What I Saw: In Photographs: Coron, Palawan
What I Was Listening To: PLAYLIST: Coron
Where I Was:
Similar to my last Malapascua trip (I say this because there is another one happening in a couple of days), Coron just fell onto my lap. It came in with a breeze, and just as well, because I am just throwing caution to the wind and going wherever the hell it feels like taking me. I was crowned with it, so to speak, the way that the “responsibility” was so graciously bestowed upon me.
It all started with a phone call one day in March, when one of my best friends excitedly told me that she had bought herself a too-cheap-to-deny roundtrip ticket for September, hoping that maybe I could come with her. While I had entertained the idea, a hurricane picked me up and threw me around, and left me in a bit of a tizzy, so I never really got around to executing it.
Fast forward to August. The same friend decides that she might not even be interested in going anymore, because the seeds she had sown earlier on had grown into colossal trees, which she must now climb, and pick its sweet, juicy fruits. And the blessed will bless, so she handed the tickets over to me as a gift. I, of course, was more than happy and extremely grateful to receive them.
I arrived in Coron via Cebu Pacific at 7:30 AM. Both Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines fly regularly to Busuanga, which is the town next to Coron. After an hour-long flight, it is another 30-minute drive from the Francisco B. Reyes airport in Busuanga, to the Coron town proper. If you haven’t made arrangements for pick-up with your hotel, there are vans waiting for you outside.
By 8:30, I was already on a boat, getting ready to start a special half-day tour facilitated by Expeditions Ecotours, and prepared by my old and new friends at The Funny Lion.
They weren’t kidding when they said that there is nothing to do at Coron town. Your resort is there; restaurants are there; and various souvenir and dive shops line the streets, but that’s about it. It is absolutely necessary to get on a boat and head to one of the many wondrous natural attractions that surround the town. You have the entire Calamian group of islands to choose from, for starters!
Luckily, I was set up with Expedition Ecotours right from the get-go. Operated by local, socially-responsible, environment and culture enthusiasts (which, to me, is the group’s most attractive quality), Expedition Ecotours strongly adhere to the principles of ecological sustainability as a standard of responsible tourism. One among many of their efforts to protect local culture maintains that any souvenir that they have available at their office are locally produced and environmentally-friendly, which empower Palawan’s indigenous communities in more ways than one.
Another option is to hire your own boat and crew to take you anywhere you please. Daily rates for a boat is upwards of P1,600, but I think my boatman was being very generous, since I only needed him for only a few hours in the morning. If you’d like to get in touch with him, here you go:
Jimver Boat For Hire
Contact Person: Jolan
Contact numbers: +63 909 223 2761 (Smart) or +63 916 710 8730 (Globe)
Where To Go
Included in my special half-day tour (I say this is special because it was, to put it loosely, customized just for us; Expeditions does not normally offer half-day island tours) were Coron Youth Club “CYC” Island, the Twin Lagoons, Kayangan Lake. It was simple enough an itinerary; exactly the warm, fuzzy, embrace to welcome me to Coron.
Please do yourselves a favor when you sign up for an Expeditions experience, and look for Emil. I imagine that the less curious tourists simply come on the boats and roam the islands without wondering much about what goes beyond the transparent water. As far as tour guides go, what is unique about Emil is that he has been a tourist, himself. And the best kind, too — he explores. He is a naturalized Palaweño; a Baguio native who came to Coron and fell in love with it all. After partaking in a guided island tour himself, he realized that he’d be happiest if he could do it all everyday. And why wouldn’t he? — the place is paradise. He curates a travel blog himself, which features off-the-beaten track locations, centered mostly on the Northern areas of the country, where he originates from.
In the evening, I explored the town on foot, mostly tracking Emil’s dining recommendations. (Where To Eat, below.)
I got quite comfortable with Emil and Expeditions, I went back to them to do something else. In honor of Leanne — Gifter of Flights, who meant to return to Coron to explore its beaches — I joined a tour set mainly for Malcapuya Island. A cool P950 and two hour-sail away from town, the island is pretty much remote, except for a family of caretakers, and some chickens, who will peck at your potato chips if you leave those bags open and lying around.
As you can imagine, the beach is pristine. There isn’t much to see underwater — the floor is mostly grass, and the fish are mostly pale — but it is decent for snorkeling, with random sightings of rainbow fish, jellyfish, and a small stingray.
There are other nice surprises under there! Upon setting foot on the island, I immediately pranced (when I say pranced, I mean a twerk short of a full-on running dance) down to the water, snorkel and mask in hand. Literally two steps in, I noticed a misplaced patch of red waving at me from a few inches away. It was a P50 bill! Lucky duck!
You can choose to stay at Malcapuya all day, but the package comes with an option to hop on over to Banana Island and Bulog Island, for an additional P250 in island protection fees.
Possibly my favorite stop during this whole trip was the one at Banana Island. Coming from Malcapuya’s grassy seabed, Banana Island’s is up to its gills (pun totally intended) with life!
Bulog is yet another small islet, sitting across Two Seasons Coron. Mostly barren underwater — apart from the one orange sea slug that I saw — the beach is mostly rocky. If you ever find yourself here, take note: as tiny as this islet is, there is a private cove, hidden from sight, on the other side of where boats normally dock.
