Why go now?
April and May usually herald calm wind conditions, but on average, tend to be the warmest months of the year, but who cares about that when there's lots of water around you to cool off? February to March are choice months for visitors as these months mark the end of the Southwest monsoon and the start of the Northwest monsoon, heralding sunny days and clear waters. It is also a good time for kayaking, snorkeling, and diving because of the water’s excellent visibility.
Cebu Pacific has daily flights direct from Manila to Busuanga. From the airport, hop on a commuter van, for P150 (about US$3.50) per person, to Coron town. A one way van rental is P1,500. The town is very near the market pier where there are boats for rent. To rent one will set you back some P2,000 although this can go up depending on where you wish to go. Almost all resorts here can arrange land and boat transfers.
Get your bearings
Coron, located on the northern tip of Palawan, is a paradise for beach lovers and divers. It's classified as a municipality and consists of the eastern part of Busuanga Island, all of Coron Island, and some 50 islands and islets, so its pretty much a great big area to explore. Coron has magnificent limestone cliffs, pristine waters, vibrant underwater life and reefs. There are some 12 shipwrecks in Busuanga sunk during World War II, a major attraction for divers. Other must-see sites in Coron include the Calauit Island Wildlife Sanctuary situated northwest of Busuanga Island where imported African animals and Philippine wildlife – both endangered and not – live harmoniously, Lake Kayangan, Barracuda Lake, Maquinit Hot Springs, a salt water hot spring with temperatures rising up to 40 degrees celsius, all just about 10 minutes away from Coron Town, and former leper colony Culion Island.
There’s a wide variety of resorts to choose from in and around Coron Town on Busuanga island, and neighboring islands. Club Paradise on Dimakya Island has gone to great pains to preserve the natural environment with abundant wildlife both on and off the island. When I stayed I spotted a large turtle happily basking in the shallows! The staff (some of whom have worked for the resort for many years) will arrange everything from dive trips to table tennis tournaments. Rooms are spacious and tastefully incorporate Filipino architecture and building materials.
From the airport you will be picked up for a 30-minute jeepney ride followed by a short but scenic boat trip out to the resort proper. Be prepared to be serenaded when you step ashore! Cottage rates range from about P11,600 to about P14,960 per night, good for three to four persons, including breakfast and complimentary resort activities.
If you'd like a more private resort, with cottage-style accommodation and sea views, Puerto del Sol Resort comes recommended. Cottages are from P4,600.
The 35-room Seadive Resort in Coron town is convenient for island hopping tours and booking snorkelling, kayaking, and diving activities and rates are affordable at P420 per head to P1,600 for a deluxe room good for five.
Corto Del Mar located in Commesaria street is five minutes away from the Coron bus and jeepney terminal and 30 minutes away from Maquinit Hotsprings by tricycle. The 32-bedroom hotel is decorated in a blend of Mediterranean and Filipino style. Standard room rate is from P5,565, good for two, including pickup from the airport to the resort.
King Kong would have loved Coron Island. The razor sharp, limestone cliffs jutting sharply out of an emerald green sea would have been the perfect playground and fortress for the giant ape. Instead, long tailed macaques (monkeys) have made this jewel of an island in the Calamianes group of islands in northern Palawan their home. So too have monitor lizards and a wide variety of exotic birds, including local swifts, their nests said to be like ‘fine vermicelli’ and highly prized by the Chinese for use in soup.
Bamboo scaffolding hanging precariously off cliff faces can be seen at certain times of the year as the Tagbanua people — nomadic fisher folk who count Coron as their ancestral home — scale the limestone walls in search of nests that in a good season can fetch a family of gatherers as much as P30,000 a month.
Take a banca or kayak
A motorized banca (small wooden canoe) will give you a nice view of the island but to really experience its charm jump in a sea kayak. The light, but sturdy and easily steerable (with foot pads) kayaks allow you to slip into hidden lagoons, glide under rock ledges and nudge into nooks and crannies no motorized vessel could ever take on. The color of the sea is constantly changing hue and at any point you can sidle up to a ribbon of white sand, park your kayak and slip into the molten water to enjoy a dip or a snorkel.
Marine life is abundant and a chance encounter with a sea turtle is always on the cards. The Tagbanua refrain from catching turtles, as, like dolphins, they believe these gentle creatures save people during accidents at sea!
A kayaking expedition also gives you the chance to camp on the island overnight, snuggling up against the sheer cliffs, with a canopy of stars above and the possibility of some nighttime entertainment from fireflies!
The island’s east coast is more imposing and wild than the west side with some awe-inspiring lagoons, though it is best paddled from around late April until the end of October when the wind is favorable. During the rest of the year when the ‘amihan’ (northeast) wind prevails, kayaking the eastern side of the island can be a fickle proposition.
For sea kayaking trips contact Tribal Adventure Tours, the Philippines’ sea kayaking specialist which runs adventure trips around Coron and other islands in the Calamian group. They offer kayaking trips with rates that range from P11,000 for one person to P6,500 for four or more people. Contact Greg Hutchinson from Tribal Adventure Tours for more information. Call +63998 999 3049.
No trip to Coron is complete without a visit to one or more of its serene and spiritual inland lakes, though just two, Kayangan and Barracuda, are readily accessible to the public as the Tagbanua consider the others taboo and off-limits to outsiders.
