The isles of thrills

Tour specialist Greg Hutchinson guides you round the best coastlines of the Philippines for sea kayaking, trekking, and mountain biking

by Oggie Ramos

White Water Rafting in Panay

Bugtong Bato Falls. Photo by Amanda Lago

Tribal Adventures takes guests through the rapids of Tibiao River in Antique on a three-day kayaking and trekking adventure that includes an outdoor spa therapy.

Requirements: Swimming skills are not necessary, but you must  feel comfortable in the water. You'll need to wear a lifejacket. Each paddler is assigned a minder-guide for additional safety while navigating the waters in a white water kayak. Tibiao has class 2 and class 3 rapids.  

Highlights: An all-round active adventure, from kayaking across rivers, exploring the land near Tibiao River, hiking Mt. Madja-as with its open slopes, mossy forest, waterfalls, and passing through the rainforest and rice terraces. You get to swing Tarzan-like into the rock pools of Bugtong Bato waterfalls. And after a day of paddling,  luxuriate in the unique hot “kawa” tub —heated urns originally used for making muscovado sugar—in the outdoors, have a ticklish fish spa, and enjoy a traditional Filipino massage therapy, or “hilot”.

Accommodation: A choice of native cottages at Kayak Inn, with one bedroom, private bath, and balcony. If you prefer the outdoors, you could pitch a tent or sleep in a hammock under the stars. Or, for an additional fee, stay at nearby Angelos Sea Side Bungalows.

Where to book: Email tribaladventures@gmail.com or visit www.tribaladventures.com. Panay 3 Day/ 2 Night Adventure costs P15,000 (about US$349) per person for a group of four; P16,500 for a group of three, and P22,500 for two people. The fee includes transportation to and from Boracay, accommodation, meals, equipment, and all activities.

Getting there: The trip starts in Boracay where guests ride the ferry to Panay Island, arrive in Culasi, Antique and move on to La Paz, where the adventure begins. You can get to Boracay from either Caticlan airport or Kalibo airport.Cebu Pacific Air and Philippine Airlines fly daily from Manila to Caticlan and Kalibo. Air Asia flies daily to Kalibo. Cebu Pacific also flies from Cebu to Kalibo six days a week, and to Caticlan daily.

Kayak around the Calamianes

Taking on the rapids of Tibiao. Photo courtesy of Tribal Adventures

Tap into your inner Robinson Crusoe and embark on some serious island-hopping by sea kayak. While it’s impossible to explore all 202 islands of the Calamianes group even if you have a year to spare, Tribal Adventures’ Calamian Kayak Expedition gives you a generous taste of the island-explorer life in the country’s last frontier.

Requirements: Previous kayaking experience will come in handy as paddling out to sea is serious business. An expert guide accompanies each paddler.

Highlights: Meeting the indigenous Tagbanuas, Palawan’s ethnic tribe. And lots more, including exploring the tropical rainforest, snorkelling in clear waters, and the chance to enjoy some of the country’s unspoilt, secluded, secret beaches. Visit Coron Island, the spiritual hub of the Tagbanuas; Culion, the old Spanish fort and former leper colony; and Calauit, the wildlife sanctuary.

Kayaking across the crystal clear waters of Calamianes. Photo by Michael Barker, David Dalton, Wacky Gochoco, Tootoots Leyesa

Accommodation: Budget tents at beach camps, with price including camp mattress, linen, towel, soap, solar water bag shower, chemical porta-loo. Or stay in local resorts like Discovery Divers Resort, Darayonan resort, or Busuanga Seadive Resort. Book Palawan SandCastles The Beach House in Cheey, Busuanga if you’re a family or a small group wanting a hideaway all to yourselves.

Where to Book: Email tribaladventures@gmail.com or visit www.tribaladventures.com. The expedition runs from four to 11 days. Costs are on a tier basis depending on individual requirements and preferences. For those with only three to four days to spare, Tribal Adventures offers several variations of its Kayaking Adventures around Coron, from P6,500 per person per day. Price includes kayak equipment, meals, and tent accommodations.

