T.E.L.L. Beach and Jungle Life in Palawan: Every Island an Adventure

This is my first travel blog after more than two years (between 2021 and 2022, I also had international travels (Middle East) but I am planning to compile them into one blog post). This is also my first article for T.E.L.L. (Travel. Entertainment. Lifestyle. Leisure.) section, a spin-off of The Solo Drifter – I am not travelling alone this time! Though our family are travelling together before, this is the first time that I am writing a blog about it, plus it’s a local travel (I’ve been travelling locally, but this is my only second local travel blog and a first in a pandemic). From Cavite, we (with mom, ading – Ilocano term for brother – and his girlfriend, Kyla) travelled to Palawan.

Why I chose to book a flight to Palawan?

Devastated forest by Typhoon Odette
  1. To help the communities there, thru tourism, recover. Typhoon Rai (local name: Odette) hit Palawan, causing severe damage to protected areas, including Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park (PPSRNP).
  2. To show how we can support the United Nations (UN) 2030 agenda, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as we are facing the challenges being posted by the climate change.

What you need to know about Palawan

  1. Palawan is the country’s southeast frontier with Malaysia.
  2. It is bounded by the South China Sea to the northwest and by the Sulu Sea to the south. To the south is the island of Borneo and further west is the socialist Republic of Vietnam.
  3. Composed of 1,769 islands and islets.
  4. Home to several ethnolinguistic groups: the Tagbanua, Palaw’an, Tau’t bato, and the Bataks.
  5. The southern part of Palawan is practically free from typhoons while the northern part experiences persistent gales torrential rains especially during the months of July and August. The weather is most favorable for coastal navigation from April to June on both the northeastern and southwestern sides. Palawan is relatively dry, especially from December through April.
  6. In the south, Ursula Island is a haven for migratory and resident birds. Mt. Mantalingahan traversing five towns in the south was proclaimed a Protected Landscape.
  7. There are 52 languages and dialects in the province, with Tagalog being spoken by more than 50 percent of the people.
  8. Palawan’s economy is basically agricultural. The three major crops are palay, corn and coconut. Mineral resources include nickel, copper, manganese, and chromite. Logging is also a major industry.
  9. As an archipelago, Palawan has 13 mainland municipalities and 10 island towns. Puerto Princesa is the capital.
  10. Coron is one of Palawan’s most popular beach and island destinations. Coron has breathtaking tourist spots like Kayangan Lake, one of the cleanest lakes in the whole country. It’s nicknamed as The Blue Lagoon and surrounded by tall limestone formations, making the area look and feel very secluded.
  11. El Nido, a managed resource protected area, is known for its white-sand beaches, coral reefs, limestone cliffs and as the gateway to the Bacuit archipelago.
Tricycle in Palawan

What you need to know about Puerto Princesa

  1. In terms of land area, the city is the second largest in the Philippines geographically after Davao City.
  2. It is known as the “Eco-Tourism Center of the Philippines”
  3. Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park is one of the New7Wonders of Nature
  4. The city is also the jump-off point for exploring the Tubbataha Reef.
  5. The main modes of transport are via tricycles, jeepneys and vans-for-hire (or PUVs/public utility vehicles). Taxis started operating since April 2015.

Where to stay

Atremaru Jungle Retreat

We book a suite (Gubat) at Atremaru Jungle Retreat via Booking.com for only P7,452 (for two nights, four people – with three bedrooms). Booking.com has always been my go-to for my travels (got affordable yet best places). I also get discounts as a frequent client. We were the one of the first Filipinos groups to check in at Atremaru Jungle Retreat (though it already accommodates tourists for more than 20 years now). Most of the tourists visiting the hotel resort are foreigners. Filipinos like tour packages and modern vibe, while foreigners are fond of creating their own itineraries and exploring unusual places. This is the second time I am staying in a place like this – the first time when I toured Cambodia.

