The van came on time at 1 PM. It was air-conditioned with comfortable seats. The driver was quiet but mindful and the tour guide I think was a jolly person. There were eight of us inside – the others were from Manila and the other one was from Davao.At the city proper, we had our first stop at Puerto Princesa Baywalk – a half kilometer long park along the shoreline near the Puerto Princesa Port. It is one of the best places in The city where social activities and other major events are held. It’s also where the tallest Christmas tree in the Philippines is standing. Its busiest time is during the evening – when families, couples, and friends of all ages would merge and have their bonding time, courtship and dating escapades and relaxation. Other activities to enjoy at nite would be biking, walk-jog-running and street food hunting and tasting at the kariton stores lined up at the sides. The stretch of the park even allows people to bring their own kitchen and have their dinner below the stars. Our tour was scheduled an hour after midnoon, and this time of visit to the place would be best for photography enthusiasts – when the sky is blue and the sun is shining bright. There are quite a few landscapes to frame with your camera – just ask the tour guide for a few minutes of clicking and capturing if you want. You can however go back here at night after the tour and have a feel of Puerto Princesa’s simpler night life. Our next stop brought us to the Immaculate Conception Cathedral which used to be a small church during the Spanish occupation. According to the tour guide, the cathedral was built in the 18th century but it was rebuilt and renovated after it was destroyed in the 2nd World War during the Japanese invasion. Just across the cathedral is the Plaza Cuartel where 150 American Soldiers and prisoners were burned underground by the Japanese. There are other interesting stories about this historic place and how the survivors fought for their lives – As it was told, the survivors swam from the shore below to the end tip of the Island which I think was more than 10 Kilometers away. A few years ago, one of the survivors visited the place and donated a few memorabilia to the Province’s Museum. It was sad though still interesting to know that the Japanese have left a horrible scar and a pedestal of heroism in the surface of this paradise.
After about 15 minutes of walking and pausing around, the tour guide finally called and advised us to take a 30 minutes nap in the van while we travel to Crocodile Farm from the cathedral.Arriving at the Crocodile Farm, we were told to wait for 15 minutes before our turn. We were with other tourist groups when we entered the hall and a crocodile expert assisted us in the tour inside the crocodile farm. As far as I remember, the tour is divided into 6 areas. First is the introduction of the remains (skeleton and skin) of the 2nd biggest crocodile caught alive in the Philippines – His name is Rio (He was the biggest one before the capture of Lolong in Agusan) and had died of stress several years ago. The second area is in an old building where the small crocodiles are raised and cared for in large containers. In there, tourists are allowed to look and take photos of them. A crocodile guide is also present to give assistance, answer questions and inform about the crocodile farm and about crocodiles. The third area is in a compound full of adult crocodiles. The compound is safe though and the concrete walls are high enough for crocodiles not to get over. There is a pathway across the walls for viewers to watch over. Just be careful not fall. The fourth area is in a mini-forest where other various and some endangered animals are caged and protected. If the tour guide allows more time for you to stroll the area, you can do so. There is a map and there are signboards where you can find the animals so you wont get lost – some of the animals include birds, porcupine, wild pig, monkeys, etc… The next attraction is a chance for you to take a photo with a live kid crocodile and a bear-cat. We paid 30 pesos per person for the crocodile and free for the bear-cat. The crocodile’s mouth is safely taped so it can’t grab and bite you while the bearcat is as harmless as the crocodile even without a tape in it’s mouth. There are 3 areas within the farm compound where you can take photos with live crocodiles. Finally, the last area are the souvenir shops that are lined up and the small canteen that serves cooked crocodile meat. We spent nearly 40 minutes in the Crocodile farm before heading to our next destination in Iwahig Penal Colony which took us 20 minutes to travel. The Iwahig Penal Colony is the biggest minimun-security prison in the world and the safest in the country. It has over a thousand inmates who are serving time not inside a prison cell but in a community where they live like free citizens. They build their own house inside the colony and even let their families live with them. The colony covers an almost 40 hectare piece of land where a large portion of it is farmed by the prisoners with palay and other crops. Our van stopped in front of a two floors old building which according to the tour guide is the recreational center of the inmates. At the 2nd floor through a wide concrete stair is the souvenir shop where you can find various items of different sizes that are creatively made by the inmates. We spent about 20 minutes watching the dance presentation of the inmates, taking pictures and shopping for unique souvenir items. After the tour at the Penal colony, we finally headed to Baker’s Hill which took us about 20 minutes to reach. Baker’s Hill is indeed located in a hill and the other connection I can interpret about the place and its name is the bakery found inside the Disney themed park. One of the things we enjoyed is taking photos – there are really lots of spots where you can have your picture taken. There are I think two restaurants inside that serve their own specialty besides the bakery that sells the famous hopia and other kinds of bread. If you want a bread or hopia as pasalubong from Palawan, this is definitley the place you should take from. There is also a children’s playground, some kiosks where you can stay and eat, a garden with different plants and flowers, a street-food stand and some animals including a peacock and an ostrich. It’s really amazing to find a private place like this on a hill where you can get in free and enjoy the place. It was nearly six in the evening when we left Baker’s hill and made a stop at Binuatan Creations – a handicraft store and makers of handloom woven products made from Palawan local fibers. Adjacent to the store is the building that houses the handmade wooden machines that create their woven products. Our tour guide mentioned that they also supply some of the famous brands in the mainstream industry. Interestingly, you can take photos and even teach and guide you how to weave. You can try to do so and have fun. If you want to buy a real handicraft souvenir for your kitchen or other household decors, this is definitely the place to be.
Finally, its already evening when we headed to the city proper and had our last stop at Tiangge-tiangge – an even much bigger place where you can find every kind of souvenir items you want from pearls, palawan shirts, kasuy products, house decors and many more that are uniquely Palawan made.
It was an exciting half day tour. It was tiring too, which now drives us to choose from the many suggested restaurants where we can eat and gain back the stamina we used up during the tour. There are other more places within the city that are nice to go to and see – if time would’ve allowed us. Anyhow, I think that I’ve had enough to conclude that Puerto Princesa is indeed a beautiful city in a forest.