I was last here in August 2012, and again I was reminded of why this is one of my favorite places in the Philippines.
Port Barton town is a small fishing and farming village located on a sheltered bay along Palawan’s west coast. Port Barton is also a Barangay within the municipality of San Vicente. The popular activities for tourists are island hopping, snorkeling, beach lazing and swimming, either in the ocean or in one of the two nearby waterfalls. The mangrove river tour can be a fascinating outing for those with an interest in nature. You will find most of the tourist accommodation along the 1.3 km beach but there are also a few resorts on the nearby islands and secluded beaches.
I have been visiting Port Barton regularly since 2001. Its tranquility and frontier feel continues to lure me back. Tourism stagnated in Port Barton for many years because its access road was only passable during dry weather. This is now no longer the case. Concreting of the worst sections of the road was completed in late 2009. I was able to drive from Port Barton to Puerto Princesa City in my 4x4 in about two and a half hours. The short traveling time now makes Port Barton an option for Filipino tourists who have little more than a weekend for their Palawan Holiday.
There are about ten guest houses in Port Barton and a few a small grocery stores selling basic supplies for the locals. There are no banks, ATM machines or places to change money, so make sure that you have pesos in cash with you, not only for your stay here, but also for your onward journey. Port Barton has a limited electricity supply which comes on at 6PM and shuts down again at midnight.
The tourist season starts November and ends around early May. During the peak season, the town is lively and it can be hard to find accommodation from Christmas to New Year and around Easter. From June to October, some of the resorts and guest houses close down and those that are open will usually give discounts of up to 30%. Some tourists also complain that Port Barton it is boring during the low season because there is nothing open at night and sometimes it's difficult to make up the numbers to go island hopping.
Port Barton is a great place for snorkeling and island hopping. Make an early start to get in as much snorkeling as possible. Ocean conditions are more favorable for it in the morning. Check though that the tides are not too low for snorkeling over shallow reefs. 8am would normally be a good time to set off. A full day of snorkeling will usually last about 7 hours and will include probably 4 different locations. I have always included a lunch of grilled fish on the beach as part of my outing. You can get the boatman or your guest house to set this all up for you. On my most recent island hopping tour, I had a good boatman to organize and cook lunch. My delicious meal on the beach included grilled fish, rice, salads, fruit and of course coconut (buko) juice, drunk straight from the coconut. Your food should be enough to feed all your guests, the boatman and his assistant. All the snorkeling places mentioned below are within a short boat trip from the Port Barton town.
A full day of island hopping will cost between P1000 and P1200 for the boat hire - this is very cheap if there are four of you. Make sure that the boat has a canopy. It is best if you have your own mask and snorkel, otherwise you will need to scout around for them - try Villa Marguerita or Palawan Easy Dive.
Aquarium Four – A reef in the bay about 2 meters deep in its shallowest. Here was what I hope to see when I go snorkeling. – I went there on May 28, 2009 and it was teaming with small fish of almost every variety. The corals were beautiful. It's best to go early in morning when the sea is calmest, so go there first. There is no land around the reef so the boat will be anchored nearby.
Exotic Island – A good place for a swim and for having lunch on the beach. There are two islands here and the water between the them is quite shallow. The snorkeling I did on May 28, 2009 was OK but I had to go out wide to find for nice spots. There were quite a few of those so I was not disappointed. At one time I swam into the deep water of the channel and just hung there motionless for quite some time and watched a school of small fish below me. The water was lit up by an array of sunbeams and these fish changed their appearance from dull gray to flashes of bright silver as they passed through the beams in chase of prey too small for me to see.
Paradise Island - It is a privately owned island which once housed a very small resort. Now there is only a caretaker and his wife on the island. There is a P50 per head fee to go on the island. The P50 is a very small price to pay to this young family who do a great service for the environment by keeping poachers away from the reef. They also rake the beach daily to keep it free of sandflies. The reefs suffered heavy damage due to destructive fishing practices, but ten years of protecting the corals have seen many grow back. There are some beautiful large fan corals amongst many other types. If you are too tight to pay the P50, don't ask the boatman drop anchor off the shore because it will damage the corals. The guard would rather you don't pay the fee than have you damage the corals. This place is also a good spot to have your lunch on the beach.