Getting There: Expedition starts from Coron port. Cebu Pacific Air and Philippine Airlines fly daily to Busuanga in Coron. Alternatively, you can fly to Puerto Princesa via  Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific Air, and Air Asia. From Puerto Princesa, you can get to El Nido by air-conditioned shuttle vans (about P1,400 round trip, six to eight hours, try GoPalawan) or boat from Sabang port (about P1,500, eight hours); then ride an outrigger boat to Coron (about eight hours).

Bike Through Busuanga

A mix of the brutal and the beautiful, Tribal Adventures’ Hard Core Mountain Bike Day trip is sure to give advanced riders an adrenaline rush pedaling across the island.

Requirements: For hard-core mountain bikers only. A moderate mountain bike day trip is also available.

Highlights: Riding mid-range double and single shock mountain bikes, follow the carabao trail from Busuanga Airport to the road along YKR, the largest cattle ranch in all of Southeast Asia. The trail takes you through the rainforest and several streams en route to the coast. The track to Cheey, a barangay in Busuanga, is downright hard core, with the first two-thirds on undulating terrain with only periodic tree cover.

Accommodation: Stay in Camp Calauit pavilion for the night or arrange a late evening transfer back to Coron town. Or book Palawan SandCastles The Beach House, especially if you’re a family or small group.

Archipelago recommends: For a bit of luxury in Coron, book at El Rio Y Mar Resort in San Jose which has an infinity pool and spa from US$230 or Coron Gateway, the first boutique resort in town, from P3,465.

Where to book: Email tribaladventures@gmail.com or visit www.tribaladventures.com. The Hard Core Mountain Bike Day Trip with 4x4 support costs P3,500 per person for a group of four; P4,500 per person for a group of three; P5,500 per person for a pair, and P9,000 for individual participants. Price includes 4x4 transportation, guide, and all meals and beverages.

Getting there: Assembly is at Camp Calauit in Busuanga or Tribal Cafe in Coron. Cebu Pacific Air and Philippine Airlines fly daily to Busuanga in Coron. Alternatively, you can fly to Puerto Princesa via  Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific Air, and Air Asia. From Puerto Princesa, you can get to El Nido by air-conditioned shuttle vans (about P1,400 round trip, six to eight hours, try GoPalawan) or boat from Sabang port (about P1,500, eight hours); then ride an outrigger boat to Coron (about eight hours).

Hike to the top of Mt. Dalara in Coron 

Coron's Calamian Islands. Photo by Amanda Lago

Walk all the way to the top of Mt.Dalara, a height of about 1,968 feet, and be rewarded with an unparalleled view of the expanse of the Calamianes group of islands.

Requirements: Serious hikers only. The hike takes about six to eight hours.

Highlights: A breathtaking panorama of the 202 islands in the Calamian. Picnic with Coron’s limestone cliffs as backdrop, take a plunge in a rock pool in the middle of the forest, and stop by Maquinit Hot Springs for a warm, relaxing dip.

Accommodation: Stay at the Dalara Mountain and Sea View Inn or at Palawan SandCastles The Beach House. Both resorts may be booked via tribaladventures@gmail.com. On Pass Island in the Calamianes, a private island tented camp, for US$192 (VAT exclusive) per night, minimum of two persons.

Where to book: Email tribaladventures@gmail.com or visit www.tribaladventures.com. Costs P1,500 per person for a group of four; P1,950 per person for group of three; P2,500 per person for a pair; P4,000 for individual participants. Price includes 4x4 transportation, guide, entrance fees, meals, and beverages.

Getting there: Assembly is at the Tribal Cafe in Coron. Cebu Pacific Air and Philippine Airlines fly daily to Busuanga in Coron. Alternatively, you can fly to Puerto Princesa via  Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific Air, and Air Asia. From Puerto Princesa, you can get to El Nido by air-conditioned shuttle vans (about P1,400 round trip, six to eight hours, try GoPalawan) or boat from Sabang port (about P1,500, eight hours); then ride an outrigger boat to Coron (about eight hours).

Archipelago Recommends

Get Wrecked in Coron

Wreck diving in Busuanga. Photo by Gutsy Tuason

Acknowledged as the wreck diving capital of the country, Coron offers over a dozen sites to fit individual skill levels. Coron Galeri operates specialized dive tours in the area.

