Coron, Palawan with kids
First of all, let’s understand Coron a bit and what it means to “go to Coron.” “Coron” is in the North of Palawan Province. Coron Town Proper is the biggest town on Busuanga Island. When you fly to Coron from Manila, you fly to Francisco G. Reyes airport in the middle of Busuanga island (which also has a town on it called Busuanga). You drive to Coron Town Proper, which is about 25 minutes away by van/car.
Many of the hotels you’ve heard of like Westown, Asia Grand View, and the Funny Lion are located in Coron Town Proper or just outside of it. You will be surprised to learn that there are actually no beaches easily accessible by foot or car in Coron Town Proper, even though Coron Town Proper is not landlocked and there are spectacular views of water and island from your hotel. There is just one beach called Cabo Beach that you can drive to (it is a 30 min van drive outside of town).Otherwise to get to the beach, you need to get on a boat (bangka) and do an island tour. These will take you to famous sites like Twin Lagoon and Kayangan Lake and but also to beautiful beaches like Banul on the surrounding islands.
The most common and also the closest island tours are to and around what is called Coron Island- a whole different island than Busuanga and different than where Coron Town Proper is. Coron Island is where Twin Lagoon, Kayangan Lake, and Barracuda lake are located. It is also where there is great snorkeling such as at Siete Pecados, Malwayway Reef, Balinsasayaw Reef, Siete Pecados and Banul beach. Island tours just around Coron Island are already full of adventure and beauty, both underwater and on land.
Busuanga and Coron islands are part of a group of islands called the Calamian Islands, which also includes Culion island and Caluit island (where Calauit Safari Park is). Calamian Islands also includes smaller islands like Pass Island, Malcapuya Island and Banana island that apparently have gorgeous beaches that you can visit too.
Note that there are a number of well-known resorts like Club Paradise and El Rio y Mar Resort that are in Coron but actually quite far from Coron Town Proper and Coron Island. Be sure to check out their locations on the map to see how they relate to sites you may want to see like Twin Lagoon and Kayangan Lake.
Where to Stay with kids
For easy access to Coron Island and its sites, I recommend staying at one of the resorts near Coron Town Proper because the island hopping tours leave from here. For example, Westown Coron Resort (or the more recently opened extension of it across the street, MO2 Westown Lagoon), Asia Grand View, Sophia’s Garden Resort or the Funny Lion for mid-range options, and just depending on your family’s room needs and budget. Bacau Bay Resort looks like a great high-end option.
We stayed at the large Westown Coron Resort and it is a good base for a Coron trip because you have everything you need at the hotel (good-size rooms, large pool area, decent restaurant) and it is definitely a well-established hotel in terms of accommodating guests and getting them to where they want to be. They have tricycles on hand to get you into town (which is a 20 minute tricycle ride away) and vans available for farther transfers (including to and from the airport). They book your tours easily for you with Calamianes tours (considered the number 1 tour company in Coron) even on short notice. And they have a super helpful and knowledgeable concierge and front desk. Really, when it comes to getting around Coron and doing what we wanted to do there, the services and support of the hotel were top notch. Unfortunately, our experience with their hotel rooms was not great and the swimming pool area needs to be updated (three of our kids got cuts from the sharp-edged tiles at the bottom of the pool). We may have had better luck staying at the more recently opened extension of the hotel across the street, MO2 Westown Lagoon.
The Funny Lion comes highly rated as a place to stay with kids and upon visiting it, I can see that it is the most modern and hip of the resorts near Coron Town Proper. It is about a 10-minute tricycle ride to town from here (same as Asia Grand View and Sophia’s Garden Resort).
As far as AirBnB’s go, when I was doing my research, properties that were in Coron Town Proper were scarce. While there were nice options outside of Coron Town, I imagine transport to and from would be a bit of a headache.
I found this blog post about the different areas to stay in Coron according to your interests very helpful in getting myself oriented on the area.
Where to Eat
Restaurants in Coron are decent, but nothing special.
The Funny Lion restaurant definitely had the best quality ingredients. Their food is Western comfort food, and we enjoyed pizzas, pasta, salads and steak here.
Next best food that we had was at Asia Grand View hotel which has both Western and Filipino dishes (and a great selection of desserts).
Our hotel, Westown Coron, had decent Filipino dishes and sandwich/fries combos (nothing special).
We actually enjoyed the food better across the street at MO2 Westown Lagoon, which serves Filipino food (good Pork barbecue for the kids) and good pasta dishes.
Coron Town Proper has restaurants too (see these blogposts about where to eat that were helpful, by The Unconventional Route and The Blessed Bucket) but Coron Town itself is still developing and I am not sure how comfortable these restaurants would be with kids (small, cramped, a bit run down). You’ll want to make sure the hotel you choose has a suitable restaurant for you. After long days of island hopping which end at 5pm, you may be like us and want to stay close to your hotel for dinner rather than venturing back into town. The restaurants at hotels in Coron were definitely kid-friendly and not overcrowded.