If you are going to be around Port Barton for a while, consider a whole day on Paradise Island. This is what I did in January 2010 and I highly recommend it. A boat can pick you up from Port Barton and take you there. Lunch of grilled fish and rice can be prepared for you. The island guard can also be your snorkeling guide around the island. Call or text Alvin on 0920 487 8989 if you would like to do this day trip.
German Island - It is a privately owned island but you can still go on it for free. It is an alternative place for lunch. May 28, 2009 - on my first snorkeling exploration, I came back disappointed as I saw nothing of interest, and neither did my fellow snorkelers. I gave it one last shot but this time swam out a little further. I then discovered that there were patches of beautiful coral gardens worth snorkeling around. I then swam out much further and a followed the ridge all the way across to Double Island. I was rewarded with seeing lots of colorful fish, many beautiful corals and best of all, I saw a sea turtle foraging between the corals.
Twin Rocks - About 2.5 meters under the water at its most shallow point. It is in the bay near the sand bar and quite close to the Port Barton beach. I went there at 3pm on May 28, 2009 and the ocean currents were quite strong at that time which reduced the visibility to about 5 meters. The snorkeling was nothing spectacular but there were some nice corals and fish. There was lots of evidence of dynamite fishing just outside of the Twin Rocks area.
Small Lagoon Reef – near Double Island – good for fish and corals (I have not been here)
Fantastic Reef – Beautiful green corals – near Double Island (I have not been here)
Oyster Point - In the bay – corals and fish (I have not been here)
Manta Ray Reef – 200 meters from the shore of Capsalay Island – Used to be a very beautiful coral garden but the hard corals were damaged by high water temperature bleaching in 1998 and then further damaged by Typhoon Norming later that year. The reef is slowly recovering. This coral reef has an area of 150 hectares and is the largest area of corals in San Vicente.
Double Island – There is now a small resort on this island - some good snorkeling spots around it. I snorkeled to it from German Island.
For this tour you will need to hire a small boat as the larger ones can't maneuver around the river nor get through some of the shallow parts of the river. The river tour itself was only marginally interesting because there had been a lot of rain so the river was flowing very fast. There was also a tree that had come down over the river so we could not go much further than about 500 meters. We saw one snake in a tree and that was all the wildlife we saw. The boat had lots of difficulty maneuvering because the short mast on the boat kept getting caught in the overhanging branches. The cost of the tour for 2 people was P600 and the round trip took less than 2 hours. The sights on the way were interesting, especially the house on stills in the bay.
Not all the boatmen are good guides and I met a French couple who were very disappointed with their snorkeling trip on the same day that mine was fantastic. The competition amongst the boat operators is pretty tough as they try to supplement their meager fishing income with ferrying tourists. I heard some ridiculous yarns about why I should go with one boat owner and not another – I will spare you the details but just go with your own choice of boat based on good recommendations. I organized all my island hopping, snorkeling and mangrove tour through Lolong Estramos and have no hesitation in recommending him as your boatman and guide. He was punctual, was a great cook for our sumptuous lunchtime fish and squid grill and was very knowledgeable about Port Barton and its history. Lolong Estramos (can be contacted by cell phone on 09086667097.
Palawan Easy Dive - Palawan Easy Dive is the only scuba diving operation in Port Barton. It is run by a colorful German woman, Doris Hufnagel. She told me that there are some eleven dive sites around Port Barton and three wrecks that can be dived on. The best of these wrecks is a trawler that sank in 2003 near Boayan Island. It lies in 25 to 35 meters of ocean and is teaming with fish. Doris showed me some of the underwater pictures that she had taken and the fish were prolific in them. In Port Barton, like with most of Palawan, cyanide fishing has killed most of the corals and fish-habitats at the depths where divers like to go because this is also the depth at which the larger fish live.
Apart from offering diving tours, Doris is also is a certified PADI instructor and can offer courses from beginners (open water) and right up to Dive Master. The cost for the open water course is P18,000 and includes books and certificate. Port Barton would be a cheap and beautiful place to stay while you learn to dive – and much more fun than learning in a swimming pool.
