Photos by: Nadine Pena & Charlie Fernandez
Landing at the Busuanga Airport feels like being transported to another place, especially if you’re leaving the urban confines of the city. From the process of landing (with the purser telling the passengers to stay put on their seats and at the same time seeing a multitude of islands dotting the turquoise sea outside the window) to actually getting your feet on the tarmac (it’s in the middle of a cattle ranch) feels very worldly, it’s as if coming home to paradise. The travel experience is normal and surreal. It’s going to the backyard and then, it’s a beautiful backyard with limestone cliffs and amazing beaches.
Over the past few years, the Philippine government has improved the infrastructure on the island of Busuanga with paved roads all the way to the town of Coron. With this, travel is made easier because vans are now able to shuttle people to and from the airport and Coron (Php 150 or ±USD 3 per way). The gateway to paradise takes about 45 minutes give or take a few minutes depending on the amount of traffic along the way. And here I mean by traffic as cattle blocking the road and being rounded up by the Filipino version of cowboys. Welcome to the wild, wild east.
Last time I was there, I stayed at Sea Dive right smack in the center of town (Php 1,200 or ±USD 24 for an overnight stay for two at their ground floor room) where one can walk to the market, port, spas and restaurants. It’s also a good place for food—breakfast is a must with their omelet, homemade bread and jam (Php 140 or ±USD 3). Good food is always a perfect start to any day. One thing about Sea Dive though is that when I was there, there was a laptop that got stolen. I also brought mine but I guess, it’s about taking precaution—you can leave it at the front desk as well and they can put it in their office which is more secure.
The first day in town
Usually, the first day in Coron is half a day out already so the further destinations are not usually included in the itinerary of the day. First on the list is a ten-minute walk from Sea Dive to the foot of Mt. Tapyas, a hilly lookout point to view the whole town of Coron and surrounding islands from. Ask one of the locals or the receptionist for directions. One can easily distinguish the place—once you see a steep hill with “tourist traffic” then you know you’re at the right place. Bring an extra shirt and a bottle of water for the climb—it is about 700 plus steps. You can be as slow or as fast as you want—there are rest areas in some portions of the climb. Once at the peak, you’ll be treated to a three hundred sixty degree view of Coron and the other surrounding islands. They say the best time to trek up is during the breathtaking sunrise or the sunset.
After the climb up Mt.Tayapas, your body may be clamoring for some relaxation and the perfect spot would be the Maquinit Hot Springs, where you can find pools with flowing natural hot water (Php 100 or ±USD 2 entrance fee). Unlike other hot springs, this one is filled with salt water. To get there, ask a tricycle (rickshaw) to bring you there (Php 300 or USD 6 for a round trip and a maximum of four people in one tricycle). It’s best to go to this place when the sun’s down as the heat may be too much for some during the day – on average the temperature is about forty degrees Celcius. Don’t worry they’re open as late as ten in the evening. After an hour or so soaking, ask the tricycle driver to bring you to Spa Paradise (near Coron Village Lodge) to cap off the day. Get one of their signature massages, like the De-stress (around Php 800 or ±USD 16). Slumberland will be more like paradise-land after the massage, and your body would thank you for finding paradise. Make sure though that you make reservations, as slots get filled up at times.
SCUBA diving is a must when in Coron
For those diving, the day after arrival would be the best time to start scuba diving as dive boats leave early in the morning to leave to the dive sites. It’s best to make arrangements the day before with the dive shop. We did our dives with Coron Divers for Php 2,700 (±USD 54) per person for equipment use (excluding torch rental of Php 200 or ±USD 4), boat rental and food on the boat. Divers go here for the wreck sites, as these are not just the best in Asia, but the best in the world— the ships are intact for the most part. These were Japanese ships sunk during the Second World War. Notable ones include the Irako, Olymia Maru and Kogyo Maru. Irako, for example, needs to be dove for four times at the very least to see it in its entirety. It’s also important to note that experience in scuba is necessary to dive the wrecks. But the place is not only for wreck diving, there’s also reef dives at Siete Pecados (Php 100 or ±USD 2 marine fee) and the other worldy dive at the Barracuda Lake (Php 100 or ±USD 2 entrance).
For the foodie, there’s great meals found in town. During the trip, foreign friends found Kawayanan to be a favorite for Filipino food (exceptional dishes include the kilawin or a Filipino version of cevice, kare-kare or meat, usually beef in peanut sauce and danggit or dried salted rabbit fish, Php 350 to 400 (±USD 7-8) per person for a shared family style meal) and Bistro for European cuisine (around Php 400 or ±USD 8 for a meal). Upon asking the waitress at Bistro what were the best in their menu, she said that everything is—so we just chose to what our preferences were and everything actually turned our great.
Another notable restaurant is Singapore Resto-Bar (around Php 150 or ±USD 3 per meal). Angela, the owner of the restaurant is Singaporean and wanted to bring spicy Southeast Asian food to the island. It’s a hole-in-the-wall frequented by longer-term transients of the town—a mishmash of folks trying to find their home in this sleepy town, both foreigners and city-dwelling Filipinos alike. If you’re there at the right time, you’ll get to meet them and hear their cool stories. From their conversations, you’ll understand why this is a magical place, waiting to be discovered for anyone wanting to. For them, paradise is one invitation that they said yes to, and it might be also yours.
At a glance
Sea Dive Resort
Distance - Approximately 292 kilometers south of Manila.
Travel Time – Approximately 1 hour to get to Busuanga airport.
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