Coron is located on the eastern side of Busuanga Island, north of El Nido, Palawan.
To fly there is a little pricey and to arrive by bus and boat from Manila or Puerto Princesa is a laborious and time consuming trip. For these reasons, it lacks the enormous crowds that El Nido pulls in daily, but fewer people in an area known for its scenery can rarely be a bad thing.
While the town itself leaves a lot to be desired (think overpriced guesthouses, terrible WiFi and a busy port in place of your usual white sandy beach), its charm lies in the attractions just off its coastline.
REASONS TO VISIT CORON
ISLAND HOPPING CRUISES
No visit to Coron is complete without an island hopping cruise. Similar to El Nido, various tour operators in town run similar trips to the most popular locations in the area. Your best option, especially if you’re short on time, is to charter a boat for you and your friends so you can decide exactly where you’d like it to go. Ultimate Coron Experience offers DIY tours in addition to its multi-day packages. While most tours only stop at five locations per day, you can squeeze in seven if you don’t hang around too long at each one. When you’re planning your itinerary, try to mix it up with some snorkelling, beaches, lagoons and viewpoints.
There are some fantastic snorkelling spots near Coron and many of them can be added to your island hopping itinerary. These include Twin Peaks, Coral Garden, Siete Pescados and Skeleton Shipwreck. Siete Pescados is a snorkelling spot beside a few small islands where you can see a variety of marine life and corals. If you booked with Ultimate Coron Experience, your guide will get in the water with you and show you where you can find Nemo. If you’re a reasonably strong swimmer, you can also circumnavigate the island. Coral Garden is one of the best spots, with some impressive corals and a lot of colourful marine life, but you may encounter choppy surface conditions and a bit of a current. While Skeleton Shipwreck doesn’t come close to being as impressive as some of the famous dive sites in the area, it’s the shallowest wreck, meaning you don’t have to dive down from the surface to be able to see it. The highest section of the boat is only 5 m deep.
One of the most impressive places to see near Coron, Kayangan Lake can only be reached via a set of steep steps. At the highest point, there’s a small cave and a fantastic viewpoint before you head down to the lake. You’ll have about 15 minutes for a quick dip and, while there aren’t many fish, it’s still a good idea to take your snorkel gear so you can see the rock formations below the surface and maybe even explore the entrances to a few caves. Be prepared to wait in line for unobstructed views of the bay. If it’s really busy, you might have more luck if you try again on your way back to the boat.
Sunken Japanese warships from WWII are most people’s prime reason for visiting Coron. Advanced/experienced divers can weave in and out of the old rooms, illuminating their way with a flashlight. It gets a little claustrophobic down there, but it’s fascinating to see the old portholes, ladders, technical equipment and tools. While there’s not a lot moving inside the boats (except for queues of divers), they tend to attract coral growth and other life on the outside, so if you haven’t used up all of your air when you reemerge from each wreck it’s well worth exploring above deck.
CRAZY-ASS LAKES AND LAGOONS
While the main attraction for scuba divers is undoubtedly the WWII shipwrecks, there are also some interesting lakes in the area. One of the coolest is Barracuda Lake. It got its name because someone once reported seeing a monster-sized barracuda there, although it hasn’t been sighted since. The only marine life you’re likely to see are shrimps and small drab-looking fish. You can while away a few minutes on your safety stop trying to get them to eat from the palm of your hand, but the most unique aspect of the dive is the thermocline, where temperatures suddenly soar from 24 to 38 degrees celcius. This huge contrast is due to the meeting of salt and fresh water and, if you mix the two together it makes the water go cloudy with an oily appearance. At the bottom of the lake, there’s a deep layer of fine sediment that you can swim into headfirst for comedy value or whisk up into huge underwater dust clouds. For non-divers, Twin Lagoon is a must for your island hopping itinerary, as some of the same effects can be experienced there. It’s also a very pretty place to moor for 30 minutes and it’s much less crowded than similar lagoons in El Nido.
THE EXCITING BOAT RIDE FROM EL NIDO
Most people reach Coron via El Nido. There are two large outriggers that do the journey on alternate days, and the bigger of the two is the Jessabel. While they’re advertised as being 1800 Php, you might be able to get a cheaper ticket, and when I was there, the roadside travel agencies were selling them for 1200 Php, plus a terminal fee of 20, to be paid at the port just prior to departure. Boats are meant to leave at 7:30 am, but ours was delayed until 9:00. It was crowded and the benches were hard wood or plastic. Not long after we set off, the sea became choppy and the boatmen brought plastic down to cover the window holes. Unfortunately, this didn’t prevent a few large waves from sweeping through the passenger cabin from time to time. Instead, it just blocked our view of the horizon, making everyone miserably seasick. A few people were frequently vomiting over the side and everyone else was sitting hugging themselves and desperately trying to keep their belongings dry. We arrived in Coron at around 3 pm, but this shouldn’t be taken as an indication of the regular arrival time. I heard of one journey that took 29 hours because both engines broke down. You really are at the mercy of the sea!
If you decide to brave this journey, sit towards the back of the boat where the movement is less and the seats are dryer. If you really can’t face it, there is the option to fly into Coron from Manila or Cebu (infrequent and expensive), or to travel by bus and boat via Mindoro (usually a less hellish crossing). You could also consider a larger bunkbed ferry from either Manila or Puerto Princesa.
HOW TO BOOK
You can arrange a tour with Ultimate Coron Experience via their website (link above). Alternatively, email ultimatecoronexperience.gmail.com or call (+63) 918 465 9010 / (+63) 917 816 6289 / (+63) 917 858 2551.
They have a really nice boat with capacity for up to 20 people, but they’ll still take it out if it’s just you! The crew are really friendly, going out of their way to show you where to find the best marine life, caves and viewpoints, and taking lots of photos and videos for you. They’ll even dive down to get close ups of the shipwreck and photos of you underwater.
Prices start at 2500 Php for the standard one-day tour and a group of up to four people. The more you have in your group, the cheaper it will be per person. Note that many of the islands have an additional entrance fee, which you can look up on the Ultimate Coron Experience website. There are life vests and a sound system on board, and a really good lunch of barbecued fish, rice and veggies is served on a pristine beach around midday. Optional extras include snacks, tricycle transfers between your accommodation and the port, underwater camera hire and mask/snorkel rental. Ultimate Coron Experience tours are so customisable, you can even add diving, or an overnight stay on an island, to your itinerary if you wish.