For a while now, visiting the Philippines has been on the top of my “places to visit before I die” list. Fortunately, I didn’t have to wait too long, as I was able to add this country to the end of our Southeast Asia trip for what was basically a perfect conclusion.
When you visit the Philippines you’re expecting to find the most beautiful beaches and landscapes you’ve ever seen in your life. And, while the Philippines didn’t disappoint, I have to say that it wasn’t all we were expecting it to be.
Coron, though, was just as I imagined it would be: gorgeous.
The first thing that you’ll get to see when you arrive at the island is Coron Town. Coron doesn’t have anything special per se; it’s a small town with plenty of “tricycles” (motorbikes with carts attached) available everywhere, ready to take you wherever you need to go.
The real fun starts once you get on the boat.
There are multiples companies and people offering you shared or private island hopping tours — taking one of these offers is a necessity so that you can explore the best that Coron has to offer.
We found a company the day before our tour called “Calamian Island Tours,” and paid about 30 dollars per person; we were hoping to have a good experience this time, especially after the scammy snorkeling tour we went on in the Gili Islands in Indonesia. Although the odds were against us, considering that I was still on crutches and that Robert has a strong aversion to the ocean, we had an amazing time. My ankle didn’t hurt under water, and Robert threw himself into a deep blue lagoon at one point and was dragged around via lifesaver, which was really funny for everyone else in the group.
Our group only consisted of 12 people, as well as an entertaining and attentive boat crew. Plus, we were fortunate on this tour to have had a sunny day, which was incredibly rare considering the incoming typhoon at the time, and the amount of rain we had gotten every other day in the Philippines.
And so it Began
We were picked up at our hotel around 8 AM, climbed onto the boat a little after 9 AM to start the Coron Island hopping tour, and concluded the tour some time between 4 and 5 PM.
The tour had 6 stops along the way, with each one being (somehow) better than the last. And — while we didn’t do any island hopping in El Nido — from what we saw and heard, the islands in Coron are simply less crowded and have landscapes that are just as impressive as El Nido.
So, here’s what we saw (AKA reasons to plan some of your own Coron island hopping in the near future)!
The day started with a visit to CYC Beach: a small, rounded island sitting on calm, crystalline waters that were ideal for chilling or kayaking around. The tide was quite low, which meant that if you wanted to go for a swim or snorkel session, you had to go quite far from the shore.
30 minutes of laying down like a real-life mermaid is the right way to start a day like this.
Snorkeling — Coral Garden and Skeleton Wreck
There are two stops for snorkeling during the trip, the first of which is Coral Garden. Here you'll see amazingly vivid corals and all kinds of exotic marine creatures. Although I didn’t get to see what’s now become my favorite underwater animal (the turtle) I also appreciated that I didn’t find anything that scared me/wanted to eat me either. There were colorful clown fishes (Nemo relatives probably), lively corals, and beautiful underwater mollusks.
Our second stop was the Skeleton Wreck. During World War 2, several Japanese ships were downed due to bombing that occurred near the Philippines and its waters. Today, the wreckage of some of these ships remains underwater for all curious visitors to see. But… the ship we saw during our tour didn’t sink during the war, at least according to our guide.
“Most tourists are told this story to make it all more interesting,” he told us.
(I’m still doing some of my own research on this, but haven’t come to any conclusions yet!)
Unfortunately, I was the only one snorkeling of the two and my cell phone photo-taking abilities kind of suck (especially underwater!), but this is what should look like. The school of bright blue fishes that were around the sunken skip brought the whole scene to life, making it feel like an entirely different world revolving around the ship.
All in all, this tour provided me with my best snorkeling experience so far. I guess I’ll be taking a diving course soon!
This was our stop to eat and take a break: a small, isolated beach surrounded by enormous, picturesque cliffs that also housed the makeshift hut where lunch was cooked and served for the different excursions that passed through there. Fortunately, we were the first ones to get to the island and were treated to one of the best meals we had in the Philippines! There were healthy servings of seafood, vegetables, noodles, and the most deliciously seasoned and cooked grilled chicken we’ve ever had!
The white sand and inviting waters kept us utterly relaxed until it was time to go; the fact that no one was there towards the beginning meant that it really felt as if we were on an entirely isolated island that we had all to ourselves!
Our favorite part of the entire tour were the twin lagoons. As you reach the first one, you begin to see striking rock formations covered in green vegetation foliage and towering over the emerald waters below. To get to the second lagoon, you have to plunge into the dark blue waters of the first and swim through the incredibly narrow, semi-circular rock formation that separates the two. The second lagoon is then completely closed off by huge rock formations, making it so that the echo of your voice bounces off every wall before vanishing. Even if you’re not a strong swimmer (or you just don’t like the sea), you’ll still have a magnificent time here because of how unbelievably calm the water is.
Kayangan lake was an unforgettable finish to the day for so many reasons. The boat took us to an island with a small floating village where we had to climb about 200 steps and descend another 200 to get to the other side of the island, where the alluring lake awaited. First, after the initial 200-step ascent, we got to one of the most amazing view points we’d ever seen in our lives: it was the photo of Coron. (This is the viewpoint we mentioned at the beginning of the article!) Then, just down the remaining steps was Kayangan lake, a “natural pool” with a foundation made of rocks and boulders and the usual clear waters that allow not only for some incredibly unique photos, but for some truly unforgettable sights. Towards the end of the day, the lake rapidly filled with people, so I guess the trick is to get to the lake as early as possible (which may just depend on your group tour schedule).
Also, don’t forget to try “turon” from the little shop near the entrance before leaving the island — it’s a Filipino sweet made essentially of a banana rolled down like a spring roll, which is then caramelized and topped off with brown sugar. It’s delicious!
To fully enjoy the trip, I would suggest a few things:
- If you want to avoid crowds, hire a private tour. Look at the standard itineraries of a few group tours and try to do them, but inverted to avoid the crowds of people. And always negotiate the price and conditions when hiring someone in the Philippines!
- Snorkeling marks and fins are normally not included in the quoted price. Calamian Island Tours had well-maintained and clean material, but some of the other companies have disgusting equipment to use. If you want to avoid an uncomfortable situation and probably save some money, bring your own mask.
- If you decide not to use fins, make sure to bring sandals or water booties/socks that can protect you from the corals, especially for the areas that are very swallow.
- Bring a snack with you. The lunch on these tours is typically early and you may get hungry at some point in the afternoon afterwards. On the other hand, there is a small boat that floats by and sells snacks; try “buko” or “turon” if you come across one of these boats!
- “Tricycles" within the city of Coron cost as little as 10 PHP (about $0.20), and maybe a little extra if you carry bags or have an additional person. Either way, don’t overpay like we did when we got there: we arrived tired in the middle of the night and ended up paying 150 PHP for a 5-minute ride, which doesn’t sound like much when converted to another currency, but is insanely overpriced relative to what it really costs.
Where we stayed
We were guests at Bancuang Mansion, a hotel situated a few-minutes drive away from the port with amazing views of the island. The hotel has several floors and no elevator, which may be something to keep in mind if you want to enjoy the views from the top of the hotel. Regardless, even just dining at the in-house restaurant in the morning will grant you relaxing and breathtaking views. The overall hotel had an accommodating amount of amenities (the pool, the balcony, the good internet connection, and the hot-water showers were very much appreciated), and our room was very spacious as well. The rooms are in the medium-price range — especially when compared to the rest of Coron.