Three Weeks in the Philippines: 5 Nights in Coron
Our island escapade started in Coron (Busuanga), Palawan. Igal wanted to dive in the Philippines and he picked Coron as the main dive site because the wrecks piqued his interest. Below are details about and photos from our recent trip to Coron. I’ve asked Igal to provide inputs regarding his advanced open water dives. I also mentioned a few bits from my previous trip to Coron six years ago 🙂
Flights from Manila to Coron (Busuanga)
There are four airlines that fly from Manila to Coron (Busuanga)
The flight takes a little more than an hour. I booked our flight on January when Cebu Pacific Air had a promo and I got the ticket for PHP 1613 (USD 31) per person, which comes with 15 kg baggage allowance.
The airport in Busuanga is small. There’s no baggage carousel so an area inside the terminal is used as a place where bags from newly arrived flight will be put and passengers will just get their bags from there. There’s no ATM in the airport so either withdraw money before your flight or at the town proper. Busuanga Airport is about 40 minutes away from Coron town. It is best to arrange a pick-up with your hotel prior to your arrival. Van transport from airport to town costs PHP 150 (USD 3) per person. The van will drop you off at your accommodation.
Accommodation: The Bay Area Coron
There’s a lot of accommodation choices in Coron town. For our stay, we chose The Bay Area Coron which we booked via booking.com. Payment on accommodation can be made in cash or credit card. There is no surcharge on card transaction. The hotel offers tours which are provided by Nice in Paradise. Tours are cash basis only. Laundry service is also available.
We loved our stay here. From the road, you’ll have to take some stairs going down to the property. If your room is on the second floor, you’ll also have to take the stairs but the staff will help you with your bags. Breakfast is served every morning at the balcony in front of each room. You should advise the reception of your breakfast choice for the next morning and the time you want it to be served. The reception should be advised everyday if you want your room to be cleaned.
The hotel is close to the public market and the port where tour boats dock. A lot of restaurants are within walking distance. A tricycle can easily be flagged down in case you need one. ATMs can also be reached by a few minutes of walking. The management was also very responsive to communication I’ve sent to them prior to our arrival in Coron.
Wreck Diving in Coron Bay
I let Igal take care of everything related to diving. After checking and communicating with different dive shops, he decided to go with Fun & Sun Dive & Travel. Prior to our arrival in Coron, the shop sent an email advising us to visit them for paper works and gear fitting a day before the dive. In the afternoon of our arrival in Coron, we went to the shop for the pre-dive requirements and realized that it’s just a few steps away from our hotel.
We had two days of diving with them. Igal is a certified diver, I’m not. So, I did two days of Discover Scuba Diving (DSD) while he had two days of advanced open water dives. DSD comes with two dives a day while Igal had 3 dives per day. The current rate is PHP 4000 (USD 75) per person per day. We booked with them prior to their increase so the rate that applied to us was PHP 3500 (USD 66). Daily dive trips include all gears, lunch on the boat, towels, and whole day supply of water/coffee/tea on the boat. We love their diving boat which is called Malambing (tagalog word for “sweet”). Malambing is spacious. It has enough space for all the gears and passengers. We love the beds in the middle where you can relax before and after a dive.
Advanced Open Water Diving (Igal)
Some historical background: on the 24th of September 1944, a group of 24 Curtis Helldiver bombers took off and reached Coron Bay in the Philippines. They found 12 anchored Japanese supply fleet (12 ships) within the area which they blew apart. This tragic WW2 event now provides impressive diving locations in Coron. The wrecks can be accessed by recreational divers at depths between 5 meters and 45 meters from the surface. A certification on Advanced Open Water Diving is needed to be able to visit all of the wreck sites. However, certified Open Water Divers can still enjoy some of the ships which are within the limits of Open Water diving.
