Life Lessons · travel

Coron

It’s a typical tradition for most people to make a list of their “resolutions” every New Year. But my husband, Mike, would rather call it “setting goals”, making it sound more like a bucket list that also goes very well with our family core values—one of which is being intentional especially to our kids.

Mike being the master geek, made a board in Trello that caters specifically to our family bucket list. At first, I would make fun of him and his “board” because every time I would day dream about a hobby or a place to visit, he would always say, “let’s put it in Trello!” But now I know setting a clear goal and writing it down (either in your mobile calendar or Starbucks planner) really makes a difference—it makes you ACCOUNTABLE!

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Here’s our Family Bucket List

The best thing about our board is that we try not to set a specific deadline because we don’t like being pressured yet we can see our goal clearly which is: to invest more in our children’s memory bank than splurging on material things.

I have always dreamed about Coron, but I never thought I would be able to afford to visit it until my curiosity lead me to making a travel plan that pushed through just a week ago.

By late March of this year, I started researching about this majestic island that is actually part of a bigger one: Calamian Islands (or Calamianes) located north of Palawan (the province). When I hear people say Coron, I always think it’s just one island and that’s it—but wait, there’s more! Yes, Coron is an island (still different from Coron town) it’s one of THE islands that make up the Calamianes group of islands. Other islands include Busuanga, Culion, and Calauit. On the other hand, Coron town, which is like their central business district, is still part of Busuanga Island.

To further immerse myself in this tour, I’ve studied The Poor Traveler’s Blog about Coron, making sure I take note of their itinerary while doing my own tweaks because I might be traveling with senior citizens, children, and foreigners.

A month later, I have decided we will definitely go to Coron. But there are some underlying questions like, “who are we going with and when are we going?” It has been suggested that if you will travel to Palawan, it’s always best to go with a big group and since the weather in the area is somewhat unpredictable, go during the summer. For us, joining a tour with strangers where we have no control of the itinerary is a no-no. Also, going to the beach during summer time is not ideal because for sure it’s going to be crowded and accommodation will be more expensive.

OVERVIEW OF THE PASSENGERS AND OUR TRIP

I signed up our small family of four for this trip and I needed 6 more to finally go through with it, so I thought of the ones who always get excited about traveling and will never say NO to me. Basically that’s my father, my younger sister, and my mother in law (MIL). My father in law (FIL) will never say no to my MIL so that’s 1+1 for me! For some heartfelt reasons I sent out an invite to my brother, Angelo, who is based in Seattle with his wife Leezel (Angelo is my step brother but I’m not really into dropping labels because to me, family is family regardless if we’re blood related or not— I love you). And for some surprising reason, he said that they were really planning to come home to the Philippines this year they’re just not sure when because of work. OH, IT WAS MEANT TO BE!

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For my brother, my biological family, and my in laws to meet and travel together for the first time was a huge deal for me. Of course the first thing I had to do was to ask everyone if they will be okay with the set up…and the rest is history. I’m really fond of calling this my own version of Modern Family.

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So here’s the passenger line up:

  1. Me
  2. Mike
  3. RyRy (9 y.o)
  4. Miguel (4 y.o)
  5. My dad
  6. My sister
  7. FIL (senior)
  8. MIL (senior)
  9. Brother (foreigner)
  10. Sister in law (SIL) (foreigner)

THAT MAKES TEN!

I knew I had to think of a common ground given the diversity of this group and traveling soon won’t give us enough time to prepare financially and emotionally for this trip. I figured going in October would be my best bet since 3 of us will be celebrating our birthdays in the same month: Me (22nd), FIL (26th), and Angelo (27th). It was the perfect timing— off peak and not so hot. We were also lucky to get a good promo ticket from Cebu Pacific and found a very good resort to stay in.

Sometime in July, everyone had finally booked their flights and accommodations. According to many blogs, a 4D 3N stay is enough. But after our trip, I’d say extend one more day to a week to get the most of this magical place!

