Puerto Princesa is the capital city of Palawan province in the Philippines, and, despite its large number of scenic attractions, the city today is still relatively underrated as a primary tourist destination. At least when compared to the big beach destinations like Boracay and Cebu (cebu tourist guide) and the popular beach spots of Palawan itself with El Nido and Coron. I remember on our first visit to Palawan and Puerto Princesa when we took on a simple city tour around the attractions, including “the blue church”, a batik silk induction, as well a crocodile farm. But really we were just scratching the surface in Puerto Princesa as I put together a list of lesser-known attractions to explore. Well, apart from the Underground River, which is just one of those must-see sights in all of the Phillippines, and is also the jump-off point for some of the best Scuba diving in the Philippines with Tubbataha. Palawan is also a popular stop for longer stays with expats using long-term visa options.
Explore Honda Bay
Just a short drive north from the city centre, a chain of beautiful islands lies waiting to be explored. The full-day island hopping trip in Honda Bay, will bring you close to gems like Starfish, Lulu and Cowrie Islands to name just a few. Visitors can sunbathe, snorkel and discover marine life. While admittedly not as impressive as similar tours in El Nido or Coron, Honda Bay is a much less crowded, family-friendly tour, and the beaches are still breathtaking.
Make a trip to the Underground River
The Underground River of Puerto Princesa, is by far the leading attraction of Palawan and the region. Since it has been named one of the world’s seven wonders of nature back in 2012, the place has grown in popularity. The river is a good hour and a half drive from Palawan to the town of Sabang. The area can be accessed by boat or by foot till the mouth, while the actual tour is done by paddle boat. The stalactites and stalagmite formations in the grotto are unmissable sights.
Tour the Tribal village and Butterfly garden
This is another major attraction for any tourist visiting Puerto Princesa. It’s one of the best places to experience the local culture and environment. The garden houses an incredible collection of butterflies and other rare insects, as well as a diversity of flora and fauna. The village tour gives the visitors insight to the local way of living. The interaction with the tribes shows their hunting techniques, which they have mastered over the centuries.
Enjoy the local cuisine
While Puerto Princesa is quite behind in the food scene as compared to Manila, it is still home to some really great places to try out local food (our Filipino Food Guide here). The city has a plethora of popular food joints, among them KaLui, which is arguably the best place to have seafood in the whole country. Even the vegetable dishes there are in a class of their own, meaning it is best to make a reservation before coming (you can do this on their Facebook).
Paddle Down the Iwahig River
This is the most enchanting way to conclude a day trip in Puerto Princesa. A small paddle boat tour along the Iwahig River after sunset will take you through the mangrove forests which is the home of fireflies. As soon as darkness sets in, the soft splash of the paddle and the glow of millions of fireflies create a fascinating illumination on the surface of the water as well as the surrounding forests. This tour, while stunning, only takes 3 hours to complete and includes a buffet dinner before the cruise itself. It’s a perfect choice for a short romantic outing before going back to your hotel to get some well-deserved rest, so no wonder it is almost always included in the most popular honeymoon packages in the Philippines.
Trek to the Olangoan Waterfalls
Less than an hour’s drive from the centre of the city, lies another hidden gem – Olangoan Falls. Located in the region of Barangay Binduyan, a thirty-minute hike will bring you these lovely cascades.The falls have still remained off the tourist radar, so it is best to go now when only locals visit and crowds are at a bare minimum.
Visit the Craft Brewery
I have always said that the Phillippines has probably the best beers in Southeast Asia (thanks to San Miguel) but I am personally more interested in local beers and therefore a visit to the one and only Palaweno Craft Brewery is a must for fellow beer lovers. And the atmosphere here, though laid-back, is quite special, as one gets to taste the cool local brew among the company of local women who have been running this place. Each manual beer-making step is on display here, along with a beer tasting and a selling menu to add to the taste and flavour of the place.
Go biking at the Bay Walk
Another fun and popular attraction of Puerto Princesa is within the city centre proper-biking at the bay walk. One just needs to hire a bicycle for a part of the day, particularly the evening and visit the Baywalk. The temperature is low and there are many dining options on the area.
It is no wonder that Puerto Princesa has been dubbed the City in the Forest. The authorities have made a splendid effort in preserving the natural resources of the city and keeping it neat and clean. It’s also the best area to experience the local culture and cuisine, unique to the Palawan province. For these reasons, visiting this area of Palawan complements a tour of the island and beach locations very well.