I decided to go to Coron for different reasons than most. I don’t dive so it wasn’t for the ship wrecks that attract divers from all over the world. And it certainly wasn’t for its beaches as it really doesn’t have any to write home about.
The main reason I ended up there was a simple one. Coron is one of two places to fly into on the islands of Palawan so flying in there then flying out of Puerto Princesa meant I wouldn’t have to backtrack. That and I saw a photo of gorgeous Kayangan Lake, and I wanted to see it in the flesh. That lake definitely helped to cement my decision.
But I didn’t even end up making it there. More on that in a minute.
What I did end up finding in Coron was a very mixed bag.
The good included meeting new friends including my now boyfriend, one of the best New Years celebrations that I have ever experienced, an island that isn’t overwhelmed by tourism that has friendly locals, and some gorgeous beaches on the islands surrounding Coron.
The bad included very rough seas and getting stuck on a reef on the way to the beautiful surrounding islands, some pretty nasty physical injuries, a hangover from said amazing New Years celebrations, and missing out on the one place that inspired me to visit Coron in the first place – because I am an idiot.
Coron is a small town on the island of Busuanga, one of the largest islands that make up the archipelago of Palawan in the Philippines. It is also the name of an uninhabited island off the coast of Busuanga.
Unlike El Nido, the most well-known town in Palawan with a rapidly growing tourist infrastructure, Coron Town and Busuanga are still relatively under the radar and predominantly local.
While El Nido has tidy streets packed full of accommodation options, tourist restaurants and tour operators, Coron is rough around the edges and not much to look at. As I mentioned above, Coron is mostly visited by divers who want to dive one of the numerous ship wrecks that lie on the sea floor in the waters not too far from the town. There isn’t a lot to draw travellers to Coron other than the diving.
Coron does have a handful of good restaurants and bars, my favourite spots were Coffee Kong Cafe with its calming interior and excellent vanilla lattes, and the Helldivers Bar, right on the water.
Although Coron Town is situated on the coast, there are no beaches in the town itself, just a boat dock and a few waterside restaurants. The best quality of Coron Town is the fact that it isn’t overrun with tourists. If you want to get a feel for a bustling Filipino Island town where the main income doesn’t come from tourism, then Coron Town is perfect.
My first day in the island was New Years Eve. We (me and Trav, my then fiance/now ex that is) arrived in the evening, checked into our hostel, then went for a walk around town to grab dinner and get a lay of the land.
Eating dinner at a quiet restaurant full of couples, barely talking to Trav (our relationship was on a downward slope and had been for a while), I didn’t have great expectations for a fun New Years Eve. Then a group of loud backpackers walked in…
What started out as a night lacking in fun, quickly turned around when I sent Trav over to the loud group of backpackers to ask them where the good bars in town were. They recommended Blue Moon Bar down the road so we headed there. Barely through our first drink, the backpackers joined us. Toby was one of them.
And the party began.
We quickly hit it off with the three Americans of the group – Toby, Anush and Johnny – and we were pretty much inseparable the rest of the night. We bar-hopped around Coron, danced like crazy people with all the locals in the main square where we joined only a handful of other tourists, watched fireworks at midnight, had dance offs with lady boys (Johnny) and ten-year old local boys (me), and generally just had one of the most fun, memorable New Years there ever was.
I loved these new friends and I didn’t want the night to end. Trav wanted to go back to the hostel and I felt duty-bound to go with him. I kissed the three boys on the cheeks and hoped I would see them again.
Coron turned out to be an absolutely incredible place to be on New Years Eve. We had found somewhere where tourism is still new, and where the locals embraced us. It is something I will remember forever. I just wish I had taken photos!
The night became even more memorable when, on the way back to the hostel, I somehow fell. I had imbibed a lot of Red Horses, a high alcohol Filipino beer, that night so I don’t know exactly what happened. All I know is it hurt like hell and I came away with a massive gash on one knee, two badly banged up legs, and a cut, fat lip.
New Years Day was rough. I woke up in blood stained sheets with the hangover from hell. I could barely walk on my damaged legs so we barely left the hostel apart from a short mission into town for fried chicken. I was feeling pretty damn sorry for myself.
