Updated August, 2019
There are so many amazing things to include in a Palawan itinerary, especially for active travelers. Its emerald jungle-covered mountains, clear turquoise waters, white-sand beaches, quaint fishing villages and abundance of wildlife left us both breathless and in awe. We had 10 days in Palawan and this is how we spent that time.
Palawan Island, Philippines is so indescribably beautiful that you will want to spend as much of your Philippines itinerary as possible in this paradise of stunning land and seascapes. For example, if you only have 10 days in the Philippines, we suggest you spend at least 5 to 7 days in Palawan.
Can you see the Philippines in 10 days? The answer is definitely not all of it, but you can certainly get a good taste. However, trust us when we say you won’t want to leave this part of Asia once you’re there so if you can stretch it longer, do it!
We were blessed to have 3 weeks to explore the country and we spent more than half of it in this Philippine paradise. The rest of our time we split between beautiful Bohol and the Banaue Rice Terraces. Both of which we also loved and highly recommend.
The following 10 day Palawan itinerary is based on flying in and out of Puerto Princesa airport and traveling from Puerto Princesa to El Nido with a stop in Port Barton. This is how we did and we found it to be the best for us in both cost and time effectiveness.
If you have less than 10 days we suggest shortening your time in El Nido and, only if absolutely necessary, dropping Port Barton from the itinerary. If you’re lucky enough to have more time then consider adding Coron and island hopping to your Palawan Island Itinerary. You can even choose to depart from Coron rather than return to Puerto Princesa.
How to Get to Palawan Island
Flying from Manila to Puerto Princesa and back is the most cost-effective and best way to follow this itinerary. Both Cebu Pacific Air and Air Asia fly this route on a regular basis. We always start with Skyscanner to source out the best prices which can vary quite a bit. We paid about $90 USD pp for a round trip.
Note: There are other ways to get to Palawan such as flying or taking a boat into El Nido but the boat can be a bit erratic depending on weather and flights to El Nido tend to be more expensive. For an idea of other options check out Rome2Rio.
Day 1 & 2: Puerto Princesa, Palawan
Puerto Princesa (nicknamed “the city in a forest”) is often overlooked as one of the best places to see in Palawan. Many people just use it as a stop-off point on the way to El Nido. However, we feel it is worth setting aside at least a day or two for a Puerto Princesa itinerary to see some pretty awesome sights.
If you arrive early morning in Puerto (as the locals call it) you should be able to fit in Honda Bay island hopping that same day. Follow that up with a delicious seafood meal in one of the many great restaurants and possibly some nightlife if you can handle the early start in the morning.
The Puerto Princesa Underground River is almost a full day excursion so if you want to do it you will need to book it for the following morning. This can be done online ahead of time or on arrival at the airport or hotel.
Where to Stay in Puerto Princesa
There are lots of options for accommodations in and around Puerto Princesa. You can stay right in town at a hostel or basic hotel for $20 USD or less per night or in a luxury resort at a $150+ USD. If you are following this itinerary you’ll probably want to opt for something more central to make it easier for doing the tours listed below.
Unfortunately, the guesthouse we stayed in our first two nights was undergoing changes so we can’t really recommend it based on our experience. Agoda has a good selection of rooms for anywhere in Asia and plenty of reviews to help decide.
What to do in Puerto Princesa, Palawan
Honda Bay Island Hopping
The shallow lagoon-like clear waters of Honda Bay are dotted with small islands and boast a backdrop of jungle-covered mountains making for a great relaxing day of island hopping. There’s not much to do outside of lounging, snorkeling and ogling the spectacular scenery but if that’s not your idea of a great day then you are in the wrong place.
Unlike the Underground River, we would suggest a DIY approach to Honda Bay island hopping as it’s pretty easy to do. Unless you are traveling solo it can be close to the same price as a tour, plus you have the luxury of not having to squeeze into a boat full of people and you can go at your own pace.
