Often called the Last Frontier of the Philippines, for its rugged beauty and isolation, Palawan isn’t exactly undiscovered these days, but it is spectacular.
From the beautiful Calamianes Islands in the north, where you’ll find the likes of Coron and Busuanga, to the rarely visited southern coastline of Brooke’s Point, or Balabac, there are so many great things to do in Palawan.
Lounge on beaches, island hop from one white sand beach to the next or explore underground rivers and coral reefs. To inspire your next adventure, here are our favorite things to do in Palawan.
Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet Philippines (Country Guide)
15 Things to Do in Palawan, Philippines
1. Visit Puerto Princesa
Puerto Princesa is the gateway to Palawan, as this is the main island’s largest city and a great transport hub for the region.
Most travelers will either start or end their journey in Puerto Princesa – sometimes both – because from here, you can fly, or take ferries all over the Philippines.
Puerto Princesa is a large city but compared to the bustle of Cebu or Manila it’s a pleasantly relaxed place.
You can try local delicacies such as Tamilok (Shipworm) or Crocodile Sisig on the waterfront. You can also visit nearby waterfalls and mountaintops and day trips to some of Palawan’s best beaches and natural attractions.
2. Float on the Underground River
One of the best things to do in Palawan is in fact, just a short journey from Puerto Princesa.
The Underground River is a truly astonishing sight and one that’s worthy enough to have been made a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The Underground River has carved its way over millennia through the limestone rocks along the coast, and much of this vast watery cave complex remains totally unexplored.
You can take a boat ride through sections of the river, to experience the ethereal glow of the turquoise water and to enjoy the natural beauty all around you.
Visit the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, and paddle down the Puerto Princesa Underground River on this 8-hour tour.
This underground river is one of the longest underground rivers in the world. Board a boat at the mouth of the cave at Sabang Wharf, and stop at the Buenavista viewpoint for views of the Ulugan Bay.
3. Snorkel at Honda Bay
Also found just a day trip away from Puerto Princesa, are the spectacular surrounds of Honda Bay.
In less than one hour, you’ll have left the urban jungle and will be immersed in the raw natural beauty of Palawan.
Honda Bay is known for its glorious islands, and island hopping is the only way to truly experience the area. Hire a boat or join a tour and jump from one sandy beach to the next.
Bring your snorkeling gear too, because the coral here is colorful and teeming with marine life, while the water is perfectly clear and calm, especially in the dry season.
Visit three of Honda Bay’s most beautiful islands on this full-day tour. First, visit Luli Island to swim, snorkel, or sunbathe.
Move on to Pambato Reef for snorkeling, and catch sight of giant clams, colorful fish, and coral. Lastly, stop for lunch and relaxing on Cowrie Island.
4. Go Island Hopping in El Nido
When it comes to the best things to do in Palawan, then it’s El Nido that usually takes the crown.
There’s a good reason for this too, and that’s because this is one of Palawan’s most spectacular destinations.
Known for its limestone cliffs and dramatic karst rock scenery, El Nido is really a collection of small islands extending from the mainland.
So once again, you’ve got to go island hopping to experience it all. It’s the classic Philippines, with white sand beaches and turquoise lagoons.
Be warned though, that while El Nido was until just a few years ago a sleepy fishing village, it’s now one of the most popular places in the Philippines.
Tourism is booming, and infrastructure hasn’t necessarily kept up with demand, so El Nido can be busy, especially in peak season.
5. Head to Nacpan Beach
Not far from El Nido, you can find one of the most beautiful stretches of coastline in the Philippines. Visiting Nacpan Beach is one of the best things to do in Palawan because it’s simply stunning.
A long sandy beach extends far along the coastline, and it’s fringed by swaying palm trees, jungle and limestone rocks.
This is the Philippines that you’re probably imagining when you’re booking your trip to the country, but like El Nido, just remember that Nacpan is no longer the quiet and remote destination that it used to be.
It’s still just as beautiful as it’s always been, of course, but head elsewhere if you’re looking for solitude.
6. Coron Island
Head north from El Nido and a long ferry ride will bring you to Coron Town and Coron Island. If you’re looking for raw beauty, but more solitude, then this is easily one of the best things to do in Palawan.
Coron Island is one of the largest in the Calamianes chain, which counts hundreds of smaller islands and atolls amongst the archipelago.
On Coron Island, you’ll find dramatic sights such as Kayangan Lake, a deep freshwater lagoon that’s held sacred by the local Tagbanua population.
You can cruise along the coast of the island to Twin Lagoons, where freshwater meets saltwater, and limestone cliffs rise high above you.
Or you can jump into the refreshing waters of Barracuda Lake, where you can cool off after a hard day of island hopping.
