Located in the western Philippines this archipelago is stunning both above and below the water. We have visited a few times seeking out a range of destinations, including the exclusivity of private island resorts, to the dramatic limestone cliffs of El Nido and the wreck diving of Coron Bay.
The Palawan archipelago consists of 1,780 islands stretching from Borneo in the southwest to Mindoro Island in the northeast. Known as the 'Last Ecological Frontier of the Philippines', Palawan is covered in virgin forest and its irregular coastline resembles the staggering scenery of Vietnam's Halong Bay, but perhaps 30 years ago before all the tourists. Due to having a small population, its distance from other islands and the rugged landscape, Palawan has managed to remain largely pristine and this, together with its unique flora and fauna, makes it one of the real treasures of the Philippines.
Fringed by coral reefs, the Palawan archipelago makes for a great diving and snorkelling destination. El Nido, located at the northern tip of Palawan island, offers over 20 dive sites where you can expect to see six or more species of nudibranch on one dive - it is all about the macro (small stuff) here! Alongside this, large shoals of snapper can often be seen hovering above the healthy reefs, as well as a ribbon eel poking out from the reef.
Heading further out into the Sulu Sea to the Cuyo area, the island of Pamalican offers some great diving. Sloping sandy bottoms are inspected by turtles that are so large they are almost human-sized, by sting-rays that disappear into the sand as you move closer and even the odd eagle ray that seem particularly unfazed by divers. Huge schools of jack and other reef fish are often seen, just to add the cherry on top. There are not a huge amount of dive sites here, but certainly enough to keep you going for a week.
In the north, the waters surrounding Coron Island add yet more variety to the diving in the Palawan archipelago. There is some fascinating wreck diving as a result of the air raids in WWII, with 11 vessels sitting on the sandy bottom; often dubbed a mini Chuuk Lagoon. Other exciting dives include Barracuda lake which you reach by clambering over limestone rocks: an extraordinary dive with crystal clear waters where the temperature increases significantly as you go down and there is supposedly a barracuda in there. There is also Gunther's Cathedral, a very special dive that can only be done when the tide is exactly right. We know Gunther himself who has been out there for 20 years, so just ask for more information!
Although the diving is a draw in Palawan, there is also much, much more to do. To name a few: hiking through forests to observe the incredible biodiversity, the longest navigable underground river in Puerto Princessa and the stunning aquamarine lagoons of El Nido. This is the perfect destination for couples or families with diver and non-divers.