Instead of availing of the usual tour package in Coron, my friends and I decided to go on a DIY (do it yourself) trip so we could choose which sites to visit in our two day island escapade. With some research and budget meetings, we were able to ensure that we got the best out of our buck for an unforgettable experience that will not soon be forgotten.
We started our day at 7 am to go to the market to shop for supplies. Unfortunately, unlike most wet markets, Coron vendors do not open until 8 or 9 am so our choices for fresh goods were limited. A shame since Palawan is known for its fresh seafood. Still, we were able to maximize our combined P1,050 budget for our two day trip. This includes two lunches, one breakfast and one dinner. We also managed to include our two bangkeros Kuya Hajie and Kuya Rey in the amount of food we purchased.
Our first stop was Siete Pecados Island, a protected sanctuary that is home to various species of exotic fish and colorful corals. As a welcome to Coron, we were amazed by the pure beauty of the underwater scene which we took in with the help of our snorkeling gear and Kuya Hajie, our boat captain/tour guide. After paying a modest fee of P100 to the station guard, Kuya Hajie towed us to the best snorkeling sites and pointed out the home of one familiar fishy -=- a clownfish by the name of Nemo. Actually, we were able to spot two, which could very well be Nemo and his daddy Marlin. It was also a coincidence that there was also a Blue Tang swimming around the duo which could very well be Dory. Unfortunately though, we left our underwater camera on the boat so we were not able to capture the memory on film. Still, it was a cool experience, and the abundance of colors and marine life that we were able to witness more than made up for it.
Next up, our guides took us to Kayangan Lake, which is part of the ancestral domain of the Tagbanua Tribe, which made it all the more important to protect the site from abuse. There was a steep climb on uneven man-made stairs that were a bit slippery and edgy that took guests to the top where, adjacent to a cave, one can only stare in awe at the view from the top. Overlooking the entrance to the lake, the surrounding islands were a testament to the beauty of nature. After taking a short photo opportunity, we headed down towards the actual lake, which was very similar to the lagoons in El Nido. The water was perfect for swimming — just the right temperature but a bit deep for inexperienced swimmers such as myself. The solution — wear your lifevest and don’t forget to being your snorkeling gear to enjoy your time in Kayangan. Kayangan Lake’s entrance fee was a bit more costly at P200 but if it goes to maintaining this ancestral land, there really was no question of price.
If we thought that Siete Pecados was awesome, Coral Garden was even more of a treat for snorkelers. Here, corals of all shapes and sizes were scattered all around the area that there was hardly any place left to walk. The water was somewhat shallow so our guide advised us to be careful and instead float over the corals to protect them from damage. Underwater, it was a fantastic experience to see glow in the dark corals, brain shaped corals, and some even glow in the dark corals. There were also soft ones and spiky ones which could be injure unwary snorkelers. A little ways off to where the good stuff were, the water suddenly deepened, so my advice, again, is to always wear safety gear and follow the advice of the guide. We had a blast in this site because what we were unable to capture on film in our first island, we more than compensated for in this escapade.
Our guide felt bad that we were not able to document our fish feeding at Siete Pecados so he brought some place even better. At the Skeleton Shipwreck, the site where a Japanese ship sank almost a century ago, the fish were more than happy to greet snorkelers and swimmers who drop in, especially when they bring food. So it would be advisable to bring plenty of bread for these marine interactions. We initially brought the bread for human consumption but once we saw how the fish were gobbling them up from our hands, we were unable to help ourselves. We indulged them to their hearts’ content. It was fabulous. The little guys were far from shy and showed off to get their meal. They came in schools too so they can hardly be missed. One of my favorite parts of the island tour was this stop. It was like being inside an aquarium — a bit creepy if you look down where the ship’s bow is still visible albeit crawling with barnacles — but the friendly fish community takes your mind off the horror below and leaves you nothing but great memories. P100 entrance for day swimmers/snorkelers — an encounter kids and adults alike would surely enjoy.
