Coron Island and The Calamianes Islands
Coron Island, a part of the Calamianes group of islands in Philippine frontier of Northern Palawan, boasts a staggering array of magnificent seascapes, jaw-dropping scenery and world-class wreck diving – virtually a platter of adventure for the intrepid.
Coron Island is best known for the eight out of twelve Japanese supplies shipwrecks that were sunk by the United States Navy during a massive air bombing campaign during World War 2. These ships were sunk at depths of 10 to 43 meters and some of the wrecks are 160 meters in length, with most of the ships still intact (a dive at the Irako Wreck, a Japanese refrigeration ship reveals pots and pans in its galley.) The water is incredibly clear and perfect that you’d be able to spot different species of fish like the yellow fin tuna, groupers, scorpion fish and lionfish. Beautiful corals and more fish inhabit other wrecks like the Okikawa Maru, Akitsushima, Kogyo Maru, and the Olympia Maru amongst others. The best part of diving in Coron is that it is not overrun by tourists; it was so that Coron was considered as one of the world’s best kept secrets in wreck diving – the high concentration of wrecks in one area, the water quality, and the spectacular marine life puts Coron on top of any global diver or adventurer’s list..
But Coron is not just about diving; kayaking the Twin Lagoons (Big Lagoon (above) and Small Lagoon) is a must for a newbie to the area – one must kayak through a small hole which is only accessible during low tide to get from the Big Lagoon to the Small Lagoon. The water is fantastic- the lagoons are the meeting place of freshwater from the hills of Coron Island and saltwater coming in from the bay which makes an interesting mix.
Of the several lakes in Coron Island, only Barracuda and Kayangan lakes are open to visitors. The island is virtually protected by the native Tagbanua tribe (Coron Island is considered as part of their ancestral domain) and access to the other lakes is prohibited. Barracuda Lake (supposedly named after its resident barracuda) is another interesting dive spot, the water of the lake changes from cold to hot depending on the colour of the water in its depths. To get there, one must climb up towering limestone karsts for 15-20 minutes- in full gear. Ouch!
Kayangan Lake (above) on the other hand – is more accessible, although the climb up the mountain can be a bit strenuous, it does afford a spectacular postcard perfect view of Coron Bay – literally. Kayangan has been honoured as one of the cleanest lakes in Asia, and for a reason. The lake is surrounded by more jungle clad-limestone karsts formations, and its water is so clear one can see the bottom for several meters from the surface.
Aside from the lakes, the dive sites, marine sanctuaries and the numerous secluded white-sand beaches that dot the area, there’s an excellent place to chill out after the day’s island hopping or dive. On the main island of Busuanga, one can ask your boatman (a day’s rent of the boat plus boatman usually costs around PhP2,000 if the hot springs are not included in your usual day tour package) to take you to Maquinit Hot Springs to relax tired muscles in almost scalding (okay maybe 40C) mineral water. It’s a natural hot spring and sits near the little mangrove forest. The cottages and the loo need a bit of repair and renovation though, and sometimes it is over-run by locals because it is the most accessible spot being nearby Coron town.
The island of Culion, a former leper colony, is also within the same area- and it does have that charming Pacific island village-like atmosphere and is steeped in the fairly recent history: sort of a place of exiles for people afflicted with the dreaded disease. On the other side of Busuanga Island, is the island of Calauit, a game reserve and wildlife sanctuary of exotic African animals and endangered endemic animals of Palawan which was established by then Philippine strongman Ferdinand E. Marcos in response to an appeal of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature to help save African Wildlife when the late dictator attended the 3rd World Conference in Kenya.
As of March 26, 2009, commercialization is finally creeping up in this area. Plans are afoot to turn one of the islands in the group into, God forbid, another Phuket- a true tragedy if that happens, considering Phuket was considered by a survey of the National Geographic as in state of disrepair due to its over-commercialization and development. By 2012, they are going to turn the 55 hectare Diwaran Island and part of the Coron Reefs into the “single largest integrated island resort in all Asia.”
