Sitting here in our Busuanga stilt house recovering from our wreck dives, the second major reason to visit the region is clearly visible on the horizon. Dramatic and mysterious, Lonely Planet describes mystical Coron Island best when it says, “It wouldn’t be out of place in a King Kong film.”
Ominous walls of jungle-covered black karst erupt from the surrounding turquoise seas. Jagged and spectacular, Coron Island is the ultimate karst showpiece. As mountainous as Yangshuo, as labyrinthine as the Stone Forest, mid-ocean like Halong or Pang Nga, and as razor-edged as the spiky tsingy of Madagascar, Coron trumps them all. The place is pure magic.
Controlled by the traditional Tagbanua tribe, most of the island is off-limits to outsiders. Luckily, the Tagbanua allow limited access to some of the highlights along the northwestern coast of the island including breath-taking Kayangan and Barracuda Lakes as well as Twin Lagoons. All four bodies of water are steep-walled karst sink-holes filled with stunning glass-clear water, each one featuring unique creatures ranging from dwarf catfish to mini-pipefish to stingless jellyfish.
But massive Lake Cabagao, hidden deep within the karst peaks of the island’s interior, holds Coron’s most mysterious creature. Cabagao is said to be the lair of the giant octopus, a creature worshiped by the Tagbanua. Unfortunately, the holy lake is strictly off-limits to outsiders. (Come on people, are you trying to drive me crazy?)
While we might not have been able to visit Lake Cabagao, we both made the most of the portions of the island open to us. Most tourists content themselves with lightening-paced motorized bangka tours to take in the sights, but that left us wanting more, so we decided to take it a step further and spend a couple of days exploring the jagged coastline by sea kayak.
The mind-blowing karst formations, hidden lakes, crystalline coves, mangrove filled inlets, and tiny strips of white sand all backed by jungle-clad walls filled with monkeys and exotic birds were simply too much for one mind to process. This just might actually be the most beautiful place I have ever seen in the world.
EXPLORING CORON ISLAND BY SEA KAYAK
Sea kayaks can be rented in Coron Town on Busuanga Island. While we were there, Sea Dive Resort was renting doubles for 450 Pesos ($10) per day. It takes around 60-90 minutes for reasonably fit paddlers to reach Coron Island. The most spectacular coves lie to the west of Barracuda Lake continuing beyond Twin Lagoons. Remember that it’s a long paddle back at the end of the day after exploring the island, so don’t burn yourself out too early. Keep your eyes peeled for crab-eating macaques.