7,000 TIMES MORE
Palawan is paradise, sanctuary to an amazing variety of
fauna and flora found nowhere else in the world. It is blessed
with incredibly awesome landscapes that astound even the most
indifferent of visitors. Palawan is the country’s biggest
province and is composed of 1,768 islands and islets surrounded
by a coral shelf with an exceptionally rich marine life. Its
steeply sloped mountains are canopied by broad virgin forests.
An anchor tourist destination, Palawan is one of the 7,000 times
more islands that make up the Philippine archipelago. It is the
perfect playground for the adventurous.
THE LAST FRONTIER
Unique to Palawan is its megadiversity. For a long
time, Palawan’s bountiful resources, abundant wildlife and
extraordinary natural beauty are known only to the many ethnic
communities that thrive in these islands and a few other daring
settlers who wanted to live in unpolluted surroundings. The
island-province first attracted foreign attention in the 1970’s
when it became a United Nations Vietnamese Refugee Center. At
this time, a disturbance in Kenya also saw the transport of
endangered animals from its savannas to the plains of Calauit
Island. However, it was only a sea accident in 1979 that
eventually led to the opening of Palawan into tourism big time.
As the story goes, a tuna line disabled a dive boat’s propeller
in the middle of the night forcing it to drop anchor in an
inlet. The following morning, the divers woke up to an amazing
scenery of skyscraping dark cliffs, thick green forest,
white-sand beach, sparkling water and, rising above it, a series
of magnificently sculpted jade islands. And thus was how El Nido
Ecology awareness is at a high level throughout the province.
Puerto Princesa prides itself as the cleanest city in the
Philippines. To protect its megadiversity, only eco-friendly
programs are adhered to by tourist establishments. And there are
strict ordinances against dynamite fishing, with only net and
line fishing allowed. Palawan may have opened itself to tourism
but it has also taken serious efforts to preserve this last
A HAVEN FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD
The most beautiful place in Palawan is the isolated
island of El Nido with its incredibly astonishing seascapes. El
Nido is a secluded group of islands east of Puerto Princesa,
Palawan’s capital city, and is virtually cut off from the
mainland by three bodies of water - Luzon Sea to the north, the
China Sea to the east and the Sulu Sea to the west.
Towering midnight cliffs that jut thousands of feet above mirror
flat emerald waters are El Nido’s most distinguishing feature.
This interplay of somber darkness and ethereal light provide the
dramatic backdrop for several luxury resorts and dozens of
moderately priced diver lodges on the islands. The black marble
and limestone cliffs contain large caves with whimsical names
like Cathedral Cave and Disco Cave because of their formation.
Though they look like barren sheets of inhospitable rock, the
cliffs actually spawn the swift, or balinsasayaw, which produces
the delectable bird’s nest for soups. And in some of the rock
faces, yucca and talisay trees as well as wild flowering
begonias do thrive in the crevices.
The town of El Nido in itself exudes a quaint charm with
well-tended homes and clean streets. Many of the islands have
hidden lagoons sheltered by limestone crags. Schools of fish
swarm in the coral reefs, many of which are visible to the naked
eye. When in season, divers often encounter the rare sea cow, or
Only small chartered planes from Manila fly tourists to the
upscale resorts. Everybody else takes the sea ferry to this
picturesque fishing town.
MAGICAL TRIP TO THE UNDERWORLD
Palawan presents a visual feast not only above the
ground but also below it. St. Paul National Park is Palawan’s
most popular attraction and covers 5,349 hectares of lush
forest, dark mountains, caves and white beaches. In the deep
recesses of the marble and limestone peaks of Mt. St. Paul flow
the Underground River, said to be the longest in the world. It
is easily navigable for at least four kilometers. The caves are
filled with filigree-like sculptures formed by stalagmites and
stalactites. Near its mouth is a beautiful lagoon with
crystal-clear water that teems with fish. Also within the park
is the Monkey Trail, a series of wooden paths that winds into
the forest where monkeys, squirrels, lizards and some 60 species
of birds are found. The Park is inscribed in the World Heritage
Tabon Caves are the oldest known habitation site in Southeast
Asia. It is a complex of 200 caves scattered on a 138-hectare
museum site reserve, of which 33 have thus far been excavated.
Seven of these caves are open to the public as a prehistoric
museum where excavations have been left as they are. The caves
provide Paleolithic evidence that this is where life in Palawan
actually began and have yielded a woman’s skull, fossilized
bones and earthenware dating to as far back as 890-710 B.C. The
main entrance to the caves offers a panoramic view of a
white-sand fringed bay. The caves lie in the mountains of Pipuon
Point in the town of Quezon.
Tubbataha Reefs National Marine Park is the country’s largest
marine habitat. It hosts giant manta rays, sea turtles and
hundreds of reef fish species. Located at the heart of the Sulu
Sea, the marine park is 33,200 hectares of coral atoll, barely
emergent islets and open water, and constitutes a unique
complete open ocean ecosystem. It is inscribed in the World
Heritage List as "rare and superlative phenomena as well as
formations, features and areas of exceptional beauty." It is
located some 98 nautical miles from Puerto Princesa and is a
premier diving destination.
OUT OF AFRICA
The drought and civil strife that struck Kenya in
1977 brought some 108 African wild animals to Calauit Island.
The Calauit Island Wildlife Sanctuary covers an area of 3,700
hectares and is home to both endemic and African animals. The
imported giraffes, zebras, impalas, waterbucks, and gazelles,
among others, have successfully bred and graze the preserve
undisturbed. They share the land with endangered endemic animals
like the Calamian deer, Palawan mouse deer, bear cat, leopard
cat, tarsier, Palawan peacock pheasant, scaly anteater,
porcupine and monitor lizard. The mangroves are home to the
man-eating Philippine crocodile while offshore sea grass beds
are the habitat of the rare dugong. Many endemic and migrant
birds flock to the area. Safaris can be arranged with the park
rangers. Modest accommodations are available for overnight stay.
Although it is part of Luzon, Palawan borrows many
dishes from the Visayas and Mindanao. A distinct characteristic
of the island cuisine, however, is the use of green mangoes as
souring agent in many dishes. International cookery is also
widely available to serve the continuous influx of tourists.
There are many restaurants on the main and side streets of
Puerto Princesa offering varied international and native
cuisines. Check out the restaurant row along Rizal Avenue. The
capital city is also known for its Vietnamese eateries, Palawan
being once a refugee center. Anywhere, rice and fresh seafood
are staple fares.
Outside of Puerto Princesa, moderate priced resorts have their
own dining outlets but may require advance orders for meals.
When going on expeditions, it is advised to get your food
provisions and bottled water from Puerto Princesa as supplies
are oftentimes limited in outlying towns and practically nil in
some islands. First class hotels and resorts have fine dining
and theme restaurants, which offer catering services.