Gooooood morning divers!
After experiencing beautiful Siquijor, The next stop was one I visited almost 5 years ago and was on my list to revisit as soon as possible: Palawan (Coron - El Nido - Port Barton).
For me, going to Palawan from Siquijor was an easy trip to Cebu City, where I stayed for 1 night, close to the airport. The next day I took a Grab taxi to the beautiful newly renovated Cebu Airport to fly straight to Coron - Busuanga Airport.
I have visited this area before in 2017, back when I was just a novice diver, but thoroughly enjoyed myself. Coron is known worldwide as a great wreck diving scene, so I was excited to see what had changed and/ or improved during and after Covid-19.
In this blog I'll be sharing the following:
I had a great time on Siquijor. I have seen many of the best diving sites there and met some nice people and dive buddies along the way. The accommodation, food, and diving centers are all conveniently located in San Juan, and getting away from Siquijor was as easy as booking a ferry the day before to Cebu City.
You will first go to Tagbilaran City for 800 pesos and then continue (on the same boat) to Cebu City for another 800 pesos.
Alternatively, I could have chosen to go to Dumaguete City and fly from there, which is way closer to Siquijor, but I didn't realize at the time that Dumaguete even had an airport.
Getting to Palawan.
To get to Palawan there are 2 major ports of entry. The easiest by far in my opinion is to fly to Coron island, Busuanga airport more specifically. Alternatively, you can enter Palawan from Puerto Princessa about halfway through Palawan.
If you decide to fly to Puerto Princessa, depending on your first location diving will take at least 2 hours by van/ bus. Just take a tricycle or taxi from the airport to the bus terminal, and dispatchers will take care of you from there.
I would aim to move north to Port Barton or the Mecaja Dive resort near Roxas.
However, if you want the "easier" route, I suggest flying to Busuanga airport on Coron Island. Once landed there, dispatchers will ask you in what hotel you're staying, and you will be assigned to the right van, dropping you off at your hotel for 250-300 pesos, per person.
There is also an airport in El Nido, not frequently serviced, but still an option if you want to skip Coron for example.
Palawan is very much designed for tourism, so getting around is usually quite easy.
An impression of the diving scene on Palawan.
In this paragraph I would like to give my honest and open opinion of the diving scene in Palawan:
Palawan is quite large, so different sites offer different scenes. I get asked the question often: Is Coron really as amazing? Is El Nido really that pretty?
To be honest, visibility and overall reef health is always my biggest attraction to a diving scene. People who want crystal clear waters and abundant marine life should perhaps try to look into other places to go diving. Is it worth going to Palawan for diving? The short answer: Yes! There's a "but" though.
In Coron, you will probably find the easiest way to go wreck diving in the Philippines. Subic is another place you can go, but you won't really notice the difference. The down part of Coron diving is that visibility usually stops at 10 meters and in bad cases 3-5 meters.
If you're a wreck diving enthusiast and/ or want to do a wreck diving specialty, go to Coron.
If you're more interested in marine life and healthy reefs and macro, you might be better off moving to Bohol, Cebu, Puerto Galera, or Boracay (which you can all find on the website).
Diving is good, don't get me wrong, but is it great? let's find out.
The places to go to on Palawan, and their diving scenes.
Places to visit on Palawan
- El Nido
- Port Barton
- Mecaja Dive resort
Staying in Coron:
Coron town proper is probably the place, most people visit to go scuba diving. You will find an abundance of hotels, restaurants and as of right now, 22 diving centers, operating. Before Covid-19, 33+ diving centers existed, and most will probably return the next season, so plenty to choose from.
To get to or from Coron town proper you can fly from Manila, Cebu, or El Nido depending on where you previously stayed.
Most people will arrive from Manila. Once in Busuanga airport, they will ask you to show a booking confirmation for your hotel and after paying an environmental fee at the next desk, you will be greeted by a dispatcher exiting the airport.