The average tour price is about 1,200 pesos including lunch and all-island entrance fees. A DIY for two people would be about the same without lunch. If you have, or can find, two more people to split the cost with you’re laughing!
To do it yourself simply take a trike or Jeepney (the local transportation on Palawan Island) to the pier at Honda Bay, which takes 20 minutes. Here you will choose your boat and purchase your tickets and then you’re off for a day in paradise.
Puerto Princesa Underground River
Arguably the number one tourist site near Puerto Princesa, Palawan this 8 km long Underground River is a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the new 7 Wonders of Nature. Here you will be greeted by spectacular limestone karst landscapes, clear green waters and old-growth forests before gliding silently into the caves by canoe for a 45-minute tour.
Sidenote: We love cave exploring and this brought us back to our adventures in the incredible caves of Semuc Champey, Guatemala. Hmmm, maybe it’s time to do a post on our favorite caves!
In order to minimize any negative effects on this Philippine natural wonder admittance into the caves is strictly regulated and limited to 600 visitors per day. Therefore a visit requires some advanced planning. They have also recently started requiring audio guides within the cave to keep sound to a minimum and lessen any disturbance to wildlife. Great news for the bats!
The easiest way to visit the Puerto Princesa Underground River is by organized tour. This is because of the permits and logistics required. If you are short on time like we were then definitely a tour is your best option. As there is limited availability we do suggest booking in advance online with a trustworthy company like Get Your Guide.
You can sometimes book the day before or even the day of through a company at the airport, hotel or travel agency around town but you are taking a chance in high season. If you have more time than money and really want to go for the DIY option here’s the how to from a fellow blogger.
Note: As you may read in reviews of this tour whether you go for the package tour or DIY be prepared for lots of waiting around with hoards of other tourists. Don’t let this stop you from going! An increase in tourism and the much-needed control over this protected site makes for a rather long and confusing system. It is still well worth doing. I was impressed with their efforts to balance the demands of tourism with little environmental damage…as much as that is possible anyway.
We arrived late afternoon so we only had time to see a bit of the town and then go for dinner. As it was the weekend we opted to go to the new waterfront Puerto Princesa Baywalk.
This newly paved 1/2 mile long boardwalk comes alive at sunset and is a great way to spend an evening. The walk is popular with both tourists and locals who go to cool off and watch the sky turn colors and then darken over a fresh seafood BBQ and a cold San Miguel.
Sidenote: Did you know that San Miguel beer is from the Philippines?
The Baywalk is lined with local food stands, open-air seafood restaurants, and makeshift little bars so there is plenty of option to satisfy your hunger. After dark, the boardwalk lights up to create a festive and romantic atmosphere perfect for a stroll and socializing.
It reminded us of the many malecons we visited in Mexico like our favorite in Puerto Vallarta. Puerto Princesa’s Baywalk was smaller but had the same pleasant community feel to it.
Although there are plenty of spots serving alcoholic beverages this is a family-friendly place so if you’re looking for a party scene then downtown is a better choice.
If eating seafood at the Baywalk stands doesn’t appeal to you there are plenty of good restaurants in Puerto Princesa. Try the popular KaLui restaurant for a unique atmosphere and delicious Filipino food or Badjao Seafood restaurant for fresh fish and beautiful views and ambiance to name just two.
Days 2, 3, 4: Port Barton, the Undiscovered Paradise
Port Barton is a small village that’s actually part of the larger town of San Vicente. When you do a Google search for places to visit in Palawan, Philippines, Port Barton may not be at the top of the list. It may not even make the top 5 list of places to go in Palawan. In our opinion that is just plain wrong. However, I suppose that’s why it feels like you’ve stumbled into a secret paradise and why we fell so in love with it. Port Barton has yet to be changed by mass tourism and our hope is that it will stay that way.
