Updated as of July 2019
Summary: This blog details a comprehensive budget travel guide for Puerto Princesa which includes a sample DIY itinerary good for 3 to 5 days; estimated budget is P5,590+ per person which covers expenses for tour and entrance, food and transportation only. It also enumerates some of Puerto Princesa’s best tourist attractions, top things to do, travel tips, and a list of recommended budget-friendly accommodations. All needed details for each top attraction are laid out in the post including operating hours, entrance fee, location and information on how to get there. Further, this Puerto Princesa blog is intended for first time travelers and backpackers either solo, family or traveling in group.
PUERTO PRINCESA AT A GLANCE
Officially the City of PUERTO PRINCESA, the seat of government and the capital of Palawan, is the gateway to some of the best tourist destinations at the westernmost area in the Philippines – Coron, El Nido and Port Barton to its north and the Balabac group of islands to its south. But there is no reason to travel far as this first class municipality also owns a string of top notch tourist spots at its bustling city proper or even at its nearby beautiful islets. Ever heard of Honda Bay and Underground River? Yes, these wonders of nature are found around Puerto Princesa, Palawan.
Although an urbanized city, Puerto Princesa occupies a solid landmass of verdant forest, high mountain areas, and scenic coastlines. It is also situated off the typhoon belt and away from any geological fault line making it an ideal tourist spot all year round.
Ultimately, Puerto Princesa is a fountain of beautiful scenery, an out-in-the-open gift of nature that tirelessly keeps on giving.
QUICK FACTS ABOUT PUERTO PRINCESA
- By land, Puerto Princesa is considerably the second largest and the westernmost city in the Philippines.
- Although a city, only a small concentration at its city proper particularly at Rizal avenue is bustling in people and transport. The greater part of Puerto Princesa still feels like a big town.
- The mode of transport is via multi-cab – a small light truck that is common in the Philippines – to move from one barangay to another, and a tricycle – a three-wheeled bicycle based on a car design – to travel around the city and the nearby barangay. Regular fare is P12 for multi-cab and P10 for tricycle, except when going to and fro airport as it increases to P50.
- Despite being a growing metropolis, Puerto Princesa can only accommodate 1,500 tourists at a time due to the lack of proper accommodation. The local government with its extensive efforts aims to increase the city’s capacity to receiving tourists to a maximum of 15,000 by 2027.
- Water and electric supply are still a problem in the city. Some hotels don’t have water in the morning while the neighborhood experience rotational brownout. These, however, have been attended by the local government. Efforts are also evident at how the roads are being widened and internet connectivity is being shifted to using fiber optics.
- Puerto Princesa is an all-year round destination as Palawan in general is not a typhoon zone and away from a fault line, but the best time to visit is during the dry months of February to May when the islands are at its most beautiful state.
- Some of the food delicacies in Puerto Princesa include hopia, kasoy, dried fish, Chow long rice noodle, crocodile meat and woodworm. Noki Nocs serves the best halu-halo in Puerto Princesa
- Most mangoes from Palawan are infected with weevil, a type of insect that destroys the fruit from its inside and cannot be killed by spray. Hence, bringing mangoes outside of Palawan is strongly prohibited by the local government.
- A number of locals in Puerto Princesa are muslims because of its close proximity to Sabah Malaysia.
- Tourism operations in Puerto Princesa are standardized from tour guides, itineraries, to tour packages. While it is possible to travel on a DIY, most tourists choose to go on a tour package. In my experience, I find that going on a tour package is a better way to get around as it is more efficient in terms of transport since tour agencies offer pickup and drop-off at your accommodation which makes for a hassle-free experience especially when you are travelling with your family or in group.
If you are looking for a tour agency for Puerto Princesa and El Nido, I highly recommend TravelGoalsPAL Travel and Tour. Their tour guides know how to keep the right synergy among joiners which make travel fun and enjoyable.
