The Philippine Islands have long been overshadowed by the exotic likes of their Southeast Asian cousins Thailand, Vietnam and Laos. While there’s nothing wrong with a little Phuket or Ha Long Bay to satisfy your tropic-seeking wanderlust, if you’re itching to go somewhere off the grid with otherworldly beauty where the dollar goes damn near forever, look no further than The Philippines and the town of Coron.
Located in the province of Palawan, Coron is a sleepy seaside town and though travelers come from miles around to explore the area, little about Coron, with its markets and narrow streets, feels touristy. And while the town is not without its share of quaint restaurants (try a six-dollar lobster at The Kawayanan Grill), what really brings folks to Coron is what the locals call island hoping. Dozens of surrounding islands are there for you to explore, each with some variation of indigenous inhabitants, white powder beaches, freshwater lakes and diving/snorkeling opportunities, many of which involve World War II shipwrecks.
The best way to get started on your island hope is to head to the marina. There you’ll find dozens of young entrepreneurs eager to get you into their “Banca,” (a small indigenous boat) and take you around to see the sights. Is it safe, you might ask, to just jump into a boat with a stranger? Based on my experience and everyone, local and otherwise, I met along the way… absolutely. In fact, it’s the only way to do it!
The idea of visiting a lake on a tropical island can throw even the most intrepid adventurer for a loop. After pulling up to a rudimentary dock and paying a nominal fee, you disembark your banca and begin to make your way up a steep wooden staircase. The climb is intense but once at the top, you find yourself at the foot of the most beautiful fresh water lake in the world. A wooden boardwalk surrounds a pristine bathwater warm lake, often touted as the cleanest water in Asia. This lake is cut into harsh walls of limestone and as beautiful as the water’s color is, the rock formations under water are equally transfixing. And if swimming in some of the world’s clearest water is appealing to you, wait until that water takes you into a cave on the lake’s perimeter. Inside the cave, light from outside reflects off the ethereal water turning the cave’s stalactites into a kaleidoscopic light show.
On your way back to the banca, stop and take in the view of Kayangan Lagoon. This is one of the most heavily photographed views from the islands. Towering spires of limestone and vegetation spread out beyond the shore surrounded by blue green water as far as you can see. Take a minute before descending the rickety staircase to check out the shallow cave at the top of the hill.
History buffs are drawn to The Philippines to learn about World War II and off the coast of Coron, there are ten shipwrecks left over from the war, now surrounded by coral and one of the top dive sites in the world. For this trip, you will need to book in advance, so you join the locally owned Coron Divers to explore the wrecks and reefs. If you aren’t certified, snorkeling the Siete Pecados Marine Park has all the coral and marine beauty only without the sunken ship!
While island hoping, you will likely also stop at this stunning stretch of while sand beach. You can spend the afternoon swimming in the warm water and stare up into the sharp limestone cliffs above you.
HIKE TO MT. TAPYAS
Back on the mainland, to get a look at where you’ve just been, spend two hours hiking to the top of Mount Tapyas. Part trail, part stairs, once at the top, visitors really get a sense of what an island chain of 7,000 islands really looks like.
Images Courtesy of Matt Payne
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