Puerto Princesa is the commerce and business hub of Palawan, Philippines. The city is home to the world-famous Puerto Princesa Underground River, but that’s not all there is to do here! Follow our Puerto Princesa initerary for a great time!
The Philippines is one of the most on-trend travel destinations for Americans in 2019. Based on it’s relatively easy access from the West Coast United States, low cost of living, and tropical location, US-based travelers are more interested than ever in this adventurous, beautiful, tropical destination.
We can’t blame them.
We first heard about the allure of the Philippines years ago from a friend who had lived in the country for two years. He expressed a desire to retire on a beach in the Philippines one day, a sentiment which was oddly shared by almost every other Philippines-visitor we met. There’s just something about this place which attracts people into it’s web and doesn’t let go.
We came to the Philippines after a week of traveling through Indonesia, and it was a breath of fresh air. We found cheaper food and hotels than in Bali, easier travel than in other southeast Asian islands, and more culture and national pride. We love that!
Our first location on a 3-week trip through the Philippines was Puerto Princesa, Palawan Island. We initially chose Puerto Princesa (Puerto, for those in the know) based on the recommendation of an acquaintance who currently lives there. He organized a rental car, our first hotel, restaurant visits, and babysitting for our son so we could have some quiet time in the city.
We were surprised to realize that Puerto Princesa is the capital and only real city on the island of Palawan, Philippines. The city is the second largest in the Philippines based on size, but one of the least populated. Puerto Princesa even feels more like a large town than a city, with low buildings, local restaurants, and charming motorcycle-operated tricycles as the main form of public transportation.
The Puerto Princesa region extends beyond the main downtown. It includes areas on either coast of Palawan as far as 2 hours north, and likewise south. In this amount of space you can find outdoor adventure, relaxing beaches, and even Puerto Princesa Underground River; one of the 7 Natural Wonders of the World!
We found more Puerto Princes things to do than expected, and had so much fun exploring the area for a few days. You could easily travel through Palawan for weeks, exploring from Puerto Princesa to Coron and beyond (check out Tao, Philippines, another great spot!), but here’s a great way to make the most of whatever time you have!
Here’s Everything you Need to Know About Puerto Princesa Philippines!
Palawan Island is a beautiful. Follow these travel tips to have a great time in the island’s largest city, Puerto Princesa!
How to travel around Puerto Princesa
1. Using Tricycles and Jeepneys
Tricycles and Jeepneys are the most prevalent and easiest forms of public transportation in Puerto Princesa. Drivers will usually speak English, so using one is as easy as waving your hand!
Tricycles derived their name from the three wheels which carry these small, open passenger cars: the front and back tires of the operating motorbike, and a third wheel on the side which supports the motorbike’s passenger addition. These cars are often homemade and display bright paint jobs and are highly personalized.
Once you’ve hailed the tricycle you’ll sit on one of two benches beside the motorbike. These benches are padded, but the ride can be bumpy and dusty on the rough Puerto Princesa roads. Negotiate ride prices in advance of getting in. Don’t be afraid to haggle with the trike driver! Short rides of 2 km or so should never be more than 40 pesos for foreigners.
Jeepneys are leftover military Jeeps from the American occupation which have been converted into transport vehicles. The back is left open for passengers to jump in and out, and the sides each feature one long, padded bench. Like the tricycles, Jeepneys are often brightly colored.
Unlike tricycles, Jeepneys have a set schedule. Look for a sign on the front of the stopped Jeepney saying where it’s headed to decide if it can take you where you want to go.
2. Rent a car or motorbike in Puerto Princesa
Those who wish for more flexibility may choose to rent a car or motorbike in Puerto Princesa. A motorbike rental should be around $20/ day and a car rental $27/ day.
It’s not uncommon to see foreigners driving motorbikes around, but the unfamiliar traffic patterns and narrow roads of the main city may be challenging for new people. It will be easier to drive on the less-popular roads leading to beaches and sites outside of town, but be sure to have your international driver’s license with motorbike certification on you!
Here are some things to note if you choose to drive in Puerto Princesa:
- It’s common for local drivers not to use headlights at night. There is an old belief that the headlights use too much fuel to operate, and a culture has been raised to think it’s not worth the loss. A few conscientious drivers will at least periodically flash their lights to alert oncoming traffic, but try not to pass slow drivers in front of you at night if you can help it. The chances of hitting an oncoming car or moto in the opposite lane is just too high!
