It’s summer and we only had a window of one week for a family vacation – blame the different vacation times of colleges and high schools here in the Philippines. We always wanted to go to Palawan so we grabbed the opportunity to unstress as soon as it came.
So my family of 6 went on our first ever Palawan adventure and as always, we love to do things DIY. We did not purchase complete (all-in) tour packages meaning we had to book our flight, vans, ferries, accommodations and tours separately.
It all started with a promo that I saw on AirAsia. I so wanted to have a family adventure that I impulsively purchased round-trip Manila-Puerto Princesa tickets for all six of us. Big mistake, but more on this later.
The family went into DIY-travel mode right after I told them that I already booked the flight. The general consensus was to go to all three major destinations in Palawan which are Puerto Princesa, El Nido and Coron. We had 7 days of vacation time so we immediately tried to figure how to squeeze in as much adventure as we can into these 7 days.
After a lot of Googling, we decided that the best place to spend most of our 7 days on was Coron as it had more adventures that the entire family wanted to do.
I booked our accommodations for El Nido and Coron via Airbnb. I could have booked our Puerto Princesa accommodation via Airbnb as well but decided instead to just book things on the spot as we were arriving early anyway.
After booking our accommodations, the next step was to check out the tour packages to which we all agreed that we want to do the following:
- Puerto Princesa
- City Tour
- Underground River
- El Nido
- Tour A (Island Hopping)
- Ultimate Tour
- Calauit Safari Tour
- Firefly Watching
- Mt. Tapyas
- Maquinit Hot Spring
I booked 4 tour packages via Klook as it’s easier and cheaper than the others as far as I can tell. They were Puerto Princesa City Tour, El Nido Tour A, Coron Ultimate Tour and Calauit Safari.
I would have booked the Underground River via Klook as well but it was sold out so I had to look for other options. Luckily, AirAsia sent me an email offering a discounted Underground River tour which I immediately grabbed.
I then booked the Coron Firefly Watching via Travel Palawan and decided to just go to Mt. Tapyas and Maquinit Hot Spring by ourselves.
Life’s not life without its mistakes so life made sure that I had a few. They were:
I. Booking round trip flights to and from Puerto Princesa.
This would have been fine if we were only to go to Puerto and El Nido but since we we’re going to Coron, the best thing to do was to go one-way to Puerto Princesa Airport then book our return flight from Busuanga Airport instead.
This caused me more than Php10,000 in travel (ferry and van) costs and 12 hours of unnecessary travel time as we had to go back to Puerto Princesa after our stay in Coron.
II. Not carefully checking the locations of the places I booked via Airbnb.
Our host in El Nido did inform that we had to walk about 500 meters. I thought it was fine and good for the health anyway.
But then we arrived at 2am and walking along the beach and through narrow dark roads with luggage in tow, a sleeping 4-year-old girl and no exact knowledge of the place was not a good experience.
Good thing and as if by divine means, a tricycle large enough to carry all six of us and our luggages passed by offering us a free ride to our place. The young driver was nice and didn’t want to be paid no matter how hard we insisted so we just some money in the seat – a bit out of his reach so we can’t get it and give it back to us. God bless him!
Our place in Coron on the other hand was in a nice spot in terms of accessibility to stores, the main road, etc. It was so close to everything that we pretty much walked around the town at night without any issues.
The only problem were the muddy puddle in the way to the apartment to which we had to go around making sure our feet don’t get wet and all muddied up and the dog that scattered garbage every morning from the neighbor’s trash.
Not the hosts’ fault really – more one me not doing my research well.
III. Maquinit Hot Springs schedule fail
We thought Maquinit hot springs stayed open until 10pm but apparently schedule was changed so that it closes at 8pm. As a result, we missed the 40°C hot spring experience.
Day 1 (Puerto Princesa)
- Arrive at Puerto Princesa in the morning, book accommodation for Days 1 and 7 (Don Pablo) so we can shower, sleep a bit and a place to leave our luggage in
- City Tour in the afternoon
- Van to El Nido at night
Day 2 (El Nido)
- Arrive at El Nido
- Island Hopping (Tour A)
Day 3 (Coron)
- Early morning ferry to Coron
- Buy groceries for our 4-day stay
- Walk around the town at night. We were supposed to do the firefly watching tour but weather was not good so this got moved over to our 3rd night.
Day 4 (Coron)
- Coron Ultimate Tour
- We were supposed to go to Maquinit Hot Springs but failed to do because it was too late for us to go.
Day 5 (Coron)
- Calauit Safari Tour
- Firefly Watching
Day 6 (Coron)
- Early morning trek to the summit of Mt. Tapyas
- Ferry back to El Nido
- Van back to Puerto Princesa
Day 7 (Puerto Princesa)
- Underground River
- Flight back to Manila
Note: We stayed at Don Pablo Lodge on both Days 1 & 7.
