We’ve all had that time in our professional lives when we just felt the need to get out of the busyness of our work for a breathe of fresh air.
I had that moment last October 2014 – work had been crazy and I just wanted to travel somewhere outside Manila. Sadly, taking a vacation leave was not an option then.
Thankfully, AirAsia had a very cheap promo sale for its domestic flights. My fellow reporter and I checked the flights and we saw a destination we both were interested to visit – Puerto Princesa, Palawan!
We booked a return trip for P2,000 and 2 weeks after, we were on our way to one of the world’s most beautiful islands! We both had no weekday to spare so we scheduled our trip from Friday evening to Monday morning.
Comfortable accommodation, cheap food
We stayed in Natua’s Cabin, located just outside the Puerto Princesa International Airport. They had cheap single cabin rooms (P700 per night) that had an air conditioner, cable TV, and WiFi. There’s also a restaurant within the premises so early breakfasts and late dinners are not a problem.
Aside from its incredible beaches and breathtaking natural wonders, Puerto Princesa also boasts of amazing restaurants and a colorful nightlife. The bars there are always full of tourists and chilling locals. The drinks are of the same price as in Manila but the atmosphere is very different.
I highly recommend going to Tiki, Kinabuch, and Kataboom. These places are perfect for relaxation after a full day of going around the island. You can also meet new friends here since almost everyone is friendly.
Authentic Vietnamese food is really famous in Puerto Princesa. For those who don’t know, some Vietnamese refugees fled to the Philippines during the Vietnam war. They were given settlements in Puerto Princesa and have become well-integrated in the community. The Vietnamese families started their own businesses, opening restaurants around the city.
The one I recommend, the only one we were able to try, is Rene’s Saigon. You can get a very delicious Pho Bo (beef noodles) for less than P100.
Things to do
Going to the famous tourist sites in Puerto Princesa requires booking in a local travel agency. We booked through King James tours since they’re a partner of my uncle who owns a travel agency in Manila.
Here’s what we did on our two full days in Puerto Princesa:
Day 1: Puerto Princesa Underground River
This is the most important tourist destination in Palawan and the main reason why tourists go to Puerto Princesa. Located 80 kilometers north of the city, the subterranean river national park was recently voted as one of 7 New Wonders of Nature. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage site.
We paid P1,800 for a full day tour which includes all tickets, van transfers, boat rides, a tour guide and lunch. Before transferring by boat to the area near the underground river, tourists are required to get a permit from the authorities office first.
After securing your permit, you can now go to the boat for a 30-minute ride to the subterranean river. The beaches around the cave are very beautiful but tourists are not allowed to swim in them. It’s one of the many initiatives by the local government to preserve the natural beauty of the island.
The tour inside the cave takes around 45 minutes. Your boatsman will serve as your tour guide and show you all the notable rock formation inside the cave. The big domes inside the underground river are majestic – as if it was designed on purpose.
The cave actually spans 24 kilometers but tourists are only allowed into the first 1.5 kilometers of the cave. To go further, you’d need a special permit from the authorities – and only scientists and media are often given one.
Going inside the cave is like going back through time. Although it can be quite scary because of the minimal source of light (coming only from the headlights of the canoe), the tour guide/ boatman is really entertaining in presenting all the rock formations.
After the river, you’ll have the option to do a zipline instead of riding the boat. My friend and I didn’t try it so we went immediately back to the mainland and had lunch. A two-hour ride after, we were back to Puerto Princesa city.
Day 2: Honda Bay Tour
When visiting Palawan, island hopping is a must-do activity. For the second day of our trip, we went island hopping in Honda Bay, which was much cheaper (P1,500) compared to the underground river.
After renting out our swimming equipment, we went to the dock and rode the boat to our first destination – Pandan Island, a private island with only one resort.
The beach here was really beautiful and the water really clear. You can actually feed the fishes just by swimming by the shore. It’s the perfect spot for snorkelling because of the amazing underwater ecosystem. Just be careful, there are many sea urchins hidden in the corals.
Don’t worry if you weren’t able to bring food or drinks, they actually sell coconut juice and alcoholic beverages there.
We had lunch in the island, prepared by our local tour guides. For those going here independently, you can buy fish from the locals and have them cook it.
Cowrie Island was our next destination after lunch. It was a much bigger island than Pandan and had more shops. The beach was also beautiful but snorkelling in Pandan is much better since the water seemed a bit murkier in Cowrie.
At around 4pm, we finished up in Cowrie and went back to the main docks. It only took us a few minutes to get back to the city center so we had time to rest before dinner. Though I really enjoyed the island hopping in Puerto Princesa, I must say that Coron is much more enjoyable and beautiful. We went there a few years ago and I found the islands much more colourful than the islands we visited in Honda Bay.
Why Puerto Princesa?
As if the underground river and the island hopping are not enough reasons to visit this city, Puerto Princesa is also a very environmentally friendly place. This is the only city in the Philippines in which the carbon emission is negative so you can just walk to all the different restaurants without worrying of pollution.
All the travel agencies also practice eco-tourism. While you’re enjoying its natural wonders, you also help preserve the environment and help locals in Puerto Princesa.
Here’s our individual budget for our weekend getaway in Puerto Princesa:
- Airfare – 2,000
- Accommodation – 2,100
- Underground River Tour – 1,800
- Honda Bay Tour – 1,600
- Food and drinks – 1,500 (It depends how much beer you consume :D)
- Total: 9,000 (USD 204)
Of course, a much longer stay in Puerto Princesa would be better. If I had my way, I’d stay there for a month to just chill. That’s something to add to my travel bucketlist!