The primary reason to stay in Coron Town is to explore the spell-binding islands and coves scattered around Coron Bay. Bangka trips are easy to arrange, but it’s worth comparing the various packages on offer. Coron Island is the most popular destination, but try to spend time on the smaller, less visited islands.
To visit volcanic Kayangan Lake boats dock at a gorgeous lagoon rimmed with coral and turquoise waters – here the Tagbanua have a small hut with basic information about the island and the tribe, with staff on hand to answer any questions. The lake itself is reached by climbing up a steep flight of steps – at the top turn left along a narrow path to tiny Kayangan Cave for awe-inspiring views of the lagoon below. The main path continues down to the lake, where you can snorkel in the warm waters and spy schools of odd-looking needlefish.
Nearby Barracuda Lake offers similar scenery, but is only worth the additional entrance fee if you are on a dive trip; on the surface the water is the usual temperature, but 18 metres down it heats up so much that you can drift along on hot thermals. To the west are the Twin Lagoons (P100), hemmed in by jagged pillars of limestone towering over the water like abstract sculptures. Boats dock at the end of the first lagoon, where you can swim through a low-lying water tunnel into the second one, a tranquil and very deep inlet (the other end opens to the sea). Odd coral formations cling to the sides of the lagoon, looking like a sunken city under the surface. A little further along the coast is Skeleton Wreck (P100), a sunken Japanese fishing vessel easily viewed by snorkellers, and a series of narrow beaches backed by sheer cliffs. Tours usually have lunch on one of these (Banol Beach is the most popular), but each one charges a P100 fee.
Most hotels and tour operators in Coron Town offer day-trips to Coron Island, an enchanting cluster of jagged limestone cliffs and peaks just fifteen minutes across the bay. The island offers truly spectacular landscapes and some rich snorkelling sites, though visitors are confined to the northern coast; Coron is the traditional home of the Tagbanua people and the rest of the island is strictly off-limits to outsiders. The Tagbanua now make most of their living from admission fees on the island, income that supplements their otherwise meagre living from fishing in the two main east coast communities of Banuangdaan (Old Coron Town) and Acabugao.
Tours involve plenty of snorkelling and swimming, and run for around P1500 for a bangka of up to four people (at Sea Dive; the boat association charges P2000), not including admission fees. Lunch is usually an extra P250 per person. In between Coron Island and Coron Town you’ll typically stop at the Siete Picados Marine Park (P100), offering a relatively rich spread of coral and marine life (sea snakes, sea fans, clownfish and whale sharks are sometimes spotted on the deeper side of the reef).
Few travellers make it to the curious island of Culion, around two hours south of Coron Town by boat, once the world’s largest leper colony and a place that inspired fear and often, revulsion. Today the leper colony has all but been erased, but some haunting monuments of the island’s past remain, as well as some totally untouched beaches you’ll have to yourself. Like Busuanga, the island is actually quite large and undeveloped, but the main attractions lie in the pretty little capital, Culion Town.
The approach to Culion Town is dominated by the striking coral-walled La Inmaculada Concepcion Church. The church was substantially rebuilt in 1933 on the site of an older fortified Spanish chapel, completed in 1740. Beside the church is the old lighthouse, with tremendous views north to Coron Town. The Culion Museum inside the hospital compound, housed in the former leprosy research lab built in 1930, details the history of the colony and contains medical relics and photographs from the turn of the last century. The museum is one of the most intriguing in the Philippines, with a vast archive of original photographs and patient records that you can browse. The rooms where doctors worked have been maintained as they were and contain equipment the doctors actually used, much of it looking like instruments of torture.
In 1904 the Americans decided to create an isolated but self-sufficient leper colony here, and the inhabitants were relocated to Concepcion on Busuanga. The US regime rounded up all the lepers they could find in the Philippines and forcibly removed them to Culion. Given the concern about leprosy at the time, this was considered neither cruel nor unusual, simply a way of bringing the sick together in one place so a cure could be found and transmission limited. The colony opened in 1906, receiving around eight hundred lepers in its first year. A 1920s travelogue described Culion as “practically an independent nation” – it even had its own currency. Cost-cutting in the 1930s and World War II meant a dramatic scaling down of the colony; by 1980 there were only 637 patients. A permanent cure for leprosy was discovered in 1987, and the disease was considered eliminated from the island by 2000. Today the old hospital serves as the Culion Sanatorium and General Hospital for the whole island.