Discovering the Philippines’ enchanting Coron Islands

TO say the Coron Islands in northern Palawan are paradise  is almost an understatement – they are simply magical and enchanting.

The crystal clear waters are so inviting you will want to jump in, even if you do not know how to swim.

Composed of 180 islands, Coron is the gateway to the 680-island Calamianes Group of Islands in northern Palawan.  The Philippines has 7,107 islands, 1,780 of them are in Palawan.

The signature image of Coron Islands at the Kayangan Cove. Pic: Cocoy Sexcion.

I swear I never have seen so many limestone rock formations majestically rising from  the sea. They are so close to each other you will get lost in the maze of these islands.  Their razor sharp edges are dotted with plants and shrubs and covered with sturdy trees that thrive on these rocks.  Take away the plants and trees and imagine magnetite on a piece of bond paper propped up by a magnet from below. That is how the islands in Coron were formed by nature over millions of years.

The lagoons that dot the Coron Islands are as pristine and refreshing as they come.  The Twin Lagoons are among the most accessible – just 20-minute ride across the main island of Busuanga in the town of Coron. In the middle of some of these islands are lakes accessible only by climbing man-made rock stairs.  Not far from Twin Lagoon is Barracuda Lake, which is still unspoiled by the rapidly developing town of Coron.  It flushes out to Kayangan Lagoon and if you are a technical diver, you can dive your way out from Barracuda Lake to Kayangan and see the same limestone rock formations buried underwater.

The limestone rock formations of the islands have made Coron so unique in the Philippines.FOTOS BY EDWIN ESPEJO

Kayangan is a Cuyonin term which means “the entrance to the 13 lakes of Coron Island” (which should not be mistaken for Coron town, one of the two towns in the main island Busuanga). Tourists have access to only two – Kayangan and Barracuda – of the 13 lakes, which are all connected underwater.

Kayangan Lagoon is by far the most photographed among Coron’s many attractions.  A climb of 100 steps brings you to the viewing deck from where you can take some ‘selfies’ or capture the town’s most iconic image.  From there, you go down to the hidden lake.

You can end your first day in Maquinit Hot Spring, reputedly one of just two saltwater hot springs in the world.  Take a dip and enjoy nature’s mineral-rich steam bath.

A dip at the Maquinit Hot Spring is reinvigorating. Pic: Edwin Espejo.

Behind the rock wall is the twin of this lagoon. The two works of wonder aptly called Twin Lagoon. Pic: Cocoy Sexcion.

And you are just getting started.

You can start Day 2 with a dawn climb of the 750-step Mt Tapyas where a large cross rises above its viewing deck.  Watch the morning mists disappear as the sun rises.  You can then go straight to the fish section at the public market and ogle the freshest catch of the day being landed right at the very steps of the market stalls.  Go around and explore the rolling narrow streets of Coron downtown area and remember where to shop when it is time to go home.

But why go home when there are still a lot to see in the islands?

For a minimum fare of P2,000 (USD$45) boat ride, one can have a day tour of many of the Corons’ best known secrets.

For those who want more privacy, Coron also has numerous island resorts or you can stay in some posh hotels in the main island and watch the horizon turns into crimson red as the sun disappears among the many islands on a clear evening.  Asia Grand View has a rooftop viewing deck that allows one to watch hawks and eagles dive for their late afternoon meals while waiting for the sunset.

Coron is an Eden in the middle of blue waters. Pic: Cocoy Sexcion.

Then you can dive among the dozens of shipwrecks lying in the bottom of Coron’s blue waters and be regaled by stories from professional and technical divers in the evening at bayside Seadive Resort bar, one of the oldest resto bars in the island frequented by tourists.

For everybody out there for whom money is no object, you could pamper yourself at Two Seasons Coron, an island resort where a night’s stay costs US$1,000+++.  Or you can hire a speed boat and tour the world renowned El Nido resort islands, some six hours away from Coron.

Coron can be reached through daily flights from Manila and Cebu.  Connecting flights from Mindanao and the rest of Visayas are also available in Cebu.  Shuttle vans await tourists and travellers at the Busuanga airport, for a fee of P150.00 (US$33.40) per person.

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