This year I decided to do something special for my birthday. A quarter-life celebration. Something special to look back to, and to share with special friends.
I have been introduced to Coron only when my friends and I passed by it on the way to Puerto Princesa/El Nido in 2006. Being part of the Palawan group of islands, I expected its natural wonders and sights to be the same as that of El Nido. And having enjoyed that trip so much, Ate Jaki and I vowed to explore Coron as well in the near future. As early as April, I have booked our flights for my birthday weekend and started counting the days before we went to Coron.
Coron is part of the Calamianes group of islands in Northern Palawan. To get there, we opted to take the faster route – a propeller-plane ride from Manila to Busuanga airport, and a 45-min ride in a van from Busuanga airport to Coron town. As excited and obsessive-compulsive as I was, I have booked this ride (PhP 150/person), along with our bangkero, way ahead of time. Other airlines offer the same ride for the same price, but I didn’t want to rely on chance.
We stayed at the Coron Reef Pension House, which is right by the sea. The place itself is very simple, quaint and very cheap (PhP 800/night for an AC room good for 3-4 ppl). The crew, though, was not very friendly nor attentive. We didn’t care so much, though, as we were on a budget and its accessibility to the market/establishments and the sea outranked the problem.
Since we only had 2 days, we decided to start the island hopping as soon as we arrived. Our very helpful, courteous, generous and fun bangkeros – Kuya Marlon, Kuya Edmond and Russell – were already waiting for us when we arrived at the Pension House. So we just freshened up a bit, ate a simple lunch at the market, and headed on with our Coron loop tour.
CORON LOOP TOUR
The town of Coron actually serves as a jump-off point to the amazing islands of Calamianes. There are many islands, lakes, dive and snorkelling sites to explore near the town itself. If you have not booked a banca ahead of time, you can go to the market and look for their Association to book for one. They have fixed prices, and they have strict rules to follow regarding the number of people in one banca to ensure the safety and satisfaction of their guests. (The bangkeros do refer to and treat every tourist as their guest. They assist you in every way they can and make sure that your Coron experience is whole, comfortable and remarkable.) A Coron loop tour ranges from PhP 1300 – 2000 depending on the number of people and islands that you would like to visit.
Since we only had half a day, I carefully picked the sites to go to, and we opted to visit:
1. Banol beach – This small pocket of white, powdery shore is surrounded by limestone formations, characteristic of Palawan islands. The water is very shallow and very clear – ideal for beach bums who just like to lounge around and wade in the water. Sea grass, though, abound near the shore. Good thing that they are not the itchy type that sticks in between your toes (just like in Boracay), so their presence is not really a problem. In fact they attract a lot of small fishes which feed on them. The place is maintained by Tagbanuas. Conservation fee is PhP 100/person.
2. Twin lagoons – Each of these back-to-back lagoons is actually quite easy to get to with a boat. The main adventure here is to swim through a small opening in the limestone formations to get to the other side. The opening, though, is not visible when the tide is high, so timing is crucial. As you swim in the calm, clear waters towards the opening, groups of silver fishes line up to greet you, creating a natural cordon, seemingly marking the entrance. It’s fascinating. (We heard other bangkeros talk about an entrance fee to this place. We didn’t pay any, though. :) )
3. Kayangan Lake – the cleanest lake in the Philippines. Surrounded by limestone cliffs, which are home to some birds at night, the lake is so clear and so calm that you can practically see some parts in the bottom. The water is so inviting and refreshing that you wish you could just float there and relax for the rest of the day. To get there, you need to climb up and then down 70+ steps of make-shift rock stairs. These can get very slippery; but to ensure people’s safety, handle bars line the steps. As a bonus to the lake itself, a beautiful view awaits you at the top of the steps – the most captured view in the area. Conservation fee is PhP 100.
