Is Palawan worth it? You might have seen pictures of Palawan when researching beaches in the Philippines. Getting to Palawan is very cheap so you might be wondering if it’s worth checking out. Continue reading this guide to learn more.
Since Boracay was closed due to sewage issues, we were looking for the next best place in the Philippines, and Palawan kept popping up in searches. I heard of Palawan before, but I always thought it was a tiny island somewhere in the Philippines.
Turns out, it’s actually a rather large island, and one of the most bio-diverse in the Philippines at that.
So we hopped on a flight… and you just have to keep reading to find out what happened.
What You Need to Know About Traveling to Palawan:
Puerto Princesa is the capital of Palawan, the hub of the island, with connections to pretty much anywhere in the Philippines. This is where you’ll land, in Puerto Princesa Airport (unless something strange happens). It has an international airport.
The city itself isn’t particularly impressive, mainly filled with thousands of tricycles and Jeepneys (local buses). Typical for a small city in the Philippines.
There’s not really much to do in the city, besides a few restaurants, bars, and markets. The good stuff is out of the city, in more remote locations of Palawan. Unfortunately, getting to those places usually takes a couple of hours, with a hired driver.
What to Bring:
I recommend bring action cameras, such as a GoPro, or a waterproof phone in a case. There’s lots of diving and snorkeling to do, and you won’t want to miss the chance to get some cool underwater videos. The Philippines was basically made for these action cameras.
Before we start, there are a couple of things you need to know.
- Where: Palawan, Philippines
- Budget: 600 USD (Hotel + Spending)
- Where We Stayed: Blue Palawan Beach Resort
- How Long We Stayed: 7 Days
Budget Tip: Exchange money to USD. There are lots of money-changers in the Philipinnes, and they’ll be happy to change USD to PHP. Very few businesses accept credit cards.
What is Palawan Known For?
Palawan is best known for El Nido, the northern tip that has beautiful beaches and throngs of Australian tourists. It’s practically impossible to talk about Palawan without someone mentioning El Nido. There are lots of things that make Palawan worth it.
Unfortunately, we didn’t make it there because getting there is a hassle, a six-hour drive each way, on windy dirt roads. I haven’t had the chance to visit yet, so there’s not much I can say about it.
The Palawan is also famous for the underground river tour, which is also a hassle to get to, although we figured it was worth it.
Wondering what I use for the Pictures? Here’s my equipment:
The underground river tour is definitely something that you need to check out, at least once in your life.
El Nido and the underground river tour are the two most popular things to do in Palawan.
We stayed around the city and went on a couple of tours. We didn’t have a chance to go to El Nido or any fancy beaches.
Keep in mind, Palawan is a big island, and Puerto Princesa, the capital, is far from the best tourist locations.
In hindsight, it was probably not the best place to stay, but overall it was not bad.
Speaking of travel guides, you might like our guide to Boracay, Okinawa, Spring Scream in Taiwan, or Sun Moon Lake.
Is Palawan Safe for Foreigners?
Generally, Palawan is safe, although you might get some shifty looks in the more remote locations. Overall, Palawan is much like any other area in the Philippines, safe and friendly.
The main issue you’ll have to worry about is bargaining with tricycle drivers unless you don’t mind getting ripped off.
Just like anywhere in the world – try not to be a douche!
Filipinos are nice, but they have limits too. Not to mention most people are struggling with income, so don’t go around flaunting your cash.
Is Palawan Worth It?
I’ll cut to the chase, Palawan is definitely worth checking out once in your life. It’s cheap, the people are friendly, and there are some unique tours like the Underground River you can check out. Not to mention El Nido. There are lots of things to do in Palawan!
Getting Around Palawan:
To get around Palawan you have a few options:
- Hire a Driver
- Hire Tricycles
- Rent a Car/Motorbike
The traffic is kind of crazy, with millions of Tricycles everywhere, so I wouldn’t recommend renting a car.
But you can rent a bike if you are comfortable driving one and can deal with the traffic (and have a driver’s license).
Tricycles are the most common transportation option in the Philippines, especially on the islands. They’re like mini-taxis.
Tricycles are basically motorbikes with a cage for two seats attached. Palawan practically runs on tricycles.
They’re everywhere and they are quite cheap too. Most of the drivers can also connect you to different tours or services, so don’t feel afraid to ask. Pretty much everyone speaks English anyway.
Jeepneys are like van/jeep hybrids that act as local buses. Figuring out the stations is a bit complicated, and even when you do, each Jeepney is basically full all the time.
