Backpacking Palawan Itinerary

Backpacking Palawan Itinerary – 2 Week Budget Guide

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Palawan needs no introduction. Tourists fly to the Philippines to see its top-notching paradise islands. However, there is not much online articles available for budget travelers backpacking Palawan. Most resources are targeting weekend tourists who are prepared to spend for food and accommodations. In this post, however, I will share a suggested 2-week Palawan itinerary, budget, activities, and contact details based on my personal experiences; I hope that they will be helpful to those planning to explore Palawan.
Note, however, that my travel period was during off-peak season, June 16-30, 2017, when the weather wasn’t always sunny, the prices were not spiking, and hostels were not fully-booked. I am also not picky with food, I can eat canned meat, or food sold at the streets. There were some meals though where I didn’t have the choice but to spend at least $5.

The Truth About Palawan

So everybody who’s been there raves about its beauty, but few reveal its trickery. Palawan has sadly become a touristy place. Unfortunately, the more volume of travelers that come, the higher the price of goods and activities become, although another factor affecting the prices is its geography. Being a Filipino who has traveled to other places for a lot cheaper, I kinda rant about having to pay a lot to see my own country. Westerners wouldn’t probably share my opinion because Philippines is still one of the cheapest countries that offer more breathtaking spots. But I deem it’s more expensive compared to other Southeast Asian countries like Vietnam, Cambodia, Thailand and Indonesia. However, Palawan’s tempting clear blue and green waters, white sand beaches, tropical islands and English-speaking friendly locals make it definitely worth every peso. Besides, this Palawan itinerary and budget guide will help you to minimize that bank damage.
Limestone islands in El Nido - Backpacking Palawan
Limestone islands in El Nido – Backpacking Palawan

Two Week Palawan Itinerary

3 days Puerto Princesa (Day 1-3)
– Sabang Waterfalls
– Mt. Bloomfield
– Jungle Trail
– Puerto Princesa Underground River
– Sabang beach
4 days Port Barton (Day 4-7)
– Boat Trip (German Island, Paradise Island, a couple of reefs and sea turtle watching)
– Waterfall chasing, mountain biking
– Beach bumming
– Stand-up paddling and kayaking
3 days El Nido (Day 8-10)
– Boat Tours
– Limestone scrambling in Taraw Cliff
– Nacpan twin beach
– Nagkalit kalit falls
4 days Coron (Day 11-14)
– Town tour
– Island hopping and snorkeling tours
– Diving

Alternative Ways to Get in and Out of Palawan

If your plan is to explore the entire island, the best route is to get to Puerto Prinsesa and exit from Coron. Here are your options on how to enter and exit Palawan.
Option 1: (mid price but time consuming)
MNL – PPS by plane
PPS – MNL by plane
Option 2: (most expensive and fastest)
MNL – PPS by plane
Coron – MNL by plane
Option 3: (cheapest but time consuming) – RECOMMENDED
MNL- PPS by plane
Coron – MNL by boat
Getting to PPS from Manila by plane could cost at least $25 if you manage to find cheap local flights from Air Asia or Cebu Pacific. The key is to book at least a month earlier. It is also recommended that you book a morning flight so you can catch a Van and be at Sabang around 3pm.
Going back to Manila, however, I would suggest you take the boat which I did during my trip. It would save you travel time and money instead of going back from Coron to El Nido ($24 by boat for 7 hours or $35 by fast boat for 4.5 hrs)  to Puerto Princesa ($10 by van) to take a plane back to Manila.
Ferry ride from Coron to Manila - Backpacking Palawan
Ferry ride from Coron to Manila – Backpacking Palawan

