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Palawan Island: Southeast Asia’s Best Kept Secret

It seems many travel blogs advise visitors to not spend much time in Puerto Princesa. I’m here to tell you nothing could be further from the truth. Despite what others have said I loved Puerto Princessa and the Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm!

I loved Palawan because I loved seeing the museums and learning about all the history that is there. Palawan is a quieter paradise that’s half the price of going to Thailand. If you go to Palawan Island of course you need to go to the Underground River, El Nido, or Coron.

Those are all  beautiful places that have earned their reputation but I have found the City of Puerto Princesa is sadly and ironically overlooked by most people despite the fact that its the main point of entry to the Island of Palawan.

I took a city tour from Viator it was like 20 bucks! In the tour I got to see:

Me and my Puerto Princesa Tour Group
A Puerto Princessa Tour Group

Plaza Cuartel

Immaculate Conception Cathedral,

Baylwalk, Crocodile Farm

Baker’s Hill, Pasalubong Center,

Binuatan Creations Weaving Center

and more…

My best experience in Palawan

I have to say one of my most powerful trips was to Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm. There I got to meet real Filipino prisoners. They do a nice little dance for you when you enter and then you get a tour. I had a chance to have an in depth talk with one of the prisoners:

He told me the story of how he ended up there. Basically as a young man one of his classmates kept teasing him. He said he was beginning to lose standing amongst his friends because he was allowing this other young man to continue teasing him.

So he told me how one night after school he got a knife and was sharpening the knife. He kept going back and forth on whether or not he should do it.

Then he got a call from one of his friends stating that his group was going to disown him because he was ‘a pussy’ for allowing the other young man to keep teasing him. That made the decision for him.

He told me after school he saw his classmate sitting on a bench eating or something. He walked up behind him and slit his jugular vein with the knife. Blood gushed out of him like a pig and he fell to the ground.

Afterwards he ran to his friend’s house seeking advice and his friend lied to him. His friend advised him that if he turned himself in that maybe they’d give him just a few months because he confessed. He did and well that was 20 years ago and he’s still in prison.

A truly powerful story indeed. I think he wanted a tip afterwards but uh sorry I’m not gonna tip just for telling me a story of how you killed someone.

I know it sounds weird but for me that was the best experience in Palawan. Iwahig prison gave me an opportunity to get to meet real people telling real stories that don’t go in the travel brochures. It was truly off the beaten path and for that reason it was my best experience in Palawan .

You can go see Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm here 

The tour costs about $365  for the prison plus you get to see other interesting sites like The Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Center, enjoy views across the Honda Bay from Mitra Farm, and shop for hand-crafted souvenirs. Really though the main highlight is the prison.

Palawan vs Boracay Which is Better?

So now you know how Palawan is SE Asia’s best kept secret now you want to know if you should go there or Boracay Island. Maybe you are in a bind situation where you simply can’t go to both. Most likely due to lack of time I guess. Therefore you want to know if you should visit Palawan or Boracay. This article should help you to make a decision.

Palawan

Let’s talk about what Palawan has to offer:

The Underground River

The absolute #1 thing to do in Palawan is see the underground river. On January 28th 2012 it was declared one of the 7 natural wonders of the world. It is just what it sounds like. It’s a large river inside a cave with many beautiful geological formations and various exotic life forms. You need to visit this if you come to the Philippines! Otherwise it’d be like going to France and not visiting Versailles or the Eiffel Tower.  With complete day tours for $70 or less there’s simply no excuse not to go there.

Great Museums

If you’re like me and you love history and museums Palawan has some great museums to offer. There are about eleven museums worth mentioning:

  1. Palawan Special Battalion WW2 Memorial Museum
  2. Palawan Heritage Center
  3. Palawan Museum
  4. Culion Museum and Archives
  5. Ethnographic Museum
  6. Palawan Environmental Enforcement Museum
  7. South Sea Pearl Museum
  8. Palawan Environmental Enforcement Museum
  9. Palawan State University Museum
  10. South Sea Pearl Farm Puerto Princesa
  11. Leprosy Museum

Puerto Princesa Museum Tours

Diving at Coron Bay

Coron Bay is situated in North Palawan, the most westerly part of the Philippines. It lies in between Busuanga and Culion Islands. There is fabulous diving all around the area, but the bay is particularly well known as having some of the best wreck diving in the world. The wrecks and pleasant rock formations provide for excellent snorkeling and diving opportunities, with underwater visibility extending up to 20 meters. Forbes magazine named Coron as one of the ten best dive sites in the world. For tours click here

El Nido

Situated in Bacuit Bay, El Nido, covering a land area of 465.1 square kilometres (179.6 sq mi) in the northernmost tip of mainland Palawan, is bordered by the Linapacan Strait in the north, the Sulu Sea in the east, and the South China Sea in the west. It is composed of 45 islands and islets,each has its own unique geological formations. The highest peak is at Cadlao Island, towering up to 640 metres (2,100 ft) above sea level. El Nido is currently ranked #4 in Condé Nast Traveler’s list of “20 Most Beautiful Beaches in the World.”  CNNGo has called it the Best Beach and Island destination in the Philippines for its “extraordinary natural splendor and ecosystem. For El Nido tours Click here

Firefly Watching

Just like other parts of the Philippines Palawan has firefly watching.  You’ll be impressed by beauty of these graceful creatures as they fly around the night sky searching for food and mates. For Firefly tour click here

Trendy Palawan

El Nido Party Boat 

El Nido’s biggest booze cruise! Launched in February 2016, this lesbian-owned Party Boat offers ocean cruising, island chillin’, snorkeling, BBQ, music and free flow of alcoholic drinks. They also offer overnight trips to secluded islands for groups.