He will ask you in which hotel you'll be staying and assign you to a van/ bus accordingly. Once in Coron town proper or perhaps just outside, you can walk around and within no-time you will find your diving center.
Diving in Coron:
I can highly recommend Reggae diving center if you're looking for a good time. They offer day trips, including 3 dives (usually 2 wrecks and 1 reef), lunch, water, and an after-dive beer on board. Once back at the diving center, they will offer you another drink for good measure.
Diving in Coron is all about the wrecks. Lots of them were sunk, by the US military during World War 2, mostly between 1943 and 1945. Most ships are Japanese and are named accordingly.
Although visibility usually isn't great, wreck diving enthusiasts will still have a great time exploring these sometimes, huge shipwrecks. Penetrating most of them and honing their buoyancy skills.
There are over 15 shipwrecks to choose from! There are way more, but some of them are quite far away, so not seen very often. When you're diving multiple days, they will usually try to visit different shipwrecks, you haven't seen before, so make your wishes heard!
Expect visibility between 3-10 meters on a given day, 15 meters is exceptional but not realistic.
Staying in El Nido:
El Nido is a nice, little town just below Coron and on the northern tip of mainland Palawan.
El Nido does have an airport, serving both Coron and Manila, so to get to El Nido from Coron you have 2 options:
- Boat: The boats from Coron town proper, as of right now, depart 3 times per week only. This used to be every day before Covid, but as of right now, only 1 company is operating.
From Coron, the boat to El Nido leaves every Monday-Wednesday-Friday at 7 AM, check-in at 6 AM to get through security, and clear your luggage for departure.
- Airplane: Airasia is serving El Nido airport, but flights are limited as of right now. Expect prices to go up if you book last minute.
I would highly recommend booking your ferry or flight in advance, so you won't end up, having to alter your trip too much, at the last minute.
El Nido town is located along the beach mostly, but as of right now, a lot of new hotels and restaurants are being built. I felt like it almost doubled in size in the past 4-5 years, which isn't bad necessarily, but I just hope it won't lose its charm.
Diving in El Nido:
I have always had very fond memories of diving El Nido. I saw my first stargazer in a cavern. I did my first "no wetsuit diving", and my guide showed me the wonders of macro diving for the first time!
Visibility in El Nido is much, much better than in Coron. Because of direct access to the ocean, debris and sediment will be washed away more easily and you can see up to 20 meters on a good day.
The diving sites in El Nido are also quite diverse. You won't find many wrecks, as in Coron, but the reefs and cavern you can dive, make for a nice change!
Staying in Port Barton:
When traveling to Palawan, most people stop at El Nido and Coron. But why stop there? There are still a few places to explore, and it won't take much effort to get there either.
Port Barton is such a place. Most tourists travel from El Nido, all the way south to Puerto Princessa (which takes 5 hours!) to fly onwards, or home.
What if, there were 2 places you can go to exactly in the middle, to make for a nice 2-3 day stop or even an extra week? Keep reading!
Port barton is one of those places, people hear of or don't. From El Nido, it's about 3 hours driving and from Puerto Princessa 2,5 hours. Buses leave pretty much every day at 1 PM or so from El Nido - Corong Corong terminal, which is a 10-minute tricycle drive from El Nido town.
When in Port Barton, you will arrive at the terminal, and a tricycle will bring you to your hotel. Port Barton is El Nido, but small. When I first visited, 5 years ago, electricity and wifi were unstable, or only available during certain hours of the day.
This has since been fixed, and Port Barton offers a 24-hour connection to the grid, and thus also internet, etc. Most accommodations are ON the beach, or just in the street behind it, with some exceptions, moving more outside of the Port Barton area and providing that secluded, private island feel.
Diving in Port Barton:
There were 3 dive operators before Covid, but now only 2 operators remain:
- Easy divers
- Port Barton divers
Both are established companies, the first, just rebranded and under new management, the second, a branch from long-time existing Coron divers, back in Coron town proper.
