October 12, 2023
Palawan is an archipelago province of the West Philippines; a thin, long chain of islands running diagonally from northeast to southwest.
Often, when you see Philippines travel photos of epic limestone cliffs rising out of the sea draped in neon jungle… or stunning turquoise lakes and lagoons – that’s Palawan!
Also, located some 50km east of Puerto Princesa lies Tubbataha Reef; a legendary dive destination accessible only via liveaboard.
So far I’ve dived Palawan on 2 separate occasions: over 2016 and 2023…it has certainly changed a lot over the years!
Based on my own experiences diving Palawan, I’ve created this epic guide of awesomeness telling you everything you need to know to have the best time diving there yourself!
We’ll cover some well-crafted diving itineraries around Palawan as well as the best dive resorts, when to go, how to get there and more! Let’s dive in:
Itinerary 1: Diving & Travelling Palawan (10 - 14 days)
I suggest you make Coron your first stop; located at the north tip of Palawan on Busuanga Island; it is the site of 10 incredible Japanese Shipwrecks from World War 2.
There are direct flights to Busuanga (aka Coron) airport from Manila (which you’ll arrive in if you’re coming from another country) and also Cebu and El Nido. From Busuanga/Coron airport, it is a scenic 50 minute van ride to Coron town itself.
I first visited Coron in 2016; it was very quiet and laid back at the time; you could easily walk down the streets and hear the sound of crickets but when I returned in 2023 it had swollen to become a bustling tourist hotspot with heaps of traffic amidst many hostels, bars and dive centres.
Although it’s not nearly as peaceful as it once was; the scuba diving around Coron is still spectacular; I suggest carving out 3 days to dive the wrecks. You can also dive a freshwater lake and even go diving with Dugong! There’s plenty of epic sightseeing around Coron including spectacular lakes, beaches, a sunken plane and viewpoints.
From Coron, take a 40 minute flight or a 5 hour ferry down south to El Nido; one of the most popular places in the Philippines for young backpackers who flock here to party and beach-hop whilst marvelling at the epic limestone cliffs that define this area.
If you thought Coron was packed… wait for El Nido; the main town is absolutely heaving although if you have a higher budget there are some quieter areas to stay nearby.
The dive sites around El Nido bay comprise what I consider to be the best coral reef in the country amidst an epic and varied underwater topography including underwater caverns, canyons and even a long underwater tunnel.
A 50 minute ride away from the extremely busy El Nido town lies Sibaltan vilalge; a very quiet, off-the-beaten-track destination town where you can dive with manta rays.
Like Coron, El Nido is a visually stunning place above water as well; there are many incredible viewpoints as well as beach-hopping and island tours where you can meet other travellers. I would allow 2 – 3 days for diving and another 1 or 2 to sightsee; of course if you’re parting every night you may need longer…
After this, you’ve finished your tour of the best dive destinations on mainland Palawan! If you still have time to dive; you have 2 options:
1) Fly from El Nido to another Philippines dive destination; I strongly recommend the Visayas region; starting with either Cebu or Bohol, both of which you can fly to directly from El Nido (on some days of the week only).
2) Catch a 5 hour minivan down to Puerto Princesa; the bustling capital of Palawan. There are some local dive sites and an underground river but not much else to do. There’s also an airport from which to fly to other parts of the Philippines. Puerto Princesa is the launchpad for liveaboards headed to Tubbataha Reef, which are awesome but expensive. We’ll discuss next:
Itinerary 2: Palawan Liveaboard
One of the most legendary dive destinations in of all the Philippines is Tubbataha Reef. Located 50km east of Puerto Princesa (the capital of Palawan), it is a 96.828 hectare National Marine Park with superb coral reef, vast schools of big pelagic fish, endless reef fish as well as critters and all manner of sharks and rays.
Tubbataha reef can only be reached via liveabaord; which makes it pretty off-the-beaten-track dive destination. However, the downside of this and also partly due to the fact that there aren’t actually many liveaboards that go there, is all of the ones that do go are very expensive – even by liveaboard standards!
To start your Tubbataha reef liveaboard trip, you’ll need to get to Puerto Princesa, which you can fly to from Manila or Cebu. After a few local warm up dives around Puerto Princesa bay your liveabaord will depart for a week of epic diving around Tubbataha Reef!
Check out my Main Page on Philippines Liveaboards for more info!
There are plenty of Palawan Dive Resorts to choose from; some are very luxurious indeed with their own in-house dive centres, spas and restaurants; a few are even located on private islands.
Others are more like affordable hostels or homestays close to the public dive centres, bars and restaurants of the busy tourist hubs. I’ve actually written separate guides on the best accommodation options for both Coron and El Nido. Check them out:
However, if you ain’t got time for that check out the ultra-brief summary below for my top 3 recommendations for each.
Top 3 Places to Stay in Coron:
Top 3 Places to Stay in El Nido:
If you studied the dive seasons above carefully, you may have noticed a slight paradox; the best time to dive Coron (December – March) is not the best time to dive El Nido (June – July)!
Generally, it appears that “bad diving conditions in El Nido” are not as extreme as “bad diving conditions” in Coron; so if you are planning to visit both these places and want to go at a time that provides optimal visibility, I would plan around the trip around optimal dive conditions in Coron and aim to be there between December – March.
At the end of the day though, climate change is making weather conditions ever harder to predict; this combined with the unpredictability of life means I’m tempted to say just go when it suits you!
I actually visited Coron in May; it was rainy and the water visibility on the outside of the wrecks was not good but once we were actually inside them we could still see about clearly enough for it to be an enjoyable experience.
Coron, El Nido and Puerto Princesa all have airports that you can fly into; this is by far the easiest way to get to Palawan.
If you’re flying in from another country, you’ll first land in Manilla, the capital of the Philippines. There are direct flights to the airports of Palawan from here as well as sometimes from Cebu and Bohol.
You can also get between Coron and El Nido via a 5 Hour Ferry. And you can get from El Nido to Puerto Princesa via a 5 hour minivan. Noice!
We’ve finished the ultimate guide of awesomeness to diving Palawan!
First we went through 2 Palawan Diving Itineraries followed by my favourite Palawan Dive Resorts of all time, proceeded by an info section on Palawan Diving Season which was in turn echoed by 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 2 weeks, giving you ample time to dive other parts of the country if you so choose! Gnarly!!
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