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The Ultimate Guide to the Islands in Coron
Coron is an ever-expanding tourist destination that’s found somewhere in the ocean between Palawan and Luzon and it’s becoming increasingly popular amongst travellers because, to put it bluntly, the islands in Coron are quite simply outstanding.
With crystal clear water, colourful coral and a diversity of marine life that can best most other destinations in the Philippines, the islands in Coron make for a great travel experience. Although it’s nowhere near Boracay standards -yet – Coron is becoming busier and busier, year after year, so to help you to get off the beaten track and to make the most of your trip, here’s my guide to the best things to do in Coron.
A Brief History of the Islands in Coron
Not many travellers will visit Coron for the history. In fact, in my experience, not many travellers visit anywhere in the Philippines for the history. Despite the vast wealth of historical sites and the diverse legacy of centuries of colonial rule by different powers, this isn’t a side of the country that’s ever advertised by the tourism board. People are here for the sun, the sea and the sand. And why not, those elements of the Philippines are undoubtedly fantastic. But under the white sands and swaying palms, there’s a unique and hidden history that’s waiting to be uncovered. Here’s a brief history of Coron to get you started.
The original inhabitants of Coron and the wider Calamianes Islands that the region is a part of, are the Tagbanua people, who still hold traditional ownership over many of the islands, alongside other local people such as the Calmiananen and Cuyonon. The first Spanish settlers to arrive began to colonise the islands in the 1670’s, and along with the Spanish, groups from other islands in the Philippines began to populate the region. Once the Spanish left, the Americans arrived in the 1890’s and began their occupation of the islands, before they were forced out in World War II by the Japanese.
World War II came again to Coron when an Allied attack sunk many Japanese gunboats and vessels around the islands in 1944, many of which are now used as dive sites by tourists. The Americans forced the Japanese out again in early 1945 and a few years later, the Philippines achieved independence. The towns in Coron began to expand after the war, with immigration from other areas, and then, in recent years, tourism has begun to really kick off here. The challenges posed to locals now are ensuring that tourism becomes responsible and that mass tourism doesn’t ruin either the nature or the lives of the locals who call this beautiful place home.
Where is Coron?
The municipality of Coron is an area that encompasses several of the northern Calamianes Islands in the South China Sea. The main islands in Coron are Coron Island and the eastern half of Busuanga Island. In terms of tourism, most travellers see the rest of Busuanga Island and the many other islands in the Northern Calamianes as part of ‘Coron’, for practical travel purposes. The main hub for tourism is Coron Town, which confusingly is not on Coron Island, but in Busuanga. Busuanga is the largest island in the region, and the transport hub.
The Best Things To Do In Coron
Scroll down past this guide on the best things to do in Coron for a comprehensive travel guide to the region, including practical travel advice and suggestions for accommodation in Coron.
Coron Island is, of course, the most famous island in the region. It’s located opposite Coron Town and is where most of the region’s iconic natural attractions are found. Coron Island is under the protection of the local Tagbanua and they dictate which areas are open to tourists. Most of their sacred sites are still off limits, but despite this, there is an incredible wealth of natural beauty that they do allow tourists to see. It’s these attractions that have made Coron such a famous destination. It’s the Tagbanua who keep the tourist sites clean, so respect their home and be tidy when you visit Coron. Here are the best things to do in Coron Island.
Kayangan Lake is the most famous destination in Coron. This majestic, freshwater lake is found hidden away behind spectacular limestone karst rocks. First, climb up the steep steps that lead over the rocks to the rustic wooden platform that runs around the lake. Next, jump right on in, experiencing the refreshing, clean and unusually clear water.
When you see a picture of Coron, it’s probably a picture of Coron Bay. This is the natural harbour that boats dock at to reach Kayanagan Lake. The scenery is absolutely outstanding and on your way over the rocks to reach the lake, make sure that you turn around to enjoy the best view in Coron.
The Twin Lagoons are one of the best things to see in Coron. Imagine towering limestone cliffs separating beautifully clear lagoons from one another. That’s Twin Lagoons. You can even swim under the rocks, to travel between both of the lagoons, or you can just climb over. Either way, it’s a spectacular place to visit.
Barracuda Lake is another of Coron Island’s many hidden lakes. This freshwater area is unusual because of the marked thermoclines that are found in the water. Swim down and you will suddenly feel a sharp temperature change as the water goes from cold to warm. Due to its unusual underwater features, Barracuda Lake is a firm favourite amongst snorkellers and divers – despite the fact that there are not actually many barracuda or much of any other marine life to be found here.
CYC stands for ‘Coron Youth Club’ and this beach is one of the best in the region. Presumably, it was meant to be a playground for the youngsters of Coron, but these days it’s a favourite spot for travellers to relax during their island hopping in Coron. Sit back on the gorgeous white sands or go snorkelling in the clear, shallow waters around the beach.
