A foreign traveller bound for the Philippines for the first time will likely go to the white sands beaches of Boracay or the entertainment hubs in Metro Manila. These are the more popular destinations commonly featured in travel shows. You should know that the Philippines is made up of 7,000+ islands across 18 regions. Each region is a melting pot of cultures influenced by former colonizers and existing tribal groups. If you travel to the Cordilleran region in Luzon island, you may be surprised to meet natives speaking in American English infused with words in the local language. Experiencing Philippine culture is like trying out a variety of flavours at the same time. It can be wonderfully surprising.
For your maiden trip to the Philippines, visit the enchanting island of Palawan. This long and narrow island is considered the largest in the country. The Palawan province, which is composed of Palawan island and roughly 1,780 smaller islands and islets, is part of the Southwestern Tagalog Region or MIMAROPA. If you look at a Philippine map, Palawan seems to be closer to the Muslim regions in Mindanao. But its culture shares more similarities with the northern islands. For instance, Palawan locals generally speak in Tagalog, the language widely spoken in Luzon. There are also more Catholics in the island than Muslims.
As a foreigner, there are a few things you should include in your travel guide when travelling to Palawan. Here’s a quick list of experiences to look forward to. Palawan experience
A rustic destination for laid-back travellers
In 2017, readers of Travel + Leisure voted Palawan as the World’s Best Island, beating South Carolina’s Hilton Head Island, Boracay, and Ecuador’s Galapagos Islands. “There’s nothing quite like immersing yourself in the natural wonders of this Philippine archipelago, which many of our readers described as ‘rustic,’ ‘romantic,’ ‘affordable’ and ‘relaxing.’ As one fan succinctly wrote, ‘it’s the single most beautiful place on earth,’” according to an article by Travel + Leisure’s Rebecca Ascher-Walsh. Palawan experience
Palawan has a unique charm that sets it apart from other beach destinations in the world. It’s not as developed as Boracay and far more affordable than Santorini and Maui. It is “rustic,” as Travel + Leisure reader put it. There are a few posh hotels but a lot more hostels and lodges. You can stay in a hostel for Php500 (US$10) per night inclusive of breakfast. Palawan is a laid-back traveller’s paradise.
Palawan: an exploration of natural spots
If you’re looking for wild parties or high-end shopping, Palawan may not be the place for you. There are bars and restaurants, but not as many as in other tourist destinations in the country. Palawan is more for explorations of natural spots such as the El Nido Marine Reserve Park, Coron Reefs, and Calauit Game Preserve and Wildlife Sanctuary. It’s also home to two UNESCO World Heritage Sites: the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park and the Tubbataha Reef Marine Park.
You can start your adventures early in the morning with a tour to the Underground River, the longest in the world, a picnic on the beach at lunchtime, an afternoon dip in the Big Lagoon, and firefly watching in the evening. You will hear the sounds of nature around you as you prepare to sleep at night.
Get your essentials in the capital before hopping on the boat
Palawan may not be as bustling as other provinces in the Philippines, but it can cover your essential needs. Puerto Princesa is the capital and largest city in the province. It’s your gateway to the thousands of islands and islets in the province. It’s the seat of public administration and the centre of trade and commerce.
After you arrive at the Puerto Princesa International Airport, you will find banks, ATM machines and foreign exchange shops. There are also remittance centres such Palawan Express. Many tourists withdraw sufficient cash while in the capital because ATM machines are scarce in other parts of the province. It’s also advisable to check with your hotel or lodge whether they accept credit cards. Hopping to a boat back to Puerto Princesa to withdraw cash is no fun. Palawan experience
Many islands in Palawan province are barely inhabited. While in the capital, buy snacks for your island hopping adventures. Some of the essentials you should include in your shopping list are bottled water, crackers, chocolates or sweets, sunblock lotion, mosquito repellent lotion, and other toiletries. Buying these in the mall than in your hotel can save you money.
Rice lovers everywhere
Palawan is a popular destination not only for foreigners but also for Filipino travellers. You will meet solo backpackers, family vacationers and groups of travelling friends. Filipinos are known to be among the friendliest people you’ll ever meet. If you need help with directions or with anything, don’t hesitate to approach them for assistance. Palawan experience
Filipinos love eating, and sharing meals with others is a common practice. You may be invited to lunches or dinners. For a Filipino, a meal is incomplete without white rice. Rice is served at breakfast, lunch and dinner with meat and vegetable dishes. Hotels and inns usually serve foreign guests with bread, omelette and fruits for breakfast or the Continental Breakfast, but if you’re eating in a Filipino house, expect the king of the dining table: white rice.
Environmental rules are strictly enforced
All visitors in Palawan are expected to observe rules and regulations. The local government strictly imposes laws on environmental preservation. There are areas where eating isn’t allowed. Have a heavy meal in your hotel before going over your day excursion. You can bring granola bars and bottled water, but remember to dispose of your trash properly.
The government recently signed a law against smoking in public places. Ask for the designated smoking areas before lighting up to avoid unnecessary problems with authorities. Moreover, throwing cigarette butts near the beach is prohibited as these can harm marine life.
Wherever your wandering feet may take you, always keep an open mind to the diversity around you. Traveling can be a life-changing experience if you make it so. As Anthony Bourdain once said: “As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life—and travel—leaves marks on you.” Palawan experience
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- 5 Palawan Experiences that All Foreign Travelers can Relate - October 10, 2017