Writing and photography by Pigalle, originally published for The Fabulous Times.
Although they say Paradise is a state of mind, I have found utopia in the islands surrounding Coron in the Philippines. With 1,780 islands clustering like jewels in its crown, Coron is based in the province of Palawan and the homeland of the Tagbanuas tribe, custodians in the protection of its nature and culture.
Listed as one of the Top 10 scuba diving sites by Forbes Travel Magazine in 2007, Coron offers excellent value for money rivalling more well-known locations. It is the perfect base to explore hot springs, neighbouring islands, serene lagoons, corals rich with marine life and sunken WWII ship wrecks. Its waters dazzle in shades from cobalt blues to azure sapphires, dusted with ivory beaches and limestone cliffs worn into prehistoric shapes.
Getting there: Accessible by plane from Manila to Busuanga airport on Coron island. A pre-booked shuttle bus then takes you through lush hills studded with banana trees to Coron town.
Coron town: The town is still relatively untouched by tourism, with confectionery coloured beeping trikes, honking motor bikes and mini buses weaving their chaotic way through its lanes. It is small enough to roam on foot through the food markets bustling from early morning till late at night.
Accommodation: I stayed in Coron Gateway Hotel, run by the affably helpful Carlos Lopez, located on the harbour’s edge with the wishfully twinned Hollywood sign of Coron perched on the surrounding hills. The attraction of being so close to the water’s edge was rolling out of bed and flip flopping my way straight onto a catamaran, island hopping bound.
Catamarans: Catamarans are hired on a daily basis sailing 9am-5pm. Get a recommendation from fellow travellers or through a reputed centre such as Sea Dive. Booking a private catamaran costs more than a shared group tour, but worth the freedom to choose where you go at your own leisurely pace. For an additional charge your captain will collect fresh food from the morning markets to cook on the boat, ready for lunch time moorings. You can hire snorkels and need to bring a handful of money for entrance way fees, which go towards maintaining the pristine conditions.
Kayangan Lake: Following a steep climb to the other side of the hill from our mooring, I was rewarded with a breathtaking sight of KayanganBay. The secluded lake is reputed to be the cleanest in the Philippines, with translucent waters and fish darting through underwater limestone landscapes. Feeding fish should avoided throughout the region, to avoid disrupting its natural eco system.
Siete Pecados: Legend tells the mournful tale of seven sisters who disobeyed their mother by swimming out to sea. All sisters perished, the islands sprouting in their wake and earning their Spanish name of the Seven Sins. The waters surrounding these islands offered magnificent snorkelling, with abundant varieties of coral and diverse species of electric toned fishes.
Dimanglet Island: I was able to indulge in my inner castaway on DimangletIsland. Sun faded flags welcomed me onto its blissful, conch strewn shores. A leisurely ramble lead to a lagoon, complete with a bamboo raft to manoeuvre through trailing mangroves and past flying fish.
Departure dinner: The harbour set the stage for the dipping sun, the day’s catamarans drifting in as spider legged silhouettes. Set across the bay, I was seduced by the sight of mermaids holding the pillars of La Sirenetta restaurant. Perched on a jetty and open from all sides, I enjoyed a lychee margarita, grilled Mahi Mahi and fresh ceviches. I lingered with the other diners, charmed into whiling the evening away in rapture.