It wasn’t that long ago when my idea of the perfect beach in the Philippines was limited to the shores of Boracay in Aklan. In 2007, I was able to set foot in the beautiful island of Palawan. We stayed at Puerto Princesa (Palawan’s main hub/city) and just like some cities in the Philippines the beaches are not far away. Puerto Princesa and Coron are the same in that matter. In both places one must travel by boat to the smaller islands to find the beautiful beaches of Palawan. Besides the beaches, Palawan is also known for its corals reefs.
2 months ago, my friends and I decided to visit Coron. Since Lagen and Miniloc Island Resorts in El Nido were way out of our budget we decided to stay somewhere that was affordable for all of us. We stayed for 4 days and 3 nights at the Princess of Coron Hotel and flew via Airphil Express. Due to time constraints (we didn’t have time to make our own itinerary) we decided to book our tours with Coron Wonders.
We were 8 in the group and we had to take 2 separate flights. Our group arrived around 3 pm. We went straight to the hotel and got ready for our tour which started at around 5 pm that same day. Our first stop was Mt.Tapyas, which was 700+ steps to the top where we found a beautiful view of Coron and its islands.
After Mt.Tapyas, we went back to the hotel to get ready for the Maquinit Hot Spring – the only saltwater hot spring in the Philippines. Our guide said that it used to be smaller but they expanded the area since a lot of tourists would visit the place. The water was really HOT but because of our tiring hike, the water felt good. I couldn’t stay that long in the water due to it’s temperature, slippery moss (proof that it’s real saltwater) and floating dead insects but it was a unique experience nevertheless. After we had our dinner at Maquinit, we went went back to the hotel and got some well deserved rest.
Never did it cross my mind that a “trip to the beach” would be so tiring. I’ve never been a fan of hiking due to my fear of heights and somehow despite after all my years in school I managed to forget that some lakes are not as easy to access.
After Snorkeling and having lunch in the boat, we went to Kayangan Lake. Kayangan lake is supposedly one of the cleanest lakes in the Philippines. To get to the lake we had to climb up over and down a limestone cliff. Sounds exciting? It wasn’t because there were makeshift steps and it was just like climbing up and down a muddy, slippery hill.
After Kayangan lake we went to Barracuda Lake, which was another couple of steep steps up and down some rocks. According to our guide there used to be barracudas in this lake. The lake was pretty deep and a bit scary because the water wasn’t as clear as Kayangan’s and we imagined that barracudas would suddenly appear out of nowhere.
Our last stop for the day was at the Twin Lagoon – called as such because from the top you will see 2 lagoons directly beside each other only separated by limestone rocks. Luckily, when we got there the tide was already low so we didn’t have to climb but we had to swim through an opening in the rocks that was only visible during low tide. This was a bit of an experience for us. We were 3 girls in the group and our guy friends saw a couple of real, live jellyfish! The 3 of us panicked and swam back to the boat in record time, scared of every single thing that would brush our legs/arms (there was actually one lady from another group that got stung by a jellyfish that same day). At this point I was exhausted! Some of the guys still wanted to go snorkeling after, so while waiting in the boat, Rea with the help of the boatman fished for some sea urchins! She showed us how to properly hold one and how to kill it and get the meat inside. No, I didn’t attempt to hold it! Have you seen its spikes??? And have you seen that thing that looks like its eyes???? These creatures were SCARY! This was the highlight of my day. It’s not everyday that you get to see live sea urchins walking on planks of wood. After the day’s activities we asked Rea to call massage therapists because we were all in need of some form of relaxation.
I would really like to say that I enjoyed seeing the lakes/lagoons but I didn’t. Sure they were beautiful but as always, my fear of heights would trump whatever “reward/view” is at the end of every hike/climb. I was totally overjoyed when that day ended.
Our 3rd day in Coron was my favorite day. Most of my expectations were met and I was finally able to just sit around and relax.
Our first stop was Malcapuya Island which was around 1 1/2 from Coron town proper. We stayed for a couple of hours and this was heaven – powdery white sand, clear waters, a hammock and my e-book reader were all that I needed. This made up for the previous day’s itinerary. We all had a blast! I think we stayed longer in this island than our schedule allowed because we were really amazed by the place. It was probably around 2-2:30 pm when we moved to another island called the Banana Island. It wasn’t as clean and beautiful as Malcapuya but the fish and corals were plentiful and so close! We probably stayed for around an hour to 1 1/2 hours then we got on the boat to go to our final destination…a sand bar. I’ve always wanted to see a sand bar and unfortunately (for the first time even in Rea’s experience) the tide was too low for us to go and dock near the island. So we opted to snorkel once again. At first I was disappointed but I was more than pleasantly surprised. We thought we’ve seen a lot but this was something else. Rea and the boatman were also amazed at the corals that we saw. Beautiful won’t even begin to able to describe it’s beauty. It proved to us how vast and spectacular their coral reefs were. Palawan really did a fantastic job in ensuring that their reefs were taken cared of.
