Saturday, April 23, 2016

The Coron Ultimate Adventure

It's summer! And the best way to fight the excruciating heat is to head to the beaches. One of the most popular summer destinations here in the Philippines is the Palawan group of islands. One of the these islands is Coron.

Coron is a first class municipality of the province of Palawan. It is part of Busuanga island. Busuanga is an hour's flight from Metro Manila. From the Busuanga airport (official name is Francisco B. Reyes), it takes about 45 minutes to 1 hour by van to get to the Coron town proper.

Here is an account of what we did in Coron, July of last year. 

What to do in Coron?

There are a lot of things to do in Coron, Palawan. Since it's an island, most of what you would be doing are water activities. To get the most of the island experience, you have to sign up for the Coron Ultimate tour package.  The tour will include the most popular and must-see sites. 

  • Blue/Green Lagoon. This is usually the first stop. We were the first and the only boat in the lagoon. It was so clear and the water is green. The temperature of the water rapidly changes from cool to warm and vice versa due to thermocline. The lagoon is enclosed by small rock-islands on almost all sides. There's only one opening for going in and out of the lagoon. It's name came from the constantly changing color of the lagoon. It was green when we were there. We were with two Canadians in the tour boat and they were really good swimmers so they went exploring the surroundings. Unfortunately, one of them stepped on a group of sea urchins on one of the rocks. 
Photo of Gurlayas 2015
Swimming in the Blue/Green Lagoon.

photo by Gurlayas 2015
Boat entering the blue lagoon. It was raining due to on incoming storm, our boat crew wearing his company-issued raincoat.

  • CYC Beach. CYC Beach is being maintained by the Senior Citizens of Coron, hence the name Coron Youth Club. The name of the beach has always been a standing joke repeatedly told by the tour guides. It's a really small island with a sand bar which makes it good for swimming. A few meters to the left of CYC is a good snorkeling area. A lot of Nemo (clown fish) and Dory's (tang fish) cousins and other fishes.
photo by Gurlayas 2015
The Japanese who was on our tour. Boat is about to dock on CYC beach. 
photo by Gurlayas 2015
Improvised fins used by tour guides in Coron. Made out of thin plywood and rubber straps to keep the feet in place. Photo taken while snorkeling  a few meters off CYC Beach.

  • Twin Lagoon. As its name suggest, there are two lagoons. The other one can be reached by swimming underwater for about a minute or climbing up a makeshift ladder. This was packed when were there. Good thing we were one of the first boats to arrive so we were able to climb up the ladder and not have to line up to wait for our turn. We opted to climb the ladder than swim underwater because we are floaters. If you are a floater, you will have a hard time getting underwater, though it's only for a minute, but it's dangerous if you hit the large stone cliff that separates the two lagoon. The second lagoon is totally enclosed by big rock-islands which look like towering cliffs inside the second lagoon. 
photo by Gurlayas 2015
First lagoon in the background where the boats dock. I was at the top of  makeshift ladder going to the other lagoon.
The second lagoon. My two friends are already in the water waiting for me.

  • Atwayan Beach. This is where we had lunch which was included in the tour package. The beach is lined with cottages which are reached by the tides during high tide. Since it was just a day after the storm has passed, the waves were a bit big and it was high tide. We have to hold on to the benches to not get washed out to sea. Our tour guide and boat crew prepared our grillled fish, ensaladang talong (eggplant salad), liempo (grilled pork belly) and banana, complete with plating and creative presentation. While waiting for our food to be ready, we went swimming and took pictures. We ate our lunch with the water brushing our legs.
photo by Gurlayas 2015
Swimming and taking pictures while waiting for our lunch.

The cottages behind me is where lunch is served.

  • Quinn Reef. Right in front of Atwayan Beach, just a few meters away is the Quinn Reef. It is also a very good spot for snorkeling. The waves were too strong for us to go exploring on our own. I can swim but I am not a strong swimmer, so in the interest of safety, we opted to hold on to one of life jackets and then our tour guide will just tow us back if we get too far out. It would have been a lot fun if the weather was calm. There were a lot of fishes and very nice corals. 
photo by Gurlayas 2015
Corals and fishes in Quinn Reef.

  • Skeleton Wreck. This part is deeper but the water was calm compared to that in Quinn Reef. There is no danger of being hit or stepping on any coral or sea urchin since the bottom is way way down. The visibility was not very good but you can still see the fishing boat. It felt eerie looking down and my imagination started running. The best part was swimming side by side with the fishes. There are other shipwrecks that you can explore but some would require scuba equipment. I think this is the only shipwreck accessible by snorkeling.
photoy by Gurlayas 2015
Remains of Chinese fishing boat that capsized.