So you pretty much have to sit on someone’s lap the entire trip (or have someone sit on you) which isn’t that great (unless you’re into that sort of thing).
We prefer Tricycles.
And there are always tricycles waiting outside of every hotel and popular spot. If there isn’t, the guards can probably track one down for you.
Prices vary, depending on the type of tricycle, and how much they decide to rip you off. But generally, it’s around 80 or so Pesos for a couple of kilometers.
They usually only charge a bit more for tourists than locals, unless they want to rip you off, which can happen.
Get a bunch of small bills!
Where to Stay in Palawan:
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There are lots of hotels, and since Palawan isn’t the hottest tourist destination, you don’t really need to worry about places being booked.
You can find lots of hotels at cheap rates too.
Blue Palawan Review:
We stayed at a resort called Blue Palawan Beach Club, a decent resort about 20 minutes from downtown. It’s a sandy area with lots of small wooden cabins, very cute.
It’s right next to the beach, but it’s not really accurate to call it a beach.
The beach looks great when the tide is high, but when the tide is low, the sand looks like mud and there’s a ton of seaweed. To our surprise, the entire ground was crawling with crabs.
Wouldn’t recommend swimming here. It also smells a bit. The view is great though.
Luckily, they do have a pool, next to a bar. At the resort, the rooms are individual cabins, with concrete walls and thatched roofs.
They look quite basic, but inside you can find all the amenities normal hotels have, such as air-con, shower, toilet, sink, TV, and whatnot.
We also had some sparrows sneak into our cabin and practice flying across the ceiling which was cool.
Not so cool if you don’t like waking up at 6 am every day. But you should, because that is when the tide is highest, and you can watch the sunrise over the still water.
This is what you can expect:
My only complaint is the resort is quite far from any other restaurants or shops, but there is a Robinson Mall a couple of kilometers away, straight down the road.
You’ll have to hire a tricycle to get there, and that doesn’t cost much, usually less than 100 Pesos.
The mall has pretty much everything you need: shops, restaurants, money exchange, ATMs, etc.
Besides the view and cabins, the service at Blue Palawan is awesome too.
They have a restaurant (and bar) that are open pretty much all day, and it’s a good thing at that too because there are a few other options nearby.
The food was really nice, and the prices are decent too.
Big portions. Breakfast is an open-buffet, included in the price. Their signature cocktails are delicious as well, about 200 Peso each.
Organize Tours at the Hotel:
Instead of trying to organize everything before arriving we just went to the hotel and asked for their tour services.
They can link you to pretty much all the major tourist spots in Palawan. We did the Honda Bay Island Hopping and Underground River Tour.
There are some other ones too, but these are the most popular ones, and I’ll talk about them soon.
Blue Palawan Pros:
- Great and friendly staff.
- Great restaurant and bar service (drink in the pool or at the bar!)
- Really nice pool overlooking the ocean
- Cute and private cabins
- Rent kayaks for free
Blue Palawan Cons:
- The beach is not really nice. Stinks and no white sand.
- A bit far from the city center.
Book them here.
The two major tours in Palawan are Honda Bay Island Hopping and Under Ground River Tour. There are other ones, such as dolphin watching and firefly gazing but we thought those didn’t sound as cool.
In El Nido, there are a lot more, but we didn’t make it there. Next time.
We did the Honda Bay Tour first, and I’ll talk about that now.
P.S. this is a perfect place to bring your GoPro.
Honda Bay Tour:
|Price:||1,500 - 2,000 PHP|
|Duration:||8 AM - 4 PM|
This tour takes about a full-day, and it includes a buffet lunch on Lu Lu island. As far as island hopping tours go, it’s pretty great.
You can compare this tour to the one we did in Boracay.
Pretty decent tour. Very close to Puerto Princesa. Corals aren’t in great condition, but there is plenty of fish to see.
The islands are a great place to take pictures too. Worth it.
Full details below.
You can book tours from pretty much anywhere, we booked ours from our hotel.
When you book a tour with the hotel, a driver in a mini-van will pick you up from the hotel on the morning of the day you chose.
You might have to squish in with a bunch of other people. During the drive (takes about 20-30 minutes) the tour guide will let you know all the details, and probably ask where you’re from.
The van will stop at a small shop where you can rent goggles, flippers, water-shoes, snorkels, and anything else you might need. We got some snorkels and shoes.
From there you’ll go to the port to wait for your boat.
We had to wait for a while.
Generally, the boat will take you to three places: Crowley Island, Lu Lu Island, and a coral reef where you can snorkel, lunch is on Lu Lu island. The boat takes about 30 minutes to get to the first island.
