Welcome to the island of Palawan, where beautiful beaches and remote tropical islands await you… Planning a trip to this Philippines archipelago and researching where to stay in Palawan? We have you covered! After touring the islands and uncovering the natural beauty and cool activities on offer, we’ve assembled a complete accommodation and area guide to give you a sample of what’s on the local vibe and things to do in each destination. If you’re short on time, you may choose to just visit one area, however we fully recommend checking out a few locations to get a sample of each unique corner of the island.
How to get to Palawan
Are you wondering how to get to Palawan island? If travelling from Manila or another area of Philippines, the quickest and most convenient option is to fly. Air Asia and Cebu Pacific are both low cost and top-rated airlines that run multiple flights a day to Puerto Princesa, which is located to the central/south of Palawan.
An alternative to Puerto Princesa is to fly directly into El Nido airport in the north, with an airline called AirSwift. Flights to and from El Nido are significantly more expensive, however they’ll save you the 6hr30min drive from Puerto Princesa if you only plan on visiting El Nido.
We recommend choosing the airport closest to the area of Palawan that you’d like to stay. Our personal route was to fly into Puerto Princesa to tour the area and then drive onwards to Port Barton and then El Nido, finally departing from El Nido Airport.
To get to Busuanga and the island of Coron, you can fly directly to Busuanga Francisco B. Reyes Airport from major Philippines cities, or fly into El Nido and take a 3hr 30min onwards ferry.
Puerto Princesa / Sabang
Puerto Princesa is the largest town in Palawan, featuring plenty of hotels, restaurants and a shopping mall. It’s a good place to base yourself for 2 nights whilst exploring the surrounding area, however you may be bored staying any longer than that. Puerto Princesa town itself is compact and fairly busy and you’ll need to drive at least an hour to explore the beaches and nearby attractions.
We recommend a stay in Puerto Princesa at the start or end of your trip, relaxing in a nice hotel, doing a spot of shopping or exploring the local foodie scene. You may also wish to stay a night at the end of your trip before flying out from the airport. For a beach scene out of town, stay in Sabang, which is located right next to the Puerto Princesa Underground River.
How to get to Puerto Princesa: Fly directly into Puerto Princesa Airport from Manila, Cebu or another Filipino city. It’s very well connected.
Top things to do in Puerto Princesa:
- Explore the UNESCO World Heritage Underground River, which was voted as one of the New Natural Wonders of the World. Tour the intricate cave complex by boat and emerge from the caves to crystal clear turquoise waters.
- Relax on the beautiful beaches of Nagtabon and Sabang, which are located right next to the Puerto Princesa Underground River
- Enjoy the facilities of an affordable but luxurious hotel. Puerto Princesa has some of the best hotel options in Palawan.
Port Barton is everything that Palawan is all about. Postcard picture tropical beaches, a sleepy beach town and remote islands waiting to be explored. It’s one of the least developed tourist spots on the island, adding to its unique charm and appeal. Accommodation is very basic and you won’t find hot running water for a shower, but what you will find will make up for it; and more!
Spend your days relaxing on the sand by a beach bar or venturing to the sea on an island-hopping boat tour. The islands here are far less crowded than the likes of El Nido and there are far fewer tourists in sight. On an evening, you can check out the many newly built restaurants for dinner under the moonlight and then retreat to a reggae bar for live music and rum cocktails.
As one of our favourite places to stay in Palawan, we recommend Port Barton for everyone, however couples will be most at home here. It has a romantic vibe in the air and makes a great honeymoon spot. Just don’t expect much luxury!
How to get to Port Barton: Take a flight to Puerto Princesa and book on onwards transfer bus to Port Barton. The road trip will take you around 2hr 30 min.
Top things to do in Port Barton:
- Embark on a day of island hopping. You’ll encounter remote beaches, starfish covered bays, waterfalls, sand-bars, snorkelling spots and caves.
- Relax in the comfort of a nice resort or beach bungalow. Port Barton offers everything from secluded honeymoon retreats to budget beach huts on the sand.
- Pay giant sea turtles a visit at Secret Paradise Resort’s Turtle Sanctuary. This is also a great place to stay for higher budget travellers.
El Nido is one of the most popular places to stay in Palawan and a trip wouldn’t be complete without stopping by. Time and time again the destination has won awards for its beaches and towering limestone cliffs, making it a firm bucket list destination. Over the past few years, El Nido’s popularity has grown and it’s no longer the hidden gem that it used to be; however, the booming tourist industry has brought with it plenty of nice restaurants and a cool nightlife scene. You’ll just have to be prepared to share the beauty of its islands and beaches with other travellers.
Daytimes in El Nido may involve relaxing on one of the many surrounding beaches or embarking on one of the famous boat tours to the nearby islands and lagoons. There are plenty of routes to choose from and we actually recommend spending a solid 2 days exploring different islands. On an evening, you’ll be captivated by El Nido’s many quirky restaurants and the best nightlife scene on the island.
Stay in El Nido town for access to the bars, restaurants, shops and activities or opt for accommodation south-west of town near Coron Coron for nicer beaches and a more relaxed vibe. You can easily explore El Nido via the inexpensive ‘Trike’ taxis.
