In choosing a destination, I am normally drawn to places with a rich culture and colorful history. Aside from the information I have known prior to going to the place, I also try to look for surprising things that I can discover or would interest me to see and try for myself to know what truly feels to have it experienced first hand. Hence, this is what I exactly did when I visited Palawan which the world is looking at now for being recognized as one of the beautiful islands in the world. One of the most visited places in this province is Puerto Princesa which has even become a model in cleanliness, ecotourism and preservation, peace and order and good governance. By traveling here, I have learned some lessons about the city on how it has maintained its beauty by its proper tourism management. Ergo, enabled it to become one of the favorite destinations among tourists may they be locals or foreigners. By looking at how the city is being preserved despite its booming tourism, neighboring countries and other parts of the world could also learn from it.
Looking at the background of this city even from its name confirms its history and describes its remarkable natural characteristics that make the place interesting. Puerto Princesa came from two Spanish words which literally means Princess of Ports, wherefore, people regard that the name was derived from its seaport’s location strategic advantage. Geographically, the place is being naturally protected from the inclemency of the weather all year round, ergo, it claims to be ‘typhoon-free’. Also, it can accommodate every sea vessel protectively in its realm, because it has sufficient depth to allow ships of all sizes to anchor. However, historically, records show that the place was named in honor of Princess Eulalia of Spain, who was born in 1864 to the Reigning Monarch, Queen Isabela II. When the princess suffered an untimely death, the Queen changed the name to Puerto de la Princesa. Eventually, the name was reduced to Puerto Princesa as it is known today.
Boats in the island
Presently, as I have explored Palawan, sea vessels not just accommodate the island but is now flocked with multi-cultural tourists. It has retained its provincial charm, maintains an unpretentious laidback lifestyle even it has been progressive and touristy. This is what I have observed during my stay in Palawan for a couple of days after visiting the following places:
Heritage – Plaza Cuartel,
Recreational – Mitra’s Ranch, Baker’s Hill
Seascape — Honda bay tour which includes Starfish, Luli, and Cowrie Island,
Biodiversity – Crocodile Farm and Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Center
Urbanscape – Baywalk
Culturescape (arts) –Stellar Grounds
Food culture – KaLui, Itoy’s
Accommodation – Rema Tourist Inn
Souvenirs Hub – MC Souvenir Pasalubong Center, Delma Pearl
In roaming around the city I have identified some reasons why I have come to appreciate the city and consider it as a paradise which could also be the reasons why it has become a favorite destination among travelers.
CLEAN AND GREEN CITY
Discipline is one of the values I have seen among the people in Puerto Princesa, particularly in maintaining the cleanliness in the island. Hence, the surrounding is clean and even the washrooms and picnic tables on its tourist spots are always clean. It is a place where both the locals and tourists practice ‘clean as you go’ policy. The place has somehow an effect where littering or just leaving your trash elsewhere gives you an awkward feeling.
In my conversation with the city tour driver, I learned that most of the island is still covered with the forest. They managed this by ensuring that for anyone who would cut a tree he has to secure a cutting permit first from the environment and natural resources governing body. Therefore, due to the abundance of trees, landslides and other calamities are avoided. Moreover, the air is clean and free of carbon, hence maintaining it of a fair standard. A proof of this is the existence of fireflies, particularly in Iwahig River. Moreover, the city tour driver added that it also helps the locals to have a longer life expectancy.
Clean environment on the island
ORGANIZED COMMUNITY AND GREEN CITYSCAPE
Despite being the center of trade, commerce and industry in the province, Puerto Princesa has maintained to be a ‘city in the forest’. It is a place where you can have a city life in a tropical island paradise setting because it is teeming with lush dense forest, unique species of flora and fauna and a wide range of attraction from beaches to wildlife reserves, and even the home of the world famous Underground River. It is indeed a place for any person who likes to live in a city surrounded by nature.
Moreover, it’s charm emanates of a homey, ‘small town’ feel. The city has only recently undergone major waves of commercial development and expansion. During my stay here, I have noticed that their highest structure seems to be up to just three-story which happens to be a branch of a famous department store in the country. Compared to usual cities with skyscrapers, it can be said that in many ways, Puerto Princesa, though a city, is still quite rural and has maintained its small-town feel despite their progressive development. Therefore, the stress from the hustle and bustle of a city won’t be felt here.
Charming small-town feel
Moreover, it does not have any congested road. Even on the city’s major thoroughfare, Rizal Avenue, there is a smooth flow of traffic. Strategic efforts have been made to ensure this, such as moving the city hall from Rizal Avenue to another place to avoid traffic congestion according to the tour driver. Aside from roads, boats in Honda Bay are properly monitored and ensure the organized alternate schedule of the incoming boats with tourists to avoid overcrowding in an island. This effort is made to enable island hoppers to maximize and enjoy their stay on the island. Hence, despite that many tourists are having the Honda Bay tour, it is still orderly.
The easiest way to go to Palawan is through a plane. On my visit here I have flown roundtrip through Air Asia. The airport has only a few cafes in it and exploring the whole place while waiting for a flight is easy. Meanwhile, in getting around, the city does not have taxis. Multicabs and jeepneys are the means for public transport and have standard routes on which they ply. In my stay here I have often ridden a tricycle which made me feel more like a local for being able to talk to the drivers. Tricycles here have a nice design wherein its front part is like the windshield of a car, while passengers are facing each other while sitting inside during the ride. The standard fare is cheap, while you can bargain for the price if you are going to rent one in going somewhere. The drivers here are so kind that they will normally say ‘it’s up to you’ courteously when you asked them how much, however, be also reminded that if you are asking for a private service going somewhere else, paying them reasonably is helping the locals. Although, tricycles are fairly limited to certain areas and would not be able to go very long distances. I have ridden on it when going around the city center only, like going to restaurants, department store, and souvenir shops. Meanwhile, for a private tour, a van was used in going to different tourist spots. A special transport of air-conditioned private vehicle for hire can also be arranged to avoid hassles of public transport availability and ensure comfort.
