Palawan and the Calamian Group

Jun 1, 2002
Outside Magazine

Water beds: High tide at Kubo Sa Dagat lodge in the town of Coron, Busuanga Island.

Unspoiled beaches, impressive snorkeling, and towering limestone cliffs jutting out of the sea make up the Philippines' Last Frontier, as Palawan, the long slender island 100 miles west of the main archipelago, is often called.
The Bacuit Bay Marine Reserve in northern Palawan just west of El Nido is a treasure map of tiny islands—23 of them, about a half-hour's boat ride from one to the next. Bring a waterproof flashlight and swim through a small hole at low tide on Inabuyatan island's western side to find a surreal freshwater lagoon full of stalagmites, -tites, and columns. Or paddle a banca along the swampy Manlag River to the south, where mangrove snakes dangle passively in the branches above, and orange fiddler crabs feast on the muck below. Off Sumisu island in the middle of Bacuit Bay you can poke around among soft and hard corals and large schools of bright fish, while Cudugman Point a few minutes south of there has a vaulted cave 100 feet high where swiftlets buzz around in an avian blizzard.
The Malapacao Island Retreat and Spa, about a half-hour boat ride south of El Nido, is the spot to stage your island-hopping adventures (011-63-48-433-4829; Owner LeeAnn Cruz, a soft-spoken expat Australian, offers seven-, ten-, and 14-day package stays for $760, $1,000, and $1,320 respectively. Rates include daily snorkeling trips, two massages or mud bakes a day, all meals (fantastic fish curries, calamansi juice, coconut-marinated banana-flower salad), round-trip flights from Manila to El Nido, airport transfers, and stays in an exquisite open-air bamboo cottage with private bath and hammock. Cruz also has a small fleet of two-person bancas and sit-on-top kayaks for exploring the bay on your own ($6 per day).
The waters off the town of Coron, on Busuanga Island, farther north in the Calamian Group, harbor superior diving, for which we have World War II to thank. On September 24, 1944, Admiral William "Bull" Halsey launched the longest-yet carrier-based air raid, against retreating Japanese naval forces. The result: Fourteen wrecks lie between 15 and 130 feet of water, most of them still loaded with jeeps, bulldozers, and weaponry. Scuba Venture (011-63-919-463-3408; in Coron offers two days of diving (two or three dives per day) for $45, including equipment rental, lunch, kayak, and snorkeling gear. Stay at Kubo Sa Dagat, a labyrinthine guest house built on stilts over a small rocky isle that's exposed only at low tide. The inn offers unlimited boat access and fresh meals of crab and shellfish on an open-air deck directly over the water. Rates are $60 per person per night, including all meals and use of kayaks and motorized bancas (011-63-2-526-6929;

More at Outside

Elsewhere on the Web

Not Now

Got Wanderlust?

Escape your daily grind with Outside’s best getaways.

Thank you!