Date of Visit: March 2017
Recently I flew to the Philippine island of Palawan to do some diving and snorkeling in the stunningly beautiful turquoise waters which surround the town of El Nido.
Getting to Palawan is very easy, thanks to frequent air connections from Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International Airport by Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific Air and Philippines Air Asia. These airlines fly multiple times a day into the Puerto Princesa airport, which is located downtown in the provincial capital of the same name. At the time of my visit, a big, new, modern terminal was under construction.
One thing that surprised me about Palawan is just how long the island is – stretching 450 km between the islands of Mindoro (to the north) and Borneo (to the south). Reaching El Nido (250 km to the north) requires a 5 hour mini-bus transfer from Puerto Princesa. There are lots of private operators running buses along the route so competition is fierce, buses run often and a ticket will cost you no more than 600 peso’s (US$12).
Little El Nido is one busy tourist town. Rampant development has converted this (once quiet) fishing village into one big backpacker hostel with a few upmarket ‘flashpacker’ places in between. The streets of El Nido are packed with guest houses and I had no problem getting a room as a ‘walk in’.
If you wish to overnight in Puerto Princesa, you are spoilt for choice. I stayed at the newly opened, immaculately clean, well-run and very friendly Casa Belina – they’ll provide free airport transfers if you request it.
There are many operators in El Nido selling the same four island hopping/ snorkeling packages – package A, B, C & D. You can view the different packages here. Due to a lot of competition – prices are kept low, with a typical day out costing just P1,200 (US$24). Included in this are boat transfers around the islands of the national park, drinking water, lunch and snorkeling equipment.
If you wish to dive, you’ll find a good choice of dive shops along the main street adjacent to the beach. I chose to dive with Palawan Divers who offered three dives (including boat transfers, all equipment and a buffet lunch) for under US$100. We also had a professional underwater photographer join us for the day so I’ve been able to include some images from the dives below.
The waters around El Nido are part of the El Nido-Taytay Managed Resource Protected Area – the largest marine sanctuary in the Philippines. Divers & snorkelers are required to pay P200 (US$4) to enter the waters of the park but are rewarded with an abundance of marine life and a vast array of corals.
A highlight of the day was swimming over a huge field of cabbage corals at South Miniloc. This coral garden was first discovered by Jacques Cousteau in the 1970’s. The fields are home to large schools of yellow snapper.
As a marine protected area, the reserve counts 447 species of coral, 5 species of marine turtles, 888 species of fish and 1700 species of crustaceans – in other words – it’s a diver’s dream!
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Author: Darren McLean
Owner of taste2travel.com – an avid traveler, photographer, travel writer and adventurer.
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