Palawan: Discovering “The Last Frontier” of the Philippines by Steven Graham

Do you dream of making your escape to the tropics… to the island life? Does the thought of exploring a remote island full of coconut palms and banana trees surrounded by a warm, greenish-blue sea, fill you with yearning? The Philippines is sure to have an island just the right size for you! After all, there are 7,107 of them — some no larger than a Buick! But there is one in particular that is less known and more of a mystery. It is the largest island in the archipelago, and its name is Palawan — “the last frontier” as it is known in the Philippines. Palawan is not only the least populated, but also happens to be the least developed province of the Philippines. This 280-mile long stretch of land lies far to the west of the main group of the Philippine islands, and lies between the South China Sea and the Sulu Sea, just north of Borneo.

Your first brush with the friendly locals will most likely occur in Puerto Princesa City, the capital of Palawan. This small airport can be reached from either Cebu City, which is the second largest city in the Philippines on the island of Cebu or on the island of Luzon near Manila, the largest city in the Philippines. An escape to Palawan is but a one-hour flight from either one.

Puerto Princesa is a small town teaming with traffic. Despite the fact that the Philippines is literally halfway around the world from North America, you’ll find that most people speak fairly good English. Palawan is no exception. As you explore the countryside of this remarkably unspoiled habitat, it is not uncommon to see a farmer riding his “caribou” (think water-buffalo) while pulling a cart, or to see workers stooped over in their rice paddies. You may almost feel as if you’ve stepped back in time to a much simpler, slower pace of life as you drink in the surrounding unspoiled scenery of a by-gone era.

Located at the end of a sometimes bumpy, two-hour scenic drive heading south along the coast from Puerto Princesa, you’ll find a charming “oasis” known as the Crystal Paradise Resort, Spa & Winery near the small village of Nara.
There are many places to stay on Palawan, but for a truly unique experience that is far removed from the frenzied pace of civilization, you couldn’t do better. Here you will discover that elegance meets tranquility in a beautiful, sprawling coconut grove right on the beach. Majestic palm trees and tropical flowers are everywhere as you explore the lush, grassy green grounds.

The staff almost seems to anticipate your every need, and quickly tends to it with grace and charm. As you arrive, you are embraced with a warm welcome, along with a smile and a garland of yellow flowers draped around your neck as you are drawn into the pavilion and served “Buko” — a large, freshly-picked coconut, saturated with coconut water that you sip through a

As you lean back to survey your surroundings, you sense the peace and calm, and immediately you know you’re deep in heart of the tropics – you may even feel as if you’ve almost stepped out of time itself as you begin to unwind and de-stress in this remarkable world! “Fantasy Island” will surely come to mind in this almost magical setting!
The beachfront guesthouses, aptly-named the “Pool Villa Executive Suites”, are the epitome of modern elegance, with solid wood and rattan furniture on white-tiled floors. The most welcome addition was the canopy bed with a picturesque view through sliding glass doors, revealing your very own patio, infinity pool, and stretch of lawn, while just 10 feet beyond is your private beach. With no fences to restrict your movement in either direction, you can lazily roam along the water’s edge of the beach and explore to your hearts content for nearly a mile in either direction with hardly a soul in site!
Beautiful, swaying coconut palms frame an idyllic, aqua-blue sea as you survey your surroundings from the patio by the pool, or from your chair on the lawn, sipping your favorite beverage. The warmth of the tropical sun and the sound of the pounding surf just a few feet away are sure to be the perfect antidote for whatever ails you. Pure heaven. You’ve arrived!

Your private “Pool Villa Executive Suite” will run you about $243 per night and comes with free breakfast at the pavilion. Each villa is thoughtfully-provided with its own kitchenette, refrigerator, coffee maker, mini bar, Jacuzzi bathtub, satellite/cable TV, air-conditioning and other extras. Pricey? Maybe. Worth it? Absolutely!
If extravagance and a room with the best view on the island isn’t a priority, you may enjoy the alternative: one of the “Katala Deluxe” rooms with 2 double beds and a view of the beach from the balcony terrace for $94 per night. With this room you also enjoy free breakfast, a refrigerator, coffee maker, mini bar, Satellite/Cable TV and air-conditioning.

Dinner is served in a spacious, open air, gazebo-like structure with a wonderful view of the tropical park surrounding you with the ocean just beyond — or you may prefer the privacy of room service as you dine on the patio, under a tropical moon over the ocean and the sound of the surf.
The menu is well thought out, presenting you with a wide assortment of delectable choices, all quite reasonably priced. Breakfast, lunch and dinner are served, as well as the usual assortment of drinks from the bar. The waiters seem to be quite attentive without feeling the need to hover over you.