The boat picks you up in the morning (11am) and drops you off after sunset. It cruises to the best spots, beaches and lagoons in the area. Check the website for rates, routes and more information. LGBT community receives a 10% discount.

TIKI Resto Bar

The popular TIKI Resto Bar offers good food, reasonably priced drinks, regular live music and fun party nights in Palawan. TIKI is particularly busy on Friday and Saturday night, attracting a large number of friendly locals.

KaLui Restaurant

One of the best & most famous seafood restaurants in Puerto Princesa. This KaLui restaurant offers an authentic experience from the moment you arrive. Remove your shoes and walk barefooted to your table.

Everything on the menu is either from the sea or grown in the field. Fresh fish, sashimi, tempura, shellfish soup, sinigang, baked mussel and more.

Boracay

Boracay was awarded as the 2012 best island in the world from the international travel magazine Travel + Leisure. In 2014, the resort island was at the top of the Best Islands in the World list published by the international magazine Condé Nast Traveler. In 2016, Boracay headed the magazine’s list of Top 10 destinations to watch. It too has much to offer

Beaches

Boracay is home to some world class beaches.  In the words of one blogger

Boracay is the kind of island you will never want to leave. I’ve traveled to more than 50 countries and there are not many places where I’ve returned 5 times. Boracay is one of them. – Justonewayticket.com

White Beach

In the words of one reviewer: “Clear turquoise waters, soft sand, lots of activities and restaurants to choose from. What more could you ask for?”

Ariel’s Point is a breathtaking eco-adventure destination located a short and scenic boat ride away from Boracay Island. With five cliff-diving platforms (ranging in height from 3 meters to 13 meters) and ample opportunities for swimming, snorkeling, kayaking, and canoeing in a friendly setting, Ariel’s Point is the perfect daytime venue for Boracay travelers who want to experience the natural beauty of the Philippines while also meeting fellow travelers.

Willy’s Rock

Willy’s Rock is Boracay’s most recognizable attraction. It is an oddly shaped volcanic formation topped by a statue of the Virgin Mary.

Bars

Bei Kurt und Magz, Station 3 beachfront. Happy Hour from 2PM – 8PM.
Yes, the photo above belongs to Kurt & Magz, a Snack Bar & Restaurant owned by a German. Caipirinhas for 25 PHP? How could I resist? Great place to watch the sunset as well.

Shantal’s Resto Bar, Station 3 beachfront, right next to Kurt & Magz. Happy Hour from 2PM – 8PM. Shantal’s Resto is another great Beach Bar (left photo below) offering beers and cocktails for a really small price. The place is always crowded. Good spot to meet other backpackers.

Exit Bar, Station 1 beachfront between the Red Coconut and Bom Bom Bar. No Happy Hour.
One of my favorite places, such a cozy little bar. You’ll meet kite surfers, expats and friendly locals here, always up for some conversation. Great vibe and cheap drinks (beer or rum coke for 50 PHP).

Shenna’s Restaurant, Station 2. Happy Hour from 5PM – 9PM.
I mentioned Shenna’s before as they have cheap and tasty food. But also their cocktails are great and strong! Here a photo from their

Trendy Boracay

Epic Bar

Popular nightclub, restaurant, bar and party venue. Under the same management of Manila’s hottest super-clubs (Encore, Manor and Republiq), EPIC is the place to see and be seen in Boracay

EPIC’s beachfront setting offers a relaxed atmosphere and fabulous views of White Beach. The restaurant serves an extensive menu of Asian and Western food. At night, the venue turns into a dance club with open-air dance floor and some the best local and international DJ’s. EPIC also hosts the biggest summer parties on the island.

The crowd is diverse Cover charge includes two drinks. EPIC is located on the beachfront of D’Mall, Station

Costs

Costs of course vary greatly depending upon the time of year, your accommodations, and vacation style. That being said Boracay is the much more expensive option especially during peak season which is generally from November to May. You can expect to spend anywhere from 1000-2000 US dollars for a week in Boracay. Contrast that with about $400-$1700 for Palawan.

The Winner

Both places are wonderful choices. My personal opinion is Palawan is the better destination if you can’t go to both. Palawan has more things to do, more history, more culture. Boracay is basically a beautiful expensive beach. There are some other things to do but Boracay is very similar to Phucket in Thailand.

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