Instagrammable view from Atremaru Jungle Retreat

Atremaru is a 30-hectare hotel resort that overlooks the picturesque Ulugan Bay, known for its stunning sunsets, beautiful views and surrounded by the magical sounds of birds and small wildlife (yes, you can hear these at night). Atremaru offers the best of all: exclusivity, privacy and tranquility, a world class spa, refined theme cuisine, a covered swimming pool, organic products, pure facilities and outstanding genuine service.

Jungle walk

Go hike in its nature park to feel the fresh and cold of air, and enjoy the true beauty of nature.

I’m an environment advocate – my friends know this. So I chose Atremaru. Of course, expect that living here is sustainable – no aircon, resources are from the nature itself. The chalets are built with a natural ventilation to prevent heat influx. Naturally cool. It is a high end fully off grid green resort. It embodies the 2030 SDG agenda of the UN. Since the year 2000, Atremaru provides work for the poorest of the poor, mostly natives from the Buena Vista Barangay, which is part of the city of Puerto Princesa. Atremaru is powered by solar energy, while the water is coming from the rainfall.

Not to mention its restaurant and bar- one of the best! Their desserts are also must try.

What to do

One of the advantages of creating your own itinerary is not having to worry about time. You own it, you may choose the places you want to visit according to your “adventure-bud”. You may also opt to have a private or shared tour.

Beachlife and Snorkeling

We had a 20-minute boat ride from Buenavista seaside to an island where we had a lunch picnic. But before that, we had a snorkeling to preserved corals. Thanks to Love and Lea for preparing our lunch and for accompanying us. They are both from Atremaru (by the way, all our tours were arranged by Atremaru). Despite the challenges brought by the pandemic, I could see in their eyes the peace and happiness. Truly, they represent resilience and love for Palawan.

Fishing

Paul and his father joined us during our fishing. It was my first time, now I know how to do fishing. For Paul and his father, tourism and fishing are their main sources of income. Imagine how their lives were impacted by the pandemic. Thanks to the vaccines and thanks to the tourists who are supporting the Philippine domestic tourism. Paul and his father represent locals of Palawan who were affected by pandemic and typhoon Odette. Allan and Gladys (they are husband-and-wife who manage family-owned Atremaru, they are the second generation) told us how the typhoon destroyed the wildlife and nature. Thanks to Atremaru family for giving jobs and opportunities to the locals. There were so accommodating. During our stay here, we felt the comfort.

Devastated by typhoon Odette, some businesses and areas in Palawan are already operational.

Underground River tour

As an environment advocate, I wrote articles during my college days about the Puerto Princesa Underground River (PPUR), formally known as Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park (PPSRNP), and its journey to the New7Wonders. I also wrote articles about the mining issue. Despite the environment and geopolitical challenges, Palawan retained its beauty. PPUR is a great manifestation.

From the hotel, we had a 25-minute ride to Sabang Boat Terminal. The process when you arrive here is that the travel agency or guide presents your ID cards to the tourism office to ensure your identity and secure permits. Once done, a boat would wait for you to bring you to PPSRNP – that takes 25 minutes.

A rock formation welcomes you when you arrive at PPSRNP. Tourist personnel would ask you to wear your hard headcover. Along the way to the underground river, you would see monkeys. You would again ride a boat during your underground museum journey.

PPSRNP encompasses one of the world’s most impressive cave systems, featuring spectacular limestone karst landscapes, pristine natural beauty, and intact old-growth forests and distinctive wildlife. The property contains a full mountain-to-sea ecosystem which provides significant habitat for biodiversity conservation and protects the most intact and noteworthy forests within the Palawan biogeographic province. Holding the distinction of being the first national park devolved and successfully managed by a local government unit, the park’s effective management system is a symbol of commitment by the Filipino people to the protection and conservation of their natural heritage.

The park is located in the Saint Paul Mountain Range. St. Paul’s Underground River Cave has more than 24 km long and contains an 8.2-km-long underground section of the Cabayugan River. For purpose of tours, guests may only explore 1/8 of the underground area.

