Exploring the Underwater Wonders of Palawan
Jun 12, 2023
Island paradise

Exploring the Underwater Wonders of Palawan

Iuliia Shcherbakova / Shutterstock

On the traveling circuit, I’ve been hearing rave reviews about the Philippine islands: pristine beaches, crystal clear waters, some of the best diving around. And after a short 3-week visit, I have to say I agree.

The islands are stunningly beautiful, not only top side, but under the water as well. I’ve never had so much fun frolicking in the ocean – snorkeling and diving and swimming with abandon. Here’s a taste of my underwater adventures:

Puerto Princesa Subterranean River

Photo by Erin Michelson

The Subterranean River, located near Sebang on the northern island of Palawan, claims to be the longest underground navigable river. But it’s not. That honor has been reassigned to an underground river in Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula that was discovered in 2007 and is an amazing 153 kilometers long.

Even at only 8.2 kilometers, the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River is still something to behold – mainly for its translucent aquamarine waters encircled by massive limestone cliffs reaching to the sky. You can enter the river through a cave that empties into the South China Sea and paddle about a kilometer up and back. It was made UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999.

What also make this underground river unique is the plethora of religion icons – specifically Catholic images — that are formed by the stalactites and stalagmites. Every few meters we would witness the Virgin Mary, the Last Supper, the Holy Trinity. Holy Moly!

El Nido’s Hidden Lagoons

Photo by Erin Michelson

Luckily I came to El Nido at the right time since the months of March through May are supposedly the best for calm waters and visibility. Water surface temperatures during these months can climb up to 33°C and visibility can be up to 30 meters.

In one day of island hopping, we visited three lagoons and the breathtaking 7 Commandos Beach, where we relaxed after a day underwater, eating young coconuts. Life is tough!

Large Lagoon

The sea life I saw here rivaled much deeper dives I’ve done in the past. The coral was plentiful, colorful, and varied. Gigantic fans of yellow were everywhere. You really couldn’t ask for more.

Small Lagoon

This spot is said to be 20 million years old with ancient limestone cliffs plunging in to the crystal clear, blue-green waters. The underwater formations of the cliffs were fascinating. To get to the lagoon you had to swim over shallow coral (ouch!) and poke through a small hole in the limestone – it’s nearly hidden. In fact, a boat load of stranded divers swam around for hours and never saw the opening.

Secret Lagoon

Photo by Erin Michelson

This is your quintessential flat-out gorgeous beach with powdery white sand, gently crashing waves, and mirror-like water. This is where we had our picnic lunch of freshly caught fish, rice and grilled vegetables. Seriously the best meal I’ve eaten in the Philippines (no doubt the location was chiefly responsible!).

Coron’s Wreck Diving

The wreck diving in Palawan is unsurpassed. With 12 WWII Japanese war ships littering the bottom of the waters between the Province’s northern islands of Coron and Culion.

In one day, I was lucky enough to dive 3 of them:

Tangat Wreck

This was my first wreck dive ever and boy was it a beauty! Tangat (named after the closest island) was a Japanese gunboat (or submarine hunter) and is nearly 35 meters long. It’s also a shallow wreck with visibility starting at only 3 meters, giving snorkelers access to its sights as well. We prowled around the bow and explored the ship’s prison.

East Tanat Wreck

The East Tanat Wreck was really just a shell of the ship lying on its side. We were able to swim its entire length and spend time enjoying the coral life covering it. The amount of fish in the wrecks surprised me. Huge schools of tiny sliver and purple fish were everywhere. It was like being in an aquarium!

Olympia Maru

The Olympia Maru was a Japanese freighter sitting upright just outside Coron Bay, Busuanga Island. It’s 110 meters in length and nearly fully formed. I couldn’t believe the small holes that we were wiggling through, barely clearing our tanks and fins as we explored the boiler room and swam along the inside of the hull of the ship. This is actually a fairly technical dive and advanced wreck diving certification, as well as nitrox, is recommended. Oh well!

As I get set to leave the Philippines this afternoon, I’m already making plans to come back again. The beaches and diving are that good. I’m already counting down until my next visit!

Erin Michelson is a social entrepreneur and world traveler. A self-styled Adventure Philanthropist, Erin is embarking on a 2-year global giving adventure called Erin Goes Global. Starting in Fiji on New Year’s Day 2011, Erin Michelson will travel to more than 70 counties on 7 continents during 2011-2012. Along the way, Erin will be volunteering with global non-profit organizations, including building wells in Uganda and tutoring young girls in Bangladeshi boat villages. She’s donated $25,000 and is holding monthly polls to see which worthy nonprofits receive the grants!