Why the Filipino Islands of Coron Should be Your Next Holiday

Hot springs, tropical safaris, and snorkelling.  
Coron Philippines
The archipelago of Coron has many islands, small and large. For panoramic views of its turquoise waters, hike up one of the trails to Kayangan Lake. Photo: Kamakshi Ayyar

The Coron cluster of islands is home to some of the brightest seas, skies and corals I’ve ever seen. Blazing blue waters meet a flashy white sky at the horizon, as jewel-toned fish swim through neon corals. The island cluster is part of the western arm of the Filipino archipelago. Coron is actually the name of a municipality on the largest island within the cluster, but it is so popular that people generally use its name to refer to the entire collection of isles. It has hot springs, wildlife safaris and clear waters that are perfect for diving and snorkelling—and it’s only a 45-minute flight from Manila, the capital of the Philippines.

Island-Hop Around Coron

Coron’s islands are not far apart, and the best way to explore them and their swarming reefs is to hire a boat for the day. My ocean adventure began with a snorkelling trip to the corals of Siete Pecados Marine Park, where I saw schools of tiny silver fish, deep purple clams that slammed shut when I got too close, and wiry flute fish that insisted on hurtling headlong into my goggles trying to push me out of the way. I remember being momentarily stunned when I first put my head underwater—it was like a box of Skittles had exploded, pulsating with colour. Coral ranging from blue to baby pink and gray fanned across the reef, creating a multi-coloured carpet.

A 15-minute boat ride away, are the Twin Lagoons of Coron. Their jade waters, fringed by looming limestone rock formations are perfect for canoeing or a lazy afternoon swim. Follow it up with a hearty Filipino lunch—usually rice, seafood curry, and fruit—at a beach shack on any of the islands (you’ll have to ask the guide to pre-arrange lunch).

Work off the meal with a visit to Kayangan Lake on the other side of Coron. Climb roughly 300 uneven steps cut into the hill and descend the same number, to reach what is officially the cleanest inland body of water in the country. The trek is a little challenging but the serene, blue-green lake is well worth all that sweat. Take a swim, and look out for tiny black-and-purple snails that dot the fortress-like rock formations underwater.

Small boats, locally called “bancas” are always present at the Coron island jetty for island-hopping. Rates are by the hour, and start at around PHP 100/₹140 per person; entire boats can also be hired.

Hike Up Mt. Tapyas and Soak in the Maquinit Hot Springs

To truly appreciate the natural beauty of Coron, find higher ground. The highest point in the island cluster is the 210m-high Mount Tapyas in Coron municipality; it has a viewing deck that offers unparalleled 360°-views stretching to the horizon. It’s easy to identify the summit from anywhere—there’s a giant white cross at the top. As with Kayangan Lake, visitors have to work for the view. The road up to Mount Tapyas has just over 700 steps, but they are evenly laid out. It’s best to make your way to the top in time for a spectacular Filipino sunset.

A 20-minute car ride from Mount Tapyas is the Maquinit Hot Springs, perfect to soak muscles sore from climbing. The springs are located on Busuanga’s southern coast, and sit in a complex of four multi-level pools near the sea. Maquinit is one of the few saltwater hot springs in the world and the therapeutic waters in its rock-hewn pools can get up to around 40°C. The springs are heated by a nearby volcano. After a mineral-rich soak, walk down a wooden path through mangroves to swig beer on a tiny boardwalk beside the sea.

There is no entry fee for Mt. Tapyas. Hiking up to the top is discouraged after dark. The Maquinit Hot Springs are open from 6a.m. to 10p.m.; entry is allowed until 8p.m; +63- 9183444633; PHP 200/₹280 for adults; PHP75/₹105 for children between 5-10 years; free entry for children below 5. A small counter sells drinks and snacks, but guests can carry their own food.

Islands Philippines

Some of Coron’s islands have soaring limestone towers and are uninhibited by humans; others have lush forest with small settlements and breathtaking views. Photo: Doun/Flickr/Creative Commons (http://bit.ly/1jxQJMa)

Tropical Safari in Calauit

For those who prefer wildlife with legs over fins, head to Calauit on the northern tip of Busuanga. The Calauit Safari Park—set up in 1976 in response to an appeal from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature to protect Africa’s endangered wildlife—is home to giraffes, impala, and zebras as well as endemic species such as the Palawan bear cat and scaly anteater. Try your luck at spotting them on a jeep safari. There’s also a chance to feed the giraffes—those unbelievably long tongues are surprisingly bristly! Calauit is far removed from most other attractions, so set aside a day to visit. Once you’ve had your fill of the grassland, cool off by snorkelling in the surrounding reefs that are home to dugongs and sea turtles.

The Calauit Safari Park is open from 7 a.m. – 3 p.m.; PHP400/₹555 for adults; children between 6-9 years PHP200/₹280;, additional charges for use of cars; bookings can be done through local resorts and tour operators for daily safaris.

The Guide

Getting There
Francisco B. Reyes Airport in Busuanga is the gateway to the Coron islands. It is a 45-minute flight from Manila, the capital of the Philippines.

Season
Temperatures in the Philippines usually hover in the range of 25-32°C. The islands experience the monsoon between June to October, with frequent showers. April and May are the hotter months, though it is warm throughout the year. The weather is most pleasant between November and February, which is also peak tourist season.

Stay
There are many hotel options in Coron that range from budget hostels to family-friendly beach resorts to luxurious sea-facing properties. Club Paradise Resort is a small, luxury eco-resort situated on its own island. It has solar-powered heaters and showers that use  salt water. Laze on the island’s pristine beaches or scuba dive around the island to see turtles and other marine life in its home reef. (+63 2 719 6971; clubparadisepalawan.com; doubles from PHP11,600/₹16,075; prices vary by season).

Visas
Indian passport holders with valid American, Japanese, Australian, Canadian, Schengen, Singaporean, or UK visas can gain visa-free entry to the Philippines. Others must apply for a visa in person or through a representative at the Philippines Embassy in New Delhi (011-26110152; newdelhipe.dfa.gov.ph) or consular centres in Chennai, Mumbai, or Kolkata. Visa application forms and a list of required paperwork is available on the website. A 14-day tourist visa costs ₹2,840 and applications must be submitted two weeks before the date of travel though it is usually issued much sooner.

  • http://webdemo.letschbang.co.in/natgeo/wp-content/themes/natgeo-theme/images/circle.jpg

    Kamakshi Ayyar is Features Writer on National Geographic Traveller India's web team. She's partial to places by the sea and desserts in all forms. When she isn't raving about food, she's usually rambling on about the latest cosmic mysteries. She tweets as @kamakshi138.

Psst. Want a weekly dose of travel inspiration in your inbox?