4. Siete Pecados Marine Park – being a reserve, fishes abound here. Boats are not allowed to anchor here; to dock, they attach their boats onto a floating buoy with a rope. I am quite disappointed with the quality of the corals here. The corals are bleached and most of them are dead already. :( Oh, and be careful with sea urchins. There are also plenty of them in the area. Conservation fee is usually at PhP 100/person. But they do have a “promo”. We just paid an extra PhP 200 for the three of us in Kayangan, before heading off here. It saved us PhP 100. :)
5. Maquinit Hot Springs – to top off our tour, a dip in a natural pool of hot water from a natural mountain spring. The water is hot, mind you, and not warm. You might hesitate at first, but once your body has acclimatized to the water’s temperature, a long relaxing dip will take your worries away. Entrance fee is PhP 100.
White sand beaches
I have had my share of beautiful beaches, but these islands are truly the most amazing beaches that I have ever been to. They have the finest sands, the calmest and bluest waters, and the most amazing views! Kinikilig ako just thinking about them. :) These islands are a little farther from Coron – a 2-hour boat ride, to be exact, and are quite expensive to go to – PhP 200/person/island for a day trip – but everything is all worth it.
1. Waling-waling island – My friends and I literally fell in love with this place. The best, the best, the best!!! We didn’t plan to go here, actually, but Kuya Edmond and Kuya Marlon kept insisting that we do. Finally, we agreed, but we said, “Sige po, pero di na po kami bababa, magpicture lang kami habang nasa bangka kasi mahal na.” To that, Kuya Marlon said, “Sigurado kayo?,” while starting to unload the anchor. Sa isip-isip ko, “ang kulit nila ha!” But just when I was about to say NO once again, a sea turtle suddenly came into view, swimming right beside our boat! Taking that as a good indication, we acquiesced. When we went down and took a look at the sea from the shore, we were stunned. The sea is soooo clear and sooooo shallow that we can practically see and walk to the next island! In addition, the sand is soooo fine and white that in a sunny day just like that day, it appears so bright and glaring, it actually hurts to look at it for a long time. As a bonus, we were the only people in the island! The island is private, and has only been opened to the public in May. We were so happy and amazed that we couldn’t stop saying, “Ang ganda…ang ganda…” over and over. Swimming in the water, we could see pockets of beautiful corals teeming with colourful fishes. The other side of the island, though, is a little rocky, but still gorgeous, nonetheless. After lunch, we were led to the view deck above the hill which has the most amazing sight of the beach. We didn’t want to leave… We promised the caretaker, Kuya Gerry, that we will definitely come back, and this time, stay in that island for the whole trip. :) (Overnight rate: PhP 1500/person; PhP 2500 – with food; There is only one Cabana, so the whole island can be yours the whole time. :) )
2. Banana island – this island right beside Waling-waling is a little bit more commercialized and a little bigger. The water is not really for beach bums though as it suddenly deepens just a few feet away from the shore. The marine life, though, is very much alive in this area. Perfect for snorkelling. :) Walking on the other side of the island, we noticed a small rocks-and-sand bar right in the middle of Banana and another island. We decided to cross and go there, where a little shelter has been created. :)
3. Malcapuya island – another stretch of beautiful sand. Similar to Waling-waling, the water is shallow and clear, but some parts have sea grass.
On the morning of our departure, we decided to brave the 700+ steps to Mt. Tapyas to get a glimpse of the sunrise and the town. The steps are actually concrete and are easy on the legs and feet. But being a couch-potato and being the most un-physical person that I know, I had to take a breather a lot of times during the climb.
As we boarded the plane, I honestly felt this extreme sadness that I was leaving the place. I am not really sure if the emotional attachment is simply due to my birthday, but I do know that Coron will always be special for me. I did have my special birthday celebration – one that I will always remember with a tug in my heart and a big smile in my face.
I highly recommend these bangkeros:
Kuya Marlon Saclet – 09059570551
Kuya Edmond Decena – 09109547450; firstname.lastname@example.org
Waling-waling island caretaker: Kuya Gerry – 09128956393