Reaching the small village of Port Barton on Palawan’s west coast was a breath of fresh air. We had to rub our eyes to make sure the bright, crystal-like blue waters of PortBarton were real. After finishing exams and jumping on a plane for the long journey to the Philippines, finally being in Port Barton was the answer to our prayers. Turns out that white sandy beaches, the warm sun on our skin, no internet to speak of, and never-ending sunsets, are the perfect cure for exam stress.
OUR PORT BARTON ADVENTURE
We arrived in Port Barton after a scenic, and rather adventurous, journey from Puerto Princesa, to check in to our accommodation. The traditional wooden building, complete with huts for the guests, felt instantly welcoming. Our room was exactly what we had hoped for: bare basics. With a mattress, fan, bathroom, and balcony, we were pleased to be able to strip away from the complexities of modern life, and just relax with each other.
Port Barton is more a village than a town, with a main sandy beach and only a handful of streets. If you want to escape from the tourist towns of El Nido and Boracay, and are looking for a more laid-back experience, then Port Barton is the place. With no luxury hotels in the village, Port Barton attracts a more relaxed group of travellers and backpackers looking to disconnect and experience the Philippines. Of course, this means that there aren’t as many services and activities to do, but we found that to be the charm of Port Barton: the aim is to just be. Without the crowds and busyness of the big Filipino tourist magnets, this is a place where we felt we could enjoy peacefulness and authenticity. We really hope it stays this way.
It did not take long until we succumbed to the urge to dive into the ocean. After a few days travelling from Melbourne via Manila to get to Palawan in 85% humidity, nothing was more satisfying than plunging below the surface. The beach on this morning was uncrowded aside from the odd tourist and several dogs, with the waves gently lapping and bangka boats bobbing on the shoreline. For the entirety of that afternoon, we swam and enjoyed food along the waterfront without any worry of stress or I-should-be-studying guilt. When the sunset came, we were pleased to learn that Itaytay’s west-facing nature meant we had unbridled views of a cotton candy sunset.
Our second day was spent in much the same way, sampling the restaurant offerings, wandering the streets, and bobbing in the warm beach waters. The third day in Port Barton is where we really got exploring. After two days in the village being approached by tour operators for island hopping and snorkelling, we had figured out a good price with a friendly guide and were on our way. We organised our own itinerary rather than a pre-made itinerary (more information below), and headed off to Exotic Island, Aquarium Reef, Fantastic Reef and Turtle Island.
We jumped onto the beautiful white bangka and started our course towards the islands off Port Barton’s coast. Port Barton is surrounded by beautiful islands, and while none of them are as strikingly tall and majestic as El Nido’s, they are stunning in their own right. With pure white sand beaches, tall palms swaying in the wind, and the clearest water imaginable, it felt like arriving in heaven. Plus, the number of travellers you have to share the islands with are minimal compared to other tourist hotspots.
Our first stop was Aquarium Reef and we were immeasurably happy to be the first boat to arrive. We put our snorkels on and dived in from the back of the bangka. We’re not sure how long we were at Aquarium Reef because time flew so fast. The technicolour fish were in abundance, darting between the layers of coral reef. It was our first time snorkelling together and I think we found a new shared passion. Aquarium Reef was expansive and there was more than enough marine to keep our eyes out for, and lots of different fish types we had never seen before.
After we were called back to the boat (we spent too much time out snorkelling, oops!), we chugged off to Fantastic Reef to continue the snorkelling experience, which was equally as exciting to explore. By this point we were all swum out and ready to kick back on a beach.
The stop for lunch was called Exotic Island. And, we can confirm, it is aptly named. There are two islands connected by a sandbar (which was under the water when we were there), both of which are forested with beautiful sand beaches. Exotic Island is a popular place to stop on boat tours for lunch because there are plenty of wooden huts to set up to BBQ fresh seafood and prepare lunchtime salads. We were beyond pleased to swim in the waters and soak up the afternoon sun.
The trip home was via a spot famed for a population of sea turtles. In between two islands, this strip of turquoise water was crystal clear enabling the easy sighting of our flippered friends. Although travellers aren’t always lucky enough to guarantee a turtle sighting, on our day we were fortunate enough to see four. Despite maintaining a respectful distance from the turtles, it was still incredibly easy to see them due to the water clarity. It was such a special experience to see such peaceful animals.