Why Go to Coron Island
Simple, if you like full tropical paradise experience above or underwater without breaking the bank, Coron is definitely for you – heaps of things to see and do in a little area. Perfect for single travellers of the adventurer type and city slickers wanting to get away from urban chaos, a must for divers, perfect for honeymooners and family vacations.
Why Not Go to Coron Island
If you are on the lookout for crazy-ass partying, Coron is definitely NOT for you. Generally, the area is a quiet getaway from the maddening city crowd. Don’t expect noisy jet skis, nightclubs and enormous shopping malls like what you see in other parts of the country.
Best Time To Go Visit Coron Island
Most travel guides would say that the best time to go is late March until June because it is generally summertime in the Philippines. BUT, you would have to contend with a bigger crowd descending into the islands then, and obviously rates will go up. If you are feeling a little bit anti-social- head to Coron during the months of September-December – not only you will be getting lower rates because it is towards the end of the low season, your chances of getting a quieter and more relaxed vacation is higher. Just make sure that you check the weather if you are going to Coron on those months as you run the risk of smacking into the middle of typhoon season.
Where & What to Eat at Coron
It is highly advisable that when travelling to Coron, stick to your hotel food (which usually comes with the booking anyway.) It is reliable (and who you know who to sue when you get a bum tummy in the end.) If you are not staying at Coron Town, it is not easy to go walk a path and find a restaurant in your island, chances are you have to get a boat to go into town if you really have the urge to sample local chow. Coron Bay is a rich fishing ground (no commercial fishing here though), so fresh seafood abound in the local market. Otherwise, food served in hotels are nonetheless fresh and in enormous quantities (to an Asian that is). It goes without saying – seafood, seafood, and more seafood.
Other recommended eating places is at Sea Dive Resort which gets mixed reviews from other travellers, or you may try Bistro Coron run by a retired French anthropologist that offers standard European meals. Both of these eating places are located in Coron Town.
Aside from Bistro Coron where diving elite hobnob with each other over platters of schnitzels and steaks, Coron is not exactly famed for its nightlife.
I would specifically recommend Divelink Resort on Uson Island – It has decent enough rooms – with A/C, (I don’t remember hot water though), NO TV (but hey, you are in paradise, why do you need TV?). Meals are big, and excellent (standard Filipino, International fare) – and that is usually included in the tour package. There is 24 hour Internet access, a big enough pool, free use of kayaks, and fishing gear so you can go fish right in front of the resort and have your catch cooked for your dinner. The main drawback is that the beach in front of the resort is not a swimming beach, but it does have a magnificent view of the fiery Palawan sunsets (see photo below). You can go up the hill at the back of the mountain and you can see the sunrise if you prefer that. The staff are friendly, but beware of the Karaoke machine, especially when the other guests are using it- you’ll hear it until 12 midnight. After all this is still the Philippines, people cannot live without their Karaoke machines or as the locals say- Videoke. If you need a massage, better organize it the previous day, at the time of this writing, there is only one resident masseuse (which I reckon was also the cook or was she the receptionist?) We got 3 Days/2 Nights package for this hotel which included a day tour, full board meals, Airport-Resort and back transfers, a small cottage across from where the current Philippine President Gloria Arroyo stayed at about PhP7,000 per person. Not bad at all, considering one lady got charged PhP16,000 for the same stuff basically and she stayed in another hotel of similar standard. Resort is perfect for: Honeymooners, Families, and Group Trips.
If you ready to splurge, Club Paradise on Dimakya Island on the north side of the Calamianes charges from 210-300 USD per person per night (Full Board Rates). Excellent beach, however, a bit far away from the wrecks, the lakes, and the lagoons. Resort is perfect for: well-heeled honeymooners, families and group trips.
Discovery Island Resort (located in Decanatuan island- 10 minutes by boat from Coron Town) (rates at 35USD per room per night) and Sea Dive Resort (Coron Town) (PhP700-PhP1100 per room per night) ranges from upper budget to midrange – provides basic but comfortable lodging especially for hardcore divers who doesn’t mind to rough it out a little bit. After all, the action is mostly underwater. Bring a set of earplugs; the curse of Karaoke is omnipresent at Sea Dive.
