At exactly 0945H, we headed to Busuanga, the jump off point to Coron, Culion and islands in between better known as Calamian Group of Islands in Northern Palawan. We rented a boat to take us around the islands for a week with no fixed itinerary and no reservations whatsoever. Exploring was top priority. Call it surveillance if you will. I prefer to call it adventure!
OPERATION TREK & EXPLORE
Climbing Mt. Tapyas in Coron town proper with its 750 steps (one way) under scorching heat is a sure fire way to loosen those joints. This feat prepared us for more physical exertions up ahead like the trek to Kayangan Lake. The most picturesque spot in all of Calamian is found on the way to Kayangan. Taking a glorious dip in this brackish body of water exceeded all expectations. We’re glad to have our snorkeling gear because the rock formations underneath will leave you breathless. Most definitely worth the hike, no questions asked. Just move it, soldier!
For daring thrill seekers and professional climbers, there is a steep terrain over limerocks at Atwayan that leads to a hidden lake. Black Island is also one of the notable islands we visited. With a just a short walk from the shore, you can enjoy a nice fresh water dip inside a cave. The water is refreshingly cold, in contrast with the temperature outside. For a more relaxing afternoon, we walked along Malcapuya Island and enjoyed the powdery white sands that rival Boracay. There’s also a small cave and view deck in the area.
Like weapons to a gun boat, our boat was strapped with kayaks on the sides, armed with oars and ready for battle! So to speak. We went around several islands, the first of which was Twin Lagoon — adjoining lagoons with two entrances: a cave-like entry way tunnel filled with oyster shells that shimmer like chandelier when hit by a sun and via the open water. We went in the former and out the latter.
Kayaking near the mangroves around Bugol (meaning no hair) Uno and Dos was as fun as walking along the sandbars, up until the security at Two Seasons tell you to move away from their property. Like they own the water?! Hmmpf. Kayaking around Calumbuyan is much more highly recommended! Notice how I said much, more and highly? It’s that much! Going clockwise around the island is relaxing since it will enable you to drift if you position your kayak sideways. With a few snacks in tow, sit back and watch mangroves and bird life while schools of little fish occasionally jump around you. Circumventing back is another story though. Because tides from Sulu Sea and South China Sea meet in Calumbuyan, that current will give you a challenge. Be careful, lest you end up like me dangling from the boat while my cousin struggles to keep us from drifting away.
Luckily, our boat operator is also the contact of Marine Biologists in the area so the guy knows the best sites.
- Skeleton Reef – home to millions of hungry fish that expect you to hold out some bread for them. It is the only place in Calamian where people are allowed to interact with marine life this way. There is also a small wreck on site.
- Banana Island – no banana plants, it was named after the shape apparently. Just a short swim from the shore, you’ll be hypnotized watching schools of fish that seem to swim in synchrony with some invisible music. We also spotted an octopus, squid and lion fish here.
- Bugor Marine Park – the name says it all! Used for research, there is a good variety of fish in this area. Docking in the middle of the sea is also cool! Lots of puffer fish around.
- Calumbuyan – the beach front may not be much but wait ’til you snorkel! As I’ve mentioned, the currents from two seas meet here thereby bringing double doses of minerals. With a good mix of corals and fish, it’s the best snorkeling site by far even if a lot were damaged by typhoon Haiyan.
- Pass Island – if you want a sample of how clam farming looks like, there is a small collection of giant clams just near the shore. Do not poke them if you like your fingers!
What better place to discover scuba diving than Coron? There are several WWII Japanese gunboats around Sangat and the best dive crew around. Jojo gives discount but you didn’t hear it from me! For my first ever intro dive, we visited the site of a subhunter and got to about 9 meters.
A DIY Calamian Expedition is not that hard to do. It is more affordable than joining tour groups and it allows you to spend your time as you like it. Communication with your boatman is crucial since he will also be your tour guide and cook. For supplies, we bought fresh goods enough for 3 days in Coron and made a stop in the town of Culion to resupply. Bring lots and lots and lots of drinking water, sunblock and mosquito repellent. Do not leave your things unattended while on the islands unless you want monkeys eating your toiletries. Have plenty of cash with you because each, yes EACH AND EVERY island charges entrance fee ranging from P100-200 and (ridiculous) overnight rates of P300-1000 PER PERSON! There are no ATMs outside Coron.
After sleeping on sand and basic nipa huts for most of the week, staying in Sangat Island Dive Resort felt like staying at a five star resort. The service here is no doubt the best anywhere. The staff are friendly, attentive and willing to cater to some of our whims like requesting for crispy bacon for breakfast. With delectable full board meals and a villa by the caves on the side of a mountain (Lambingan Villa) in a secluded beach, this was the perfect cap off to our expedition!
Our own private paradise!
OVERVIEW (w/entrance fee or overnight charge PER PERSON)
arrival in Coron (overnight at Sunz en Coron for P3500/2 pax)
Kawangin Lake – P200
Skeleton Reef – P100
Twin Lagoon – P200
Atwayan – P500 (negotiated P300) we slept on our sleeping bags on the bench and table of an open nipa hut
Bugol Uno & Bugol Dos – P100
Banana Island – P700 (negotiated P500) slept on our sleeping bag in a slightly better open nipa hut
Malcapuya Island – P200
Culion Island (had to spend the night at an inn for P200/pax due to heavy rain, at least they served simple breakfast)
Bugor Marine Park (not open to public, coordinated in advanced)
Calumbuyan – P150
Pass Island – P1000 (negotiated P500-700) slept in a nipa hut with the provided beddings
South Key – P100-200
North Key – P100-200
Black Island – P200
Sangat Island – negotiated $115/ person for full board overnight stay at Lambingan Villa
The open shower was glorious!
Relax at Sangat
Headed back to Coron Town and off to Manila