The island of Busuanga has just one airport, few cars (they opt for trikes instead), and a calm that comes only with [relatively] untouched locations. Most people who find themselves on Busuanga had one goal in mind: dive the several sunken WWII Japanese ships, but this island is so much more than that. We had almost 6 days to explore the island (as well as all the nearby island destinations) and fell in love with everything. So, here is some wisdom I’d like to impart on those visiting Busuanga.
Know before you come:
– The island of Busuanga conserves power, therefore many places do not have power between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. Larger hotels run off their own power, but it may not be available in your room so plan accordingly.
– There are no “beaches” on Busuanga; it is all mangroves. So, if you’re looking for a relaxing beach getaway, perhaps this isn’t the place. It is possible to rent a boat for a nominal fee (to be discussed later) and go to one of the small beaches on Coron, but there none on Busuanga.
– You can take a van from the airport to the center of town or most major hotels offer a shuttle service that will already be waiting at the airport.
HOTELS: Do your research before you get here! I cannot stress that enough. If you are coming in the off season you might be able to wing it and find a hotel by strolling around, but not in peak season. Luckily, we came in off season, but without having booked a hotel. We had done some research and knew that Seadive was the most reputable hotel on the water with diving available. We inquired about prices, but decided to shop around once we arrived. Seadive was booked so we ended up getting a small, overpriced room with no windows or toilet seat. Even worse, that room cost as much as a luxurious room at Seadive (1,200PHP). It turned out though that when we emailed to inquire about the room, the Seadive staff mistakenly reserved a room for us. Crisis averted! We packed up and moved over to Seadive. And here our vacation began.
Seadive is definitely worth the money. The restaurant is great, the rooms are gorgeous, and the staff is friendly. Not to mention it’s on the water and the only PADI certified dive center on Busuanga. There are a few nice resorts inland, but if you are here to dive, it’s best to just stay on the water.
We came prepared with a list of things to do and worked through it at a leisurely pace. Getting PADI certified ended up being out of our price range, so we would not be able to dive the shipwrecks, which was definitely a disappointment. However, once I do get certified, I will definitely come back to dive the wrecks.
There are a few things to do on Busuanga but the main activities are either diving or renting a boat to take you to one of the destinations on Coron or other nearby islands. To rent a boat from Seadive to any destinations on Coron is 1,500PHP, which includes a boat and driver from 9-5. For an extra 250PHP per person the driver can cook lunch. There are several places to go on Coron, so you can just tell the driver where you’d like to go, spend some time there and move on to another destination. We rented a boat about 4 times and it was most definitely worth it.
Things to do without leaving the island:
1. Stroll around the town of Coron . Visit the public market, bayside area, restaurants, and shops. The town has a very vibrant and warm attitude, the people are extremely friendly, and the shops sell everything from souvenir T-shirts to handmade jewelry. There is also a spectrum of different restaurants, ranging from local food at a minimal cost, to a French bistro that will cost a bit more.
2. Hike to the top of Mt. Tapyas . Climbing the endless steps (some sources say 700 steps, others say 900) to the top of the mountain can be a challenge, but once up there you will have an excellent view of the island of Busuanga, as well as the many smaller islands surrounding it. If you are hiking at a moderate pace, you will reach the top in about 45 minutes. I highly recommend going right before sunset, that way you can sit back and take in the spectacular sunset from a great height. Just after sunset, the town begins turning on all the lights, and the giant cross on top of the mountain becomes illuminated. The view is magnificent, but don’t stay too long after sunset, there are very few lights to guide hikers back down the mountain.
3. Maquinit Hot Springs. Chances are it’s a bit too hot to sit in 92 degree F water during the day, so the hot springs make a wonderful evening destination. They stay open until 10, so hop in a trike and come here after dinner. A tricycle to the top will cost 300PHP minimum, and the entrance fee to the hot springs is 100PHP. The journey to the hot springs is not for those with motion sickness. The rickety tricycles navigate their way through poorly paved streets, all while winding up a mountain on a narrow path. The ride from the center of town will take about 30 minutes, and it is far from comfortable. However, it is definitely something worth experiencing. We actually had more fun in the tricycle than at the actual hot springs (it was still very hot outside, which made the whole experience a bit unpleasant). Locals and tourists alike hang out in the hot springs after dark so it’s a great opportunity to mingle and wind down after a long day.
4. Mangroves: Mangroves are everywhere (they’re why Coron doesn’t offer beautiful sunbathing beaches). You can rent a kayak and tour the mangroves, or you can ask your boat captain to take you through a mangrove area if you are renting boat. Either way, they’re definitely a sight to see.
