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Where Nature Begins and Never Ends

Life is just more fun in the Philippines.

Photo by Pixabay

The Philippines, located between Taiwan and Indonesia, is an archipelago with over 7,500 islands. It was named the “Pearl of the Orient Seas“ by Spaniards when they arrived in the 1500s and found that it was full of precious spices and resources (although, fittingly, it is also the land where the largest pearl in the world was discovered). And if that has not completely piqued your interest—this country is the location of Thanos’s Garden in the beginning of Avengers: Endgame (for all the Marvel fans out there).

Palawan, the Philippines’s largest province, is a popular tourist region in the Philippines. Palawan was the destination of 765,991 tourists (including me) in just the first half of 2023 (including me). The two most visited cities—El Nido leading at almost 300,000 tourists, then followed by Puerto Princesa at a little more than 250,000—offer some amazing exotic excursions with options of island hopping, underground river venturing, or firefly watching. Puerto Princesa, in particular, has been given the motto “Where Nature Begins and Never Dies“ because of all the naturally beautiful and stunning views it offers.

Before we get into those excursions, there are two concerns to consider. First, let’s address a common fear of international travelers: potential language barriers. The Philippines is located south of Taiwan and east of Vietnam, and the country’s national language is Filipino. Many native languages are spoken throughout the Palawan province, but the Philippines’s proficiency in English makes it the country’s second official language. Many Filipinos, including in Palawan, know English from being enrolled in the core English language class in school or incorporate it into their regular use of a Filipino dialect.

Secondly, you’re more likely to enjoy the Philippines if you visit at the right time of year. Filipinos joke that their seasons can be split into three categories: wet, hot, and hotter. The hot season (their “winter,”“, although their definition of winter differs from other places), goes from December to February. This season is prime time for tourists, with the temperature ranging from 75°F to 88°F (23.8°C to 31.1°C), the weather cooling and drying because of winds from the northeast, and the rains and typhoons mitigating the temperature.

The next season is the hotter season, which occurs from March to May. The last season, also known as the rainy season, spans from June to November. Travelers may be less inclined to visit during these periods as the hotter season is a very dry period, and the rainy season is a humid period with the most typhoons.

Now let’s dive into the two most popular destination locations in Palawan and the variety of activities you can enjoy on your visit.

El Nido, the leading tourist attraction location in the north of the largest and longest Palawan Island. El Nido is known for its island-hopping tours and breathtakingly beautiful islands and nightlife.

El Nido

El Nido has four different public tours to choose from. Of these tours (Tours A through D), the most popular is Tour A. This tour goes to the Seven Commandos Beach, which features teal water, white sand, and lush trees. This tour also includes climbing through a small opening in the limestone rocks to Secret Lagoon, kayaking through the crystal-clear waters of the Big Lagoons, snorkeling on Shimizu Island, and being fed an authentic lunch with rice (a food staple), chicken, fish, and chopped fruit that spells out “Palawan.“ The most impressive part is that workers make the food themselves on the boat used to transport passengers to each island on the tour!

If you are looking for a more individual experience, there are also two private tours available. The first tour includes island hopping to a secret beach on Hidden Beach, which received its name because visitors must climb through a narrow opening just to see it. The tour also includes Helicopter Island, an island that from a distance resembles a helicopter. The second private tour takes travelers to caves on Snake Island, an S-shaped sandbar surrounded by clear water on both sides.

Local Activities

If you prefer to explore locally, the small streets of El Nido have unique shops to scout out for clothes, souvenirs, or other needs. Many of these shops sell money pouches, decorative fridge magnets, t-shirts with El Nido branding, or colorful nightgowns called “dusters.“ If you don’t like to shop until you drop, El Nido is surrounded by beautiful beaches begging to be strolled on! The sand is full of shells to collect, and the water is filled with colorful, photo-worthy boats. As you walk, you can peer down the small alley-like streets branching off the beach to find a unique local restaurant.


During a visit to El Nido, experiencing the nightlife is a must! The island’s charm is multiplied when the streets are lit up with lights and colorful hanging banners. The roads are lined with foods and shops unique to El Nido. Each of these shops and dining areas range in items from traditional Filipino food to crepes and gelato, appealing to domestic and foreign travelers alike. As you walk, music spills out to the street from the small shops and the large Catholic cathedrals. Take time to bask in the warm night air and the delicious smells of street food.

Puerto Princesa

Puerto Princesa, the capital of Palawan, is the province’s largest city, located in the central area. Puerto Princesa offers many distinct excursions and options that will satisfy even the most hard-to-please traveler.

Firefly Watching

While fireflies are not unique to Southeast Asia, here they glow in unison. They create a repeating, pulsing beat with their glow, as seen through the mangrove trees. The whole line of mangroves lights up with flashing fireflies, so distinct that it’s said fishermen use them as a guiding system to find their way in the darkness of the night.

An excursion to see this wonder includes venturing out on a traditional Filipino boat at sunset, sailing out to the mangroves while the tour guide tells the history of the mangroves, and gazing at the small flickering lights as the guide explains the science behind why fireflies glow. On the return trip, another boat is ready with tables laden with rice (of course), fried fish, cooked vegetables, chop suey (a Filipino dish with stir-fried meat and vegetables), pineapple, sweet bananas, and other fruits.

Underground River

Puerto Princesa is famous for its underground river, which is the longest in the country. This river was named one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature, which is nothing short of extraordinary! Because of the grandeur of this Wonder of Nature, prepare for a little field trip to this otherworldly destination.

Imagine that you are being transported to Palawan and that you are at a port filled with vendors bargaining with buyers. A boat soon approaches you and transports you across the deep blue waves to an alcove on the far side of the coast.

Once your boat arrives at an island, you are led to workers who hand you a life jacket, helmet, and a water-proof pouch with a recording device. Next, you walk through the forest and enter a clearing filled with the most beautiful turquoise water, teeming with fish of different colors and shapes. You are signaled to climb into a canoe, and a tour guide in the back begins to explain that the device you were given is a tape that will explain the history of the underground river to you, rather than a guide because any sounds will scare the bats that live on the ceiling of the river.

Upon setting off into the river, you are plunged into complete darkness until the guide turns on a flashlight. For the next thirty minutes, you focus only on the voice coming through the headset or the parts of the cave that the guide gestures to with his flashlight. After having this incredible journey under the earth, would you be able to deny that this river is a Wonder of Nature?

Touring the City

Unlike the small town El Nido, Puerto Princesa has a city tour that highlights the aspects of Puerto Princesa that cannot be found elsewhere. Two of these aspects include a butterfly garden and a crocodile farm. Palawan’s Butterfly Eco-Garden and Tribal Village is a sanctuary for different butterfly species, and it’s one of the most visited places in Puerto Princesa. This eco-garden also has information about the different indigenous groups of the Philippines.

The Crocodile Farm and Nature Park in Puerto Princesa is home to many of the Philippines’s endangered species, such as myna birds, monkeys, bearcats (binturongs), bearded pigs, and—of course—crocodiles. While you walk through, please keep your distance! The animals do not like proximity, and the monkeys are especially ruthless to those who get uncomfortably close.

When you are planning your next trip, keep Palawan as an option!