Unlike other parts of the world, you don’t need any special license in order to go inside the wrecks in Coron Bay. Which makes the experience of diving there really one of a kind. Flash lights will be supplied as part of the diving equipment, and the local Dive Master will happily show you around the cargo bays of the wrecks you are visiting.
Here are the dive sites we visited (most descriptions were taken from Fun & Sun website) :
- Olympia Maru “is a cargo ship that is sitting upright. Her large cargo holds offer good penetrations without any difficulties.” Marine life and surrounding corals are gorgeous. The most lucky divers can even spot a sea turtle. Our group missed it by a couple of minutes. The group coming after us spotted it. Length: 122 meters / Max depth: 30 meters
- Morazan Maru “is an English passenger cargo vessel that was captured by the Japanese Navy. She sits on her starboard side. The Morazan’s four massive cargo holds are empty, but a pair of massive boilers in the engine are a spectacular view.” Length: 100 meters / Max depth: 25 meters
- Mapla Don Reef is a gorgeous wall full of colorful corals and fishes.
- Kogyo Maru “is a construction supply ship. She now lies on her starboard side at 36 meters. Supply of concrete can be seen as well as an old cement mixer, bulldozer, and rolls of chain link fences. Very surreal things to see under the water. As per historical data, the material was intended to build an airstrip.” Length: 130 meters / Max depth: 36 meters
- Teru Kaze Maru “is a small gunboat sitting in shallow water on the East side of Tangat Island. The bow starts at 4 meters and she continues down on a slant. Relatively intact there are a few holds that you can penetrate.” When we finished exploring the boat, making sure we still have plenty of air in our tanks, we got 20 meters away from the boat, enjoying the corals around it. In there, we spotted a pair of squids laying eggs in the bushes. They were very friendly to us and let us observe and document the whole process. Please don’t eat squid, they are cute 🙂 Length: 35 meters / Max depth: 19 meters
- Barracuda Lake “is a very special dive site. The mix of fresh water and salt water create wondrous thermoclines which, sometimes, can take you by surprise. Water temperature rises to 40 degrees so you really don’t need a wetsuit for that dive. The underwater scenery is simply amazing and will make you feel like you are walking on the surface of the moon.” You can play with cute freshwater shrimps and, if you behave, the barracuda fish will pay you a visit. Max depth: 30 meters
Discover Scuba Diving (Janet)
The DSD dives were amazing! It was nice seeing marine life. I saw a cluster of corals that looked like a group of giant cones. I saw a transparent squid. I saw a wall of corals outside the Barracuda Lake. I saw a wreck that is covered with corals. I saw a seahorse and lots of other fishes. I saw a school of small fishes that looked like dancing raindrops as they moved in synchrony. I first noticed them when they moved and I was like “what was that” and then I realized that it’s a big group of small fishes moving in front of me. I also saw a school of average sized fishes moving through corals. Seeing a school of fish move is quite hypnotic 🙂 We didn’t have underwater camera so I won’t be able to share any photos from the dive but I’m pretty sure simple googling will do if you are interested to see what’s down there 🙂
There are various island hopping tours to choose from. We only did one – Coron Highlights tour provided by Nice in Paradise Tours. We booked it with the hotel and we were billed upon check-out. If you’d like to check-out other tour companies, you can just walk around the town and you’ll see a lot of them. There is so much to see in Coron! So many beautiful sites to visit!
Our tour was inclusive of lunch and light snacks in the afternoon. There were two kayaks on the boat we had which can be used for free. Each kayak is good for two people. We used one during our stop at the Twin Lagoon. Mask and snorkel are usually not included in tours offered in Coron. The common rate for getting a set as add-on is PHP 150 (USD 3). Igal and I had our swimming goggles so we didn’t need masks and snorkels. For lunch, we had rice, fish, crab, pork, eggplant, some fruits, and small bottles of coke and water each. In the afternoon, we had some bread and small bottle of Royal Tru-Orange (Coca Cola’s PH version of Fanta) for snack.
