Puerto Princesa: Essential Travel Information
Puerto Princesa City is the capital of and the only city in Palawan, Philippines. While it is considered a highly urbanized city, it still looks and feels more like a big town. And in the past few years, more like a boomtown. The city has been transforming, developing at a rate faster than I gain weight. Haha. A few new malls and several new big hotels now stand in what used to be a virtually flat city proper.
Yet, the tourism here is highly organized and synchronized. Almost all sectors of the industry — from tour guides to tricycle drivers to boatmen — have their own associations, working collaboratively with each other. This combination of infrastructure, organization, policy and natural wonders make Puerto Princesa an ideal destination even for first-timers, seniors, and children.
By land area, Puerto Princesa is the second largest city in the Philippines. It is also the least densely populated. In 2012, it gained more international attention when the Puerto Princesa Underground River was declared one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature, pushing the number of tourist arrivals to skyrocket and cementing the city’s place as a tourism powerhouse. It is also a convenient gateway to other parts of the province. El Nido, San Vicente, and even Balabac can be easily accessed from here.
More info you need to know:
- Language: Tagalog is spoken by the majority. But English is widely understood and spoken. A significant fraction of the population also speaks Cuyonon and other Visayan languages.
- Currency: Philippine peso (PHP, ₱). PHP100 is around USD 1.75, EUR 1.6 (as of November 2022).
- Modes of payment: Cash! While some accept credit card transactions, most establishments prefer cash.
- Money Exchange: There are money changers and banks aplenty all around the city. The most popular is probably AS Money Changer along Rizal Avenue. If you’re uncomfy, there are always the banks. For example, BDO Rizal Avenue Branch exchanges major currencies for Philippine pesos. You can also withdraw from ATMs. Speaking of ATMs…
- ATM. The city is littered with banks and ATM machines, so it’s not a problem. Many accept visa/ MasterCard withdrawals.
- Electricity Info: 220V, 60Hz. Socket Type A, mostly.
Best Time to Visit Puerto Princesa
January to February. These dry months are the sunniest. However, this period is also the peak season, especially March and April, which are widely considered the “summer” months in the Philippines. For me, the most ideal time to visit Puerto Princesa is January-February. The weather’s still fine but the place isn’t that crowded.
Palawan is located in the western extreme of the country, isolated from most other main islands. It is not in the usual typhoon track (yay). But because it is sandwiched by two major seas, the West Philippine Sea to its north and the Sulu Sea to the south, its weather system is a bit different. November sees the start of the dry season for the rest of the country, but it’s still pretty damp in Palawan. Short and passing rain showers are also expected in the afternoon even on some summer days.
Puerto Princesa Airport to City Center
First of all, the Puerto Princesa International Airport is in the city center. It’s smack at the center of the poblacion, so yay! Second, most big hotels and resorts offer free airport transfers so you might want to check with them first. If not, then the cheapest option is the tricycle.
Here are the tricycle fares for journeys from the airport to various parts of the city.
- To any part of the area surrounding the airport (Bancao-Bancao): P50
- To Rizal Avenue: P50
- To the pier: P50
- To A&A Plaza Hotel: P50
- To Immaculate Conception Cathedral: P50
- To Brg. San Pedro: P70
- To San Jose Terminal: P120
- To Honda Bay (Sta. Lourdes): P350
The tricycles are stationed outside the airport vicinity, so you’ll have to walk a little bit to get to them.
Things to Do In Puerto Princesa, Palawan
1. Puerto Princesa Underground River Tour
The city’s very own world wonder and UNESCO World Heritage Site! If you can only avail of one packaged tour, make it this one. The number of visitors allowed per day is limited, and guests must register in advance. I suggest arranging with a tour operator for this one if you don’t want to go through the hassle of doing the paperwork and securing a vehicle to Sabang Beach and back. This tour will take you on a two-hour drive to Sabang Beach, which is the takeoff point to the Subterranean River National Park. Arranged tours cost P1750 to P2200 per person inclusive of a buffet lunch, audio guide, and round trip land and boat transfers.
Note: Prepare your bug spray, camera, some pocket money, and a bag as you journey from the town proper to Sabang Port for a ride to the underground river. We got a tour package long time ago, which is highly recommended), as travel to Sabang is a 1.5 to 2-hour ride. You can get to stop at Brgy. Buenavista View Deck to see the view of Ulugan Bay as well as say hello to the adorable wild macaques.
2. Watch the Fireflies
3. Honda Bay Tour
Travel agencies and hotels usually offer this tour for P1450 per person. Pull a do-it-yourself and you’ll end up saving a lot especially if you’re part of a big group. Take a trike to Lourdes Wharf and ask the driver to pick you up hours later. One-way journey costs P350.
At the wharf, you can join a group tour or rent a private boat. The boatman will take you to at least 3 islands. Here are the rates:
- Group Tour: P250 per person
- Private Boat (good for 20 pax): P1500 per boat
Last boat leaves the wharf at around 2pm and must be back by 5pm.
You will also have to settle the environmental fees, entrance fees, and cottage rental costs on your own. Here are the rates:
- Environmental Fee: P150 per head
- Starfish Island Entrance Fee: P50 per head
- Cowrie Island Entrance Fee: P50 per head
- Luli Island Entrance Fee: P60 per head
- Pambato Reef: P50 per head
- Starfish Island Cottage Rental: P50 per cottage
- Cowrie Island Cottage Rental: P250 per cottage
- Snorkeling Gear Rental: P150 per set
- Aqua Shoes Rental: P150 per pair
Of course, you can also just join a packaged tour if you want to just relax and not deal with these transfers and fees on your own. Honda Bay Tour rates are usually between P1400 and P1500.