Even if you have never dived before, consider doing a “fun dive”. This is a one-off dive where you are taught in a short lesson the minimum required to do a shallow dive with assistance of the dive master. Give it a try and I bet that it will be an experience of a lifetime. Palawan Easy Dive is located down at the far southern end of the beach, about 200 meters past 360 Palawan. Contact Doris +63 910753450 or Email her on email@example.com
Papuwyan Waterfall - A popular destination and about one and a half hours walk from the town. It's beautiful to swim in. The walk is fairly easy, with only a gentle slope in places. You will have to walk through a shallow stream a few times, so wear the right footwear. The track is not sign posted. The locals say it is easy to find, but I had trouble and almost turned back. Some people don't find it at all. You can get a guide to take you there.
Bigaho Waterfall – A picturesque cascading waterfall with a reasonably large pool for swimming in. To get there, it's a 20 minute boat journey from Port Barton. From the sitio (village) of Bigaho, it's a one km stroll to the waterfall. Except for the last 100 meters the path is wide and involves no trekking or climbing. The last 100 meters are stone steps leading up to the largest swimming pool. This is an easy trip for young and old and can be walked in slippers or high heels even. Part of the walk is across open country so take an umbrella or some sort of protection from the sun. The visit to the waterfall could be part of your island hopping tour.
The best part of the beach to swim in is center beach around Elsa's.
As of this latest update, Elsa's, Bamboo House and Greenviews Resort, may offer the best meals, so try them out.
I like to eat the fresh seafood catch of the day rather than the regular “menu” food so I usually cook myself or pay someone to cook for me. If you don't want to do this but still want a really superb meal, ask the restaurant the night before to find you some fresh seafood in the morning. This may be squid, crabs, lobster or a first class fish such as Lapu Lapu, and then instruct them in how you would like it cooked.
Good food is not easy to find during the low tourist season. Some guest houses will let you cook your own meals in their kitchen during the low season. Others may cook for you the food that you brought. Buy fresh fish and vegetables in the town or bring them with you from Puerto Princesa.
DON"T LEAVE VALUABLES IN YOUR ROOM !!! - This Email I received from a traveler on Jan 3, 2012
" ....while we were asking for room rates at Elsa's, a French tourist went to the front desk to complain that his room was ransacked and he lost 30thou Php plus his credit cards and passport. We went to report it to the tourism office since there were no police in the village. The police came to investigate a day later."
Expect to pay about 30% less for your accommodation from June through to October.
|A cottage right on the beach front and within meters of the swimming beach|| Elsa's,
|Beautiful garden setting with peaceful ambience||Princesa Michaella, Greenviews, Villa Marguerita|
|Beachfront Villa||Villa Marguerita, Gilligans Hideaway|
|Large family group with tight budget||Besaga, Princesa Michaella|
|Honeymooners|| Gilligans Hideaway,
|Cheapest rates for single person.||Princesa Michaella, Bamboo House|
|Cheapest rates for two people||Princesa Michaella, Elsa's, El Dorado, Bamboo House, El Busero, Ausan's Cottages|
|Guest house where you can cook your own food||Besaga, Princesa Michaella, Villa Marguerita, (Elsa's sometimes)|
|Off the beaten track - away from the tourists||Besaga, Gilligans Hideaway|
|Island resorts||Coconut Garden, Gilligans Hideaway, Secret Paradise Resort, Bluecove|
Princesa Michaella's Beach Resort - Originally it was going to be a grand beach resort, hence the name, but it was scaled down to a guest house in a beautiful garden setting. Your host is Lucy Guzman and she is a keen botanist and gardener and has made her resort into a mini botanical garden. Much of the flora has their common and botanical names displayed. The place is as charming as Lucy herself and the cottages and rooms are very reasonably priced. The resort is set back about 100 meters from the beach on the main road going into Port Barton. The short walk to the beach will put you right in the center of the best swimming area. The kitchen is available for the use of guests to cook their own food and there are plenty of sheltered nooks in the garden to relax or eat your meal. Princesa Michaella has 9 rooms and all have private bathrooms. For bookings or more information, call or text Lucy on - 0929 894 2980
|1 cottage||2 - 4 people||P800|
|1 family room - 1 double bed||2+ people||P600|
|1 family rooms - 4 single beds||4 people||P600|
|5 standard rooms||2 people||P500|
|3 low cost rooms - 3 single beds||for 3 people||P450|
|for 2 people||P300|
|for 1 person||P200|
Greenviews Resort and Restaurant - Located at the very northern end of the beach. This is nice accommodation surrounding a lovely garden. There is a slightly British feel to the place. They have eleven guest rooms, a restaurant with an extensive menu, and a well stocked bar. The menu includes sandwiches, curries, pastas, fish and a wide range of Filipino dishes. All rooms have a fan and private bathroom - extra bed is P200. This end of the beach can get fairly hot in the afternoon.
