Island Hopping in Coron, Philippines
Island Hopping in Coron, Philippines
The towering limestone karsts rose beautifully from the turquoise waters, high above the small outrigger boat I was travelling from island to island on. Far towards the horizon, hundreds of islands were arrayed across the ocean, a spectacular scene of greenery and unusual rock formations and I couldn’t wait to explore as much as I could up close.
This was Coron, and so far it was unlike anywhere else I’d ever seen in the world. It was unreal and utterly spectacular to see.
I was taken to Kayangan Lake, a hidden lagoon surrounded by tall cliffs. Just one of the many secrets waiting amongst the many islands here. After a steep walk up and over the rocky cliff, I emerged on the edge of the lake, which was hemmed in by cliffs on all sides. The water was clear, and I was surprised to find, completely clean and fresh.
Kayangan Lake though was just one of the stops I was to make in this vast wilderness of beaches, lakes and coral reefs. We called into Twin Lagoons, where two separate lakes merge with the seawater on either side of a tall limestone karst. The only way to travel between the two was to swim underwater through a small cavern, and I emerged breathless on the other side to be immersed in more spectacular scenery.
I saw tropical white sands, swam with turtles, and snorkelled down to shipwrecks that were surrounded by colourful marine life. For days I took local boats out onto the islands, and still, I saw just a fraction of the magnificent landscapes and secret vistas trapped within the archipelago.
SEE – Photos & Videos
GO – Getting There
Coron is located to the north of the large island of Palawan, in the Philippines, and to the south of Manila. ‘Coron’ is actually a large collection of islands, and each individual island is unique, some small, some large and all beautiful. The term Coron is a bit of a misnomer when it comes to the area, as Coron Town, where most tourists are based is actually on the largest island, named Busuanga. Coron Island is separate to the town, and can only be reached by boat, and although you will find that tourists call the whole archipelago ‘Coron’, the actual name of the island group is the Calamianes Islands.
Coron is a fast-growing tourist destination and transport links are steadily improving, although, in peak season, they can be sometimes overwhelmed with the number of visitors, so when booking transport, it’s best to try and book in advance. Busuanga Airport is the only airport in the region and it’s located around a forty five minute drive away from Coron Town. There are no international connections, as this is a very small, regional airport, but there are several flights an hour to Manila and to Cebu, and from either of these two large Filipino cities you can connect internationally or to anywhere else in the Philippines. From Busuanga Airport to Coron Town, there are minibuses waiting for every flight arrival, just stroll out of the small terminal and you will soon find a lift into town, for only 150 pesos.
It’s also possible to take a slow ferry from Manila to Coron, an adventurous experience to undertake. The ferry is mostly used by locals and is slow, taking at least fourteen hours, and is prone to cancellations if the weather is rough. Many travellers will also arrive or depart to Palawan from Coron, as there are regular boats travelling to El Nido. These are small boats, and the voyage takes anywhere between 5 to 9 hours depending on the conditions. Be prepared with plenty of drinks and snacks, as facilities on these boats are very limited.
Do – Activities & Attractions
Coron is the place to island hop. There are hundreds of islands, beaches, lagoons and lakes to explore, and it’s easy to arrange boat tours around this beautiful archipelago. The most well-known sights are Kayangan Lake and Barracuda Lake, beautiful freshwater lakes surrounded by incredible limestone karst scenery, where you can swim and enjoy the scenery. Twin Lagoons is another favourite, as are many of the white sand beaches on the islands near Coron Town.
It’s best to try and get further afield too when visiting, so visit the unbelievable Pass Island – quite literally the definition of tropical, where a white sand beach surrounds a picturesque, palm-covered island – and also visit Black Island, home to a sandy beach under towering cliffs.
There are great views from the top of Mount Tapyas, and for something a bit different, travel to the Maquinit Hot Springs, where thermal waters offer a hot soaking.
Stay – Accommodation
Coron Town is the main base of tourist operations in the area. This is where the vast majority of the accommodation and tourist facilities can be found. As Coron has grown from an almost unknown destination to an ever more popular destination – although still nowhere near as busy as many better-known islands in the Philippines – the quantity of accommodation has struggled to keep up with demand, so be sure to book in advance. There is a wide range of options to book though, from ultra-luxury private islands to rustic backpacker dorms.
If you are looking to splurge, the best hotel in Coron Town is the luxurious Funny Lion Hotel, which has the best sunset view in Coron, from the rooftop bar that’s complete with jacuzzis overlooking the bay. Prices here begin from $150 per night. Much cheaper options include the excellent Sea Horse Guest House, a centrally located backpacker style hostel, with dorms and basic private rooms, where beds start from just $10 a night. There are even a few remote islands you can stay on too, including the beautiful Pass Island, where beach bungalows cost $25 a night.
Eat – Restaurants
Coron has a wide selection of restaurants, however, it is not a destination that is renowned for being a ‘foodie’ destination. There are plenty of local eateries where you can get cheap meals for just a few dollars, but the quality can vary, as can the hygiene. There are also plenty of restaurants catering to western tourists, including Italian and even Mexican style places, however, don’t expect anything gourmet. The best food is generally served on the island hopping trips, when the local crew will cook up excellent Filipino style BBQs with fresh seafood and salads, and of course, plenty of rice too.
Time – Seasonality & Schedules
Coron enjoys warm weather all year round but has two distinct seasons, the wet and the dry. The wet season runs from June to October, while the dry season runs from October to the end of May. Travelling in the wet season will give you much-reduced hotel costs, however, you are also at the mercy of the weather, as the area can be hit by merciless cyclones. You will find things are much, much quieter though. The most popular time of the year is towards the tail end of the dry season, March, April and May, as this is when the sun is always out and the water is at its clearest. This is when flights and hotels can be booked out, so plan ahead, although if you are flexible, it’s never too much trouble.
Safety – Possible risks
Coron is a very safe destination, as the local economy is very much reliant on tourism, so expect to be greeted with generous Filipino hospitality and smiles. Being a tropical destination, the real dangers come from the sun, so be prepared when making island hopping excursions with water and sun cream. When travelling in the rainy season, be very careful with the weather, as tropical storms can appear out of nowhere and make travel by boat dangerous. Watch out for typhoon warnings and if it looks like one will hit, it’s best to stay away.
Please Note: Travel inherently comes with an element of risk (just like crossing the road does). You are putting yourself in elements that are unfamiliar and foreign to your usual lifestyle and with that, become more susceptible to fall victim those who try to play off those unfamiliar to their local scams. There are also potential dangers in the environments to which you may not be accustomed to.
Please take extra care in travelling, ensure that you have adequate medical insurance (accidents seem to happen when you least expect them), and have let a trusted colleague, family member or friend know your whereabouts and activities.
Where Sidewalks End travel advises you to travel at your own risk, and to be extra aware of your surroundings (without letting it spoiling your time).
Pay – How much does it cost?
Coron is a cheap destination to travel to, however as it gets more popular, and as demand increases, prices may inevitably rise in the future. There is something for every budget though, and you can spend anywhere from $10 a night to hundreds of dollars a night on hotel rooms. Island hopping trips vary in price, depending on the length and the destinations involved, but the basic trip which takes in the highlights should cost no more than $20 per person when joining a group tour, which for a full day including lunch, isn’t bad at all.
Responsible Travel – Best Practices
Coron has developed fast to welcome tourism, and unfortunately, the real locals of the region, have been missing out on the money. The indigenous population are called the Tagbanua, and they have lived on these islands for thousands of years, but most of the money is being taken by Filipinos from other islands and cities who have moved in more recently. The Tagbanua own all the major tourist sites and are under pressure to open up more of their land to visitors, but see little reward.
There are a few initiatives, however, which are trying to get the real locals involved in the boom, including the Red Carabao Tour Company, who directly employ those from the islands. When you are in Coron, try and learn a little bit more about this unique local culture and people, as these are the guys that are responsible for keeping the lakes and beaches clean in the background, and they go out of their way to keep their islands pristine.
Reality Check – Be Aware
Coron is fast changing and may be very different in even just a few year’s time. At the moment though, many facilities are still very basic. Even in the fanciest hotels, wifi is very limited, as is mobile signal across the islands. Some of the more popular tourist sights such as Kayangan Lake and Twin Lagoons can get very crowded in peak season, so try and head out early to enjoy them more, and don’t be afraid to head further afield to the more remote islands.
Kayangan Lake, Coron
Pass Island, Coron
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