The Underground River in Puerto Princesa. The islands of Honda Bay. Dive sites in Coron. Limestone cliffs in El Nido. Palawan Island has a host of natural wonders that make for some of the world’s most popular tourist attractions today.
But did you know that the province still has a number of underrated destinations waiting to be discovered?
If you are looking to change up your itinerary for your next Palawan island getaway or have always preferred the off-beaten path, here are seven hidden gems you won’t want to miss out on.
Cuyo may be a tiny and remote island located between the main Palawan Island and Panay, but it has some pretty exciting and fascinating attractions. The adventure begins the moment you set foot on Cuyo. Beside the pier, you’ll find Capusan Beach, a white stretch of sand that’s perfect for watching sunsets. With its long sand bar and excellent wind conditions from November to March, the beach is also perfect for windsurfing and kitesurfing. In fact, it attracts experienced riders around the world and has local instructors attending to beginners. If your to-do list also includes snorkeling, head to Anino Retreat at Quisano Beach (also called Victoria Beach).
Cuyo’s in-land attractions are worth exploring too, especially if you’re a history buff. Among the most notable ones are the heritage houses and the town’s old Spanish fort, church and convent. You could also drop by a cashew plantation for a behind-the-scenes tour, or climb Mt. Aguardo for a breathtaking view of the entire Cuyo Archipelago.
How to get there: Cuyo can be reached via boat ride, with Iloilo or Puerto Princesa as the usual jump-off points. A shipping route from Coron to Cuyo has also opened.
You may not have heard of Culion before or only know of it as a former leper colony. But this municipality—belonging to the Calamian group of islands—boasts unspoiled natural wonders. A century after the first batch of patients arrived in 1906, the World Health Organization declared the island leper-free, making it completely safe to visit today.
The upside to all those years of isolation? Culion’s resources, including forests and beaches, were preserved. So you can expect incredibly pristine hot springs, waterfalls, and seascapes. At Crowning Glory Reef, for instance, you’ll be able to gaze at colorful and diverse corals and schools of fish without diving deep.
Many of the landmarks, buildings, streets and plazas built for the leper colony have also been preserved, providing a glimpse into Culion’s unique history. Just follow the black historical markers as you walk around town. For a sweeping view of the town, hike to the top of Agila Hill, where a Christ the Redeemer statue stands. Or you could trek to the Pulang Lupa view deck, which is also ideal for camping and star gazing.
How to get there: Head for Coron, then take one of the ferries departing for Culion. You can also arrange for a day tour via chartered boat.
You don’t have to fly to Africa to see giraffes and zebras in the wild. At Calauit Island in Busuanga, you can tour a sanctuary where African giraffes, zebras, and impalas roam and run freely. The Calauit Safari Park, which has been operating for almost 40 years, also shelters herds of Calamian deer, bear cats, mouse deer and Palawan peacocks—species that can only be found in Palawan.
If you arrive at the park at 8am, you might get a chance to feed the giraffes. Visitors can also feed the Palawan porcupines, which are kept in pens, along with a civet cat, wild boar, pythons and tortoises. An aviary has been set up as well. In addition to a truck tour, the park allows camping on site.
How to get there: Once you’re in Coron, drop by the Tourism Office to make tour arrangements then catch a ride to Calauit via boat or van.
4. Onuk Island
Onuk Island in Balabac makes traveling to the far end of the Sulu Sea worth the trouble. A part of southern Palawan, this hidden gem wows with its spotless beach, where you can frolic in fine and powdery white sand, relax in hammocks tied to trees, and dip in crystal-clear waters. In fact, the water’s so clear that you can spot corals and giant clams from your boat.
You’ll also likely to see pawikans (sea turtles) swimming to and from Onuk, which is a breeding ground for adult pawikans and a sanctuary for their babies. The island’s caretakers look out for baby pawikans until they’re mature enough to be released into the wild.
Onuk, which was once called Roughton Island, is a private property. But it’s open to the public, and you can stay at “floating” cottages along the sand bar that stretches from the main beach. The structures are built on stilts and appear to “float” each time the tide rises, and the sandbar and stilts are submerged in water.
How to get there: At Puerto Princesa, ride a bus going to Rio Tuba. Once you arrive at Rio Tuba, take a boat to Balabac. Get permission from the Office of the Mayor, or in advance from a satellite office in Puerto Princesa (also bring a formal letter requesting entry). The local government unit will arrange your tour or stay, including the boat ride to Onuk Island.
Want to escape the El Nido crowd? Want to squeeze in a stopover during your trip’s Puerto Princesa to El Nido leg? Check out Taytay in northern Palawan. Taytay was Palawan’s capital back in the 1600s, around the same period the Taytay Fort or Fort Isabel—one of the town’s most popular landmarks today—was built. The fort is fairly intact, and you can still find some of the huge brass cannons used in defense of the Spanish mission.
Its Taytay’s seascapes, however, that steal the show. Malampaya Sound is home to the majestic Irrawaddy dolphins, which are already on the endangered species list. For greater odds of spotting them, join the tour that sets out before sunrise. There’s also a cave pool in Elephant Island that’s as mesmerizing as the limestone formations surrounding it. Or you could go kayaking on Palawan’s largest lake, Lake Manguao, where instead of fish pens and dwellings you’ll be treated to lush virgin forests and an array of bird sightings.
How to get there: Travel by road (bus, shuttle or van) from Puerto Princesa or El Nido.
6. San Vicente
It might not be long before we see the last days of San Vicente as a hidden gem. Located between Puerto Princesa and El Nido, the town is on track to become a world-class tourist destination, with the completion of its new airport and commercial developments in Long Beach underway. Long Beach is set to be San Vicente’s star attraction, thanks to its 14.7-kilometer stretch of unspoiled powdery sand. As this beach is one of the country’s longest and has sand that’s as fine as Boracay’s famous white sand; many are even referring to it as the “Next Boracay.”
For now, though, budget travelers and backpackers can still revel in Long Beach’s pristine beauty, including the surrounding lush forests and the coconut trees lining the shores. And those hungry for underwater adventures can stop by Port Barton, known for its amazing and relaxing snorkeling sites. The bonus: Just a boat ride away is Bigaho Falls, which has a staggering 14 levels (although only two are open to the public at the moment).
How to get there: From Puerto Princesa, hop on a bus, shuttle or van that’s headed for San Vicente.
7. Bugsuk Island
Bugsuk Island is in the running for the widest, whitest and finest beach in the Philippines—and, for many of those who have been here, it deserves the top spot. Think of it as a vast barren land with cool powdery sand and that’s the size of two football stadiums. Then imagine how fun it would be to have all that to yourself. Yes, chances are you (or your group) with have little to no company when you visit. So you can pitch a tent in designated areas, enjoy a nice little picnic, frolic around, and take as many pictures as you please.
Visiting Bugsuk also presents an excellent opportunity to interact with the locals and learn more about their everyday routines, such as hanging seaweeds on poles, leaving fish to dry on a woven tray and digging out beach worms for use as bait.
How to get there: Take off from Puerto Princesa via a bus departing for Rio Tuba, and then ride a boat to Bugsuk Island.
In Palawan, the road less traveled can lead to surprising and amazing discoveries. They may not be the most accessible of places, but they make for one-of-a-kind and rewarding experiences.