Puerto Princesa | Your Gateway to Palawan’s Paradise
While airborne bound to Puerto Princesa, I was seated beside two young Spanish-speaking backpackers who were very busy reading their guidebooks. The uncomfortable silence was broken when I heard one of them said “vamonos directo a el nido” (let’s go straight to El Nido). With my 10-pieces of Spanish & contextual clues, I butted in “amigos, explore el Puerto Princesa primero” (friends, explore Puerto Princesa first).
Many tourists who come to Palawan in the Philippines often skip the capital city of Puerto Princesa. They usually just breeze through the city to run errands before they head to the islands in the northern part of the province. Sometimes they take it to stall time while waiting for their flights out of Palawan.
But Puerto Princesa is also home to many attractions and exciting activities too. Dubbed as the City in a Forest, Puerto Princesa boasts of its excellent ecotourism destinations & has been recognized many times for its clean & green advocacies & local governance.
Puerto Princesa is the best introduction to the island province. I listed below some of the few good reasons why you should start here.
ATMs and banks are very limited as soon as you leave Puerto Princesa (yes, even in touristy areas like El Nido).
If you intend to use your credit card for your accommodations while you are in El Nido or Port Barton, book ahead of time through online hostel reservations because many hostels do not accept credit cards due to intermittent internet connections. Don’t gamble.
Fix all your outbound tickets (to Manila or other destinations) because they all have the conveniences of reliable travel agencies, ticketing offices & banks. Again, internet may be available up north but not guaranteed at all times because electricity supply (like in Port Barton) is rationed.
If you have some medical requirements like doctor-prescribed medicines, get it here already because you might not find it up there.
So what can you see and do in Puerto Princesa?
For P600, you can hire a tricycle (rickshaw) to bring you around in the common places to see. It can only fit about 3 people & does not include the minimal entrance fees. Look for tourism accredited tricycles (they are normally adorned with plastic flowers). Otherwise, request assistance from your hostel to avail this service. Never get too excited to deal with tricycles for anything as soon as you get out from the airport. Be patient, wait until you get to the hostel and plan it there to avoid getting ripped-off.
Other tour operators offer the same at P600 but it is per person and it comes with entrance fees, it is van-shuttled & tour guide provided. The only downside to this is that you are not in command of the places to see & the amount of time you spend in a place. Believe me, some places can be boring & there are a lot of tourists who take photos for a lifetime (you know who they are).
Palawan EcoGarden & Tribal Village
Sta. Monica’s Ranch
Iwahig Penal Colony
The Immaculate Conception Cathedral
Puerto Princesa Underground River National Park
The Puerto Princesa Subterranean River was voted in 2014 as one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. For about 30 minutes, you will be taken on a cruise inside its 8.2-kilometer complex system of caves. It is a protected national park & home to many endangered species of animals (like monitor lizards, macaque monkeys) & plants.
This is the most popular activity offered by all tour operators. Sure, there are tour packages that say P1,000 to P1,200 but I took the P1,500 because it provides a more comfortable seating in the van, a good tour guide & most importantly, a decent buffet lunch. It takes 3 hours 1-way to experience this so always mind your comfort.
Ugong Rock Adventures
Go spelunking in Tagabinet Ugong Rock. Here you can touch the rock formations and tap it to produce different hollow sounds. The ecopark also offers a short zipline activity. All these for less than P500 only. Ask your tour guide to make this as a side trip on your way back to the city after your Underground River trip.
Honda Bay is a popular spot for island hopping. The islands are well developed for tourists. International trans-ocean cruises dock here as part of their Asian itinerary. The islands of Luli, Pandanon, Cowrie, Starfish & Pambato Reef are normally part of a P1,200 tour package.
If you have an extra night to spend, experience the firefly show in Iwahig. The tour takes you on a night cruise on the river with a swarm of fireflies flickering in the dark. This is a bit pricey at P1,200 (with free dinner).
Other Attractions in Puerto Princesa
These are least taken but good to know that these attractions are available too: mountaineering & rock climbing in St. Paul Park (Cabayugan-Tagabinet areas), diving in Ulugan Bay, waterfalling in Napsan, Vietnamese Village in Sta Lourdes (but this is a ghost town already as many Vietnamese have already left Palawan).
Where to Party?
Rizal Street is the only happening strip in the city. Puerto Princesa doesn’t have too many options when it comes to party. The most popular sites here are Kataboom Bar (for chill-out night over live reggae music) and Tiki Bar if you really want to party hard & get wasted. Otherwise, if you stay at OMG House, you can create your own party.
Where to Eat?
These are the Top 3 Picks I made if you want to sample good food in Puerto Princesa.
This requires reservation (ask your hostel to book you ahead). This is how popular it is that you have to bear with the queue. The food is seriously delectable! The place is stylishly designed creating a soothing ambience. It is always full but tables are carefully spaced to allow diners to have a relaxing experience. Service is good too. Price per dish ranges between P250-P400. Overall, I rate this as a must-experience whenever you are in the city.
A popular al-fresco dining spot, Kinabuch serves really good food served in the right portions. It offers a lot of choices that are mostly Filipino & some exotic Palawan food like Tamilok (wood worm).
At night the Baywalk is the favorite hangout place of the locals & tourists who look for cheap food & cold beer in a no frills-no nonsense set-up. Here, you choose from the wide choices of fresh seafood & they’ll prepare it the way you want it done-steamed, stewed, grilled, name it.
Where to Stay?
If you are a backpacker, the best place to stay is OMG House. Its homey atmosphere is what travelers rave about. It has decent rooms, free WIFI & a common area for dining & partying. The staff here also treats every guest like a family.