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After hearing so much about Coron from friends who have gone there, and always wanting to go but without presence of opportunity, it was only last May that I finally set foot on Palawan, often called the Philippines’ last frontier.
The Palawan group of islands, voted by Conde Nash Traveler magazine for its beaches, coves, and islets as the tourist destination with the best beaches in Asia; rated by National Geographic Traveler magazine as the best island destination in East and Southeast Asia region in 2007; and underwater explorer Jacques Costeau, inventor of the modern scuba, has described the province as having one of the most beautiful seascapes in the world.
Our overnight trip onboard the Superferry was a pleasant one. We departed the port of Manila around 5pm and docked at the port of Coron almost 6am the next day. As the end of May is almost into the rainy season, nonetheless the weather was still hot, with occasional light rain showers in the late afternoon and evening.
After a hearty breakfast and a change of clothes at our place of lodging, our group proceeded to the itinerary of the day – a tour of some of Coron’s major attractions.
The jump-off point of the tour was from a small banca station at the back of the market. From here, you can already get a glimpse of the cliffs in the distance. These seemingly land masses appear featureless from afar, their full majestic splendor are only evident once approached.
The limestone formations of Coron, exposed by the lowering sea levels over the last two ice ages, 20,000 and 160,000 years ago; are characterized with sharp jagged-edges, full of crevices, and decked with vegetative growths. It’s home to a variety of nesting birds, and beneath the waters, teaming with abundance of marine life.
Our first stop was Kayangan Lake, accessible via a short trek over the hill; its warm clear water nested between rocks and lush foliage provides a picturesque setting for a relaxing swim. Tiny fishes and crustaceans inhabit its waters, so should you felt something crawling at your feet, chances are, it’s one of the many shrimps that got curious by your presence. Atop Kayangan Lake, there is a path that leads to a cave with great overhangs on its ceiling; and just outside of that cave, one gets a spectacular aerial view of the cove entrance and its neighboring formations.
Compare to Kayangan Lake, the trek towards Barracuda Lake (so named because of a large barracuda living in it) was much more challenging. Here there are no beaten paths, just grounds of protruding sharp-edged rocks! One has to climbed, swinged, pulled, and balanced each footing carefully; strapped footwear is definitely a must. The view at the end however, is equally rewarding!
Our lunch was set-up at Banol Beach, one of the many islands with crystal clear waters and fine white sands. Generally good for swimming with its gentle slope, but beware of the many black sea urchins nearby.
One of the interesting sites around Coron is the twin lagoon; wherein the body of water is split by the limestone mountain and the other lagoon is only accessible by a narrow passage (at times submerged by the tides). Best swim across with floatation devices as the lagoon opens to a sudden steep drop, the silence on the other side can be deafening.
As the sun slowly arc towards the West, our last stop of the day was ‘siete pecados’ or seven islands. The scene here is idyllic, but the greatest sights are underneath. Declared a protected marine sanctuary, this underwater biosphere boast of an explosion of life; from the massive multi-colored corals to the dazzling spectrum of fishes, it was truly an overwhelming spectacle!
Apart from dive sites teeming with underwater fauna and flora, Coron Bay also boast of numerous wrecks for divers. These wrecks are the sunken remains of about 24 WWII Japanese navy vessels, which were attacked on September 24, 1944 by US navy strike fighters and dive bombers from Task Force 38 belonging to the aircraft carrier USS Lexington.
The highlight of the 2nd day was the Calauit Safari. Gone was the sunny weather of yesterday and the slight rain and overcast skies lasted throughout the day. The Calauit Island Wildlife Sanctuary, set-up in 1977, was a response to an appeal by the IUCN or the International Union of Conservation of Nature to save endangered animals in Africa. With an initial 8 species of animals from Kenya, such as giraffes, zebras, gazelles, impalas, waterbucks, bushbucks, elands, and topis that today live in harmony with other endemic Philippine animals like the Calamian deer, the bearcat, sea turtles, and Philippine crocodiles. From Coron, Calauit Island is approximately 2.5 hours by land.
Coron certainly has much more to offer; inexpensive seafood is abundant, local handicrafts, and our group’s favorite, roasted cashew nuts! On the eve of our departure, we feasted on a buffet of seafood: lobsters, crabs, groupers, and the likes; almost make me wish I have a second stomach that night! Then again, I can always go back.
Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific now flies direct to Busuanga, from there, Coron is just a short distance by land transportation. References: www.calauitisland.com; http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coron,_Palawan; http://www.coronwrecks.com; http://www.fieldmuseum.org/vanishing_treasures/foreword.htm; . The author can be reached at: