For those of you still searching for paradise lost, you can stop as it has been found! One of the reasons why you could not find it is because Eden has changed names over the years and today its name is Palawan.
Not only was paradise living right under our noses, it is not difficult to get there. All you have to do is hop on a plane, ride a boat, get on a bus, or even drive your own car to a RORO, or roll-on-roll-off, boat.
Once there, you will find no other place that has the best balance of that benefits both the environment and business. The result is guilt-free enjoyment of what Mother Nature has to offer. It truly is paradise on earth.
Puerto Princesa was established on March 4, 1872 by Spanish explorers. By May of 1872, the Port of Puerto Princesa became the center of Spanish Naval Operations for that part of the Philippines.
The place was originally named Princess Asunción, who was the daughter of Queen Isabella II and her consort, Francisco de Cádiz. Born in 1864, she suddenly passed away and the place was renamed Puerto de la Princesa. Over the years, the name was shortened and became it became Puerto Princesa.
As early as 1894, the government acknowledged that Puerto Princesa was one of the most beautiful towns in the country, mainly because of the orderly distribution of streets and structures. It was also looked at as one of the cleanest communities at the time.
Today, the Puerto Princesa is known as the City in a Forest because it is one of the last places on earth that has still large areas of natural greens within the city.
[And before all of that, they called the place Eden!]
Based on the National Statistics and Coordination Board, Puerto Princesa had a population of 210,508 in the year 2007.
Unlike other cities in the Philippines, half of this population is composed of migrants. Many come from all over the country, such as Cebu, Mindanao, and even Metro Manila just to live in Palawan. Even foreigners who have visited the place have fallen in love here, married here, and moved here.
Being a melting pot of various cultures and dialects, the most common languages spoken are Tagalog and English. The people are easy-going but are very environmentally conscious.
There are no typhoons or earthquakes in Palawan, making it perfect all year round. And though it does rain, it isn’t like the torrential downpour experienced by other provinces in the country.
The weather is so consistent it was one of the reasons why a Safari Reserve was established in Palawan decades ago.
And when I say they are environmentally conscious, I mean that they take cleanliness seriously. In fact, Puerto Princesa is one of the models for recycling in the country. Organic waste is turned into compost and used for landfills, while plastics and other non-biodegradable garbage is reused or recycled.
One of the best examples of their efforts can be seen in a landfill in the form of a hill near Mitra's Ranch. Actually, if our guide hadn’t pointed out the hill to me and explained that it was a landfill site, I wouldn’t have known it was once made of waste.
Unlike a mountain of garbage, this is a hill that is covered in thick grass and young trees. Instead of smoke floating off the brown top I could see birds darting in and out of the greens covering the hill.
And the one thing that was striking was that I never saw any flies during our stay. Well, that’s not really accurate as I saw one tiny fly in the rest room of the Puerto Princesa Airport as I was heading back home.
[One fly... for our entire stay. That was nothing short of amazing!]
One of the most surprising things about Puerto Princesa’s transportation is that there are no taxi cabs to clog the streets with traffic.
To get around, there are jeeps and buses that ply set routes. You’ll even find RORO buses that go all the way to El Nido for around PhP 800. Upon hearing this, two of the Polish girls in our group decided to take it the next day.
But getting to out-of-the-way places doesn’t mean having to walk. All you need to do is hail a tricycle and they will take you anywhere you want. The owner of Kawayanan Resort, the place we stayed in for our trip, said that the locals fondly call them traxicabs.
Just like the tricycles of Vigan, they are very unique in their design. But if there is one thing that these tricycles have over the others I have seen so far, it is that they are roomier. They are tall enough that my head doesn’t hit the ceiling. And it is wide enough that two people can side beside each other without feeling like Sardines.
Now before you decide on painting the town red, keep in mind that prices are different during the days and nights. A short trip during the day can cost as little as PhP 8 per person. Yes, you heard that right; it is PhP 8, which is the cost of a soft drink.
For the evenings, it can jump to between PhP 20 to PhP 50, depending on the distance. The reason for the jump is that there tend to be fewer customers during the nights so tricycle drivers aren’t able to get passengers on their return trip.
In our case, a trip to Ka Lui from Kawayanan Resort cost us PhP 20 for dinner. Instead of having to walk out to the street, the front desk simply called a number and we were picked up at the resort.
[Now that’s service!]
When it was time to go to Badjao Seafront & Restaurant for dinner, a back and forth trip cost us PhP 200 because it was a bit farther out. For the latter, we got the cell number of our tricycle driver so we could text him when we could be picked up. Incidentally, we didn’t pay up front as we gave the entire PhP 200 once we were back at Kawayanan Resort.
After taking the Tour in Bohol, I was impressed at how the developed the local tourism industry was. Our guide was extremely knowledgeable of every place we visited. Not only were the guides very protective of the environment, but the local government takes a very active role in taking care of both.
However, I will say that Puerto Princesa has taken their tourism industry to a whole new level.
It is only here that I have seen a network of agencies that both compete and cooperate with one another to provide tourists with the best experience.
To start off, the smallest vehicle used for tours is a Toyota Hiace or a Hyundai Starex van than can fit fourteen people easily. And once the van is five years old, it is replaced with a brand new one.
For the three days that we toured Puerto Princesa, we had three different tour guides who came from three different companies. We also rode four different vans, which were also from four different tour companies.
The reason why we had different guides was because we were only two for this visit. Being the case, we were merged with other tour groups to achieve economies of scale. Companies get to maximize resources, while tourists get to meet other people and try out other companies.