Airport waiting area seats
View from the airport’s second floor
Being a famous tourist destination, there are lots of souvenir shops in Palawan, however, choose which suits you the best. Some products have different prices in different shops. One commendable trait of the vendors here is that they are accommodating enough and show you all their products even you haven’t assured them that you are buying. They will nicely offer you their items but not pushy in asking you to purchase. Should you not buy they will still remain courteous. Meanwhile, most of the souvenirs here are cultured pearls, ref magnets, handicrafts, and kitchenware made of native materials and wood. For food, there are pili nuts being Palawan as the cashew capital of the country. Also, batik and tunic style dress is abundantly available. For my souvenir shopping, I went to MCA Pasalubong Center. It has an airconditioned area where a diverse of souvenir choices is available in one store while its non-airconditioned part is located beside the main store. It has different stalls rented to different souvenir sellers who mostly are Muslims.
MCA Market Mall Pasalubong Center facade
Vendors selling souvenirs
Non- airconditioned area hallway
A good collaboration between transportation and souvenir shops here have been established. Since almost all the drivers here are like tourist guides, they are so familiar with the place that they know where to bring tourists to find cheaper prices and bargains for souvenirs. Hence, these drivers recommend souvenir shops and in return, they gain points with every tourist they bring in the souvenir shop. The earned points will then be computed at the end of the year and they will get a prize or a form of reward tantamount to their earned points. Rewards may range from a sack of rice or grocery items. A souvenir shop that has this incentive program is Delma Pearl Souvenir Shop at San Miguel Mercado. Therefore, it reflects that tourism here benefits both the tourists and the locals. The tourists find guidance from the suggested souvenir shops of the drivers, while the souvenir shop owners are being helped with their business through sales and marketing by the drivers and in return the drivers are also benefitting by getting something, ergo, making it a win-win situation, and marks Palawan as a being a pro-tourist and pro-local place.
Mercado de San Miguel Facade
Delma Pearl & Souvenir Shop
Pearl jewelry for sale
Souvenir items for sale
Palawan has a colorful past which allows anybody to trace it back through well-preserved remnants. From Plaza Cuartel to Mendoza Park and even the famous Iwahig Farm and Penal Colony, all contributed to the distinct character and culture of what Palawan has today and has certainly attested to its history and meaning. Apparently, I have only been to Plaza Cuartel however, upon hearing the history of the other tourist destinations I am looking forward to visiting them soon should I be back here.
Entrance gate of Plaza Cuartel
This place honors God that even its welcome marker on the road says ‘City of the Living God’. Indeed this place is like a paradise with many wonders to discover. Just a proof of how blessed this island is that Puerto Princesa is away from the ring of fire and fault line. Moreover, it is also protected from inclement weather and has rich biodiversity where some animals can only be found on the island. Truly, its inhabitants have been protected and provided enough to consider themselves living in paradise and owe this blessing to God to claim this place as the city of the living God
Starfish from Starfish Island
Starfish from the waters
In my dealings with different locals in Palawan, I have observed that Palawenos have desirable traits as well. First is that they are environment-conscious and serious about environmental protection and conservation, hence they are able to maintain the place as clean and green. Also, they are considerate people. You can be rest assured that locals would do no harm to tourists since they opt to take care of them since they recognize that their economy is also greatly dependent on tourism. Should a tourist has been harmed while on the island, its most certainly not been made by a local but from a different group. Moreover, they are approachable and would talk to you even you are both strangers to each other, ergo, you won’t hesitate to ask them. They tend to explain directions thoroughly so you’ll be properly guided about the place. In one instance, while we were crossing wrongly on the road, a tricycle driver has been patient enough of us that he even smiled instead of blowing his horn. He probably knew that we were tourists and not familiar with the street system of the place. In addition, people here enjoy life even in its simplest form. Another trait they have is that they know how to enjoy life. When we have visited its bay walk at night, I noticed that people stay here to unwind after a day’s toil. Families go here for bonding, kids enjoy biking on the pavement, and group of friends catch up while enjoying the sea breeze despite its salty scent. Meanwhile, others are happily eating street food, and some are just chatting while lounging on the benches. Furthermore, it seems that Palawenos possess the quality of being stoic. On our way to bay walk from SM, we almost asked every local we passed by about the direction and how far our destination is from where we are. Their answer is consistently the same, saying it’s just near and so we end up walking and walking looking for it. I eventually realized that it seems what’s near to them is far for me. However, the direction they provided me is accurate. Also, they are not complainers but patient, it seems that they don’t have a habit to frown even they are being inconvenient, hence they seem to be happy and content people.
Locals relaxing on baywalk
Bay walk marker
Bike for rent for kids
Puerto Princesa is a place that is easy to tour around even for a woman traveling solo. Local’s first language here is Filipino but they can also speak English. Moreover, you can be rest assured that you are dealing with healthy people since most of the employees working in every establishment have health certificate attached in their identification card. On top of that locals are knowledgeable with the tourist destinations here and can easily suggest where to go best. They are flexible to tourist and can easily adjust to different cultures, hence making it a tourist-friendly place indeed.
Boats for Honda Bay tour
My tour in Puerto Princesa has led me to priceless experiences. It enabled me to take home enriching knowledge about its beauty in every aspect. Thus, the moment Air Asia plane has landed on Clark airport earlier than expected, I already miss Palawan.
Disclaimer: All details written here are based on my personal experience, observation, and learnings during my stay in Palawan. All expenses are paid by the author.