This Coron Island tour takes in all the island’s highlights, including snorkeling at the Siete Pecados Marine Park and Coral Eden. It also includes a boat cruise around Kayangan Lake, and swimming at the Twin Lagoons, plus a delicious seafood lunch on Calachuchi Beach.
7. Busuanga Island
While Coron is the most famous island in the chain, you’ll more than likely end up staying on Busuanga Island, the largest island in the chain and the tourist hub for the region.
This is where you’ll find hotels, restaurants, and bars, and it’s where you can join island hopping tours.
Busuanga has a lot to offer itself though, and you can hike the hundreds of steps that lead to the top of Mount Tapyas, for a fiery sunset over the islands that are arrayed before you.
Jump into the Maquinit Hot Springs for a relaxing spa session, or journey along the coast to discover a lesser-known part of Busuanga.
8. Pass Island
Pass Island is one of the smallest, yet most beautiful, islands in the Calamianes group.
You can walk across the entire length of it in under twenty minutes, but if you’re looking for a tropical escape, then this is the place to go.
Pass Island is remote, and it will take a few hours to reach by bus and boat from Coron Town, but it’s worth the effort for the sheer isolation and the gorgeous beauty.
A white sand beach fringes one side of the island, while rocky, jungle strewn cliffs rise on the other.
You can snorkel off the beach, pick coconuts from trees and even spend the night in a rustic bungalow in order to wake up with the entire island to yourself.
9. Coron to El Nido Expeditions
One of the best things to do in Palawan is to join a multi-day island-hopping expedition. And we’ve done three of them!
Rather than simply taking the ferry between Coron and El Nido, you can join excursions that take anywhere from two nights to two weeks, and you’ll be able to get really off the beaten track.
Sleep on secluded beaches or on the deck of the boat, under the stars. Travel to the most remote islands in the Calamianes, snorkel and sunbathe every day of the trip.
You’ll also learn about the remote Tagbanua communities that have lived in the region for thousands of years, and who are thought to be descendants of the oldest human beings in the Philippines.
Enjoy the coastline scenery on this full-day sightseeing cruise from El Nido. Relax onboard the boat while traveling around the islands and beaches of Bacuit Bay, 7 Commando Beach, Shimizu Island, and the Secret Lagoon.
Stop for swimming and snorkeling using the provided equipment, and refuel midday with a buffet lunch.
10. Enjoy the Amazing Snorkeling
Of course, it goes without saying that one of the best things to do in Palawan is to go snorkeling.
El Nido and Coron are often ranked as the best places for snorkeling, but you can find excellent spots everywhere.
You will find amazing snorkeling at just about every island you visit. The Philippines is located within the coral triangle, an area that nurtures healthy populations of ocean coral.
In the water, you’ll find colorful coral, tropical fish and lots of turtles too.
Take a short boat ride from Puerto Princesa, Palawan to Honda Bay, where you can visit multiple islands in a single day.
See what Luli, Cowrie, and Starfish islands have to offer. You will have spare time to swim and snorkel for a closer view of marine life, or simply relax on a white-sand beach under the sun.
11. Marvel at Shipwrecks
There are plenty of shipwrecks around Palawan that are perfect places for diving and snorkeling.
The most famed shipwrecks are found in the Coron area because during World War II the islands here were used as a shelter and harbor by the Japanese.
Many of the ships were sunk by the Americans though, and today they’ve taken on new life as artificial reefs and hauntingly beautiful dive sites.
12. Explore the Tabon Caves
If you’re interested in unearthing more of Palawan’s rich history, then take a trip to the Tabon Caves.
This archaeological site is perhaps the most important in the Philippines because it’s here that the remains of the Tabon Man were found.
The Tabon culture is thought to be the earliest example of modern humans in the Philippines, and the Tagbanua, one of Palawan’s indigenous groups, are thought to be their direct descendants.
13. Take a Day Trip to Port Barton
Port Barton is a quieter, more relaxing version of El Nido, although as Palawan becomes busier and busier, it’s unlikely to stay that way for too long.
This is the best place in Palawan for backpackers looking to escape it all because at Port Barton there’s just rustic accommodation and plenty of beaches and lagoons to explore.
14. Be Adventurous at Brooke’s Point
For the really adventurous travelers though, the only way to escape the Palawan crowds is to head south.
Brooke’s Point is found along the coastline, and it’s undeniably beautiful and has yet to be picked up by the holiday crowds, or even too many backpackers as a place to visit.
Explore secluded beaches and hike to remote waterfalls, to see the best of Palawan’s pristine nature in the south.
15. Get Off the Beaten Track in Balabac
Keep heading south, and you’ll eventually arrive at one of the most untouched areas in the Philippines.
Balabac is a long way, even from Puerto Princesa, and it’s a challenge to even get here.
This is raw, untouched beauty at its best though, and although things will be rustic, you’ll have these beautiful islands almost to yourself.
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Manila to Puerto Princesa
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