It had easily had easily topped my list of beautiful tourist spots in the Philippines from the moment I first made my way to the province many years ago. I have always looked forward to seeing it again because there are so many exciting places to visit, too many to fit in one trip.
Palawan is big. It is its own archipelago composed of roughly 1,780 islands and islets. It isn’t so overwhelmingly massive that you cannot see a lot in one trip, but getting between places takes a while, especially if you are hopping from one island to the next.
If you have 3 days to spend on your vacation, maximize your experience in one destination. Choose between #1, #2 or #3 on this list. If you have one week, you may be able to visit all three, in a rush.
To enjoy a more relaxed pace, I recommend that you spend two weeks in Palawan, or more!
What are the best Palawan tourist spots & off-beat destinations? See these scenic places perfect for your epic itinerary in the Philippines.
1. El Nido
You will find dramatic “over water” scenery in El Nido, located on the northernmost tip of mainland Palawan. This place is not just about pretty sandy beaches and mesmerizing waters. Its islands are filled with towering karst mountains that serve as the perfect backdrop for adventures in this tropical paradise.
Most travelers arrive in El Nido on a 1.5-hour flight to Puerto Princesa Airport (PPS), followed by a 5 to 6-hour shuttle ride. If you want to skip the long land journey, fly directly to El Nido from Manila (1 hour), Cebu or Boracay–Caticlan. This is the fastest but more expensive way. For adventurous travelers who want to maximize their trip, book a flight to Coron–Busuanga Airport (USU) and continue the sea journey to El Nido by ferry.
Places to see + things to do
Go island hopping around Bacuit Bay islands — See amazing underwater and “over water” views of El Nido. These islands are found just off the coast of the town proper.
Explore inland El Nido — See Nacpan and Calitang, the twin beaches of El Nido as well as other natural spots like Makinit Hot Springs, Nagkalit-kalit Waterfalls, Kuyawayaw Waterfalls & Sibaltan Beach.
Take a sunset stroll along Corong-Corong and Marimegmeg Beaches — Get away from the crowded main beach of El Nido and enjoy peaceful late afternoon views. These sandy shores can be reached on a quick tricycle ride from the town proper.
Try the Bird’s Nest soup — This rare and often expensive Chinese delicacy is made from the nest of swiftlets (Balinsasayaw) that are harvested in El Nido. One kilogram of the edible nest can fetch prices of up to USD1,000 in Hong Kong and the US. Get a taste of it in El Nido, where it is a lot cheaper.
2. Puerto Princesa
Puerto Princesa is the capital and major flight gateway in Palawan, especially popular among El Nido-bound tourists. Stay for a few days to explore beautiful spots around the city. Start with a trip to Puerto Princesa Underground River, the 2nd longest navigable underground river in the world, listed as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO and New7Wonders of Nature. Then, spend a day beach bumming and snorkeling on an island hopping tour around Honda Bay. Don’t leave without exploring sights in the city center and feasting on fresh seafood in many beachside restaurants.
How to go — Puerto Princesa is around 1.5 hours southwest of Manila by plane. Princesa Airport serves direct flights from Manila, Cebu, Iloilo, Clark, and Davao. Fly with Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific or AirAsia. You can also go by ferry on the RORO bus from Manila or Iloilo.
Attractions + what to see
Visit the Puerto Princesa Underground River — Getting there takes 1 hour by land from the city center. The jump-off point is scenic Sabang Beach.
Island hopping tour in Honda Bay — There are many beach fringed islands here. The most popular for swimming and snorkeling are Luli Island, Starfish Island, Panden Island and Cowrie Island. You can find upscale Dos Palmas Island Resort and Spa in Arreceffi Island.
Spelunking and ziplining at Ugong Rock — Found along the way to Puerto Princesa Underground River.
See the fireflies and mangrove forest at Iwahig.
Go dolphin watching.
Trek to the waterfalls in Puerto Princesa — Including Bonton Waterfalls, Olanguan Waterfalls, Salakot Waterfalls & Kayulo Waterfalls.
3. Coron & Calamian Islands
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In contrast to El Nido’s amazing “over water” views, go to Coron to see stunning underwater views. Here, you can see colorful coral gardens, pristine waters, lots of marine life and even sunken WWII Japanese shipwrecks. Coron can hold its own when it comes to scenic views over the water as well. This paradise is home to hidden lakes and lagoons blessed with emerald to bluish waters, and many fine white sand beaches.
How to go — Coron Airport located on the north side of Busuanga Island serves flights from Manila. Book a flight with Cebu Pacific / Cebgo, Philippine Airlines / PAL Express, Skyjet or Air Juan. Travel time by plane is around 1 hour. There are also El Nido–Coron slow ferries route that you can take if you want to visit both destinations + Puerto Princesa in one trip.
Destinations + tourist spots
Go wreck diving, snorkeling, and island hopping — There are a lot of islands worth visiting during your boat tour in theCalmian Islands. Don’t miss Banol Island, Banana Island, Atuayan Island, Malcapuya Island, Black Island (Malajon Island) & Calauit Island. Meanwhile, popular dive sites include the Irako, Akitsushima & Skeleton wrecks.
See the enchanting lakes and lagoons — A major highlight of any trip in Coron. Don’t miss Kayangan Lake and Baracuda Lake.
Busuangainland tour — Watch the sunset at Mt. Tapyas or Lualhati Park. Enjoy Maquinit Hot Springs.
Experience safari in Calauit Island
4. Linapacan Islands
Enjoy an adventure in Linapacan if you want to go off-the-grid and see the “undiscovered” beauty of Palawan. This group of islands can be found spread across the waters between El Nido and Coron. Linapacan had become viral when it was mentioned in a list of places with the clearest waters in the world to swim before you die.
How to go — To get to Linapacan, you can go via Coron, which is nearer to the northern islands, or via El Nido, which is nearer to the southern islands. There are no regularly scheduled ferries from both destinations, so you will need to be flexible with your itinerary if you want to go on a passenger boat. From Coron, the boat trip to San Miguel, Linapacan Island takes around 4 hours. At San Miguel you can charter a boat to reach the other islands. From Sibaltan Beach located on the east coast of El Nido, a chartered boat to Maosonan and Magransing Islands takes around 3 hours.
Taytay can be found just south of El Nido. On your way to or from Puerto Princesa, stop over the town proper and visit the Taytay Fort (Fuerza de Santa Isabel), one of the best preserved Spanish-colonial stone fortresses remaining in the Philippines. Extend your trip on a tour to Taytay’s many offshore islands that are still largely unspoiled and undiscovered by mass tourism.
How to go — Taytay is around 1 hour south of El Nido or 4 hours from Puerto Princesa by private car. By public transport, shuttle vans and buses can take you to Taytay directly from Puerto Princesa. From El Nido, go on a bus or shuttle to Taytay highway intersection. From there, the town proper is a short tricycle ride away.
6. San Vicente Long Beach
San Vicente is another town that you can visit on your way between Puerto Princesa and El Nido, in mainland Palawan. This sleepy town is home to Long Beach. At 14 kilometers long, it had been making rounds online for being the longest white sand beach in the Philippines. On my trip there, however, I found that it wasn’t exactly all-white and the uninterrupted length of the sandy stretch was only about 8 kilometers. Still, I was in awe of how long it was. To compare, San Vicente Long Beach, even at 8km, is twice as long as Boracay’s famed White Beach. The best part of going was that I had I did not share the entire beach with any tourist crowds.
How to go — The fastest way is by flying directly to the new San Vicente Airport. You can also go by land from Puerto Princesa. Travel time to San Vincente takes around 4 hours from Puerto Princesa by private car. By public transport, you can find shuttle vans at San Jose Terminal, Puerto Princesa to take you directly to San Vicente. From El Nido, you may need to drop off at Roxas Terminal and get on a shuttle or minibus from there. Travel time from Roxas Terminal takes up to 2 hours.
7. Port Barton
Port Barton is another spot to travel in the town of San Vicente. This quiet village is a smaller and more laid-back version of El Nido. It is popular among budget backpackers and travelers who want to experience the relaxed rural atmosphere of the Philippines. Here, you can go about and explore many pristine off-shore islands and beaches on island hopping tours, at a cheaper price that boat tours offered in El Nido.
How to go — Port Barton is also roughly 4 hours away from Puerto Princesa or El Nido by land. You can find direct shuttle vans to Port Barton from both locations. From San Vicente Poblacion / Long Beach, you can charter a boat to get to Port Barton. Travel time by boat takes around 1 hour.
8. Cuyo Islands
Go even more off-grid in Cuyo. This remote group of islands is located in the vast open waters of the Sulu Sea, between the islands Palawan and Panay. During the 1800s, it became the province’s second capital (after Taytay). Here, you can find the well-preserved Cuyo Fortress Church built during the Spanish-colonial era as well as many small islands and diving sites.
How to go — Puerto Princesa to Iloilo City RORO (slow) ferries make a stopover at Cuyo Island. From Puerto Princesa, the sea journey takes around 18 hours. Meanwhile, the trip from Iloilo takes around 12 hours.
9. Stay at Amanpulo Resort
How to go — Amanpulo Resort offers twice daily flights, directly from Manila to Pamalican Island. Flight duration is around 1 hour.
Looking for the ultimate luxury retreat in Palawan? Say hello to Amanpulo Resort, one of the Philippines’ most expensive holiday destinations. This private island resort is located in Pamalican Island, one of the remote northern islands of Cuyo. Stay in one of the exquisitely designed beachfront, treetop or hillside Casitas with gorgeous views of turqouise waters and the powdery white-sand beach. Guests can also enjoy the resort’s signature spa experience and top-class dining with ingredients sourced from locally-caught seafood and island-grown vegetables/herbs. A stay in Amanpulo Resort will set you back (at least) USD1,485 per night for a treetop casitas, good for two with breakfast.
10. Tubbataha Reef & Cagayancillo Islands
The Tubbataha Reef is another remote spot to see in Palawan. This 970 square kilometer national park is especially a must visit to divers. It is the place to see one of the highest biodiversity of marine life in the world. Along with the Puerto Princesa Underground River, Tubbataha Reef is one of six UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Philippines.
How to go — The easiest way is to go on a liveaboard dive boat from Puerto Princesa. The boats typically leave the city in the evening and arrive at Tubbataha Reef early morning.
11. Tabon Caves & Quezon
Another place to go for off-the-beaten-path adventures is Tabon Caves in Quezon town of South Palawan. This important archaeological site is where the Tabon Man was found. Filipinos who have been attentive in history class may remember that the fossilized remains of the Tabon Man was believed to be the earliest human remains known in the Philippines (until the discovery of the Callao Man in Peñablanca, Cagayan Province). For travelers, the Tabon Cave Complex is a great place to explore cave formations and learn about the archaeology diggings. There are also a few off-shore islands and beaches nearby.
How to go — Quezon is around 2.5 to 3 hours south of Puerto Princesa by land. From San Jose terminal, ride a shuttle van to Quezon poblacion. Then, a chartered pumpboat to Lipuun Point / Tabon Caves Complex, which takes around 30 to 45 minutes, from the pier. You will need to make a stopover at the National Museum in the poblacion to secure a permit before visiting the caves.
12. Balabac Islands
Balabac is the southernmost islands in Palawan. It is so far south that Sabah in East Malaysia is nearer to Balabac than Puerto Princesa. The main draw here is 31 gorgeous islands still vastly undiscovered by tourist crowds. These islands are surrounded by pristine, crystal clear waters and white sand beaches. Yes, the sandy shores of many beaches here are a blinding white to off-white, many even have a blushed pink hue! If you’re looking for the best beaches & most vibrant waters in the Philippines, Balabac is worth a spot at the top of your bucketlist.
How to go — To get to Balabac from Puerto Princesa, you will need to make a transit stop in Rio Tuba, Bataraza where you catch boats to the islands of Balabac. Rio Tuba is 4 to 5 hours south of Puerto Princesa by land. From Rio Tuba, you can go on a passenger boat to Balabac Island (mainland). Or, hire a boat for your island hopping tour. The sea journey from Rio Tuba to Balabac Island takes around 4 hours.
Places to visit in Palawan
Note: Destinations featured above are not listed by rank.