This was probably the trip I’ve anticipated the most to date. I’ve spent years dreaming about Palawan. Every time I would see it in the ‘It’s more fun in the Philippines’ campaign I’d sigh at its enamouring beauty – I’ve always found the blues and greens splashed across the pictures infinitely captivating.
You see Palawan is what I would call Philippines’ little strip of treasure. Placed precariously on the southwest of the Philippines in the MIMAROPA region, it is narrow and long and faces the South China Sea. It holds three of the household destinations in the Philippines’ tourism campaign: El Nido, Puerto Princesa and the Coron Islands.
The Coron Islands specifically, known for its crystal-clear lagoons cocooned in jungle-clad mountains, was where I was headed.
In total we spent three days and two nights there. Restricted to a tight schedule owed to the demanding travelling experience in the Philippines (which most often includes at least three modes of transportation); I had my days filled to the brim with activities!
So let’s start with…
I guess I’m lucky enough to say that I was not subjected to a morning call at the crack of dawn. Rather, our journey started out gently. At noon, we got on a forty-five minute flight travelling from Manila to Busuanga, and from there it was a thirty-minute drive to the town of Coron.
When we arrived it was already late afternoon, which apparently gave us just about enough time to climb the seven hundred and twenty-four steps to Mount Tapyas! The steps were concrete and honestly you could take as much time as you wanted climbing it. So fear not, it is definitely a doable hike! Though it goes without saying that by the time you reach six hundred, you will have wanted it all to end! But through the moans and groans, the saving grace was this incredibly breath-taking view as you drew nearer to the top. The view of the mountains jutting out of the islands that seemed to envelope each other as it sat gracefully on this tranquil sea, was one to behold. In fact it was perfect timing when we reached the top because by then the sun was sinking into the horizon and all you could see was how it was painting the clouds, the sky, the ocean in this transcendent kaleidoscope mix of purples and oranges. The experience indescribably embodied the feeling of being on top of the world.
Once we were satisfied with the pictures we had taken, and could no longer resist the lack of light limiting our ability to take any more decent pictures, we climbed back down and headed for Maquinit Hot Springs. After the long trek up Mount Tapyas, there could not have been a more perfect destination. By the time we got there the sun had well and truly set and so it seemed like just the time to have a relaxing evening soak. The water I felt was hot enough to be soothing but not too hot to be uncomfortable. The great thing about this place was it felt very natural. Though they had constructed the spring in such a way that the water was flowing into three different pools, it was located right by the seashore and was surrounded by these trees that would sway with the wind and lull you into quiet meditation.
So after a day of travelling, climbing seven hundred and twenty-four steps and dipping into a hot spring, it was no surprise that by the time we came back to the hotel, showered and had dinner I was very ready to call it a night. But I do remember drifting off to sleep that night dreaming of the beauty that was waiting for me by the next sunrise…
I remember waking up early that day purely out of excitement. We had all promptly gone down to have breakfast and waited by the gates for our tour guide. By nine o’clock we were happily crammed in one tricycle* headed for the pier down town.
By the time we were set to go, our lifejackets all fastened, the ropes pulled in and the engine rumbling, the sun was creeping up in the sky and the clouds, fluffy as they were, were merrily sweeping by. I sat at the front of the boat, crossed legged on my seat and took a deep breath. The air was cool and the water was deep blue and sparkling. The further we got, the closer I felt to the mountains that were beginning to cage us in. It all seemed surreal – like we were venturing into another world.
Our first stop was snorkelling. I geared myself up with goggles and flippers and jumped in. Our snorkelling site, Siete Pecados (translated: Seven Sins), consisted of these seven little islands. Apparently the legend goes that these islands were named after seven sisters who went to a party against their mother’s wishes. As punishment they were turned into these seven rocks. Well, that’s what our tour guide told us, but I’m pretty sure the details vary among the locals!
Anyhow, it’s a great place to snorkel, the current isn’t too strong and there are loads of corals and fishes to see. One particularly fascinating thing we saw was an Aurelia jellyfish, they’re completely harmless and almost transparent in the water. But of course my mum didn’t know any of that and screamed the moment she saw it floating by her. I personally thought it was cute; it was squidgy, and round, and transparent, and would dance in the water the way all jellyfishes do!
Eventually it was time to head to our next stop (the highlight of the day in my opinion): Lake Kayangan. It’s located almost in this cove, hidden by the larger islands. To get to the lake, you had to climb a little over three hundred stairs, which may not have been as many as the day before, but were definitely not as well-built. It was slippery and inconsistent so you had to walk slowly and carefully. When you got to the top, there’s a little clearing where you could take pictures of the dock. From there you could see just how bright and vividly turquoise the water was; complemented by the rich greens of the trees on the island, it was impeccably serene.
In order to reach the lake, you had to climb down another set of stairs. And there at the bottom you were met with a wooden dock that framed this expanse of water that was more teal than turquoise. It was crystal-clear and just so unbelievably natural. You could swim here to your hearts content because the water was deep but there were rocks near the dock that enabled you stand. You could even snorkel because it housed smaller fishes and occasional seahorses. In short it was the epitome of a tropical treasure.
If it were up to me, I would’ve stayed there indefinitely, just floating away. But the sun was suspended high in the sky, indicating that it was indeed time for lunch. So we all boarded the boat and headed to Atwayan Beach, a quaint little island with a modest beach. On the shore was a stretch of open wooden cottages complete with wooden benches and tables. There our tour guide unloaded our lunch and we took our time eating. I remember the sun being blisteringly hot so the shade was a welcoming relief.
Funnily enough, what was memorable for me about this island were the cats! They were stray and timid, and would wander about you while you ate. The two in particular that hung around us were adorable. One was white as snow with piercing yellow eyes, and the other black and white and sweet. My mum wasn’t specially amused by them but my sisters and I were smitten!
By early afternoon, we were ready for our final stop: Twin Lagoon. It seemed that we arrived quite early because the traffic of tourists that we were regularly bumping into weren’t there yet. And so, when we got to the lagoon, which was encased by these walls that were lined with trees, the branches hanging low on the water, we were all alone.
A quirky little detail about the lagoon was that you could enter it either by climbing over these wooden rickety stairs, or swim under in this small little opening just underneath. I wasn’t nearly confident enough to swim underneath, but the stairs were scary as hell! They were unstable and infested with giant red ants. Which was probably why going back I chose to swim underneath instead.
The lagoon itself was beguiling. The water was deep and placid. The walls were tall and imposing, and everything about it just gave you this sense of humanness. It rendered you in complete wonder, so much so that it felt appropriate only to speak in hushed voices, and even then they would echo above you – your own voice bouncing back, over and again. This lagoon was larger than the last and had no shores or docks to rest on, save for the small platform by the stairs, so you were almost forced to just float there and take it all in.
A corollary to that, I suppose, was that by the time we headed back to our boat, each of us opting to dive underneath than take our chances with those stairs again, I was completely exhausted. So you could imagine how thankful I was to our tour guide for bringing rice snacks and cold soft drinks, which I busied myself with as we called it a day and headed back to the mainland.
The next day we were up bright and early to catch a flight back to Manila.
And that marks the end of my trip to Palawan.
See you soon – in Oriental Mindoro, a place that holds meaning to me beyond what words can describe, but for now let’s call it my hometown.
*A tricycle is a three-wheeled vehicle essentially comprised of a motorbike attached to a sidecar, and is a popular mode of transportation in towns.
Side note: the pictures on my blog were taken and edited by my sister – she has an amazing Instagram account!