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Palawan’s Magnetic North

Palawan’s Magnetic North

Bernard Supetran

A quick guide on how to enjoy every moment of the long day trips in the World’s Best Island

It’s no rocket science why Palawan is a perennial winner in the World’s Best Island search for more than a decade now. Dubbed as the Last Frontier, this “island” province is actually an archipelago with 1,769 islands and a 1,959-km coastline, with the mainland stretching 425 km long and a road network of more than double the figure. And while this seems to be an infinity of driving, it is almost always the northern towns which have a magnetic pull for first-time and perennial visitors alike.

Here’s a quick guide on how to yield to the north’s magnetic pull and enjoy every moment of the long day trips.

Pit Stop 1: Puerto Princesa City. The provincial capital whose international airport can be reached from Manila, Cebu, Iloilo, and other tourist hotspots.

It is also the hub for land, air sea travel, as well as car dealers who are cashing in on the bustling local economy. From here, you can rent either a chauffeur self-driven car so you can hit the ground running and stop to smell the flowers by the wayside, quite literally.

Branding itself as the “City within a Forest,” it boasts of lush green cover and is home to the famed Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, a Unesco World Heritage Site and among the Seven Wonders of the Natural. A 74-km drive northwest from the airport, this amazing underground waterway is a must-not-miss for first-timers.

Pit Stop 2: Roxas. After half-day river adventure, drive 123 km northward to this stopover town for buses, UV Express and private vehicles for toilet break, snacks, and passenger loading and unloading. You can also buy high-quality cashew nuts in this “cashew capital,” or munch on authentic-tasting Vietnamese banh mi sandwich or sip a pho noodle.

Pit Stop 3: Taytay. Another 83-km long and winding road will take you to this circa-1800s provincial capital town which is slowly being detected by the global tourist radar. Branding itself as Estrella del Norte or “Star of the North,” its iconic landmark is the Fort Sta. Isabel which was among the most important Spanish-era fortresses in the archipelago. This postcard-pretty fort is the locus of the municipality’s tourism drive and the jump-off to the myriad attractions.

This rustic town embraces the Malampaya Sound, the major source of the country’s natural gas, and is endowed by an enviable terrestrial and marine biodiversity, and fertile soil.

Hit the sack and have a dreamy sleep at a luxe boutique hotel aptly called: “Dream Resort” perched at a cliff facing the panoramic Taytay Bay. The sprawling property is dotted by well-manicured greenery and only has 10 villas to ensure guest privacy, and a cozy open-air restaurant which serves all-time Filipino favorites, as well as Middle Eastern and Mediterranean delights.

The resort also offers yoga lessons, and will soon consolidate recreational activities such as treks to mountains and waterfalls, island-hopping, lake tours, and heritage trails, to be a one-stop shop for its in-house guests.

After a dreamy night, hop around Taytay Bay’s exciting mini-archipelago, many of which have towering limestone cliffs common in Palawan. The tour will swing you by Pabellon Island which has a mesmerizing cave pool, and the resort islands of Noa-Noa and Floral, which are both astounding for its guest amenities despite its distance from the mainland.

Another must-see is the placid lake of Manguao, a 643-hectare municipal conservation area known for its abundance of freshwater fish. You can paddle the calm body of water on a kayak or admire the lakescape aboard a bamboo raft while feasting on locally-prepared lunch or snack.

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Pit Stop 4: El Nido. Arguably the piece de resistance of northern Palawan, its myth of exclusivity has been shattered over the past decades because of the advent of more transport options and road trip sights and sounds.

It has seen rapid growth of tourism-related establishments to give visitors more lodging and dining choices apart from the high-end brand associated with El Nido in the olden days.

A new integrated township is Lio Tourism Estate of Ayala Land Inc. which embraces sustainable tourism practices and technologies to lessen its impact on the environment. The vast lifestyle enclave on Bacuit Bay is perhaps a scaled-down beach version of Makati’s Greenbelt sans the skyscrapers and urban beat. You can spend a night or two at the low-rise Isla Amara of Piolo Pascual and Kathryn Bernardo, or Seda Hotel Lio, which can give you star-rated service in a beach countryside setting.

Do the usual island- and cove-hopping circuits and explore the town’s romantic nocturnal vibe at night.

After getting magnetized by Palawan’s north, you can fly home aboard AirSwift twin turboprop planes at the Lio Airport, which sits right beside the lifestyle colony.