|2 beach front cottages||2 people||P1,000|
|4 family cottages||4 to 5 people||P1,500|
|5 standard cottages||2 people||P900|
Villa Marguerita - This beautiful three-bedroom beachfront Villa is set in a large garden setting and is located slightly north of center beach. The entire villa, including all facilities, can be rented out on a package basis and the cost is roughly about US$500 a week. There is domestic staff to cook, help out with the washing or just to make your holiday effortless. There are lots of facilities including paddle boats, a motor bike and a large beachfront bar and these are detailed in the Villa Marguerita web site.
If the place is not privately booked, you may be able to negotiate much cheaper back packer rates for the two cheaper rooms from P400 a night, so ask when you arrive in Port Barton - very good value!
Gilligans Hideaway Guest House - A large three bedroom, solar powered house available for rent on a private beach called "Nao Nao", a 20 minute boat ride north of Port Barton town. This place is for those who want to completely escape the crowd while still having their creature comforts. This house is owned by the same people who own Villa Marguerita. I spent two nights wonderful nights here and highly recommend it. For more details, contact their letting agent at Gilligans Hideaway Guest House.
Secret Paradise Resort and Nature Reserve - NEW - It's in a private, protected bay (Turtle Bay) with crystal clear blue waters, consisting of 3 beautiful white sandy beaches lined with coconut trees and a 3km long coast-line frontage. You can enjoy these beaches on their exclusive 52 hectare nature reserve. "Sunset Beach", "Turtle Beach" and "Hideaway Beach" are all accessible within a 15 minute walk to each other. Their closest neighbours are 45 minutes walk away over the hills. They have have one of the largest unspoilt secluded bays in Palawan, surrounded on the North, East and South by tropical forest, and to the West open sea with beautiful sunsets. Turtle Bay is safe swimming location with great visibility for snorkeling to see the turtles, marine life and corals.
On Turtle Beach they have 3 beach front deluxe cottages. On Sunset Beach they have 3 beach front cottages, a superior room, two standard rooms and a dormitory room. All of their cottages and the Superior Room include: Tiled bathrooms, 24 hour hot water showers, electric fans, intercom for room service, private balcony with table, chairs and a hammock. There's also a native sauna.
|Dormitory||6 people||P300 (each)|
|2 Standard Rooms||2+ people||P700|
|Orchid Cottage||2+ people||P1,200|
|Song Bird Cottage||2+ people||P1,550|
|Love Bird Cottage||2+ people||P1,950|
|Superior Room||2+ people||P1,950|
|Kingfisher Cottage (Honeymoon Suite)||2 people||P2,950|
I have been to Turtle Beach where this little resort is located, but I have not stayed here yet because it's new. They have a very informative website where you can book and get all the information you need. Secret Paradise Resort and Nature Reserve
Besaga Cottages - This place suites me very well so I usually stay here. There's one small house which is good for a large Filipino family group and there are two smaller cottages. The two cottages each have their own bathrooms as does the house. The house has two bedrooms, a verandah, a large lounge room and a large kitchen. You may need to buy gas if you want to do your own cooking, which is what I did. Besaga is situated just south of the small river that you cross to go to El Dorado and Greenviews - a little away from the tourist crowd. The cottages are about 50 meters from the beach. What I liked best was being able to do my own cooking. Besaga is next to two fish dealers so many of the fishermen bring their catch in on that part of the beach in the morning and I was able to buy my fish off them. The caretaker Enday and her brother Long were happy to help me find good fish and also grill them for me sometimes. You can also cook in their dirty kitchen (this is what they call the outside kitchen) using firewood. For bookings or more information, call or text 09185704665, 09152625413 or email firstname.lastname@example.org .
