Palawan is an archipelago province of the Philippines; a long, thin chain of islands running in a diagonal line from the country’s western edge to the northeast tip of Borneo.
Often, when you see travel photos of the Philippines depicting epic limestone cliffs rising out of the sea clad in neon jungle… or stunning turquoise lakes and lagoons – that’s Palawan!
It is perhaps the most beautiful coastal region of the country, making it popular among backpackers who arrive in their masses to go beach hopping, viewpoint climbing and partying.
But Palawan is also the location of some of the Philippines best scuba diving locations: from the incredible WW2 Japanese Shipwrecks of Coron to the pristine coral reefs of El Nido.
So far I’ve dived Palawan on two separate occasions: over 2016 and 2023!
Based on my experiences there, I’ll walk you through the best way to scuba dive Palawan: with detailed itineraries, lists of the best accommodation, dive season and more! Let’s do this.
Itinerary 1: Diving & Backpacking Palawan: 8 days.
If you’re coming from another country you will fly into Manila, the capital of the Philippines. From here it’s just a ninety minute connecting flight to Busuanga (aka Coron) airport and then a 50 minute van drive to Coron town itself.
Coron town is a small but bustling tourist centre with many dive centres from which you can arrange to scuba dive the ten Japanese WW2 shipwrecks. In my opinion, diving Coron is the highlight of Palawan – it is hailed as the best wreck dive destination in all of Southeast Asia and with good reason. Carve out at least 3 days to dive to discover all the wrecks!
After Coron take a ninety minute flight or a four hour ferry down south to El Nido; the busiest and most popular part of the Philippines for young backpackers who flock here to El Nido town to party and marvel at the epic limestone cliff formations on beach-hopping tours.
The dive sites around El Nido bay comrpise some truly stunning coral reef; a favourite dive site is Dilumacad tunnel which starts as an underwater tunnel through helicopter island that opens out into a spacious cavern. Sometimes you can see nurse sharks around the entrance.
A 50 minute ride from the extremely busy El Nido will take you to Sibaltan; a very quiet, off-the-beaten-track seaside town where you can scuba dive with manta rays.
Allowing 2 travel days + 3 days each to dive El Nido and Coron, this itinerary can be completed in 8 days or a little longer if you want to also do some beach hopping and island seeing tours.
Afterwards, you can continue onto Palawan Itinerary 2 or continue on to some other parts of the Philippines – I recommend Visayas, starting with Bohol!
Itinerary 2: Palawan Liveaboard
The most legendary dive destination of all the Philippines and only accessible via an expensive liveaboard is Tubbataha Marine Park. Located between the east coast of Central Palawan and the southwest tip of Mindanao, this 96.828 hectare National Marine Park has pristine coral reef, vast schools of big fish and many species of sharks and rays.
To start your liveaboard trip, you’ll need to get to Puerto Princesa (the capital of Palawan, located around half way along it’s mid-section), which you can fly to from Manila in 90 minutes. Puerto Princesa has some decent local dives and there’s also a famous underground river but not much else to do around this busy city.
However after getting to Puerto Princesa and possibly a couple of warm up dives there, your liveaboard will depart for Tubbataha for a week or more of truly amazing, off-the-beaten-track diving, some of the best the Philippines has to offer!
#1 Coron Bay
In my opinion, the highlight of diving Palawan is Coron which comprises a separate group of islands at the mostly northerly tip of Palawan. Nestled around Coron bay is Coron town: a small but bustling tourist-hub with many restaurants, bars and dive resorts / centres. From here you can easily arrange to dive the 10 incredible Japanese WW2 shipwrecks.
A few of the wrecks lie at shallow depths and are fairly small making them excellent first-time wrecks for beginner divers. However, most wrecks require advanced open water cert and wreck training (Nitrox is a useful plus!). They lie at depths of up to 141ft / 33m and are up to 524ft / 160m long with many decks, compartments and rooms to explore. It is truly thrilling stuff!
From Coron you can also make a day trip to north Busuanga to have a 50 / 50 chance of diving with Dugong; this is pretty expensive, around 10,000 PHP (roughly $180) and requires a very early morning start. But everyone who goes, says its worth it!
When I first visited Coron in 2016 it was extremely quiet indeed, you easily could walk along the streets which were devoid of traffic. When I went back in 2023, I was blown away by how busy it has become – the streets are totally rammed with traffic and every square inch along them is taken up by hostels, bars and restaurants. There’s a pretty lively nightlife here!