As soon as we arrived at Puerto Princesa, we took a tricycle from the airport and asked the driver to take us to a lodge recommended by one of our friends but the driver suggested that we take a look at another lodge he knows that’s closer to town. We ended up going with the driver’s suggestion and stayed at Don Pablo Lodge as it’s located right behind the City Capitol.
Our flight arrived 1 hour early so we pretty much spent most of our morning at the Capitol taking pictures. After our lunch we waited for our Heritage tour pick-up and went around town.
We had an early dinner right after the tour and went straight back to the lodge to shower and get ready for our trip to El Nido. The van picked us up but our trip was delayed by 2 hours as we had to wait for a few more passengers whose flight got delayed.
We arrived at around 2am. Van’s can only stay in the main roads and are not allowed to go to El Nido’s touristy town proper so we had to pay the van an extra P100 for the “passes” which I assume goes to the town’s government.
The van however can’t reach our actual accommodation as the road to it was passable only to tricycles. As I said, it was 2am so we started to walk. Google maps knows where we have to go so I felt confident enough to go ahead.
After about 100 meters of walking, we realized that it’s not going to be fun so we paused a bit and that’s when we saw light coming from the distance. This was in fact the tricycle I mentioned above who took us close enough to the place where we’re staying.
We were so tired we hit the sack almost as soon as we saw it. Besides, our tour begins at 8:30 in the morning so we had to get as much sleep as we can.
We woke up at 7:30ish, got prepped and contacted the tour operator who informed us that they can’t pick us up from our location as it’s unreachable to their van so we had to take a tricycle ride to the port – we paid P100 for all 6 of us but then we realized after that we should have only paid P50.
Finding our tour operator was easy and after paying the mandatory environmental fees we boarded our boat and started our island hopping tour which was totally fun and worth it.
After the tour, we decided to walk through town all wet as (any tourist in his right mind would do) and searched for a place to eat. We ended up trying out the sizzling crocodile at Paul’s Diner.
After dinner, we walked a few more hundred meters to our place, prepped for the next day and crashed.
We woke up early in the morning to make sure that we don’t miss our boat to Coron. The boat left and arrived on time which surprised me as most blog posts I saw said it’s usually delayed.
Upon arriving at Coron, we paid P300 for a tricycle – another mistake as the right price was only P100 – but I was too tired to bargain with the driver that I just went ahead paid him.
I was immediately disappointed upon seeing the muddy puddle we had to go through to get to our apartment but heck, it is what it is.
The plan was to do the firefly tour at night but then it was cancelled due to bad weather so we decided to just walk through town and have dinner at Island Boy Grill. We loved it.
Next day was another island hopping + snorkeling adventure and man it was awesome. If you’re unsure as to what tour package to take while in Coron then go for the “Ultimate Tour”. We got to see a sunken shipwreck, awesome corals, go through a tiny passage from one lagoon to another in Twin Lagoon, get an excellent view at Kayangan lake and more. The food wasn’t as great as what we had in our El Nido Tour A but the destinations were definitely much better.
Third day in Coron was spent in Calauit Safari which is what many people call the Philippines’ small piece of Africa as animals were bought in from Africa in the 1970s. We got to feed giraffes and have pictures with them.
We spent the night watching fireflies and being mesmerized by bioluminescent planktons shining in the water as we waded our hands through the water. It’s hard to take pictures of but take my word for it when I tell you that you have to do this tour when possible. We finished our night with a dinner at floating restaurant which was included in our firefly watching tour.
Our last day in Coron started with an early morning hike up the 700 steps to the top of Mt. Tapyas. My kids were able to get to the top early enough to enjoy the sunrise but me and wife were much slower so we missed it. Nonetheless, the view of Coron at the top is so good it’s something you have to do either before sunrise or before sunset.
After Tapyas, it was time to say goodbye to Coron and spend almost 12 grueling hours traveling from Coron back to Puerto Princesa. We wouldn’t have to do this If I planned things much more carefully but as I said life ain’t life without its mistakes.
The politically correct term I believe is Puerto Princesa Subterranean River but that’s a mouthful so…
We were picked up at 7:30 in the morning and after picking up a couple a few more tourists we went straight to Sabang which is about 1.5 hours away but still a part of Puerto Princesa City.
The tour package I purchased included everything so we had to pay for nothing else. Our guide to care of everything and soon enough we were called to board our boats to the underground river.
