Palawan is all about beach towns: El Nido, Coron, Port Barton, San Vincente; it can be hard to narrow it down. Put off by an 8-hour bangka ride (what is the toilet situation on those?), we decided on El Nido and Port Barton and then threw in a wildcard desert island option that we found on Airbnb.
El Nido is the place to go island hopping. There are numerous group tours available and most companies follow the same routes. If you're in a group of four or more, you can hire a private boat and do the route in reverse order to avoid the crowds (and there will be crowds, Palawan is very much on the tourist trail). Our GoPro was washed away to sea during our trip – two months later and I've just about gotten over that – so I don't have any photos but, trust me, it's all stunning.
The town itself is a cute and colourful neighbourhood that's fun to explore. It's definitely touristy, but has a laid back vibe. El Nido's beach is pretty polluted, so head to the nearby Corong Corong beach for swimming.
Where to stay: we loved Tree Tops, a quiet haven away from the town run by a lovely couple who make the best pancakes. Where to eat: Art Cafe serves up delicious local and Western dishes; and head to Republica for sunset views and authentic tapas (go around 6pm to snag a seat overlooking the sea).
I didn't really warm to Port Barton (I preferred El Nido x100), it's pretty quiet and there are a lot of boats everywhere, so the beach and water are less inviting.
One thing I did love, though, was walking to nearby White beach – which we didn't actually get to because we had to catch a bus, but the first half was great anyway. Right at the end of the beach is a little pulley system to get across the water, and then you can follow the path into the jungle and along deserted beaches to get to (what is meant to be!) a nice swimming beach.
Where to stay: there's not much budget accommodation in Port Barton (it's more family holiday than backpacker), but we stayed at Ausan Beach Cottages, which was good value and had the best seat on the beach (see above). Where to eat: the evening set meals at Ausan were tasty and we also liked the sandwiches at Jambalaya Cajun Cafe.
Ok so this isn't a totally deserted island, there are a couple of huts further along the beach, but I think we saw three other people the whole time we were there. Basically there's a big old house right on the beach on an island about 30 minutes by boat from Port Barton and you're left to entertain yourself: kayaking, beach walks, reading, volleyball ... you get the idea.
One afternoon we headed to Blue Cove, another island a short boat ride away. It's perfect for swimming (no jellyfish) and you can snorkel right off the beach, there's also a nice little restaurant in the resort.
Where to stay: we weren't totally happy with our stay at Gilligans so I couldn't really recommend it, although it does have great reviews so we may have just been unlucky. For a similar desert island experience, Blue Cove looked really nice.
For more island fun in the Philippines, read up on our time in Bohol.