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Coron, Busuanga, Palawan

June 3, 2009

Coron town center

Bistro Coron in town center

View from Sea Dive - looking out over La Sirenetta Restaurant

La Sirenetta Restaurant

Sunset view from La Sirenetta Restaurant

Sunset view over Uson Island

View of pier and Coron Island from V.A Birang’s

View from Sea Dive Resort

Sunset view - looking towards Coron town center  - view from V.A Birang’s Lodgings

Coron Island - Twin Lagoons

Coron Island - NE coastline

Ocean side of Kayangan entrance

The highlights of my holiday in Coron were sea kayaking, which I had never done before, eating at Bistro Coron every night, watching the stunningly beautiful ocean sunsets, relaxing in the Maquinit Hot Springs and snorkeling around the islands. Coron was a pleasant surprise for me. My expectations were a little low as I thought that it was only a destination for scuba divers wanting to dive on the many WW2 Japanese wrecks. I was wrong; there was much more to do there than that.

My Coron holiday was during the peak season - Christmas day, December 25, 2008 to Jan2, 2009. Although Cebu Pacific almost didn’t get me to Coron and Sea Dive Resort bungled our accommodation, I was still able to have a great holiday. By good fortune, a friend, Greg Hutchinson from Tribal Adventures and Boracay Sandcastles, just happened to be in Coron at the same time. Greg showed me around the island, helped me rent a motor bike, and best of all, lent me a beautiful new two-person sea kayak for a couple of days. Greg was also able to help me find good accommodation after the Sea Dive Resort messed up our reservations.

Coron Town

Coron town and Coron Island share the same name, which can be confusing when you first read up on this place. Coron, with a population of some 40,000, is the largest city on the Island of Busuanga, which is part of the Calamian group of islands in the province of Palawan. It is about 300km (185 miles) from Manila. There are many resorts in and about Coron town, and many more on the islands around Busuanga.
The town stretches along a coast which once may have been covered by mangroves. There are no sandy beaches in Coron town. Many houses and buildings are built on stilts on the water’s edge. The ocean around Coron is well sheltered by Uson Island to the south west and Coron Island to the south east. The waterway between Coron and these two

Local transport around town is by tricycle. Depending upon distance, the cost is typically between 7 and 10 pesos. A good way to have a look around Coron and some of Busuanga is to rent a motorbike. We paid P700m for 24 hours and P500 for 12 hours. They make a bit of extra money by providing the bike empty of fuel, and you should return it empty. They drain the remaining fuel after you return the bike so that it is empty for the next customer. If you get them to fill the bike for you, they may get it from a very expensive gasoline station. The motor bikes are all of a similar type with automatic clutch. I did not take note of the brands or engine sizes but there was certainly enough power to get around. Apart from the highway, most of the roads are gravel and can be a bit tricky. Don't touch the front brakes on these roads and drive slowly.

Coron Island

Coron Island is the day trip island hopping destination for most tourists. The island at its closest point, is a few kilometers from Coron town. It is the ancestral home of the seafaring Tagbanua people. In 1998 the Tagbanua won legal claim of Ancestral Domain over Coron Island and the surrounding waters. Read this fascinating article about their struggle and triumph if you would like to know more.

The islands' coastline is one of picturesque rugged limestone cliffs. There are a few small white-sand beaches and lots of interesting lagoons and inlets. The ocean on the NW side of the island is fairly calm, as it is sheltered by Busuanga and Uson Islands.

Places to Eat

I was not particularly adventurous with my food because I knew that I was going to get great meals from Bistro Coron. There maybe other good places to eat but I tried very few.

Bistro Coron- I have known Bruno for a number of years and were regular customers when he ran Bistro El Nido in El Nido town. I came to Bistro Coron knowing what to expect, which was gourmet food. I had read some of the Coron blogs before we went to Coron and certainly Bruno's restaurant is highly praised. The restaurant is right in the middle of town, so it is not possible to miss it. As you can see from the picture of the restaurant, Bruno has extended into a second shop making the combined restaurant reasonably large.

I ate at Coron Bistro every night and often for breakfast and lunch also. The food was great of course. The steaks were melt-in-your-mouth tender, the sausages were delicious, the salads were fresh, the bread was fantastic, etc, etc.

I was there over the peak season and the place was very busy. The tables turned over several times in one night, but the staff and kitchen were able to keep up.

Coron Bistro does not accept credit cards except with prior arrangement, and the bill must exceed P2,500. If you must pay by credit card, they are likely to suggest that you should eat elsewhere. You will also have to pay the surcharge if you use a credit card. Bring lots of pesos if you are coming to Coron.

The Local Market - On one of the mornings I decided to have fish for breakfast. I went to the large local wet market, just down the road from Sea Dive, and bought a couple of large fresh fish. There were lots of varieties to choose from. I then took them to a small eatery across the road from the market and had them cook it for me. This is a cheap way to eat great food. I also bought some vegetables and had them cooked to my liking. I think we were charged P50 for the cooking for two people. The eatery supplied the rice which was very cheap. There is a long string of eateries across the road from the market towards the east. Choose the one that looks cleanest and haggle a little for price if you are on a tight budget.

La Sirenetta Restaurant - This is a beautiful spot to have your cocktails and watch the sunset from. The only food I ate there was kinilaw, a pickled raw fish which is one of my favorite Filipino dishes. It was quite delicious. The ambiance of the place is very fitting for Coron, even thought the mermaid figurines are a little garish.

Things to do around Coron.