Crowley Island is probably the nicest of all of them. It’s a small island with white sand, palm trees, and a bunch of huts to lounge in.
There’s a restaurant too, but it wasn’t open when we visited. Actually, I think our boat was the first of the day, so the island was completely empty.
We beat the crowds of tourists, which is always nice.
The water is incredibly clear and blue, and you can swim around if you want.
I didn’t find any corals here, but I did find some fish. Basically it’s just a nice place to take pics and chill a bit.
You can, as a group, decide how long you want to stay. We stayed for around 2 hours.
The order of the places you will visit vary depending on how the tour guide organizes the tour, we went from Crowley Island to the snorkeling area, and then finally Lu Lu island.
After a while, the boat will dock in an open-water floating port, and you’ll be directed to a place you can jump in and swim around.
The reefs here are okay but I noticed there is a lot of damage from tourists, most of the corals are brown.
But you can still see a lot of different types of fish.
If you’re not a good swimmer, it’s recommended to use lifesaver.
Even if just for safety, as there are a lot of people squished into a tiny area. I had a hard time getting any clear videos of the fish without people’s limbs getting in the way. Fingers often ended up in places they shouldn’t be.
Not that great (unless, of course, you’re into that).
We only stayed for a bit.
Lu Lu Island:
Lu Lu island is like a reef in the middle of the ocean with a few huts on it. When the tide is high, the entire island is under-water, so it’s only accessible at low tide. It’s a cool little island, with shallow reefs you can swim around.
The restaurant is here, an open-buffet with local food, mostly fried stuff and rice. It’s a small hut, so it will be likely full of random tourists. Usually, the tour guide will reserve enough seats. You still might be squished.
Once you’re done eating you’re free to roam around and explore. There’s a swimming area too, but we didn’t feel like swimming so we just walked around. When we were there the weather took a turn for the worse, and it was quite cloudy and the water was a bit choppy.
After that, when everyone manages to make it back to your designated boat, the driver will take you back to the port, where you’ll be driven back to your hotels.
According to the organizer, the tour usually ends around 4 PM but our’s ended earlier, at 2 PM, I guess people didn’t want to stay.
And then you can just go back to your hotel and chill until your next plan.
Under Ground River Tour
This tour takes a lot longer than Honda Bay Tour because you have to drive for a few hours, and then take a boat for like 30 minutes. Lunch is included.
It costs about 2,000 Pesos for each person, depending on where you book it from.
Once again, the driver will pick you up from your hotel, usually with a bunch of other people inside the van.
What you need to know:
- Takes a Long Time to Get There
- You Have to Submit Your Passport/ID for Paperwork
Getting to the Under Ground River takes a few hours. I imagine during the low season the wait is faster, but we had to wait a while.
You also have to hand in some sort of ID to the tour guide, so they can get a visitor permit for you.
The area is protected, so you need to apply for different permits to visit. The paperwork usually takes a few hours to be processed and approved.
Of course, the tour guide will deal with all that for you. The only thing that you need to do is hand them an ID of some sorts, I gave them my passport.
So the drive takes a few hours, and they’ll stop at a little resting place in the mountains, where you can grab some coconuts and tourist stuff.
The tour guide will probably tell you a long list of exhausting rules, like:
- No feeding wildlife
- No pissing off the boat
- No smoking or littering
Just the normal stuff you would expect from a national park.
Depending on how the tour is organized, they’ll probably recommend you do some other activities while you wait for the permit to be done.
Of course, these are optional, but it is a good way to kill some time.
You can just roam around the area for a couple of hours if you don’t want to do the activities.
We did a little mangrove river tour which was cool, nice for couples.
You climb on a little boat and our paddled under the mangroves and around the river, while the tour guide talks about the different wildlife and trees.
We got a nice lady as a tour guide, she even sang a song she made up on the way back.
If you’re lucky you’ll spot some snakes curled up in the mangroves.
The boat will take you up the river and turn around, it usually takes an hour or so.
Actual Under Ground River Tour:
So after eating and killing time, the permits should be processed, and you can start heading towards the actual tour.
Luckily there’s not much more driving involved.
They’ll take you to the port where you’ll hop on a little ferry to the actual area, which is surrounded by cliffs, and inaccessible any other way.
You’ll land in a really beautiful bay, similar to the bay where The Beach was filmed, with massive cliffs on each side.
This is where everyone arrives.
From there, you’re herded through the trees and to a small river, with the cave entrance.
Hop on a little paddle boat, wait for people to take pictures, and then you’re ready to go.
You’ll be handed a small audio device with headphones that play different tour information, so you don’t have to talk inside the cave.
