Coron, Philippines

Our time in Coron started with a ball of stress, but this melted away to reveal a tiny island of stunning beauty, and probably one of our favourite places overall in the Philippines, as it’s less-visited than its neighbour Palawan, meaning the same (if not better) archipelagic views, but a fraction of the people.

So first, the stress. I will summarise, as it’s probably not that interesting. Firstly, the journey was long from North Luzon, and we arrived very sleep deprived after manically journeying via night bus, a hot walk through Manilla, and an overnight ferry. Secondly, Coron is TINY and only has three ATMs, all of which rejected our cards, leaving us moneyless and considering Western Union until Sam found an old Visa card that saved us! Don’t even bother with Mastercard, as it probably won’t work. Thirdly, all of this stressfulness happened on my birthday, which we promptly decided to move to the next day.

There were some up-points to our journey: despite the craziness of Manilla, we found the people there to be absolutely amazing. When we were sweating our way across a bridge there, construction workers would move their equipment to help us by, and stop to say good morning! In fact, most people said good morning to us – probably an oddity, walking across the city rather than taking a cab to avoid being ripped off! We saw whole displaced families living in the park on rubber mats, but everyone seemed so happy. We ate lunch in a shanty town and everyone had a double-take expression but were just so hospitable.

And the ferry – 2Go – was super luxurious! We slept in comfy bunks, got a free meat and rice dinner, there was a rooftop restaurant, a lounge with plazma TVs, and even more excitedly – CHRISTMAS TREES! We’d chosen the Philippines for Christmas deliberately because it’s so Catholic and we wanted a place with a Christmassy buzz, and boy did we get it! It was late November and we’d already seen trees everywhere, then that evening the staff on the ferry even treated us to some caroling, dancing around the ferry singing with Santa hats on! My heart exploded a little with festive joy.

So, onto Coron itself. Coron is famous for its incredible beaches, lagoons and karst landscape. However the main town, on Busuanga Island, is only surrounded by a rocky coast (no beaches), so all of the sight-seeing around Coron Island is done by private boat or tour. We spent the first couple of days bumming around town, eating delicious street-stall dim sum and drinking rum on our hostel terrace – built on a wooden jetty that jutted out into the sea with great sunset views.

The second day was my ‘birthday’ – moved from stressful day 1 – and Sam treated me to a breakfast of tasty little bakery cakes with birthday candle, a cute in-joke filled card (customary) and the gift I had been (unsubtly) hinting for – a HUGE 80s-style head torch! Given that electricity brownouts are pretty common in the Philippines, it seemed like a practical (and obvs way cool), fitting gift. And I got to wear my vintage shop finds from The Cordillera too! We chilled on my birthday, had a nice lunch, and found a cafe with wifi (after days without!) so I could read my birthday messages from Facebook, which made me feel pretty emotional and gooey! In the afternoon and evening, we drank rum and grazed on street food around the dock.

The next day we got our asses in gear and finally signed onto a boat tour of Coron Island. After much researching, we opted for ‘Tour B’ which included a good mix of lagoons, snorkelling and beaches. The atmosphere on the boat was really great and everyone was very chatty and fun, which led to a really great day. The places we visited, the guide and the food were all incredible, and the day was fantastic value too at about ten quid! In retrospect, I wish we’d stayed longer and tried all the tours, as it was a really special day.

We visited the ‘Twin lagoons’ – incredible clear turquoise karst lagoons, where you swim between the two – the second being hidden away from all the boats, feeling really secluded. We did some amazing snorkelling at Coral Reef, where we saw the most incredible selection of tropical fish I’d seen to date – colours, sizes and species more varied than anything I’d seen before, and crystal clear waters. We also snorkelled Skeleton Wreck, a WW2 shipreck full of marine life; and finally crystal clear Barracuda Lake.

We stopped for lunch – an amazing array of fresh fish in ginger, BBQ pork, eggplant, rice, veggies – on Smith Beach, a tiny stretch of stunning white sand and warm clear sea where you could even see huge blue starfish on the ocean floor just steps from the sand.

Inspired by the delicious food, we ate dinner at a market on the port, where I had some mad-good squid in a salty sauce and rice, for about a pound. Filipino food is generally pretty plain (see Food Blog!) but the abundance of coast means the seafood there is consistently good, and always incredibly fresh.

Our hostel on Coron – Seaview – was owned by a very sweet Filipino couple, and we were kept up to date with what they were up to – like on Sunday they went to church in the morning (we heard the subsequent gospel singing!) and we’d be left to look after the hostel while they were gone. So sweet, and trusting!

We’d also toyed with the idea of diving on Coron as it’s famous for its WW2 wreck diving, but after chatting to a few dive shops it was clear that our Open Water wouldn’t allow us to go deep enough to truly explore the wrecks, and at 40 quid per dive, we didn’t fancy taking the punt in case it was disappointing. We’d heard from others that they’ll let you go deeper than you’re qualified for, but as it would be our first dive after getting our certification, we didn’t want to push too far outside our limits.

So, hopping across the strait on an 8-hour boat, we soon reached much more famous Palawan, where we based ourselves in lovely El Nido…