A long, thin archipelago province located between the South China and Sulu Seas, Palawan Island provides a gorgeous holiday escape for divers and non-divers alike.
A chain on mountains, reaching 2086m at its highest point, stretches across the island, blanketed in a lush virgin rainforest which spills down the slopes to meet the 2000km of bright white sandy beaches and rocky coves that line the coastline.
The two most popular areas frequented by tourists are El Nido, located on the northern-most tip of the island, and Puerto Princesa, sitting on the central coast. Puerto Princesa is the capital of Palawan, famed for being the cleanest, most charming city in the Philippines, and the port used for all liveaboard cruises sailing the surrounding seas.
Palawan is a melting pot of culture, with over 87 different races and cultural groups calling this island home. The majority of the populace still consists of the native Palaweños, with the remainder made up of minority groups who have migrated from other areas of the Philippines. This mixing of cultures gives Palawan the vibrancy and welcoming atmosphere that it is so well-known for today.
The climate in Palawan can be described as tropical, with a very definite wet and dry season. The temperature stays consistent throughout the year, averaging 32ºC during the day and 24ºC overnight.
Wet Season: June to November
Rainfall is usually received in the form of short, sharp thunderstorms throughout the day, and it can get quite sultry during this time of year. Due to its relatively unsheltered position in the ocean, the summer monsoon is generally more intense on this island.
Dry Season: December to May
Thunderstorms are common in the late evenings and early mornings; however, the moisture burns off quickly, and the days are hot and sunny. The reduced rainfall results in less humidity, making the weather a little more pleasant.
The seas around Palawan Island offer a vast diversity of dive sites that appeal to divers of all types. From Coron in the far north to El Nido, you can dive wrecks, caves, reefs and lakes, or hop on a liveaboard and experience the wonders of diving at the UNESCO World Heritage-listed Tubbataha Reef Natural Park.
During your visit to this spectacular diving destination, you can expect to encounter turtles, dugongs, a plethora of reef fish, reef sharks, manta rays, large pelagic fish, octopus, various crustaceans, nudibranch and so much more!
26ºC – 30ºC, 3mm wetsuit or rashie
The window for diving in Tubbataha Reef Natural Park is short, running from March to June. Diving in El Nido and Puerto Princesa is conducted year-round; however, the best time to visit in terms of visibility and water conditions is between May and November.
A vibrant shallow water coral garden featuring cabbage corals which are home to silver tuna and a school of yellow snappers. Other creatures to keep an eye out for include turtles, barracudas, jacks, angelfish, cuttlefish and squid. The strong current that runs in this area can make this dive quite challenging. Max Depth: 12m
A macro wonderland, this reef with sandy patches is teeming with tiny critters, most notably seahorses and nudibranch. Anemonefish, stonefish, eels and turtles are also common sites. Max Depth: 20m
If the currents are in your favour, this is a spectacular circumnavigation dive around a huge rock. Known specifically for its pelagic visitors, you will have the chance to see blacktip reef sharks, schools of jacks and barracuda, as well as some stunning hard and soft coral. Max Depth: 32m
Dive sites along the southern part of this island feature a wealth of breath-taking coral gardens and formations teeming with tropical inhabitants. Along the western edge of the island, you will find a spectacular wall with small rivets and caverns harbouring octopus, clams, lionfish, frogfish, scorpionfish, turtles and much more. Marble rays and reef sharks are also known to frequent this area. Max Depth: 35m
Perhaps one of the most enticing sites for more experienced divers, this cave consists of a wide 35m tunnel with a sandy bottom housing small fish and crabs. As you make your way towards the exit of this cave, you will encounter some larger fish, including Spanish mackerel and jacks. Max Depth: 12m
Tubbataha Reef Natural Park
Generally conducted as a drift dive, this site gets its name from the whitetip reef sharks that rest on the sandy plateau in a formation reminiscent of aeroplanes lined up side-by-side at an airport. A sandy, coral-covered slope leads to a wall with overhangs, crevices and caves which host a plentitude of almost every Pacific reef fish in existence, an abundance of macro life, larger pelagic species, gorgonian fans and soft corals. Triggerfish, scorpionfish, turtles, nurse sharks, silky sharks, guitar sharks, sea urchins, sea stars, sea cucumbers, moray eels, dog-tooth tuna, eagle rays, and even the occasional whale shark are among the most commonly encountered marine creatures at this site. Max Depth: 61m+