Transpo Route and Expenses from PPS to Coron

$0.25 Jeepney (San Jose route) from Airport to Van terminal. Ask the driver to drop you off Lexxus van.  You can also opt the tricycles offering you $2.
$2.8 Van PPS to Sabang. Reserve your seat by sending a message to 09153479593. You can also take a bus for $2.4 but slower
$2.8 Van Sabang to PPS.  Reserve your seat by sending a message to 09153479593
$7 Van PPS to Port Barton. Reserve your seat through Recaro company 09985694871. They have almost hourly departures as early as 9am.
$8 Van Port Barton to El Nido. 8am and 1pm departures.  Reserve your seat through Recaro company 09985694871.
$24 Boat (7 hours) El Nido to Coron (or $35 by fast boat, 4.5 hrs)
$2 Tricycle from port to Coron town proper and vice versa
$20 Boat (16 hours) Coron to Manila via Atienza Shipping Lines. You can purchase the ticket outside the port gate when you arrive from El Nido. During non peak season, they don’t get fully booked so you can just walk in to get a ticket on the same day of your departure. Ship leaves at 2:30 pm every Thursday and Sunday. You can call to verify the schedules though 09399126840.

Puerto Princesa – Sabang, Palawan Itinerary 

Commonly, you will see people doing tours of the Underground River (Sabang) and Honda Bay Island Hopping as part of their Palawan itinerary. For me though, I decided to stay in Sabang only and skip Honda bay because boat tours in El Nido and Coron will be more beautiful. I would assume that most backpackers like me don’t like to book the tour packages provided by agencies. You will find a lot of packages online that would take you to Sabang for a day of visit to the Underground River, but there’s more to see there actually. So here’s how you can DIY your Sabang visit.
View of Sabang Beach - Backpacking Palawan
View of Sabang Beach – Backpacking Palawan

Day 1 – Arrival at Sabang and Sabang Waterfalls

1. Upon arrival at Sabang, check in to Cafe Sabang, the cheapest homestay you will find in the town, owned by a sweet old lady named Mary. You can book a bed for $3/night and a room for 2 for $10/night. Check out my review of Cafe Sabang at the latter part of my day 1 blog. 
Cafe Sabang
Cafe Sabang
2. Head off to the docking port where you can pay all necessary fees and permits to visit Puerto Prinsesa Underground River. The office closes at around 2pm; if you missed it you can just go the next morning. But remember that you have to secure your permits at least one day prior to your intended date of visit.
$10 – Entrance fee
$1.6 – Audio device for the guided tour
$3 – Environmental fee
$4 – Boat fee if you want to take the boat, or jungle trail fee if you want to take the more exciting non-touristy route. The fee for jungle trail includes a guide already.
PS: You cannot escape these fees. Believe me, I tried! LOL.
3. Leave the docking port and take a 30-minute walk west to Sabang Waterfalls. This tall falls that face the ocean is worth to spend the afternoon. I went there probably too late at around 3:30pm that no one was there to ask me for entrance fee, or mayber there’s really no entrance fee to visit it. You can then beach bum in Sabang beach and wait for sunset.
4. Ask Nanay Mary to refer a local guide for you to hike Mt Bloomfield the next day.
Sabang Waterfalls - Backpacking Palawan
Sabang Waterfalls – Backpacking Palawan

Day 2 – Hike Mt. Bloomfield

1. Hike Mt Bloomfield with a guide. As of this writing, it’s not open to the public yet because the trail has no markers and there are forks that are confusing if you are not accompanied by someone who is familiar with the route. But some locals can guide you to it for a fee of $10. It’s a 5-hour hike back and forth, given 30 minutes of rest at the summit and some pauses at the trail. You will also find a waterfalls during rainy season. At first I was insistent to hike it solo, but then when I saw how confusing the trail could get at the beginning, I was relieved that I hired a guide.
2. Chill and relax in Cafe Sabang or swim or beach bum in Sabang Beach for the afternoon.
Overlooking Sabang beach from Mt bloomfield. Backpacking Palawan
Overlooking Sabang beach from Mt bloomfield. Backpacking Palawan

Day 3 – Puerto Princesa Underground River via Jungle Trail

  1. At 8am, walk to the docking station to present your permits for the Underground River. They will then assign a guide with you to accompany you to do the Jungle Trail. Honestly, the trail is so established and even enhanced walkways; it’s too easy. However, it’s a policy to have a guide  which you already have paid for $4 anyway as part of the fees listed above.