You’re supposed to keep your voice down because even your voice can damage different structures in the cave.
The boat slowly moves into the mouth of the cave, where it gets darker and darker, and soon the only thing is the spotlight from your boat.
Lots of bats!
Keep in mind, there are tons of bats in here, and they can get really close to your head.
Close enough to feel the air from their wings flapping on your face.
This cave is actually quite interesting because it’s one of the largest river-cave systems in the world. Most of it isn’t even mapped.
There are minerals in here that haven’t been found anywhere else in the world. It’s like an alien planet.
So it’s probably not a good idea to stroke everything you see.
The boat silently moves through the cave, and the driver will shine the spotlight on different points of interest.
You’ll see a bunch of stalactite and stalagmites, various shapes, like food, and even people.
There’s one that looks like an onion, and then there’s an open section with ones that look like the nativity scene.
Pretty cool. And creepy.
During one part of the tour, near the end, the boat will turn around a structure that looks like a dinosaur fossil.
All in all, it’s a cool tour, but it takes a long time to get there, and then you have to wait for the permits to be processed. Still worth a look, it’s only 2,000 Pesos.
Once you’re done, the ferry-boat will take you back to the port, hop in the van, and get dropped back at your hotel.
Where you can sleep and think about what you just experienced.
Other Things To Do in Palawan:
Besides the big one, heading over to El Nido, there are a few other things you can do in Puerto Princesa.
Visit the Baywalk
Seems like the boardwalk is a new structure in Puerto Princesa.
It’s like 6 or so kilometers from Blue Palawan Beach Club, we took a tricycle there.
Nothing particularly special about this bay walk, besides it being a nice place to, well, walk.
During the day you can get some nice views of the area and fishing boats.
It was completely empty when we went there, a little suspicious, but it turned out to be fine.
My impression was it was just built, and there’s not much of a reason to go there besides the view, so not many people do.
Eat at a Grill.
We wanted to do this but never got around to it. There are a few grill restaurants that seem like they’re worth a visit.
Here are a couple:
Some other ones too, which you can easily find on Google Maps.
Pray at a Church
There is a church, called Immaculate Conception Cathedral where you can join the mass or just visit.
There are a couple, but the one we went to is near Blue Palawan, and it’s a great place to shop for food or whatever.
We bought some clothes and ate a bunch of random food.
The thing will malls in the Philippines is there are tons of small food vendors inside, like stands, where you can get small portions of pretty much whatever you want.
You can also grab tricycles from here.
They’re the official tricycles (blue) and they’ll rarely overcharge you.
Of course, the markets will sell clothes for a lot cheaper.
Visit the Sandbar
There are a few of these sand bars around Puerto Princesa. In fact, there is one near Blue Palawan Beach Club (that I just found out about).
See, when the tide goes down, it goes really down, and you’re left with long stretches of sand. That’s when you can find different sandbars that are accessible by kayaks.
The most popular one belongs to a hotel called Princesa Garden Island Resort.
I’m not sure if you can visit without being a hotel guest, but either way, it’s right off the coast from the hotel.
You’ll probably see people standing on something out in the coastline; that’s where it is.
Take a Kayak Somewhere
If you stay at Blue Palawan Beach resort, you can use their kayaks for free.
There are some mangroves you can explore. Pretty fun.
Most hotels will offer similar services.
Go to El Nido.
Seriously, this is on our to-do list. El Nido has a lot more to offer than the city center.
Just keep in mind it takes about 6 hours to get there, via mini-van.
It looks like you can take a chartered flight there now, so that could be another option.
But the beaches in El Nido are much more beautiful.
And there are more tourists, of course.
So is Palawan Worth It?
Absolutely, I think Palawan is well worth a trip. It’s cheap, the people are friendly, and the tours are worth trying out, especially the Underground River.
I recommend staying for a few days. We had a ton of fun there.
The only downside is the nice beaches/swimming areas are a bit far from the city center, so we didn’t swim as much as we would have liked.
Overall, we had a great time in Palawan and I think it’s definitely worth a vacation.
Head on over there!
You might just like it.
Thanks for taking the time to read this Palawan guide.
Got questions? Leave a comment.
Steven Baker says
Maybe I missed it, but you didn’t mention the duration of your stay. Sounds like it may have been three days or so? Budget is meaningless to me without knowing this.
Hey, we stayed there for a week. I think we spent like 20,000 PHP between the two of us, I can’t remember exactly but it wasn’t much. We didn’t do so many activities though, so you have to factor that in. Overall, it’s pretty cheap.