|1 house with 2 BR's||Family of 6++||P900|
|2 cottages||2 people||P700|
Ausan's Cottages - They have just renavated their cottages and they look pretty good. They are near the beachfront and center-beach. Approx P800 a night.
El Dorado Bar and Bistro - I have stayed here a number of times. The eleven cottages have louver windows on two sides which are good for airflow at night, especially as there is no electricity after midnight and therefore no fan. There bar with karaoke which can be fairly active during the peak season. During the low season the bar is only open on request but the rooms are still available for occupancy. Lucy, the owner, is a good host so try out the bistro even if you are not staying there. If you want a really special meal, you should order a day in advance so that they have ample time to prepare and get the fresh ingredients. El Dorado is situated at the far northern end of the beach just before Greenviews. For bookings or more information, call or text Lucy on 0920 329 9049
|2 beach front cottages||2 people||P800|
|4 cottages||2 people||P700|
|3 back cottages||2 people||P350|
Elsa's Beach Resort - Elsa's Beach Resort - A good choice for your accommodation - It is situated about center beach right on the beach front. They have a lovely new restaurant with beautiful views over the bay. The staff are friendly and efficient and there is a nice ambience about the place. If you want to do a little of your own cooking in their kitchen, that could be arranged.
|3 beach front cottages||2-3 people||P1000|
|5 back cottages||2-3 people||P800|
|3 upstairs rooms||2-3 people||P500|
Summer Homes - Good clean rooms on the beach front and slightly north of center beach. The four rooms at the front are very nice but the six rooms at the back are a little closed in for me and the airflow could be a problem in midsummer. There is an Internet Cafe and the cost is by the minute at a rate of P120 per hour. They also a small bar. For bookings or more information, call or text 09285944484 & 09214016906
|4 beach front cottages with hot water||2 people||P1200|
|5 cottages||2 people||P550|
Ayette's Bamboo House - The restaurant serves very reasonably priced meals and the beer is cheap. It is located about 50 meters back from the beach so there is only a road view. The rooms are tiny and away from the beach. Airflow may be a problem in the middle of summer - there are fans in the rooms but power is only from 6pm to 10pm. For bookings or more information, call or text 09284081551
|1 rooms||1 person||P250|
|1 double room||2 persons||P400|
|2 bungalows||2 persons||P550|
|1 Cottage||4 people||P850|
El Busero - The restaurant is right on the beach front and it is a nice place at night to have a beer and listen to the waves roll in.
The front cottage is by far the best value that El Busero has on offer. The back cottage has no view or airflow and not good value at P1,000. The upstairs rooms are dark and have no airflow - they are cheap and consider them if price is your main consideration. Extra bed is P150
|4 rooms||2 people||P300|
|2 cottages||2 people||P1000|
Coconut Garden Island Resort - Click here on Coconut Garden Island Resort as there is a separate article about this place.
Bluecove Tropical Island Resort - It is situated on Albaguen Island, about a 30 minute boat ride out of Port Barton town. I have not been there so I cannot comment other than to say it is another option for your stay. I have been told that new owners have recently taken it over. Rates vary from P950 to P1,500 for a cottage good for two people. The place certainly looks beautiful from the pictures and you can check out their web site by clicking here - Bluecove Tropical Island Resort.