The Skeleton Wreck is one of the best snorkelling spots found by Coron Island. This wreck can be reached on the standard day tours from Coron Town and has become a popular place to visit, because not only is it easy to reach, but it sits in just a few metres of water. With a deep breath and a pair of flippers, you can swim right down through the hull of this sunken ship.
Siete Pecados is another fantastic snorkelling spot, and one of the best places to visit in Coron. Here you will find spectacular, colourful coral waiting in the water off the coast. Bring a mask and snorkel and enjoy the marine life.
Busuanga is the largest island in the Coron region. This is where you will find Coron Town, the harbour, the airport and a few other attractions too. The vast majority of accommodation is located here, as are all the tour companies and restaurants. The easiest way to explore Busuanga is to hire a tricycle or a moped for the day and to get exploring. Here are the best sights to see.
As soon as you near Coron Town you will notice the enormous Hollywood-style ‘Coron’ sign that’s been built on a hilltop. This is Mount Tapyas, one of the highest points in the otherwise flat area. It stands at 210 metres tall and over 700 concrete steps lead to the summit. It’s the perfect place for sunset and for far-reaching vistas over the islands in Coron.
Maquinit Hot Springs
Visiting the Maquinit Hot Springs is one of the more unusual things to do in Coron. These hot springs are found surrounded by mangrove swamps on the coast of Busuanga and they make for a great way to end the day after island hopping in Coron. You can buy beers, sit back in the hot water – it’s really hot! – and enjoy the sunset.
If climbing Mount Tapyas wasn’t enough for you, then a hike to the summit of Mount Darala might well be. This is the highest point in Coron and it’s a point that few travellers reach, after all, who comes to Coron to hike? Those that do make it, however, are rewarded with the best views across the islands in Coron and although it’s a tough walk, it’s worth it for the vistas.
Pass Island is one of Coron’s most incredible destinations. This remote island is a tropical paradise. It’s like a scene from Castaway. Pristine white sands are fringed by swaying palm trees, while in the clear, shallow waters that surround the beach you can find colourful coral and an abundance of marine life. It’s quite far out from Coron Town but it’s worth the early start to see this unique island. Found in the northern areas, you will need to arrange a boat tour to reach Pass Island. If you fancy, you can even stay overnight in one of the rustic bamboo huts.
Black Island is even more remote than Pass Island. It’s found further north, one of the last islands in the Calamianes chain, and it’s a beautiful, rugged place to visit. Fewer tourists make it this far out, but those that do will find soaring black, limestone rocks rising from the ocean. The sand is deep and soft, while there is even a skeleton shipwreck that’s found in just a few metres of water right off the coast. It’s perfect for snorkelling. You can combine a day trip to Black Island with a stop at Pass Island. Both destinations make for a more unusual island hopping Coron experience.
Not too many tourists ever make it to Culion Island, despite the fact that you can actually see this large island from Coron Town. It doesn’t have the same fame and appeal as Coron Island does and it’s likely that you would need to arrange a private tour to explore the sights here. There are some wonderful hidden beaches, however, and some excellent snorkelling, while the small town of Culion is a strangely interesting place. It used to be a former leper colony, but don’t let that stop you visiting this remote and authentic destination.
Activities to do in Coron
Just seeing the beautiful sights while island hopping in Coron may not be enough for you though when you visit Coron, so for the more adventurous travellers here are a few great activities to experience in the region.
With so many sunken ships, Coron is the perfect place for wreck diving. While you can snorkel a few of the better-known locations, to really experience the eery underwater shipwrecks it’s best to go diving. The local dive operators run trips out to the more remote Japanese shipwrecks which were sunk during World War II, many of which are now teeming with a diverse array of marine life.
Red Carabao Tours
Red Carabao is a relatively new tour company that works with the local Tagbanua people to promote responsible tourism in Coron. These tours are completely unlike the standard island hopping Coron trips that most companies run because on Red Carabao tours you are able to meet with the locals who actually still live in the region and find out more about their unique customs and way of life. It’s a side of Coron that few travellers get to see and it’s well worth joining a tour to find out more.
Stand Up Paddle Boarding
Stand Up Paddle Boarding tours are a great alternative to island hopping in a motorboat. Take to the calm waters and paddle from beach to beach along Coron Island, for a scenic experience that will leave you in complete awe of the surrounding scenery. SUP Central Tours are the original paddle boarding guides in Coron and they know the most secluded spots to visit too.
Locations of the Islands in Coron and the Best Things to do in Coron
How to Travel to the Islands in Coron
There is no international airport in Coron, however, there are regular domestic flight connections to both Manila and Cebu. These short flights are run by Cebu Pacific, Philippines Airlines and SkyJet and it’s easy to book online. In high season, it’s best to book in advance as these flights can sell out. There are many international flights into both Manila and Coron from across the world. Check Skyscanner for options.
Coron Airport is located in Busuanga, and from here to Coron Town is a journey of around 45 minutes. There are many shuttle buses waiting outside the arrivals who take travellers to the town for 150 PHP per person, and they will drop you at your hotel.