While diving in Port Barton, is far from the main attraction, it can still be good. This is also because not many people actually do it, so you'll probably have your own personal guide. Farther away dive sites can offer some excellent marine life, but unfortunately, typhoon Odette destroyed a lot of reefs here, so give it some time to grow back.
Staying at Mecaja Dive Resort:
Another option to consider is Mecaja Dive Resort. This is a lovely resort very close to Roxas and Port Barton. You can get to, and from Mecaja Dive Resort from Port Barton or El Nido/ Puerto Princessa.
From Port Barton, it's a 45-minute drive to the main road connecting El Nido and Puerto Princessa. If you wish, they will pick you up and/ or drop you off from here and bring you to the resort in 30 minutes.
Contacting Mecaja dive resort is easily done via google for example or via texting and their response is quick and very complete.
The rooms are around 1000 pesos per night (20$) and are situated right on the beach. A restaurant offers good food and drinks. There are no shops nearby, so if you wish to use an ATM or buy any supplies, the best is to go to Roxas. They can offer a transfer, or scooter/ motorcycle rent.
Payment here is cash or via Gcash/ Transferwise, so bring enough cash, or make sure you can wire it manually.
Diving at Mecaja Dive Resort:
Diving at Mecaja is still very new. There is 1 other dive resort on an island about 1-1,5 hours away from there, but most dive sites are still being discovered as I am writing this. Visibility is around 10-20 meters, so not amazing. But what struck me most, is the landscapes you can find here. There are plenty of reefs, with beautiful walls to discover.
If you are really interested, there is also a cargo barge wreck with my name called "Wil's wreck" since me and Mike (the dive instructor) discovered it with the help of some locals and were the first to actually map the barge and make some videos.
You can find the complete story on that wreck soon!
The most memorable dive sites!
There are many very good dive sites in Palawan. Below I will summarize some of my favorites. Some of them are reason enough to book that airplane right now.
A few good spots to go diving are:
Lusong shipwreck - Coron
Kogyo Maru - Coron
Highway - Mecaja, Roxas
Wil's Wreck - Mecaja, Roxas
1. Lusong Gunboat - Coron.
Wreck diving in Coron is well known, and many of them are accessible for open water divers, while others are for advanced and above only. The Lusong Gunboat/ Morazan Maru are a few of these "easy" dives, starting at 5 meters to a maximum of 22 meters. Visibility is usually quite okay, reaching up to 15 meters with lots of schooling fish and even a mandarin fish for you to find!
2. Kogyo Maru - Coron.
Kogyo/ Olympia Maru are advanced dives with the wreck being down between 15 and 27+ meters. The visibility is good IF you're there first. Nonetheless a very worthwhile shipwreck with lots of penetration possibilities!
3. Highway - Mecaja.
This dive site might have another name by now. We were still mapping the area, looking for new places to go scuba diving. This was a very interesting site, because it features a small wall, with many smaller pinnacles you can swim through, or around. There are also some rare nudibranchs to be found here!
4. Wil's Wreck - Mecaja.
This is my personal favorite because I and Mike were the first to actually find, map, and explore this cargo barge. They were kind enough to name it after me, so I can confidently say, this shipwreck will be known as Wil's wreck.
The cargo barge is 22 meters deep at its maximum and well preserved, a truly unique experience since it has been discovered/ mapped only in august 2022!
The next blog will be from Malaysia!
I have been to Malaysia before in 2017, now I'm back to discover Langkawi and Sipadan!
Sipadan is currently ranked as the number 1 diving scene in Asia, so expect a lot!
Starting October until December I will finally be visiting Thailand to try to find the best places to go diving as of 2022/23.
This will hopefully make for amazing stories, photos, and travel tips!
Thank you for taking the time to read this, any questions or tips can be sent to email@example.com, and remember:
"If you can breathe, you can dive"