On the 2nd January we decided to do a day trip island hopping but it ended up being cancelled at the last minute due to wind. They tried to sell us the Coron Island day trip instead but as I didn’t realise then that the lake I wanted to see was on the island, not somewhere near Coron Town, we decided not to do it (smacks palm against forehead). Definitely not one of my smartest moments.
Instead, we hired a motorbike to see more of Busuanga. I was hoping to find Kayangan Lake but the guys that hired us the bike didn’t know about any lake and it wasn’t on the map they gave us which I found unusual. As it turns out, there isn’t a lot to see in regards to landmarks or specific points of interest on Busuanga, not within biking distance anyway.
The roads were pitted and bumpy, making the ride slow and dangerous. Driving through small villages, local kids waved frantically and held out their hands to high-five them, big smiles lighting up their faces. Thick jungle bracketed the dirt road so although we were close to the coast, most of the time we couldn’t see it.
A small, stone church sat atop a hillside looking out over the water. We stopped to take a look and admire the view.
The hand drawn map we were given was crude and hard to follow, there were a couple of beaches and waterfalls marked on it but we weren’t able to find them.
After biking around 40km to Conception, a blink and you’ll miss it town, we turned around.
On the way back, we were on a beautiful stretch of road with water and island views when I saw a sign for the Puerto Del Sol Resort, so we decided to stop there for lunch. As we had not had any luck with beaches, I was hoping to take a dip in the resort pool but there was a breeze blowing in from the sea so it was too cold. At least the views over Pearl Bay were pretty awesome.
There were a couple of beaches at the far end of Coron Town so our last destination for the day before turning in our keys was to one of them: Bali beach.
We paid a small entrance fee to access the beach. The sand was brown and the sea was shallow and murky but damn, it was still a beautiful spot thanks to the tall and jungled cliffs of Coron Island offshore.
The next day we did end up doing the Island Hopping Day trip that had been cancelled the day before, although by the time we got back, wet, cold, exhausted and over an hour late at the end of the day – I wished that it had been cancelled again.
The day didn’t start out well. Our tricycle taxi picked us up 45 minutes before he was meant to arrive, so we rushed around getting ready. Then after arriving at the boat, we ended up sitting and waiting in the sweltering sun for almost two hours despite all of the paying customers sitting in the boat and patiently waiting.
When we finally did leave, it took two hours to get out to the islands due to rough seas, with the boat having to go much slower than normal.
Then the boat got stuck on a reef.
After the crew struggled to free us for about an hour, we all got off the boat to make it lighter, and finally we were free. They tried to turn on the engine after pushing us over the last of the reef, it wouldn’t start as it had been flooded with water. Another twenty minutes passed while they drained the engine, finally getting it started again.
After all this shit, we were hoping that our first island, Malcapuya, would be worth the hassle. Luckily it was.
I mean, look at it.
I frolicked in the translucent waters, lay out on the chalky white sand and we had a lunch of BBQ fish, adobo chicken, rice and vegetables. It was pretty awesome.
The next island, Banana Island, was only a short distance away and was home to a basic resort, and an equally beautiful beach with deeper but choppier water.
We were all getting worried that we wouldn’t be getting back until after dark but our captain was convinced it wouldn’t take as long to get back for some reason. Our last stop was the small island across from Banana Island, where we only stopped for ten minutes to take a quick picture from small lookout hill.
So it ended up taking two hours to get back – fancy that. The first hour was rough and windy, everyone got wet and because the sun was almost down, we were cold and shivering.
The last half hour was in the dark, just as we had feared. The boat had no lights so one of the crew stood at the front of the boat and held the screen of his cellphone outwards. Seriously.
I couldn’t wait to get the hell off that boat when we docked.
Unfortunately that was my last experience in Coron and it didn’t exactly leave a great taste in my mouth.
The best thing that came out of my time in Coron was meeting Toby. I think that is why I was meant to go there. I didn’t know it at the time, but it turned out that visiting Coron changed the trajectory of my life. Only three weeks later Trav and I would break up and a couple of months after that I flew to the US where I quickly ended up in a relationship with Toby. I could never have foreseen any of this happening.
So, would I recommend Coron to non-diving travellers? Probably not. Unless you are visiting on New Years Eve – then yes yes yes!!
Oh, and if you do make it to Coron, make sure you do a day trip to Coron Island to see Kayangan Lake. I am still kicking myself for missing it.