Our tour guide, Nanay Eden, told me that PPUR was closed during the pandemic and months when typhoon Odette hit Palawan. Nanay Eden shared “Hindi naman ganito dati ang Palawan. Tahimik. Payapa. Bigla kaming binagyo. Ganyan ang epekto ng climate change.” (Palawan’s not like this. It was peaceful. Eventually, a super typhoon hit us. That’s the impact of climate change). Last February 2022, the province and the national park, together with other local tourist spots, slightly opened its doors.

Nanay Eden has been welcoming guests for more than 15 years now. She and the bangkeros (boat drivers) in PPUR and the Palawan people are very welcoming. It’s the best museum tour I ever had!

Mangrove Paddle Boat

Mangrove trees

A relaxing paddle boat tour in the century old mangroves of Sabang is a must have after lunch. Thanks to Tatay Tinoy for giving us a tour, sharing his knowledge and history of Puerto Princesa and mangrove trees. Mangroves of Puerto Princesa constitute 11.7% (5995 ha) of Palawan’s mangrove cover.

Tamilok

Of course, Palawan visit is not complete if I’m not trying tamilok, often called a woodworm, but technically it is a mollusk that is among a group of saltwater clams without a shell. It has also been called a shipworm or a sea termite, stemming from an old tale that it was an enemy of wood-hulled ships of long ago, as it destroyed wood hulls by boring and eating their way through the wood, any kind of wood actually as long as it is immersed in sea water. It is eaten fresh and raw, dipped in coconut vinegar (sukang tuba) with salt and chili. Tamilok is now being touted as an “exotic food”.

Other things to do

Here are some ecotours you may also want to check:

  1. Beachlife at Nagtabon and Talaudjon Beach, Sabang Beach, Marta Fe Beach
  2. Walk and swim at Sabang Waterfall
  3. Zipline from the top of a huge limestone rock formation above the rice fields. Ugong Rock Zipline offers you this
  4. Spelunking adventure at hundred caves
  5. Hikes and treks at Mount Bahile, Marta Fe Beach and Mount Bloomfield
  6. Make a sidetrip to the Elephant Cave
Elephant Cave

You may also have city and cultural tours. Other tours I did not include here – you may want to visit Honda Bay. I may be the biggest fan of eco and cultural travels and tours so you won’t expect me to talk about El Nido and Coron here 🙂 But if you want me to recommend an itinerary: you may start your Palawan week in Puerto Princesa (by air from Manila) for two days; stay in El Nido (by land, 5-hour drive) for 2-3 days for an island hoping (Tour A: Big Lagoon, Secret Lagoon, Shimizu Island, and Seven Commando Beach; Tour B: Snake Island (Vigan Island), Pinagbuyutan Island, Entalula Beach, and Cudugnon Cave; Tour C: Helicopter Island, Matinloc Island, Secret Beach, Star Beach, and Hidden Beach; Tour D: Ipil Beach, Cadlao Lagoon, Paradise Beach, Pasandigan Beach, Natnat Beach, and Bukal Beach); stay in Coron (by water – 6-hour ferry or faster but more expensive 4-hour tourist boat).

Where to eat

Cacaoyan Restaurant

If you are looking for a nature vibe, plus IG-friendly restaurant, Cacaoyan Restaurant offers you that. It also offers you Filipino food from appetizers, main course to desserts and beverages. We had a buffet lunch there.

Other information and travel tips

  1. I suggest to bring enough money if you are not staying at the city proper. Hotels and resorts though accept mobile wallet and debit/credit cards
  2. Bring first aid kit, especially when you go trekking
  3. Travel responsibly. Refuse single-use plastics and utensils
Thanks to Atremaru team for the warm accommodation

Budget and Itinerary

Below is a proposed itinerary and does not actually represent our itinerary. I booked a flight from Manila to Puerto Princesa, v.v. for four amounting to P12k+ thru AirAsia Super App.