Requirements: Advanced, cave exploration, and wreck diving certification.

Highlights: For the newbie diver, there’s a submarine hunter in the Lusong Island Wreck to explore. Advanced divers can try the Irako, Olympia Maru, among other wrecks of the Japanese fleet mostly sunk in 1944. The wrecks, sunk for over half a century, have become a coral reef habitat, teeming with marine life.

Where to book: Email corongaleri@yahoo.com, or visit www.corongaleri.com.ph. Coron Galeri also offers underwater Marco Photography.

Archipelago recommends: Busuanga Island Paradise in Brgy. Sta. Monica, which has casitas, pool, and jacuzzi (from P8,000 up); And Sophia’s Garden Resort, about five to 10 minutes away from the main Coron Town.

Getting there: Coron Galeri is at 11 San Agustin st., Barangay Poblacion 3, Coron, Palawan. Cebu Pacific Air and Philippine Airlines fly daily to Busuanga in Coron. Alternatively, you can fly to Puerto Princesa via  Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific Air, and Air Asia. From Puerto Princesa, you can get to El Nido by air-conditioned shuttle vans (about P1,400 round trip, six to eight hours, try GoPalawan) or boat from Sabang port (about P1,500, eight hours); then ride an outrigger boat to Coron (about eight hours).

Go Bespoke

If your idea of a vacation is to pull the plug and disconnect from the rest of the world, Tao Philippines’ bespoke private expeditions journeying between El Nido and Coron and vice versa is just for you.  

Requirements: A sense of adventure and plenty of time on your hands.

Highlights: Free-flowing adventure. Explore secluded islands, swim, snorkel, or kayak all day. Laze in a hammock on some island with no name. Moor in a quiet lagoon. The choices are really up to you.

Accommodation: Stay in one of the Tao base camps. Or pick an island and pitch a tent. On clear nights, camp out under the stars.

Where to book: Visit www.taophilippines.com. Its bespoke 5 day/ 4night private expeditions costs P270,000 for a group of ten people. The package includes boat and crew, meals and drinks onboard, use of onboard equipment like snorkel and kayak, a massage, and bedding set for setting up camp either at one of Tao’s base camps or an island of your choice. Tao can only accommodate a handful of travelers at a time so those interested in their tours and expeditions must book a few months in advance.

Getting there: Cebu Pacific Air and Philippine Airlines fly daily to Busuanga in Coron. You can also fly to Puerto Princesa via  Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific Air, and Air Asia. From Puerto Princesa, you can get to El Nido by air-conditioned shuttle vans (about P1,400 round trip, six to eight hours, try GoPalawan) or boat from Sabang port (about P1,500, eight hours); then ride an outrigger boat to Coron (about eight hours).

Drift Away on a Banca

There’s something primal about taking a journey into the heart of Palawan on a raft and a banca and that’s exactly what Tao Philippines’ three-day, two-night river canoe and native bangka sail adventure offers.

Requirements: An appetite for adventure. No kids under 12 allowed.

Highlights: Day one takes you on a journey down Babuyan River on a native balsa (raft) passing jungle and forest along the way. On day 2, continue drifting downstream towards the mangroves where the river meets the sea, then hop on a native banca and sail for the islands of Honda Bay. Sail around and snorkel in the waters off the islands.

Accommodation: Stay in one of the Tao base camps. Or pick an island and pitch a tent. On clear nights, camp out under the stars.

Where to Book: Visit www.taophilippines.com. The Canoe and Sail Adventure costs P10,500 per person for three to five persons for three days, and P30,000 for a three-day trip for two. Tao can only accommodate a handful of travelers at a time so those interested in their tours and expeditions must book a few months in advance.

Getting there: Cebu Pacific Air and Philippine Airlines fly daily to Busuanga in Coron. Alternatively, you can fly to Puerto Princesa via  Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific Air, and Air Asia. From Puerto Princesa, you can get to El Nido by air-conditioned shuttle vans (about P1,400 round trip, six to eight hours, try GoPalawan) or boat from Sabang port (about P1,500, eight hours); then ride an outrigger boat to Coron (about eight hours).

Originally published in InFlight Traveller October-November 2012. Updated September 2015

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