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Saturday, August 7, 2010

Coron: Part of Palawan's Trinity

Some Words from the Grandeur Traveler
As promised, I would be publishing a post on Coron, another tropical paradise I consider to be part of the Palawan's Trinity (El Nido and Puerto Princesa are the other two). However, this post will be about someone else's travel adventure. Not mine. Having a guest travel blogger here has certainly made me feel like an editor of a magazine. I am doing this because I feel like this blog needs refreshing ideas and insights mirrored by someone else. It also assures the sustainability of this my blog--a blog that I have worked so hard for these past few months. Without further ado, I now introduce you to my first guest blogger, Ralph Buiser, who has generously shared his pictures and experiences with us after a lucky weekend trip to Coron. Enjoy!

And Please, feel free to comment. You could be my next guest blogger.
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Coron
by Ralph Buiser


My Coron trip started with my repulsive eating of granola bars and a bit of luck. While enjoying Boracay’s pristine white sand beach, I received a random call from Nature Valley, the makers of my scrumptious granola bars. The voice at the other end told me that I had won an all–expense paid trip to Coron, Palawan. Preposterous! Or was it?

After days of disbelief and covert intelligence efforts, the gig was actually true. And yes looking back, I did put my name down in the raffle.

Dr. Baraan, or Grandeur Traveler Extraordinaire as I would like to call him, told me to write about my impending, but now culminated trip. To keep my post in line with his amazing blog, I was to be as INFORMATIVE as possible. Bossy. But sure, I’ll try my best so here it goes.

As any loving son would do, I took the trip with my mother or as I like to call her, Potential Cougar. We flew economy class on a 45-minute flight from Manila to Busuanga Airport. Busuanga (pronounced as BOOS-WANG-GA) is composed of two Municipalities, one being Coron (although there is also a Coron Island , this is not to be confused with Coron Town , the Municipality in the Mainland of Busuanga). Upon arrival, we were greeted by the friendly staff of Coron Gateway Hotel, only the best hotel in Coron Town (all their rooms are SUITES with a veranda, hot tub, and a flat screen TV), where we will be staying in the all-expense paid "luxurious" trip. IKR. From the airport, the town was 25 minutes away, for mere mortals, you can take a shuttle van transfer for 150/person or hire a private van for Php3,000 with a capacity of 8-10 people. No need to book ahead.

On the way, you will be met by a scene out of the Shire, half-expecting hobbits would run looking incredulously at you like you were Gandalf. These lush green hills and Australian-grass-filled plains (the tour guide says so) with grazing, yes you guessed it, Australian Cattle are a nice welcome treat.

On our 3 days and 2 nights trip, we started with a visit to the Maquinit Hot Springs, or as I like to call it, the Mainit Hot Springs.

The water was brackish (actually, more salty than fresh) and really hot. The pools are surrounded by a forest of Mangroves that gives it a cool feeling. It is perfect for relaxing those over-worked muscles (applicable only if there is an apparent absence of groups of extended families with their kids).


Entrance may be free as part of a tour package. Otherwise, you pay 100/adult and 50/kid. Towels are ultimate must-haves. Pool floors are slippery due to naturally-occurring moss.

On our island hopping tour, we went first to Siete Picados, a string of 7 islets surrounded by coral gardens. Siete Pecados is an ideal snorkeling site but watch out for sea urchins. You don't want those sea creatures ruining your entire trip.

The area is also good for amateur underwater photography.


Our second destination was the Bat Cave Point and the Kayangan Lake on the Island of Coron. Clear blue waters surrounded by limestone cliffs were an awe-inspiring sight going to Coron Island.

The Bat Cave point was basically a checkpoint after a 150-step climb before the Lake with this stunning view.

Do spray generous amounts of Mosquito Repellant before the climb. To avoid mosquito bites further, make sure to bring a hunky companion that sweats like a granola-eating pig with you. The steps can be tricky so be careful (Mom, 46, managed to climb it but with occasional breathers.)

Another 150 steps, this time a decline, will take you to the whimsical Kayangan Lake .