Your first day will greet you with some pleasant choices: If a spa treatment is on your “must-do” list, then by all means, be sure to try their one-hour cleansing scrub using all-natural ingredients like coconut, banana leaves, avocado, rice, oils & herbs, plus massage — all for a surprisingly low cost of just $18.76. So, why not indulge in decadent luxury as you lay on a pedestal of warm circulating water. Pure heaven!

And of course the winery is unlike anything else you may have encountered. How about trying wine made from the tropical Jackfruit? You may even find mango wine or who knows-what-else, at any given time. Despite the fact that the Philippines is not exactly known as a wine-growing country, the tropical fruit wines of this region seem to be quite a delicious novelty. This may explain why George Clooney gave Tom Cruise a bottle of Filipino “Mijiah Tropical Fruit Wine” as a wedding gift.

With all of those coconuts beckoning from above in that vast grove of palm trees, you may be wondering what they taste like. You only have to ask. One of the staff will quickly recruit someone to climb on up, and grab one for you. It will be brought to your room where you can sample this delicacy for yourself. Of course they’ll lop off the end first to give you easy access. The best part is scooping out the coconut meat with a big spoon. It’s amazingly soft like moist, creamy-white tapioca.

Since the Crystal Paradise Resort, is a two-hour drive south from Puerto Princessa, it is not the first stop for many tourists either from the Philippines or abroad. For this reason it is not a crowded resort, but instead is a very quiet and serene destination you will not soon forget. Nightlife is completely absent from this setting, so if the noise and vibrancy of a fast-paced party atmosphere is what you’re seeking, you may as well look elsewhere. On the other hand, if the quiet serenity of what feels like an almost deserted tropical island where the staff pampers you like visiting dignitaries, is what you’re been yearning for, then you have surely found the right place.

You might find some of the other activities to be quite fun: Kayaking, fishing, island hopping, or even a boat trip to a nearby turtle or bird sanctuary. How does being chauffered to Estrella River Falls up in the mountains where you may spot a wild monkey or two, sound? The staff will happily prepare a Filipino-style picnic lunch served to you by the river once you’re done exploring, picture taking or swimming in the chilly waters of the barely-moving stream. Rich green jungle seems to engulf you. I doubt
if you’ll mistake this for the Amazon forest, but then again, who knows? You’ll certainly feel like you’re in the land that time forgot.

If you are lucky, you may find yourself being observed from a respectable distance, by some curious critters, who would love it if you shared your lunch with them. Since these small monkeys seem to be a little mischievous by nature, and a little bold now and then, one of them may not wait patiently for your invitation to lunch, but instead may just be brazen enough to see how close he can get to your picnic table in order to quickly scamper off with his prize –- that is, if one of your guides doesn’t shoo him off first!

If not bothering to venture away from the peace and serenity of the resort sounds like a wonderful alternative, you can always enjoy beach-combing, exploring the flower-filled tropical grounds, snooze in a hammock stretched between two shade trees, swim in the huge outdoor pool, sample various wines or trying your hand at some non-motorized water-sports!

You might take comfort in the fact that you can always touch bases with the rest of the civilized world by accessing a “Wi-Fi” signal in the public areas. Baby-sitting is thoughtfully-provided, just in case you feel the need for some quality “away time” from the kids. For an island that stretches out for 280 miles, there is certainly much to explore, and there are a variety of hotels and resorts to use as your base camp. Just in case you have heard of the “Underground River” of Palawan, you may find it too intriguing to pass up. In that case, staying in or around Puerto Princessa, which is much closer, might make more sense – or simply save this attraction for your return from the resort.

“The Puerto Princessa Subterranean River National Park” as it is formally called, is the destination of choice for many who come to Palawan. It is only 47 miles from Puerto Princessa, just across the island on the opposite coast on the Sulu Sea.

Now that it has been designated as “One of the New 7 Wonders of Nature” it is necessary to obtain a “Visitors Entry Permit” in advance before being admitted to the park. You will want to check online at to find out. Its popularity is soaring since it has been declared an Eco-Tourist destination, and a National Geographic Monument — definitely worth seeing.

Palawan is a pristine paradise worth exploring, and the Crystal Paradise Resort may be the perfect environment for total relaxation – a place that gives the phrase, “getting away from it all” new meaning. You are sure to walk away knowing you’ve been thoroughly pampered and spoiled. The Crystal Paradise Resort, Spa & Winery is perhaps Palawan’s best-kept secret.