I’ve heard Palawan referred to as the last wild frontier of The Philippines, and while it seems fairly remote, there are daily flights from Manila to the island’s capital, Coron, which take just over an hour.
In Coron you’ll find a fairly sophisticated range of hotels and resorts to choose from, which provide most modern comforts (including WiFi) yet it still has that small-town feel to it, and you are still on the edge of civilisation, surrounded by rather magnificent landscape and wildlife.
We came here for a few days of diving and snorkelling, not really knowing much about the region except that there quite a few pretty reefs, some WWII wrecks and judging by the name of the dive shop at the first resort we’re staying at, Dugong Dive Centre, some dugongs.
El Rio y Mar, located on a remote peninsula on the north side of Busuanga Island, is at the end of a long and bumpy dirt track through wild looking countryside (cattle country) plus a short boat trip through thick mangroves and across a peaceful lagoon. It’s wonderfully remote.
Our first underwater exploration is of a nearby WWII wreck, the Kyokusan Maru, which sits upright in about 45m of water, but the tip of the T mast is at 12m and the deck sits at about 22m so you don’t need to dive too deep to explore the upper chambers.
Like many wrecks that have been in the water this long, it’s become almost a natural reef, teeming with life and covered in colourful soft and hard corals. Scorpion fish lounge on the handrails, lionfish lurk in various cavities and inside the hold, the remains of a car, identifiable mainly by its whitewall tyres.
Our next dive is completely different. At the Club Paradise House Reef we dive into crystal clear water just off the beach and within a few minutes we’re joined by a couple of turtles, both nudging us for attention and a few clumps of seagrass.
These turtles were super friendly – here’s a short video of one of them munching on sea grass.
After playing with the turtles for a while we carry on to play in very pretty coral gardens full of all sorts of little treasures including seahorses, anemone fish, bright little cleaner shrimp and a few strange looking flying gurnards.
The next day is spent on a rather epic hunt… for some very shy dugongs. The Dugong Hunt lasts all day, as we cruise around the islands alternately looking for dugongs, snorkelling and diving. While we only manage to catch a brief glimpse of elusive dugongs, the day is well spent exploring the coral gardens.
Over on the other side of Busuanga is Coron town itself, and our chosen accommodation, the Asia Grand View, does indeed, have a grand view over the bay and the limestone pinnacles of Coron Island.
Coron Island is littered with lakes and hidden lagoons – each remarkable it its own right. The karst limestone pinnacles of the island rise vertically, and fall vertically (below the water’s surface), and create imposing cliffs, walls and other stunning geological features.
A great way to explore them is on an Island Hopping Day Trip – a day spent in your swimmers hopping in and out of water.
One of the highlights is Kayangan Lake, a large fresh water lake, accessed by a path up and down a 100 stairs which itself affords a great view back over Coron Bay. The lake is 70 per cent fresh water (at the surface) and 30 per cent salt water (at the bottom) and it is so clear its like swimming through air, so deep you can’t see the bottom, despite the clear water.
Nearby Barracuda Lake has a higher percentage salt water, so is not quite so clear, and is famous also for its stunning vertical rock formations (and apparently a few barracuda). It is possible to dive in this lake as well as snorkel.
Hidden lagoon is another lovely snorkelling spot, interesting mainly for how to get in – the entrance is sometimes submerged, depending on the tide so you can either swim under a rock arch or climb the stairs over it. Inside there are steep sided walls falling vertically below the waterline.
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