DAY 1

We chose an early morning flight to Busuanga (Francisco B. Reyes Airport) to get ahead of Metro Manila traffic and to have more time in the island for our first day. Although the flight from Manila was delayed for an hour, we still got to the resort we were staying in, Sunz En Coron, by around 9 in the morning.

From Busuanga airport, I have arranged for the resort to pick us up and I was happy the driver spelled my name perfectly!

It looked like it just rained but regardless, the scenery that we passed by gave me some Southern America vibes: there were lush of greens, some off roads, plenty of birds that looked like Herons (Tagak in Tagalog), cows and carabaos crossing, and some nipa huts that quickly became a learning opportunity for the kids.

We got to the resort way too early for our check-in time. Nevertheless, we were greeted courteously by the staff with mango juice for the entire party and I greeted them with the question, “where can we have Wilson (our volleyball) inflated?” Apparently, no one owned a pin to inflate the ball in the area and we were so lazy to go to the town proper to look for one so we just let Wilson be for the moment.

On the contrary, we were lucky that someone checked out early and made one room available for occupancy which we used to keep our luggages safe until all the other rooms we booked becomes available.

We wasted no time that day. We decided to have breakfast in the resort since it was still too early to do anything (their serving is huge plus you get access to the salad bar and unlimited juice for free). Suddenly, the rain poured so hard but we kept a positive attitude that it will soon stop and it did! Once it stopped, the kids and half of the adults went to swim in the resort’s very inviting pool while the other half decided to take a good rest to prepare for what’s ahead.

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A little after 1 in the afternoon, we decided to check out Coron’s town proper and agreed to eat at this buzz-of-the-town pizza place called Trattoria Altrove for lunch. Our resort offered us free tricycle rides (good for 5pax) to the town proper but unfortunately, some of the restaurants, including this pizza place closes for siesta and re-opens around 5 pm just in time for dinner. So the pizza will have to wait!

Our tricycle driver, whose name was Miguel, suggested that we eat at Lobster King and offered to service us for the entire day. Because we were too tired and hungry to choose for ourselves, we just gave in to Lobster King which was a terrible choice. Good thing the restaurant has a good view of Mt. Tapyas— our first tour for that day and the excitement made us forget the bad service. If you must know, 90% of the restaurants in Coron is al fresco probably because this side of Palawan is still developing and they get limited supply of electricity so it just adds to the experience!

Tour 1: Mt. Tapyas

After a power nap, everybody got into their hiking mode and rode a tricycle to the foot of Mt. Tapyas. We did this tour on our own as suggested by the blogs and all we had to do is climb the 700+ properly built stairs to catch the sunset overlooking the breathtaking view of Coron island.

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Mt. Tapyas is said to be the 2nd tallest mountain in the town of Coron that we didn’t even consider the fact that it might be a challenging climb for all of us. Well, except for my 4-year-old son who did not stop along the way! “Seven hundred steps should be quick and easy,” they said. It was 700 steps we will all never forget! You may want skip this trip if you have heart problems, asthmatic, or pregnant albeit there are several resting areas as you go up.

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Tour 2: Glittering Fireflies and Plankton

After conquering Mt. Tapyas, we went back to the resort and had a quick change of clothes just in time for our next tour— Glittering Fireflies and Plankton Tour which also included a buffet dinner on this floating restaurant called, Pange’t.

Our tour guide/van driver, Mark picked us up at the resort on time. Of course I had to badger him with my million dollar question, “where can I get Wilson inflated?” He told me there’s a store in the town where I can buy a pin but it closes early and we won’t make it on time. So again, we let Wilson be.

We arrived at the docking area where a couple of speed boats have been waiting for us. One of the things that made this trip more exciting is that we were all first timers and although we’ve read a bunch of blogs, we were clueless on what to expect in each tour.

First order of business was dinner. The food spread was consisted of rice, pork bbq, adobo, pasta, sweet chili crabs (which we enjoyed the most!), watermelon and mango jelly for dessert.

After eating, we headed back to the speed boat and started our way to the mangrove forest inhabited by fireflies. Our tour guide then started giving us a little background about the fireflies. He said that in their native language, they call fireflies pange’t hence the name of the restaurant. We also learned that only male fireflies can actually fly.