If you’d like your own boat for island hopping, you can ask your hotel to arrange one for you. Renting your own boat means that you have control on the time spent for each places to be visited. However, on top of the boat rental fee, you’ll also have to take care of the following: entrance fees, cottage fees, food. You can buy food from the market and ask the boat men to cook it for you. If you’d like a kayak, coordinate with your hotel or boat man so you can rent one. For a couple, joining a group tour is more practical than having a private boat.
These are the stunning places included in the Coron Highlights Tour that we had:
- Kayangan Lake
- Siete Pecados
- Dicantuman Beach (lunch stop)
- Tinutuan Beach (boat drive-by only)
- Twin Lagoon
- Barracuda Lake
- Skeleton Wreck
I also wanted to do the glittering fireflies and bioluminiscent planktons tour but the advertisement I saw indicates that the included dinner is a seafood buffet. I tried reaching out to them to ask about availability of non-seafood options in the restaurant but I never heard from them. So, I decided to let it go. If your group doesn’t have seafood restriction, go ahead and try this tour. I heard that it’s an amazing experience!
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Where to next? ❤👫🌎 · · "Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than by the ones you did. So throw off the bowlines, sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sail. Explore. Dream. Discover." ~Mark Twain · · Coron, Palawan, Philippines · 16 May 2018
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Happiness 👫🚣🌎 · · It wasn't a perfect trip. On the second week of the trip, I got sick with cold. On the last week of the trip he caught it, too. While in Nacpan, I accidentally got into deep water while he was doing his laps away from me. I panicked for a while then, thankfully, I remembered that I must do a back float. Despite some days of feeling unwell and a little incident, this is one amazing and memorable trip. Besides, I doubt that there's a perfect trip. Hiccups always creep up on us. Not just on trips but in everyday life. I think the quality of your trip is affected by your company. So, choose your travel partner wisely 😁 · · Coron, Palawan, Philippines · 16 May 2018
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I remember the first time I went to this place – I was in awe! It's my second time to visit and I still admire it 😍 I believe Igal found it beautiful, too. You'll have to go through some stairs in order to access the lake. It's definitely worth the effort 👍 · · Kayangan Lake, Coron, Palawan, Philippines · 16 May 2018
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⬅ Swipe left to see all 5 snaps! ⬅ · · There was a long line of people waiting for their turn at the view point; hence, we decided to just take our photos by the stairs. Luck was on our side because only a few people were going up or down 😇 · · Kayangan Lake, Coron, Palawan, Philippines · 16 May 2018
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We spent more than an hour on this beach where our lunch was served. We took some photos before lunch. I walked along the beach after having our meal while Igal relaxed on a hammock. When I went back to him, he's already asleep 😂🌴😴🌴 · · Dicantuman Beach, Coron, Palawan, Philippines · 16 May 2018
When I went to Coron with friends some years ago, we also enjoyed our boat tour to Malcapuya Island. It has fine, white sand and a viewpoint where you can just stare at the beautiful sea. Malcapuya Island is usually packaged with Banana Island and Bulog Dos. Our boatmen back then said that people can spend overnight in Malcapuya.
DIY Tour of Coron Town
Coron Town tour is offered by agencies and the list usually includes the following places:
- Mt. Tapyas View Deck
- Maquinit Hotspring
- Public Market
- Town Plaza
- Lualhati Park
- Souvenir Shops
- St. Augustine Church
- Harbour Center
- Cashew Harvest
We already walked around the vicinity of our hotel during our first night in town. So we covered the following on our first day – public market, town plaza, harbour center, and Lualhati Park. Our visit was in May and we already felt hot from the summer weather so we decided against visiting the hot spring. On our last full day in Coron, we walked from our accommodation to the church then took a tricycle to the cashew harvest. We returned to the hotel and waited until it’s close to sunset before we headed out towards Mt. Tapyas, which is also walking distance from our place. It took us 13 minutes to conquer the 700+ steps going to the top of Mt. Tapyas. Our effort in climbing all those steps was rewarded by a magnificent view of the sunset over the bay.