- Roads outside of town are narrow and windy. Getting from place to place will take longer than expected because you’ll need to drive slowly on these windy roads.
- Parking is limited outside of town
- Rain can roll in quickly, so be prepared with a poncho if you are driving a moto!
Getting out of Puerto Princesa
There are two main ways to travel further distances from Puerto Princesa: by bus and minivan or flying. The bus will often be the cheapest option, but consider the value of your time and anxiety when making your travel plans!
1. Catch a Bus to El Nido from Puerto Princesa
The bus terminal servicing Puerto Princesa is the San Jose Bus Terminal. San Jose Bus Terminal is around 7km north of the city and easily accessible by Jeepney or Tricycle. Once there, you can catch a bus to El Nido or other popular destinations with two different bus lines: RoRo and Cherry Red.
RoRo operates two different busses: standard open air and air conditioned. The stanard busses are the cheapest way to get to El Nido, at 280 pesos, but the air conditioned rides, at 370 pesos, are much more comfortable! Trips to El Nido take around 7 hours and leave every two hours from San Jose starting at 4:00 a.m.
Cherry Bus offers the same bus options and prices, with the main difference being the times of operation. Their trips to El Nido leave every 2 hours starting from 5:00 a.m., so you’re sure to find the best bus option no matter what time you arrive at the bus terminal!
2. Fly from Puerto Princesa to other Philippines Islands
The quickest and easiest mode of transportation out of Puerto Princesa (or the island of Palawan, for that matter) is through the Puerto Princesa International Airport (PPS). Getting around the Philippines is notoriously difficult, and flying provides the best and safest option to make the most of your time in the country.
Flights from PPS take passengers to the other side of the island for El Nido and Coron, or to other Philippines islands. Prices are around $115 one-way to various locations. While the prices is higher to fly than to take a bus or rent a car, consider the many hours of time you save plus the safety and security of an easier travel day.
PPS is a small airport with limited restaurant and shopping opportunities. It won’t take long to get through security and find your terminal, so there is no need to schedule extra time at the airport.
How to spend 3 days in Puerto Princesa, Palawan
The Palawan Island has plenty to offer, but you’re most likely entering the island via the Puerto Princesa international airport. Don’t just rush of to El Nido or Coron, spend a few days in Puerto Princesa, first! From experiencing city life to a day at the beach to an adventure at of one of the world’s natural wonders, this 3-day Puerto Princesa itinerary shows you the best this Palawan city has to offer!
Pro tip: Stay at the Astoria Palawan Resort
For our recommended 3-day Puerto Princesa itinerary we suggest using the Astoria Palawan Resort as a home base while exploring for a few reasons:
- Staying in one place will save you the frustration of moving from hotel to hotel, and the Astoria Palawan is a luxurious place which will help you relax at the end of long travel days.
- Astoria Palawan Resort offers complimentary rides in and out of Puerto Princesa for a day trip to the downtown and break wall. Once you’re in town it’s easy and fun to flag down a colorful tricycle to take you anywhere you want to go.
- They will organize a trip to the Puerto Princesa Underground River for you, and the resort provides breakfast each day and a host of other activities you can enjoy when you’re back from your excursions.
- If you need a break from your busy travel itinerary, Astoria Palawan has lots of resort amenities to keep you busy (including a water park!)
Day 1: Exploring Downtown Puerto Princesa
Puerto Princesa city doesn’t have too much to offer, to be honest. The few points of interest can easily be accomplished with just one day. Check out these suggested Puerto Princesa things to do to experience the history and culture of the city as well as have some fun, eat at good restaurants, and enjoy views of the city and Honda Bay.
Here are the best downtown Puerto Princesa things to do:
- Puerto Princesa Baywalk Park: This parcel of land borders the city and Honda Bay. It features a wide, tree-lined sidewalk (baywalk) which you can walk to enjoy a beautiful view of the neighboring islands and water while walking, jogging, or biking.
- Immaculate Conception Catholic Cathedral: This precolonial church is majestically built with semi-Gothic architecture and displays the peaceful, religious side of Puerto Princesa. It’s considered one of the most beautiful cathedrals in the Philippines.