    Jungle Trail - Backpacking Palawan
    Jungle Trail – Backpacking Palawan
  2. After an hour and so of hiking, you will reach the docking beach where you will ride a boat to tour the Puerto Princesa Underground River. Trip only takes 45 minutes.

    Entrance of the Puerto Princesa Underground River - Backpacking Palawan
    Entrance of the Puerto Princesa Underground River – Backpacking Palawan
  3. Go back to Sabang beach through the jungle trail. I finished it at around 12:30 which gave me enough time to shower still catch the 2pm Lexxus van back to Puerto Princesa. Make sure you have reserved your seat though! The terminal is just so near
  4. Stay overnight in Puerto Princesa. I hammock camped in Hartman beach but you can book a tent or bed for at least $5 in Bamboo Airport Hostel.  The next morning, catch the van you booked via Recaro company to Port Barton.
Notes:
  • The entire town of Sabang is deprived of electricity. Its citizens depend on solar energy and generators.
Sunrise at Hartman Beach - Backpacking Palawan
Sunrise at Hartman Beach – Backpacking Palawan

Port Barton, Palawan Itinerary

Despite all the buzz that El Nido and Coron make, Port Barton is my favorite among my entire trip in Palawan.  My stay there was a mix of a peaceful paradise and adventurous escape! Although the town itself is slowly starting to get attention, in Sunset Colors Beach Resort where I and my friend stayed was secluded far from all the world! This is the only place where I was willing to spend much among my entire Palawan itinerary for accommodation because it was worth all the experience and activities. I spent $60 for 3 nights which included free use of kayaks, paddle boards which you can use to go far in the calm deep blue sea, and mountain bikes to chase waterfalls inland. We also had an amazing boat tour to islands, snorkeling and chasing sea turtles 🙂 I found amazing reviews about this resort and I couldn’t agree more with other guests’ experiences!

Sunset in Port Barton - Backpacking Palawan
Sunset in Port Barton – Backpacking Palawan

Day 4  – Arrival at Port Barton, Kayak and Paddle

  1. If you left PPS at 9am, you will arrive at PB by 12noon, just in time for the 12:30 boat pick up to Sunset Colors resort. Spend the rest of the afternoon taking in the beauty, either by the shore or to the sea. Kayak and paddle all you want! Even watch the beautiful sunset colors!
  2. Book a boat tour for the next day for $16 including lunch.

    Paddling in the middle of the sea. Port Barton, Backpacking Palawan
    Paddling in the middle of the sea. Port Barton, Backpacking Palawan

Day 5 – Island Hopping Boat Tour

  1. Take an early breakfast and be on your way for a 9am-3pm boat tour which will take you to 5 spots, 2 of which are snorkeling sites to see corals, 2 are islands, and one spot for sea turtle watching. I was able to catch 2 sea turtles! I also loved the peaceful German islands with a lot of trees to climb and, hammocks and swings.
  2. Ask the staff for directions for your waterfall-chasing the next day.
  3. Book a van going to El Nido for when you check out using Recaro contact number for $8/head.

    German Island, Port Barton - Backpacking Palawan
    German Island, Port Barton – Backpacking Palawan

Day 6 – Mountain Bike to Bigaho Falls, Paddle to the Sea

After breakfast, take the mountain bike and dare the northbound unpaved paths and uphill and downhill slopes that lead to Bihago Falls. Depending on your endurance, the pedal time could take around 30-60 minutes. You will find the tiny village of Bigaho, park your bicycle and do a short hike that ends to the refreshing waters of the falls. If you’re adventurous enough, you can scramble up to the top of the falls using the jungle slopes to its right. Up there you will find 2 more waterfall levels so untouched! I and my friend originally intended to go to another waterfalls down towards the town, but we enjoyed Bigaho falls too much that we spent a lot of time there. After getting back to Sunset Color, we just launched our paddle boats, swam and floated to the sea until sunset. 🙂

Pushing up the slopes, Port Barton - Backpacking Palawan
Pushing up the slopes, Port Barton – Backpacking Palawan

Day 7 – Check out and travel to El Nido

Check out before 12noon and ride the free boat transfer of Sunset Colors to Port Barton town where you will ride a 4-hour trip to El Nido. Make sure you find lunch in town. The van will also have a stop over where you can find food to eat.

