Coron, Philippines - Ultimate guide
There is usually not a way to avoid passing through Manila on your way to Palawan. Note that most small airlines cannot fly after 4pm as there are no lights on the runway and if you book an afternoon flight there is much more risk of it being cancelled for this reason. Luckily I lined my flights up so that I arrived in Manila at 2am and had a flight out to Coron at 5.30am which arrived at 7. The airport in Busuanga is absolutely tiny, as you walk out mini vans are waiting to take you into Coron Town. Prices were 100 pesos at time of writing. Haggling is not so much needed in the Philippines as in the rest of Asia and I didn’t feel anyone was ever trying to rip me off. If you are coming from El Nido, the ferry takes around 3 hours. If you have the time there is also a 5 day island hopping tour you can do on the way to Coron/ El Nido which I didn't get to do but heard was amazing. Check out these two companies which do the tour:
Where to stay:
This was a big decision for me being the first time I’ve travelled solo in a while. I was looking for somewhere that would be easy to make friends, close to town so I could easily get home after a night out and of course have the usual hostel amenities such as wifi and a good bar! After booking and cancelling a few places I finally found Hop Hostel and I think I can honestly say it’s the best hostel I’ve ever stayed at! From its restaurant, cinema room and beds with actual mattresses!! (Option to upgrade to king size if you are that much of a flash packer) but what really made it special was the roof top bar with panoramic sunset views of Coron. Even if you are not staying at Hop Hostel, make sure you pop up there for a drink. I wasn’t in Coron long but I can’t imagine any better place to watch the sunset! They also offer free breakfast and dinner all for around 900 pesos/ £15 / $18 a night. Now there definitely are cheaper places you can stay. Others I looked at were Fat Monkey and Hub Backpackers which are around £3/4pn but if your budget can stretch, I would 100% recommend Hop Hostel. They also have events on each day and night, especially if you are there on a Wednesday, as this is their party night where they have beer pong, limbo competitions, flip cup and all sorts of other organised fun! If you are looking for something a bit more luxurious, The Funny Lion has great reviews and is close to the centre or Coron Underwater Garden Resort is a very cute hotel on a separate island but close enough to all the fun.
Things to do - Tour vs private boat.
My plan when I got to Coron was to drop my stuff and run down to the harbour to see if I could catch one of the group tours which all leave around 9am. Unfortunately I was just a few minutes too late so my only option was to get a private boat. After about 10am when all the boats have gone for the day is the best time to negotiate. The guides would rather have someone to take out rather than sit around all day without making any money. With this in mind I managed to find a private boat for just a bit more than one of the tours (around 2000 pesos). While we were waiting for the crew to get ready, the guide took me to the market to buy food for lunch which we then cooked on the boats open BBQ. Our first stop was number one on my Coron bucket list Kayangan Lake.
There’s around 300 steps up and 300 steps down and it can get quite slippery, don’t forget to stop at the top for the famous viewpoint where you can see the ocean in every shade of blue and green. When we got to the lake it was actually quite empty considering it was the middle of the day. The main tour boats all tend to do the same routes and so it’s likely to be very busy unless on a private boat. There’s not much to see in terms of marine life but the underwater rock formations mean it’s still worth bringing a snorkel and the water is so clear! After the lake we stopped at a snorkelling spot to search for turtles (no luck) and finally a private beach before returning to the harbour. As a solo traveller I probably would have preferred a group tour to be able to meet people and have someone to talk to other than the crew, however there are definitely benefits of hiring your own boat. If you are travelling with a group definitely look into a private charter as it may work out cheaper overall and gives you a lot more freedom. Where else in the world are you going to be able to hire a private boat with crew for under £30?!
The morning after a pretty crazy night at the Reggae bar, I had booked a tour that started at 7.30am, long story short I very nearly did not make it and the hostel receptionist came to wake me up just in time.... I had to run down to the harbour whilst trying not to be sick! I am planning to do a separate post just on this tour because I just have so much to say. Everything from the guides, the food, the locations and the people I met were just perfect. The first morning the boat takes you to a few of the main spots in Coron including Barracuda Lake, Twin Peaks and a fantastic snorkelling spot. Then you head to the Red Carabao camp which is on it's own island with a small local tribe living there who keep the place running. We had lunch and spent the rest of the day snorkelling, paddle boarding and kayaking from the island with the other guests and some of the locals. After dinner we had a camp fire and played games, star gazed, and watched the fireflies and bioluminescent plankton from the beach. You stay in open air huts right on the beach and wake up to the sunrise and sounds of nature. I have never woken up anywhere more beautiful. In the morning after breakfast there's more time to relax and go spearfishing with the tribe, you can even grind your own coffee! The group then say goodbye and head off to the final few spots (including Kayangan Lake) before returning to Coron town. Unfortunately I had a ferry to catch and so had to rush off, 2 of the local teenagers took me back to the mainland on the tiniest little boat and it was time to say goodbye to head on to El Nido. (Check out my guide here).
Other things to do:
Make sure to stop by the Reggae Bar - Tribu Kuridas which is a really fun night with live music. I somehow ended up playing bongos on stage! There aren’t that many options in Coron for late night drinking but that makes it quite nice as everyone ends up in the same place, if you are still out after 1am (correct me if I’m wrong) I’m pretty sure Hangover Bar is the only place that stays open until around 4am.
If you are left with a day when you are not on the tour head to Manquint Hotsprings or Cabo beach which is not as stunning as those accessible by boat but still better than most and a good option if you have ferry or flight in the afternoon.
One place that I unfortunately didn't get to visit was Malcapuya Beach, which was around 1.5 hours by boat and just didn't fit into my very tight schedule but it is apparently one of the most beautiful beaches in the world. I don't know if beaches can get any more beautiful than the ones I have seen in the Philippines, but do let me know if you get to visit!
Shipwreck diving is another activity that draws in the tourists and after Thailand, I think the Philippines is one of the cheapest places you can get your PADI licence which takes around 4 days. The final thing I again didn't get to do (more due to hangovers than time restrictions) was hike up to Mount Tapyas for panoramic views of Coron and, if you time it right, a famous Filipino sunset! (make sure you are prepared to climb down in the dark if you plan to do this).
Read the rest of my 10 day itinerary for Palawan here.