If you’re also planning to go up Mt. Tapyas for the sunset, an insect repellant will be useful on your way down. It was already dark when we went down and some flying insects were around. We didn’t encounter any on our way up. They didn’t bite but it’s a bit annoying when you feel them close to your skin.
Ferry from Coron to El Nido
I learned late last year that a fast craft ferry was already available for travel between Coron and El Nido. Service is provided by Montenegro Shipping Lines for PHP 1760 (USD 33) per person. Advertised travel time is 3.5 hours but our actual trip from Coron to El Nido took around 4 hours.
During one of our diving trips, I was talking to the boat captain and we discussed the ferry to El Nido. He mentioned that there’s another fast craft company – Phimal. Ticket price for Phimal is the same as Montenegro’s while travel time is advertised to be just 3 hours.
|Fast Craft Ferry (with FB link)
||Ticket Price||Advertised Travel Time||Coron Departure|
|Montenegro||PHP 1760 (USD 33)||3.5 hours||12pm|
|Phimal||PHP 1760 (USD 33)||3 hours||08:20am / 01:30pm|
Tickets for both fast craft ferry companies are offered by tour agencies all over Coron town. I don’t know how it works for Phimal, but for Montenegro these are the booking options:
- Book directly at Montenegro ticketing office in Coron town (ticketing office contact number per their facebook page: CORON +639177059917 / EL NIDO +639215431887)
- Book with a tour agency in town – a slot will be reserved without any additional fee but you’d still have to claim the ticket from Montenegro office
- Book online at biyaheroes.com – a 10% booking fee applies and you’d still have to claim the ticket from Montenegro office
Montenegro ticketing office is a few minutes of walk away from the port and from the cashew store (L. Escarda’s Coron Harvest). We booked our tickets from a tour agency near our accommodation. The suggestion of the agency is to stop by Montenegro office on our way to the port to claim our ticket on the day of travel. However, we decided to claim the tickets immediately after our visit to Coron Harvest. It was a very short walk anyway. If you are traveling on a definite schedule, best to book your ticket as early as you can. We booked ours 4 days ahead.
There’s also a slow boat that travels between Coron and El Nido – Bunso Transport. Travel time for Bunso is 6 to 8 hours and ticket can also be booked at biyaheroes.com for PHP 1200 plus 10% service charge (USD 23 +10% SC). I’m pretty sure this can also be booked in tour agencies around town.
Just an additional note, be aware that Coron Port has a PHP 20 (USD 0.37) terminal fee which is paid at the window counter right before the entrance to the terminal. If you already reached the bag scanner and still haven’t paid the terminal fee, go back outside ’cause you definitely missed the window counter. Your boat and terminal fee tickets will be checked when it’s boarding time. You will be instructed to go back outside and pay if you don’t have a terminal fee ticket.
ATMs in Coron
Most establishments are on cash basis so it’s best to have enough cash on hand. Google Maps shows that there are four ATMs in Coron town – BPI, Metrobank, PNB, and Land Bank. We used BPI while we were in Coron and never had the chance to try the others. It’s around 5 minutes of walk away from our accommodation and is also near the town’s San Agustin Parish Church.
Our 6-Day Itinerary at a Glance
This is the summary of our time in Coron:
|1||Arrival / Diving – gear fitting, paper works|
|5||DIY: Coron Town Tour, Mount Tapyas|
I hope you learned a thing or two from this post and that you are seriously thinking of packing your bags to explore Coron Palawan! I’m confident that you’ll love the Philippines! 🙂
Note: USD conversion is usually rounded up
If you have 42 minutes to spare, check-out this episode of a local show featuring Coron Palawan. The part about wreck diving is from 20:15 to 29:33.