Port Barton Notes and tips:

  • No electricity in Port Barton but resorts have generators to provide some hours of electricity. The sea breeze was cool at night so it didn’t bother me much during my sleep. During day, I didn’t need electricity anyway because I was out on adventures.
  • You can also book a cheaper accommodation in Port Barton Town itself but I doubt you will get the similar adventure in a peaceful paradise experience that I had.
  • Since food menu in Sunset Colors is expensive at $4-7/meal, you can buy from PP some food supplies like canned meat, bread, spread, coffee/chocolate drink sachets, and snacks if you want to save on food.
  • Bring cash. No ATMs and banks here.

El Nido

Unlike your chillax time in Port Barton, your stay in El Nido could get busy with boat and land activities. Choose from the alphabet tours (A, B, C and D), go to the twin beach of Nacpan, hike to Nagkalit-kalit falls and scramble up the limestone hill of Taraw Cliff. In El Nido, I was joined by Robb, an extremely adventurous solo British backpacker whom I met in Port Barton, and my friends from Indonesia who also happened to be there on a common day!

Pushing up the slopes, Port Barton - Backpacking Palawan
Pushing up the slopes, Port Barton – Backpacking Palawan

Day 7 (Continuation)

  1. Upon arrival at El Nido, you can take a 20-minute walk, or a $1 tricycle ride to Hakuna Matata Hostel, which is the cheapest dorm I found there, for a bed in a fan dorm for $5/night. There is a lack of dorms for backpackers here. I also stayed 2 nights in Amos Hostel in Korong Korong (nearer to the drop off terminal) for a bed in an airconditioned room for $8/night.
  2. Book a tour. There are a lot of tour providers in El Nido but the cheapest that we stumbled upon is provided by Kashieca’s. Contact April at 09300287760. She gave us Tour A for $16 (originally $24) and Tour C for $20 (originally 2800), not including the one-time environmental tax of $4.

Day 8 – Tour C

1. I will not spend time differentiating the different tours. I did Tour C simply because my friends who have been here deemed it to be the best one, which I would have to agree; it’s indeed spectacular! Especially the part where I saw a school of fish, with probably thousands of fishes gathered around in a lump in Matinloc shrine. There is also viewpoint here where one can climb up limestone rocks and have photos taken with the beautiful ocean as the background. This is also where I had good lunch with everyone else in the group. Prepare $2 though for entrance fee.

2. Go to the fisherman’s village of Korong Korong beach to observe local kids playing along the seashore as the sun sets.

Matinloc Shrine, El Nido - Backpacking Palawan
Matinloc Shrine, El Nido – Backpacking Palawan

Day 9 –  Taraw Cliff, Nagkalit kalit falls, Nacpan Twin Beach 

1. Scramble up the sharp limestone of Taraw Cliff for an adrenaline rush. April’s husband, Bryan, a licensed tour guide can guide you to the summit safely. Originally, I and Robb intended to DIY this climb, but due to the lack of written guides online, and the confusing streets that lead to the jumpoff, we failed to find the start of the route. It was also hard to find a guide! They were either charging too high at $10 per head, or not willing to lead us because of the consistent rains at that time. Luckily, we found Bryan who swore that it’s really not safe to hike if it rained the previous day. So we had a deal that if it wont rain the previous day, then he would take us up. He also agreed to bring me and Robb for $5 each! What a deal! Indeed during day 8, it did not rain and Bryan took us up.  Start the hike at 5:30am since it gets tooooo hot when the sun is up. Bring gloves as you would be scrambling with sharp rock edges. Bring water and camera as well! You will finish this just before 9am as Bryan also guides Tour A which starts at 9am.

Summit of Taraw Cliff in El Nido - Backpacking Palawan
Summit of Taraw Cliff in El Nido – Backpacking Palawan

2. After post-climb refreshments, rent a motorbike ($8 off peak, $10 peak) for an inland tour to break the monotony of boat tours, although definitely you have the option to switch itineraries.  Gas up for $2 which will be enough to take you to and back. You have another option to hire a tricycle for the day and the driver will take you to your desired destination for $20, more expensive than renting the bike.

