After a quick trip exploring all the things to do in Singapore on a budget last month, we are now in the Philippines! Our time here has been packed with new cities every few days. So far, we’ve visited the city of Olongapo in Subic Bay on the island of Luzon, as well as the province of Cavite. We recently enjoyed an activity-packed Puerto Princesa itinerary on the island of Palawan. And now we are in the Romblon Islands, south of the island of Luzon.
If you know us, this type of fast travel is not our usual travel style. We prefer slow traveling, where we spend at least a month at a time in a destination. But these past few weeks, we’ve been traveling with my in-laws, and we’ve had to adjust our travel speed accordingly.
Fortunately, we were able to spend more than just a few days in the city of Puerto Princesa. Located in the central part of Palawan, this city was a lot of fun to explore with kids. We spent two weeks discovering the many Puerto Princesa tourist spots in the city. And our family enjoyed slowing down our pace for a bit, if only for a couple of weeks.
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Why you want to visit Puerto Princesa during your trip to the Philippines
Most guidebooks, like the Lonely Planet Philippines guide book, often recommend that travelers visit the popular island of Boracay. Or these guidebooks will recommend islands like Cebu or Davao. And even when tourists do visit Palawan, most will skip Puerto Princesa altogether and go directly to El Nido in the northern part of the island.
However, travelers miss out when they skip visiting Puerto Princesa. The city has beautiful nature surrounding it. There is also history and culture in Puerto Princesa, which is great for those wanting to understand the Philippines on a deeper level. And there are plenty of options for booking accommodations in Puerto Princesa, including hotels and Airbnb.
As overtourism becomes a growing concern within the travel industry, it becomes increasingly more important to explore off the beaten path destinations. While Puerto Princesa is far from being a remote destination, it’s certainly a less frequented destination compared to other island destinations in the Philippines.
By visiting a place like Puerto Princesa you’re helping to distribute your tourism dollars more equitably throughout the Philippines! This is a great way to practice sustainable and responsible tourism. And you’re making your vacation more enjoyable by going somewhere that isn’t packed with tourists.
Getting to and from Palawan
The island of Palawan is accessible by plane or by ferry boat. There is an airport located in Puerto Princesa. This makes flying a convenient option if you’re planning a Puerto Princesa itinerary with your kids. Airlines like Air Asia and Cebu Pacific Air fly into Puerto Princesa from domestic destinations. Only one or two international destinations service the Puerto Princesa airport (from Hong Kong, Seoul, and Taipei).
If you have a bit more time (and are feeling adventurous!), you can opt to take a ferry into Puerto Princesa. From Manila, the ferry takes about 24 hours. The company I recommend is 2Go Travel. While we didn’t do the Manila-Puerto Princesa ferry ride, we did take the 2Go Travel ferry from Manila to the Romblon Islands. The ferry is very clean and well maintained.
Tourist class tickets for the Manila-Puerto Princesa ferry costs around PHP 1,900 (roughly $38 USD) per person. The ticket includes a private bunk for sleeping. Alternatively, you can opt for a private cabin, which is around PHP 2,800 (roughly $56 USD).
Getting around to explore the Puerto Princesa tourist spots
Once in Puerto Princesa, you have a few options for getting around. Taxis in Puerto Princesa are only available at the airport. Otherwise, your transportation options are tricycles (motor scooters with a covered sidecar) or jeepneys (public buses in the Philippines).
The tricycles in Puerto Princesa can fit up to five passengers: four people in the sidecar, and one person on the scooter behind the driver. The cost ranges between PHP 60 to PHP 200 (roughly $1.20 to $4 USD), depending on the distance. One thing to note, there is a citywide tricycle ban on the National Highway, which means tricycles are not allowed to drive on the National Highway. They were not enforcing the ban when we were there, but it looks like the police will start cracking down on the ban and issuing tickets to tricycles. You can still catch tricycles around the city center.
Jeepneys are a more affordable option for getting to and from the spots on your Puerto Princesa itinerary. The main routes go along the National Highway, Rizal Avenue, and Malvar Street. Major stops are written on the outside of the jeepney, so get acquainted with the locations of major stops. That way, you’ll know which jeepney to get on. If in doubt, you can always ask the jeepney driver before getting onboard.
Costs of a jeepney ride range from PHP 15 to PHP 20 (roughly $0.30 to $0.40 USD) per person, depending on the distance. You pay the driver when you get on the jeepney. To get off the jeepney, just inform the driver when your stop approaches.
A family-friendly Puerto Princesa itinerary
Our time in Puerto Princesa was packed with activities. We went snorkeling, learned about history, experienced local culture, and even visited a UNESCO world heritage site!
Below is a five day itinerary that families can follow when visiting Puerto Princesa. It’s good for kids of all ages. Families with young kids can spend more time at the parks. And families with older kids can dive deeper into snorkeling and adventure activities, or spend more time at the museums.
Day 1 – Check out the Puerto Princesa tourist spots at Honda Bay
Honda Bay is located about thirty to forty-five minutes away from Puerto Princesa. The bay used to be popular for fishing. But now many of the fishermen have converted their boats into tour boats, taking tourists to the various islands scattered around the bay. If you’re into snorkeling, you can book an island-hopping snorkel tour around Honda Bay.