HOW TO GET TO PUERTO PRINCESA
Access to Puerto Princesa can be done by plane, ferry and land transport.
Getting to Puerto Princesa by Plane. Puerto Princesa has an international airport located at its city center that services trip from the major destinations in the Philippines including Manila, Cebu, Davao, Iloilo and Bacolod.
To get from the airport to your accommodation, you may arrange a transfer if you are staying on a big hotel or charter a tricycle found outside the arrival area for P50 if you drop off at the city center. Taxis also stand by near the arrival area. You can charter a taxi for P150 to P200 depending on your location.
Take note that the transport waiting area has no shade. Make sure to cover yourself from the heat of the sun, especially at noon time. Also, the tricycle drivers are sometimes picky on their passengers. You may walk to the main street which is just few blocks from the airport to catch for a tricycle. Regular fare from that area is already P10.
Getting to Puerto Princesa by land: If you come from any major destination in Palawan, you may take a bus or shuttle service to Puerto Princesa.
- via El Nido. From El Nido, you may take a Cherry bus or Lexxus shuttle service to Puerto Princesa. For rate and schedule, check out 12go.asia in search box provided below. You may also contact these shuttle service providers: Travelista (+63 928 622 8666, +63 926 744 1040) and Eulen Joy Express (+63 999 709 3766, +63 915 829 3735) with daily trips every 2 hours from 5AM to 6PM, fare is P500 Travel time from El Nido to Puerto Princesa is roughly 4 hours.
- via San Vicente. You may contact these shuttle service for schedule of daily trips. Virus Shuttle Vans (+63 998 577 5008) and Cathy Transport (+63 946 191 2528). Fare is P400 and travel time is around 4 hours.
Getting to Puerto Princesa by ferry: Getting by boat to Puerto Princesa is only possible from the following destinations.
- Manila via Saint Francis Javier vessel which departs at 7PM every Friday. Travel time is close to 24 hours, fare is around P2,200.
- Iloilo via Montenegro Shipping lines. Boat trips is 3 times a week, travel time is 24 hours, fare is P1,220. Contact them on their Facebook page for details.
- If you are in Coron, you can get to El Nido via Montenegro Fastcraft then by shuttle service to Puerto Princesa. Travel time by boat is around 4 hours depending on the sea situation. The ferry departs at 12:00PM, regular rate is P1,700. For more details, contact them at +63 917 496 2009, +63 908 571 3984.
Find tickets or available transport: ferry, van or plane from your location to Puerto Princesa using the search box.
TOP ATTRACTIONS IN PUERTO PRINCESA
Here are top tourist spots to fill up your Puerto Princesa City itinerary.
The usual first stop of the Honda Bay island hopping tour, Starfish Island took its name from the numberless of starfish that live in its surrounding clear, blue waters. The island is covered with faux-gold, coarse sands and pinned with a cluster of mangrove trees at its western area.
Snorkeling to see the red-to-pink tinted starfish is a staple activity to do while here.
Luli Island is another spread of creamy, soft sands at Honda Bay. Luli (or lulubog lilitaw) because some of its areas go underwater during high tide.
The island is a favorite stop over during lunch time while on a Honda Bay tour as it provides a well-equipped dining area with a good capacity of almost 50 persons. Some good places to chill in the island are the bar, the hammock area and its lineup of cottages. There is also a sand castle that makes for an instagrammable photo entry.
While here, soak up in the cool, shallow waters or better yet join the harvest your own pearl activity which comes with P1,500 fee per person.
Cowrie island is the regular last stop on a Honda Bay tour which is fitting as it makes for a perfect place to chill out – in the bar while sipping on a few drinks or in the tents while feeling the summer breeze. Rental fee for each tent is P250.
The island owns tourist facilities like small shops and restaurants but its emerald waters and powdery sands really make Cowrie Island a stand out in the Honda Bay tour.
