If you are visiting Palawan, chances are that you will arrive in Puerto Princesa and want to make your way to El Nido. However, flights are not that cheap, and an 8 hour ride in a crowded van across bad roads is not for the faint of heart. Luckily, between the two cities lies the town of Port Barton, a quiet, idyllic getaway. It is often advertised as „similar to El Nido, but only half as expensive“, and why that is not entirely true, there are many reasons to stop in this sleepy town in the middle of nowhere.
Upon arrival you will immediately feel the difference to Puerto Princesa and El Nido. There are hardly any cars, most houses are made of wood, and the dominant sound is the zirping of cicada in the lush palm trees. All in all, Port Barton is a town where time seems to stand still. However, make no mistake – the place has seen a remarkable transition from a small fishing town to an increasingly popular tourist destination, without catering to mass tourism yet. Port Barton offers a wide variety of guest houses and homestays where you can get a room for as cheap as 350 Pesos (6,5 USD) a night. Of course the remote location of the town comes with a price: Internet is barely existent, and even electricity is only available from 6 to 12 pm. Needless to say, there is no ATM, so bring enough cash if you want to avoid the trip back to Puerto Princesa.
A popular and easily accessible tourist attraction are the Papawyan Falls, about 5 km from Port Barton. The waterfalls are neither as spectacular as the Tumalog Falls in Oslob, nor as big as the Kawasan Falls in Moalboal, but they are less crowded, and the entrance is free. You can swim in the clear water underneath the falls. However, my personal highlight was the hike towards the waterfalls. Port Barton offers an impressive, almost untouched scenery of rolling hills and lush vegetation. Palm trees, banana plants and elephant grass scatter dominate the landscape, alternated by beautiful rice fields. All in all, the scenery is definitely a main reason to visit Port Barton.
Island Hopping in Port Barton
They say, one goes to El Nido for the island, but to Port Barton for the corral reefs. A statement that everybody should test for themselves. If you want to take an Island Hopping tour in Port Barton you should look directly at the beach, as there are many organizers. The average price of 600 PHP (11 USD) per person is definitely cheaper than in Honda Bay or El Nido. What is more, you do not have to find a group of people, since the prices are per person.
I can recommend the following tour that covers 4 islands:
The first stop is Twin Reef, a popular Snorkeling spot where you can see an impressive variety of colourful fish. But be very of jellyfish.
Next, the boat heads towards German Island, called thus because it was rented and turned into a resort by a German guy some years ago. The island looks very scenic, however, there is not much there except the resort. Not worth the entrance fee of 100 Pesos (2 USD) in my opinion.
The next stop was an area known for its sea turtles. You will be very likely to spot at least one of the gentle creatures. However, because it is a popular destination, every turtle in the water will inevitably be surrounded by a throng of divers with their cameras. If you come to the Philippines mainly to see turtles, Moalboal and North Pandan Island are much better spots.
My definite Snorkeling highlight was Fantastic Reef, which does not bear its name for nothing. Nowhere else (except maybe in Moalboal) was I so fascinated by the variety of fish and the size of the corrals. Definitely one of the best Snorkeling spots I have seen in the Philippines.
The last stop was Starfish Island. Strictly speaking it is not an island, but a sandbank that gets fully submerged in the course of a day. Therefore, if you arrive midday, you can still walk on what is left of the sand bank, relax in the surf or go Snorkeling. There are colourful corrals on display here, along gardens of sea weed that provide shelter for all kinds of small fish.
All in all, I can wholeheartedly recommend Port Barton to anyone who is visiting Palawan. It is definitely less crowded and cheaper than El Nido. What is more, the beautiful scenery, the friendly people and the laid-back atmosphere makes it a place where you can truly forget your worries for a few days. Of course its remote location comes with a price, and you will have to live without fast internet and 24/7 electricity here. But for me this was a nice change and made the small sleepy town even more loveable, and I hope that Port Barton will retain its rural charme even when tourist numbers increase.
All in all, a whole day in Port Barton, including an Island Hopping trip and a room in a homestay should not cost you more than 1350 Pesos (26 USD).
Accommodation: 350 Pesos
Food: 400 Pesos
Island Hopping Tour: 600