The three islands of Palawan, Boracay and Cebu have been making the rounds in various travel publications as some of the best islands in the world to visit. Indeed, these three islands offer incomparable experiences ranging from turquoise waters, limestone rock formations as well as a thriving cultural scene. If you are visiting the Philippines and thinking where to spend the bulk of your time or if you have time to visit only 1 or 2 of these islands and are trying to decide which island to sacrifice, hopefully this article will help you make that choice.
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While Boracay boasts of fine, white and powdery sand; the limited size of the island makes it a toss-up for me. Palawan is the largest island in the Philippines and as such, you have several options there although not all the beaches are as accessible. Boracay’s beaches usually have plenty of people regardless of the time of the year unless you stay in one of the exclusive resorts. In Palawan, the more popular beaches such as the one around Honda Bay are crowded as well although you can travel farther afield to find something more exclusive. The disadvantage in Palawan though is that the distance from beach to hotel is not always as close. In Boracay, it’s within walking distance. Cebu on the other hand, offers a balance between Boracay and Palawan. The beaches in Cebu are great as well (though not as fantastic as in Boracay or Palawan) and you can choose between the ones that are near upmarket hotels (such as in Mactan) or those farther afield.
Verdict: Toss-up between Boracay and Palawan. While Palawan certainly has more beaches, Boracay benefits from convenience and short distances between beach to hotel.
I will have to hand it to Cebu for this aspect. The island is one of the Philippines’ recognized culinary centers and trip to Cebu is definitely incomplete without having a taste of Cebu lechon (suckling pig). Ask any Cebu resident and they’ll give you differing recommendations of where to have this much-loved pork dish. My personal favorite is Rico’s Lechon which conveniently has a branch in Mactan not far from the airport.
Cebu is also cosmopolitan enough to have international restaurants to cater to foodies. The French pastries at Tymad as well as Jason Atherton’s Pig and the Palm are places to try if you yearn for western cuisine.
Second in this list would have to be Boracay. The large tourist presence means that you can find a good number of restaurants dealing in various cuisines here though the bulk are, as in most of the provincial areas in the Philippines, either the seafood or grilled meats type or simple Italian like pizza/pasta. None of them seem to stand out though. Boracay is second among the three in this list largely due to options. In Palawan, the food is largely the grilled meat/seafood type with restaurants in Puerto Princesa such as Kalui or Kinabuch as decent options. Surprisingly for most visitors, you can still find some decent Vietnamese restaurants here – a result of Vietnamese refugees who moved to the island during the Vietnam War.
Verdict: Cebu for food.
It’s a toss-up between Boracay and Cebu but I’ll probably hand it to Cebu in this aspect. The island has a good enough balance between fine, luxury resorts, mid-range options as well as budget lodging to cater to every segment. In Cebu, you have award-winning establishments such as the Shangri-la Mactan Resort & Spa, Radisson Blu, Movenpick and Marco Polo have established their own bases in Cebu. Boracay has one international chain – the Shangri-la with a number of local premium hotels while Palawan is dominated by family-run hotels and smaller local upmarket hotels except for El Nido where you can also find luxury resorts.
Verdict: Cebu, for the variety of accommodations available.
Palawan is undoubtedly the most scenic of the lot. With unimaginably picturesque spots at almost every turn, the island is a photographer’s paradise. You have turquoise waters, limestone rock formations rising up from the sea as well as mountain peaks. Cebu has also emerged in recent years for newly discovered scenic spots that include canyons, blue lagoons and hidden waterfalls. Boracay is a flat island so there is not much in the way of scenery aside from the beach and the sea.
Verdict: Palawan is the clear winner in terms of scenery.
Palawan lies outside of the typhoon belt which makes it a safe bet to visit even during the rainy season. Annual precipitation is also lower here than in other places in the Philippines. Elsewhere, Cebu gets occassional storms and the same is the case for Boracay.
Verdict: Palawan has the most pleasant weather of the lot.
Boracay clearly leads in this aspect. It’s already known as a party island among locals and the proximity of the bars to the beach makes the island a popular hangout spot among party animals. Nightlife venues range from beach bars to clubs. Palawan is perhaps the least party-friendly of the lot though you can find bars and watering holes around Puerto Princesa City as well as in beach towns like El Nido.
Verdict: Boracay leads in terms of nightlife
Boracay, as a beach island, doesn’t have much in terms of attractions so it boils down to either Cebu or Palawan. Between the two, I would say it’s hard to compare the quality of attractions given that Cebu is more known for cultural sights while most folks go to Palawan for the natural ones. Top places to go in Cebu include the Magellan’s Cross, Fort San Pedro and the Taoist Temple although natural attractions such as Kawasan Falls and Osmena Peak have been making their rounds in social media recently. In Palawan, top places to go include the Underground River, the limestone rock formations in El Nido and the islands around Honda Bay. Palawan is also a great place for diving – Tubbataha Reef which is a UNESCO World Heritage Site – is part of Palawan province.
Verdict: It depends on what you are after. Go to Cebu for cultural (as well as some natural attractions) but go to Palawan for truly spectacular natural attractions.
Where to Stay in Boracay, Palawan and Cebu
In Palawan, I stayed at Microtel by Wyndham Puerto Princesa. Among the hotels within the city, this is one of the few with a beachfront and their twin bedders can easily fit four people.
In Boracay, the Shangri-la’s Boracay Resort and Spa is the only true luxury chain hotel in the entire island. It also boasts private transfers directly from Caticlan where the airport is located.
In Cebu, it depends on whether you’re looking for a city hotel or a resort. The Radisson Blu Cebu is generally recognized as one of the best hotels in the city. In nearby Mactan, the Shangri-la Mactan Resort and Spa is a top draw for beach goers.
Do you agree with my choices above? Let me know your thoughts!