP 650 (RM 52) including lunch and marine park fees but the downside is the places are pre-determined by the operators. There are different packages available with different locations to choose from.

For a customized tour, you can hire a private boat for PHP 1500 - 2000 (RM 121-161) per boat not including lunch and marine park fees. Although there is no complimentary lunch, you can buy seafood at the market and lunch will be grilled for you on the boat and you can enjoy fresh seafood by the beach. One boat can accommodate up to 10 people, so this is the best option for those who travel in groups.

Here are some of the packages that you may refer to. The most popular island hopping is around Coron Island as it is only 10 - 15 minutes from Coron Town. Take note that you need to plan a separate day for other island hopping tours because those islands are much further from Coron Town.




Tips

- Most of the Island Hopping starts at 9 am and finishes at 5 pm. If you hire the private boat, you can start the island hopping as early as 8 am, this will give you sufficient time to explore the island.

- For the customized tour, if possible, pre-plan your island hopping trip and list out the places that you plan to go. Give the list to the boat captain so that he can plan his routes for the day.

- The rental fee for snorkelling equipment is PHP 150 (RM 12). Choose the equipment thoroughly before you go on board to make sure the equipment is in good condition. As for life jackets, they have plenty of them on the boat.

Expenses in Coron (per person of 4)

Manila – Coron – Manila
PHP 2676 (Base fare + taxes and other fees) 

Coron Airport Transfers  PHP 300 

Accommodation (2 nights)  PHP 1445  

Island Hopping and Marine Park Fees  PHP 1000  

Food and souvenirs PHP 250

Total:  PHP 5671 (RM 456)

Tips to save costs

- Stay at backpackers dorm.

- Bring your own food.

- Join packages that include marine park fees and lunch.

Overall

Coron exceeded our expectation and is perfect for a quick weekend getaway. It is really a tourist friendly destination. Beautiful scenery and all the tourist spots are clean, not crowded and are taken care of really well by the locals who are friendly and accommodating. One of the best trips ever!

Written and photographed  by Meck

16 comments:

  1. Amazing place..will put in my wishlist...thks :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Hi Zila.. this place is so much more than just amazing. Magical skali. Sila2 la p nanti. Thank you for reading

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  2. Bestnyaaaa. Cantik tempat ni. Korang nnt try la pegi sumut. My bucket list tuuu sumut and palawan. Btw tq for the tips 😊

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Sumut? Nanti kitorang buat research. Palawan bahagian el nido pun bucket list jugak tu. You're welcome! Thank you for reading!

      Delete
  3. Subhanallah..cantiknyaaa!!! Thanks for the tips! Mmg wajib pergi nie ..hehe

    ReplyDelete
  4. Thanks to you, now baru teringin pergi nk pergi Philippines! Next year bucketlist

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  5. Thanks Kak An. Tq for the support all these while. Kami nk p lg Coron next year. Jom!!

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  6. Hi, do they have travels for 2 person? I mean for the private boats?

    ReplyDelete
  7. Arghhhh!!!

    Will be in my wish list for next year. In Sha Allah. Thank 3rio ;)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yeay Amirudin Ahmad. Kami pon akan repeat Coron insyallah 2016

      Delete
  8. Salam. your entry is just awesome with great photos in Palawan Island. I will be there on July 2016, already purchase my flight ticket with AirAsia. May i know what camera you are using? And i fyou have the ittenaty, may i get it from you? Thanks!

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  9. one of my faves in the Philippines!!

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  10. Ya Allah.. that view.. thanks for the tips.. kena masuk dalam bucketlist ni..

    ReplyDelete

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