Soon enough, we were back in lovely Port Barton for our final sunset. As the sun set behind the islands in the distance, we lay on the sand until the last glimpses fell below the horizon. With the sound of music from the restaurants in the warm air, and the feeling of sand between our toes, there was nowhere we would’ve rather been. When the morning came for us to leave Port Barton, we were genuinely not ready to leave. This escape from reality had been so welcome and it was hard to part with the serenity of such a village. As we jumped into the van to head to El Nido, we knew that one day we would have to come back to Port Barton, and hope that not much changes about it.
THINGS TO DO IN PORT BARTON
EXPLORE THE VILLAGE
The village of PortBarton is small and the nearest township is San Vicente. It only takes a few minutes to walk from one end of Port Barton to the other, but this is part of the charm. Within the town, however, there are plenty of restaurants, cafés, local shops, and bars, to spend time exploring. And, of course, how could you forget beautiful Itaytay Beach on the doorstep. We would recommend spending an afternoon or a day exploring Port Barton to get a true feeling for the township.
PORT BARTON ISLAND HOPPING AND BOAT TOURS
As with El Nido, the main attraction here in Port Barton are the island hopping boat tours. The prices are set by the government so there is not really room for bartering or you may risk the boatman’s license. We would recommend doing an island tour in PortBarton because the cost is much lower than in other destinations in the Philippines and you won’t be competing with the same crowds. The tours generally run from9:00am to 4:00pm and leave from Itaytay Beach.
|TOUR NAME||DESTINATIONS||COST (PHP)|
|Tour A||Twin Reef, Fantastic Reef, Exotic Island, and German Island||700-800|
|Tour B||Aquarium Reef, Wide Reef, Paradise Island, German Island, and Fantastic Reef||700-800|
|Tour C||Exotic Island, German Island, Paradise Island, and Fantastic Reef||700-800|
|Tour D||Marine Sanctuary, Bigaho Falls, Sand Bar, and Exotic Island||700-800|
These tours are priced between 700 and 800 pesos per person. The prices include the boat tour, guide, lunch, and usually bottled water, but check inclusions before purchase. This price excludes the cost of the Ecological Pass and island entrance fees.
Private boats (good for 1 – 8 people depending on the bangka) can also be arranged and you can choose your itinerary from any of the locations in the other tours. For a half day (no lunch) this will cost around 2500PHP, and for the full day it will cost around 4000PHP.
- Ecological Tourist Cards need to be purchased for 50PHP, this will be done upon arrival to Port Barton if you are catching a van. These cards are valid for 10 days.
- Some destinations on the island hopping tours incur a fee (we’re not sure why), German Island is either 50PHP or 75PHP, and Exotic Island was 50PHP.
- Tipping is not necessary in the Philippines, although it is appreciated. If you enjoyed your tour then the recommended tip is 10% of the price you paid for the tour.
Boat Tour Tips
- Bring sunscreen and/or sun cover if you burn easily because it is a long day
- Bring waterproof bags if you are bringing camera gear, these can be picked up for 150PHP in some shops in the town
If you walk or tricycle about 4km north of the Port Barton township, you will reach the entrance to Pamuayan Falls. There is also a walk through the jungle involved with a rather ramshackle track. These falls are about 8 metres tall and a refreshing place to enjoy a swim, and it will cost you nothing. Because these waterfalls aren’t the easiest to get to, they haven’t been discovered by many travellers, so you will likely get to enjoy them in peace.
Many of the boatmen along Itaytay Beach will be asking you if you want to go to “White Beach”. White Beach can be accessed in a number of ways: bangka boat, walking, or transport (tricycle, car, motorbike). White Beach is a stretch of beautiful sandy beach which is more striking than Itaytay and nicer to swim at. If you have a spare afternoon in Port Barton, White Beach is definitely worth the trip.
GETTING TO PORT BARTON
They say the most rewarding things in life are never easy? Getting to Port Barton is a representation of that very idea. The relaxed atmosphere, small-town vibes, and pristine beaches, are kept that way because not as many travellers make their way to Port Barton’s shores.
Van Transfer (Public)
This is our preferred method of getting around Palawan. The journey from Puerto to Port Barton took around three hours and cost 600PHP. The company we recommend are Recaro who were the most professional van company we tried in the. Philippines. The other option to get to Port Barton from Puerto is Lexxus (we did not try them). From El Nido, it is possible to use Recaro (best), Nature Island (kind of recommend), and Eulen Joy (do not recommend).