Now if you prefer a certain guide or company, you have the option of blocking them off for your entire trip. And while it will be a bit more expensive, since you will be covering the other missing tourists, you will be able to take your time as you proceed at your own pace.
Of the three companies that handled us, I was extremely happy with Dean San Luis, who was our tour guide on the third day. Not only was he exceptional from what is already the best of the best, his company was the only one that provided snacks in the afternoon.
To be fair, the second company provided a sumptuous seafood lunch, composed of Squid, Adobo Chicken, Grilled Fish, Pancit, and rice for our island hopping tour of Honda Bay. While the first one did not need to provide food as the city tour started after lunch.
As far as room rates are concerned, the various inns and hotels cannot just raise prices on a whim because it is controlled by the local government. One of the benefits we felt during our short stay in Puerto Princes is that the various inns and hotels compete by providing better service.
Finally, the local government strictly implements a one price policy. That means that the price charged to locals are the same ones charged to foreign and local tourists. Yes, you’ll find some places that charge more than others, but the prices they quote will still be the same regardless of the customer.
[This is the perfect balance as everyone benefits!]
There are quite a lot of things to do in Puerto Princesa, but traveling takes up a lot of time as the spots to visit are scattered throughout the island.
On the first day of our multi-day tour we went around the city to visit the following places:
- Plaza Cuartel - to look at the marker that pays homage to soldiers who were tortured during World War Two.
- Immaculate Conception Cathedral - to see one of the nicer churches in Palawan
- Palawan World War Two Museum - it's real name is Palawan Special Battalion World War Two Memorial Museum and its the place to see some World War Two artifacts and relive your Rat Patrol days
- Mitra's Ranch - where you can ride a kid-friendly zip line
- Baker’s Hill - where you can buy Hopia and other treats
- Binatuan Creations - where you can find bags, wallets, and other items that are hand woven from grass
- Crocodile Farm- now called the Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Center, it's where you take pictures with a Crocodile and Bear Cat and eat the best Sisig ever
- Cora’s - where you can buy South Sea and fresh water pearls
Our second day was spent island hopping at Honda Bay to see the following islands:
- Snake Island - for a little swimming
- Pandan Island - for a seafood lunch and fish feeding
- Starfish Island - for picture taking
On the third day, we went to the following places:
- Underground River - to see one of the new Seven Natural Wonders of the World
- Ugong Rock - to try out spelunking and to ride one of the fastest zip lines
Our dinners were spent at:
Don’t worry if I didn’t go in to detail as this is just a preview of what to see in Puerto Princesa. I’ve covered them in succeeding articles because there just isn’t enough space for all of them here.
I’ve spoken to quite a number of the people in Palawan about their local government and everyone has nothing but good words for Mayor Edward Hagedorn. They credit him with the transformation of the city in to the paradise it is right now.
Crime is practically non-existent with the roads being safe to travel on at all hours of the day. People feel so safe that it was not uncommon to see tourists walking around in skimpy clothes even late in the evening.
In fact, it is so safe that some of the people I spoke with sleep with their windows and doors unlocked and open at nights.
[I felt so safe I didn’t worry about walking around with my camera strapped to my shoulder instead of being hidden in a bag!]
Even paradise will have a few things that will be annoying and Puerto Princesa is no exception.
The biggest downside of having a City in a Forest is the presence mosquitoes. With all the greens around, insects will not be far behind. And since mosquitoes eat the sap of plants, quite a lot of plants mean there are quite a lot of mosquitoes.
They are huge and their bites can sting quite a bit. But then their size actually works against them because they are so big and slow you can swat them easily. Unlike the small mosquitoes in the other urban cities which are fast and tough to catch, the ones in Puerto Princesa are lumbering and easy to catch.
What’s even better is that even if there are quite a bit of them, they only come out at nights so your days are free of any pesky annoyances.
[Yup, no need to hide behind thick clothes during the day either!]
For those of you worried about diseases, you can rest easy. The worst thing you can get is a welt from their bite. If you find that hard to believe, let’s put it in another way – if the mosquitoes here were really dangerous, then there wouldn’t be any people left alive in Puerto Princesa as they are numerous.
Now if you still are concerned about mosquitoes, there is a simple solution to them. Just rub insect repellant on your skin right before leaving your room and you’ll be free even from welts.
Don’t worry if you forget to bring a tube, you can find insect repellants in every Sari-sari store, or corner store, in the city. Even Sari-sari stores on the mountains have them. And you have a choice of getting them in a bottle, tube, or sachet.
When people say that Palawan is paradise on earth, I never doubted them. Just from the stories of people I have met and of those found on the internet, it’s hard to deny that this is truly paradise. And now that I have actually been there, I can confirm that this is truly paradise.
I can’t wait to go back with the rest of my family. This time, I hope to stay longer than four days as it just wasn’t enough to see all the sights and sample all the food. In fact, when the time came for us to leave, I was toying with the idea of extending my stay.
[I was actually thinking of staying permanently!]
Yup, I had that feeling of wanting to be part of the fifty percent that migrated from other parts of the country to take up residence in Palawan. Who Knows? If I happen to win the jackpot in the lotto, I just might move there.
Oh, before I go, you probably noticed that this is just part one of a series on Palawan. Well, people say that Puerto Princesa is ranked number three, with El Nido being number two and Coron being the number one best destination in Palawan. So after taking my family back to Puerto Princesa, I hope to visit El Nido and Coron, in that order.
[You can count on part two and three coming after that!]
- Keep some insect repellant on hand.
- Bring a camera with lots of memory and batteries.