Anyway, we were very excited to see this natural wonder and to know if Puerto Princesa would topple Coron in the top spot of our places-to-see list. More after the jump.
Day 1: Arrival + Half-day City Tour
Not included in the city tour.
10min. walk from Kookaburra Lodge.
Entrance Fee: P10.00
Recommended activities: Rent a cottage, eat lunch, swim the whole day (if it's not low tide!)
What I think: Sand is white but not that fine.
Start of city tour.
What I think: Nothing special about the architecture but it has its own share of glorious history.
30 to 45 minutes away from the city proper via private van.
Tours are done by batches. One batch = 30 to 50 pax.
Photo op fee with a 6-year old croc: P30.00/pax
What I think: The center is very poorly maintained :( Everything seems rusty and old. I hope they can raise funds to improve the facilities of the center. There's also a mini zoo at the back of the crocodile cages but not so much to see there as well. It's as if the animals are not well taken care of. I think Mayor Hagedorn should focus more on developing and promoting the other side of Puerto Princesa other than the Underground River.
20 minutes away from the city proper.
Recommended activities: try their pastries and other food offered in the cafeteria.
What I think: It's undoubtedly one of the more urbanized places in Puerto Princesa in terms of architecture and landscaping but not really a must-see, in my honest opinion.
Day 2: The Puerto Princesa Underground River Tour
What I think: Sabang is the best beach in Puerto Princesa, in my opinion. The Underground River, well, it's okay. I wasn't really amazed by it. After the 45-min tour inside the underground river, I thought "So, that's it?" I was personally expecting something more. Possible factors that may have affected my judgment of the PPUR:
1. Long waiting time in Sabang port.
2. It was hella noisy inside the river. There are at least 5 boats inside the cave so we could hear several boatmen during the trip. Boatmen also serve as tour guides.
3. We were grouped with people who were way older than us. They were either too noisy or too quiet during the tour.
Day 3: Honda Bay Island Hopping Tour
Just 15-20 minutes away from the port, Pamabato Reef is the first site we visited for our Honda Bay Island Hopping tour. It is a protected sanctuary of colorful coral reefs, variety of fish, and other sea animals (and dead corals on the side). My snorkeling experience there was good but was cut short because the rest of the group wanted to proceed to the next destinations already. I wanted to stay a lot longer but everyone was already waiting in the boat.
Not part of the tour. We wanted to stop by the island but we had to pay an entrance fee of P200/pax. I wouldn't mind paying the extra amount but our tour guide obviously didn't want us to go there. I looked at the other people in our group and was hoping for them to support us but nobody seemed interested to join us.
Don't be afraid of the name, the island is just named like that because of its shape. Sand is white but not very fine. There are stores in the island that sell food and drinks. Recommended activities: swimming and sunbathing.
This is where we ate lunch. Recommended activities: swimming, snorkeling, fish feeding, sunbathing and getting a massage for P300/pax/hour.
The thing about most Puerto Princesa tours is that they will never push through unless the minumum number of people in the group is met. I think minimum number is 10pax. In other words, they will maximize the space in the van and boat. So if you're just a very small group, say for example 2-4 pax, chances are you're gonna go around Puerto Princesa with strangers just so the tour operators could fill the whole van. One van can fit 16 people so tour operators will do everything to maximize that. If you don't think that's a problem, then good for you. But that ain't my cup of tea :(
I wish we skipped the city tour, in all honesty. If you're like me who likes to swim, snorkel and sunbathe a lot, then you can probably skip the city tour. The thing is, we were the only one in our group who spent a lot of time in the waters. Apparently, there are people who would go to the beach but are afraid to get darker. In my head, that's categorized under "WTF" or "SMH."
So the big question is, which is better, Puerto Princesa or Coron? My [biased] answer is Coron all the way! My reasons:
1. Coron's islands and snorkeling sites are faaaaaar better than Puerto Princesa's.
2. Puerto Princesa's tour destinations are too crowded for my liking.
3. Limited number of tourist spots in Puerto Princesa. If not for the long land transfers and waiting time, you can actually explore the tourist destinations in 2 days. While in Coron, a week may seem very short for all the beautiful spots to explore.
4. You can customize your Coron tour regardless of the number of people in your group. You don't have to worry about sharing the van or boat with strangers, unless that's your personal choice.
Did I enjoy our Puerto Princesa tour? I still did. A lot of people will enjoy what Puerto Princesa offers but it was just inevitable for me to compare PP and Coron. Budget-wise, Puerto Princesa can be lighter on the pocket. Case in point: we only spent P10,000 each for a 4D/3N tour for 2 pax, while we spent P13,000 each for a 5D/4N Coron trip for 5pax. But in general, Coron is still a lot better than PP and it is worth every penny.
Questions about my Puerto Princesa experience? Don't hesitate to ask them on the comments section :)