Coron Town, Basuanga Island
We spent 8 days in Coron Town and upon reflection it could have been done in 3-5 days. If you are staying at one of the luxury resorts then a week may be fine as you can chill on the beach and relax. One of the major downsides to staying in Coron Town is the lack of a beach (closest sand beach is a 3 hour ride away or a $30 boat ride away on a surrounding island) and the town itself is dirty, dusty, rundown, filled with the fumes and sounds of trikes and motorbikes and generally a place where you want to spend as little time as possible. Of course, visitors don’t come here for the town but rather the world class scuba diving and snorkeling available in the Bay and surrounding islands. Prices are considerably higher here than anywhere else in South East Asia with the exception of Singapore.
Places to Stay in Coron Town
1. Corto Divers Apartment- we were blessed to stay in the brand new Corto Divers apartment which was above their dive shop. The apartment features beautiful woodwork from a local Phillipino carpenter using recycled woods, air conditioning, a shared living room with TV, DVD player, wi-fi and a communal kitchen and bathroom. This place really was a refuge from the smells and rawness of Coron Town. Rates while we were there were 3700 pesos a night and there are 3-4 rooms available there.
2. Corto Del Mar- opening soon (late 2012) and owned by the same Frenchman who runs Corto Divers, this place will feature the same style as the Corto Divers apartments but may cost more as it will feature private bathrooms in every room.
3. Amphibi-Ko Resort- features small rooms with a small tv on one of the piers and a Japanese themed restaraunt on the top floor.
4. Asian Grand View- upmarket rooms $80 and up per night. This resort is slightly out of town so you will need to take taxis or trikes into town.
5. Sea Dive- caters to budget conscious travelers and is also at the end of a pier. Rooms are simple, some feature air con, the rest fans. While we were there in March the rooms were mostly sold out due to their price ($25 and under). This place features a dive shop and restaurant and is probably good for solo travelers as its seems like a good place to meet people.
6. Discovery Divers Resort- this “resort” is a 10-15 minute boat ride away and features simple bungalows but no beach. Prices are reasonable $35 and up.
Others worth checking out- Coron Village Lodge and the neighboring lodge who I can’t remember the name of which features a swimming pool.
Krystal Lodge sits at the end of a rickety wooden walkway over the water and features very simple, wooden/bamboo walled rooms and seemed not secure enough for our needs. This place is cheap though ($10-15) and may work well for budget travelers.
Places To Eat
Unlike most visitors we eat mainly vegetarian and don’t eat fish or seafood do this immediately cut out 99% of the options available in town. Unless you cook your own food or eat at the places locals frequent you will be spending $15-20 a person per day on food not including cocktails.
1. La Sirenetta Restaurant-this place hands down was the best place to eat in town in our humble opinion. It boasts the best ambience and the best food in our opinion. Located at the end of a long pier, this open walled restaurant boats 300 degree views of the bay and is aesthetically well decorated with mermaids holding up the columns of the roofs. It’s a great place to catch the sunset, gets a nice breeze at night and plays chilled out downtempo music. The food choices range from seafood to chicken and pork and even offered some vegetarian friendly dishes like coconut soup and hummus. Average price for two entrees, 2 drinks and an appetizer will set you back $22-25. It was a high price to pay but this place was a welcome escape from the fumes and chaos of town and often felt like you were relaxing on a Thai island. Free Wi-fi available.
2. Maneken Pis- this Belgian run establishment nourished us most mornings and for dinner as well. It is a small but nice place that features air conditioning and wi-fi if you need to get inside to escape the noise and heat outside. They offer great European breakfast options (yogurt, creeps, bacon, eggs, ham, homemade bread) and their main menu featured the standard local options plus some pastas, burgers, Belgian fries, pizzas, and sandwiches. Also available were Belgian chocolates, cereals, and mouse. Average price of breakfast was about $4-5 a person and dinner was $7-9 per person.
3. Coron Bistro- this is a long running institution run by an ex-pat Bruno. They serve European dishes and their breakfast was delicious featuring homemade French rolls which were some of the best we’ve had. The only downside was that the restaurant is open walled and on the busy National Highway which brings with it noise and fumes. Menu features some local favorites as well as Pizza, pasta and other Western style foods. Cost for breakfast was $3-6 per person and dinner could be $6-10 per person.
Others to check out- Cookies, 2nd floor at the corner of the town square featured affordable drinks and food.
Amphibi-Ko- on the top floor features a nice view and Japanese specialties but were offended by their offering of Shark Fin which for a place that offers scuba diving seems ignorant and misguided. If you eat there we suggest sharing your feelings with them.
Lolo Noy’s- featured an outdoor eating area setback from the street that served mainly Filipino dishes with some western ones thrown in. Prices were very affordable.
Coron Village Lodge is supposedly good but we did not try it.
CORON, Philippines Travel Tips
Scuba Diving Operators
1. Corto Divers- Run by two French Dive Masters, Olivier and Louis who speak English, Tagalog, and French is the newest place in town and was excellent. They feature the cleanest and most modern dive shop in town with brand new equipment having opened in late 2011. We had been tipped off by a post on Lonely Planets message board about Olivier’s gentle and patient ways with scared people learning diving so I thought it would be a great place for Shana to learn. As it turns out when we arrived, there was another woman who had just gotten her certification with him and was quite apprehensive at first but could not say enough about Olivier. Shana went ahead cautiously with her open water certification and was given one on one instruction by Olivier, something very rare here in town and anywhere in South East Asia. While out learning her skills we spotted another well known dive operator with 8 students and only one instructor! Seeing the courses were the same price we had no idea why one would subject themselves to that learning environment. Olivier made sure Shana felt safe and also pushed her when it was necessary. We dove four different Japanese wrecks with them and enjoyed them all especially the Olympia Maru wreck. As word spreads about their great service they will no longer be such a well kept secret. Prices for 2 dives were 3,000 pesos, 3 for 3,500 and open water certification took 3 days and cost 18,500 pesos.
We didn’t dive with anyone else but saw Rock Steady boats out on the water most days and also Sea Dive, which due to its size seemed like it had a churn them out kind of approach. We saw some dingy dive shops in town offering three dives for 2600 pesos but can’t vouch for them. I always recommend checking the gear you will be using first, seeing how good the Dive Master’s English is if you are an English speaker, and checking reviews online. Scuba Diving is not an activity to cut corners on to save a few bucks when your life is on the line.