There are heaps of hotels, lodges on the mainland of Busuanga, however, it is a hit or miss. Hotels/resorts in Palawan tend to swing to extremes – cheap but crappy, super-expensive but luxurious: finding a middle ground is difficult that’s why like the rest of the Philippines – Palawan is not friendly to people travelling on a backpackers’ budget- which works both ways to the tourists’ and the Philippines’ advantage – the beaches are not overrun by throngs of people as they are in most Asian destinations and the people that do come are the ones that could actually afford to travel ergo contribute much needed dollars to the struggling Philippine economy.
My to-do list at Coron
1. Hire a boat and get dropped off at a secluded beach. (Note to self- bring mobile phone with local SIM card to call the boatman for pickup + chips and beer if you get the munchies. Bring tanning lotion with enough UV protection and a tub of insect repellent as mozzies are definitely humongous in most of these beaches).*
2. Snorkel at the Siete Pecados Marine Sanctuary (Bring food for lunch at the floating station.)
3. Head out to kayak the Twin Lagoons.**
4. Snorkel/Dive amongst some of the shipwrecks. *
5. Chill out at Kayangan Lake.**
6. Dip in the bigger version of your hot tub at Maquinit Hot Springs. **
7. Fish by the jetty. (Fish around the area seemed to be finicky though.)
8. Island Hop! You are in the middle of a little archipelago, (just for fun, count how many islands you have been to)
9. Snap a photo of Coron’s homage to Hollywood – The concrete letters C-O-R-O-N are prominently displayed on top of the hill overlooking the bay.
10. Catholic and Religious? Drop by the life-size versions of Stations of the Cross detailing the suffering of Christ that wind up a hill in Coron Town.
11. Relax and watch the sunset with your mai-tais and just enjoy the peace and quiet before Karaoke night starts.*
*- Highly Recommended
**- Recommended by Locals
Stay Away From
1. Mosquitoes! Some of them are just plain huge, and Palawan is not exactly Malaria-free. Take anti-Malaria tablets with you as well heaps of insect repellent, even if you just plan to head out to some secluded beach.
2. Stray animals: dogs and monkeys – rabies is prevalent all over the Philippines, and the closest best hospital is back in Manila.
Touts and vendors that continually harasses tourists are conspicuously absent in Coron unlike in most of the other places. Coron Town has the trappings of a sleepy fishing village, thus, prostitution, if there is any, is not immediately visible.
How to get to Coron
Philippine Airlines’ budget version PAL Express flies to Coron from Manila via Busuanga Airport – newish planes, efficient staff. Cebu Pacific is another hit or miss – airport delays have been pretty common in the past year, but they do offer some of the best rates in the industry. Refunding your ticket with Cebu Pacific will take months if ever you will actually get refunded in the end. Both airlines fly via the new Ninoy Aquino International Airport Terminal 3. Zest Airways (formerly Asian Spirit) and Southeast Asian Airlines (better known as SEAIR) also fly to Busuanga. Please check their respective websites for more details like flight frequency, schedules, and fares.
All flights go to the Busuanga Airport at the north side of the main island of Busuanga, from there, one can hire van or a jeepney to go down to Coron Town on the south side of the island. Ride lasts for approximately 1 hour. Going back, jeepneys or vans are available in front of the offices of airline companies (make sure to confirm this with your hotel or at the airline office just to be extra sure.)
Another way of getting to Coron is via the first and only Philippine cruise ship – 7107 Island Cruise Ship. A cruise itinerary usually takes you to the beaches of Batangas, Puerto Galera, Boracay and Coron.
For those on a tight budget, Superferry and Negros Navigation sail to Coron albeit sometimes it could be seasonal. Other shipping lines that operate are San Nicolas Shipping and Atienza Shipping Lines.
Tricycles (basically a motorbike with a sidecar attached on its side) are the primary means of transport around Coron Town. Boats can be rented for a day or half a day and it should not cost more than PhP2,500 (full day with boatman) as of this writing.
Ryan supports socially and environmentally responsible and sustainable tourism, as well as the promotion of the Philippines as an alternative Asian tourist destination.
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