Palawan is considered to be the last frontier of the Philippines. It was long separated from the rest of the country by a 24 hour boat journey. Today it is much more accessible. A cheap flight wisked us to Puerto Princessa, Palawan’s largest city, in an hour.
Puerto Princessa, known locally as “Puerto, is one of the cleanest cities in Asia. It is truly astonishing. In Southeast Asia abundant litter is almost ubiquitous. Riding through Puerta we saw virtually no rubbish. There were no bottles, no bags, or even a banana leaf on the ground. Efficient waste management is extremely rare in this part of the world and I was intrigued. I wished we were staying longer.
The Airport on the other hand is a trap. We were warned about “the last bus has gone” scams but did not encounter any. Much more smoothly we were brought to a “the terminal” which consisted of a small air-con waiting room and a pack of minivans. My inner-SE Asian raised the bullshit alarm and I asked the driver to take us to the real terminal.
“This is it,” the tricycle driver returned.
“San Jose terminal, take us there,” I said flatly.
“Yes, yes, just go.”
Most people fall victim to this and take a minivan. We were delivered to the real terminal shortly where we found large air-conditioned busses waiting for us. The bus is marginally slower but more comfortable and half the cost. The real terminal also has food stalls and a wholesale supermarket so we ate lunch and stocked up on supplies. The bus took 8 hours, almost entirely on good roads.
A half a decade of touting Palawan as one of Asia’s best “off-the-beaten track” destinations have firmly planted it on the Banana Pancake circuit. Almost every traveler was going there or had already been. The ease of transportation and hype have robbed Palawan’s main attractions of their remoteness. Indeed we had to skip Palawan’s underground river because of its overwhelming popularity.
Palawan remains beautiful and those that stray from the regular path can still easily find adventure. For our part we were happy to leave our intrepid uniforms in their locker and embrace Palawan’s beaches, barbeques, and beers. Coconuts and laziness are fine with us. We began in El Nido.
Palawan has two main entry and exit points: Puerto Princess and Coron (which is actually on the island of Busuanga). Puerto has the most and cheapest flights. Most flights originate from Clark, Manila, or Cebu.
It is 4 – 8 hours from Puerto Princessa to El Nido. The busses cost about 400p and leave every 2 hours or so taking 8 hours to reach El Nido. Minivans cost anywhere from 500 – 2000 depending on your needs and ability to haggle.