Day 1 – Beachlife and Urban Tours

6:10 – Departure from Manila
7:00 – Departure from Puerto Princesa International Airport to Atremaru Jungle Retreat (pick up arranged by the Atremaru)
8:00 – Jungle Walk at Atremaru
9:00 – Beachlife, Snorkeling, Fishing (average of P2k per person for a private tour, includes lunch picnic)
14:00 – Hundred Caves Spelunking
17:00 – City Tour

Day 2 – Eco-tourism

8:00 – Mangrove Paddle Boat Tour (P350 per person)
9:30 – Underground River Tour (P2,100 per person, includes a buffet lunch)
11:45 – Cacaoyan Restaurant
13:30 – Ugong Rock Zipline (P550 per person)
15:30 – Mangrove Paddle Boar Tour (P350 per person)

Post-script: We celebrated here 2022’s Mother’s Day. It was a surprise for mom and on the other side, dad called. I also learned in this travel that my ading is hard tipper. I am a tipper, but he’s better. LOL (Sa akin nga lang galing yong amount. Haha)

You need to be responsible when travelling. Respect the culture and locals of the province. Locals here are one of the best people I met. Tatay Tinoy was true when he told this to us. I was inspired by his story. When he and his family had a tour in Palawan, he decided to leave their life from Visayas and moved to the archipelago. They did not regret the decision, they are living happily and peacefully. The same way I want to live my life – people would ask me why would you spend money in socio-cultural and economic activities and why not buy branded things and brand new things? Why not buy new house or car? Making buying decisions is important as it could impact our environment. Tatay Tinoy and the people of Palawan made me realized that I am on the right track to save our dying earth. Every time I talked to people in Palawan, I heard consistent messaging and they are indirectly saying, “I am doing this for our earth, for us, for our future.” When we left, Tatay Tinoy left us a message, “ang yaman natin ay para sa mga buhay pang darating” (our place is for the next generation to come). For me, Palawan feels like home.

Now, here’s a compilation of our Palawan tour:

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About the Author

Paul Michael Jaramillo
Paul Michael JaramilloChief Executive Editor
PJ is a CPA, writer, storyteller, environment and youth advocate. As a writer, his articles on national development were published in a Spanish newspaper and local news network Rappler. As a storyteller and environment advocate, his documentary films on mining and environment were featured by ABS-CBN News and GMA News. He launched his career as a CPA at KPMG in the Philippines in 2015. He started his professional journey as an external auditor of a global workspace provider (the largest audit client of KPMG in the Philippines), global bank, leading MFCG in the Philippines and a number of shared service centres. As an auditor, his team won the KPMG Asia-Pacific Data & Analytics Challenge and coached the Philippine team that placed third to the KPMG GlobalRunner Cup. More than two years later, he led KPMG in the Philippines’ Network of Audit Innovators and Data & Analytics Champions and its academic arm, while serving as a member of the KPMG Asia-Pacific Audit Digital Transformation Workstream. He has a strong background across the full life cycle of data and analytics (D&A) and audit methodology. He served as a member of the Audit Methodology Group and Root Cause Analysis Team of KPMG in the Philippines. He was a regular training facilitator of KPMG on audit methodology, innovation, data and analytics, professional standards and regulatory updates. He also served as a coach for newly promoted supervisors. PJ was also the Firm’s System of Quality Management Implementation Manager and a Workforce of the Future Champion. He was also a Sampling Specialist of the Firm. In 2019, PJ was a member of the Philippine Institute of Certified Public Accountants (PICPA)’s Technical Working Group on Audit Methodology. PJ led in developing some of the innovative solutions of KPMG in the Philippines. Above all, PJ is a people investor. He invests on people who have potential and talents. That makes him a coach and mentor to some young professionals in the profession and served as a People Committee member of KPMG in the Philippines. He leads advocacy projects that help communities. He produces vlogs thru his YouTube channel, PJspirations which features stories of different individuals. Currently, he is the Academic Master and Head Coach of PREMIER International Learning and Development Center, which provides coaching, mentoring, training and learning programs and platforms that promote growth and development in every individual’s life and career. He is also with the Middle East region of KPMG as a member of its Professional Practice group and Audit L&D, providing subject matter knowledge and guidance on audit methodology, and learning and development programs to its offices. He is a proud Ilocano and a graduate of Northwestern University.

He also conducts #IamRemarkable sessions, a program initiated by Google for women and underrepresented groups.