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Discover Palawan: A Bit Of Heaven On Earth In The Phillipines

Imagine a lazy day on a beach, where the sand is a surreal, fine-as-powder white, the scorching sun is met by sparkling, pristine waters that give off the bluest glow, the wispy coconut trees sway gently with the refreshing sea breezes, and best of all, you're far, far away from the stresses of the urban lifestyle. Welcome to Palawan, one of the many gems of the Philippine Islands.

The Philippines, being an archipelago, is dotted with so many beaches and shorelines. Many of them have become hardy destinations for both local and foreign tourists, being wildly popular especially among Australians, Japanese, Koreans, Taiwanese, and Chinese. Different beaches offer up different itineraries, which may include jet-skiing, banana boating, kayaking, windsurfing, parasailing, and the like. But for those who would love a good portion of adventurous frolicking and lazy sunbathing, El Nido is the perfect place to be.

Other white sand beaches in the country have been commercialized at such a dizzying pace that they've practically become overwhelmed by the sheer number of tourists, hoteliers and restauranteurs each eager to get a piece of the pie. Boracay, for one, is in the throes of pollution and whatever else you get from "over-commericalization", if there is such a thing. When I last visited the island ten years ago, the only way to get there was by local flights to the city of Kalibo, followed by a bumpy 2-hour bus ride through dirt roads that will take you to the coast line and finally, a short ferry ride to the island of Boracay. Back then, there were traditional huts that you could rent by the beach and the local wet market was a haven for cheap souvenirs and the freshest seafood at rock bottom prices. I've never been there since, but practically every other person I know has. Today, there are chartered flights at cutthroat rates that take you directly to the island. The wet market has long been gone and in its place has sprung up fast food eateries and gourmet restaurants, budget accommodations and posh lodgings, all privy to the tourists that are willing to pay. Commerce is thriving, at the expense of nature's woes.

Palawan, on the other hand, is only a short plane ride away from Boracay and from Manila, and far from the sorry state that over-exploited beaches are. The local way of life abounds, as can be seen in town and the island's capital of Puerto Princesa. The gems of this island, however, are in the pristine state of the coastlines.

El Nido is the premier beach destination on this island. The sand is a surreal white, as fine as powder and more beautiful than none, not even the legendary Bali or Maldives. The waters are an eerie blue, teeming with dugongs, manta rays and so many other forms of marine life. Snorkeling is definitely a treat here. Coves and limestone cliffs provide the flawless backdrop for the beautiful sunsets in the area. A picture of El Nido is worth much more than a thousand words; you never imagined such an ethereal place could exist on earth. Charter flights can take you directly to mainland El Nido and many small boats are available for hire to take you to the outlying islands.

The Tubbattaha Reefs are every diver's dream come to life. A designated UNESCO world heritage site, the expansive reef is home to some of the most beautiful, unadulterated coral reefs. From Palawan's capital city of Puerto Princesa, a 12-hour boat ride takes you to the reefs. The best time to go for a dive would be between the summer months of March to June.

In the city of Puerto Princesa is the Subterranean River National Park. This winding cave will definitely give a thrill to those who like roughing the outdoors. The passageway winds along an underground river some 8 kilometers long, finally emptying out to a spectacular underground lagoon. The expanse is navigated by riding on small boats and along the way, you are treated to some amazing limestone formations, marble cliffs and breathtaking stalactites.

For a piece of history, a visit to the Tabon Caves might be just the thing to rouse the archaeologist in you. Roughly a 4-hour car ride from Puerto Princesa, the caves can be accessed by boat from the coast of Quezon, Palawan. It was here that anthropologists unearthed the infamous Tabon Man a few decades ago, complete with some artifacts that were dated to be some 22, 000 years old.

Finally, wrap up your vacation by visiting Busuanga. In this area is Coron, with its pristine lake system and breathtaking limestone cliffs. History combines with adventure as divers take on 12 Japanese shipwrecks dating back to World War II, with the stunning ocean and marine life as the complementary backdrop. The wrecks have a little something for everyone, from the beginning diver down to the expert, as they explore the haunting underwater monuments that are sure to thrill the senses. After a refreshing dive, the whole family can kick back at the Calauit Game Preserve and Wildlife Sanctuary, also within the area. The safari-like grounds are home to endangered African animals established to help ensure the survival of these species.

Palawan certainly has something for everyone, from the avid sunbathers to the daring divers, from the romantic honeymooners to the adventurous family trippers. Plenty of sun, sand and seafood-what more can you ask for?

By Anne Ng - I'm currently an undergraduate majoring in biochemistry with a flair for writing.  

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