Apart from its water activities, fun shoot session is a cool thing to do while here. Take a moment to pose using a can or bottle of beer, the sand castle or a coconut. Don’t forget to donate after you take photos. Entrance fee is P75 per person.
A mystifying mix of river channels and an intricate cave system, a beautiful formation of stalactites and stalagmites in different sizes and shapes, an eerie feeling inside the dark cave before the many eyes of bats and giant spiders that steadily lurk, the tingling sensation its cool waters bring, and the one-of-a-kind humor of tourist guides on each boat – make up an entire hallmark that put the Underground River and all of Palawan to the tourist map.
The Underground River is both a UNESCO World Heritage site and one of the “New Seven Wonders of Nature”. Because of its sheer size, tourists are only allowed to navigate up to 4 kilometers for 45 minutes inside the 24-kilometer cave system. The usual approach in getting to the Underground River is through an arranged tour. If you want to go on a DIY, take a bus at San Jose bus terminal to Sabang. Tell the driver to drop off at Sabang Tourist Office which opens as early as 8:00AM, to register and pay for the environmental fee for P150 and entrance fee for P500. You will then charter a boat with a capacity of 6 persons, which costs around P200 per person. Going on a DIY can be a bit challenging as you need to be early and the number of tourists are limited in a day.
Klook offers a Puerto Princesa Underground River Day Tour in an affordable price. Click the link for details.
IWAHIG RIVER FIREFLY WATCHING
Iwahig River Firefly watching is not for the faint of hearts. The activity involves getting on a boat to a river strip in total darkness for about 30 minutes. But for those who bravely seeks out for it, the activity can be enchanting. To catch a shimmer of fireflies like Christmas lights under a well-lit sky is spellbinding in its most otherworldly sense.
The firefly activity is most ideal when arranged with a packaged tour as there is no public transport that goes in and out of the activity area. When on a tour, pickup of guests starts at 5:30PM and travel time to the venue takes for about an hour. Guests take turn. While waiting, they can dine on a buffet meal inclusive in the tour.
Klook has a Puerto Princesa Firefly Watching courtesy of Iwahig. Click the link for details.
IMMACULATE CONCEPTION CATHEDRAL
The Immaculate Conception Cathedral is easy to spot at the city of Puerto Princesa. Its Gothic-inspired spires and beautifully tinted arches are a head turner both for pilgrims and non-believers.
The Cathedral was built during the Spanish era and has been recognized as one of the oldest churches in the city. To get to the Cathedral, hail a tricycle around the city for P10. In average, travel time is around 5 to 10 minutes.
Just beside Immaculate Conception Cathedral is Plaza Cuartel which reminds of the city’s dark past as it was where hundreds of prisoners during the Japanese occupation in the Philippines were burned alive.
Nowadays, Plaza Cuartel is turned into a leisure park which gives a good view to the nearby sea from its mini boardwalk. As Plaza Cuartel is nearby Immaculate Conception Cathedral, one can just hail a cab or tricycle from any section in the city to get to the place.
PUERTO PRINCESA BAYWALK
Two blocks away from the Cathedral and Plaza Cuartel is the Puerto Princesa Baywalk. It’s a long promenade which provides a good vantage point to catch the sunrise on its right and the sunset on its left side.
The Baywalk has several stalls which offers some Filipino street foods on a very affordable price. It also has a biking lane and a human-sized welcome signage that reads “I Love Puerto Princesa” which makes for a good backdrop in your Instagram-worthy moments. A stroll on its walkway is an ideal thing to do while here, especially during the golden hour of the day.
To get to Puerto Princesa Baywalk, hail a tricycle around the city for P10. In average, travel time is around 5 to 7 minutes.
Mitra’s Ranch does not come as you might envision. The place is not a large farm where a numberless of cattle wander around. It can be taken as a rest-house on top of the hill which overlooks a lush view of the terrains of Santa Monica.
