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You know those untouched Southeast Asian spots you’ve admired other travelers posting about online – crystal blue water, towering cliffs, and incredible beaches? They’re becoming increasingly hard to find (at least the ones that aren’t swarming with tourists).
Coron, Palawan Province, Philippines is still one of those rugged, relatively-unspoiled destinations. But I’m not sure how much longer it’ll be before it becomes overrun with chain hotels and people. Fortunately, my family and I had the opportunity to visit earlier this year on our trip to the Philippines.
It was spectacular – probably the most gorgeous natural setting we’ve ever experienced. But it’s NOT perfect, and definitely NOT for everyone.
In this report, I’ll share how we booked the trip, what we did, and how I’d do it differently next time. And offer suggestions for how you can escape to this paradise, too!
Why Visit Coron?
My mom spends most of her winters at her ancestral home in the Philippines, and this past February I brought the kids there for the first time. We spent 3 weeks traveling, including a stop at the St. Regis Abu Dhabi on the way there, a lovely spontaneous overnight at a cute resort in Subic Bay, a mission to the indigenous Aeta people, and an epic return award flight extravaganza in Business Class on Japan Airlines (with an overnight at the Conrad Tokyo) and Cathay Pacific.
It was truly the trip of a lifetime for all of us. Although we spent a lot of time visiting with family and relaxing, my mom said there was no way we could miss a proper beach getaway to Palawan, which she described as one of the most beautiful places she’d ever experienced.
That said, we didn’t start planning the trip until less than a month prior to departure. More lead time would have meant better deals and a nicer hotel, but it was still very much worth it!
1. Flights to Coron
My family’s home is in Pampanga, Philippines, which can be over 4 hours drive from the Manila airport with the horrendous traffic there. So it made more sense for us to fly out of Clark International Airport (CRK), the former US Clark Air Force Base, in Angeles City, Pampanga.
Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific fly from Clark non-stop to Busuanga (USU), Coron, Palawan. Neither airline is part of an alliance, but you can redeem Etihad or ANA miles for Philippine Airlines flights. But because the flights between Clark and Coron were so inexpensive, it didn’t make sense to redeem miles. It was cheaper to pay cash.
I booked round-trip coach flights on Philippine Airlines for my mom, kids, and me for ~$127 each on the Philippine Airlines website. This is actually rather pricey for this route because if you book well in advance it’s easy to find flights for ~$60 to $70 round-trip.
Before booking, I took a peek at the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal to see if they had the same flights. They did, but surprisingly they cost ~$40 more per person through the portal. So it was a still a better deal to pay cash directly through Philippine Airlines (and I’d rather save my Chase Ultimate Rewards points for more expensive redemptions anyway).
I’d never booked through Philippine Airlines online before and found the experience relatively seamless. At first they sent an email saying my credit card was pending processing, then within the hour they sent our confirmations. I credited the flight to ANA. 🙂
2. Hotel in Coron
There are NO chain hotels in Coron. And while there are dozens of independent hotels, from cheap hostels to fancy dive resorts, almost none of them were available for our stay dates. Even the ~20+ on the Chase Ultimate Rewards travel portal were sold out and online searches were mostly fruitless unless we wanted to spend $500+ a night!
My mom had some friends who’d recently traveled to Coron and they put her in touch with a local tour guide who promised she’d get us into “a decent hotel.” I’m really not good at giving up control of travel planning but this time I didn’t have a choice.
And that’s how we ended up in the R2R Bayview Inn, which was somewhere between a backpackers hostel and budget hotel. Had we booked earlier, we certainly could have gotten something nicer. It was, let’s say, an interesting spot.
We paid $60 per night for a “family room” which included 2 double beds, a single “bed” (mattress on floor), breakfast each morning, hot water in a private bath, and air conditioning. And no, they didn’t take credit cards!
But we didn’t spend a lot of time in the room anyway.
3. Activities in Coron
This is where Coron really shines. With the help of the guide, our first afternoon there we did a tour to the Maquinit Hot Spring which was incredibly relaxing (and properly hot … none of this lukewarm business!).
Then, for the next 2 days, our guide helped us hire a private boat with skipper and crew (who acted also as chefs for lunch) for tours to popular beaches, lakes, snorkel spots, and islands, including:
All told, the price for 2 full days boat rental (including crew, but not including tip or food for lunch) was less than $200, which I thought was an outstanding deal for the 5 of us. Especially because we could go at our own pace and didn’t have to wait for or keep up with other tourists.
I’ll share more details about the trip soon.
My family and I spent 3 nights in Coron, Palawan, Philippines earlier this year. It was truly paradise with incredible snorkeling, sparkling blue water, and not too many tourists yet.
There aren’t any chain hotels in Coron and it’s a little tricky to get to. The infrastructure isn’t quite there yet, either. But if you’re looking for a spot off the beaten path and enjoying diving, snorkeling, and the like, this is really a destination to check out.
If you’ve been to Coron, please chime in with your favorite things there!