How to Get to Palawan – the Philippines Tropical Paradise

Gettting to Puerto Princesa, Palawan via Iloilo with stopover at Cuyo Island

by Marlon Manati

If there is any Philippine destination that can be truly called a “tropical paradise,” it is Palawan. Sparkling emerald waters. Fine white beaches. Spectacular marine life. Postcard-perfect destinations. A long strip of land, the South China Sea laps Palawan at the western coast and the Sulu Sea at the east.

Pressed between two regional waters, not for nothing why this southwesternmost island province has been shaped into spectacular nature sights that amount to no less than an out-of-this-world quality. From the Calamian islands at the northern fringe, down to the Balabac-Bugsuk islands at the southern tip, virtually every part of Palawan is fit for a tropical hideaway.

A quick approach to Palawan is by air. A daily early morning flight leaves Manila and arrives at Puerto Princesa, Palawan’s largest city, in 45 minutes.

But coming from the Visayan island of Panay presents different sights that come with different experiences. A roll-on roll-off (RORO) ferry from Iloilo City sails to Puerto Princesa in a 36-hour ride.

What’s interesting about this route is that it leaves Iloilo’s Port Milagrosa at Lapuz village after dark, crosses the Sulu Sea, and makes a stopover halfway the next day at the little-known Cuyo island. Boat ticket costs around Php 1,070 plus terminal fees.

The boat leaves Iloilo at 6 pm. After 14 hours at sea, it makes a 6-hour pit stop at the charming Cuyo island to unload and reload passengers and cargoes. The boat lifts anchor at 3 p.m.

Cuyo is composed of 45 scattered islets. It has been the capital of Palawan from 1873 to 1903. For nearly 300 years, Cuyo and the rest of the Palawan islands have been a constant prey to Southeast Asian slave raiders. Balabac island, Palawan’s southernmost island, is right next to Borneo. Until the Spanish in Manila found the money to purchase 3 steamships from England around 1845 that outsailed the fast pirates’ sailboats. After two years of reconnaissance, the Spaniards finally crushed the pirates’ fortresses at the Sulu archipelago in 1848.

Hence, Cuyo’s church is unique. It is a fortress walled by massive stones and parapets. The proliferation of saintly statues up the wall and about the plaza imply the deep-seated desire of the colonizers to be saved from Moro predations in this God-forsaken outpost.

It takes half an hour to walk around this fishing town. The wooden houses are painted with bright colors. Some stood delicately over stilts. The beaches are pristine. Sun yourself at Quijano or Capusan beaches. Tabunan Beach has a walkway of neatly compacted sandstones. Meals of grilled fish and seafood can be had along the beach. High-end Amanpulo Resort is located at Pamalican Island around here.

The next ride to Puerto Princesa is longer. After 16 hours, the city’s belfry, buildings and houses appear densely stacked up amid lush mountains under the midday the sun.

The air approach looks nearly the same. Mountains and lush vegetation looms over the city’s airport. You immediately get the feeling that civilization meets the wilds here. There are no cabs around except the ubiquitous trikes that charge Php 50 for a ride downtown. But actually, downtown is just a 15-minute walk from the airport.

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