Sea Kayaking - I have put this on top of the list because it was the most memorable part of my holiday. I have fantasized about sea kayaking ever since reading Paul Theroux's account of Kayaking around Port Barton - even though his story is mostly fiction.
I went to Coron Island twice by 2 person sea kayak. The first time time we paddled to the island and the second time we hired a bangka to tow us there. We were expecting to have aching muscles after the first day so we thought it would be better to get towed out on the second day. As it turned out, we were not aching after the first day and hiring the bangka was a waste of P1000.

My GPS showed that we were comfortably able to paddle at a speed of between 5 to 7km per hour, depending on current and wind direction. The Bangka (boat) towed us out at 10Kph, which was only slightly faster than we could paddle.

It was a wonderful experience to silently glide along the Coron Island coast, through the beautiful lagoons and inlets and occasionally stop on a secluded beach.

We met a couple of people that had been out for 7 days in a kayak and they said it had been a great experience.

If you have never been sea kayaking before, consider doing it as part of your Coron holiday. I was surprised at how little my muscles ached after the two days of paddling, especially given that my major upper body exercise is moving the mouse on my computer. We did not get any instructions on sea kayaking before we set off, and I think it would have been wiser to have done so. If you are interested in sea kayaking on your own or as part of a guided tour, contact Tribal Adventures.

Island hopping day trip - Although it is called Island hopping, apart from snorkeling around Los Siete Pecados (Seven Rock Islands), it is really hopping around Coron Island. Coron island on this tour had lost a little of its magic for me because I had already been there two times before by sea kayak, so a noisy bangka was no match. Nonetheless, the sightseeing was enjoyable and the snorkeling was great. There are longer island hopping trips which involve at least an overnight stay, but we did not do on any.

The island hopping tour will usually include Los Siete Pecados, Twin Peaks, Barracuda Lake, Twin Lagoon, Banol Beach and Skeleton Wreck.

I thoroughly enjoyed the snorkeling around Los Siete Pecados (Seven Rock Islands). There were still many beautiful corals there that had not been destroyed by cyanide or dynamite fishing. Colorful fish were in abundance and one of the guys in our group saw a sea turtle.
Kayangan Lake was interesting, but for a short while only. It is said to be the cleanest lake in the Philippines. We did not visit Barracuda Lake.

Snorkeling around Twin Lagoons was a treat. The water has two temperatures, normal and “bath temperature hot”. It was enjoyable swimming in and out of the two temperatures. Both of the lagoons are very picturesque.

There was not much left to see of the submerged ship at “Skeleton Wreck” and I did not find it particularly interesting. I did manage to swim down far enough to touch the ship.

I booked our island hopping tour through Toa Expeditions, which is just opposite the walkway to Sea Dive Resort. They organized everything remarkably well, especially given that it was peak season. The cost of the tour is P400 per person if they can get 4 people in a group. The lunch will cost you P200 extra. My lunch was a large tuna grilled over coals and served with rice and vegetables. It was very delicious. Mask and fins can be hired for an extra P150. I always bring my own. Because all of Coron Island is a park, you will have to pay entrance fees for every spot you stop at. You will have to pay even if you don’t go onto the shore. This is not negotiable. The total cost of all of my entrance fees was P550 per person, making the total of the day trip P1,300. Make sure you have small notes because you have to pay entrance fees at each stop and not lump sum.

Places to stay

Sea Dive Resort - The top floor rooms, 301, 303 and 305 are not bad. These have a good view over the ocean looking out over La Sirenetta Restaurant. I stayed in 305 for two days and that cost P1100 per day. It had a verandah, which was nice. The room had an aircon which was a bit noisy.  Some of the lower fan rooms are a bit dingy. They might be ok if you are on a shoestring budget because they are not very expensive.  One good thing about Sea Dive is that they are located right in the heart of town and close to everything, including the wet market. I must add though that they bungled our accommodation over the Xmas New Year 2008/2009.  From the moment that I made contact with them to do the booking I got the feeling that they were not well organized around bookings. To make sure that there was no confusion, I confirmed my bookings by text messages. I showed them their text messages confirming my bookings but I were left to find other accommodation after two days.

V.A Birang’s Lodgings -  From the centre of town, it is about 50 meters past Michelangelo's.   If you are coming by ship, then it is few hundred meters towards the centre of town from the pier,. To get there by tricycle you say - "to Viring's place, the ex-mayor's house, just past Michelangelo's." The accommodation is inside her family compound where she has her businesses and some of the extended family live.

The place was very new and I think we were the first occupants. It is a three story sort of house built near the water's edge. The ground floor rooms are separate to the other rooms and I did not see inside them. We stayed on the middle floor which has two bedrooms, a bathroom, a kitchen and a lounge.  Around the house on this floor is a narrow verandah with wonderful views over the ocean. The two bedrooms had air conditioners which were brand new and very quiet.

The top floor is like a loft. There is a very steep staircase leading from the middle floor lounge. The loft consists of a little lounge and two bedrooms and the ceiling is rather low. At the time there were no air conditioners up there, which could be a problem in summer if you are not used to Philippines climate.

I think that the middle and top floor accommodation is most suited to a family or a group of people who know each other. The walls between the rooms are very thin and even a whisper can be heard through them.
The cost was P750 per room for the middle floor bedrooms. Viring's cell phone number is +63 9209048280.

Banyan Tree Resort - This Singapore based company intend to develop a huge luxury resort with 600 rooms on the 55 hectare Isla Diwaran. It is expected to open in 2012.

View from La Sirenetta Restaurant - rear view of Sea Dive Resort

Walkway to Sea Dive - Photo from room 304

Lounge room on middle floor in V.A Birang’s Lodgings