The ranch is owned by late senator Ramon Mitra and has now been maintained by his children. An entrance fee of P20 is collected if you want to enter the house. One activity that you might find interesting while here is horseback riding.
To get to Mitra’s Ranch, take an “Irawan” jeepney from Rizal street and drop off at the intersection going to Sta. Monica heights. Travel time is around 15 minutes, fare is P12. At the intersection, charter a tricycle to Mitra’s Ranch for P50. Travel time is around 10 minutes.
Baker’s Hill is known to many as a place to buy hopia and other pastries for souvenir items when you are in Puerto Princesa. But more than its food offering from their bakery located by the entrance, Baker’s Hill also features a mini-zoo, a hip coffee bar, a pizza place and a small village which are well guarded by different cartoon characters from Bugs Bunny, Shrek, to the legendary Marilyn Monroe.
From Mitra’s Ranch, Baker’s Hill is only a few blocks away. You can either go on foot or hail a tricycle for P10.
CROCODILE RESCUE & CONSERVATION PARK
From being an institute, Crocodile farm has been transformed into a rescue and conservation center due to the pressing threats that lead to the diminishing number of saltwater and freshwater crocodiles.
The park showcases crocodile hatch-lings and some of the largest in the Philippines. One of them is Makmak, which has the size of 6 meters, short by 5 feet of the now dead Lolong, the biggest crocodile ever recorded. Other areas of the park serves as shelter for rescued animals and a bazaar for souvenir items. It also has a section where you can take photos while holding a small crocodile or an albino snake.
To get to the Crocodile Rescue and Conservation Park, take an “Irawan” jeepney from Rizal avenue. Fare is P12. At the drop off, charter a tricycle to the conservation park. Fare is P50, travel time is around 15 minutes.
You need to secure a ticket for P40 to tour around Crocodile farm. Operating hours is from 8:30AM to 4:00PM, with break time from 12:00PM to 1:00PM. Take note that guests are assigned to a specific group and schedule at a 30-minute interval. While waiting, you may roam around, take photos or buy souvenir items near the entrance.
TOP THINGS TO DO IN PUERTO PRINCESA
When it comes to the top things to do in Puerto Princesa, a sure in the list is the Honda Bay tour which takes tourists to 3 of the most stunning islets in Puerto Princesa: Starfish, Luli and Cowrie Island. The tour starts at 8:00AM and ends at 2:00PM. Check out an affordable Honda Bay Island Hopping Tour from Klook. Click the link for details.
As might be expected, the Undergound River is definitely an experience of a lifetime so be sure to put it on your priority list.
On the same light, Puerto Princesa is known for its freshwater and South Sea pearls that are sold cheaper than in any place in the Philippines because of its abundance. Drop by at the nearest souvenir store and shop till you drop!
A walk around Puerto Princesa city on a DIY from the Capitol down to Immaculate Conception Cathedral would never disappoint. The city is vibrant and bustling with great sights. Feel free to stopover at the Baywalk during sunset and enjoy the colorful horizon during the golden and blue hour.
PUERTO PRINCESA DIY ITINERARY
Here is a sample Puerto Princesa itinerary good for 4 days which assumes a party of two and comes with an estimated budget of P5,590.00 per person that includes expenses for food, transportation, tour and entrance fee. The allocated budget does not cover cost for airfare, accommodation, souvenir items and other incidentals.
DAY ONE (budget per person: P1,440.00)
|Arrive in Puerto Princesa Airport||12:00PM||–|
|Puerto Princesa Capitol||3:00PM||P10|
|Immaculate Conception Cathedral||4:30PM||P10|
|Back to Hostel||5:30PM||P10|
|Firefly Watching Pickup||6:00PM||P1,100|
|Back to Hostel||10:00PM||–|
DAY TWO (budget per person: P1,710.00)
|Honday Ba Tour Pickup Time||8:00AM||–|
|Start of Honda Bay Tour||9:00AM||P1,400|
|End of Honda Bay Tour||2:00PM||–|
|Back to Hostel and Rest||3:00PM||–|
|Puerto Princesa Baywalk for Sunset||6:00PM||P10|
DAY THREE (budget per person: P1,870.00)
|Underground River Pick Up||8:00AM||–|
|Start of Underground River Tour||9:00AM||P1,570|
|End of Underground River Tour||4:00PM||–|
|Dinner and Socials||6:00PM||P200|
Search for more discounted tours from KLOOK. Type “Puerto Princesa” and click “search”.
DAY FOUR (budget per person: P570.00)
|Back to Hostel||5:00PM||P10|
|To the Airport||7:00PM||P50|
Things to note for this Puerto Princesa itinerary:
- The first and fourth day activities, except for Firefly watching, follow a DIY itinerary. The other days are based on a packaged tour from KLOOK, particularly the budget for Firefly Watching, Honda Bay and Underground River.
- The Underground River Tour might end up early, depending on the number of tourists lining up so have some plan where to go for the rest of the day.
- On your Honda Bay tour, you might be asked to rent a snorkel. In my experience, the islands are not as diverse on marine wildlife as other top destinations in Palawan; however, if you plan to harvest your own pearl, I suggest that you rent one. Rental is around P250 for face mask.
TIPS WHEN TRAVELING TO PUERTO PRINCESA
- Some major establishments around Puerto Princesa accept credit card. However, it is highly advised to bring cash in Philippine peso.
- There are a number of ATM around the city, specifically for Visa and Mastercard holders, so withdrawing money when you are out of cash would not be a problem.
- Bring a sunblock and waterproof your things when going on an island hopping. Also, it is helpful to secure an insect repellent to protect yourself from mosquitoes.
- There are two souvenir shops at Puerto Princesa where you can buy cheap, authentic pearls: one is located at San Miguel which is bigger and offers cheaper items, the other is located in San Jose. To get to the souvenir shops, ride a multi-cab to their respective location at Junction 1 right side of Tiki bar.
- The pearls are either cultured in freshwater or gotten from South sea (the expensive ones). Price range for freshwater pearls are from P50 to P500 while for saltwater are from P20,000 to P150,000 depending on the design. Freshwater pearls are cheaper since it will lose its glow after some time. To test if the pearl is authentic, you can try to scratch or heat its surface. A real pearl would have fallen debris if being scratched but would retain its shine and would darken if being burned but would return to its color when wiped.
WHERE TO STAY IN PUERTO PRINCESA
Most of major accommodations in Puerto Princesa are found in the city center. However, there are also top quality budget homestays at the nearby barangays that give good access to some of the major tourist attractions in the city. I stayed at Larosa Hostel Bed and Breakfast which is only around P400 per night and is near the Crocodile farm, Mitra’s Ranch and Baker’s Hill. The place is a 5-minute walk from the main road in Santa Monica, 10 minutes away from Rizal Avenue. If you are on a budget, check out the place. Click the photo for rate and availability.
If you want to experience the urban vibe of Puerto Princesa, near the major restaurants, bars and shopping malls then the city center is the right fit for you. Here are some of the recommended accommodations around the city that are more or less P1,000 per night for a standard room.
- Master’s Pension House. Check rate and availability here.
- Le Mon Pension. Check rate and availability here.
- Heideland. Check rate and availability here.
- Balai Esperanza. Check rate and availability here.
- Lola Itang Pension House. Check rate and availability here.
Like in any parts of the Philippines, the locals can understand and speak English in Puerto Princesa, Palawan. However, here are some good phrases that might prove useful when you find yourself endearing with them.
English to Tagalog (the most prevalent language among the locals in Puerto Princesa)
Thank you – Salamat
Good morning – Magandang umaga
Good afternoon – Magandang hapon
Good evening – Magandang gabi
How much is… – Magkano ang…
Where is… – Saan ang…
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