While on an island hopping tour in El Nido, Palawan, I chanced upon this lonely kayak lying idly on a small beach cove.

The setting was perfect!

The high noon heat was glaring mercilessly upon the bay with low lying trees sheltering the shore. The shallow waters were painted with a refreshing aquamarine, and in the distance, lurked deep blue hues. The verdant foliage was lit up like emeralds, bordered by jagged rocks and tall limestone cliffs accentuated by sinister shadows.

Images of “Survivor”, “Lost”, and “The Beach” suddenly filled my mind. From that moment on, I was relieved of satisfying what I longed to experience on my visit to Palawan.

During my sojourn, I got to see a lot of Northern Palawan … it was definitely worth more than my initial expectations. Here’s my photo story of my 13-day backpacking trip:

Day 1

I’ve always been interested in backpacking or to “live/travel in a backpack.” When I go on trips, I prefer to take the local transportation, cheapest accommodations, local food … sacrificing comfort for the chance to visit more places and have a more authentic experience of the destination. For me, traveling should be an educational journey, to learn about foreign places and people and in the process learn more about yourself. The thrill of exploring places on your own and getting closer to the locals also makes the trips much more special and memorable. That’s why I set myself to go on a solo backpacking trip to Palawan so I can experience the backpacking lifestyle and visit the one place in the Philippines that I’ve always wanted to visit. My Palawan adventure started by taking a roll-on roll-off (roro) ferry from Iloilo City to Puerto Princesa City, Palawan. The 36-hour boat ride includes a stopover in Cuyo Island and crosses the Sulu Sea. The ferry leaves Iloilo after dark and arrives at Cuyo for a short stopover the next day.

Waiting for the Iloilo – Puerto Princesa Montenegro Boat (RoRo) Ferry in Lapuz, Iloilo

Day 2

Cuyo is a group of 45 islets scattered in the middle of the expansive Sulu Sea between Panay Island and Mainland Palawan. The town of Cuyo used to be the capital of Palawan during the late 1800s and is home to the historic Cuyo Fortress Church. The main island itself is bordered by scenic beaches but  some of the other islets has secluded white sand beaches, thriving dive sites, and ultra luxury resorts such as Amanpulo.

6-hour Stopover and tour of Cuyo Island, Palawan

Cuyo Fortress Church circa 1683s, Cuyo Island

Capusan Beachfront, Cuyo Island

Capusan Beach, Cuyo Island

Quijao Beach, Magsaysay, Cuyo Island

Taking a breather in Quijano Beach

Tabunan Bay and View of Bisucay Island

Preparing to depart Cuyo Island

Day 3

Approaching Puerto Princesa City

Arrival in Puerto Princesa Seaport

Shuttle Van Ride to San Vicente Poblacion

Sunset in San Vicente Pier

Day 4

San Vicente is a rising tourist destination in Palawan. It is home to Long Beach, a 9 kilometer stretch of white sand bordered by tropical trees and azure waters. Aside from Long Beach, San Vicente’s coast is also fringed by many other smaller white sand beaches and surrounded by beautiful off-shore islets. Palawan is currently building a new airport in town and improving roads to accommodate the huge tourism potential of San Vicente.

Long Beach, San Vicente

17km walk to Long Beach and Tandol Beach, San Vicente

Stuck in the rain between the limestone cliffs and caves of Long Beach and Tandol Beach

Tandol Beach after the rain, San Vicente

Brgy. Alimanguan, San Vicente

Day 5

Taytay is a small coastal town surrounded by scenic hills and off-shore islets in Northern Palawan. A short hike to a restaurant perched on top of a hill provides a great view of Fort Santa Isabel built during the 17th century, Taytay’s coast, and a charming bayside promenade.

Unplanned Sidetrip to Taytay Town

Overview of Taytay (Sta. Isabel) Fort from Casa Rosa Cafe

Bus to El Nido

Bus Ride to El Nido

Day 6

El Nido is a popular backpacker’s destination in Palawan. The biggest attraction of El Nido is the picturesque islands sprinkled off its coast. The author, Alex Garland, was rumored to have stayed in El Nido while he was writing his novel, “The Beach,” and it was one of his inspirations for creating his mythical island paradise. The novel later became the inspiration of a similarly titled movie in the 1990s starred by Leonardo de Caprio. El Nido, hands down, has the most scenic seascapes I’ve seen. The towering mountains jutting out from the sea and bordered by steep jagged limestone cliffs and white sand beaches were just an amazing sight. I loved El Nido so much that I decided to extend my stay there so I can see more of its islands, lagoons, white sand beaches, coral gardens, and marine life.

