Boarding an Airphil Express flight from Cebu to Puerto Princesa, I cannot contain my excitement on our last leg of our one-week vacation. We were to cover three destinations during these seven days and so far we have already conquered Bohol and Cebu City. Bohol proved to be an exciting opener as we had to engage ourselves with nature’s wonder and the region’s historical significance to the country. It was a mix of nature, history, and religion. Cebu was more laid back – a stopover of some sort, where we enjoyed just the right bit of the city. Cebu City was a breather for me and my family. And yet our adventure just kept getting better as we settled ourselves onto our seats as we head off to the country’s last frontier, Palawan.
THIRD PIT STOP: Puerto Princesa (Beach Bum’s Under Palawan’s Sun)
Puerto Princesa is the capital city of Palawan dubbed as the country’s last frontier as the region is the home of a diverse selection of flora and fauna that is endemic to the country and to the province. The province of Palawan is bounded by the South China Sea on the west and the Sulu Sea on the east. The city is the main gateway of the province and it is about an hour away from Cebu. Puerto Princesa has a total land area of 253, 982 hectares which makes it one of the largest cities in the coutry and it is also known as the “city within a forest”. The city is a model city for ecotourism as the city is able to effectively manage its development while preserving its natural resources and beauty.
Touchdown: Puerto Princesa International Airport
It was a bright and sunny afternoon when we touched down at Puerto Princesa International Airport. As our plane taxied along the runway, it was quite interesting to see the lush greeneries that surround the airport – we are not talking about grass but trees. The design of the airport was the old designs of Philippine Airports but interestingly it was also properly maintained. The glass design of the airport allowed natural lighting to get through the building giving it an impression of a wide expanse. What was unique about the airport is that as you drive out or drive in to the airport, you would notice the line of trees along the road that officially welcomes you to the city within a forest.
Checked In: Legend Hotel Palawan
Just a minutes from the airport and located near the city center, the Legend Hotel Palawan is one of the major hotels in Puerto Princesa. It offers amenities such as restaurants, swimming pool and conference halls for seminars or weddings. It also offers tour arrangement through its arm Legend Tours that offer packages for City Tours, Honda Bay Tours, and Underground River Tours.
Checking in at the hotel was breeze and arranging for a tour was easy as both counters are in the same lobby. Do take note though that their Honda Bay Tour and Underground River Tour are whole day tours so you need two full days to experience both. I also suggest that you book your Underground River Tour weeks ahead as the tours would be requiring permits. We had to forego the Underground River Tour as we can no longer accommodate it with our tight schedule. It was a blessing in disguise that my little girl is not really fond of spelunking so taking it out of our plan was a lot easier. We opted for the Honda Bay Tour scheduled for the following day.
The room assigned to us were not as impressive as I have thought but it was decent. Do not expect the rooms to be really impressive but it does offer the basic necessities for travellers.
Food Stop: Balinsasayaw Restaurant
Since we arrived in Puerto Princesa late in the afternoon, we had nothing much to do. We already planned out our Honda Bay Tour for the next day and the City Tour on our third day. I should have researched more about the city was my biggest regret at that time. We ended up taking a tricycle to the nearest mall from our hotel. Funny that we headed up to the mall while we were in Puerto Princesa.
As the evening arrived, we decided to dine in one of the many restaurants located in the city. Puerto Princesa has a lot of restaurants that attract visitors and tourists. One that stood out for us was the Balinsasayaw Restaurant, as it was also recommended by our tricycle driver, where we can taste the famous Nido Soup.
Balinsasayaw Restaurant derives its name from a swiftlet endemic to El Nido , Palawan. The bird is famous for its nest. Locals climb through the jagged sides of rock formations to harvest this nest. The nest is made from the bird’s saliva and it is the main ingredient of the Nido Soup.
The restaurant’s ambiance is superb as it features native nipa huts which complements its environmental theme. Service in the restaurant is fast and efficient although the food is not something that I raved about. Food was good but not that exceptional and but if you are really keen on tasting the famous soup from Palawan then Balinsasayaw Restaurant is a must stop for you.
