Between Coron in danger of being destroyed and El Nido slowly getting overrun, Palawan purists are in search of the good old days. Before the jostling crowds and the badly-planned theme parks, there was just paradise. Now that Palawan is approaching a tipping point, one of the small lights glimmering in the distance is Port Barton.
Port Barton, in San Vicente, Palawan, is a small, sleepy village with little to no commercial developments. This isn’t the place for luxury hotels or buzzing bars for those tropical nights (it only has electricity about 6 hours a day). It’s the perfect place for intrepid travelers and brave adventurers who truly relish in the purity of a place. In return, you get Palawan for what it is: a natural wonder and the Philippines’ last frontier, considered one of the most beautiful in the world.
Snorkeling in untouched reefs
The great thing about snorkeling in Port Barton is how many of the reefs are right off the town. Whether you decide to go far, or just explore off the beach, you’re sure to see a lot. Manta Ray Reef is a highlight, being 150 hectares in size. Its steady healing is apparent despite the damages that severe coral bleaching and typhoons it caused. Reefs near Double Island, like Fantastic Reef and Small Lagoon Reef, are also a great spot for corals and different fish species. Meanwhile, Aquarium Four and Oyster Point are right in the middle of the water and are perhaps the busiest when it comes underwater marine activity.
As of this writing, there are 2 scuba diving operators in Port Barton and about a dozen dive sites. The operators are Palawan Easy Dive and Aquaholics (not related to Puerto Princesa’s center of the same name). Both dive centers offer fun dives, as well as certifications in both PADI and SSI if you want to take diving to the next level. Apart from pristine reefs, a favorite dive site for Port Barton visitors is the wreck of a trawler that sank in 2003. After 15 years, it’s not teeming with fish and other underwater flora.
Because it’s largely untouched, island hopping in Port Barton is like jumping from remote paradise to secluded paradise. Getting a tour is easy as the local boatmen’s association has an office right on the beach. You can arrange for a tour that includes freshly-cooked lunch of grilled fish, vegetables, and fruits. Exotic Island is a favorite lunch spot thanks to its wide, white coast. Swim a little and you’ll also find great snorkeling from here. Another favorite is Paradise Island, a private island which allows visitors to dock and explore for PHP50. German Island, while also privately owned, can be explored for free. Finally, Double Island has a small resort and also offers great snorkeling spots around.
Mangrove river tours
The mangrove forests around Port Barton are crucial in keeping their rich ecosystem balanced. Tours here are limited to the small fishing boats which can navigate the shallow waters. To book a tour, you can visit the local boatmen’s association office right at the beach. You can also rent a kayak and paddle through the mangroves yourself. This can be arranged with your hotel if they provide these for rentals. It’s advised to have your tour early in the morning for the cool air, and also the wildlife activity within the forests themselves. Here you can see snakes curled up on trees, colorful bird species, and other interesting macro creatures. Don’t forget to wear long-sleeved shirts and leave as little skin exposed as possible though. Mangrove flies are rampant here and can be mildly annoying.
Hiking to waterfalls
Port Barton has 2 waterfalls. The first one, Papuwyan Falls, is about 4 kilometers or an hour’s hike from the town proper. Hiking to Papuwyan Falls is pretty easy, with gentle slopes and a clear path the whole way. You will also pass small clusters of houses and a graveyard. The other falls, Bigaho Falls, is a 20-minute boat ride from Port Barton or 15 minutes from Paradise Island. From the drop off point, it involves another 1 kilometer walk to the falls. Your reward is the cool, mountain waters of the falls and a refreshing jungle adventure.