Written by: Donna Reyes
Years ago, San Vicente was hardly on anyone’s radar – a spot known only to the most adventurous of travelers willing to brave the long and bumpy ride from Puerto Princesa.
The roads have since been paved and the town opened its own airport in 2017. San Vicente now rivals its more famous neighbors Coron and El Nido as one of the top destinations in Palawan.
San Vicente is the perfect choice for those looking for a quiet laid back vacation. Its main attraction – the 14km beachfront known as Long Beach – is dotted by occasional resorts and properties in development. But take a stroll along its tree-lined shores and you’re sure to find an empty stretch of sand to while away the rest of the day.
San Vicente looks stunning in the daytime, but it becomes even more magical at dusk. While there’s not much nightlife to speak of along Long Beach (You’ll have to go to Port Barton for that), visitors are treated to fantastic sunset views and a blanket of stars as the light fades away.
Prep for sand fleas
As a relatively untouched beach, San Vicente unfortunately has its share of sand fleas. Sand fleas are tiny and are hard to see with the naked eye, but their bites are incredibly itchy and can last for weeks. Take the necessary precautions so they don’t ruin your holiday: 1) Use a beach mat or blanket instead of laying on the sand directly; 2) Apply bug spray frequently (As much as possible, use natural chemical-free repellents as they are safer for your health and the environment); 3) try to head to the beach in the morning or afternoon and avoid the sand at dusk or after rain since sand fleas love cooler weather.
Explore by land and by sea
A great way to explore Long Beach is by motorbike, whether on your own or with a guide. Resorts typically offer their own motorbike rentals and guided tours, or connect you with a local service. When you’re done with the beach, head up to Bato ni Ningning, a popular spot in the hills overlooking Irawan Beach. It provides a 360-degree view of grassy hills, tall palm trees and the glistening West Philippine Sea.
Island hopping tours are also available, taking you to nearby beaches such as Inaladelan, Exotic Island and Starfish Island. Port Barton – a backpacker’s paradise with small inns, bars and restaurants lining its shores – is also best reached by boat.
Accommodations for different budgets
Club Agutaya is the clear choice for those who want luxury accommodations. But we opted to stay at the newly-opened Lazuli, a boutique beachfront property in Alimanguan. The rooms are spacious and well-maintained, and a small outdoor pool is available for guests who want a break from the waves. Lazuli’s best asset is its staff, who went above and beyond expectations to help us during our stay. Make sure to try Chef Jonel’s famous pizza, and ask Jong to make you one of his signature cocktails.
Keep an eye out for turtles
Visit between October to March and you might be lucky enough to catch sea turtles coming ashore to nest. We had the scare of our lives one evening as we stumbled upon an olive ridley crawling in the dark. Two nights later, we spotted another turtle and watched in awe as it lay dozens of eggs. San Vicente residents take great pride in their environmental conservation efforts, and some local businesses maintain turtle sanctuaries and encourage guests to help with hatchling releases.
Ride the waves
San Vicente is making a name for itself as a surfing destination. The waves in Alimanguan are challenging enough for experienced surfers, but the friendly beach break makes it safe for newbies as well. A few places offer board rentals and lessons but we highly recommend San Vic Surf, located at Siztoms Chillout Corner. It’s run by a friendly woman named Siz, who happily takes photos and videos of her guests as they surf. In between sessions, Siz and her instructors can be found in the restaurant whipping up meals and serving drinks to hungry patrons. We spent our last night hanging out with the San Vic crew at a bonfire they prepared especially for us – a perfect way to end our vacation.
How to get there
Skyjet and Philippine Airlines have daily direct flights to San Vicente from Clark and Manila. Travel time is 1.5 hours. Tricycles are available at the airport, but many resorts and hotels offer free transfers.
You can also opt to fly to Puerto Princesa, and make your way to San Vicente by land. Public buses run twice daily from San Jose Terminal, but public vans make multiple trips and can get you there faster. Buses can take up to 5 hours, while vans make less stops and can make the trip in 4 hours.
However you choose to get there, I highly recommend booking through Aisela Travel – they can make arrangements for your transfers, accommodations, tours and activities. They take away the stress of planning so you can focus on enjoying your vacation.
At first glance, San Vicente may not have the thrills and attractions offered by other destinations like Bohol or Boracay. But therein lies the appeal. Despite the influx of tourists, the residents have managed to preserve San Vicente’s raw beauty and maintain its provincial charm. It’s as close to paradise as one can find.