Most visitors to Busuanga come to dive the WWII Japanese wrecks. After talking to those who have done it, I realized it was a once in a lifetime opportunity that I would one day need to experience. We did, however, manage to do the “discovering scuba” dive with Seadive for those that aren’t certified. Although not as exciting as the wreck diving, it was still spectacular. We dove twice, and saw some of the most amazing ocean life I have ever seen. Lion fish, rock fish, sting rays, puffer fish, squids, anemones, and hundreds of brightly colored fish danced around us. I was in awe. So, if you aren’t certified, don’t feel like you’re missing out, even the beginner dive trips are extraordinary.
Excursions off Busuanga
As I mentioned earlier, renting a boat for the day was definitely the highlight of the trip for us. If you are short on time, just ask the driver to take you to the top tourist spots, or see all of the sights at your own pace over the course or several days. Most of the spots have an entrance fee, which is collected by someone on a boat. These range from P100 – P300, so make sure you bring cash along with you.
1. Siete Pecados (SevenIslands): This is one of the many wonderful sites that a boat from Busuanga can bring you to. Legend says that seven children swam from the main island and drowned, forming the seven small islands. We were told that this is the best snorkeling site in and around Coron, and it definitely lived up to its reputation. All you need to do is put your head slightly underwater and a whole new world opens up. The driver of the boat will tell you when a good time to come would be, so follow their advice if possible. The water is warm and clear and the corals are beautifully colored and tremendous. Snorkel around the islands or stay near the boat, you will see numerous fish no matter where you go. Bring some bread with you and watch the fish swarm around you as you feed them in the water. Keep an eye out for turtles; we managed to see two on one of our excursions here.
2. KayanganLake : This is considered to be the cleanest lake in the Philippines , and it was my second favorite spot (After Siete Pecados) on the island. There is a bit of a hike to get to the lake, but halfway through you can take a break alongside a cave, and look over at the spectacular view below. Apparently, this view is the most photographed in all of Palawan , and I definitely understood why. The trees frame the shot perfectly so even the most novice photographer can capture a breathtaking photo. Afterwards, make your way down to the lake and go for a swim. The water feels exceptionally clean. We brought our life vests and snorkel equipment and spent a great deal of time floating around, swimming, and snorkeling. This was definitely a unique experience.
3. BarracudaLake : Don’t let the name fool you, there probably isn’t a barracuda in here. However, locals maintain that one giant barracuda snuck into this lake many years ago, and has befriended some fish in the lake. Sightings of the barracuda are still reported, but we did not have the fortune to see it. The draw to the lake is the distinct thermoclines-changes in temperature as depth changes. This is a major diving spot because swimming through the thermoclines is a remarkable experience. They are not visible with a snorkel alone, but if you are not a diver, bring along your snorkel anyway to check out the rock formations and the eerie underwater stillness. Perhaps you’ll even spot the famed barracuda!
4. Twin Lagoon: Before coming, make sure to ask your boat driver when low tide is. During this time, you can kayak through the small opening in the tremendous rocks into a beautiful and secluded lagoon. Here, you can snorkel, swim, or just kayak around the various rock formations. We were happily exhausted after hours of kayaking here, so maybe plan on coming here right before lunch.
5. Skeleton wreck: This would probably only be exciting to those who were unable to dive the shipwrecks (like us). This wreck is visible with only a snorkel, but don’t get too excited, it’s not a WWII ship, just a fishing boat that sank some time back. It’s still interesting to see, and the snorkeling in the area is fantastic so it’s definitely worth the trip out. While swimming around the small island we saw two turtles, countless gorgeous fish, jellyfish (eek) and sea urchins (yikes).
6. BanolBeach and Beach 91: These two beaches are quite close to the skeleton wreck. Nothing really differentiates the two, but we spent some time at each of them anyway. They’re quite small and intimate, and the wooden huts make for perfect afternoon napping grounds. We spent hours here just napping, playing in the water, snorkeling, and sunbathing. Banol seems to be the more crowded of the two, so ask the boat driver to take you to whichever seems less busy.
7. CYCIslandBeach: We only came here for diving, but the beach itself was extremely quite crowded because this is the only free beach in Coron. Music was blasting, the beach was packed, and boats were everywhere. If you have the money to spare, I would highly recommend one of the other beaches if you’re looking for relaxation.
Overall impressions and recommendations:
1. Have your snorkel with you every time you rent a boat. Even the calm beaches are excellent places to spot some colorful fish.
2. Eat fruit whenever possible. The best bananas, mangoes, and pineapple I have ever tasted were in Coron. I still miss them terribly.
3. Talk to the locals, they’re quite friendly and offer a unique perspective of the island.
4. Take time to walk around Coron town and try different restaurants.
5. Eat fish! The selection and freshness of the fish was heavenly for a fish lover like me, so definitely take advantage of the selection.