Day 2 in Palawan: Beach Bumming
For most of the days, I really had to drag my two ladies out of bed every morning. These kind of adventures excite me but for the two ladies that I was with – the bed is a huge magnet that they get attracted to. We had to get ready to conquer the beach so I had to get them out of the bed early to catch the van that would bring us to the jump off point of our Honda Bay tour.
Our jump off point was the Sta. Lourdes Wharf – about thirty minutes away from the city center. The group made a short stop in one of the shops along the highway where guests can rent water shoes, snorkeling paraphernalias, fins, and even bread for fish feeding. The tour is managed by guides who will brief you on the facts about Palawan and Honda Bay to keep you alert through the duration of the land trip.
Honda Bay is located along the eastern side of Palawan. The bay and the group of islands within its territory has become an attraction for swimming, diving, and snorkeling because of its white sand beach and its underwater scene that bursts into life even on shallow waters. It is now a protected area of the province as it also serves as a breeding ground for fish and other sea creatures.
As we boarded our large motorized banca at the wharf, we were excited to explore two islands – Pandan Island and Luli Island.
The pristine waters and the white sand beach was already enough to get me and my little girl excited as we docked along the shores of Pandan Island. The island was going to be our home for the next hours as we were going to spend most of our time on this island. It is suffice to say that the beauty of the beach was no match to the beauty and the experience that we will be having as soon as we hit the waters of Pandan Island.
Pandan Island is one of the larger island in Honda Bay. It is also one of the most developed island along the bay - complete with picnic huts and a superb view of Honda Bay. The island is famous for its powdery white sand and is a good stop for swimming and snorkeling.
We were more than excited to hit the beach and were also excited to experience what lies underneath the waters of Pandan Island. Word of caution though, have your kids wear the right fit of lifevest for safety as the depth of the waters along the beach increases rapidly. We were more than amazed to see how the underwater life is teeming in Pandan Island. The schools of fish were not afraid to interact with humans. Fish feeding can be quite an exhilirating experience as the fish are not shy to swim alongside humans. These underwater creatures swarm around you when you feed it. Too bad though that my little girl was not comfortable around these creatures.
The half-day spent in Pandan Island was a good time for family bonding. We enjoyed the powdery white sand beach, the underwater life, and the great view that Pandan Island offered. It was so much fun taking wacky and jump shots along the beach. It tested my eye for good shots. It was all worth it even if it meant that we got baked under the sun.
After Pandan Island, we headed off to one of the famous sandbars in Honda Bay – Luli Island. The name of the island was derived from the Filipino word “Lulubog Lilitaw” which means sink and arises. This was how locals describe the sandbar as it goes underwater during high tide to later resurface during low tide.
The sandbar is not as powdery as that of Pandan Island. It snakes towards the mangroves at the far end of the sandbar. I reckon that it is about a five to ten minute walk to reach the mangrove through the sandbar. My wife and my little girl were already tired from the morning activity so I opted not to explore the length of the sandbar.
Luli Island is ideal for snorkeling as the shoreline is dotted with live corals that serve as the home and breeding ground of fish and other sea creatures. It is a bit difficult to swim without water shoes as you have a high chance of hitting the rough surface of rocks and corals and injuring yourself. Again, the fish in the area were not afraid to swim alongside humans.
Tiange-Tiange Pasalubong and Souvenir Center
We were dead tired from our day of exploration so we just decided to reserve our energies for the next day’s itinerary. But knowing that we might not have enough time the next day to get “pasalubongs”, we decided to spend the afternoon at “Tiange-Tiange”.
The one-stop shop for “pasalubongs” and souvenirs, Tiange-Tiange Pasalubong and Souvenir Center houses a wide array of items ranging from pearls, woodworks, shirts, sweets, and small items that you can bring home from your Puerto Princesa trip. The best part of the deal is that you can check out your bargaining skills when haggling for the best price.
My wife enjoyed checking out the pearl earrings sold at Tiange-Tiange and she did quite get a great deal for a set of pearls. Meanwhile, I enjoyed getting a personalized Palawan statement shirt that will remind me of our adventure in Palawan.
Foodstop: Ugong Rock
We headed off to one of the bar and restaurant located along Rizal Avenue – Ugong Rock. The ambiance was good and the acoustic performers that night gave the place an extra chill for the evening. Since my family are all musically inclined, we enjoyed the laid back atmosphere of Ugong Rock. The restaurant offers Filipino cuisine and grilled items however food was also not something that I can rave about. But if you are looking for a cool place to chill – Ugong Rock is the place to head off.
Day 3 in Palawan: Zipping through the City
We were all excited when we boarded our van that will bring us around the city of Puerto Princesa. We had the van all for ourselves as most city tours are done in the afternoon and we were doing ours in the morning. As it was a special tour, we didn't have a regular guide to help us through but our driver was a le to walk us through the tourist spots that we visited.
Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Center
This 8-acre facility in Barangay Irawan was first established as the Crocodile Farming Institute in 1987 that studied the Philippine Crocodile. Later on the facility took on the challenge on focusing its resources on the study and conservation, not only of Philippine Crocodiles, but of other wildlife endemic to the region and to the country hence the change in its name.
It takes about 30 minutes of land travel from the city center to this wildlife facility. The park is open to guests daily and they have an hourly schedule of facility tour. I suggest that you sign in to the next available tour as soon as you check in to the premises and while waiting you can explore the different booths in the area that offers different souvenir items. There are booths that offer crocodile meat products for those who are up for a gastronomic adventure. You can also have your picture taken holding a live baby crocodile if you are brave enough to do so.
The tour of the facility starts at the holding area where guests are welcomed by a huge skeletal remains and hide of one of the biggest crocodile that was found in the country even before The capture and death of Lolong. The receiving hall also features the fossilized remains of a sperm whale. The guide starts off by giving us a brief on crocodiles and the role of the center towards the preservation of these reptiles. We were then given the do's and don'ts during the tour before we proceeded to the Hatchling House.
The Hatchling House is a huge area where guests can view the different stages of a crocodile development from the newly hatched to a few months old. The juvenile reptiles are segregated based on their maturity. As guests walkthrough the house, the guides constantly reminded us not to extend any body part into the basins as the juveniles might mistake it for food.
From the juvenile crocs, we then had a chance to view the more mature and bigger crocodiles inside their concrete pens. A metal bridge was installed over these pens where guests can view the Philippine Crocodiles. Interestingly, Philippine crocodiles can grow as long as 7 meters in length.
As we ended the tour, we headed up to the nature park found at the back of the complex. A huge area of the facility was designated as a wildlife sanctuary where guests can hike the nature trail to observe other animals. The park is the home of various animal species like the Hornbill and the Palawan Bear Cat. We were pressed for time so we really didn't get the chance to go around the nature trail.
One thing that I really enjoyed when we visited the center was the meeting "Ella" - the resident Palawan Bear Cat. We had the chance to have a face to face encounter with this docile creature endemic to the region. We had the chance to have a photo taken with Ella as she sat on my shoulder.
Mitra's Ranch / Sta. Monica Ranch
Situated atop a hill in Sta. Monica, this ranch owned by former senator Ramon Mitra offers a spectacular view of Puerto Princesa. The main feature of the ranch is the house built by the family that overlooks the city and the bay. Although the property is open to the public, the house is not open for public viewing as it is still being used by the family but there are certain occasions that they allow guests in certain areas of the house to view the memorabilia of the former senator.
The large property is best enjoyed by sitting down while you are enjoying the view and the breeze coming from the sea. There are a number of activities that one can try out while in the ranch like horseback riding or ziplining for the more adventurous tourists.
A few minutes from Mitra's Ranch is a haven for those who love sweets and pastries. Baker's Hill started out as a simple bakery and later on eveolved to be one of the attractions in the city after the owner's decided to develop the area. The land was converted into a huge park reminiscent of stories from a children's book - complete with cobblestone pathways, manicured lawns, and life-size statues of celebrities and fairy tale characters. A restaurant inside the compound is good stop for refreshments and snacks.