3. Drive to Nagkalit-kalit falls, which is on the way going to Nacpan beach. I really don’t like how the locals have made a business out of this falls, forcefully offering you their guidance with dreadful warnings that you will get lost without them. I’m fortunate to have a companion who’s willing to get lost, and able to identify trails! So we chose to  skip the $6/head guide fee and went on an adventure of literally chasing waterfalls! There are a lot of stream/river crossings which got us confused. Luckily, we found our way. despite the bad reviews of the falls,  I think visiting it is worth it. Note that I love hiking and adventures, so I enjoyed the journey itself 🙂

4. Head to Nacpan twin beach to beach bum under the sun, or enjoy the company of friendly local kids. Just be careful when driving as there’s a 2-kilometer stretch of unpaved and muddy road. The owner of the motorbike might charge you if you scratch it, so be careful! Unfortunately, the hill from which you can hike to see an aerial view of the twin beach is now privately-owned. We tried to trespass but there were guards who hindered us. 😛

Nacpan Beach - Backpacking Palawan
Nacpan Beach – Backpacking Palawan

5. Head back to the town. 🙂

Day 10 –  Tour A

  1. For your last day in El Nido, take the most favorite tour which takes you the signature islands in El Nido such as the Big, Small and Hidden lagoons. My personal favorite though was the high swing in 7 Commandos beach! Don’t miss to dare it!
  2. Once back in the town, book your ticket to the fast or slow boat that goes to Coron. Ask your hostel or tour provider for tickets.

    Inviting clear blue seawater of El Nido
    Inviting clear blue seawater of El Nido

El Nido Tips

  • Get your breakfast from Midtown bakery nestled in the main street of Rizal. You can get local choco or coffee sachets from there as well. Hot water is free at Hakuna Matata Hostel. You can also get bananas or other fruits from local stores.
  • Snorkeling gears are provided for free by tour providers but aqua shoes are rented for $2/day at the docking port.
  • If you have an outdoor sandals, better to wear it than a flip flop during tours so you won’t have to rent aqua shoes. There are parts where you would have to walk above sharp stones both above and below seawater.
  • El Nido has VERY SLOW INTERNET. You will only waste your time trying to go online to be productive 🙂
  • A few ATM is available in town.

Coron Itinerary and Tips

Even after your great adventures in Port Barton and El Nido, Coron will not disappoint as it lifts up the bar for snorkeling and diving. Be warned though that it’s  a little more expensive than El Nido. There is also a scarcity of hostels for backpackers. You can find tiny rooms good for 2 for $12, which is okay if you are couple, but not for solo backpackers who just met along the road. LOL.  Gladly though I found Aldrich of Red Carabao Coron through Couchsurfing who offered us his Airbnb apartment at a discounted rate. He usually offers it at $20/night though. We had a bad weather in Coron which only allowed us to do one boat trip. However, the itinerary I’m sharing is based on my first visit in Coron 2 years ago.

Red Carabao Coron

I’m putting a dedicated heading for Red Carabao because it’s one of the coolest things I found in Palawan that beats the boring way in which tourism is being done in Palawan. Red Carabao is a travel hub and community, a place where kindred travelers are welcome to form groups, join weekly activities and hop on their signature island-hopping Backpacker Bangkâ boat! It gives a “homey” and “familiar” community to travelers who happen to be in Coron at the same time, instead of just a non-chalant dorm or group tour experience. If you’ve been to local homestays in Vietnam, especially in Dalat, then you have an idea of what I mean. 🙂

Aldrich, who also started Red Carabao Manila Hostel, is teeming with exciting ideas that would provide a unique Coron experience to local and foreign travelers.  Unlike other travel agencies who give you information so you would book their service, Aldrich  genuinely provides help to his co-travelers expecting nothing in return. He’s also making his travel hub into a co-working space so you can get work done in this internet-deprived town! 🙂 Find Red Carabao along the main street of Coron town, or contact Aldrich at 0998 573 3884 to find out how you can make your Coron visit more exciting 🙂

Day 11 – Travel to Coron, Hike Mt. Tapyas, Maquinit Springs

1. Ride the 8am boat from El Nido to Coron, which arrives at the port at around 2:30-4pm, depending on the wave condition. In the Atienza Shipping lines office outside the port, book a ticket back to Manila if you have already decided what date to exit Coron. Take the tricycle to the town. It’s best to stay in town where there are more food options.

