Puerto Princesa is usually the first or last stop on the itinerary for any visit to the beautiful islands of Palawan. It hosts the main airport, a bustling town and lots of attractions. It’s also one of the best places in Palawan for nice hotels! Being a popular destination, there’s an abundance of cool things to do in Puerto Princesa, from nature adventures to tropical islands and even an intriguing prison! Plan your visit to island paradise with us.
1. UNESCO Puerto Princesa Underground River
Without a doubt, one of the top things to do in Puerto Princesa, in fact, the whole of the Philippines, is the UNESCO World Heritage Underground River. Nominated as one of the modern Natural Wonders of the World, this underground cave complex is a must-see for any traveller! Arrive at nearby Sabang town and join an organised tour. You’ll then be whisked away on a traditional Bangka boat to a nearby cove, and onward to the caves on a rowing boat. They stretch for a mammoth 24 kilometres underground and you’ll get to see a collection of different land formations, deep caverns and bat colonies.
2. Explore Sabang Town and the nearby beaches
Right next to the Puerto Princesa Underground River is the small town of Sabang and a collection of beautiful white-sand beaches. We recommend visiting the underground river in the morning, stopping in Sabang for lunch and then spending your afternoon relaxing on the quiet beaches. They’re surrounded by mountains, the water is transparent and you often have small tourist or fishing boats docking on the sand, setting the scene for some great photos! We recommend heading to the far end of the beach to be away from the tourist area.
3. Go scuba diving or snorkelling at Tubbataha Reef
If you like diving and uncovering the beauty of local sea life, Tubbataha is not to be missed! It remains as one of the best dive sites in the world with a reef full of with manta-rays, turtles, sharks and huge schools of brightly coloured fish. Tubbataha Reef is some distance from the mainland so you’ll want to book with a reputable tour company with a fast boat. We recommend visiting the marina in Puerto Princesa town and exploring your options with all of the tour companies there. Scuba diving is the best way to see the area and it’ll likely be a top experience on your trip, however snorkelling is still a great way to check it out if you don’t have diving experience.
4. Relax on the beautiful Nagtabon Beach
If a quiet beach away from the crowds sounds like your idea of a day out, venture across Palawan to Nagtabon Beach. This remote, white-sand haven is surrounded by trees and cliff-side scenery and is a clean, picturesque setting of what Palawan is all about. It’s a large beach with big waves so it also makes a great surfing spot! Due to this however, we recommend only swimming in shallow areas. To get there, book a return transfer from Puerto Princesa town or rent a moped. The one way journey takes only 45 minutes.
5. Pay the inmates of Iwahig Prison a visit
Visiting a prison might not be your first thought on an adventurous trip to a place like Palawan, but a tour of Iwahig Prison will open your eyes. The entire prison area is a self-managed community by the inmates, featuring no walls and only minimal levels of security on the edges of the prison. Meet the prisoners and listen to their dramatic and sometimes heart-breaking stories, find out how they’ve been rehabilitated themselves and see their community for yourself. They even have an on-site boy band that’ll perform for you! A unique and highly interesting way to spend a couple of hours.
6. Go on a nature adventure at Ugong Rock
For all the nature lovers that want adventurous things to do in Puerto Princesa, Ugong Rock is the place to go. The entire area is made up of tall rocky cliffs surrounded by trees and farmland, where you can hike to the top of the rock for panoramic views of the villages and fields below. Whizz back to the base on a thrilling Superman zip-line or test your nerves on a bamboo bike tightrope. It’s fun, adventurous and a great way to see the nature of Palawan. Combine your visit to Ugong Rock with Hundred Caves Caving Adventure for a morning packed full of action.
7. Visit Palawan Butterfly Ecological Garden
Palawan Butterfly Ecological Garden offers a brief insight into Filipino village life. In addition to a colourful collection of butterflies, insects and reptiles, the local indigenous people of the gardens will show you their traditional crafts and some cool blow-dart techniques. It’s a small garden museum in beautiful surroundings and is a nice way to spend a few hours of your day. The whole tour is interpersonal and you’ll learn plenty along the way. Entry is 50 pesos per person.
8. Watch fireflies light up a mangrove forest
This is a unique experience that we haven’t seen anywhere and it really took us by surprise! Every evening on the Iwahig River just outside of Puerto Princesa town, the fireflies come out and light up the nearby mangroves and forest. At this attraction in particular, there’s a floating boat restaurant where you go on a small boat ride and then enjoy a basic but pleasant dinner right next to nature. The elusive glowing plankton is also visible on the river if you’re lucky! We recommend this activity for everyone but it’s a distinctly romantic setting for couples!
9. Taste all the local beer you desire at Palaweno Brewery
If you’ve been in the Philippines for a while, you’ve almost definitely tried the famous Red Horse or San Miguel beers. Palaweno Brewery offers a craft beer experience with IPA’s, ale’s and wheat beers that you won’t find in many other bars. It’s an excellent afternoon or evening activity for beer lovers and the brewery staff are welcoming and friendly. Join their tour for a journey into how the beers were brewed, sample some of the different blends and then kick back at the bar.
