The island of Palawan is one of the Philippine’s biggest nature gem, harboring some of the world’s most diverse ecosystem, geological wonders, endangered species, vintage ethnicity and local customs, and most of all, immaculate and pristine white sand beaches. Never failing to attract droves of tourists, Palawan is probably the last unspoiled nature frontier in the country.
The island jewel offers an overabundance of natural eye-candy to see — nature overkill, if you will — with its numerous diving sites and wildlife conservatories. Tourists can find in Palawan a sure refuge from the urban areas’ rat-maze-madness, as it is effortless to join psyche and souls one with the island’s cornucopia of nature.
Geographic Profile. Palawan, with a group of around 1,100 islands under its wing, forms part of the Philippine archipelago, dividing the Sulu Sea from the turbulent South China Sea. The long, thin island stretches 650 kilometers from southwest, nearly touching the island of Borneo, to northeast, where it joins the rest of the archipelago. The island has around 1.7 million hectares of land, mostly populated by craggy cliffs and hills overgrown by tropical forests. Puerto Princesa, its capital city, is a bustling seaport cradled by a beautiful Honda Bay, and flanked by the well-known mountain called Cleopatra’s Needle.
The most favorable time for visitors to tour Palawan are between the months of March and May. The rest of the year sees amihan (northeastern monsoons) and habagat (southwestern monsoons) winds blow into Palawan, making touring and sightseeing by sea travel less ideal, but still possible. Rainfall is frequent between June to December, leaving January to May as the favorable period to explore without drenching in rain.
Ethnic groups include native Palawenos, who make up around 80% of the total population, and the remaining populace includes several pre-Malayan groups, such as the Tao’t Bato, Palaw’an, and the Tagbanua.
Despite the cultural differences, the locals of Palawan are imbued with that distinct Filipino hospitality that does not withdraw from helping tourists find a piece of paradise here on earth.
El Nido Natural Reserve. One of the county’s premier beach and diving destinations, the protected park of El Nido spans land masses and seascapes, offering the tourist a dazzling but balanced visual treat of both verdant green rainforests and azure blue shorelines. It is here that one can find the endangered sea cow, or “dugong” in local dialect, as well as schools of marine life like manta rays and tropical fish taking advantage of the natural sanctuary.
The El Nido sanctuary covers an area of 96,000 hectares, and within it, six major islands, including Miniloc and Lagen Island. Both islands host a generous number of diving spots to conquer and explore.
Subterranean River National Park. Beneath the towering limestone cracks and marble giants lies the world famous, 8-kilometer subterranean river which starts its course from the Sulu Sea and eventually empties out into the South China Sea. Accessible from Puerto Princesa in an hour or so, the world heritage site boasts fantastic stalactites, crystal-clear pools of near-isolated seawater, and natural domes. Nearby, the calls of monkeys, exotic species of birds, and lizards beckon the tourist to take a stroll through the densely-forested Monkey Trail.
Calauit Island Natural Park. It’s as if a chunk of Africa has been transported to an unlikely host of islands. Calauit Island sports a pseudo-African savannah abounding with native African beasts, such as gazelles, giraffes, zebras, and impalas. The foreign wildlife peacefully coexists with the local animals like mouse deer, leopard cats, and monitor lizards.
The 3,700-hectare park also has a nearby mangrove swamp where crocodiles make their refuge. Migratory birds also make their stopovers at the island to rest and refuel.
Tabon Caves. These caves host amazing archaeological treasures. It is in these series of 200 or so caves that the 20,000-year old fossils of the Tabon Man, the ancient inhabitants of the island, were found. The remains come along with equally old artifacts and livelihood implements. It is precisely for these reasons that Palawan is dubbed as the cradle of Philippine civilization.
Several of the caves are open to the public and the whole area is a museum preserve. The island’s beauty still lingers far as one can see a scenic white sand bay where the entrance to the natural museum lies.
Tubbataha Reefs. Already a strong contender for one of the Seven Wonders of Nature, the Tubbataha Reef system rivals the Great Barrier Reef in the megadiversity of underwater flora and fauna it showcases. The reef system is the country’s largest marine reserve — around 33,000 hectares of it — situated in the middle of the Sulu Sea. The reefs are swarming with manta rays, reef sharks, a plethora of tropical fish, and giant sea turtles all making their homes in submerged atolls and coral formations. It is a diving destination of international prestige, as recreational divers and serious marine biologists all over the world go here to study its breathtaking beauty.
One of Palawan’s advantages is the distance it has with the other islands, and consequently, it remains largely unaffected by the bustle and steam of the busy local shipping industry. Having previewed its natural wonders, we can now say for certain that Palawan is indeed a jewel among the Philippine islands. Before the damaging effects of human activity are conspicuous, let us enjoy the unspoiled gem of nature that is Palawan.