On the seventh day, when God rested, he did so in Palawan. After six days of hard work he didn’t want to spend it as a third wheel on Adam and Eve’s first day together, or near the animals trying to figure out what to do with themselves, instead he needed rest and relaxation in his most wonderful creation: Palawan.
Today, just as 6000 years ago when God created it, Palawan is paradise. It is heaven on earth, without the crowds and touts of other places that make the claim. All it offers is natural beauty, everywhere, for the few tourists that make the journey to it. Upon arrival in Palawan I noticed the genuinely happy smiles everyone was wearing, the type of smiles you and I would wear if we knew we lived in paradise.
Puerto Princesa may do its best to scare tourists away, but even it struggles to hide the island fever that I connect more in the Caribbean than Asia. Sadly the city does little to hide poverty, with a large shanty town built atop stilts, worn down vehicles, and a downtown that features only the most basic of stores. While we felt the city was safe, even walking through dark streets at night, it’s certainly more Tijuana than Monterrey. Travelers seeking creature comforts may want to grab a shuttle directly from the airport to more pleasant destinations.
For those seeking diving, sailing, or beach bumming, El Nido is the destination of choice. Differing from most destinations of choice though, it would be hard to feel crowded by other tourists or feel hassled by touts. It offers just enough for the few tourists who come, but hasn’t lost it’s sleepy, paradise-found, feel. With beachfront cottages ranging from $20-100, everyone that makes the trip can sleep just feet from the crashing waves.
Just how sleepy is El Nido? Electricty is only available from from 6pm to 6am, only when you need it to light your way, not when you’ll be island hopping, diving, or pretending you’re in a Corona commercial. Even though power is available at night, the candle-lit restaurants on the beach are a better option. While neighborhood cats patiently wait for your leftovers, you can indulge in the fish of the day or many Western dishes, including vegetarian options.
After resting up in El Nido there is an array of options. Daily “island hopping” tours will take you to neighboring islands, each featuring movie dream beaches, with nobody but your fellow passengers. These include great lunches, snorkeling, and other diversions. For those wanting to go a little deeper there are reasonably priced diving courses and great dive sights nearby. For those looking to go a little further, trips to and around Coron leave regularly from El Nido. Coron is home to world famous diving sites, and the trip on one of the luxury yachts looks like an affordable trip-of-a-lifetime.
From other parts in the island additional activites are easily accessible. The 24km long cave that includes an 8km Underground River has been named one of the New7Wonders of Nature. Visitors get to take a boat ride on the world’s longest underground river and visit one of the world’s largest caves. For the more adventurous, during the right seasons, visitors can literally join in the whale shark migration by jumping in and swimming along. While it will definitely impress all your facebook friends, swimming with the largest fish on the planet is safe because the whale shark is a filter feeder, not a man eater. For those who are looking to rest rather than be active, there are luxury resorts, including private islands, that provide the finest fittings the world has to offer, albeit at 5-star prices. Being paradise, Palawan has something for almost everyone.
What Palawan lacks are big cities and shopping. If those are things you are looking for, the Philippines has that elsewhere as Palawan is reserved for those seeking rest, relaxation and happiness in the most beautiful natural setting known to man.