Are you ready to explore the rich biodiversity of Palawan, Philippines? Whether you’re a first-timer or a frequent visitor, a leisure traveller or a budget explorer, now is the time to visit the “last ecological frontier,” named in 2007 by National Geographic Traveller as “one of the best destinations in the world,” following in the footsteps of the UK’s Guardian‘s choice of Palawan as “one of the top 10 beaches in the world.”
The province of Palawan is a spectacular untamed region found on the western fringes of the Philippine Archipelago. Almost nowhere else can one simultaneously encounter two such intriguing, dynamic and diverse habitats as reefs and tropical rainforests. Rich in teeming jungles, tousled mangrove swamps and vibrant coral reefs, Palawan is truly one of the best examples in Asia of a species-rich, biologically diverse ecosystem. In fact, the variety of flora and fauna found in this region have intrigued ecologists and conservationists for generations; Palawan is home to 232 endemic species, one of the highest densities of unique species in the world.
Palawan is where travellers will discover an almost uninterrupted canopy of foliage formed by the meeting of interlacing branches of trees, a green so dense that only an indistinguishable glimmer of the sky can be seen. Even the extreme tropical sunlight barely penetrates to the ground, subdued and broken into scattered fragments of light. It is a world in which we seem to be intruders.
The varied habitats of this exciting island host a tremendous variety of organisms, like the Palawan mouse deer, who share this enchanting island with endangered endemic animals like the calamian deer, the tarsier, the scaly anteater and the Palawan peacock-pheasant. The island’s mangroves are home to the Philippine crocodile, while offshore beds of seagrass are the habitat of the rare dugong.
Palawan offers a wide range of ecological wonders, including the longest navigable underground river system in the world, located within Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, which is a complete mountain-to-the-sea ecosystem and one of the most important biodiversity conservation areas of the Philippines.
Located about 51 kilometres north of Puerto Princesa City, the provincial capital of Palawan, the park is best explored via a guided underground river tour on board a paddled outrigger boat that takes visitors through 8.2 kilometres of winding tunnels and cathedral-like caverns.
In 1999, Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park was recognised by UNESCO, earning status as a World Heritage Site. The subterranean river system was also nominated as a finalist to be one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature.
A half-day cruise to the east, 98 nautical miles off the coast of the headlands, is the vast Tubbataha Reef National Park, home to some of the most beautiful and diverse coral reefs in the world. Diving to the depths of the Sulu Sea, one finds an impressive undersea canyon wall, with vivid arrays and wondrous varieties of marine life that rival Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. It is a veritable explosion of bright orange and vivid blue corals that inhabit this underwater rainforest. It is where I have witnessed a school of jackfish swirl in a vortex of silver blue, surrounding a solitary Philippine sea turtle in a subaquatic dance of nature.
The Tubbataha reef is underwater sanctuary for an astonishing diversity of marine species. So important is this submerged Eden in the balance of the underwater ecosystem that UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site in 1993. Every year, only between the months of March and May, the Tubbataha Reef National Park opens its watery gates to welcome divers to experience the wonders of this one-of-a-kind kingdom beneath the sunlit sea.
Travel to Palawan is easy from the Philippine capital of Manila. Palawan’s vibrant city of Puerto Princesa can be reached by air in an hour or by sea via a 20-hour ferry trip. A varied choice of domestic airlines or direct chartered flight can then be made depending on the desired destination. Airline flights will take visitors directly to the heart of the province, where connecting trips by land and sea to nearby principal tourist sites can be arranged.