4. Nagtabon Beach
Lacing a hidden cove 45 minutes from the Puerto Princesa City Proper, it can be reached by taking the bus going north (Taytay/Roxas/El Nido). Alight in Bacungan (P50) then hail a tricycle to get you to Nagtabon Beach (P250, max 3 pax).
However, there’s not that many buses or tricycles passing by the area, so doing it this way can prove challenging. If you’re a group, you can rent a van for only P3500 or a motorbike for P700. You can also have this included in your usual Puerto Princesa City Tour for an additional fee. Just talk to your driver.
Other Puerto Princesa Attractions
- Tibag Falls. This spectacular waterfall is tucked away in Bacungan, around 40 minutes from the city center. To get here, you may board a northbound bus at San Jose Terminal and get off near Bacungan Bridge (P50). It’s going to be a 2-hour walk from there.
- Ugong Rock Adventures. Enjoy trekking, spelunking, and ziplining in this adventure park located in Brgy. Tagabinet, north of the city. Travel agencies usually charge P600 per person for a day tour here.
- Sabang X-Zipline. This facility is located near the Underground River and is usually packaged with it. If there is some significant waiting time prior to the underground river tour, this is a good way to kill some time. Rate: P550 per person.
5. El Nido Getaway
6. Eat Fresh Sea Food
Puerto Princesa is near the sea, so you won’t miss delicious fresh seafood. It’s pretty affordable and delicious. You can go to the bay walk and buy a package for your family and friends. You’ll come home, bloated!
Where to Eat in Puerto Princesa
If traveling on a shoestring, you can always count on the ever reliable carinderias (eateries) throughout the city. Your P100 has a lot of purchasing power and can get you more than a full meal with a drink.
If you’re willing to splurge a little bit, there’s no running out of options. Many big hotels in the city have their own flagship restaurant that highlights their take on a cuisine. For example, Hue Hotel houses Matiz Restaurant and Tapas Bar, which boasts a mostly Spanish menu. Princesa Garden Island Resort and Spa has a dining complex featuring four restaurants including the Golden Elephant Seafood Village, which specializes in Thai food.
But of course, when in Palawan, stuff your face with Filipino dishes. If you’re looking for a modern twist on your Pinoy favorites, go to Best Western Plus the Ivywall Hotel, home to Balayong Restaurant, an open-air dining place with a bar and grill. “Balayong offers interesting new takes on classic Palaweño and Philippine dishes. Under the guide of celebrity chef Sau Del Rosario, some of the restaurant’s must-try offerings include: sinuglaw, the classic kilawin (ceviche) made from grilled pork belly, raw fish, vinegar, chilis, and cucumbers; ‘deconstructed’ pochero; and crispy pork bagnet.”
If you’re after Puerto Princesa classics, head over to Rizal Avenue, which is flanked with a number of must-try restaurants, including the following:
- Ka Lui. Arguably the most famous in the city, Ka Lui offers Pinoy seafood specialties. They also give a complimentary fruit salad served on a halved coconut. You need to have prior reservation to secure a seat. Book in advance. Suggested budget: P400 per pax.
- Kinabuch’s. This is where you should head for if you want beer to go with your dinner. And in case you miss sampling the notorious tamilok, a wood-dwelling mollusk best eaten raw, this is the place for that last chance to try it! Suggested budget: P300 per pax.
- Balinsasayaw Restaurant. An unassuming restaurant offering cheap to mid-range Pinoy dishes. The place has this island vibe, thanks to the nipa and bamboo huts! A value meal costs around P100. Suggested Budget: P150 per pax
- Haim Chicken Inato Restaurant: Haim Chicken Inato Restaurant is more than just chicken! It has an extensive menu to satisfy every other kind of craving. The bestseller is, of course, chicken, grilled to perfection. Those who have tried it would attest that it’s grilled chicken like no other, especially when paired with rice, which is essential in a common Filipino meal.
You’ll find them all lined up along Rizal Avenue. You might also want to try those barbeque stalls along the road and have some isaw!
A half-day tour that will show you around some attractions within the city. Tour operators’ price tag on this tour is at P600 per person but you can hire a tricycle instead for P600 per tricycle, which can accommodate up to 4 peeps.
The Puerto Princesa itinerary usually includes the following:
- Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Center. Formerly known as Crocodile Farming Institute. There are two types of crocodiles here: the Saltwater Crocodile or Indo-Pacific Crocodile (Crocodylus Porosus) and the Philippine Freshwater Crocodile or Mindoro Crocodile (Crocodylus mindorensis).
- Plaza Cuartel. Plaza Cuartel is the site of the Palawan Massacre. The tunnels were where 150 American prisoners of war were kept during World War II. But on December 14, 1944, the Japanese decided to kill them all by burning them alive. Many perished but eleven prisoners were able to survive and escape the mass execution.
- Mitra’s Ranch. Owned by the family of the late Senator Ramon Mitra, this piece of land is perched on Sta Monica Heights, which offers a stunning view of the city.
- Bakers’ Hill. Pasalubong stop!
Other Tips for the No-budget Traveler
- Walk when you can. I find joy in walking around Puerto Princesa. Trees are everywhere, so it doesn’t get as hot as the other “highly urbanized” cities.
- Tricycle fare is only P8 for the first 2 km and P1.25 per succeeding km if you’re going around the city center except for the airport. Airport tricycles are operated by a separate TODA and cost more than the usual city trikes.
- Bring insect repellent lotion, especially if you plan to go trekking or island hopping. Protect yourself from mosquitoes.
- Bring your own reusable water bottle, so you don’t need to buy bottled water over and over again. Just have the bottle refilled at your hotel or at your lunch/dinner stops. Not only will you save money, but you also get to reduce waste.
- Puerto Princesa Airport collects a P200 terminal fee. Make sure you don’t spend every single peso you have before your flight out.