Lake Kayangan, nationally acclaimed as the cleanest lake in the country, has crystalline water and eerie underwater rock formations. It is easily accessible after a short but steep climb up a set of stairs carved into the cliff-face. The soothing water is pleasantly cool at the top and perfect for snorkelling, but it warms to about 36 degrees celsius at its deepest point, thanks to its location in a geothermal ‘hot spot’. Nearby Barracuda Lake, is similarly hot the lower you go and has abundant marine life including its namesake – the barracuda!
The entrance fee for Lake Kayangan is P300 for adults and P150 for children. For Barracuda Lake the entrance fee is P200 for adults and P100 for children.
The Calamian island group has some of the most pristine mangrove stands in the country and kayaks are the perfect way of exploring these vitally important coastal ecosystems. Our expedition of overseas journalists spent a magical morning moseying our way through mangrove thickets on Busuanga Island — the largest in the Calamian group. Afterwards, we kayak through Ruyukan, a channel cut through the mangrove forest, to emerge behind Sangat Island and one of the many Japanese WWII shipwrecks that are scattered in the Calamian waters and attract divers from around the globe. We snorkeled over the wreck of an old gunboat lying in just a few meters of water. The calm water and tranquil surroundings make kayaking through mangrove stands a joy though with their endless twists and turns it is easy to lose your way, so best to take a guide.
Calamianes Expeditions Ecotours offers Mangrove Kayaking tours for P1,500 per person and P950 per person for Sangat Reef and Wreck tours.
Feeling hot, hot, hot
After a day or two of solid paddling reward yourself with a soak in a hot tub — of the natural kind. The Maquinit Hot Springs are a short 15-minute tricycle ride from Coron Township on Busuanga.The salt water springs, said to have therapeutic qualities, bubble out of the ground at a rate of 5,115 liters a minute right next to the shore, and you can soak away your aches or pains in three pools, with the temperature varying from 38 to 41 degrees celsius.
The pools, which are open from 8am-8pm are soothing at any time but can be even more special during a tropical downpour or under a full moon or starry night. Entry fee: P200 for adults and P100 for children. For more information call Lea Ramos at +63918 344 4633.
Reviled as the ‘land of the living dead’ during its heyday as a leper colony in the first half of the 20th century, the charming island of Culion is gradually reviving its fortunes and is well worth a visit. Get over any fear you have of this much misunderstood disease (leprosy is completely curable with modern drugs and was eradicated from the island years ago) and instead enjoy Culion town’s superb vista, its historic church, and the warmth of its inhabitants (despite the prejudice many have been subjected to in the past). A visit to the former leprosy sanitorium and museum is a sobering reminder of the island’s history — but nowadays the site has been converted into a general hospital, said to provide some of the best medical services in the Calamian group.
The island’s waters are rich in marine life with over 200 species of reef fish, while whale sharks can occasionally be seen in January and February when krill (minute shrimp like sea creatures) are abundant. Dugongs, or sea cows, which graze on sea grass, can also be spotted from time to time. Pearl farms are in abundance around the island, with the precious gems exported to many parts of Asia.
Boat trips to the island can be arranged from most resorts and boat operators. Seadive resort in Coron town offers boat rentals for the whole day for P2,000/4 pax.
Out of Africa
Another, somewhat quirky side-trip for those who want a break from paddling is the Calauit Island Wildlife Sanctuary. The late dictator President Ferdinand Marcos imported several African animals like zebras, giraffes and gazelles as an action to an appeal by African states to help prevent the extinction of their wildlife through big game hunting. In the 3,000-hectare island that’s now Calauit lives these African species together with the endangered endemic animals like the Calamian deer and the Palawan mousedeer. Many of the African imports — brought from Kenya in the late 1970’s in response to a global call from Nairobi to help preserve its declining wildlife — have thrived. Visitors can go ‘on safari’ shooting happily away (with a camera only!) as they travel around the sanctuary on a specially designed jeep. Offbeat – you decide!
The sanctuary is open from 7am-5:30pm for organized visits, with an entry fee of P350 for adults and P250 for children under the age of 12. Seadive resort can also arrange trips, and similarly, other resorts in the area.
Kayaking is a low impact pastime that doesn’t require great fitness or expertise. However for first timers some rudimentary practice in the shallows with the paddle and steering pads is useful before heading out to sea. A pair of fingerless gloves (preferably soft leather) is helpful to prevent chafing/blisters on the palms, while a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses, a good sunscreen and drinking water keep the sun’s rays at bay. Lastly, while sea conditions around Coron are generally benign and you may be a good swimmer it is still advisable to wear a buoyancy vest at all times.
Cebu Pacific has flights from Manila to Busuanga for a round trip fare of about P5,418.
Where to stay
Club Paradise is located in Dimakya Island, Coron. Cottage rates range from about P11,600 to about P14,960 per night, good for three to four persons. For inquiries and reservations call +632 719 6971.
Seadive Resort is located in Don Pedro St. Coron Town Proper. Their rates range from P420 per head to P1,600 for a deluxe room good for 5 persons. For inquiries and reservations call +63920 945 8714.
Corto Del Mar is located in Commesaria street, Coron Palawan. Their standard room rate is about P5,565, good for two persons. For inquiries and reservations, call +632 514 0179.
Tribal Adventure Tours offer kayaking expeditions around Coron and Calamian Islands. Contact Greg Hutchinson from Tribal Adventure Tours for more information. Call +63998 999 3049.
Calamianes Expeditions Ecotours offers Coron, Culion and Calamianes Islands tours. For more information call +632 984 7795.
Originally published in InFlight Traveller February to March 2008. Updated April 2016