Tag Archives: Palawan

I was strolling the narrow streets of Coron Town, Philippines, when a late-afternoon thunderstorm blew in from the sea. The tropical deluge forced me to run up a set of ramshackle stairs off the main square, to take shelter in a tiny wooden-framed restaurant. It proved to be an excellent decision.

From my first-floor seat on the covered balcony, I watched motorised tricycles scud by through the downpour, and ordered an ice-cold San Miguel Light, one of the country’s most popular brews, followed by another. Then came fried calamari along with a delicious green chicken and coconut curry. When the rain stopped and the bill eventually arrived, I forked out the equivalent of AUD 8 for my meal and all the drinks. “Come again tomorrow,” said the restaurateur, Malou, with a gap-toothed smile.

IMG_0936The affability of the people and value for money are among the most notable attributes of this place, a coastal settlement flanked by the green karst mountains of Busuanga Island north of the larger isle, Palawan.

With a scattering of hotels and island resorts, relatively few tourists and pristine beaches and coral atolls providing some of the best diving and boating opportunities in the Philippines, undeveloped Coron Town and the surrounding Calamian archipelago may represent some of the great incentive trip surprises of the Western Pacific.

That may change of course, with Palawan having been named best island in the world by Conde Nast Traveler fairly recently. Meanwhile bargains for incentive groups – and brilliant experiences – await those prepared to hop on one of the daily 50-minute flights to Busuanga from Manila. (Starting from about AUD 150 for each leg on local airline Skyjet, for example. Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines also fly this route).

An essential part of a visitor’s itinerary should be an island-hopping day trip from Coron Town to nearby beaches, inlets and reefs. The guided tours invariably take place via native, double-outrigger bangka boats, and start from the wharf on the town foreshore. I paid roughly AUD 35, which included the tour, lunch and refreshments.

IMG_0956Tours typically include visits to seven or eight spots, diving and snorkelling onto the remains of a merchant ship in shallow water – the area is also renowned for WW2 wreck diving – lunch on an icing-sugar beach and a climb up, and down, to Kayangan Lake, a body of clear blue water set in a “hole” of its own among steep, heavily wooded hills and cliffs.

Here’s a typical online comment about one of the island resorts in the area: “It’s like you died and woke up in beach heaven . . . the sand is talc and the water is crystal clear. . .”

While isolated luxury resorts in this region, like Huma Island (www.humaisland.com) are brilliant incentive destinations in their own right, one hotel, the 80-room Westown, pictured above, stands out as a meetings destination close to restaurants and shops in Coron Town.

With four-star-standard rooms with great views, three swimming pools, a spa, bars and restaurant, the Westown is a five-minute trike ride from the town centre. It has three main meeting venues and rates are extraordinarily low. For example one package that includes use of a venue for 20 people for three hours, waiter service, sound system equipment and a plated three-course lunch starts at PHP 400 (about AUD 12) per person. Rates for the well-air-conditioned, spacious rooms start at around AUD 115 per night.

IMG_0915Busuanga has great venues and outdoor experiences, representing fantastic value – as do so many of the 7,107 islands of the Philippines, where almost everyone speaks English and domestic carriers serve dozens of routes. More info:






The sky over El Nido is overcast, scoured by the tail end of a typhoon that’s passed and headed north. I’m the only passenger in the Filipino trigger boat, whose bamboo outriggers scud over a smooth, slate-coloured sea.

Having left a wharf near a small airfield, the boat chugs through a chain of extraordinary islands sculpted into strange, alien shapes. Towering limestone cliffs shoot dramatically from the ocean, their crowns covered in foliage, their bases fringed by white sand beaches and palm trees.

“That’s Lagen Island,” says Jake Lindo, the young boat guide, pointing ahead to a string of cabins in the distance, suspended over the turquoise waters of a small lagoon.

2This resort on Lagen, one of 45 islands and islets in the environmentally protected area of El Nido, will be my sanctuary for the next two nights, and I find myself delighted at the prospect. For decades I’ve wanted to visit this place, widely acknowledged to be one of the most beautiful destinations in the Philippines and, finally, I’m going to experience it.

As I step ashore, a group of the resort staff are lined up to sing me a welcome and a cool drink is thrust into my hand. “Please, leave only your footprints here and take away only memories,” says one who shows me to my room. It’s a timber-lined, air-conditioned space set against an old-growth rainforest whose trees, vines and leaves loom over the roof. My balcony overlooks the resort’s big freshwater pool and al-fresco dining area, beyond which the lagoon, lined with more bungalows and fringed with mangroves, shimmers in the evening light.

This tropical resort in the north of the big Philippine island of Palawan is every bit as good as I’d hoped it would be. It’s not just the other-worldliness of the environment here that makes it outstanding; the genuine warmth and obligingness of the Filipino staff is a tonic for anyone seeking a break from workaday routine – as I discovered.

In recognition of the value of its ecosystem, the Philippine government declared El Nido to be a protected area in 1998. But, interestingly, it only became internationally renowned as a tourist destination around 1979, when a dive boat broke down one night, forcing the crew to drop anchor in an inlet.

3.1The next day the divers woke to find themselves surrounded by sparkling sea, white beaches “and a series of magnificently sculpted jade islands,” according to one story. Since then it’s gained further recognition thanks to movies and TV shows.

The final scene of the film “Bourne Legacy” was shot here. (Watch the great scene at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WWt-pPn5rS0.)

Lagen’s is one of three island resort facilities operated in El Nido by one company, El Nido Resorts. The other two are set on nearby islands Miniloc and Pangulasian.

The food, usually served in buffets in the main restaurant or, on special days, at poolside, is adequate and plentiful, and there’s a terrific spa, with massage services starting at around AUD30. A plethora of activities from scuba diving to kayaking and guided eco-tours are available. For me though, one of the most agreeable was sitting at the poolside bar at dusk, ice cold San Miguel beer in hand, watching the sun sink into the ocean.

From USD250 per person sharing

Like its sister resorts on Miniloc and Pangulasian, Lagen caters for weddings, meetings, team-building and other corporate events, with a minimum two nights’ stay required. The offer starts with the use of the accommodation for two at PhP 22,000.00 (about USD500; ie $250 per person) per night. That includes breakfast, boat transfers and use of the resort’s recreational facilities. For groups, there’s a meetings supplement of PhP 1,200 (about USD30.00) per person, which includes a snack, half-day use of the conference room, coffee and tea and the usual meetings set-up and pads and pencils.

3“Room rates are negotiable depending on the size of the group and the travel period,” says Bambi Samson, Director of Sales, “so the supplement may change according to the requirements of the group. Rates are higher from November to May, and promos and special rates are usually offered from June through to October.”

The ideal season for team building, when staff can set up a private beach club” as a corporate playground, is February to May. An ideal size for a group is about 40, adds Bambi, but the resorts can handle more, or facilitate a “buy-out” of each property in its entirety.

The usual direct method of getting to the islands is from Manila on Island Transvoyager Inc (ITI), with El Nido Resorts handling the bookings. It’s a 55-minute flight on a 50-seater ATR aircraft, followed by a boat trip of about an hour to get to the islands. Cost of the travel from Manila: about $100 each way.

Undeniably it takes some effort to get there from abroad and it’s priced at a premium, but El Nido is worth every cent.

For more information, email holiday@elnidoresorts.com or visit www.elnidoresorts.com.

The Siteseer was a paying guest at Lagen Island.