Fireflies

The ride going to the mangroves took about 15 minutes and we were cruising on very calm waters yet a little creepy because there was no other light around except the ones on our boat. All I can hear was the voice of our tour guide who kept on making jokes and singing songs. When we got to the mangroves, we didn’t see a lot of fireflies and plankton because our guide said the moon’s reflection is directly towards them and it just rained. Taking photos and videos was challenging too so the experience was really meant for your own eyes to be enjoyed and stored in your memory bank.

After this tour, the driver dropped us off to our resort and we all retired to our rooms.

DAY 2

Prior to this trip, we made sure to book a tour from an agency that will take care of everything we wanted to do in Coron. Although they said it’s easy to hire people and boats once you’re there, I didn’t want to waste any time and effort going around town and haggling for the best price. Again, as I’ve said, it’s recommended to travel with a big group instead of joining one so you can easily ask for discounts, get the tours privately for yourselves, adjust your itinerary according to your group’s capacity, and literally sit back, relax, and be amazed!

Tour 3: Coron Island Tour

I was very surprised to find our tour guide, Mark (not the same one from last night), 30 minutes early for our pick up. Although some of us were still wrapping up at the breakfast table, he was very kind to wait for the entire group to be ready.

A few minutes later, everyone were all set to embark on a 9-hour journey to explore this magical place. We made sure there’s enough drinking water, snacks, and most importantly, Mark finally got Wilson inflated!

As soon as we left the port, our tour guide gave us the details about this tour and made a couple of jokes to lighten up the mood. We then proceeded to our first stop— the enchanting Kayangan Lake.

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Entrance to Kayangan Lake
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FIL and MIL before the hike.

For the second time on this trip, we did not expect the hike to get to the lake! But this was shorter, somewhere around 300 steps, but steeper and slippery so we had to be very careful. Once we’ve reached the summit, there was a view deck that was very mesmerizing. You then had to go down to the other side of the hill to reach the lake. We were very lucky to have arrived first so we got to enjoy the place and take good photos even just for a couple of minutes. Kayangan lake is 70% freshwater and 30% salt water and we even saw needlefish who were not afraid to swim with people.

Just a reminder: always wear your life vest and aqua shoes when swimming in the lakes. It’s for your own safety.

Our second stop was Barracuda Lake. It’s smaller than Kayangan but deeper. Again, we had to climb a few steps to get to the lake but it was definitely worth it because we had the lake to ourselves! Barracuda lake is also a mixture of freshwater and salt water so the kids really enjoyed swimming here.

All the climbing and swimming made us all hungry so our guide took us to Beach 91 where there’s a buffet by the beach waiting for us. The food variety is almost the same as from the floating resto but better tasting.

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Beach 91 is too small to swim in but they offered us free kayaks if we wanted to go to the neighbouring beach where you can peacefully bask under the sun (but you have to bring the kayak back so that’s twice the effort).

Immediately after lunch, we decided to leave for our next destination: Banul Beach.

Mark teased that after swimming/snorkeling and eating, it’s now time for snoring. True enough, Banul beach is a peaceful place where small cottages were available for you to just chill and enjoy the serene surroundings.

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It was starting to get cloudy so we decided to head to our 5th destination, Twin Lagoon. Our guide briefed us that this will be an all-swimming stop. Starting from getting off the boat, we had to swim across a small cave to get to the second lake. We were also warned to only bring dry bags and water proof cameras to keep safe our important things.

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Entrance to Twin Lagoon

The moment we crossed to the inner lake, we were all in awe. If you have seen How To Train Your Dragon, this was it! My kids started imagining that there were sleeping dragons under us. It was bigger than the two other lakes we’ve been to and definitely a lot deeper that we can’t see anything under even if we snorkel. As we swam (and floated), we felt the water temperature constantly change. It is because this lake is also a combination of freshwater and salt water. The freshwater is the cool part and the salt water is the warm part.

The limestones surrounding the lake were extremely splendid! It was even better than the photos I’ve seen online.

