Baragatan Festival, a wonderful time to visit Palawan
When it comes to tourism gem Palawan, it seems the best time to visit is summer, where its beaches and its famous tourist attraction the Underground River (Puerto Princesa Subterranean River Park) show their most vibrant colors. But do you know that there is another best time to visit Palawan, particularly Puerto Princesa?
Every year, in the two weeks leading up to Palawan’s Foundation Day on June 23, all the 23 municipalities of Palawan meet and gather at the capital to showcase the best of their places – their products, and their people. The festival is called Baragatan, which in Cuyunon (the main language in Palawan), means to “meet,” or to “gather.”
Coming to Baragatan as a tourist is like doing a meet and greet with all the beautiful places and cultures in Palawan. You need not physically go to each place to experience it; the locals will bring it to you, and perhaps what you see will entice you to stay longer. Or perhaps, it is enough that you meet and hear the stories of locals from remote areas like Kalayaan, that controversial group of islands also claimed by China.
Here’s what you can do to make the most of Baragatan:
1. Watch the colorful events like the float parade and competition. The float parade is usually on the last week leading up to June 23. Each municipality makes a float using mostly native and natural materials to show what their place is known for. From coconut shells and woven leaves to seeds in many colors, you’ll be amazed at the locals’ creativity. There are also other events like the street dance competitition.
2. Visit the trade fair, try the local delicacies, and check out the native handicrafts.
Take a taste, literally, of each culture by trying – and buying – their food. Buro manamsi from Cagayancillo (home of the UNESCO World Heritage Site Tubbataha Reef) is a fish paste with a unique taste you won’t find anywhere else. Combo from Cuyo is different from maruya and has a richer banana taste.
Check out the mats, accessories, baskets, and home decor handmade with love – why not buy for yourself or for a family member or a friend? Support the locals, especially those living in far-flung areas which have limited access to the city and other areas.
In fact, Baragatan started as a gathering particularly for the showcase of products of each area, also to boost the local economy.
3. Talk to the locals – as much as you can. Locals know best about their place, so if you want to visit or are simply curious, talk to them. Who knows, you might just gain a tour guide, or at least someone trusted you can ask should you visit their place. Or, at the very least, you get to hear interesting stories and learn something new.
Talk and interaction among the municipalities themselves are actually essential elements in Baragatan. Different sectors like fisherfolk, barangay officials, and more have their own conventions and this is a great time to share knowledge and information.
Also, talking face to face deepens connection and wipes out biases or misconceptions, according to Balabac Department of Interior and Local Government staff Benedict Palatino. He said that some locals from Northern Palawan were a bit wary of Balabac, which has an 80% Muslim population, but upon meeting Balabac locals, their misconceptions fell away. In Balabac, Palatino said, religion is not an issue, and Christians and Muslims live in peace.
While Baragatan lasts two weeks, come on the last week to see the highlights, especially the float competition and street dancing.
Of course, since you’re already in Puerto Princesa, why not experience its attractions too? Tourism is quite organized in the city and tour prices are consistent across travel organizations. For example, the Underground River tour is P1500. It is easy and convenient to book tours, and one of the easiest ways to go about it is to ask for assistance from your hotel.
Below are tours you can take in Puerto Princesa. Allot one day for each, then join Baragatan’s festivities in the evening.
1. Underground River + ziplining
If there’s one place you should visit in Puerto Princesa, it’s the Underground River. A UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the New7Wonders of Nature, the Underground River easily gets fully booked during summer. Perhaps you might find it easier to book for your Baragatan visit, since it’s in June. Also, this tourist attraction remains beautiful even during the rainy season. And besides, much of its attraction is inside the cave, so the sights you see rain or shine are generally the same.
After your Underground River adventure, why not go for a more extreme one? Zipline from a hill, across the sea, and down to the beach, through Sabang X Zipline. The entire ride is 800 meters, or around one minute and 30 seconds.
2. Honda Bay
Honda Bay has pristine white islands and colorful coral reefs. Your tour will surely take you hopping from one island to another, and you will be seeing lots of fish when you snorkel.
3. City Tour
While some city tour sights may vary depending on the tour organizer, the usuals are the Crocodile Farm, the Butterfly Garden, Baker’s Hill (yes, they sell breads there), and Mitra Ranch, which offers a view of green treetops and blue sea.
From the Butterfly Garden, you can already walk to the neighboring Tribal Village, where the Palaw’an indigenous people hold cultural shows on their hunting, music, and other practices.
4. DIY City Proper Cultural and Historical Tour
There are many beautiful sights you can already see in the city, all less than 10 minutes away, and for a tricycle ride of just P8 to get to each attraction. The provincial capitol building alone is very pretty, with its white stone facade and its marble staircases and domed ceiling. Then just walk a little to the Palawan Heritage Center, where you will find cultural artifacts and information on the early people of Palawan, especially the indigenous tibes.
There is another museum a tricycle ride away, the Palawan Museum, which further gives information on each group of the indigenous peoples of the area. Then there’s the World War II Memorial Museum, with weapons and missiles used or reserved during the war.
Visit Plaza Cuartel too, also a World War II garrison where American soldiers were burned alive but which is now also a park with a view of the sea.
From here you can already walk to the city’s cathedral. Then end the day with a walk along Baywalk, and perhaps a meal in one of the seafood “paluto” restaurants there.
During your visit, you have the option to stay in the city proper or go outside. For a relaxed stay in the city with a view of the Baywalk, stay somewhere like the Sunlight Hotel.
If you want to have some quiet time away from the city but still relatively close to it, you could stay at Microtel. The hotel-resort has its own quiet beach, too.
If you want to stay overnight near the Underground River for a more leisurely travel pace, as it’s a bit of a ride from the city, check in at Daluyon, an eco-friendly beachside resort powered by solar panels (the lights and heating, at least) and rainwater used for doing laundry and other chores.
You can also stay at Sheridan, another beachside resort. This has a large, beautiful pool which runs well across its grounds.
Will you be visiting soon? Have you been to Puerto Princesa before? Share your travel stories with us in the comments below and via #SharePH. – Rappler.com
Claire Madarang is a writer, traveler and seeker. Her wanderlust takes her on adventures like backpacking for 7 weeks straight. Her seeking leads her to different wellness practices like meditation and healthy (mostly vegetarian) eating. Follow her adventures, tips and epiphanies at her blog, Traveling Light.