There’s also some kickass sightseeing to be done on day tours around the various lakes and lagoons surrounded by epic limestone cliffs as well as different islands and white-sand beaches – these locations are anything but quiet; you’ll see hundreds of other backpackers on similar tours but it’s a really great way to meet people!
The best time to dive Coron is typically December – March when visibility is at its greatest although you can dive there at any time of year. October – June is the overall dry season and the next best window for diving. July – September is rainy season – strong strong may mean you can’t dive some of the wrecks.
#2 El Nido
I’m a huge fan of El Nido diving – it’s highly undated compared to other Philippines dive destinations but definitely worth checking out!
In 2021 the Philippines was bombarded by several typhoons that decimated large amounts of hard coral around much of the country. However, Palawan was mostly sheltered from this and subsequently the expansive coral reefs around El Nido were largely unaffected. Today they comprise some of the most healthy coral in the country over several dozen dive sites.
Living amidst the coral reefs are scores of reef fish, nudibranch and turtles. There are also several resident shoals of giant barracuda. Extra lucky divers may even see whitetip reef sharks, nurse sharks or eagle rays.
The most popular dive site is Dilumacad tunnel: a 40 meter tunnel at 10m deep going through helicopter island and opening out into an expansive cavern that is coated in colourful sponge and home to shoals of fish and small transparant crustaceans.
About an hour drive north of the busy El Nido town lies the extremely quiet, off-the-beaten-track town of Sibaltan where you have an excellent chance of being able to scuba dive with manta rays around known feeding stations.
El Nido is a four hour ferry (or ninety minute flight) south of Coron. In my opinion, it is the most visually stunning coastal area of the Philippines with many epic, jungle-clad limestone cliffs rising out of the waters rimmed by white sand beaches. These are visited on the highly popular beach-hopping tours.
There’s a lot of partying at night including a fullmoon party every month as well as several other cool activities like viewpoint climbing, more beach exploration and a giant 750m zipline.
June and July are the best months to dive El Nido but you can go all-year round!
#3 Tubbataha Reef
This vast national marine park is only accessible via liveaboard, of which there’s less than a dozen different vessels in the Philippines offering trips to.
Subsequently it offers some of the most off the beaten track diving in the country amidst spectacular coral reef with many species of sharks and rays as well as vast schools of pelagic fish and all manner of turtles, nudibranch and other critters.
Tubbataha liveaboards depart from Puerto Princesa. The season for Tubbataha reef diving is fairly narrow, being only between the months of March – June. You need to be a fairly experienced diver to go!
Check out the main page on Tubbataha LIveaboards here.
#4 Puerto Princesa Diving
Puerto Princesa is the capital city of Palawan, being located within the centre of it. It’s a rather charmless, bustling city although there is a cool underground river you can tour.
There’s a lot of dive centres that offer local dives around Puerto Princesa bay – I haven’t actually been diving here myself, however I hear it’s pretty decent with plenty of healthy reefs and interesting rock formation.
It’s not that easy to get to Puerto Princesa, you can’t simply catch a fast ferry down there from El Nido as you do between El Nido and Coron. The easiest and quickest way to get there by far is to fly.
Lucky divers have the chance to see various big pelagics such as whitetip reef sharks, schooling giant barracuda and eagle rays. Puerto Princesa is also the launchpad for liveaboards bound for Tubbataha reef.
This depends where you’re going!
Coron, El Nido and Puerto Princesa all have airports that you can fly into; this is by far the easiest and most common way to get there!
You can travel between Coron and El Nido via a four hour ferry. To go on a liveaboard Tubbataha reef you have to first get to Puerto Princesa.
We’ve finished this guide on diving Palawan! First we looked at a detailed itinerary for scuba diving and travelling Palawan, followed by an in-depth look at each of the best places to dive in Palawan with links to more in-depth guides and lists of the best accommodation for each one.
After that I listed my favourite Palawan diving resorts of all time, followed by an info section on Palawan diving season which varies from place to place, and then a bit on how to get to Palawan.
Finally, we summarised the article which is the part you’re reading now – the Diving Squad debriefing!
Without a doubt Palawan offers some of the best diving in the Philippines and you can explore the very best destinations (Coron and El Nido) in less than two weeks, giving you ample time to dive other parts of the country if you so choose!
Speaking of which, check out these guides to some other nearby Philippines dive destinations that I also wrote: