Historically, Palawan has been tagged with several names like the Land of the Promise by a chronicler of a famous Portuguese Explorer in the 15th century and the Cradle of Philippine Civilization where the remains of the earliest humans in the Philippines were found.
Regardless of the names it has earned, what really stands out is Palawan’s geographical isolation to the Philippines, which is why locals dub Palawan as the Philippines’ Last Frontier.
Located 790 km (490 mi) southwest of Metro Manila, Palawan is an archipelagic province and is considered the westernmost region in the Philippines. Its elongated landmass measures 450 km (280 mi) long, 50 km (31 mi) wide and houses a high biodiversity of plants and animals scattered in its uneven terrain of limestone base. From its 24 municipalities, it only has one urban center – the Capital City of Puerto Princesa and the rest is pretty much kept to its wild state. With this, ecotourism has become a big hit in Palawan.
In this guide, we’ll cover:
- Why you should dive in Palawan
- The best dive sites in Palawan
- The best accommodation in Palawan
- The best time to dive in Palawan
- The best dive schools in Palawan
- Freediving in Palawan: An overview
How to get to Palawan
Tourists flock this island paradise either through plane via the Puerto Princesa International Airport (1 hour and 25 minutes from Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila) or a 24-hour passenger ferry ride from Manila Harbour to Puerto Princesa Port. You can also fly directly into Coron.
Once you’re in Palawan, the best way to see Palwan is on a scuba liveaboard trip.
Why visit Palawan?
Surrounded by the Sulu-Sulawesi Sea in the east and the West Philippine Sea in the west, Palawan is the premier spot for scuba diving in the Philippines. Its water conditions are often one of the best in the Philippines where a 30-meter water visibility is just considered ordinary and an annual water temperature at 30OC/86OF is just comparable to the waters in your bathtub.
Similar to other diving destinations in the Philippines, your boat diving experience in Palawan will usually involve the use of a “banca” which is a wooden boat with bamboo outriggers that offers ample space for you and your equipment. But since Palawan is relatively huge and remote, liveaboard dive safaris are very popular in exploring the pristine reefs of this western region of the Philippines. These liveaboards are custom made large steel boats with inboard engines, fully air-conditioned cabins and large working decks designed for days of nonstop diving which allows you to explore much of Palawan’s best diving sites.
The best dive sites in Palawan
Location: 177 km (110 mi) southeast of Puerto Princesa City
Level: All levels of certification
Max Depth: 30 m (100 ft)
Composed of 3 atolls, namely: Jessie Beazley Reef, North Atoll and the South Atoll with a total area of 97,030 hectares (239,766 acres), Tubbataha Reef is the prime scuba diving site not just in Palawan but in the Philippines as well. Declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this offshore reef has been protected since 1993. With this, marine wildlife was able to flourish in bounty where currently you can see hundreds of species of corals, over 500 types of fish, and over 10 types of whales and dolphins.
Due to its immensity, several dive sites can be found within Tubbataha reefs and liveaboards are highly recommended for you to maximize your weeklong underwater adventure. Most noted amongst the dive sites is the Amos Rock of the North Atoll. Located in the southern end of the atoll, Amos Rock allows you to go wall diving following a vertical ledge filled with a variety of soft and hard corals and completely surrounded with a high density of tropical reef fish such as groupers, mackerels, snappers and napoleon wrasse. This is also the site that is known for night diving with whitetip reef sharks.
Triggerfish City is a popular site in the South Atoll where you can have a nice, easy and relaxing dive. Your entry point will usually start on a sandy slope that leads to a massive bed of staghorn corals. As the name suggest, this reef in the southern atoll is known for the aggressive triggerfish. But do not worry, they are only aggressive when guarding their eggs and if you create enough space between their presence.
While Tubbataha reef seems to be the perfect dive site, there is one downside in this offshore reef: it is only accessible from March to June where the seas are calm while the rest of the months has a prevailing bad weather condition.