10. Explore nearby Honda Bay by boat
Honda Bay is a collection of islands off the east coast of Palawan, home to beautiful beaches, turquoise waters full of marine life and a luxury island resort. It’s also a popular spot for fisherman and you’ll encounter an array of colourful traditional Filipino boats! Book an island hopping and snorkelling tour in Puerto Princesa town and you’ll spend a full day exploring the area by boat. Stop for lunch on stunning beaches and dive deep with a snorkel to find tropical fish and sea turtles.
11. Go shopping in town at Robinsons Place Mall
Robinson’s Mall in Puerto Princesa town is the main shopping complex in Palawan. It has local brands, international shops such as H&M, Levi’s and Vans and brilliant coffee shops and places to eat. Jollibee fast food anyone? The mall is a good place to spend a rainy day or if you fancy an afternoon of shopping before flying out of the nearby airport. View the store directory on their website here.
12. Relax in a boutique hotel in Puerto Princesa town
One thing you’ll notice about Palawan is the lack of luxury hotels throughout the islands. Being a developing island paradise with a growing tourism industry, accommodation can be quite basic and no frills. If you want a nice hotel to relax in before your flight or you’re planning a day by the swimming pool, Puerto Princesa town is one of the best areas in Palawan. You’ll find an abundance of cool boutique hotels with pools at low prices. See our accommodation recommendations for every budget here.
13. Stop by a WWII memorial museum
You wouldn’t expect to find a WWII museum on an island such as Palawan, but the museum in Puerto Princesa will update your history knowledge with a deep dive into the Philippines involvement in the war. With an entrance fee of only 50 pesos, this tiny museum will intrigue both history lovers and those with a casual interest. The exhibits and staff stories are highly interesting and they have a good range of WWII memorabilia, weapons and vehicles.
14. Have fun at Palawan Water Park
Palawan Waterpark is by no means an action packed theme park, however it’s a great place to visit if you have kids, where the well-maintained swimming pools and facilities make a fun family day out. Whizz down the slides, relax on the lazy river or simply chill in the pool. One of the best things to do in Puerto Princesa if you’re travelling with children.
15. Explore the bars and restaurants of Puerto Princesa town on an evening
If you like to depart from your hotel on an evening to check out the local bars and restaurants, we recommend staying in Puerto Princesa town. Outside of the town there aren’t many places to eat or drink, whereas inside, your choices are endless! Most restaurants have an open-air area and rustic wooden design so you can dine outside and take in the buzzing atmosphere. After dinner, enjoy a drink or two in edgy cocktail bars or a Red Horse beer in a no frills local pub. The nightlife here isn’t anything extraordinary, but you’ll find plenty of nice places to spend your evening.
Top tips for visiting Puerto Princesa
- Puerto Princesa is an entire region of Palawan that covers a large region from the west to the east of the island. Puerto Princesa town is the central area with the most hotels, restaurants, shopping areas and the island’s main airport. Choose accommodation in the area you’d prefer to stay. The town has a lot more facilities, whilst beach resorts are remote but larger.
- Getting around Palawan can be a slow process as there are very few roads/routes, with lots of dirt paths over paved roads. Allow extra time to get between destinations.
- Book your transfers and drivers in advance for long distance journeys. The local Trike taxis are a great way of travelling short distances within Puerto Princesa town.
- You may wish to fly into Puerto Princesa and then out of El Nido or Coron if planning a multi-point itinerary. This saves the 6hr 30min+ journey from El Nido.
- Take time to explore Puerto Princesa and allocate multiple days for activities. There’s a lot to see and do here and it’s often treated as a stopover destination in favour of El Nido and Port Barton.
- Avoid drinking or brushing your teeth with tap water.
- Take advantage of facilities such as ATM’s, cheap luxury hotels and shopping opportunities in Puerto Princesa. You’ll find that they facilities aren’t very common throughout the rest of the island.
- Book your airport transfer in advance on Skyscanner to save money. You may also be able to arrange and inexpensive transfer through your hotel. Puerto Princesa airport is less than a 5-minute drive from town.
- WiFi is unreliable throughout Palawan. Buy a cheap data SIM card on arrival in the airport for better internet access during your travels. We recommend the ‘Globe’ network for their coverage.
We hope we’ve inspired you with a wide variety of cool things to do in Puerto Princesa! It’s a destination on the itinerary of most visits to Palawan and is well worth checking out, even if only for a couple of the attractions we’ve featured on our list (looking at you UNESCO Underground River!). Most people combine their visit to Puerto Princesa with Port Barton/Sao Vicente and then onward to El Nido in the north. All three areas are must-see destinations on your Palawan trip!
For tips on the best places to stay in Puerto Princesa and other parts of Palawan, check out our guide here.