A final note, on island hopping days, lunch is served by your tour company or boat at one of the beaches. It normally consists of grilled fresh fish, grilled pork or chicken, a local vegetable dish (like squash or eggplant-based), rice and fruit. It all tastes extra delicious on the beach! (Be sure to tell your tour company ahead of time about food preferences and restrictions).
How to get around
From the airport, your hotel in Coron Town Proper will have van transfers that cost about 180 per person (half price for children 5 and under).
From your hotel, you can arrange to get around via hotel van (which costs about 500 pesos per 1-way trip for a 20 min drive) or you can hop on a tricycle, where trips cost 20-30 pesos per person depending on the distance. (Basically, 30 pesos for a 20-min drive, 20 pesos for a 10-min drive). We found Coron tricycle drivers to be honest the standard price of 20 or 30 pesos to be honored consistently. Longer drives to more remote places like Maquinit Hot Springs or Cabo Beach will have set prices (e.g. Westown resort to Maquinit was 350 pesos per way for the tricycle).
For longer distances, you can arrange van transport through your hotel. Or for lower pricing, you can inquire at Q terminal in Coron Town (in front of Gateway hotel). They have van and driver rentals. They also have self-driven cars that you can rent per 24-hour period. We rented a 7-seater car for 3000 pesos/day. They have 5-seaters for 2500 pesos/day.
About Island Hopping
You can book your tours through a company or through individual tour guides.
Through a company: Calamian Island Travel and Tours is known amongst Coron locals as the number 1 tour company. Their prices are a higher than other companies for group tours, and significantly higher for private tours. But, they definitely have their tours down and are very organized. They also make it easy because their tour prices include everything so you don’t have to worry about arranging transport from hotel to boat, getting food and water, or paying for the individual entrance tickets at each stop.
Calamian Island Travel and Tours has their set tours for the area, you just pick which one you want. You can either join a tour or arrange a private tour. We joined a tour and it was just our family and two other people, but we saw other group tours that had around 25 people in them- quite a large group. Our experience with Calamian Island Travel and Tours was good, they took us from place to place on a set schedule so that we could hit the 6 destinations on our list that day. Our tour guide was particularly expert at snorkeling and knowing how to find interesting creatures. All Coron Island tours with Calamian Tours take you to Beach 91 for lunch where there are only Calamian Tours guests and where they have kayaks free of us.
If you only have 1 day to island hop in Coron, I would recommend Calamian Tours and their ultimate Coron Island Tour which takes you to 7 destinations from 7:30am to 5pm. You will hit all the must-see spots. However, the disadvantage is that you are on a set (and sometimes hurried) schedule. If you have more than one day to island hop, I would recommend taking it slower with an individual tour guide.
Through an individual tour guide: There are kiosks all over Coron Town Proper where you can book tours. You can also just walk down to the Pier (near Lualhati park) the evening before your tour and speak with one of the individuals offering tours there. These are private tours that you can customize yourself and choose at what pace you want to go with your family. You pay a set price for the boat depending on how many people you are (3000 pesos for a boat that fits 5-7 people) and then just pay for the individual entrance fees for the sites you want to see. These prices from the individual tour guides are standard as they are controlled by Coron Tourism, see the price lists below.
For these tours, you actually go and buy your own food at the public market and bring it to the boat, and the guide and boat staff will prepare it for you. I bought fish, rice and vegetables that the staff prepared deliciously for us on the boat. We did an individual tour guide for our second day of island hopping and enjoyed the slow pace more.
There are life jackets on the boats, but we have found that they hardly ever have suitable sizes for our younger kids. You may want to bring your own lifejackets for your kids age 0-5 years old. The guides on the boats always have a lifesaver buoy with them which they will have younger children hold on to if they want while you snorkel.
Coron Island Sites for kids
Twin Lagoon: I actually can’t comment on this because it was closed exceptionally during our visit, but this is one of the main sites to see in Coron with its limestone rock formations from the Jurassic period.
Kayangan Lake: Once the boat docks, you have a 10-minute hike uphill then downhill to the lake. There is a view deck in the middle of the hike which has a beautiful view of the islands, which can get very crowded (lines of people waiting to take a picture at the view). The hike is doable by small children, you may want a hiking backpack for your baby/toddler. At the lake itself, everybody is required to wear a life vest. The water is too deep for a child to stand in. There are wooden benches on the side to leave belongings at.
Barracuda Lake: Once the boat docks, there is a short walk on wooden structures to climb up then down to the lake. The scenery is stunning! The lake itself is a lot of fun. Everybody is required to wear a life jacket and the water is too deep for children to stand in (but they can jump in!). You may want water slippers here (there are some rocks in the water kids can come climb on). You’ll want your snorkeling gear to see the underwater karst rock formations (caves) which make you feel like you are in another world! They leave quite an impression and can be a little scary for young kids. Underwater, we also saw creatures like shrimp and small catfish. Barracuda lake can get very crowded, but we found that the tour groups who come here stay for no more than 20 minutes. With all their coming and goings, you may actually have a window of hardly anybody there if you stick around long enough (we stayed here for about 45 minutes and at the end had the whole idyllic place pretty much to ourselves). If you are highly interested in the karsts, you will want to go here early in the day when the sun is high and light penetrates the water to make it more clear- but his is also the most popular time to visit. You can wait until the later afternoon to visit Barracuda lake, when there are fewer tour groups stopping here.