Remember that the entire island is an Ancestral Domain of the Tagbanua Tribe, so be sure not to make a mess while you're there (Palawan is all about Eco-tourism). Shown here is one of them.

The lake is also brackish (but unlike the Mainit Hot Springs, this one is more fresh than salty). Due to the lack of salinity in the lake, you will sink faster so better bring your life vests. Even if you’re the best swimmer, you will tire eventually. The Lake was also home to these interesting swordfish-like creatures (Any idea what they're called?).

Jagged rocks surround the edges of the lake. The depth was probably 10-15m deep and you can still see the lake floor, bed by clear white sand.


Our next stop was one of the Island’s best white sand beaches, Banul Beach. Mom instantly fell in love with its fine white sand that reminded her of her Boracay trip back in the 1980s. Trivia: I was actually MADE in the then-virgin Boracay Island.




Our last stop was the Twin Lagoons of Coron Island. Like the ones in El Nido, the Lagoons were caged-in by towering limestone cliffs. To enter the small lagoon, you may enter either underwater or through a short narrow climb. Note that you can’t do the narrow climb with a beer belly, which means you need to shape up before your trip! Photo was blurry due to exhausted photographers.

The lagoons would have been more magical if I hadn’t seen El Nido first. Although it is beautiful in its own right, El Nido takes the cake when it comes to lagoons and secret beaches. But if you haven’t been to El Nido, a wow effect is still in place.

If you’re feeling a bit adventurous and have lots of energy, trek Tapyas Mountain. It’s an 850-step gradual climb to the huge cross for some breathtaking (literally, I’m sure) view.

And before you end your trip, make sure to buy local food products in the wet market, just one cartwheel away from Coron Gateway Hotel. It is highly recommended to buy some Daing Lamayo (local fish, great for breakfast) Php150/half-kilo. Also, do not pass the chance to have a whole-body massage (Php250-300) in your own hotel room, just have your hotel concierge hook you up. The hotel’s restaurant serves good food, but here are some good dining alternatives: Sea Dive Cafe and La Serenetta Seafood Restaurant, both reachable on a short tricycle drive.

If you're keen and have enough time, you should also visit Calauit Island, 8 hours by land (plus boat transfers) from Coron Town, for a safari adventure on the savannah plains complete with grazing Giraffes, Zebras, etc.. All were imported from Africa in the 1970s.

For our entire Coron Experience, I'd give it a 7.5 out of 10. I am sure, however, that it would be a perfect 10 for all travelers if they'd include wreck diving and Calauit Island in their itineraries. It wont be too bad too if the Mainit Hot Springs would improve its facilities (like add'l cottages, restrooms, etc.) and Siete Picados would be less crowded with boats.
Overall, Coron was still beautiful and well-worth the time and money. The trip was certainly a great experience for me and my mom. Mom particularly loved Banol beach and I was particularly captivated by Kayangan Lake. We were thankful that we got the chance to get away from busy Manila and witness the natural beauty that Coron offered The bonus of that trip was my bonding time with my mom. That in itself was already the prize.

Travel Information:
Tour Packages are offered by a myriad of boat owners and resorts around the town. It's perfectly fine to just go there, ask around, and book a day before your tour. Note that tour-providers will take you to the same places I mentioned above, just keep in mind that frugality shouldn’t sacrifice safety. Reasonable (and very safe) all-inclusive tour packages are offered by Coron Gateway Hotel starting at Php6,000 per person (3days2nights inclusive of tours, accommodation, transfers, and full-board meals). Contact them at: (+632) 887-7107; +639283140919; corongateway@gmail.com; for more info visit www.corongateway.com. They accept major credit cards and ATMs are available around town.



For budget-friendly accommodations and diving needs (Coron has one of the best dive sites in the country, too bad I didnt get to try it!), check out Sea Dive Resort, the only 5-Star Dive Resort in Coron. Accomodations start at Php900-1,400 per night for a standard air-con room. Contact them at +639184000448; +639209458714; seadive@seadiveresort.com. For more information visitwww.seadiveresort.com.
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