ISABEL L. TEMPLO lists the many ways to enjoy Palawan’s capital.
It was the likes of El Nido, Club Noah, and Amanpulo that first put Palawan on the map. But lately, more and more people have come to recognize Palawan as an international destination for ecotourism and adventure. The province’s tagline, “Every island an adventure,” promises unique experiences throughout its 1,700-plus islands.
Foremost of these is the Puerto Princesa Underground River. Allot an entire day for this if you choose to stay in the city proper. Hotel Centro (+6348 434 1111, www.hotelcentro.ph), one of the newest and most modern accommodations in the city, has a tour desk offering this and other tours.
You could also spend the night in Sabang, where the river is located. Sabang Beach is lined with resorts such as Sheridan Beach Resort and Spa (+63917-631 8937, +63917-308 3245; www.sheridanbeachresort.com), where you can relax and take in picture-perfect views of the mountains to one side and the beach to the other, with the longest swimming pool in Palawan in between.
From here, you can go by foot to the 800-meter Sabang X Zipline (+6348-434 2341, +63917-326 4342; sabangxzipline.com.ph), which goes over the water and lands on the beach. More than just a fun activity, the zipline also supports the community with part of its profits.
In fact, many of Palawan’s ecotourism efforts are focused on the community. For instance, the Iwahig Firefly Watching Tour in Puerto Princesa is handled by community guides who know the value of the mangrove trees and work hard to conserve them. After all, without them, the fireflies—described by our guide Jayson as “nature’s Christmas lights”—would vanish. The dolphin and whale shark watching tour in Puerto Princesa Bay is another example, with the tour boat owned and operated by local fishermen. With so much good karma being generated through these efforts, no wonder the province is going places.
In this swimming, snorkeling, and diving mecca, island-hopping tours abound. The closest to Puerto Princesa is Honda Bay, about 20 minutes away from the city proper. If you’re into snorkeling, ask to be taken to Pambato Reef, sometimes described as a mini-Tubbataha.
But it’s outside the city where Palawan’s real gems can be found—virtually unexplored, unspoiled, uncrowded areas for which the province has come to be called “the last frontier.” Some 170 kilometers or 3.5 hours north is the town of San Vicente, where you’ll find Port Barton, which has quietly found its way onto the pages of Lonely Planet for its deserted beaches and islands.
For a stretch of beach—at 14 kilometers, reportedly the longest in the country—all to yourself, head for Long Beach, still in San Vicente. There are no resorts here, but you can stay at Nayarani Villas (+6348 434 1787, look for Melanie Alvarez), a private rest house with accommodations for up to 15.
You can make a day trip to Estrella Falls in Narra, about 2 hours south of Puerto Princesa. Better yet, spend the night at Crystal Paradise Resort (www.crystalparadiseresort.com) to take advantage of the island-hopping opportunities here—to Arena Island, a sea turtle sanctuary, and to Rasa Island, home to the Philippine cockatoo and more than 60 other species of birds.
If you’re ready for a food adventure, try the popular delicacy tamilok (shipworm) served kinilaw or ceviche style at Kinabuch’s Grill and Bar (+6348-434 5194) in Puerto Princesa. Palaweños love to watch their visitors squirm when they tell them that the tamilok is a worm found in rotting mangrove trees—but it’s actually a kind of saltwater clam with a tiny shell. At least the part about it being found in rotting mangrove trees is true.
The old favorite KaLui Restaurant (www.kaluirestaurant.com) may not serve up Fear Factor-type dishes, but it’s still one of the busiest restos in the city. Try their Tubbataha Salad—raw tuna slices with lato (seaweed), watermelon, avocado, and mango. For a gourmet touch to native food, visit La Terrasse (laterrassepalawan.com). Everything here is made deliciously from scratch, and ingredients—organic, of course—are sourced locally to minimize carbon footprint. Vegetarians would be happy here, too.
Another truly Palawan experience is Puerto Pension Bed and Breakfast (puertopension.com), with a decidedly native look and feel in each of its rooms. It’s not centrally located, but that’s the whole point. The added few minutes’ travel is worth it.
Here in Puerto Princesa, it’s still all about living in harmony with the environment. It may be classified as a “highly urbanized center” but it isn’t called the “city in a forest” for nothing.