- Honda Bay Island Tour: Catch a private boat at the Puerto Princesa port for a ride around the islands dotting the Honda Bay. While this is fun thing to do in Puerto Princesa, it may be worth skipping if your Palawan vacation is taking you to El Nido or Coron island, as their island tours will be more impressive.
- Palawan Museum: It’s appropriate that Palawan’s captial city is home to a museum showcasing items from the island’s unique culture. At the Palawan Museum you’ll find artifacts and ritual pieces which highlight daily life in the area.
- Baker’s Hill: Baker’s Hill is a walking street lined with restaurants and a large playground. It’s not the most cultural thing to do in Puerto Princesa, but it’s still fun!
- Mitra’s Ranch: Right beside Baker’s Hill, Mitra’s Ranch is a hilltop park which features horses, a suspension bridge, zip lines, and a great view of Puerto Princesa.
Day 2: Relax at Astoria Palawan Resort Beach and Water park
Traveling Palawan Philippines can be a frustrating process, and you’re due for a day of stress-free fun in the sun to enjoy the Puerto Princesa coastline away from the hustle and bustle of the “big city.” The Astoria Palawan is the #1 resort in Puerto Princesa according to user reviews on TripAdvisor for good reason.
We booked two nights at the Astoria Palawan resort on a return trip to Puerto Princesa, and I only wish we’d known about this gem on our first time in Palawan. We were completely burnt out from traveling between islands and towns every few days, and needed a relaxing day of fun more than we realized.
The resort is considered all-inclusive, as a room booking includes free bike, kayak, volleyball, badminton, and stand up paddle board use on their clean beach front as well as access to a game room with ping pong, billiards, video game consoles, Foosball, and karaoke. The grounds also feature two zero-degree pools with ample umbrellas and lounge chairs, lots of playgrounds, an incredible restaurant with complimentary buffet breakfast, and a day pass to their water park.
Yes, the Astoria Palawan isn’t just an all-inclusive resort with one of the few beautiful, swimmable beach fronts, it also has an exclusive water park!
The Astoria water park has two splash zones with various water features, a wave pool, lounge area, 14 cabanas, and 5 huge water slides surrounded by a lazy river. The water park is well attended with lifeguards and kept immaculately clean.
When you finish a day of playing in the wave pool and screaming down water slides you’ll head back to the main resort grounds for some of the most delicious food in Puerto Princesa beside their rainbow-lighted pool serenaded by live entertainment.
I know it’s strange to suggest a day at a resort on a Puerto Princesa travel itinerary. I know. But it’s honestly that much fun!
Book a stay at Astoria Palawan Resort here.
Day 3: Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park (Puerto Princesa Underground River)
One of the main reasons you find yourself in Puerto Princesa Palawan is probably to visit one of the new 7 Natural Wonders of the World, the Puerto Princesa Underground River. If it wasn’t on your radar before, it should be now!
The Puerto Princesa Underground River National Park was added to the new 7 Naturals Wonders of the World list in 2012 due to it’s uniqueness and beauty. It’s the longest navigable underground river in the world, at 8.2 km in length. The river runs underneath one of Puerto Princesa’s karst hills. Centuries of water pressure have carved a cave into the hill wide enough for boats to enter, and dripping water from above ground has brought enough sediment to create stalactites and stalagmites.
A trip through the Puerto Princesa Underground River begins at the Sabang harbour, where hoards of boats and drivers wait for passengers to check in for a tour. A boat tour takes you to the entrance of the PPUR cave where you’re outfitted with a life preserver, helmet, and multi-lingual listening device for the guided tour. You move into a different boat, and the new driver will slowly take you through the first portion of the underground river. He’ll silently point a flashlight to the stalactite formations and cave residents as the audio presentation explains what you’re seeing.
A tour of the Puerto Princesa Underground River is a unique experience and one you shouldn’t miss when in Palawan!
When you finish this 3-day Puerto Princesa, Palawan itinerary you’ll be in a great position to head north to other popular attractions in El Nido and Coron Island. If you find yourself back in Puerto Princesa consider exploring even more of the area before leaving Palawan Philippines!
We hope you enjoy Puerto Princesa, Palawan as much as we did!
Planning a trip to Puerto Princesa, Palawan? Pin this travel itinerary for later!
*This article was NOT sponsored by Astoria Palawan resort. They did not know we would be including their resort in our itinerary. We booked our stay on our own, and it truly was so surprisingly wonderful that we are recommending it of our own free will*