In this northern island of Palawan — known as the country’s last frontier, thanks to its ecological diversity — the only thing bluer than the sky are the waters.
Busuanga offers everything you’re looking for in the ultimate island getaway: the most vibrant coral reefs, hidden lakes and lagoons, pristine beaches, rainforests, mangroves and dive sites. The northernmost and the largest of the Calamianes group of islands in Palawan, a province situated southwest of Manila, it’s known as the country’s last frontier thanks to its ecological diversity. Exploring its waters is a near religious experience, as you’ll be met with a stunning seascape dominated by magnificent karst formations jutting out of the water like limestone church steeples reaching for the sky.
Busuanga Island is divided into two municipalities: Busuanga town proper in the north and Coron in the south. It may still be rural enough to offer that laid-back island vibe, but it’s hardly remote judging by the number of tourists that come to visit. And with Palawan making it on international lists of top island destinations year after year, it’s bound to get even busier — especially in the more touristy Coron.
Adventure time in Busuanga
Travelers typically stay in Coron town proper, about a 40-minute drive from the airport. Pre-arranged transfers to your hotel are your best bet but if you’re winging it, you can hop onto one of the many vans waiting outside the airport to take you into town. From there, it’s fairly easy to get to the different tourist spots that the island has to offer: You can take a tricycle or, if it’s available, your hotel’s shuttle service. If you want to venture farther north, you can rent a motorbike and explore on your own or once again make arrangements with your hotel. Island-to-island travel is done by boat and there are many packaged tours to see the main sights; all these can usually be arranged by your hotel.
There’s no shortage of adventures to be had in Busuanga. Whether on water or on land, whether you enjoy diving or hiking, there’s always something to do. And whatever the activity, you’re guaranteed a breathtaking backdrop every time.
Snorkeling and wreck-diving
One of the top things to do on the island is to go wreck diving. During World War II, a fleet of Japanese ships sank to the bottom of the ocean near Coron Bay after an attack by American dive bombers. Today you can explore the wrecks of these ships, most of which are found in the water between Busuanga Island and Culion Island. They now serve as homes to a variety of marine life. Some of these ships are the Akitsushima, a large warship that carried seaplanes during the war; the Skeleton Wreck, located in shallow-enough waters that you can access it just by snorkeling or free diving; and the Irako Maru, which is one of the more impressive wrecks thanks to the fact that it remains largely intact and sits upright at the bottom of the ocean floor.
Still working on getting your diving certificate? You can check out several snorkeling sites and marvel at the sparkling waters and magnificent coral reefs instead. Siete Pecados is a popular snorkeling spot located off the southern tip of Coron that’s included in most island-hopping tour packages. There’s also Dimalanta Island, found east of Busuanga, which boasts waters so clear, you can practically see the reefs from the boat. Other famous snorkeling sites are located in lakes and lagoons — Kayangan Lake and Twin Lagoon on Coron Island, for example — but are no less impressive.
A view of Coron Bay
When you’re ready to give your pruney skin a break from all the water activities, take a hike up Mount Tapyas, north of Coron town proper. Standing at 210m above sea level, it’ll take over 700 steps to reach the peak, but you’ll be rewarded for your efforts with one of the best views of Coron Bay.
You can also rent a motorbike if you want to go beyond Coron and explore the municipality of Busuanga by land, making pit stops at Concepcion Falls, around 30km away in the western edge of Busuanga Island, and Ocam-Ocam Beach farther up north.
With the large influx of tourists, which is only expected to grow in the coming years, sustainable tourism has become vital in keeping the waters of Busuanga and Coron pristine and maintaining the country’s last ecological frontier clean and green. With that in mind, the Department of Tourism is currently pursuing initiatives toward ensuring the island’s marine life and natural resources are protected, by encouraging responsible tourism practices and building the necessary infrastructure.
How to get to Busuanga
You can fly direct to Busuanga Airport from Manila. Travel time from the capital is around one hour by plane. You can also catch a flight to Busuanga from Clark, Cebu, Caticlan and Puerto Princesa. View Cebu Pacific Air flights to Busuanga.