How to get to El Nido: Fly directly into El Nido Airport. Alternatively, fly to the cheaper Puerto Princesa airport and take a 6hr 30min bus ride onwards to El Nido.
Top things to do in El Nido:
- Spend 2 full days island hopping around the limestone cliffs and picturesque lagoons. Choose from routes A to D for different itineraries and have fun snorkelling, beach hopping and cave diving to your heart’s desire.
- Visit the low-key but beautiful Coron Coron Beach and zoom across the bay on a sky-high zipline. Sip a cocktail at sunset once the adrenaline has subsided.
- Explore the entire El Nido area on a local Trike taxi. There are countless beaches on the outskirts and El Nido town is full of excellent bars, shops and restaurants.
A 50min drive north of El Nido sits the tropical beach paradise of Nacpan. Once a remote beach with almost zero tourist industry, the beach strip now has a number of guesthouses, a hostel and a few bars and restaurants. It’s been voted best beach in the world by many magazines and travel websites and it’s hard not to see why… Powerful turquoise waves crash against the golden sands and there’s not an ounce of seaweed or rocks in site. It’s large enough to have completely secluded areas away from the sunbathing tourists and is the perfect place to relax.
You can visit Nacpan for a day-trip from El Nido and many people do, however if you want a few days of quiet relaxation in paradise, choose to stay overnight. There’s enough bars and restaurants to keep you entertained on an evening and daytime is all about swimming in the ocean, surfing or catching some rays. It’s one of the best beaches we’ve visited and is well worth checking out if you have time.
How to get to Nacpan Beach: From El Nido, take the regular shuttle bus 50min to the beach area or wave down a Trike from the street. Shuttle buses will need to be booked in advance with your hotel or a travel agent in town.
Top things to do at Nacpan Beach:
- Relax on the beach, play volleyball or go surfing. It’s all about the beach life here!
- Order a delicious seafood meal on an evening at Sunmai Sunset Restaurant.
- Dance the day away at The Gardens Day Club pool party or unleash some adrenaline at Discover El Nido Paintball course.
Even further north of El Nido is the smaller island of Coron. It has the same magnificent limestone cliffs and turquoise lagoons of El Nido, but they’re less crowded with tourists and some are completely closed off to the public altogether, giving an indication of how sacred and beautiful the area is. The main town on Coron is where you’ll find accommodation and places to eat, however it’s on a much smaller scale than El Nido and you won’t find the eclectic nightlife scene.
It’s a place to base yourself for island hopping tours, beach excursions and the main activity in the area – diving. With crystal clear waters and an abundance of marine life, Coron is one of the top places in the Philippines to attain your PADI scuba licence and it’s one of our favourite places in the world for colourful tropical fish and sea turtles. A visit to Coron is a must for its stunning scenery, however 3-4 days is the perfect amount of time to sample what’s on offer.
How to get to Coron/Busanga: Fly directly to Busanga Airport from another Philippines airport or catch a 3hr 30min ferry from El Nido.
Top things to do in Coron:
- Go diving in the crystal turquoise lagoons and get your beginner’s diving licence. More advanced dives are available for seasoned veteran divers.
- Head out for a day of island hopping, beach stops and snorkelling in the lagoons. This is the highlight of any trip to Coron and we recommend 2 full days of boat trips.
- Hike Mount Tapyas for fantastic panoramic views of the island and to be close to nature.
Off the beaten track bonus destinations:
The above guide covers the top places to stay or visit in Palawan, however this large island does have many smaller towns, hidden beaches and off-coast islands to check out if you fancy heading off the beaten track. Here are some of our favourites that are worth adding to your itinerary if you have extra time.
Roxas – On the opposite side of Palawan to Port Barton, the coastal region of Roxas offers a more local experience of Palawan’s white-sand beaches. With only a few guesthouses to stay in, life here feels very local and traditional and you’ll enjoy peace and quiet away from the busier beaches in Palawan. Stay for a few days, relaxing, eating with the locals and taking boat trips to the nearby islands.
Taytay – If you don’t fancy the long drive from Puerto Princesa to El Nido, Taytay is a great stop-off destination. It’s home to some nice sandy beaches and a culture-rich town. Visit Fort Santa Isabel or uncover the wildlife of the nearby lakes, forests and beaches. Less-touristic but a welcome retreat before arriving in busy El Nido.
Balabac – If you like to go so far off the beaten track that you won’t see a tourist in sight, untouched natural beauty awaits you in Balabac. This stunning collection of 13 islands sits just off the southern coast of Palawan, away from civilisation. You’ll only find a handful of locals and plenty of wildlife. Check out Lakwatsero’s Balabac guide here for everything you need to know about getting to the islands and what to do when you’re there.
Sample 10 day Palawan itinerary:
Puerto Princesa town – 1 night
Port Barton (stop at Puerto Princesa Underground River on the way) – 3 nights
El Nido – 4 nights
Nacpan Beach – 1 night
Coron Town – 3 nights
Thanks for reading our guide on where to stay in Palawan. We actually recommend choosing multiple destinations for your trip and spending a few nights in each place. Start in El Nido or Puerto Princesa and explore this beautiful island archipelago to your heart’s desire! See some of the highlights of our own trip to Palawan in our video below and give us a shout if you have any questions.