Coron comes close to Palau’s Truk Lagoon in terms of a wonderful diving environment. Both have sea beds littered with sunken World War II vessels. But the similarities do not stop in the war wrecks. Their names are nearly alike, Palau and Palawan. Maybe, there is a more to it than there appears on the surfac.
Paluans are a proud ancient race keeping a close watch on their culture. In Coron, the Tagbanua ethnic group holds the islands and forests and would never let go any portion of their ancestral domain. Until the government stepped in and borrowed this part of sacred territory for a risky enterprise like, well, tourism. Perhaps, there is magic in the lakes that the Tagbanuas have been zealously guarding.
You can approach the northwestern coast of Coron by boat. A stunning sight of jagged, ashen, karst-rocks shooting out from the sea like the mythic dragons teeth grows gradually before your eyes. Time lashed rocks with forest vines; the crevices, moldy with overgrowths just like moss growing on garden stones. But the long and deep gnarling cracks that gave the steep walls its ancient face tell of this once volcanic ridge its age.
The lakes—Kayangan, Barracuda and the Twin Lagoons—are all karst sink-holes of glass-clear water. But Barracuda Lake is a challenge. The shore is covered with rocky corals. It takes effort to bring the boat up. A rough trail climbs up and winds around the lake to the jump-off point. But all the work pays off. You come out into a hidden tropical paradise with a crystal-clear pool at the center. And amid the eerie silence, monkeys chatter and exotic birds flutter between the branches.
The water seems irresistibly inviting. But steer yourself down into a slow dive. The water consists of three layers. The top is freshwater. You will sink fast. But as you descend, you will be overwhelmed by the mind-blowing sight of cavernous, gnarling, rocks and soft luminous colors—an experience that is strange and wonderful at once.
You haven’t gotten over your amazement yet when your body starts to feel like it is sinking in a hot tub. The heat crawls up as you pass the thermocline. It is like swimming at the bottom of a sauna bath at 35oC to 39oC. The lake used to be a volcanic crater. But before you get totally stewed, your legs feel the cool, relieving, stream of seawater. And soon, you touch the bottom of the lake. It is a totally different world down there. Pastel-colored rocks. Strange marine creatures. Tiny catfish stare at your goggles. Brine shrimps cling and nip at your bare limbs.
Kayangan Lake offers even more mind-blowing underwater sights: cavernous karst formations in kaleidoscopic light-play from above. It’s simply out-of-this world. Translucent jellyfish pass you by. Palau has a Jellyfish Lake teeming with thousands of these yellow-green creatures. But Kayangan harbors only a few, though, in stunning colors and forms.
Crystalline coves and mysterious jungles make up Coron’s dramatic tropical sights. But a dip into the lakes open to a sublimely primitive world that can only be described as “ethereal.” Hence, any dive in the lakes amounts to an experience that is just magical.
For those heading to Coron, Club Paradise Palawan and the El Rio y Mar Resort are probably your best bet for full service, concierge, and all of the amenities at the right price.