To book these van transfers, you can:
- Book at the booking booths dotted throughout the cities
- Book online using the El Nido Paradise website
- Purchase a seat at the airport counters/town bus depots, but this, of course, is subject to availability
- Contact the companies directly through call or WhatsApp
We would recommend booking your transfer around 48 hours’ before the journey to ensure you are booked onto the van at the preferred time.
PRO TIP: when you book your van transfer, request a seat up the front. These vans get packed to the brim and often won’t even leave the destination until they’re completely full. If you can reserve a seat at the front, you will be a lot more comfortable than if you are crammed into one of the back rows.
Van Transfer (Private)
If the idea of sharing the public van is not up your alley, you can hire the van to yourself (although, you have to be prepared to pay the price). This won’t make the journey any faster, but it may make it more comfortable. At the time of writing, the cost of a private van transfer was 6500PHP one way from Puerto.
To get to Port Barton, the nearest airports are Puerto Princesa in the middle of Palawan and El Nido Airport at the tip of Palawan. Puerto Princesa is a small airport which is easy to navigate with plenty of connecting transfers to Port Barton (discussed below). El Nido is a smaller airport and flights are more expensive than to Puerto, but if you were planning on visiting El Nido anyway, it might be worthwhile to fly here.
It is possible to hire a car from Puerto Princesa or El Nido Airport and drive yourself to Port Barton. If you have not driven in the Philippines before, we would not recommend this option. The road to Port Barton is winding, still very much under construction, and the road rules are open to interpretation.
If you are confident on a bike, you can always use motorcycles in the Philippines. We did not try this as we don’t know how to ride, but we saw other travellers doing it. Just make sure you know what you’re doing and that your travel insurance covers the use of motorcycles!
ACCOMMODATION IN PORT BARTON
There are plenty of accommodation options in Port Barton to choose from, some on the beach front and some set further back. Don’t come to Port Barton expecting luxury because that’s not what you will find. Instead you will find pared back, beautiful accommodation which will help you reconnect with your surroundings. If you can, booking a beach hut would be a phenomenal experience. We got in a bit too late and they were already sold, but being able to enjoy the sunset from your hut front would be brilliant.
Some accommodation options include:
This is where we stayed and it is in the township rather than on the beach. The accommodation was well priced and came with a fan, bathroom, balcony, and breakfast. The staff were incredibly helpful and friendly.
Four beachfront cottages in Port Barton complete with hammocks and delicious meals. This is the number one pick for beach huts in Port Barton.
These simple cottages are also on the beach front and breakfast is included in the rate.
Beautiful cottages in a beachfront location. Simple accommodation with welcoming staff.
Right in the centre of Itaytay Beach, Ausan Cottages are in a prime location. Rooms are simple but well maintained and there are good common areas to enjoy. Onsite eatery with breakfast included.
This eco-friendly resort is not in Port Barton proper, but is in a beautiful and serene location. With 4.1km of beaches and coves, the sanctuary has accommodation at Sunset Beach, Turtle Beach, Sanctuary Beach, and Hideaway Beach. However, you do pay for this experience, with the cheapest room being 9900PHP per night which is very expensive for this area.
Set a bit further away from Port Barton, this camping is experience comes highly regarded. In a more isolated location means fewer people and undisturbed landscapes, allowing you to relax fully. These beach huts are an experience worth trying.
Charge up! Electricity is not 24 hours in Port Barton and when we were there, the electricity was only on from around 5:00pm to 5:00am. If you have a lot of electronics, it might be worth investing in a few adaptors so you can charge multiple devices at once overnight.
PORT BARTON FAQs
From Puerto Princesa, the drive is around 3 hours. From El Nido, the drive is around 3.5 hours. If you choose to take the public bus, this journey will take around 4 – 5 hours.
A full list of recommendations for eating in Port Barton can be found here!
We stayed at Le Cou de Tou which was basic but charming accommodation in the Port Barton township. There are beautiful accommodation options right on the breach front.
We spent three nights in Port Barton which was enough time to spend one day relaxing in the township and another day doing a snorkelling/boat tour. This was the minimum amount of time that I would allocate to Port Barton, preferably I would’ve spent 4 days here and enjoy the peacefulness!
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