Tourism in Asia is back with a vengeance now that travel is easier than it has been for many years.
All of the top tourist hotspots, including Indonesia’s Bali and Thailand’s Phuket, which were virtually sealed off for years, have soared in popularity once more.
With that being said, these classic resort destinations are not the only ones responsible for reviving Asia’s badly damaged tourism sector. There is a lesser-known tropical paradise that used to receive far fewer visitors in years past that is now one of the trendiest island getaways in the region.
This year, Westerners have given the beautiful Palawan a chance, and understandably so, they already can’t get enough of it:
A Hidden Gem Of Southeast Asia
The Philippines is far from being the most visited country in Southeast Asia, lagging behind the likes of Thailand and its annual 15 million tourists, the incredibly developed Singapore, and Vietnam with its extensive sandy coastline.
Overall, it is only the sixth-most visited destination in the subcontinent. That’s not to say it lacks beauty, nor that it is, in any way, inferior to its counterparts.
In fact, the Philippines can be considered one of the last surviving unspoiled tropical archipelagos in the world.
Scattered in thousands of pieces around the South China Sea, the archipelagic nation is simply jam-packed with paradisaical islands and untouched reserves, increasingly rare finds in mainland Southeast Asia, where rapid development threatens to disturb the abundant nature.
Other than its ‘metropolitan’ islands, such as Luzon, where the bustling national capital of Manila is located, or Cebu, where the sprawling Cebu City serves as a financial center, other smaller islands that make up the Philippines have retained their quaint character.
One such island is Palawan, with a population of over 900,000, distributed across the compact capital of Puerto Princesa, where around 300,000 live, and smaller settlements resting either on the coast or the mountainous, verdant inland.
Why Is Palawan So Trendy Right Now?
Puerto Princesa International Airport, the main entry point into the island, hosts only a limited number of flights, mostly domestic ones originating from within the Philippines, which helps keep tourism levels under control and preserve the island’s unique character.
It is, after all, known nationally as the Philippines’ ‘best island’, with Filipinos themselves selecting Palawan as their ‘preferred travel destination’. According to an official survey, as many as 23% of those surveyed express a desire to visit the island.
You may be wondering why that is so.
Palawan is best known for its miles on miles of unruffled sands, lapped by crystal-clear waters, exuberant marine biodiversity, and relaxed atmosphere. It is somewhere you go to escape the crazy traffic in Manila and the urbanization issues Cebu City faces.
Compared to other Southeast Asian islands, such as Thailand’s Phuket, it is a lot quieter and more peaceful, with fewer ‘entertainment zones’, and a stronger focus on ecotourism and wellness, which is sure to place Palawan at the front of Asia’s tourism rebound.
In case you have forgotten, wellness is one of the top travel trends this year.
Palawan Is A Force Of Nature
Some of the main attractions in Palawan include the capital of Puerto Princesa itself. It is traversed by a UNESCO-listed underground river and boasts some beautiful colonial-era architecture (if you need a little reminder, the Philippines was once under Spanish rule).
As these have been left virtually unscathed amid Southeast Asia’s struggle for independence from European powers, Palawan has a high concentration of historical churches, civic buildings, and monuments dating back to this period.
Its greatest asset, however, is its breathtaking nature, with long miles of sandy beaches surrounding the coast and turquoise lagoons. Travelers often describe Palawan as being ‘Avatar-like’, in reference to James Cameron’s 2009 blockbuster film, set in a fantastical world of unique geological formations.
This description is not too far off, as Palawan is home to an extensive list of natural wonders. When seeking an escape into nature, visitors often head to El Nido beach, a tranquil swimming spot bounded by the bright-blue ocean and flanked by a steep karst cliff.
Day trips to smaller islands in the wider Palawan province are also a popular activity.
Palawan Tourism Is On The Rise
As Palawan News reports, the Filipino destination is recording a record surge in tourism this year in the wake of the country’s reopening for tourism and rekindled interest in Southeast Asia among foreigners, especially those coming from the Western Hemisphere and Europe.
The partial data recorded by the Department of Tourism, or Tourism Live Inventory and Statistics of Tourist Arrivals, shortened to TOURLIST, demonstrates that a total of 765,991 visitors visited Palawan between January and June 2023, at a whopping 136% increase year-on-year.
Out of those, nearly half are foreigners. As seen here, international visitors are becoming more numerous, but Palawan’s beaches, boutique hotels, and wellness retreats are yet to be overrun by them.
Additionally, the most popular location for tourists staying in Palawan is the small town of El Nido, which attracted nearly 300,000 for the first semester, nearly 4/10 of the overall arrivals.
In second place, Puerto Princesa, the regional capital, logs 269,090, followed by Coron and its 75,756 guests, San Vincente’s 52,057, and finally, Linapacan with 16,654.
Leading the way among the destinations in Palawan is the town of El Nido, attracting the most number of visitors at 294,065, accounting for a 38.39% share of the total tourist arrivals in the province.
All of the destinations above are well-known for their proximity to nature, proving yet again those vacationing in Palawan are actively searching for nature-based activities.
The World’s Most Desirable Island
Last year, Palawan was crowned the ‘Most Desirable Island’ in the Wanderlust Reader Travel Awards, as voted by the public, as well as named the ‘Most Preferred Destination’ within the Philippines by locals, in a survey carried out by PUBLiCUS Asia, Inc.
Provincial Tourism Offer Maribel Buñi is recorded stating, ‘this calls for more proactive initiatives and measures to ensure that we provide excellent service and offer quality tourism products for our visitors to have a memorable experience while they are on our island.’
As Buñi noted, the goal is not only to increase the number of arrivals but also to promote longer stays and ‘bigger spending’.
Could we expect this Filipino oasis to follow in the footsteps of Bali and launch its very own Long-Stay Visa in the near future?
That is yet to be seen, but we surely would not be surprised.
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This article originally appeared on TravelOffPath.com