Treasure island: spend just a second on Palawan and you’ll see why it tops ‘world’s best islands’ lists, thanks to its staggering natural beauty and destination dive sites
Where? Palawan is an island province in the Mimaropa region.
How? Hop on a flight to Puerto Princesa airport from Manila, Cebu and Iloilo. There are also two smaller airports further north: the YKR Airport on Busuanga Island (which serves Coron and resorts on the Calamian Archipelago) and the privately owned Lio Airport, which serves guests staying at luxury resorts around El Nido and the Bacuit Archipelago.
Why? Palawan’s awards cabinet is as stuffed with trophies as its waters are with sea life. This gold-star island won’t annoy your bank manager, either – Lonely Planet listed it as one of the world’s best-value travel destinations in 2014. Palawan has also been voted as the best island in the world by Condé Nast readers for the past 2 years.
What? Palawan is the biggest province in the Philippines, and it’s generous with its charms. Bacuit Bay in El Nido is a crescendo of coastal beauty: admire its limestone karsts, meet the manta rays and sea turtles and go snorkelling along the myriad coral reefs. Discover wrecked Japanese warships and incredible sea life around Coron – also home to a zebra and giraffe sanctuary – and tackle the world’s longest navigable Underground River (a Unesco World Heritage Site and one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature) at Puerto Princesa. Keen divers will have already tackled Tubbataha Reef – another Unesco-listed site – in their dreams; the reality is even more incredible than you could imagine. Go island-hopping in Coron; discover Okikawa Maru shipwreck and Lusong Gunboat; take a dip in Kayangan Lake and the Twin Lagoon; meet some furry locals at the Calauit Wildlife Sanctuary. Experience a thermocline – where waters warm up, as you dive further down – at Barracuda Lake; have a beach picnic on Black Island (AKA Malajon Island). You’ll want to spend at least a few days discovering El Nido and its idyllic islands and islets (45 and counting). Go snorkelling with jack fish, embark on jungle hikes, spot baby shark and keep your eyes peeled for the swiftlet nests that give El Nido its name (Nido = nest).
Try… Be bold: tamliok is a wood worm that lives in the mangroves; it’s eaten raw (like oysters; it’s a mollusc), dipped in vinegar. If you’re a fan of pork, don’t skip crispy pata: deep-fried pig trotters, served with a soy-vinegar dipping sauce. Palawan dishes up some delicious kaldereta: mutton, liver gravy, cheese, peppers and chillies in tomato sauce. Thanks to Vietnamese immigrants who came to the Philippines during the Communist occupation of South Vietnam, Palawan has plenty of excellent noodle houses. Order chao long (rice noodles). Of course, the local seafood is also fantastic.