There was a time when going around Puerto Princesa, the country’s “last frontier”, was a virtual drive to a frontier land dubbed as the “City Within a Forest”. Roads in the outskirts were unpaved and public transport was crude, and road tripping was a physical adventure in itself. In recent years, motoring has become a breeze with concrete city streets and four-lane national highways, cutting travel time and making the tourist spots more accessible.
With a land area of 2,193 sq. kms. and a 416-km coastline, it is an urban and forest playground aside from being home to the famed Underground River. The capital city of Palawan, a perennial “The Best Island in the World” awardee, it can be reached through its spanking new international airport which can host 2 M passengers annually. With its central location, nearly all points of the province can be reached by land, sea and air mobility.
With its low Covid-19 cases, vast outdoor destinations, and low population density, this is a safe nature getaway once travel restrictions are eased. With lots of land transportation options—from package tours to rented cars—going around in the city would not be a problem even with the strict health protocols in place.
Pit Stop 1: Sabang. Froman early morning flight, you can motor directly to this coastal village, 70 kms away, the jump-off to the city’s prime attraction—the Underground River,a Unesco World Heritage Site and among the New Seven Wonders of Nature. The world’s longest navigable subterranean river with jaw-dropping cave formations, it is tucked under limestone mountains which are believed to be millions of years old.
After the tour, guests usually feast for lunch at the beach cottages or at the nearby establishments, among them Daluyon Beach and Mountain Resort (Main Photo), the biggest in the area. Sabang complements the tour with beach bumming, water sports, a jungle trail, and a mangrove paddleboat tour.
Pit Stop 2: Ugong Rock Adventures. Situated just a few minutes away, this park offers adventure activities in and around the 50-meter-high limestone karst, which include a zipline ride, zip biking, and rock climbing. The summit offers an exhilarating view of the National Park embracing the Subterranean River.
On the way back to the city proper,swing by the Batak Cultural Center foran interaction with Palawan’s “disappearing tribe”, and the Buenavista viewdeck for a merienda break while gazing at Ulugan Bay’s panoramic cove.
Pit Stop 3: Nagsaguipi River Firefly Watching. Cap the night with the firefly watching, acommunity-based project along the river barangays of Salvacion and Sta. Cruz. The relaxing cruise attests to the rich forest biodiversity of the area which provides a haven for fireflies, insects and other wildlife.
Pit Stop 4: City Proper. If you have deduced that Puerto Princesa literally means “port of the princess” in Spanish, you are correct. With its natural attributes, it is indeed fit for royalty. And when it comes to places to stay, the city isn’t lacking for lodging fit for a princess. Princesa Garden Island Resort and Spa, situated on the city’s southern peninsula, stands out with its luxe facilities and a sandbar across the channel to boot.
Travel back in time at Palawan Museum, the Immaculate Conception Cathedral, the World War 2 Museum, and Plaza Cuartel where hundreds of American soldiers were imprisoned and killed during World War 2. Explore the home-grown bars and restos, craft beer, souvenir art shops, boutiques and what-have-yous.
As a “green city”, Puerto Princesa encourages walking and biking, and has installed smart street lighting and other earth-friendly technologies. Stroll around the Tourism Mile, a nocturnal colony of Rizal Ave. Ext. which hasa bevy of tourism-related activities.
Pit Stop 5: Honda Bay. This isn’t related to the popular Japanese car maker, but is a definitely must-see even if you don’t own one of their cars. An 18-km drive north of the city, you can bum around and snorkel on the powdery islands scattered in this enticing body of water—Cowrie, Starfish, and Luli sandbar, and more private Pandan and Areceffi, where Dos Palmas Resort stands. If you have extra moolah, you can stay at this posh island resort and spa and go scuba diving.
If you have more time in your hands, you can rediscover more of the city’s secrets hiding in plain sight. And with the disciplined and kind-hearted people who observes road courtesy and treats guests with princess-like hospitality, day tripping around Puerto Princesa is perhaps to closest you can get to being treated like royalty.
A true-blue day tripper since age 19, he has travelled across the archipelago by land, air, and sea. As a communications trainer, travel photojournalist, tourist mapmaker, scuba diver, environment advocate, or simply a family road tripper, he has imbibed the diversity of the Philippines by learning the basic way of life of the places he visits.