Malwaywey Reef: This was our favorite place to snorkel in because of the huge schools of fish that can be found here. We were surrounded on all sides by walls and walls of fish that made a lasting impression on all of us as thousands of fish moved as one entity. There were also a number of other colorful fish like parrot fish, clown fish, butterfly fish and angelfish that even our 4- and 5-year-old were able to appreciate through their goggles (they don’t know how to snorkel yet). At the same boat stop is Skeleton wreck, a WWII shipwreck that you can appreciate with just snorkeling (and not needing to scuba dive). I don’t have an underwater camera, but please visit this blog post I found in which the pictures reflect the experience we had at Malwayey Reef/Skeleton Wreck.
Balinsasayaw Reef: The the highlight for us here were giant clams that our guide would point out as my family snorkeled. They were all impressed by the deep blue, purple, and orange colors of the clam’s mouth as they opened and closed under the water. I wasn’t able to snorkel here, but our tour guide dove down to fetch a clam for me to see (which we quickly returned).
Siete Pecados: This is probably the closest snorkeling spot on the boat tour and had good snorkeling too. I noticed that you can actually reach this spot without having to take a full-on boat tour. On the way to Maquinit Hot Springs, there is place where you can catch a boat to just Siete Pecados.
Banul Beach and snorkeling: We stopped at Banul beach for lunch on our second day of island hopping…. And ended up spending the rest of the afternoon here because the children loved it so much! The white sand, shallow clear water and waves…they were fully content! My husband and I went out to the reef to snorkel and were amazed by how good the snorkeling was considering the guide said the snorkeling was just so-so. The shallow coral here was glowing! Neon blue, orange, purple and yellow- which became dull when the sun went behind clouds again.
CYC beach: The last stop with Calamaian Island Tours and Travel, I would say compared to everything else, it was nothing special… and actually felt very commercialized with the disruptive vendors of soda and chips selling their goods.
All of these stops are maximum 25 minutes from the pier in Coron town, and maximum 15-20 minutes from each other. There are more beautiful islands to see (e.g. Pass Island, Malcapuya beach) that are 1-1h30 away and that are incorporated in other boat tours.
Other things to do in Coron with kids
Concepcion Falls and Laura’s Garden: We rented a car one day and drove to Concepcion (North of Coron about 50 minutes) to do the small hike (15 min) to the falls here. The falls are pretty, not spectacular, and there is quite a bit of littering on the trail going to it. But it was a welcome break from island hopping the days before and after. We also stopped at Laura’s Garden Resort on the way to Concepcion, where we enjoyed fresh shakes and tasty food for lunch (Western/Italian and Filipino). Laura has worked abroad in the hospitality industry and dreams of a farm-to-table type restaurant. The restaurant is surrounded by green and her small farm, which unfortunately got destroyed a month ago by a typhoon, so it is a work in progress.
Kingfisher Park: This is about 20 minutes outside of Coron (on the same going road to Concepcion). It is a nature reserve on the bay where you can rent kayaks to go birdwatching. There are about 6 different types of kingfishers that you can see, apparently. Unfortunately, when we visited at 5pm, the level of the tide wasn’t high enough for us to go kayaking/birdwatching. We did, however, get to do a firefly-watching tour there at 6:30pm. It costs 300 pesos per person, and you get in kayaks driven by a guide who takes you on the placid waters in the dark and points you to the mangrove trees filled with fireflies. This is a short tour, about 20 minutes long, and there are only about 4 trees full of fireflies (they have diminished over the years due to visitors), but it was a very memorable experience. There are also bio-luminescent plankton in the water which you can spot if you stir the water with your hands. But, on a full moon night, these plankton apparently shine on their own and can be spotted easily (…we did not have a full moon night!).
Maquinit Hotsprings: This is a hot springs resort in Coron town, about 15 minutes outside of the town center by tricycle. It is best to have your tricycle wait for you to bring you back because it is a remote area and tricycles aren’t just passing by. The pools are 37-40 degrees Celsius in temperature- hot! I enjoyed the hot water more than the kids did (it was too hot for them considering the warm temperatures of the air too). The kids were also sensitive to the sulfurous smell of the hot springs. We went when it opens at 8am and I imagine a mid-day visit here wouldn’t be very pleasant because of the temperatures outside during that time. But it could be fun in the evening at the end of an island-hopping day. It was more charming than I thought it would be. At 8am, there was only us and two other small groups- I imagine that that added to the charm and a crowded day would be less enjoyable. Maquinit Hotsprings is also on the bay and there is a small boardwalk through the mangroves. Entrance fee is 200 pesos per person age 6 and up (160 pesos for students if you have their IDS with you).
I hope you find this information helpful for seeing the adventures that await kids and families in Coron!