My family enjoyed strolling around the park and enjoying the cool breeze. I enjoyed the details that went into the manicured lawns of the place and most especially the flower arrangement on a basin of water. It is not only a good place to get great pastries but also a good place to enjoy being a kid again.
Puerto Princesa Baywalk
As we headed back to the city proper, our driver drove us through an open park near the city center. The park is the city's version of Bay Walk. The local government had gone through a lot of initiatives to develop the seaport area to provide the community with a place where they can stroll and relax. Now it has not only provided the locals with a place where they can relax but it has also provided local micro-entrepreneurs a venue where they can market their services and wares - from bicycle rentals to food stalls.
The best time to visit the park is in the late afternoons when the whole park bursts into life with various activities and food stalls. It is also a great place where one can view the sunset. Too bad though that we visited the place at almost noon hence it was not as exciting as it was described to us.
Immaculate Conception Cathedral
The blue hues of the cathedral stands out as you enter the city center. The Immaculate Conception Cathedral stands as a mute witness the colorful and at times cruel history of Puerto Princesa. Established in 1872 by the Spaniards, the cathedral was able to preserve the gothic design through the years.
It is the home of Puerto Princesa's patron saint - the Immaculate Conception of Mary. The city celebrates its devotion to their patron saint every December 8 so you can expect a lively atmosphere at around this time in the city. What stands out for me are the steeples of the church as it reminds me of the Baguio Cathedral. Too bad though that I was not able to check out the church's interiors.
Plaza Cuartel got me distracted from the cathedral. Since I am a history buff, I was just simply attracted to this former garrison as soon as I stepped out of the van.
Plaza Cuartel is the site of one of the gruesome murders of American Prisoners of War during the World War 2 - the Palawan Massacre. The plaza served as a Japanese Garrison during the war where POWs were kept. As American forces took control of the archipelago, the Japanese forces ordered all American POWs into the air raid shelters where the Japanese poured gasoline into the shelters and set it on fire. Anyone who escaped the furnace were either shot down, bayoneted, or decapitated. 143 Americans perished while 11 survived by swimming to nearby Iwahig.
Except for a memorial in honor of those Americans who survived and died on that fateful day, no other trace of the gruesome murder is evident inside the park. The park now looks very peaceful and relaxing with the greenery and benches installed. It now serves as a peaceful reminder of the cruelty of war.
As we were waiting to board our flight back to Manila, I looked back to our three days in Puerto Princesa. It was a time where my little girl enjoyed the swimming as she had her share of hitting the beach. It was a good exposure for her to appreciate and learn the importance of preserving nature's bounty. It was good to have all these wildlife interactions with my little girl as I was hoping that she would pick up a lesoon or two about environmental protection. My wife enjoyed her search for pearls while I enjoyed my itch for travel and a taste of the beach and history.
Puerto Princesa was a complete package for our family. We all enjoyed our visit despite the varying interest between me, my wife, and my daughter. There are still a lot to explore in Puerto Princesa and in Palawan and I promise to head back soon.
Post Travel Notes:
The three destinations over seven days covered a wide spectrum of adventures and misadventures for me and my family. It taught me a lot about traveling with the family:
1. Family trips is about covering everyone's interest.
It is important that you get involved with the interest of your partner and your kids as you will learn a lot about them and you will understand them more.
2. Family trips are opportunities to learn and teach.
The exposure that we had on wildlife preservation and history is a great way to teach kids about these things. I am glad that my daughter can talk about her swimming with the fish, touching a crocodile, etc. are memories that she will be able to share as she grows up and I am glad that we were there with her.
3. Family trips are bonding moments.
Traveling with the family can get to be very stressful so do not let it happen. Do not get pre-occupied with what to do or what is in the itinerary. Go with the flow and enjoy the moment. Have fun with the family because that is what it is all about.
I really wished that we had more travel opportunities when we were younger. Come to think of it, one of my fondest memories when I was a kid was our Jollibee stopover at Dau, Pampanga whenever we travelled to Manila. Family trips have a huge impact on our kids and we should maximize that opportunity to create memories for our kids.
Hmm...now I am thinking of our next destination...
Marc del Rosario
I believe in education, entrepreneurship, and caring for the environment.