This is the part of being a travel writer that leaves me torn. Do I keep this discovery to myself in the hopes of helping to hold back the inevitable tides of change? Or do I do my job and tell you how fabulous it is, thereby contributing to Port Barton ultimately losing it’s sleepy, hidden paradise feel? Well, the fact that they are building a new road and the locals are busy turning their homes into rentable rooms and bungalows tells me that the tide has already turned. Soon Port Barton will be on everyone’s hit list.
So I’m telling you now “Get there as soon as possible!” so you can see Port Barton in its still pristine and unchanged state of laid back beauty.
Update 2019: Port Barton is definitely more on the tourist radar these days but it’s still charmingly low-key and peaceful, especially compared to El Nido. The roads are much improved and mostly paved and there are several lodgings that have power 24/7.
How to Get to Port Barton
The best way to get to Port Barton is by shuttle van. Be warned it is a 3-4 hour cramped, bumpy, twisty roller coaster ride so if you get motion sick go armed with whatever remedy works for you and request a front seat. Trust me when I say though that it is worth it!
There are two shuttle options, Recaro and SBE. We went with Recaro and highly recommend them. If you have a SIM card or international texting options on your mobile the best way to book is by texting a day or more ahead. This is how we did it and we were really impressed with their efficiency and professional service. Our texts were responded to quickly and all of our questions answered clearly. We were even able to request specific seats in the van which is rare on shuttle vans.
The departures from Puerto Princesa to Port Barton start about 7:30 am with several more though out the day about 2 hours apart. Times do change depending on the season so check in advance. The cost should be about 450 pesos one way.
Both companies leave from San Jose/New Public Market Terminal which is a short trike ride away from downtown. Recaro doesn’t have a website but they do have a Facebook page that usually shows current schedules and they will also respond to messages there.
Shuttle Phone numbers:
Recaro: +639093513037 or +639054858597
Here are some other options for transit.
Where to Stay in Port Barton, Palawan
There are no big resorts or chain hotels right in Port Barton so the options are fairly basic ranging from simple rooms in someone’s home to charming but rustic beachfront bungalows. It’s all part of the charm and experience of Port Barton.
We were not able to book ahead as there was nothing available on Agoda as it was Chinese New Year. When we arrived in town everyone piled off the van and scurried in different directions down the small dirt roads in search of a room. It seemed that some knew where they were going but we had no clue.
We were offered rooms away from the beach by some enterprising locals but we kept on moving. Turns out the travel angels were with us that day because we stumbled across the very last room in Elsa’s Beach Resort for just 800 pesos ($17 USD) per night. As we were signing the register 3 other groups came up looking for rooms and turned away sadly. The rooms at Elsa’s are very basic and we had a shared bathroom but the location on the beach was nothing short of breathtaking. You can also book Elsa’s on Agoda.
What to Do in Port Barton
For the most part, Port Barton is all about checking out and relaxing. The vibe is very laid back…island time to the extreme…and the lack of power during the day means you really don’t have much choice but to melt into a hammock and just take in the incredible exotic surroundings.
We spent our days exercising and walking on the beach, swimming in the clear warm water, beachcombing and lazing on the soft white sand. The evening would find us sitting at a beachfront table eating fresh seafood and watching the sunset followed by a starlit stroll or listening to music at one of the chilled out beach bars.
If you want to get out on the water there are some great island hopping tours which should not be missed. There are four Palawan Island tours to choose from: A, B, C and D and they each consist of specific island stops, with Route A being the most popular. They have set up specific routes that the boats must follow and we didn’t find any boat owners willing to offer customized options. Cost is about 1000 pesos per person for the full day including lunch but in slower times you can definitely negotiate.
Other things to do in and around Port Barton include taking a boat trip to Long Beach (longest beach in the Philippines), visiting Bigaho Falls, snorkeling at Port Barton Marine Sanctuary, and swimming with the turtles at Secret Paradise Resort and Turtle Sanctuary.