True to its name, the currents at this dive site can change direction suddenly and make you feel like you’re being run through a washing machine. The upside is that the diversity of marine life that rides these currents is astounding! Stingrays, turtles, nurse sharks and whitetip reef sharks can be seen resting in the crevices of this greatly fissured reef. Soft corals, barrel sponges, black corals and gorgonian fans abound, and the visibility is generally so good that you can spot manta rays, eagle rays and even the occasional whale shark in the distant deep blue. Max Depth: 61m+
Stunning corals and massive gorgonian fans provide the backdrop for jumbo-sized fish including grouper, snapper, dog-tooth tuna, bluefin and giant trevally, mackerel, Napoleon wrasse, grey reef and whitetip sharks. This is a beautiful site for a night dive where you can see these giant fish in action, hunting for their next meal. The descent of night also brings the macro world to life, where the shallows are teeming with sea cucumbers, flatworms, crabs, lobsters, crinoids and nudibranch, while the gorgonian fans provide a perch for pygmy seahorses. Max Depth: 40m
Although a small wreck on the south-east of the atoll gives this dive site its name, it is not the main feature. In reality, the biggest drawcard for this site is the predators that patrol these waters, including dog-toothed tuna, giant trevally, great barracuda, whitetip sharks and even hammerheads and tiger sharks! A large fissure in the reef called ‘The Cut’ is the setting for mobs of grey reef sharks hunting giant schools of fish. Max Depth: 35m
Drift along a wall teeming with whitetip reef sharks, grey reef sharks and sometimes hammerheads and tiger sharks. Larger fish such as bluefin trevally, Spanish mackerel and barracuda are also known to make an appearance. This site is most well-known for its manta cleaning station, surrounded by convenient vantage points to watch the mantas circle the station before stopping among the cleaner wrasse for a good groom. Green and Hawksbill turtles are also abundant in this area. Max Depth: 30m
Jessie Beazley Reef
This mushroom-shaped reef plays host to impressive schools of surgeonfish and unicornfish, Napoleon wrasse, Spanish mackerel, barracuda, and even sharks, particularly grey reef sharks. The currents in this area can be strong and unpredictable, so you can only dive it under the right conditions. Max Depth: 50m+
Regardless of its well-removed position from the rest of the Philippine islands, Palawan is far from being a typical ‘remote island’.
Visit the Tabon Caves and see the place where one of the oldest discoveries of human inhabitants was found, along with his artefacts. This discovery is known as Tabon Man, and his remains are over 16,000 years old! Tay Tay Fort was a Spanish stronghold during the 1700s to protect against pirates and slave raiders. Dormant cannons pointing out over the bay are still there today, as well as the restored chapel, an interactive museum and shops. Visit Culion Island, home to the largest leper colony in the 1900s. It was declared leprosy free in 2006; however, many reminders remain of the pain and hardship that these people faced after being torn away from their families and isolated on a foreign island to live out the rest of their natural lives.
Island hopping is a fun, easy way to explore this area and take advantage of the gorgeous beaches and crystal blue waters of this archipelago. Visit Ugong Rock, a natural formation that makes an interesting noise when you tap it, located just north of Puerto Princesa. You can also go spelunking in the caves, zip-line through the jungle, or go trekking on dedicated paths to fantastic lookout points around Ugong Rock. Go on a hike and visit the multitude of waterfalls that flow through this region, or navigate the underground river located within the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park.
For more of a cultural experience, the bustling local markets are always well-stocked and bursting with vibrant colours and mouth-watering smells. Stroll through the stalls and pick up some souvenirs or simply window shop for the day. Stop at the small food stalls or restaurants along the way and sample the delectable food that the Philippines is so well-known for.
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