Palawan — the long and narrow archipelago in the country’s western-most section — has a lot to be thankful for.
Besides the pristine beaches of this cluster of 1,786 islands — its clear waters and solid ground rarely explored — the province has fortunately remained untouched by any major disaster in recent memory. Truly, this place touted as the Philippines’ last frontier is paradise.
Located far from the Pacific Ocean, where typhoons typically form and has no known active faults, Palawan has experienced neither strong typhoons nor earthquakes.
Given these, it is no wonder that the province has enjoyed a steady growth of domestic and foreign tourist visits — with 2018 picking up its highest at more than 1.8 million arrivals — and is now positioning itself as ideal retirement haven for both Filipinos and expatriates.
In recent years, the municipalities of Coron and El Nido have gained popularity for its beaches and islands, even becoming chosen destinations for international reality shows (“Survivor South Africa,” “Survivor: Palawan (Israel)”) and some Hollywood movies (“Bourne Legacy”).
Interestingly, however, data from the Provincial Tourism Promotions and Development Department of Palawan, as first reported by Palawan Daily News, revealed that the province’s progressive Puerto Princesa City remains as top destination for tourists.
To be precise, of the 1,809,880 tourists who visited Palawan, 1,278,318 visited the capital while 208,100 went to Coron and 149,948 spent time in El Nido.
Luxury in the provincial capital
Despite these figures, Puerto Princesa can still maximize its potential. One of which is the hospitality sector.
A jump-off point for travelers who want to begin their Palawan adventure in Puerto Princesa City — with the Unesco World Heritage Site Puerto Princesa Underground River arguably on top of their list — before proceeding to other municipalities, the capital can still leave a discerning traveler’s desire for a more luxurious accommodation.
Property developer Astoria Hotels and Resorts saw the prospects in this market gap.
“We saw the opportunity to build in Palawan a few years ago given the growing popularity of the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park. The Underground River being declared as a Unesco World Heritage Site and also voted as a New 7 Wonders of Nature destination boosted the attractiveness of Puerto Princesa as a destination,” The Astoria Group COO Vivian Ng shared to the media during a junket in Palawan.
“Together with the opening of Puerto Princesa International Airport, it has been primed as a destination for a high influx of tourists. We decided that to locate ourselves nearby would be according to our corporate objective of being in major tourist destinations,” the executive added, bringing the decision to build Astoria Palawan in 2016.
But with the massive area of Palawan, choosing the capital to build a property in the province apparently took some time.
“Being a very large and long land mass, Palawan was a bit challenging in picking the right area. The question of being in the city or close to it for convenience versus being farther away but with better beach experience was the conundrum. But [in the end] we decided that a large tract of land with beautiful mango trees and a long beachfront would offer the best experience for our guests,” she said.
Working around nature
To fully maximize the serenity and beauty of the five-hectare resort, Astoria made a conscious effort to work around what they already have.
“Astoria works closely with the renowned architectural firm Ed Gallego & Architects to ensure that we design our property to highlight the environmental beauty of our surroundings.”
To do so, Ng further detailed that the marching order was to preserve, enhance and integrate what’s already there into the whole Astoria Palawan experience.
The first step was to ensure the preservation of as many mango trees as possible inside the property. Instead of reclaiming the creek that was already in the property, Astoria improved it to become one of its attractions today.
Today, Astoria is busily trying to restore the marine life in the nearby waters of the beach, which was badly hurt from abusive fishing practices of the past.
“We are now engaging local fishermen to work hand in hand with us to attain this objective and to provide them alternate livelihood by way of assisting guests during snorkeling and leisure fishing activities.”
Astoria also consciously integrated technology to implement environment-friendly practices in the property.
For one, they have invested in an eco-digester to dispose food wastes as well as a water filtration and processing system so that they use recyclable bottles for their guests’ use.
“We also invested in inverter technology, LED lighting, solar energy, co-generation heat technology and e-trikes, to lessen our carbon footprint and support the environment. We will always build with sustainable tourism in mind,” Ng proudly noted.
It should be noted though that aesthetics were never compromised, but worked rather well with the environment-consciousness that Astoria Palawan wanted to champion.
Proof to this is the newest addition to the property — the aesthetically pleasing but still environment conscious Premier Villas.
“We wanted to create a luxurious experience for our guests, with expansive villas that they could have every amenity in. In our one-bedroom and two-bedroom villas, we have a dining table, kitchen, living room set — essentially, our guests are transported to a tranquil island getaway but with all the comforts of a modern home.”
Six villas with 30 rooms facing the scenic Sulu Sea consist the new Premier Villas. It also has an infinity pool dedicated for guests.
Each room boasts of high-ceiling and glass-window design that give a more spacious feel. Inside, the luxury continues with custom hard-surfaced kitchen and ceramic-tiled bathroom with a separate relaxation tub, an LCD flat screen television and complimentary high-speed wireless internet connection, tea and coffee-making facilities with bottled water.
Access to events and activities
The choice proved to be the best, as Astoria is now a strategic location to jump off into Palawan’s many offerings.
For one, it is only 90- to 120-minutes away from Port Barton, part of the municipality of San Vicente, which is slowly becoming a popular destination with a host of island hopping, diving and snorkeling options.
Likewise, it is also 90-minutes away from the city proper, where a range of activities — from trying out Ka Joel’s Inato Restaurant to sampling the best pastries in Baker’s Hill to shop-til-you-drop pearl accessories at the pasalubong center — can be done.
Astoria Palawan also holds an advantage what with the now-growing Subaraw Biodiversity Festival.
Only on its second year, Subaraw — a portmanteau of native words “suba” that means river and “taraw” meaning limestone cliff, both aptly describing the subterranean river park — is already living up to its dream of becoming as a well-known festival much like Cebu’s Sinulog, Baguio’s Panagbenga and Aklan’s Ati-Atihan festivals.
“On its second year, we want the country to know about our unique Subaraw festival and in the coming years, the world,” Puerto Princesa City Mayor Lucilo Bayron remarked at the festival’s media conference.
The week-long festivities which celebrate the crowning of the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park (commonly known as the Underground River) as one of the new “Seven Wonders of the World,” would always culminate on November 11, the date declared as the annual Puerto Princesa Underground River Day.
Ng refuses to look at Astoria Palawan’s distance from the city proper, where much of the festival activities are held, as a disadvantage.
“The extra hour of travel is a small price to pay for the enjoyment of having the best of all worlds in Astoria Palawan. With the many Subaraw activities our guests can participate in during the day, what’s nice is to have some quiet time here in Astoria after.
“If they stay in the city, the most they can do is go back to their room after Subaraw participation and have a cocktail. But here, they can have many more options —they can do water activities such as kayaking, snorkeling and if they love water adventure, they can enjoy a splash at our water park,” Ng enthused.
If a tourist looks for a mixture of natural adventure and city activities, staying at Astoria Palawan is the most ideal choice to enjoy the adventures in the country’s last frontier.