Our last stop for the day was Malcapuya Island, an island paradise that takes two hours to reach from the starting point. This island is usually available on day tours packaged with the neighboring Banana Island and Bulog Island, but we chose to stay overnight because of the great reviews we read about the place. Upon entering docking area for bigger boats, we knew that we made the right choice. There were only a handful of tourists on the beach when we arrived and pretty soon, their tour group left and we had the island to ourselves. The beach itself looked high end straight off the bat because of the fine white sand that put Boracay to shame. The water was so clear and blue and there were hardly any seaweeds in the shallow parts of the water. We originally wanted to pitch a tent to save a bit of expense because we were told that overnight guests who do not use cottages only need to pay P500 per head but as it turned out, cottage guests and tent guests are required to pay the same fee of P700 for an overnight stay. Considering that we had the island to ourselves, it was not a bad deal. We spent the night making a bonfire and toasting marshmallows and finally caving and sleeping in our sleeping bags and gazing at the stars. The sky was so clear that they were twinkling brightly unhindered by pollution. It was so relaxing, in fact, that it took me only a few minutes to doze off peacefully. One thing of note, the island’s power runs on generator so power is only available from 6 pm to 12 am. In cases where there are no other guests on the island, the power is extended to 3 am. There is however, a clean bathroom facility for showers, baths and for answering nature’s call so guests are able to rinse off with no hassle.
Come morning, Kuya Chris, also known as the second Datu Puti of the Philippines (he won a nationwide contest for the search for the next vinegar endorser) and caretaker of the island, offered to show us around the island. He did not give an exact price for the tour so his tip was left up to us. But he was one informative and chatty tour guide and by the end of the tour, guests will surely find it easy to loosen the purse strings to give him and his partner a couple of hundred bucks for the trouble.
Kuya Chris and Kuya Albert first took us to Campel Island, where hundreds, or even thousands of mangrove trees lined the entrance to the island, which was home to many natives. According to Kuya Albert, the mangroves just sprung by themselves near the island and propagated on their own. He said they must have been planted elsewhere and were washed over by the tide to Campel. Mangroves are essential to nature, as they serve as shelter for birds and small fishes and also provide food for young fish. They are also low maintenance because once their propagules fall off and take root, they grow as trees in the long run.
Kuya Chris also took us to a small island with two huts, which according to him was bought by the owner for only P10,000. He said that the owner also planned to plant seven coconut trees on his property. He later took us to the famous sandbar which disappeared upon high tide and reappeared in a different location once the waters subside. Near the sandbar, there was also a great snorkeling site where we found plenty of Nemo’s cousins.
After our short tour, we climbed up to the Malcapuya Viewing Deck, which was not really a deck, but rather an area where one can view the entire beachfront and take in the beauty of the island from a birds eye view. It was rather awesome.
When it came time to go, we decided to take a short stop at Banana Island, which was pretty much like Malcapuya. However, Banana Island had a more commercial feel to it and the sand quality was more consistent with Boracay. A major plus of this island was its fish. They loved to eat and they were very friendly to guests. The swimming area was also deeper than its neighboring island. The owner of Banana Island also owned Bulog Island. Entrance fee for day tour is P200.
Our last island on our DIY tour was Bulog Island, which was really underdeveloped considering that it was the sister of Banana Island. An advantage was that it offered seclusion and privacy as not a lot of tourists opt to come to the island to pay the P100 entrance fee but the fish here swim in groups and they provide a great interaction with swimmers. We finished off our bread on this island. One downside though was that we noticed that a lot of corals have been damaged by indiscriminate landing of anchors compared to the other islands we had been to. Perhaps, it would be advisable to station a caretaker or implement a system to check these boats to protect the corals where the fish reside.
All in all, there were more islands that we missed than we were able to visit but perhaps, this was a sign that we needed to go back to Coron soon to spend more time swimming, snorkeling and communing with nature because two days was just not enough. Swimming in Coron was one of the best adventures I’ve been in and I hope that the island would remain as beautiful and breakthaking as it was for my next visit, where hopefully, I would be able to try my hand at diving.