When it started to drizzle, we all decided to retreat back to the boat because the water in the lagoon tends to rise and we might have a hard time swimming back. As soon as we all boarded our boat (perfect timing because it started to rain hard), we went ahead  to our final destination (no, not THAT destination!), Siete Pecados.

Siete Pecados in English is translated to Seven Sins. There are 7 mini islands where boats just park in the middle for snorkeling. I had to pass on this one because I still haven’t gained confidence in snorkeling in the open water after some previous incidents. MIL, Leezel, Miguel (who’s asleep) and I stayed on the boat while we watch the others (even my daughter!) get a good view of the corals and fish. Mike said it didn’t compare to what we’ve seen in Anilao so I think it was a good pass for me.

Ending our tour no. 3 with Mark handing us cassava cake slices for snacks. The highlight of our second day were the lagoons and how everyone was so happy even though I can see that we were all tired. But since we finished the tour early, we didn’t end our day just yet. We decided to soak in the resort’s pool for a bit, took a shower and headed to the town proper for dinner at Winnie’s.

Winnie’s is a local restaurant that serves fusion of Filipino and Thai dishes. Although the place is not well-ventilated, their food is good and very affordable.

DAY 3

By now we came to a conclusion that the people in Coron are very warm and welcoming. Every staff in the resort never failed to greet us with a smile. Our boatmen and tour guides were always willing to go the extra mile to make our trip even more amazing!

Tour 4 

It’s my birthday! And our last agenda for this trip was to see the Giraffes and Zebras in Calauit Safari Park that also included checking out a couple of beaches that were highly recommended by some blogs.

It was an early call time for everyone. Our van picked us up at exactly 6 in the morning and the resort made us sandwiches to take along since they knew we won’t be around for breakfast. Harvey is our tour guide for the day alongside Gener who will drive us to Busuanga Island and back to the resort.

Harvey started setting our expectations about our schedule for this tour and to our surprise, we stopped at Malbato Chapel first. Originally, this wasn’t part of our itinerary but maybe since it’s on the way to the breakfast area prepared for us by the travel agency, why not do it?

With all the climbing we did for the the past couple of days, this came to be another shocker for us— the chapel was set on a hill!

Our tour guide told us that what makes Malbato Chapel special and unique among the other churches in Coron is because it was constructed using chunks of stones that made it look like a mosaic piece of art and is overlooking the vast greenery of the island.

After going around the church, the sun was now high up in the sky and it was time for us to proceed with our schedule. On our way down from the hill, the kids, Angelo and Lezeel enjoyed playing with Makahiya plant (Shameplant) we found along the path.

Off we go then to get our breakfast before heading to the Safari Park. We traveled for an hour and a half on a zigzag road that has magnificent Baguio-like view from Coron town to Rio Playa in Busuanga Island. Rio Playa is a beachfront property where the travel agency brings tourists for their meals. It’s also where the vans park while guests go island hopping.

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Rio Playa beach front

As soon as we finished eating, we got back inside the van to head to the dock where we were to ride a boat to Calauit Island. Upon arriving at Calauit Safari Park, we were asked to register at the entrance and immediately started walking on the trail going inside the park. It started drizzling as we were walking but the park offered us umbrellas we can use. We were greeted by Eleazar, one of the caretakers in the park, who indulged us with the history (and the names of every giraffe!) of Calauit.

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Calauit Island is home to several animals such as giraffes, zebras, Calamian deers, some birds, freshwater crocodiles, a couple of monkeys and who knows what else because of the extensive land area of the island. Our tour guide confessed that some animals would rather stay in the inmost part of the sanctuary (must be introverts) than be fed by the tourists. He said that sometime in 1970s, Kenya was facing war and drought that their president asked for the help of other countries to save the African wildlife. President Marcos responded to this crisis therefore migrating some of the animals to the Philippines. Ever since, Calauit Island has been especially preserved for them.

I marveled at what I saw and the fact that you can feed the giraffes and pet (you can only pet Alfaro, the 10-month old giraffe) one, the experience wa incomparable. The trekking and real life encounter with the animals were good for sensory development of the kids. They even carried some turtles!

