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Fun in Palawan starts at San Vicente

Explore this uniquely exquisite eco-town before heading to El Nido and Coron

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Text and images by REGINA G. POSADAS

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SAILING, TAKE ME AWAY Tourists can rent a boat to go island hopping

There was a snorting pig tied to a tree and several chickens scampering on the sand at the first beach resort we passed by. Aboard a rented van on narrow, unpaved, and unlit roads while we were headed to the next tourist spot, huge potholes, sudden dips, and ambling or lounging animals (like stray dogs and a herd of goats) compelled us to stop or transition into slow-mo every so often.

But also just a motorized boat ride away in the same municipality, we found ourselves in a serene and secluded beach, with powdery white sand, wonderfully refreshing blue waves, and inviting swings and hammocks swaying gently in the breeze. Not only one but several gorgeous and sun-drenched beaches are bordered by picturesque panoramas of mountains and skies, with sandbars that appear and disappear depending on the tide, on erstwhile unheard-of islands that exuded an intimate and “endless vacation” vibe.

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Strike a pose on a sandbar

Welcome to San Vicente, Palawan, where the raw, rural, and rugged harmonize to deliver some seriously riveting scenery and exhilarating escapades. Located in the northwestern side of Palawan’s main island, it relies heavily on fishing and farming, but a comprehensive master plan and a burgeoning tourism industry are effectively transforming it into one of the country’s popular and preferred destinations.

I got to see and savor San Vicente and other parts of Palawan in late June, thanks to a jam-packed trip organized by the Philippine Tour Operators Association (PHILTOA). Dubbed “Palawan, the Last Frontier Update with The New Connectivity,” the five-day adventure commenced at the Clark International Airport in Angeles, Pampanga, where a Philippine Airlines flight took us straight to San Vicente Airport. A combination of land and water transportation brought us to El Nido, and then Coron, before the final plane ride back to Clark. PHILTOA had originally set a Clark to San Vicente to Taytay to El Nido to Coron to Clark route, but due to intermittent rains and a few unavoidable delays, we had to forgo the excursion to Fort Santa Isabel in Taytay as well as the walk to the forest to look at a waterfall.

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PAL has direct flights daily from Clark to San Vicente

Even so, our schedule remained full and enjoyable. In between transfers and slumbers, we took long walks (and had Fitbit count our steps) when we inspected a series of properties, hopped from one island to another swam, snorkeled, fed the fish, searched for turtles, had a picnic and partook of delectable spreads, networked and bonded with associates and co-travelers old and new, and of course, took pictures like there’s no tomorrow.

Not only one but several gorgeous and sundrenched beaches are bordered by picturesque panoramas of mountains and skies, with sandbars that appear and disappear depending on the tide, on erstwhile unheard-of islands that exuded an intimate and ‘endless vacation’ vibe.

San Vicente might not be as developed and well-known as El Nido and Coron, but it is certainly teeming with attractions, affordable tours (readymade or customized), and things to do. There are e-trikes, boats, motorbikes, and vans you can easily ride or rent to explore the area. There is no shortage of accommodations either, although the majority of the current beach resorts and bed and breakfasts are the simple, no-frills type ideal for short stays.

Aivan Franz Abao (+639 38 633 3396, abaoaivan@gmail.com), one of our tour guides, who is also the marketing manager of St. Vincent Travel and Tours in Barangay Poblacion, said that a typical eight-hour day tour of San Vicente costs only R1,500 per head for a minimum of six persons, and already includes stops at seven different locations, boat rides, entrance fees, lunch, dry bags, beach towels, and snorkel gear. Asked to name his top five destinations in San Vicente, he picked Boayan Island for its aquaculture and experiential tourism (catch cultured tropical fish using a hook and line), Long Beach for its 14.7-kilometer white sand beach (the longest in the Philippines), Bato ni Ningning for its superb views, Inaladelan Island where you can camp, swim with the turtles, play beach volleyball, and more. Visit the town of Port Barton for its varied restos and cheap eats, attractive reefs, tranquil mangroves, kayaking, treks to waterfalls, and more island hopping tours. If it’s an extreme and unforgettable experience you seek, go skydiving at 10,000 feet, recommended Aivan.

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Bato ni Ningning

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Hammocks at Inaladelan Island

Award-winning eco-sustainable resort Club Agutaya (www.clubagutaya. net), on the other hand, can customize tours for its guests, said its vice president for operations Dixie Mariñas, “Like if you just want to see all the waterfalls in the area or focus on sea turtles (pawikan) and other wildlife protection tours.” Commendably, Club Agutaya leads the private sector efforts to promote and preserve the pawikans in San Vicente, with its beautiful beachfront serving as an official turtle hatchery. According to Mariñas, they have three kinds of sea turtles: the green, olive, and hawksbill. During turtle season, they secure the turtles’ eggs, release the hatchlings, gather data, and conduct training for children and other guests, which happens from October to February.

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SHADES OF THE EARTH Eco-sustainable designs and fixtures at Club Agutaya

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A cottage for rent at Farm Belle in Barangay New Agutaya

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Pool at Club Agutaya

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The pawikan (sea turtle) at the turtle sanctuary (Photo by Aivan Abao)

Did you know that:

  • Around 35,000 people live in San Vicente?
  • It is projected to have 50,047 tourist arrivals in 2020, and 125,032 tourist arrivals in 2030?
  • France, Spain, Germany, the UK, and Israel were the top five visiting countries in the municipality in 2018?
  • Peak season in San Vicente is from November to April, lean season is from May to October, peak month is February, and lean month is September?
  • San Vicente serves as habitat for 23 out of 25 wildlife species endemic to Palawan?
  • More than 86 percent of its forested area is still intact?

Source: Lucylyn Panagsagan, San Vicente Municipal Tourism officer

To know more about tours in Palawan and other amazing local and foreign destinations, plus dream vacation packages as low as 70 percent off, visit the 30th Philippine Travel Mart from Aug. 30 to Sept. 1 at the SMX Convention Center in Pasay City.

www.philtoa.com

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