Here’s An Easy Five-Day Palawan Itinerary For First-timers
Palawan is the province that keeps on giving. No matter how many endless summers you spent in the Southern Tagalog island, you’ll always want to see more. It is, after all, home to more blue lagoons, limestone cliffs, secret waterfalls, diving spots, and unspoiled beaches than any self-respecting beach bum could ever attempt to see in one lifetime. So what do you do if you’ve only got five days? Here’s an easy Palawan itinerary for first-timers!
Well, if you hit the tourist classics, you can make the most of what little time you have. Puerto Princesa, Palawan’s capital city, is a good place to start, being the location of tourist favorites such as the Underground River and the beaches of Honda Bay. Follow it up with a quick side trip to El Nido, the beach that inspired Alex Garland’s backpacker classic, “The Beach,” and you’ll have a trip worth raving about. Check out the itinerary we’ve made below to see how it all plays out.
Fair warning, though: no matter how much you’ve seen, you will always want to come back—so this is by no means the only Palawan itinerary you’ll experience.
How to get to Puerto Princesa
Puerto Princesa is about an hour’s plane ride south of Manila. Cebu Pacific Air, Philippine Airlines, and Air Asia all ply the Manila-Puerto Princesa route daily. You could also fly into Puerto Princesa from Cebu, with Cebu Pacific flights available daily.
How to get to El Nido
El Nido is about a five-hour drive north of Puerto Princesa. You could book a seat on a shuttle service for about PHP 700. Many operators will be offering their services at the airport, or you could also ask your hotel to help book a shuttle for you. Another option would be to ask a tricycle to bring you to the San Jose Bus Terminal in Puerto Princesa and board the Cherry Bus headed for El Nido.
If you’ve got a bigger budget, you could also fly into El Nido directly from Manila or Cebu via Air Swift, though you could expect said flights to set you back about PHP 13,000.
What to do on your first day in Palawan
1. Visit the Underground River
Start your Palawan itinerary right by seeing one of the New7Wonders of Nature. Tours usually start early in the morning, with a crack-of-dawn pick up at your accommodation. Tourists are then brought to Sabang Beach, a two and a half hour drive away from the town proper. From Sabang, you’ll be led to a boat that will bring you to the entrance of the Underground River, passing through a rich jungle area that is home to all kinds of creatures—including monkeys who will steal your bag given the chance, so be vigilant.
The tour of the Underground River itself should last about an hour, and afterwards, you’ll be led back to Sabang Beach for lunch and, for the brave of heart, a taste of the local delicacy, tamilok, or raw woodworms soaked in vinegar.
2. Go for a mini-adventure at Ugong Rock
Newly energized after lunch (and all that protein from the tamilok!), you can head to Ugong Rock, a small cave system run by the locals. More experienced spelunkers might find the cave here overwhelming, but pretty much everyone else may still find it exciting—especially since one has the option of taking a zip line back to solid ground.
3. Catch the fireflies on Iwahig River
Cap off the eventful day on your Palawan itinerary with a firefly-watching cruise along the Iwahig River. Best done with the lover, it’ll bring out all your Little Mermaid “Kiss the Girl” feels, especially with the stars rolling overhead, mirroring the flickering fireflies in the mangroves that you’ll row past.
What to do on your second day in Palawan
1. Go island hopping on Honda Bay
Another early start means you can catch the sunrise on the port just before you head out to the islands scattered all over Honda Bay, which is east of the city center. Prepare for a full day of beach bumming, snorkeling, and swimming as you explore the various islands. Some of the more popular ones are Pandan Island, a white sand beach, Pambato Reef, which is excellent for snorkeling, and Lilu Island, which has a gorgeous circular sandbar. Be sure your tour includes lunch so you have energy all throughout the island hopping!
2. Bike into the sunset at the boardwalk
After getting back to the mainland, you can head for the boardwalk in the town center to add to your Palawan itinerary. There, you can rent bikes and just pedal around the area, which has a spectacular view of the sunset.
3. Try Vietnamese food for dinner
Puerto Princesa actually has really good Vietnamese food. It may sound random but it’s actually rooted in history: the province was once home to Vietnamese refugees. As a result, you’ve got a smattering of restaurants all over the city that serve Chao Long, a noodle dish that is pretty much the same as pho. Bona’s Chao Long is arguably the best in town. Apart from the noodles, also make sure to try their French bread, whether on its own or as a pork sandwich. Crispy on the outside and soft on the inside, you’ll be dreaming about this bread long after you leave.
What to do on your third day in Palawan
1. Head for El Nido!
Time for the most exciting part of your Palawan itinerary! This means another early start so those who love sleeping in will just have to do it in the vehicle. It’s a five-hour drive to this side of Palawan, so you can get your fair share of naps, though some parts are scenic and definitely worth staying up for.
2. Try the pizza at Altrove
After making it through that five-hour drive, you deserve a treat, and what could be better than hearty pasta and brick-oven pizzas? If you’re with a lover, Altrove is great for amping up the romance, though really, who needs a significant other when you’ve got a pizza this good?
3. Get your irie on at Pukka Bar
El Nido is a relatively quiet town, though a strip of establishments in the city center do come alive at night. Pukka Bar is perhaps the liveliest, with its live reggae music going perfectly with the chill island vibe. A reggae night should definitely be part of your Palawan itinerary!
What to do on your fourth day in Palawan
1. Go island hopping
If you thought the island hopping at Honda Bay was good, prepare to be stunned out of your wits with El Nido’s island stops. There are several tours offering to stop at several different attractions. Whatever you choose, make sure Small Lagoon and Snake Island are on your list. Small Lagoon’s name is pretty self-explanatory, and if you can see it on a kayak, take the chance.
Snake Island is a breathtaking sandbar shaped like a snake, and depending on the tides, you can easily look like you’re walking on water. Again, make sure the tour you choose comes with lunch. You’ll need the energy.
2. Kick back with a sunset beer at Republica Sunset Bar in Corong Corong
Most people will say this is the best place to watch the sunset in El Nido, and the owners have evidently taken this to heart, matching the daily spectacle with an amazing playlist of tropical beats. As Republica Sunset Bar is becoming the go-to spot for sunset viewing, try to get there earlier than everyone else to secure front row seats to the sunset.
What to do on your fifth day in Palawan
1. Go to the Twin Beaches
Rent a motorcycle or hire a trike and drive 45 minutes out of the town center to the twin beaches of Nacpan-Calitang. The generous stretch of powdery white sand is perfect for bumming out and just relaxing under the sun. Make sure to visit these beaches on your last day of your Palawan itinerary.
2. Eat your heart out at Art Café
Before heading back to Puerto Princesa to catch your flight, have one last meal at Art Café. The menu isn’t that much different from the other establishments, but you pay as much for the food as for the relaxed, hippie-esque atmosphere with a view of the sea.
Palawan is the kind of island you’ll keep dreaming about long after you’ve left. Wherever it is you’re flying out to next, you’ll be leaving a piece of your heart here for sure. After getting through this jam-packed Palawan itinerary, we can bet it won’t take much time before you start searching for the next one. How about Coron?