2. Book your tours for the next day. The Ultimate / Highlights Tour is recommended as it takes you to the must-see spots of Coron.

3. Hike Mt. Tapyas on your own. It’s free and you don’t need a guide to climb up stairs 🙂

4. For around $6 of tricycle ride you can go to Maquinit Springs at an entrance fee of $4.

View of Coron Town and the Sleeping Giant - Backpacking Palawan
View of Coron Town and the Sleeping Giant – Backpacking Palawan

Day 12 – Ulitimate / Highlights Tour

You will be picked up from your hotel at around 8-8:30am and the tour starts at around 9am. My favorite part of this tour is the Twin lagoon, Kayangan lake and shipwreck!

Kayangan view deck, Coron - Backpacking Palawan
Kayangan view deck, Coron – Backpacking Palawan

Day 13 – Island Escapade Tour or Diving Tour

Book the Island escapade tour if you are not yet island-overdosed 🙂 For a change though, you can do a diving tour. I did not do this though since it rained all day 🙁

Day 14 – Travel Back to Manila

Ride a tricycle for $0.5 per person to get to the port after 1pm to board the ship which leaves at 2:30pm. I suggest that when you buy the ticket, ask for the top corner bunk at the backmost part of the ship so you can see the horizon and islands fading away as you lay on your bed. 🙂 It’s also an amazing experience to see sunset and sunrise! You will dock in Manila Port at around 6:30 am.

Coron Tips

  • Unlike in El Nido where snorkeling gears are provided, in Coron you have to rent it for $3/day. If you have your own, better to bring it, which is also the more hygienic option. 🙂 Also, right in front of Red Carabao is a local eatery where you can get a decent rice meal for less than $1.
  • Coron has better internet connection via 3G, and some restaurants offer wifi for free.
  • A few ATMs are available in town.
  • Food can be expensive here. I suggest you try the grilled meat you can find along the main road near No Name Bar, where you can have a stick of barbeque for $0.2, or a big chunk of grilled pork or chicken for $1.5. You can also find bakeries and local eateries tucked along the secondary streets of the town.

    Kayangan Lake - Backpacking Palawan
    Kayangan Lake – Backpacking Palawan

Palawan Hacks

  • Get a local sim card from the airport. You will need it to book transports, contact homestays and access internet via 3G. Don’t rely on WiFis; they are either too slow or non-existent!
  • Never fail to apply sunscreen! The sun can be unforgiving.
  • Better to bring cash, budget it, with a little buffer. It’s always a hassle finding an ATM, especially if it doesn’t dispense cash!
  • Buy a liter of water and don’t throw the bottle! You can refill it from water purifying stations for $0.1 to $0.2 instead of buying another bottle for $0.6.

    v
    Can’t get tired of Palawan’s Islands!

My Actual Expenses

I’m not putting the detailed breakdown but  to give you a ballpark of how much you can spend the least, here’s a summary of my actual expenses, with food varying from canned meat, to budget meals to $7-meals.

3 days in Sabang / Puerto Princesa – $84.12 (including flight in)
4 days in Port Barton – $96
4 days in El Nido – $122.5
4 days in Coron – $34.6 (availed 1 tour only, including boat out)

Overall total including accommodations, transportation, food and tours: $338.00

Summary

That was a looong post! Thanks for reading up to here! When I was planning for the trip, I wanted to veer away from the local tourist options, that’s why I dragged a sleeping bag and hammock along with me all the way! I was only able to use them once though, because of the occasional rains in the afternoon. I realized its better to be dry and warm in a bed bunk than save a few bucks and get sick 😛 I may have missed a lot of information but comment any question that you cannot find in google and I’m willing to answer based on my experience! Happy backpacking in Palawan!

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