April 12, 2013: Off the southern coast of Busuanga Island is one of the jewels of Northern Palawan. Coron Island. We’d heard so many good things about it, that we couldn’t rightly head back to Subic Bay without making an effort to see it.
However, time was not on our side. Dawdling in Puerto Galera and Northern Busuanga meant we ran out of days to cruise there ourselves. We’d have to go overland!
The resort offered a one-day Coron Island Tour but it seemed a little pricey. We figured we could organize it ourselves, until we learned that the only jeepney in the local fishing village leaves for Coron at 3:30 in the morning. That’s when we decided to splash out and signed up for the tour. Suddenly, the 8:00 a.m. departure made the pricetag much more appealing.
After morning coffee, we hopped aboard one of the resort’s banca boats and cruised up the mangrove lined Pangauaran River. Here we said farewell to our new friends Andy and Jenny who were whisked away by van to the airport. A few minutes later, a second van arrived for the six of us who were on the Coron Island tour and our escorts.
The ride across Busuanga Island was bumpy and quite different from other parts of the Philippines that we’ve seen thus far. Instead of rice fields, it was mostly cattle grazing country. Rolling hills and wide valleys. Aside from a small village a few kilometres from the river, the airport and a few huts scattered here and there, people were vastly outnumbered by cows. At least until we reached the outskirts of Coron Town.
Coron is a bustling centre and a lot more touristy that we expected. Lots of dive shops offering trips to the renowned Japanese wrecks from WW2, a wide range of accommodation options, restaurants, shops, spas and tour companies. We were whisked straight through all this to the harbour and loaded aboard a small banca for the short trip to Coron Island.
I just have to say it; Coron Island is spectacular. Shear black limestone cliffs rise straight out of the sea. Turquoise coves are tucked behind towering islands and reefs. We eased our way into one tiny cove and double-parked beside another banca, which we then had to cut across to reach the boardwalk. Not knowing quite what to expect, we were urged to climb a short flight of stairs that go up and over a small natural rockface that barely separates the cove from what lies behind it. Barracuda Lake.
Wow. What a surprise. Sitting at sea level, its deep blue, crystal clear water is slightly brackish (70 percent fresh and 30 percent salt). Cliffs towered overhead. Shear rock formations dropped to the depths. Apparently it’s also a popular dive site, and we watched as one group of divers went in and shortly after as another group returned. The boardwalk allows easy access for divers and snorkelers, but not much room for those who don’t take the plunge. The water was warm and inviting and we jumped right in with camera and snorkel gear. Aside from our group and the divers, most of the visitors were Filipino and nearly all of them were wearing brightly coloured life jackets. They are certainly easy to spot.
Back to the banca and a short ride away we came to Kayangan Lake, also sitting at sea level. It’s reported to be the cleanest lake in the Philippines, but to reach this one, we had a much bigger climb up and over. It’s popularity was made obvious by how smooth the rock steps had been worn by all those footsteps over the years.
Taking a breather at the crest of the ridge that separates the cove from the lake we did what every other visitor here does. We had our picture taken with the view of the cove in the background. It’s reported to be the most photographed spot in Palawan. And for good reason!
Down on the other side, Kayangan Lake doesn’t disappoint either. Warm, clear, blue water. It’s certainly worth the effort to get there. With lots more boardwalk space, people tend to come and stay a little longer. Snorkeling around, we saw a few more fish than there had been in Barracuda Lake, even a small shrimp hiding out in a little cave. But it’s the majesty of the setting that’s the real draw.
Lunch was waiting for us back at the cove, so that provided the incentive to climb back up and over the ridge. We enjoyed our box lunch in a small nipa hut perched over the water before we set off to Siete Pecadoes (seven islands) for, you guessed it, some more snorkeling. This time in the sea. The banca tied up to a mooring ball and we jumped in. After how devoid of fish life the lakes had seemed, this spot was a cornucopia of fish and corals. It looked like it would be a great dive site. Something to keep in mind for next time.
Before returning to Coron Town, the banca dropped us off at a small dock and we walked a few metres inland to find a giant salt water hot tub heated by thermal springs. Maquinit Hot Springs was almost too hot to get in. But after gingerly immersing ourselves, it felt great.
We had a few minutes to shop at the market in Coron, where we loaded up on bread, fruit and what fresh veggies we could find for our trip back to Subic Bay on MOKEN. And then we were all herded back into the van for the return trip across the island, dodging cows along the way, and the boat ride back to the resort.
We were planning to make our departure at first light, so after dining early and settling our bill, we hoisted the dinghy into place, stowed away all our gear and called it a day.