Location: 393 kilometers (244 miles) north of Puerto Princesa City
Level: All levels of certification
Max Depth: 45 meters (148 feet)
Another epitome of Philippine scuba diving sites is Coron in Busuanga, Northern Palawan where divers go here just to do one thing: to go wreck diving. You can explore not just one, not just two, not just three but a total of 12 shipwrecks! These wrecks all present a common story that has something to do with the Second World War. It all started when the Japanese Imperial Navy with its fleet of military vessels and a convoy of supply ships were spotted in Coron Bay and were attacked by US warplanes with full maritime support coming from the US Navy.
We do not know the consequences if these Japanese ships were not spotted by the US Navy, but as of this moment, one thing is for sure: it is now an amazing dive site! Scuba divers from all levels of certification has a wreck of its own to explore.
Newbie divers can explore the civilian oil tanker Okikawa Maru which is considered as the largest wreck in Coron. Measuring 168 m (551 ft) in length, it now rest in an upright position at 26 m (86 ft) deep. Newbies can explore the external perimeter of the well-preserved upper and main deck which is only 10 – 16 m (30 – 52 ft) deep.
For experienced and advanced divers, the favorite wreck to explore is the refrigeration ship Irako Maru. Although it is pretty deep where its hull rest at 45 meters (148 feet) deep, the external perimeter of the upper and main decks are the perfect spot to explore with depths a 34 meters (112 feet). Please do not attempt to penetrate the internal structures of the wreck especially if you have no proper training and certification.
How to get to Coron: If you are coming in from Metro Manila, you don’t need to pass by Puerto Princesa as there are direct flights going in and out of Coron.
MINILOC ISLAND, EL NIDO
Location: 230 km (143 mi) north of Puerto Princesa City
Level: All levels of certification
Max Depth: 20 m (60 ft)
El Nido is a popular tourist destination in Palawan where beach bums and sunbathers find a patch of sand and bliss out. But for scuba divers, Miniloc Island is the place to be where 3 amazing dive sites awaits your presence underwater, namely: Tagbao Island, Twin Rocks and Biet Point. Regardless of what site you choose, it is relatively safe to explore since all the sites are sheltered, have relatively calm conditions and a shallow maximum depth at 20 m (60 ft) deep. All sites have a gentle slope where your entry point usually involves a shallow sandy bottom. At the edge of each slope is a coral garden primarily composed of table top corals, whip corals, barrel sponges and a high diversity of reef fish like angelfish, damselfish and moorish idols.
Sidetrip: On your way back to Puerto Princesa City from El Nido, do not forget to drop by a must-visit site: the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park. This 8.2 km (5.1 mi) long underground river is one of the world’s most impressive cave system that features spectacular limestone formations and is surrounded by lush forest.
Where to stay in Palawan
Hibiscus Garden Inn, Puerto Princesa
Address: Manalo Extension, Brgy. Milagrosa, Puerto Princesa, 5300 Palawan
Constructed with a relaxing ambience, Hibiscus Garden Inn is a comfortable and clean accommodation located right at the heart of Puerto Princesa City. All their rooms are spacious, fully airconditioned and equipped with basic amenities. They even have room service and laundry service where you can have a new set of clean clothes prior to your departure to your next destination.
Travel tip: You don’t need to check-in a 5-star or luxury hotel while in Puerto Princesa since you will only be spending a night or two while on transit to El Nido, Coron or going to a liveaboard trip to Tubbataha Reef.
El Nido Resorts, Pangulasian
Address: El Nido National Hwy, El Nido, 5313 Palawan
Situated in Pangulasian Island in Bacuit Bay, El Nido Resort is an eco-luxury island resort that blends its facilities in the lush tropical forest just fronting a pristine white beach. Among its 42 deluxe rooms, 24 are beach villas each with its own private balcony that looks out to the sea.
Address: Malaroyroy, Coron, 5316, Palawan
Situated away from the busy tourist district of Coron in a private hideaway called Bulalacao Island, Two Seasons Coron Island Resort and Spa is your prime accommodation in Coron. It guarantees total isolation while feeling safe and relaxed. The Resort has 42 bungalows where you can choose from several settings: mountainview, beachview, island tip or hilltop facade. The beach fronting the resort is a turtle and giant clam sanctuary where you can snorkel in this protected paradise. The resort has an in-house dive shop that offers PADI certification courses and guided tours to the famous Japanese shipwrecks of Coron.