Tips: (Don’t let these scare you, it’s all part of the charm and what makes it so wonderful)
- The island only has electricity between 18:00 and midnight (restaurants use generators or gas to cook and chill things). We always travel with a good flashlight but in this case, it’s even more important. *Update 2019: There are now some lodgings with power 24/7
- There are no ATM’s or banks in Port Barton
- Shopping is limited so best to bring essential items like toiletries and medicines
- You will mostly find only cold showers (not that you’d want a hot one)
- There are no hospitals but there is a medical clinic
- The road to and all roads within Port Barton are dirt so plan for dirty feet *Update 2019: The road to Port Barton has been greatly improved and is now paved much of the way.
- You will not find cold drinks outside of the restaurants and bars
- Book your transport out when you arrive (or at least the day before you want to leave) to secure your seat
- There are no 5-star resorts (again part of why Port Barton is so charming and special)
- Internet is limited (maybe a good thing?)
- You will be charged a small eco-fee of 50-200 pesos depending on the length of time you select (1 day-1 year). Make sure to keep the receipt as you may be asked to provide proof of payment.
Days 5, 6, 7, 8: El Nido and the Breathtakingly Beautiful Bacuit Archipelago
I have to admit that my first glimpse of El Nido left me wanting and deflated. I had waited so long to set eyes on this famous beauty but it was not love at first sight for me. It’s a noisy town with a claustrophobic feel due to the clutter of tourist catering buildings creeping right up to the edge of the beach. The harbour itself is jammed with boats waiting to take people island hopping and so it really doesn’t have much swim appeal at all. The beach is small and grainy with beach bars and restaurants taking up most of the space. But don’t let that fool you!
Once you get over your initial impression and you look around at the magnificent towering limestone karst cliffs and stare off into the horizon you get a sense of excitement for what awaits out on turquoise water. El Nido Philippines is not famous and beloved for the town itself but for being the gateway to the natural wonder of the Bacuit Archipelago and places like Coron, quite simply one of the most breathtakingly beautiful places we have ever seen. Plus at the end of the day, the town does offer some fabulous dining, drinking and sleeping options.
How to Get to El Nido
If you’re following our itinerary you will take Recaro Vans from Port Barton to El Nido. There are usually two per day and the cost is 800-900 pesos for the 4-hour journey. There is no online booking option and booking in advance is highly advisable. See above “How to get to Port Barton” for details on contacting Recaro.
If you are going straight from Puerto Princesa to El Nido there are buses as well as the shuttle vans. The vans take 5-6 hours and the buses take 6-8 hours. Prices range from 400-500 Pesos and they all leave from San Jose terminal in Puerto Princesa
Note: El Nido does have an airport so you could do this trip in the reverse and fly in and out of El Nido or even fly into PPS and out of El Nido. However, this is generally much more costly. See this clip from Lonely Planet for more.
Where to Stay in El Nido
There are far more accommodation options in and around El Nido than in Port Barton, everything from super deluxe ($300 USD +) 5-star resorts to backpacker hostels ($10 USD). If it’s not high season you can often find a place upon arrival.
However, El Nido is also much bigger and more spread out so finding a place on arrival requires either walking around in the heat or hiring a trike to drive you. For this reason, we chose to book a place ahead of time so we didn’t lose a minute of island hopping. As there is more to choose from in El Nido we started our accommodation search with Hotels Combined. They are a booking site that compares the prices on all of the other booking sites so you can find the absolute best deal.
If you want to be right in the center of things then look for something in El Nido town proper. Here you will have restaurants, bars, travel agents, laundry, etc at your doorstep. You’ll also have all of the noise and crowds that go with that. If you want something quieter and don’t mind a 15-minute walk or a 5-minute trike ride there are plenty of places just outside of downtown.
We stayed at the Jurias Pension, a mid-priced accommodation about a 20-minute walk to downtown. It was new, very clean and comfortable with great service and breakfast served on our own balcony. For something a bit higher priced closer to town with amazing views try El Nido Viewdeck Cottages.
