Monday, December 06, 2021

Deep sea dreams

Just approaching the islands and lagoons of Busuanga is a sight to behold from the air, so request for a window seat on the plane if possible.

Coron, Palawan
Island tours are the best way to see what Coron has to offer. (Photo by Joanna Cuenco)

It might be cliché, but listening to Coldplay’s “Paradise” (dream of para, para, paradise...) definitely helps set the mood upon descent! My flight landed on time, just after noon. It’s a 30-minute van ride into Coron town, priced at P150, which can be arranged through most lodging establishments.

After checking in and making sure I had a good lunch, I got ready to traverse the 724 steps going up to the cross on top of Mt. Tapyas overlooking the town. An uphill hike may not seem like the most relaxing way to kick off an island escapade, but once you get to the summit, it will be worth it.

Start to make your way up Mt. Tapyas at around 4:30 PM. 724 steps is physical exertion, even for the fairly healthy. At an unrushed pace, you’ll arrive at the summit just as the sun is about to set, definitely a sight you won’t want to miss. Catch your breath, then let the sky take your breath away as it changes colors from brilliant red and orange to hazy pink and purple over Coron’s landscape.

After this workout, a dip in warm water will be just what you need. Go back down the hill, put on or bring swimwear, then hire a tricycle for a uniform rate of P300 to go to Maquinit Springs. The last 10 minutes of the trip will be an adventurous ride in pitch blackness on a rocky road, but a hot spring is more comfortable in evenings when it’s cooler, not under the heat of the sun. For an entrance fee of P150, relax in the 38-degree spring water. Be careful to ease in and not jump in, so your body can become accustomed to the heat. Skip the hot spring if you have high blood pressure.

There is no beach in the town, so taking a tour is necessary to really appreciate Coron. There are a number of full-day tours from Tour A to H-1 and H-2 for island hopping, snorkeling and diving. There are many ship wrecks around the island, and the area is known for some of the best dive spots in the country and even in the world.

Don’t miss the essential tour, which includes Coron’s most famous spot, Kayangan Lake, with stops at Twin Peak Reef, Banol Beach, CYC Beach, Twin Lagoon and Balinsasayaw Floating House. These names translate to white sand beaches, craggy gray karst rock, turquoise seas, blue lagoons so deep you can’t see the ocean floor, and corals teeming with fish. It’s one fantastic sight after another, on and under water, that you must really see for yourself.

Most accommodation on the island is affordable, and wherever you stay, the front desk can assist with arranging tours. For a place that is walking distance to the wharf where most island tours take off, stay at Sea Coral Lodge. Rooms are clean and comfortable with air conditioning, private toilet and bath, cable TV and Wifi. Rates start at only P1,000 per night for two. Just add P150 per person for a generously portioned Filipino breakfast that you can tuck into on the terrace while watching the activities on the street. Another choice, just a five-minute walk away from Sea Coral, is Balaibinda, which feels more like a home than an inn or lodge. It has all the amenities that Sea Coral does and in well-decorated rooms, plus a wardrobe closet, writing desk, bath toiletries, welcome drinks and breakfast already included. Rates start at P1,700 per night for two persons.

Every restaurant I visited in Coron served excellent food. Cool off on a hot day with halo-halo and fruit shakes at Ice Valley along the National Highway. On the way to Maquinit Springs, have dinner at Santino’s Grill, which serves tasty and tender baby back or beef spare ribs with seasoned fries. A half slab is P275, a full slab for P475. Other specialties include the bulalo steak and roasted bulalo. Santino’s is open daily from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. At the restaurant outside Balaibinda called Food Trip, try the Sultana de Coron: assorted seafood and pork bits in a special sauce, served on a sizzling plate for P270, good for two. For a gourmet meal, visit the restaurant at Sea Dive Resort. Order à la carte or try their set menus, about P500 for soup, main course and dessert. Try the lamb chops with rice and giant prawns with mashed potato.

After two nights of great eats and island explorations, time was up and I found myself waiting to board my flight home. Like a dream in a deep sleep that I was suddenly awakened from, having to leave after such a brief visit to Coron only left me wanting more. The next time I return, which I hope will be sooner than later, I will certainly be staying more than 48 hours. (Joanna Cuenco)

Kayangan Lake, Coron, Palawan
Kayangan Lake in Coron, Palawan. (Photo by Joanna Cuenco)

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