Photos by Gian Nicdao
I’m not a stranger to what they call the Philippine’s last frontier — Palawan. In fact, Puerto Princesa City is one of my favorite cities. What’s not to love? There’s an abundance of seafood dishes, there’s affordable public transpo, and funny enough, carinderias that serve really good Vietnamese food. The beach is a boat ride away, and you’re surrounded with the nicest people in the country. I’ve been to Puerto Princesa enough times that I can recommend “offbeat” must-try experiences. I thought I knew everything, and thanks to our friends from Pilipinas Shell Foundation, I realized I haven’t seen it all.
Listen to the stories of our indigenous brothers and sisters at the Batak Visitor Center.
The road less traveled
Palawan is home to several groups of indigenous people. And, Palawan being a top tourist destination, our IP brothers and sisters have taken to producing handicrafts to help you remember the island. Such is the case in Sitio Kalakwasan, home to the Batak ethnic group. From native baskets to bamboo straws (which they pioneered), their products are a testament to their culture as well as their craftsmanship. Get to know their stories when you visit the Batak Visitor Center in Barangay Concepcion. You can also check out their products at the Tatak Batak Handicrafts Store, along the Tanabag Highway or the route heading to El Nido.
Take a sip: Bamboo straws are available in the Tatak Batak handicrafts store.
Not too far from the Batak Center is the Maoyon River Cruise. It was created to help promote conservation while providing income to the community. You’ll get to enjoy a hearty lunch while en route to a century-old Dao tree, a highlight of the tour. There’s really quite nothing like a scenic route while enjoying fresh seafood (some of which is caught from Maoyon River itself) and good company. Palawan’s known to have friendly locals and the ones from Maoyon are no exception.
Another must-try river tour is the Mangrove Paddleboat Tour. Within the UNESCO heritage site Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park (aka the famous Underground River) you can learn more about mangroves, see them up close, and relax in the quiet beauty of it all. Behind this initiative are locals who also serve as tour guides. We also to replanted mangroves as part of their conservation efforts. Ask about these tours the next time you book to Palawan — they’re steadily becoming popular and your front desk should be able to arrange the visit for you.
See mangroves up close in this paddleboat tour organized by the locals.
Heading to the Underground River area, you’ll notice these mountains that look like they came straight out of the movie Avatar. They’re actually home to the Hundred Caves tour. In this must-visit site at Barangay Tagabinet, you can find yourself inside the caves’ maze-like chambers and interconnected passages. Think of it as a more exciting version of the Underground River tour — you’ll be hiking 80 meters above sea level and exploring the cave system on foot. And let me tell you, seeing the rock formations up close is worth the hike. You can choose from three tours, varying in levels of difficulty.
Inside look: In the Hundred Caves tour, you’ll get to explore the cave system on foot.
Other eco-tourism sites include the stunning Ulugan Bay, the backdrop to the Buenavista View Deck and ecological wonders like Isla Rita, Mayukos Island, and the striking Tres Marias rock outcrop. You have to ride a boat to the island, where swimming and snorkeling awaits.
No man is an island
All these sustainable tourism sites are community-based, created as a solution to environmental issues as well as a swelling population dealing with unemployment. Through the combined efforts of government units, civil society organizations and Pilipinas Shell Foundation Inc. (PSFI), these communities were not only given assistance in matters of business but also in environmental awareness and conservation. “The sustainable development programs we have implemented in Palawan created a huge impact on the lives of the Palaweños seeking a bright future,” shares PSFI program manager Marvi Trudeau.
From the products of the Batak community to the ecological tours around the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, these are proof that collective efforts can provide better lives and opportunities. So the next time you book a trip to Palawan, don’t hesitate to book tours that seemingly stray away from the normal tourist path. It just might be the Palawan you always wanted to see.
Know more about Pilipinas Shell Foundation Inc.’s efforts at facebook.com/PSFIPalawan. Drone photos courtesy of PSFI.