What to Do in El Nido
El Nido is all about the island hopping! As the gateway to one of Asia’s most loved natural beauties, the Bacuit Archipelago, it is no wonder that people have been flocking here since the ’80s. Anyone who loves nature, beauty, diving, snorkeling, beachcombing, photography or simply relaxing in paradise will fall head over heels for this natural wonder.
As with Port Barton, there are four island hopping tours available out of El Nido: A, B, C, D. If you have the time and money to do them all you won’t regret it but if not then tour A and C are the best. Each tour will take you to different parts of the archipelago where you will explore beautiful islands with white sand beaches and crystal clear lagoons as well as an underwater world that will blow your mind.
There are several companies to choose from but we went with El Nido Paradise on Tour A and can highly recommend them. They were friendly and professional and provided a great spread of fresh food for lunch. El Nido Paradise also offers private tours, adventure tours, and even overnight camping tours. We so badly wanted to do the overnight camping but our time was too tight making for a great excuse to go back soon!
Days 9, 10: Relax near Puerto Princesa
If you’re leaving on day 10 like we were you will need to make your way back towards Puerto Princesa on day 9. You can choose to head back into Puerto proper for one last delicious seafood dinner or you can opt to stay away from town in one of the beachside resorts like we did.
Getting Back to Puerto Princesa
We booked our van out of El Nido and back to Puerto Princesa on arrival in El Nido as we knew our date of departure and wanted to confirm a good seat. All vans drop you just out of downtown at the main terminal and there you can ask to book your return.
Note: Unfortunately although we thought we were booking with Recaro somehow we ended up in a different van and it was not nearly as well run. This seems to be a bit of an issue in El Nido as all of the vans leave from the same spot and they all vie for customers. They also will not leave until the van is full so it is not always on schedule. Keep this in mind if you have a flight or tour booked.
Where to Stay & What to Do
Refer back to the top of the page if you have an early morning flight and need to stay in Puerto Princesa town. If your flight is later in the day or if you have a spare night or two consider a resort outside of town. By taking the early morning van out of El Nido you can be at your resort by lunchtime and have all afternoon and evening to relax on the beach or by the pool. The following morning it will be easy to get a taxi or flag down a shuttle van to the airport.
We chose to stay at the Astoria Palawan which is a brand new eco-friendly resort on Honda Bay only about an hour from PPS airport. The resort is gorgeous with a quiet private beach offering free use of kayaks and paddleboards, a lovely pool, great food, a gym, a games room (complete with X-Box Connect) and even a karaoke room that you can book by the hour. The Philippine people love their Karaoke. Plus they have an amazing, massive water park that just opened in 2016.
We hope you have enjoyed our Palawan itinerary and find it useful for planning your trip to the Philippines.
The Philippines is truly one of the most beautiful countries we’ve visited to date, and Palawan Island stunningly showcases why. The main island and surrounding entourage of impressive isles and islets are exactly what you would envision when dreaming of an escape to a tropical paradise.
Yes, paradise has indeed been found but it is still far from overrun. So don’t worry there are plenty of places in Palawan, Philippines to sneak away and find a secluded utopia of your own for a few hours. So what are you waiting for?
We hope you have enjoyed reading about how to get to Palawan Philippines, as well as where to stay and what to do in Palawan. We also know there is so much more to see than is possible in a 10 day Philippines tour. Have you been? What have we missed that we must add to our next Palawan itinerary?
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Disclaimer: We want to thank El Nido Paradise and Astoria Palawan for hosting us. As always our opinions are 100% our own. This post may contain affiliate links. This means that if you click through one of these links and make a purchase we may make a small commission at no extra cost to you. This is just one of the ways we earn income which enables us to keep this blog going and we truly thank you for your support in whatever form that takes.
Born in England, Sarah developed her wanderlust at a young age as she traveled around Europe with her parents. As a young adult she spent every penny she could on experiences as opposed to possessions. Eventually she found a way to earn a living doing what she loved: traveling, writing and capturing images of the wondrous world we live in. When not on the go Sarah enjoys time in her “sometimes home” of Vancouver.