Last month I took my first week-long vacation (6 whole days off IN A ROW) in two years. Even The Weekend Jetsetter takes a “real vacation” now and then! I spent 25+ hours each way traveling to Asia to visit the #1 island in the world: Palawan. Not only was it worth the jet lag and swollen in-flight feet – but my entire trip – flight, hotel, activities, food, drinks – cost just $1,000. That’s right – for the price of a typical weekend in the Caribbean, I ventured to the other side of the world for an exotic adventure.
It’s easy to see why Palawan was voted the best island in the world by readers of Conde Nast Traveler. The water is crystal clear, the beaches beautiful and the scenery stunning. So how did I end up there for such a steal? Here’s a breakdown of our Palawan vacation itinerary.
Palawan Vacation Itinerary for Under $1000
Flights: We flew for $500 each round trip from Chicago to Manila in the Philippines on Asiana Airlines. This flight was the BOMB, you guys. I was super nervous about handling my first flight to Asia, but flying in coach was just like flying first class on most U.S. airlines: spacious seats, plugs to charge your devices, TVs with free movies, multiple meals and complimentary drinks. We did have to schedule a layover in Seoul, South Korea on both ends of the trip – but this ended up making it all the more fun! To get from Manila to Palawan, we each spent an additional $120 on flights to Puerto Princesa, with Air Asia Zest (to find out my strategies for scoring these amazing flight deals, you should download my eBook).
Accommodations: We spent $40/night for 4 nights at Deep Gold Resort in the quiet beach town of Port Barton. This was booked through Airbnb (sign up via my referral link and get $20 off your first booking). On the last night of our Palawan vacation, we spent $50 for one night at the Ipil Suites in the city of Puerto Princesa. I was there with my boyfriend, Nick, so split between two people, accommodations were $105 total each. It’s important to note that these were on the higher end of hotel prices in Palawan: many fellow travelers we met were spending $10 to $20 per night. Additionally, it was Holy Week, a very popular travel week in the Philippines, which drove prices up. Anyway, were were quite happy with both places we stayed (especially as our place in Port Barton was right on the beach and had air conditioning).
Spending Money for Food & Activities: I brought the equivalent of $500 USD, but only ended up spending $250 USD during my time in Palawan. Private van transportation from Puerto Princesa to Port Barton was $50 per person (it’s usually more like $7 to take a van, but we arrived after the last one had left for the day). Island hopping tours were around $20 to $30 per person, including lunch. Meals were usually around $5, and a beer was around $1.
Now let’s get real: this was not a luxury vacation. But one does not visit Palawan for that type of trip. I mean, you probably can, but it would be weird. Palawan is a hidden gem, and part of its charm is that it hasn’t been taken over by giant resorts. In the beach town of Port Barton, for example, electricity is only available for around 6 hours per day and running water is very sporadic (I showered twice in four days). WiFi is practically nonexistent. However, the beautiful surroundings more than made up for the lack of amenities. Who needs a shower or the Internet when you spend all day snorkeling in the ocean anyway?
Most of the people we met in Port Barton were traveling long term. They were all curious as to how the heck two Americans found their way to this tiny random beach town in Asia for a week’s vacation. You see, there are other more well-known places in Palawan, like El Nido, a region known for it’s incredible landscape and island hopping. You’ve probably seen it on Instagram or Pinterest. However, we’d heard that El Nido was difficult to reach from the airport and very touristy. Given our limited time on the island, we settled on visiting the closer, “undiscovered” Port Barton instead. It turned out to be the right choice, as many of those we met who had been to El Nido complained that it was expensive and crowded – and that they preferred the laid back vibe of Port Barton.
While we might have been on a budget-friendly Palawan vacation, we were by no means in money-saving mode. We ate out at restaurants for almost every meal, arranged a private van transfer from the airport to Port Barton (around 2 hours) and took four island hopping day tours complete with gourmet meals. As I mentioned above, we were also staying in some of the most expensive places on the island. This was purely due to the fact that they were some of the only places available to book online, and we were lazy. After all, this was vacation!
This Palawan vacation was entirely inspired by that amazing $500 flight deal from Chicago to Manila, and it ended up being one of the most memorable I’ve taken. It just goes to show that vacationing in a far flung, exotic locale – even the “world’s best island” – isn’t just for the rich and famous: the average person can get there too at a very accessible price.
I can’t wait to share details of my three days in Port Barton, two days in Puerto Princes and 15-hour layover in Seoul, South Korea over the next couple of weeks. Check out the video for a preview, and make sure you hit “Subscribe” below so you don’t miss a thing!