Closed Down Again - Expected to open again late 2012 - Gold Rush Resort - ( Formally 360 Palawan, Ysobelle and Swissipinni Resort) Located on the beach front and about center beach. They have a large restaurant and also a bar on the beach. There is a wide range of accommodation but the beach cottages seem particularly popular, probably because they are about as close to the water as one could get. The beach just out the front is great for swimming. Extra bed cost is P150. For bookings or more information, call or text +63 908 671 9893 or +63 921 319 2924
|1 Dragon House||2 people||P1,500|
|1 honeymooner cottage with bathtub||2 people (of course)||P1,500|
|1 midnight sun room with deck||4 people||P1,200|
|1 waterfront cottage||4 people||P1,200|
|4 waterfront cottages||2 people||P1,000|
|2 sunset rooms||3 people||P1000|
|4 cottages||2 people||P800|
|4 garden cottages||4 people||P800|
|2 seaview rooms||2 people||P800|
It is 152kms by road from Puerto Princesa to Port Barton. I drove it in my 4x4 car on Dec 6, 2009 and it took me 2 hours. By hire car it takes less than three hours and up to 4 hours for a jeepney if it stops regularly. The first 130kms of road from Puerto Princesa is excellent and there is barely any traffic on it. The last 22 km takes you from the east to the west coast and this was once a nightmare stretch of road but the recent cementing of the worst bits will now make it passable all year round. It is still mostly a dirt road with a few potholes. Note that the road is only passable by 4 wheel drive after very heavy rains.
There are two jeepneys that go to Port Barton daily, one is from Puerto Princesa and the other is from Roxas. Both leave for Port Barton at 7am in the morning. The same Jeepneys return to Roxas and Puerto around midday, but you will need to check for the actual time on the day that you want to leave. The Jeepney from Puerto costs P200 one way.
Now that the road should be passable all year round, it will possible to hire a van to go to Port Barton anytime. That will typically cost P5,000 and includes the cost of the return trip as they are unlikely to find passengers going back. An overnight stay for van and driver will cost P1,500 per night, so if you wanted to only stay for two nights, think about having the driver stay over for the two nights rather than having him come back for you and paying the P5,000 again.
I did this in August 2012. The ride took about 3 and a half hours. Make sure the motorbike has mud tires because it's dirt road for last 25 km. The rest of the road is concrete. Beware of dogs on the road. It's the greatest danger. I hit one on my last trip and luckily I didn't come off the bike. The dog wasn't too lucky.
Rent a motorbike in Puerto for about P600 a day. Get a full face helmet because the bugs are big.
By Boat - The fastest way to Sabang was by pump boat (bangka) and it takes less than 3 hours. During the peak season, there are boats daily, usually leaving at 7am. There are no regular boats during the off season so you will need to charter one for about P3000 (can carry 4 passengers). The regular cost per passenger from Sabang to Port Barton is P1200 and it is P800 from Port Barton to Sabang, and this may vary. If you are with a large group, consider negotiating for a better price. The regular services are by large bangkas that can carry either 11 or 14 people. The large bangkas make for a much more pleasant and drier journey.
By Road - It is not possible to go directly from Port Barton by road to Sabang so you will need to go back to Puerto Princesa, stay overnight there and then head out to Sabang the next morning. You could also hire a private van to take you there
By Boat - If you are going on to El Nido, you will most probably want go by boat (bangka). The views on this part of the trip are spectacular. The trip to El Nido will take about 5 hours max, depending on weather conditions. The regular fee is P1200. The boat will probably leave 6am so that it can get back the same day. I suggest that you wrap your belongings in plastic as they might get wet as the South China Sea can get a bit choppy, especially in the afternoons. Take some food and water with you. Offer your food and goodies to the boatmen. Cigarettes are welcome too.
By Road - There is no direct road between Port Barton and El Nido so you will need to take the 8 jeepney back to Roxas and catch an onward bus from there. By the time you reach Roxas, there may be no more vehicles traveling to El Nido that day, so you will need to stay overnight in Taytay.
The boat ride from San Vicente Poblacion to Port Barton takes about 45 minutes. The boat will cost P1000 to hire and can carry 4 passengers. As the ocean is much calmer in the morning, it is probably better to travel early. Vans leave the San Jose terminal in Puerto Princesa on the hour from 6am to 11am and they leave San Vicente Poblacion at the same times. Travel time is under 4 hours. The fare isP300.
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