  • Kayangan Lake. This is dubbed as the cleanest lake in Asia. And this is a freshwater lake, not salt water. You have to wear mosquito repellent lotion before going into the island as you will have to take a 5-10 minute walk among bushes and trees which housed a lot of mosquitos. There is a vantage point looking out into the sea and the backdrop is one of the rock islands and is Coron's official picture in it's tourism ads. Once you get to the lake, there is a boardwalk and you can jump off from there and splash into the lake or not. But we did, but not too eagerly. No need to use snorkels here as we did not see any fishes. It was also a bit scary, looking down into this one big rock formation down below, it seemed like it could tear you apart. But it's only near the boardwalk. Further out, it is clear and wide open. You can swim until your arms are numb.
The view at the top of the trail to Kayangan lake. This is same view of the famous ad for Coron.
Clear waters of the Kayangan Lake.
Standing on the boardwalk, behind me is the entrance to the lake. The boardwalk goes around a quarter of the lake.

  • Siete Pecados. Its name is derived from a legend of the seven evil sisters. It was said that these sisters did not listen to their mother and they drowned. Later, seven islets rose and thus were named. This is the best snorkeling site in the whole of Coron. This was the last site in the tour since it is just near the main Coron island. It was already past 5pm when we got there and we only get to see the fishes and very colorful corals for about 10 minutes since it was already getting dark. As I said earlier, this was a day after the storm so Mr. Sun was still too shy. During calm days, 6pm is still bright enough to see and enjoy the wonders at Siete Pecados. This area is a bit shallow, so be careful on stepping on any corals or any other sea creatures. Some may be poisonous like the stone fish. Unfortunately, I was not able to take pictures since my battery has died. We just enjoyed the corals in different colors (pink, green and blue) and the variety of fishes which I could not name.

Other sites in Coron town

  •  Mt. Tapyas. The tallest spot in Coron. You need to climb 742 steps to get to the top which is 210 meters above sea level. It overlooked the whole of Coron and the 360-view is very stunning. There is a very large cross at the top and the cross can be seen when you are roaming Coron town. 
photo by Gurlayas 2015
Mt. Tapyas

  • Coron town proper. Explore the town on a tricycle, motorbike or on foot. Visit their municipal hall, church, popular restaurants, souvenir shops, etc.  Coron is famous for cashew nuts.
Traffic in the main highway of Coron due to a school parade.

  • Maquinit Spring. This is a hot seawater spring. Yes, it's saltwater. It's a good place to relax and ease your tired muscles especially after climbing Mt. Tapyas. Be sure to stay in the hot spring for 30 minutes only as long exposure is not advisable. You can sit back in the cottages or explore the area and soak back in again. There are three pools you can choose from with varying temperature. There is no specified swimming attire so you can wear your two-piece (short and shirt :)), rash guard or swimsuit. The hot spring is right beside the sea so can also enjoy the cool seawater if you want to. It is advised to spend a total of 2 hours submerged in the hot spring. 
Maquinit spring in the early part of the day. 

photo by Gurlayas 2015
Maquinit spring in the late afternoon. Hanging lamps are all over the place.

A walkway that goes into the sea, surrounded by mangroves. Some boats dock here to unload their passengers for the Maquinit Hot Spring.

 To be able to maximize your time in Coron, make sure to book your tours ahead. There are only two major tour companies in Coron with their own boats so book with any of the two. One of these two is J&Y Tours which was the one booked for by our contact from one of the other smaller tour companies. We were on a 4D3N tour but our second day was cut short due to a storm. We were able to visit two sites (Blue Lagoon, CYC) and snorkelled near CYC but was instructed by the Coast Guard to return to the main island because of the storm. Frustratingly, there's nothing else you can do in Coron. We decided to head back to the hot spring to soak our grumpy spirits. On our third day, the storm has passed and the wind has died down but the sky was still a little overcast. It was safe to venture into the sea but not too far out.We went on to continue our tour and because of yesterday's debacle we got an upgrade, hence the ultimate tour. Our third day was supposed to be a tour to two other islands which are further out but we were advised not to as the conditions are still not that ideal.

Coron is a great place for snorkeling and I would love to go back to do just that. It's also great for diving. I still need to learn how and that's next on my bucket list.

You can also sample the local restaurants. We had dinner on our first night at Balinsasayaw which was famous for the same soup (Nido soup). A soup made from the nest of the bird of the same name. We had lunch on the next day on Lolo Nonoy's which is a carenderia (eatery). We sampled very common dishes such as fried fish, sauteed vegetables, mongo, etc. The food was good and very affordable. Perfect for those on a shoestring budget. There are also a lot of barbecue stalls around. That was our dinner on our second night. We had our dinner after the ultimate tour at the Kawayanan Grill which is famous for their crocodile dishes which we did not sample. It was too exotic for our taste. We did try their seafood flatter, lapu-lapu escabeche, seafood kare-kare, and sizzling squid in a japanese style table setting.  We ate dinner with our new-found Bisaya friends (from Cebu and Bacolod) we met on the tour. 

Dinner Japanese style in Kawayanan Grill.

More Photos of Coron

I have more photos of Coron but unfortunately, my external hard drive is giving me an access error. It's also the reason why this post is delayed. So, here are the other photos I have saved on my phone.

This is what will greet you the moment you touchdown in Busuanga Airport. 
This is what countryside will look like on the way to Coron town proper.

The sleeping giant. View from the top of Mt. Tapyas.
View from Mt. Tapyas.
View from the terrace of our accommodations.

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