The best time to visit the island is during the dry season: summer, which is from March to May, is ideal but it can get pretty crowded and temperatures can soar to near nuclear levels. The weather is much cooler from December to February, but it’s still peak season so expect plenty of people during this time, too.
By Maggie Adan, as of January 2020
Al Faro Cosmio Hotel, D’ Pearl Bay Coron, Busuanga; +63 917 532 0401; alfaropalawan.com. Sitting on the side of a hill, this secluded lighthouse resort offers stunning sunset views. The hotel provides a relaxing environment where you can just sleep in one of the hammocks or do yoga on the pavilion). You can also book day tour packages or take part in any of the water activities on offer. Great for honeymooners and couples on a romantic holiday. $$
Bakawan Hostel, Don Pedro St, Coron Town Proper, Coron;+63 947 951 5126. If you don’t mind bunking with fellow travelers in a dorm-type room, check out this hostel. It’s perfect for backpackers, solo travelers or groups of friends. You can even rent a bicycle at the accommodation if you’re inclined to explore the island on two wheels. $
Busuanga Bay Lodge, Sitio Lawi, Brgy Concepcion, Busuanga; +63 917 895 5754; busuangabaylodge.com. Busuanga Bay Lodge is all about the luxurious island getaway experience, far from the noise and crowds. Accommodations offer a view of the ocean and the mountains, and complete amenities. With all the first-class facilities, it would be tempting to just stay in, but if you want to see the rest of the island,tour packages are available as well. This boutique hotel is also big on sustainability — from gourmet dining that uses sustainably sourced ingredients to water conservation efforts and other environment-friendly initiatives. $$$
The Funny Lion, Sitio Jolo, Poblacion V, Coron; +63 905 395 5445; thefunnylion.com. The 32-room resort combines modern amenities with rustic charm, making it suitable for families and couples. Enjoy the sunset sipping a cocktail in one of the Jacuzzis on the Pride Rock Deck, lounge by the pool or book one of the tour packages and explore the rest of the island. $$
Hop Hostel, Calle Nueva, Brgy 5, Coron; +63 917 856 0303; hophostel.com.ph. This hostel’s youthful vibe encourages you to make new friends by joining activities like picnics, trips to the beach, movie nights and board-game tournaments. Here, you can share a dorm room with other travelers or book a private suite. $
Two Seasons Coron Island Resort and Spa, Malaroyroy, Bulalacao Island, Coron; +63 2 3410 2075 to 80, +63 917 566 5820, +63 998 982 9286; twoseasonsresorts.com. This five-star eco-friendly accommodation — the first in Coron — also doubles as a giant clam and turtle sanctuary. Enjoy the sunrise on one of the resort’s private beaches and the sunset on the other. You can go island hopping and shipwreck diving, or if you’d rather stay at the resort, you can enjoy the many recreational activities and water sports on offer. $$$
Get Real Bar & Restaurant, Real St, Coron Town Proper, Coron; +63 906 014 0378. For Filipino-Mexican fare, go to Get Real. The signature Get Real Nachos is served with freshly made warm corn tortilla layered with toppings like homemade pico de gallo and minced beef in adobo sauce. It also offers a variety of burritos — the vegetarian burrito and beer-battered shrimp burrito, to name a few — but it’s the Get Real Adobo Breakfast Burrito you’ll want to sink your teeth into. $$
La Sirenetta Seafood Restaurant & Bar, Real St, Coron Town Proper, Coron. La Sirenetta, Italian for “The Little Mermaid”, sits atop the water and boasts a stunning view of the sea while you dine. Serving both Western and Asian cuisine, it has a menu featuring steak, pasta and more traditional Filipino dishes like adobo and sisig. The kinilaw na tuna comes highly recommended. $$
Le Voyage Restaurant, Coron-Busuanga Rd, Brgy 6, Coron, Palawan; +63 908 895 6459. Get your fill of vegan and vegetarian dishes made from organic ingredients that are locally sourced at Le Voyage. Start the day with the smoothie or fruit bowl and have a vegan pasta or veggie burger for lunch or dinner. Ask the friendly staff forplant-based milk in your smoothie. $-$$
Lobster King, 5 Coron-Busuanga Rd, Coron Town Proper, Busuanga. What’s an island paradise without fresh lobsters? Whether you want it as sashimi, steamed, cooked in butter and garlic or with salt and pepper, this is where to get your crustacean fix when you’re in Busuanga. Leave some room for the mud crabs, too. $$-$$$
