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El Nido or Coron: Where Should You Go?

by Gretchen Filart

Considered as the Philippines' final frontier, Palawan is teeming with countless natural wonders both above and underwater.

Coron's Malcapuya Beach

Where these two are concerned, there is always the question of which destination to visit: El Nido or Coron? Along with Puerto Princesa, these two are among Palawan's most coveted islands, and for good reason.

Surrounded by towering limestone formations and endless strips of white beaches, both Coron and El Nido offer an unsurpassed tropical experience for fans of snorkeling, scuba diving, and island hopping. Make decision-making easier with this extensive list of what you can expect in both islands!


Ease of accessibility

Located off the coast of the Calamianes group of islands, the mainland of Coron is accessible by a five-hour boat transfer from San Jose, Mindoro or by plane. Various local airlines ply the Manila-Coron route in just under one hour for around P2,500 to P3,000 on average.

When you arrive in Coron town–the town proper–after a 40-minute van ride from the airport, you will still need to hop on a boat to reach Coron Island. This collection of several islets, beaches, and lakes are protected by an indigenous group called Tagbanua. There are historic attractions and hiking opportunities in Coron town, as well as the famous hot spring.

El Nido Airport

The Manila-El Nido route (and vice-versa) is served by one airline: AirSWIFT. Airfare is double that of Coron, ranging from P5,000 to P7,000. Many opt to fly to Puerto Princesa where airfare is cheaper, then take a six-hour bus ride from the city to El Nido town. Beaches can be found in town, though other farther islands can be visited by boat.

Coron Islands' Sunset

Atmosphere

One of the biggest differences between Coron and El Nido is the atmosphere. El Nido is populated by foreign tourists. It is also more cosmopolitan and upbeat. More local travelers can be found in Coron than foreign ones. It is less commercialized – you won't find modern stalls or food hubs like Jollibee or Starbucks here. With its small-town vibe, Coron is a great choice for travelers who love laidback trips.


Establishments

Although both Coron and El Nido hold an assortment of hotels and restaurants to cater to diverse travelers, you can expect more commercial establishments in El Nido.

That means if you seek knick-knacks, a tattoo, or cold beer in the middle of the night, you are more likely to find it in El Nido. World cuisine is also prominent in El Nido, with several restaurants serving Western, European, and Middle Eastern dishes. One thing can be expected in both though: seafood overload!


Explorations above land

Coron's Calauit Game Reserve

Rich in natural resources, both islands feature outdoor adventures from riveting hikes to historic attractions. In Busuanga, Coron's neighboring town, you will find the country's only game reserve. Ffree-roaming giraffes, zebras, and other wild animals can be seen here. Children will have fun feeding these giraffes with endemic leaves.

Coron's Mt. Tapyas

In Coron town, there's the popular Mt. Tapyas. The summit features a cross and a 360-degree view of the islands. At 210 meters high, Mt. Tapyas requires travelers to climb over 700 paved steps – a 30-minute feat.

It's best to drop by at sunset for a gorgeous view of the surrounding islands bathing in yellow hues. Also in town is the lesser-known Mt. Darala, the highest point in Calamianes. It's a three-hour hike on steep, grassy slopes that affords you a view of the islands in Busuanga and Culion. After that, you can drop by Maquinit Hotspring, which sits in the middle of a mangrove forest.

El Nido's Taraw Cliff

Taraw Cliff in El Nido features greater challenges with its pointed, craggy rocks. To get to the peak, hikers must scramble vertical limestone rock faces for about one to two hours. The view is definitely worth it, as that's where they'll enjoy a dizzying but jaw-dropping panorama of Bacuit Bay, dotted with boats and islands about 230 meters above ground.

Unlike in Coron town, one can readily explore beaches in El Nido town with a short tricycle ride, including Corong-Corong and Las Cabanas Beach. Beaches can also be accessed by short boat rides from town. All of them feature long stretches of white to cream sands surrounded by coconut trees and jagged limestones. That alone makes El Nido one of the best destinations for beach bums.

El Nido's Nacpan beach

For those who are willing to brave an hour-long bumpy tricycle or motorcycle ride on unpaved roads, the twin beaches of Nacpan and Calitang will make an excellent side trip. The beach strip leads to a hill that divides two beaches. The hill's peak is an excellent vantage point for viewing this natural demarcation.


Underwater discoveries

Bacuit Bay

El Nido's Bacuit Bay is home to about 40 dive sites, all accessible in just 20 to 30 minutes. In Tapuitan, it's easy to spot colorful and corals by just free diving.

However, when it comes to diving and snorkeling, Coron is pretty hard to beat. Wreck diving is a popular activity here, with 10 World War II shipwrecks scattered around Coron and nearby islands like Sangat and Lusong. Some of these vintage Japanese vessels are shallow enough to be appreciated by snorkeling. Fishes and corals have considered these wrecks their abode, making snorkeling even more magical.

Siete Picados Marine Sanctuary

Not to be missed is the Siete Pecados Marine Sanctuary, which spans hectares of coral reefs only 20 minutes away from town. A feature that is also unique to Coron Island is its brackish lakes, which are a mixture of seawater and freshwater. Most prominent of these are Kayangan and Barracuda Lakes, both declared the greenest lakes in the country. If you are lucky, you may even spot huge barracudas in Barracuda Lake!


Price

Both islands offer budget, mid-price, and luxury eats and stays. Discounted accommodations in Puerto Princesa, El Nido, and Coron can be booked here. Boat rides to Coron Island cost around P1,500 per head for a group of 4 to 5. In El Nido, various tour packages are available for the same rate.

El Nido's Helicopter Island

Have you been to El Nido and Coron? Which do you like better?

Photo credits: @elnidoboutiqueartcafe, @andymeagher, @insidavid, @lenamitranic, @andreas.lander.fotografie, @angeloootay, and @milie_globetrott.

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About Gretchen
Gretchen is a mother and freelance editor and travel writer by day and a secret poet by night. She weaves travel stories on her blog, filipinaexplorer.com. Her work also regularly appears in print and digital publications.

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