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Palawan Island stretches long and thin from Luzon to Borneo, and is one of the Philippines’ lesser known resort islands. Those that have been however will tell of the Puerto Princesa underground river, caves inside Ugong Rock, and beautiful tropical beaches at Honda Bay. For an off-the-tourist-trail undiscovered paradise, Palawan ticks the boxes.

We flew from Manila to Puerto Princesa on Cebu Pacific, and stayed for two nights at a little hotel, the Badjao Inn, on the main road into town from the airport. Our three days were spent on organised tours, with the bus picking us up in the morning, and mostly the same faces even through they were three separate jaunts. It was a great way to quickly get around the area and see the sights.

Puerto Princesa

Rizal Avenue is the main street in Puerto Princesa, running a short distance from the airport terminal to the centre of town. We stayed in a little hotel on this road. There were plenty of the local tricycles buzzing past, so no problem to get a lift anywhere.

A local canoes his way across the bay at Puerto Princesa, in a small outrigger boat.


Badjao Inn on Rizal Avenue

The Badjao Inn, our hotel for the trip had a pleasant little courtyard, with breakfast served in the central gazebo or nipa hut as I'm told it's called. Despite being very cheap, it still had air conditioning and an en-suite.

The Immaculate Conception Cathedral is in the centre of the town, and was built in a European architectural style, yet painted in blue tropical colours. Unfortunately it was a bit grey when we visited.

Immacculate Conception Cathedral

Monument to the Palawan Massacre

In late 1944 there were around 150 American POWs kept in Palawan by the Japanese army, but as the tide of the war had turned there was a massacre to prevent their release, as the trenches they were sheltering in were set on fire. Eleven managed to escape, and now there is a memorial at the site.

We had dinner on our first night in the famous Badjao Seafood Restaurant. Barbequed crab and fish on a terrace overlooking the water, perfect.

Badjao Seafront Restaurant

Small crocodiles

Outside of town we visited the crocodile farm, and saw some small crocs.

We also saw some pretty big crocs!

Big crocodiles

Enormous crocodile

This enormous crocodile was the largest at the farm, and I wouldn't have liked to get as close as this when he was still alive and snapping. His skin is mounted on the wall behind the skeleton.

Wooden carved masks for sale in a shop on the way up to Ugong Rock.

Wooden carved masks

Jewellery for sale

Local jewellery and scarves for sale on a route through the rainforest.

Ugong Rock is a monolithic but largely hollow rock on the journey between Puerto Princesa and the Underground River. It's possible to climb right up inside the rock through a system of caves and ladders, then zipline down from the top. It reminded me somewhat of Bible Rock in Sri Lanka.

Ugong Rock


A local farmer ploughs his field next to a smaller version of Ugong Rock, as seen from its larger brother.

Sabang Beach is the jumping off point for boats to the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park.

Sabang beach

Landing cove for the underground river

The journey to the Underground River takes only around fifteen minutes, and we came to rest at this beautiful cove.

Puerto Princesa Underground River in the Subterranean River National Park is one of the world's longest navigable underground river system. The outflow pictured here runs almost directly into the sea, and tour boats are allowed to ply almost a mile inside the Saint Paul mountain range.

Puerto Princesa Subterranean River

Monitor lizard

A monitor lizard came along to say hello, and there were a few cheeky monkeys chasing each other around the area too.

In Honda Bay we took an island hopping tour on a typical outrigger-style Philippine boat. The first island we stopped at was Cowrie Island, seen here through the outriggers.

Approach to Cowrie Island

Cowrie Island sign

The Cowrie Island Sign, not quite the Hollywood Sign but at least we knew where we were. We also visited Starfish Island, but unfortunately were unable to visit nearby Bat Island or Snake Island. Perhaps that was a good thing.

Cowrie Island and Honda Bay in general is one of few truly tropical paradise locations I have visited - along with Ilha Grande in Brazil and possibly Unawatuna in Sri Lanka.

Tropical paradise

Bathing beauty on Cowrie Island

A bathing beauty takes to the waters of Honda Bay.

Our final stop in Honda Bay was at Turtle Reef, no actual land to stand on but this floating station allowed us to get kitted up with snorkels and do some subsea exploration. This is the second largest turtle I've ever seen.

Turtle Reef

Typical Philippine outrigger boat

We travelled around Honda Bay on an outrigger boat not dissimilar to this one, typical of the region.

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Copyright © Ross Wattie 2013