Having to fly out in the late afternoon of my third day, I figured I’d save this day to do something that wasn’t at all touristy; something off-the-beaten-track, and completely endemic to Coron. I was told about a “housing project” which was supposed to have been triggered by the devastation that Typhoon Haiyan smote upon the area in 2013. Upon further research (hunting might be the more appropriate term), I found Barangay Lajala — a Tagbanua community, 15 minutes off the Coron port. And “housing project” was an understatement! I wasn’t expecting to find an entire community development program.
So, I spent a morning there, privileged to have been toured around the village by two of the warmest barangay councilors I could imagine to find. With the work that has been done and where it is all going, the village is a shining example of how a collective sense of responsibility can turn an upside-down village right-side up again.
Having been made an adopted community by Expeditions, the Lajala Cultural Village is one stop included in their Las Islas Tribal Ecotour.
Some spare time before I needed to leave for the airport afforded me a visit to Siete Pecados, a small group of islets nested among all the limestone giants. Whether you’re snorkeling, free diving, or SCUBA diving, there’s something a every depth for everyone to come down to.
Where To Eat (Emil’s Recommendations)
This is going to sound absolutely belligerent (but, I promise, I am perfectly level-headed as I write this), but I’ll tell you right now, that it is one of my biggest pet peeves for someone to travel someplace and be hesitant to try local cuisine. I’ve spoken to foreigners who were complaining about having nowhere “decent” to eat. Remember, you are in a provincial town, on a tropical island, in a foreign country which you came to voluntarily. Don’t come to town expecting fine dining. Instead, expect mostly grilled anything, and home-style meals, as Filipino fare is known to be. Which are all perfectly decent, by the way. Just because it isn’t fancy, that doesn’t mean that it isn’t. If to you this is either strange or beneath you, I suggest that you step out of your comfort zone, take whatever experience the place can give you, and live a little. 🙂
- Lolo Nonoy’s – Emil’s top recommendation, for the price, and value for money. Which, I can attest to. There are the typical Filipino favorites, like sisig (which I had), sinigang, grilled or sizzling meat or seafood. Everything on the menu is within reasonable price, falling, on average, around the P200 range, tops. Except the shrimp, which was double.
- Big Mama’s – this, according to Emil, comes a very close 2nd to Lolo Nonoy’s. “Cheap and good,” Emil says of their food. I passed by it on the way to Lolo Nonoy’s on the main road, and found that the menu consisted mostly of, again, grilled food. The huge signage up front highlights their bulalo, sinigang, chicken fajitas, burgers, and fish & chips. How random.
- Kawayanan Grill – I asked Emil for the best place to find local flavor. According to him, Kawayanan Grill had delicious food, albeit was a bit expensive. Apart from the usual, you can expect some exotic finds, like lobster. Feel like trying crocodile? They have that, too!
- Winnie’s – Emil recommends Winnie’s if you are in the mood for some serious seafood.
- Brujita – I came across Brujita on my own, on my way back to the backpackers guesthouse where I was staying. After the deep, long nap I took earlier on, I wasn’t just about done with the evening just yet. So I grabbed myself a beer at this little, unassuming, rustic bar on the side of the road. Noteworthy: they are vegetarian-friendly! Also noteworthy: George, who runs the joint, has excellent taste in music. More than the bar location being susceptible to mobile data signal (network signal is terrible everywhere else), this is what kept me going.
- No Name Bar – As the name suggests, it is an unassuming cabana-looking bar in the middle of town, which, on the contrary, has more character than most. Besides being one of the few places in town where there is some semblance of a nightlife, its super relaxed atmosphere is perfect for spending an evening after a day out in the sun.
*Both are included in Expedition Ecotours’ half-day town tour.
- Coron Souvenirs – the professional tour guide’s recommendation for all your souvenir needs
- Coron Harvest – whatever I had learned in my Civics and Culture classes in elementary school 20 years ago is likely to be outdated at this point, but I don’t think I ever came across the fact that Palawan is the cashew nut capital of the Philippines! You can find them anywhere, but I’m not sure how much they can count for freshness. Coron Harvest, as a cashew factory, would be the best place to find them fresh.
Where to Stay
For this trip, I really wanted to see both sides of Coron travelling: both steady and swanky. For steady, I chose to stay at a backpackers guesthouse — the first that popped up on my Google search; for swanky, I tried my luck at one of Coron’s most up-and-coming resorts.
- Coron Backpackers Guesthouse
Granted, Coron is not at all new to tourists. Had it been less of a hotspot, I would be a little more apprehensive about the area where Coron Backpackers Guesthouse was situated, but I figured I’d trust all the backpackers that have come before me and survived. It really wasn’t as bad as it sounds; I was pleasantly surprised that the hostel was clean and well-managed. There is a kitchen free for anyone to use. As far as hostels go, this is has been one of the better ones. And at P500/night for a fan room good for two people, I really can’t complain. But, like I said, don’t be daunted by the looks of it on the way there.
- The Funny Lion
I’m so grateful to have made a gracious partner of The Funny Lion! They treated me so well over there. At less than a year old, this cub of a resort has its mane out and is ready to pounce. A mere 5 minute tricycle ride away from town proper, it is close enough to be convenient, but far enough for you to be left peaceful. More on The Funny Lion here.
I was way — WAY! — too fortunate in Coron. In so many ways, I felt like a queen… even at the backpackers guesthouse, yes. Three days was not enough, for sure! But this entire trip was a literal and figurative gift, so I really can’t complain.