There are many companies in Puerto Princesa that offer these full day tours. Our tour took us to Cowrie Island and Lilu Island, as well as a snorkeling spot just off the coast. Cost of the tours range between PHP 1,800 to PHP 2,200 per person, depending on the company you choose. Our tour included van transport, boat transport, and a buffet lunch. We rented snorkel gear separately.
Day 2- Experience community life
On your second day, take time to experience what everyday life is like in Puerto Princesa. This city has a population of around 255,000 people. Most people in the city work in the tourism industry, due to the city’s close proximity to the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, also known as the Underground River.
Browse local produce and goods at the San Jose New Market
If you want to get a real glimpse into local life, spend a morning at a market. San Jose New Market, located in the San Jose neighborhood of northern Puerto Princesa, is a bustling hub of commerce. Market vendors sell fresh fish, as well as chicken and pork. There are also fruit and vegetable vendors selling local produce, as well as pantry staples such as eggs, rice, and oil. The market is clean and organized well. A visit there can offer a great worldschooling lesson for your kids (anyone up for a social studies lesson?).
Stroll through Chinatown and the Old Public Market
After visiting the New Market, head into town and visit the Old Public Market. Located in the heart of Puerto Princesa, next to the Chinatown neighborhood, the Old Public Market is also a hub of activity. Besides the usual produce and meat vendors, you’ll also find street carts selling grilled meat, steamed peanuts, and balut, a Filipino delicacy of steamed duck embryo. There are a few restaurants in nearby Chinatown, but most are a bit run down.
Support Puerto Princess’s deaf community with dinner at Ka Inato
If you’re looking for a dinner option, head over to Ka Inato. There are two locations of Ka Inato, one on Rizal Avenue, and one further north in San Jose, along the National Highway. This restaurant serves local seafood dishes, as well as grilled meats. The food is very tasty, and fairly inexpensive.
One of the things we loved about Ka Inato, though, is that many of the servers are deaf. We liked the restaurant because the deaf employees weren’t just relegated to busboy positions, they were actually interacting with diners. There are signs around the restaurant showing how to say phrases such as “thank you” and “all finished” in American Sign Language. We enjoyed being able to practice our ASL, and also supporting the deaf community in Puerto Princesa. If you want to brush up on your ASL before visiting Ka Inato, you can check out the book, American Sign Language For Kids.
Day 3- Incorporate history into your Puerto Princesa itinerary
Part of traveling to a place is learning about its history. Palawan’s history spans from pre-colonial cultures, to World War II, and beyond. For your third day, build in some history-centered activities into your Puerto Princesa itinerary, and learn about significant moments of Palawan’s past.
Take a visit to the World War II Museum during your Puerto Princesa itinerary
The country of the Philippines played a pivotal role in World War II. In fact, it was the primary setting for the Pacific War, when Allied forces fought against the Japanese. Both the United States and Japan set up naval and air force bases throughout the Philippines.
The World War II Museum gives a good overview of the role of the Philippines in World War II. While the Philippines did not yet have a formal army at the time of World War II, they did have guerilla forces who fought bravely against the Japanese. The museum honors these fighters. There are also rooms showcasing artifacts from the different countries who fought in World War II, including the United States, Japan, Germany, and Australia.
Admission to the World War II Museum is PHP 30 (roughly $0.60 USD) for adults. Children aged 10 and under are free. The museum is open 8 am to 12 pm, and 1 pm to 5 pm everyday.
Learn about local culture and history at Palawan Museum
To get a lesson in local culture and history, head to the Palawan Museum. It’s located in central Puerto Princesa, just behind Mendoza Park. This small museum has displays about the indigenous groups found on the island of Palawan. You can see how their language is written, the tools they use, and which parts of the island they inhabit.
The Palawan Museum is open Mondays to Saturdays from 8:30 am to 12 pm, and 1:30 pm to 5 pm. Admission to the museum for non-Filipino nationals is PHP 60 (roughly $1.20 USD) for adults and PHP 10 (roughly $0.20 USD) for kids. Nationals pay PHP 50 (roughly $1) per person.
Pay homage to the victims of the Palawan Massacre at Plaza Cuartel
Near the Palawan Museum is Plaza Cuartel. This space was a former World War II garrison for the Japanese. It was also the site of the Palawan Massacre, where 150 American POW were burned alive by the Japanese, leaving only 11 survivors. There are displays describing the massacre, so that visitors can learn about this dark part of Palawan history.
Plaza Cuartel is set up like a public park, with greenery and benches for sitting. There are tricycles on display for picture taking (for a nominal fee), and a beautiful view of the bay. There is no set admission fee for entering the park, but there is a donation box at the entrance. Plaza Cuartel is open Mondays through Fridays from 8 am to 5 pm. It’s a good place to spend down time during your Puerto Princesa itinerary.
While at Plaza Cuartel, you can take a walk through the nearby Immaculate Conception Cathedral, built in the 1800’s. It’s open to the public, as long as there isn’t a service happening.