A couple of hours before our flight, we were able to go around town to buy souvenirs and their famous roasted cashew nuts (‘kasuy’ in tagalog). My friend and I wanted to look for south sea pearls but apparently it was illegal to sell these things in Coron. Their south sea pearls were often exported to other countries. At the cashew shop we all bought a couple of bags to bring home. This is a ‘must buy’ when you visit Coron (especially when you come across freshly cooked ones!).
CORON WONDERS (TOUR)
Our tour guide Rea was very accommodating and was very attentive to all our needs (when we wanted massages, she called the therapists; when we needed beer for our island hopping she willingly offered to buy for us, when we accidentally paid our driver to the airport 2x she deposited the excess in our account, etc). We never had a hard time contacting her and she always made sure that our needs came first. They prepared most of our meals since we were out most of the time (included in the payment as well) and the food was delicious!!! It seemed like we were eating every 2-3 hours during the trip. Great people and great service – we couldn’t have asked for anything more!
PRINCESS OF CORON
We were able to get a big room where 6 of us stayed. For the price it was really worth it – clean room, big and clean bathroom, accessible and you could ask them to cook breakfast for you for a reasonable price (they didn’t have a restaurant in the hotel). They had a pool but it wasn’t that clean. Most of the staff were helpful (except for 2 people – 1 who told me that we had to leave the hotel early because it takes around 2 hours to get to the airport when it only takes around 45 mins; another who seemed like the all around person who was always rude and in a bad mood- we made a down payment via Coron Wonders and she was like ‘no there was no payment, I wasn’t informed’ while I was there and Rea was there – she could have been a bit nicer. The owners were really kind and welcoming though!)
AIRPHIL EXPRESS (www.airphilexpress.com)
Did you ever feel like you were the ball in a pinball machine that was on top of a roller coaster? That’s what it felt like during take off and landing. The rest of the ride was a bit turbulent as well. We rode a bombardier/turboprop plane (you know the ones with propellers at its sides) and we saw how the wheels came up and down from the sides when we took off and landed. We had only 2 options to go to Coron – Airphil Express & Cebu Pacific. As I mentioned earlier, our group had to be divided into 2 and we ended up with Airphil while the other half rode Cebu Pacific. I don’t think there was much of a difference. Those who took Cebu Pacific said that they had to be weighed before riding the plane (to be able to distribute the weight in the plane properly). Luckily we didn’t go through the same experience. But I know that the reason for all the turbulence was because of the size of the plane and since the Coron airport’s runway was very limited, they had to use these kinds of airplanes.
Unfortunately we weren’t able to try Coron Bistro which was recommended by everyone since it was under renovation. We were able to eat at Coron Village Lodge and they had good food (try their bulalo!). We were surprised with the prices in Coron. It was a bit expensive to eat out (my husband and I were comparing the prices to Puerto Princessa). According to Rea the prices of their goods were really higher than Puerto Princessa simply because it had become a popular tourist area through the years. But even though it’s a bit expensive try the seafood in Coron, it’s what they’re known for and they’re really really good.
Coron Wonders prearranged our transportation from the airport to the hotel but if it wasn’t included it would have been as easy to get a seat in one of the vans that go to town. I don’t even know up to this day if we actually really rode the van that we were supposed to, since all the drivers were offering their services to all the passengers. But they had my friend’s name in one of those white boards but as soon as we got to him he was like “ok you guys go to this van”, etc. It was a bit cramped too. Our friends who arrived earlier than us had a van all to themselves. The driver of our van even gave us his card and told us to contact him for our ride back. But according to the contract of Princess of Coron and Coron Wonders, the driver/van of the hotel would bring their clients back to the airport. We paid 150 pesos per head per way.
To get around Coron town
It was easy to walk around town but if needed there were tricycles as well. We often asked Rea to send a tricycle to fetch us since we didn’t know our way around town. It was usually 10 pesos per person per way. Twice, we were picked up by one tricycle claiming that all 8 of us would fit in just one. True enough we did, but that doesn’t mean it was comfortable. I don’t think he deserved the 80 pesos that he got from our group per ride. Also on our last day, we had 2 tricycles for our group but they charged my group (4 people) 150 pesos because the driver said they waited for us. They did but I still think we were ripped off.
All in all it was a wonderful trip. Thank you to Rea and Coron Wonders for making sure that we had a memorable stay. I really believe there’s nothing more exciting than being able to travel with friends – you get to share the joys and pains of the experience and you get memories that will last a lifetime. Coron is definitely a place that I would like to visit again and hopefully will be able to in the future – maybe with my son the next time around 🙂