The best time to go diving in Palawan
Quick answer: November to May
Tubbataha Reef: March to June
Except during typhoon season which occurs towards the last quarter of the year, diving in Palawan is pretty much a year-round destination. Weather is generally sunny with calm and crystal clear waters where visibility are noted to exceed 30 m (100 ft).
Tubbataha Reef is an exception. Its offshore location can only be accessed from March to June, when the waters are relatively calm. While water temperature is comparable to the warm waters of your bathtub, we highly recommend you wear a 3mm wetsuit since you will be performing multiple dives in a day. 5mm-7mm wetsuits are way too warm for Palawan and its surrounding reefs.
What you can expect to see in Palawan
Palawan is a symbol of bounty which also applies to its underwater ecosystem. Since most of its dive sites are considered as marine sanctuaries, you can expect marine life to flourish.
In summary, the reefs of Palawan houses 360 species of corals, 600 fish species and 11 of those are sharks, 100 species of birds, and 13 types of whales and dolphins. And mind you, sharks here are not the lone apex predator. If you explore the southern coast of Palawan, you will surely hear stories of a gigantic reptile swimming in pristine reefs. Yes, you read it right: large saltwater crocodiles are spotted in Southern Palawan. But do not worry as salties are not spotted in the dive sites we mentioned earlier.
The best dive schools in Palawan
Certifying Agency: PADI
Address: Hama Street, Brgy Masagana, El Nido, 5313 Palawan
Considered as one of the best dive center in El Nido, Submariner Diving Center is a PADI 5-star Resort and IDC Center offering full certification courses from Discover Scuba Diving, Open Water Diver to Divemaster level. You can even get certified to become as a PADi instructor through their Instructor Development Course. Aside from offering guided tours to Miniloc Islands, they offer dive safari tours where you can cover up dive sites from El Nido way up to the shipwrecks in Coron.
Certifying Agency: PADI
Address: National Highway, Coron, 5316, Palawan
Classified as a PADI 5-star Dive Center, Neptune Dive Center is one of Coron’s oldest and most reputable dive shop. It offers PADI certification courses from Open Water, Advanced Open Water, Specialty Diving including Wreck Diving, Rescue Diver and Divemaster. On top of its daily wreck diving tours, it caters to island hopping, fishing trips, mangrove kayaking trips and overnight beach camping.
If you choose Tubbataha reef to be your diving destination in Palawan, then you need to book for a liveaboard dive safari and we highly recommend the Atlantis Azores. This 32.5 meter (107 feet) long private yacht is manned by 10 highly skilled crew that carefully assist its 16 passenger guest. It has a spacious dive deck, personal storage area and fully airconditioned cabins with private bathroom.
Once you reach Tubbataha reef, you will be doing 4 to 5 dives per day and what really stands out with the Atlantis Azores is that your stay in Tubbataha reef is one day and one night longer than other liveaboards.
Freediving in Palawan
With the vastness of the deep sea that surrounds this Western Philippine Island, it’s no wonder freediving is becoming a big hit here in Palawan. Mostly offered and practiced in the northern coast, there are several freedive centers who are operating in El Nido and Coron. Operating out of El Nido in Northern Palawan, Freediving Dimension and Palawan Freedivers are two of the well established centers offering freediving courses from beginner course, advanced course and all the way up to the Master Course.
There is one establishment in Coron called Freediving Coron that offers the same freediving courses. But what stands out with their guided tour package is that you will have the chance to freedive in one of the Japanese Shipwrecks in Coron or explore a myriad of submerged limestone that protrudes out of the seabed.
What are your waiting for?
After your Palawan diving adventures, you’ll be eager to fill up the pages of your dive log. Don’t forget to let your divemaster or dive buddy sign the verification section. And lastly, aside from the pictures you have taken, in case you want to bring home some souvenir items especially food delicacies, we highly recommend “Kasoy,” the locally grown cashew nuts, which goes best with beer.
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