Check out the Puerto Princesa things to do at Baywalk
After a visit to Plaza Cuartel, end your day at Baywalk, a stretch of boardwalk along the bay. This is a popular spot for locals to spend an evening. Make sure to go just before sunset, when it’s not so hot, and when the “magic hour” lighting makes it perfect for picture taking.
Seafood restaurants line Baywalk. You can take your pick of grilled squid, grilled fish, and even grilled crocodile, which is a Palawan specialty.
There are also two places where you can rent bicycles (they’re rather old, but still usable for the most part). The cost ranges between PHP 20 to PHP 75 (roughly $0.40 USD to $1.50 USD) per hour, depending on the size and type of bicycle. We enjoyed renting bikes for our family, and spending an afternoon riding up and down Baywalk. It’s a great way to end a day!
Day 4 – Venture out into the outskirts of Puerto Princesa
On your fourth day, venture out to the outskirts of Puerto Princesa. The city is quite spread out, and there are a few attractions worth visiting outside of the city center. The two spots I recommend are about twenty minutes north of the city center. Expect to pay between PHP 80 to PHP 150 ($1.60 USD to $3 USD) for a tricycle, depending on the distance and your negotiation skills.
Visit Baker’s Hill, one of the most unique Puerto Princesa tourist spots
If you’re into kitschy attractions, head to Baker’s Hill in northern Puerto Princesa. It’s a bakery, restaurant, playground, and art installation combined into one (although the art part is where the kitsch comes in). There are sculptures and artificial trees made with recycled materials. And a colorful playground for the kids to play.
Baker’s Hill is free to enter, but you’re not allowed to bring outside food or drinks. There’s a bakery onsite, where you can buy treats. There is also a restaurant for eating lunch, as well as kiosks and cafes serving small snacks and drinks.
Experience local culture at the Butterfly Garden and Tribal Village
After a morning and lunch at Baker’s Hill, continue your Puerto Princesa itinerary with a visit to the Palawan Butterfly Garden and Tribal Village. This privately owned attraction has many species of butterflies flying within an enclosed garden. There are also other bugs and small reptiles on display, including stick bugs, scorpions, and leopard geckos.
The highlight of the attraction, though, is the tribal village. As part of entrance to the Palawan Butterfly Garden and Tribal Village is a demonstration from members of a local Palawan tribe. We saw traditional musical instruments, traditional weapons, and learned some aspects of their day to day life.
Proceeds from the entrance fee go towards supporting the Palawan tribe. Members of the tribe, who normally live in the highlands of Palawan, take turns living at the Palawan Butterfly Garden and Tribal Village. They stay for about a month, and then are replaced by a new group of tribe members.
Entrance to the Palawan Butterfly Garden and Tribal Village is PHP 50 (roughly $1 USD) for adults and PHP 35 (roughly $.70 USD) for kids. The attraction is open every day from 8 am to 5 pm.
End the day playing at Stellar Grounds
A great place to end your day, after exploring Puerto Princesa things to do, is Stellar Grounds, located on Rizal Avenue. Stellar Grounds is an open air food market with over five restaurants, as well as a few souvenir shops. Cuisines range from traditional Filipino seafood to Mediterranean.
The area at Stellar Grounds is decorated with trees, shrubs, lights, comfortable seating areas, and photo spots. There is also a trampoline and play structure for kids to play. They also host open mic nights later in the evening.
Day 5 – Explore the famous Underground River
The final part of your trip should include one of the most famous Puerto Princesa tourist spots: the Underground River! The Underground River is an 8 km long subterranean river that passes under a mountain. It’s home to bats and sparrows, as well as stunning rock formations. The river is a designated UNESCO world heritage site.
Visitors can visit the Underground River on their own, located near the town of Sabang. However the easiest option for families is to go with a tour. Our tour picked us up at our Airbnb and took us to Sabang. There, we took a ferry to the island where the Underground River flows. Then we took a rowboat through a small portion of the Underground River.
The tours cost around PHP 1,500 to PHP 2,100 (roughly $30 to $42 USD) per person. Included in the cost is transport to and from the Underground River, a guide, and a buffet lunch. You’ll need to pay a separate environmental fee of around PHP 150 (roughly $3 USD) per person.
Don’t be afraid to find your own Puerto Princesa things to do!
This Puerto Princesa itinerary is just the beginning of your explorations into Puerto Princesa and the island of Palawan. There were a few Puerto Princesa things to do that we didn’t get a chance to experience while we were there.
Irawan Eco Park is a park located 10 km north of Puerto Princesa. There is a zip line and canopy tour within the park. Other popular Puerto Princesa tourist spots include Mitra’s Ranch, as well as swimming at Nagtabon Beach, firefly watching in the mangroves, and snorkeling at Sabang. You can also supplement your Puerto Princesa itinerary with a trip to El Nido, some four or five hours away.
Whatever you choose to do in Puerto Princesa, there are plenty of fun and family-friendly options to choose from. We loved our time in Puerto Princesa, and hope to return some day. It’s a wonderful low key destination, perfect for a multi-day retreat from the hectic pace of life.
Have you visited Puerto Princesa with your kids? What was on your Puerto Princesa itinerary? Share it with me in the comments!
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