Overall, never skip this trip when you visit Palawan.

It was really hard to leave the giraffes but our tour  had to continue. After lunch, we took a boat to Pamalican Island (the other Pamalican not to be confused with Amanpulo). The island is pretty small that you can actually go around it. But we didn’t because of the dark clouds, some thunder and lightning that was slowly approaching us. So we all decided to just take a quick dip and head to our last stop for the day and our last tour for this trip.

Despite the furious current and some saltwater splashing, our boat made it to Black Island.

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The limestones were obviously darker than what we’ve seen and Harvey told us the island is actually a bat cave and at night, bats would cover the entire rock formation thus calling it Black Island. But ever since the people amassed the island, the bats were disrupted and moved somewhere else. There’s also a shipwreck just near the shore from the Japanese occupation that housed several fishes and corals.

We skipped the cave tour since most of us aren’t fond of it and we were really excited to finally play with Wilson. At the end of the beach there was an empty volleyball court and a tree full of wasps that when Mike tried to reach for Wilson when it got stuck, he got stung and decided not to play anymore! To avoid any more injuries, Harvey helped us save Wilson from the tree and drew lines for a makeshift court instead. I really loved our tour guides!

Sunset was fast approaching and sadly we had to leave the magnificent Black Island. I wished we could have stayed an entire day but then again, all the other tours are as worth it as this.

The waters have calmed down on our way back to Rio Playa where a scrumptious kakanin was waiting for us. During our boat ride, the fam (except me!) saw a Dugong emerge from the waters.

The ride back to the resort took longer than expected probably because it was super dark and our driver slowed down to avoid any accident.

We got to Coron Town around 7:30 in the evening and just decided to take a quick shower so we can finally try Trattoria Altrove.

The restaurant ambiance was awesome. You will be asked to leave your footwear by the door and walk barefoot on their shiny, clean flooring (even in their bathroom). The food was even better. We lavished ourselves with servings of pizza and pasta… after all, we had A DAY!

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At Trattoria Altrove Coron for our last dinner in the island

DAY 4

Day 4, our departure day– the hardest day of all. We had to say goodbye to this vacation and I had to bid farewell to my brother and SIL who were leaving straight for Seattle. The entire fam still managed to have breakfast together and take a dip in the pool for the last time until everyone had to fly back home. Sad face!

If there’s anything I learned from this trip, it’s these things:

  1. If you set a goal and work hard for it, anything is possible!
  2. If you travel with the right people, everyone will be happy!
  3. We are very lucky to be living in a tropical country where you can go to the beach all year round!
  4. When visiting another place, always remember that you are a tourist. Respect the wildlife, it’s their home not yours.
  5. Teach your kids to be one with nature.
  6. Lastly, the Philippines is such a beauty!

As I end, I’d like to share with you the itinerary and costing I’ve made for a 3N4D trip and some notes which you might find helpful:

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We booked our tours (except Mt. Tapyas) through Calamian Travel and Tours and they did not disappoint! What’s included in their package are the following:

  • Air-conditioned van land tour transfers (from resort to the port/s)
  • Tourist boat
  • Life vests
  • Buffet picnic lunch and snacks and breakfast during Calauit Tour
  • All permits & entrance fees
  • Services of tour guide
  • Cottage rentals
  • Government taxes

Our resort  was just 5 minutes away from the town proper which also gave us a peaceful and quiet stay. On the other hand, Each tricycle ride costs P15/head to and from Coron town proper. You can also check out Sunz En Coron in Agoda.com for better deals.

Moreover, I suggest you prepare your body ahead of time by exercising because touring Coron requires a lot of physical effort. I wouldn’t also recommend bringing babies or young children to this trip unless you are really outdoorsy people.

We really had an amazing time exploring Coron and sitting here in this polluted and congested Metro makes me really miss the island. And if ever you’re visiting soon, I hope this post helped you in any way. Enjoy the beauty of this place but just make sure to leave it the same way you found it.

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