Hailed as one of the most beautiful islands in the world for the past two years, there are plenty of reasons why you should choose Palawan as your next travel destination. With jagged cliffs jutting out of the beautiful blue water surrounded by emerald green mountains, it’s easy to see why the island tops the list of the most beautiful islands.
If you’re a solo traveler like me, then Palawan is an even more perfect destination. It’s one of the few places in the Philippines that have a low crime rate and where locals would go out of their way to offer a helping hand. So here’s a solo traveler’s guide to Palawan just in case you decide to visit this breathtaking island on your own.
How to Get There?
One of the first questions that came to my mind after hearing about Palawan is, “how do I get there?”
Palawan is a bit far away from the main islands of the Philippines. Thus, it will take time to get there and requires a bit of an effort especially if you’re traveling on a budget. Although there are plenty of direct flights that go to Puerto Princesa, Palawan’s capital city, the main attractions are actually located in El Nido. The town is more than 200 km away from the city of Puerto Princesa.
In my case, I took a flight from Manila going to Puerto Princesa City. Upon arriving at the Puerto Princesa airport, I hailed a tricycle (Philippine’s version of a tuk-tuk) going to the terminal of air-conditioned vans that travel to El Nido. The travel time from Puerto Princesa to El Nido is six hours, although the driver of the van I was riding had to stop several times along the way to pick up some passengers. We left Puerto Princesa at 12 and arrived in El Nido around 7 PM.
Where to Stay?
Depending on your budget, you’ll find plenty of options for your accommodation in El Nido. There are budget hostels with bunk beds that cater to backpackers and costs as low as $5 per night. It’s perfect for budget travellers who would not mind sharing a room with several other travellers.
Since I prefer to have my own private room, I stayed in Austria’s Place in the downtown area and I got myself a decent private room with a shared bathroom and free breakfast for only $10 per night. On my last night, however, I decided to splurge a bit and transferred to a more upscale hotel, the El Nido Bayview Hotel. It’s a 3-star hotel equipped with modern facilities, but the main draw is the stunning views of the bay from my window.
What to Do in El Nido?
El Nido is set in a beautiful bay surrounded by majestic cliffs. And although the town itself is charming, the real beauty of Palawan is a boat ride away. In case you didn’t know, the Philippines is made up of more than 7,000 islands and about 1,700 of these islands are in Palawan. Therefore, in order to discover all of Palawan’s hidden gems, you need to take part in an island hopping tour.
Thankfully, there are plenty of tour agencies in Palawan that cater to solo travellers who cannot afford to rent the entire boat. For these tours, you’ll be joining several other travellers in a boat while you hop from one island to another. Aside from saving money, this is a great way to meet new friends. Interestingly, most of my companions on the tours are solo travellers!
Take note that the island hopping tours in El Nido are divided into four. If you want to see all of the beautiful attractions of Palawan and you have plenty of time, you can book all tours. In my case, I have chosen to join Tour A and Tour C, which covers all of the attractions that I wanted to see on the island. Depending on the tour agency and your ability to haggle, each tour should only cost you between $25 and $40 and already includes a buffet lunch and hotel pickup. Most tours will start at 9 AM and end at 4 – 5 PM.
You can choose to book your tour in advance by searching for tour agencies online or by booking through your hotel. I was not able to book a tour before my trip but I found that there are plenty of tour agencies when you arrive in El Nido and I was able to negotiate the rate, which was cheaper than the quoted price online.
What to See In El Nido
As mentioned, there are several different tours that you can take part in when travelling to El Nido. You don’t need to join all these tours especially if your time is limited. To help you decide which tours to book, here are some of my favourite attractions in Palawan.
- Small Lagoon – this lagoon is absolutely stunning and it’s included in the Tour A. Located in Bacuit Bay, the small lagoon is known for its stunning turquoise-green waters surrounded by towering limestone cliffs.
- Seven Commandos Beach – also included in Tour A, this is a stunning beach in El Nido known for its crystal clear water and powdery white sands.
- Matinloc Island – this is a beautiful island off the Bacuit Bay and it’s included in the Tour C. The island has plenty of panoramic spots, although the highlight is the view of the majestic bay from the top of one of the limestone cliffs on the island.
- Simizu Island – this is part of Tour A and my personal favourite. This is where I had a really great time snorkelling and caught a glimpse of a wide variety of colourful fishes and absolutely stunning corals.
- Hidden Beach – from the name itself, this beach is a bit isolated and the only access is to swim through a crevice. Like most of the beaches in El Nido, the beach has powdery white sands and crystal clear water. You can visit the beach by booking Tour C.
- Big Lagoon – from the small lagoon, Tour A will take you to the Big Lagoon. Surrounded by jagged limestone cliffs that are said to be more than 250 million years old, visiting this place is such a surreal experience.
If you have more time on the island, I would suggest visiting other attractions such as Snake Island, Las Cabanas Beach, and Nacpan Beach. I have heard so many great things about these places and I’m definitely going to see them the next time I visit El Nido.
Tips to Keep In Mind
To make your trip even more enjoyable, here are some useful tips that I would like to share with those who plan on visiting Palawan, whether you are on your own or not.
- Consider carrying waterproof bags during your island hopping tour to protect your precious gadgets. This Ultimate Dry Sack, Three Packs is highly recommended. They keep your camera, Smartphone, and other gears dry and protected.
- Bring mosquito repellent especially if you plan on camping or staying at open-air lodges. I’ve read about a few dengue cases in Palawan so to be safe, use mosquito repellent.
- Although Palawan is generally safe, thousands of visitors would visit the island each year so you need to exercise caution when meeting other people. This is especially important if you’re a female solo traveler and you want to go out at night.
- Be in constant communication with your loved ones back home. You can take advantage of the free Wi-Fi in your hotel and some restaurants, although if you want to be connected at all times, I suggest getting a local sim. There are free sim cards upon arrival at the airports in Manila and you just have to pay for the data.
- When in doubt, don’t hesitate to ask for help or advice from the locals. Like most of the cities in the Philippines, the locals in Palawan can converse well in English so communication should be easy. You can ask for directions or seek advice on the best restaurants and other things.
- Palawan is absolutely stunning. It won’t be hailed the most beautiful island in the world for nothing. But just because you don’t have someone to travel to doesn’t mean you just forego visiting this beautiful island in the Philippines. So pack your bags now, book a flight to Palawan and discover the island on your own with the help of this solo traveler’s guide to Palawan!