Want to know the best way to spend one week in Palawan, Philippines?
This is my suggestion to maximise your time in Palawan in around a week. The itinerary is in order, of what I believe, leaving the best until last 😉
I have also included some tips on how to get around, rough pricing & places to stay in El Nido & Puerto Princesa.
Day 1 & 2 Puerto Princesa
The main airport into Palawan is Puerto Princesa, in the middle of Palawan Island. Puerto has the nickname the “city in a forest” although it’s not much of a “city” besides the hustle & bustle of cars, motorbikes & buses. Stay at Sheebang Hostel! It’s around 15 minutes by tricycle from the airport and should cost you around 100 pesos (approx $3.) Don’t waste your time at the tourist offices at the airport. The hostel can help you book whatever you need and aren’t looking to rip you off.
The hostel is not in the city itself but more in the middle of nowhere along a long street that leads to the highway. There are always tricycles you can take to the highway, city or beach.
Sheebang is a great place to meet other travelers and has a really awesome, relaxed & friendly vibe. Although not super cheap there is a great bar stocked with beers & liquor a list of potent cocktails.
Make sure you check out Tiki Bar one evening. There is a 6 piece girl band performing cover songs live every night. Not something I would ever normally watch, but thoroughly entertaining. There’s also pool tables, air hockey, beer pong & basketball arcade games.
On day 1 if you arrive early enough get straight to your hostel and take a tricycle to Honda bay. When you arrive at the port you will almost be guaranteed to find other people looking to hire a boat & driver for the day and you can go with them to split the costs. We arrived at 11.30am which is considered “late” but found 3 Belgians to share the boat with. We went to 3 islands of our choice; Cowrie Island, Pandan Island & Starfish Island. The snorkeling isn’t amazing, but the beaches are great, you can get massages, local food & beers, play volleyball, hire a jet ski etc.
A small private boat is 1300 pesos (approx $37) or a big boat is 1500 pesos (approx $43.) There are also entrance fees to each island ranging from 50-100 pesos ($1.50-$3) plus an environmental fee.
On your free day you will most likely want to do the day tour to the Underground River which is one of the new 7 wonders of nature. I did the day tour on my first time in Palawan and although it was good I wouldn’t do it again and it definitely wasn’t the highlight of any of my travels. The day tour drives you to the port where you take a boat trip to the island where you do the underground river tour. On the return you also visit Ugong Rock and can do a zip line.
Day 3 & 4 Port Barton
Head to Port Barton which is on the North West Coast of Palawan. There is a direct bus that departs Puerto at 9am daily and is around 250 pesos. If you miss that you can take any bus from San Jose bus terminal, heading north. You ask them to drop you off at the turn off to Port Barton and you can take a tricycle or hitchhike. This way is not overly recommended, but is quite the experience!
Port Barton is a quiet, peaceful underdeveloped village set on a beautiful bay. Although quiet it is full of just young backpackers all interacting with each other. There are day trips to the islands nearby or you can relax on the beautiful beach. By night eat at the local eateries and then enjoy drinks and music on the beach with people from all over the world.
We arrived late in the afternoon in peak season into Port Barton meaning there was no accommodation. So we ended up sleeping in a tent in someone’s garden and sneaking to the next door b&b to use the toilet. If you want a place to sleep make sure you arrive early (if you can help it!) or try to pre-arrange accommodation. Even then it’s not guaranteed as we were told by a b&b that we would have a room.
Day 5-7 El Nido
We took a mini van from Port Barton to El Nido which was 700 pesos which we bartered to 550 pesos per person (approx $15.) We had been recommended by a friend to pre-book our El Nido accommodation so we had 2 nights booked at a hotel on the beach. If it’s peak season you will struggle to find any private rooms without pre-booking, although not impossible. It also depends on if you need certain comforts like AC, toilets with a seat on it, hot water. For sure if you need those things then pre-book, but if not you can walk around and find a (very basic) room. We stayed a few nights at the Sands Inn which is right on the beach. It wasn’t clean, but it had Wifi that actually worked sometimes and its really cheap at 300 pesos (approx $9) for a dorm or 600 pesos for a private room.
El Nido is a bustling little village right in a beautiful bay with cliffs and mountains surrounding. There are loads of places to eat/drink, travel agencies everywhere, cheap shops and massage parlours.
For your island hopping trips there are 4 trips; A, B, C & D. These are set trips that don’t vary in price and can be booked almost everywhere. We tried to barter this price but were told the tourism authority had cracked down on any agent lowering the price. You can however barter for motorbike rental, mini van etc.
We chose tour A as we definitely wanted to see the lagoons and that was the only tour including those. We were told tour C was the best, even before we arrived. If you have the time & budget I recommend both Tour A & C. If your budget only allows one tour then choose either A or C. The other option is to hire a private boat if you can get a few people together. This wasn’t possible when we visited as it was peak season and all of the boats were being used. We had 12 people on our boat which wasn’t too bad, but all of the boats seem to do the same route so the places can be a little crowded. If you have the time, people & money for a private boat then I would recommend doing it that way.
If you have a free day you can hire a motorbike or rent a tricycle/driver to go to Nacpan Beach or Las Cabanas. These are quieter, more beautiful beaches than El Nido main beach itself. Although we were happy with El Nido beach. From there you can hire kayaks, stand up paddle boards, swim and eat & drink on the beach.
Spend 3 or 4 nights in El Nido if you can! You can then take a mini van or bus back to Puerto Princesca to fly from there or a ferry to Coron to fly from Busuanga. If you have extra time you should also check out Corons lakes, islands and diving!
From El Nido to Puerto Princesca the vans run hourly daily from 5am so if you have a later flight you can depart the same day.
Tricycle: this is the most popular form of transport in Palawan for short distances or to certain places. It is a motorbike with a custom made sidecar & small boot area. (See picture.) it’s super fun & unique, but is not luxurious in any way being bumpy, dusty and unless you hire the driver privately can fill with people. This is definitely my favourite way to get around!
Jeepney: this is a small truck that the tray has been decked out with wooden benches along each side. Hail them anywhere, jump on the back and pay the driver either what he asks for or what is written on the fare sheet hanging somewhere near the front of the truck. This is super cheap, but can be slow.
Bus: there are all sorts of buses to get around Palawan. Some are “fancier” than others and obviously the cost is determined by this. Even the “nicer” ones still squeeze in about triple the amount of people than they are licensed to carry. Still a fun experience, especially as everyone is so in awe of the white person!
Mini van: this is the most comfortable and quickest way to get around the island and obviously most expensive. If you’re short on time, want to get somewhere fast or are fed up of rickety buses and tricycles then find a mini van and try to barter the price down a little.
Definitely do it! The price you are often quoted in the Philippines is double or triple what you are paying. Don’t expect to pay local prices, but don’t get ripped off either.
This is definitely doable and I think completely safe. There is one highway running through Palawan and it’s full of vehicles, so nothing is too remote. Most people with a car to pick you up will be foreign ex pats or tourists themselves. You can even jump in a truck, but have time up your sleeve as they tend to stop a lot.
There are no ATMs in El Nido or Port Barton so get enough cash in Puerto before you leave. You can exchange cash so it’s also good to have some of another currency just in case.