Lolo Nonoy’s Food Station, National Highway, Brgy 3, Coron; fb.com/lolo-nonoys-food-station-154807054570294/?_rdc=1&_rdr. For Filipino comfort food — sinigang, bulalo, sisig — make your way to Lolo Nonoy’s. The place, much like the food, has a rustic Filipino vibe and homespun charm. Some servings are good for four to six people, so drop by if you’re looking for simple local fare that won’t break the bank. $
Santino’s Grill, Coron-Busuanga Rd, Tagumpay, Coron. If you’re looking to supplement your daily diet of delicious seafood on the island with some red meat, head over to Santino’s Grill and order its signature baby back ribs. The meat is flavorful and so tender, it falls right off the bone. $$
Summer Cafe & Bar, National Highway & Coastal Road, Brgy 5, Coron; +63 917 318 8645. Here you can enjoy brunch — whether you’re in the mood for a smoothie bowl, waffles, or eggs and sausage — or a great cup of coffee. It also serves a variety of cakes and pastries in case you want to stop by for afternoon tea. It doesn’t hurt that its interiors are immensely Instagrammable and it’s an ideal place for digital nomads to get some work done. $$-$$$
Trattoria Altrove, Rosario St, Coron Town Proper, Coron; +63 917 501 0268. If you’re in the mood for Italian food on the island, this is the place to get it. Come early during peak time to avoid the long wait. Try the carpaccio, gamberi olio d’oliva pasta, steak, risotto and, of course, the brick-oven pizzas. (The pancetta con tartufo and quattro formagi are crowd-favorites.) $$-$$$
Barracuda Lake. Named after a skeleton of a large barracuda that was found here, this lake is made of a mixture of salt, brackish and freshwater. Dive beneath the surface of its aquamarine waters and discover a whole new world of underwater limestone cliffs and, if you’re lucky, meet a few of the barracudas that still live there.
Culion Island. One of the other islands in the Calamian group, Culion has an interesting history as a former leper colony. Due to its past life and the isolation that came with it, it is still less crowded than its sister island and its marine life remains untouched. It’s accessible via a 45-minute boat ride from Coron.
Kayangan Lake. At the top of a steep climb (don’t worry, there’s a staircase), right before you descend the other side of the rock formation to get to the actual lake, is the perfect spot to take one of the most iconic photos of Coron — a breathtaking panoramic view of the bay. And that’s before you even reach Kayangan Lake, where the water is so crystal-clear, you’ll be able to see the bottom of the lake from the surface.
Malajon Island. Known to locals as Black Island due to the color of its limestone cliffs, it’s where you can go snorkeling in peace. There are more accessible snorkeling sites in Coron — Siete Pecados, for example — but they can get pretty crowded. This place is closer to Busuanga and a bit more remote, but the coral reefs and marine life are well worth the extra effort of getting there.
Malcapuya Beach. If you’re looking for white sands and sparkling sapphire waters, a place where you can take a dip in the ocean or just enjoy the sea breeze under a palm tree, take a boat ride to Malcapuya Beach. Here, it’s easy to imagine living that quiet, idyllic island life you’ve been dreaming of.
Maquinit Hot Springs. End a day of island hopping with a relaxing dip in these saltwater hot springs. The water is heated by an underground volcano to a near-scalding 40°C, so consider yourself warned. Once you get used to it, though, it’s extremely relaxing and soothing, especially with an ice-cold beer in hand as you watch the sun descend behind the mangrove forest surrounding the pools.
Mount Tapyas. Prepare yourself. For a magnificent panoramic view of Coron, you’ll need to pant your way up over 700 steps to reach the top of Mount Tapyas. Come at dusk so you can see the view in daylight and wait a while to catch a perfect view of the sunset, too.
Twin Lagoon. Getting from one twin to the other is an experience in and of itself: You swim under a narrow gap in the limestone wall to pop up on the other side, where you’ll be greeted by a secluded lagoon — provided you come early enough to beat the crowds — with the clearest cerulean waters.