If you prefer to travel slow, then the ferry company 2Go Travel run semi-regular trips from Manila to Coron and Coron to Manila. This can be unpredictable as it’s very weather dependent and it’s easy for the schedule to be changed last minute, so ensure you have plenty of flexibility. It’s a cost-efficient way to travel through and once you are on your way it’s a journey that usually lasts around 14 hours, overnight.
Many travellers also arrive by boat from El Nido, which is a popular destination at the far northern end of Palawan. There are several different companies offering kinds of boats, from the faster but smaller local boats to the slow ferries. Either way, be prepared with food and drink as it’s not a quick crossing.
Coron ferry port is found at the eastern end of Coron Town. From here to the town proper, a tricycle should only cost 50 PHP per person, and even less if you are good at haggling.
How to Travel Around the Islands of Coron
If you are staying in Coron Town, then the easiest way to see all of the islands around Coron is to join an island hopping tour. These depart daily from the small boat harbour which is right in the centre of town. It’s easy to join one as late as the day before, but always double check your itinerary takes you where you want to go.
The main sights can be seen in two or three different trips, but the more remote places will require dedicated day trips of their own which are also easy to organise. It is possible to arrange a tour in advance and if you are looking to do this, I would recommend speaking to Calamianes Expeditions. They are one of the oldest and most professional tour companies active in Coron and can arrange group and private excursions around the region.
Around Busuanga Island, there are plenty of sights to see as well, and you can hire the local tricycle drivers to take you around all the major attractions. costs will depend on your negotiation skills. Tricycle rides around town should cost no more than 20 PHP per person.
The Best Time of Year to visit Coron
Coron is best travelled to during the dry season which is generally between December and May. This is when the weather is best, the sun is shining, and the water is absolutely clear. This is also the busiest season, and it’s necessary to book in advance for hotels and flights as the infrastructure in Coron can become overwhelmed. The rainy season falls between June and November and it’s not uncommon for Coron to be hit by severe typhoons. It’s not a good time to travel to Coron. The shoulder seasons can see rain at intervals but can be cheaper and quieter times of year to visit.
When you are in Coron, it’s best to get up early and to start exploring as soon as you can. If you would like pictures of the most iconic attractions without any people, then get up and get out before the sun rises.
Where to Stay in Coron
There’s not a huge range of options in the region, but things are improving year on year. There are a few basic backpackers and more and more luxury resorts, but little mid-range accommodation in Coron. For convenience, the best location to stay in is Coron Town, where you will find all the restaurants, bars and tour companies based. If you want a bit of quiet, then try and stay on the edge of Coron Town, where it’s still easy enough to get in and out. Here are a few options for your stay that I’ve personally seen and stayed at.
This is the only true budget option in Coron that is also a decent place to stay. They offer cheap dormitories, budget private rooms and can arrange tours. The rooftop terrace also serves as the breakfast room and common area and is a great place to hang out when the sun is setting, for amazing views over Coron Bay.
As well as offering unique tours to local islands, Red Carabao can arrange overnight stays on the more remote beaches and in Tagbanua villages. They also have their own budget accommodation in Coron Town, on the same premises as their office.
The Funny Lion
The Funny Lion is, in my opinion, the best place to stay in Coron. However, it doesn’t come cheap. They are a boutique, luxury hotel and if you are looking to splash out for a few nights then this is the most comfortable hotel in town. They have an infinity pool, buffet breakfast and a rooftop bar with jacuzzis that overlook the bay.
Where to eat and drink in Coron
Coron isn’t exactly known as a foodie destination, and there isn’t a huge variety in the restaurants and bars on offer. That said, if you know where to go, then you can find some excellent eating and drinking options in Coron.
Island Hopping Barbecues
The best food in Coron is undoubtedly served up by the local boat crews when you go island hopping. After visiting all the tourist spots in Coron, the crew get to cooking up a huge barbecue, complete with fresh fish, chicken and mounds of rice and vegetables. You will stop at a secluded beach and feast in the sunshine. Bring a cold beer too if you fancy.
La Sirenetta is an Italian influenced restaurant that’s found in an unbeatable location on the waterfront in Coron Town. This place gets full, so arrive early or book in advance to secure a table. There’s an extensive pizza menu but also a great selection of local Filipino dishes to try.
The Sky Restaurant is found on a rooftop terrace and has some of the best views in Coron Town. Try and visit when the sunsets for the best atmosphere. They have a great menu that mostly consists of barbecued meat and fish, accompanied by a huge selection of sides.
No Name Bar
Up on the main street, this is a chilled out bar during the afternoon and early evening where you can get some cold, cold drinks. As the evening wears on though, it can become a rowdier place to frequent, but a good place to meet other travellers.
The Hangover Bar is Coron’s only real ‘club’ although it’s not really a club, it just stays open the latest and has a bit of a dance floor. It’s always busy here and they have some solid drink deals through the night.
Locations of Accommodation and Restaurants in Coron
All Words and Photos by Richard Collett