El Nido Island Hopping Tour A (Hidden Beach, Lunch in Star Beach, Matinloc Shrine, Secret Beach)

Hidden Beach in Matinloc Island, El Nido

Star Beach in Tapiutan Island, El Nido

Helicopter Island, El Nido

Cadlao Lagoon, El Nido

Walking Tour of Calaan Beach, North of El Nido Town Proper Beach

Sunset at Calaan Beach

Stuffed Squid and Mango Shake with Rum at Squidoo

Day 7

Small Lagoon in Miniloc Island, El Nido

Big Lagoon in Miniloc Island, El Nido

Umbrella Beach in Miniloc Island, El Nido

Secret Lagoon in Miniloc Island, El Ndio

Beach beside the Secret Lagoon in Miniloc Island, El Nido

Exploring the Beach beside the Secret Lagoon

Closing in on Shimizu Island, El Nido

Fish feeding off the coast of Shimizu Island, El Nido

Walking Tour of Corong-corong Beach, Santikan Beach, and Marimikmik Beach

Sunset view at Marimikmik Beach

Day 8

Port Barton is another of Palawan’s popular backpackers’ destination but has an even more laid back and local feel to it that El Nido. It has an excellent beachfront area lined with backpacker-friendly resorts and hostels. Like El Nido, many tourists also go to Port Barton for its many off-shore islets.

Toploading the Bus from El Nido to Roxas

Port Barton, San Vicente

Unsuccessful Trek to Pamuayan Falls

Twilight at Port Barton Beach

Day 9

The St. Paul Underground River became widely popular when it was voted as a finalist for the “New Seven wonders of Nature.” Also known as the Puerto Princesa Underground River, it is the longest navigable underground river in the world at 8.2 kilometers and is an integral component of a 3,500 hectare protected national reserve. Sabang Pier is the main jump-off point to the Underground River, beside it is a similarly named white sand beach lined with restaurants, resorts, and guesthouses.

Sabang Beach

2 hour Jungle Trail to St. Paul Underground River, Sabang

Monkey Trail to St. Paul Underground River, Sabang

Mouth of St. Paul Underground River, Sabang

Paddle Boat Tour of St. Paul Underground River, Sabang

Day 10

Puerto Princesa City is the capital of Palawan and is one of the most visited travel destinations in the Philippines. It is known as the “City in a Forest,” mixing the comfort of urban living, proximity to excellent eco-tourism destinations, and awareness of environmental protection among its people. Within the city proper are many interesting places to go to such as beaches, seafood restaurants, a local theme park, and a beautiful seaside promenade.

Top loading the Jeepney from Sabang to Puerto Princesa

Immaculate Concepcion Church, Puerto Princesa City

Plaza Cuartel, Puerto Princesa City

Busy Intersection in Puerto Princesa City

Palawan Provincial Capitol, Puerto Princesa City

NCCC Mall, Puerto Princesa City

Puerto Princesa City Baywalk

Tuna Steak Dinner at Ka Lui Restaurant, Puerto Princesa City

Day 11

Off the coast of Puerto Princesa City are the islets of Honda Bay. Within an hour’s travel from the city proper, visitors can already experience white sand beaches, thriving coral gardens, and scenic seascapes.

Pandan Island, Honda Bay

Snake Island, Honda Bay

A Quick Self-portrait in Snake Island’s Long Sandbar

Starfish Island, Honda Bay

Beach bumming at Starfish Island

Sunset at Silica Beach, Puerto Princesa City

Seafood Platter Dinner at Badjao Seafront Restaurant, Puerto Princesa City

Day 12

Mitra’s Ranch, Puerto Princesa City

Baker’s Hill, Puerto Princesa City

Puerto Princesa Airport – Flight to Manila

Aerial Views of Calamianes Group of Islands (Calamianes, Coron, Busuanga) in Northern Palawan – Still on my wishlist of places to travel

Arrival in Manila

Day 13

Visit to Plaza Miranda and Hidalgo St., Quiapo for some Camera errands. Had my Nikkor 18-105mm AF-S VR fixed and bought a new Sigma 18-250mm DC OS HSM to pair with my Nikon D5000.

Flight Back to Iloilo, Home at last!