Being one of the new 7 wonders of nature, the underground river is a must for anyone visiting Puerto Princesa. The boat ride inside the cave complex is around 45 minutes and it’s 45 minutes well spent enjoying stalactites, stalagmites and the funny shapes they form which can be anything from animals to giant candles to vegetables.
We were then treated to a buffet lunch right after the tour and then it’s back to the city.
Prior to the tour I asked the operator if we can take our luggage with us so they can then take us straight to the airport right after and they obliged but the van was full so they ended up leaving our luggage in their office/lodge first. We then picked them up after the tour then they sent us straight to the airport.
Early at the Airport, Delayed Flight Home, Free Dinner
The underground river tour finished pretty early so we had a lot of time back in the city.
As soon as we arrived at the airport, we were told that our flight home was delayed so after checking in we asked AirAsia if we can leave our carry-on luggage with them so we can spend the extra hours going around the city. The guy at the desk was nice and allowed us to leave our stuff with them.
Me and my kids watched Aladdin while my wife went back to MCA Market Pasalubong Center to buy more pasalubongs.
As a bonus, AirAsia compensated us for the delay with free dinner.
Here’s what was spent for our 7 days, 6 nights Palawan adventure for 6 people.
Tricycle fares not included
- P18,170.00 – Air fare (AirAsia) including pre-paid luggage and in-flight food for our MNL-PPS flight
- P5,400.00 – Round-trip Van to and from El Nido (booked via Biyaheroes.com)
- P19,554.00 – Round-trip Ferry to and from Coron (booked via Biyaheroes.com)
- P2,350.00 – Puerto Princesa (Don Pablo Lodge)
- P4,285.68 – El Nido (booked via Airbnb)
- P13,548.00 – Coron (booked via Airbnb)
Tour Packages: P44,856.50
- P3,600.00 – Puerto Princesa City Heritage Tour (booked via Klook)
- P5,000.00 – El Nido Tour A w/ Lunch (booked via Klook)
- P8,217.50 – Coron Ultimate Tour w/ Lunch (booked via Klook)
- P11,100 – Calauit Safari and Beach Tour w/ Lunch (booked via Klook)
- P5,489.00 – Coron Firefly Watching w/ Buffet Lunch (booked via Travel Palawan)
- P9,900.00 – Underground River Cruise Adventure w/ Buffet Lunch (booked via AirAsia, operated by World Holiday Travel and Tours)
We didn’t have to pay for anything extra on all packages except for:
- P1,000.00 (4 adults x 200 + 2 kids x 100) – Mandatory El Nido Tour A Environmental Fee
- P550.00 – two optional but highly suggested kayaks for El Nido Tour A’s Big Lagoon part
Also, all island hopping packages we got had snorkels included for free.
Extra Expenses: P15,000.00++
We spent an additional P15,000 (more or less) on food not included in packages, drinking water, tricycle fares, groceries and pasalubongs.
Grand Total: P123,164.18++
For the 6 of us, that’s about P20,527.36 per person which is not bad considering all the stuff we were able to do and experience and that most all-in tour packages with less itineraries cost about P13,000 to P15,000 per person. Then there’s the fact that our expenses already covered everything including pasalubongs.
I’m so proud of this that I’m giving myself a pat on the shoulder right now. :)
- If you’re going to all 3 major Palawan destinations (Puerto Princesa, El Nido and Coron) then don’t book round-trip flights. Instead book a flight to Puerto Princesa Airport then book your return flight from Busuanga Airport (Coron) or vice versa. It’s way cheaper.
- Choose a flight that arrives in Palawan in the morning and your departing flight in the leaving in the evening so you get to spend more time in Palawan.
- Go to Puerto Princesa first then El Nido then Coron. Some do it the other way around but in my opinion, the beauty and enjoyment progresses if you start from Puerto Princesa.
- If you use a GoPro, it’s best to have an extra battery.
- Take lots and lots and lots of photos. We ended up having over 100GB of photos that it took us days to sort through all of them and choose which ones to upload and which ones to keep to ourselves.
- Download your photos to your computer every night and clear your cameras (phones included) every night to make more space for the next day.
- Bring aqua shoes with you. They do sell them in Palawan but you never know if you can find one that fits you.
- Don’t drink from the tap. Always drink purified water and ask for purified ice.
- Tour operators will usually pick you up around 6:30am to 8:30am so its best to prep things the night before.
- Van to El Nido takes 5-6 hours and the ferry to Coron takes about 4 hours so be ready to sleep while sitting for that long. Bring a book or download a movie on yor phone if you’re the type who can’t sleep during long drives.
Lastly, enjoy! Don’t set your expectations too high otherwise all you’ll see are the things you don’t like. The people of Palawan are very friendly, talk with them, spend time knowing their stories. Walk around town when possible – it’s the best way to absorb its beauty.