It was difficult to drag my guys from the deep, dark, and dangerous wreck diving in Coron Bay. But I needed an above water, bright, and safe diversion. Plus, for months now, I had been drooling over Lonely Planet and Google images of hidden bays with turquoise waters surrounding by towering limestone cliffs. This is what I had come to see, and it was only a short boat ride from our scuba diving base at Sangat Island Resort. Off we go on an all day, island-hopping tour to spectacular Coron Island. Watch out for pirates!
First stop: Kayangan Lake, an incredibly clear, green-blue lake enclosed by steep-sided, craggy mountains. The hot, 10-minute climb up rocky steps is forgotten as soon as you plunge into the water (not too hot, not too cold). Perhaps even better than the swim is the postcard-perfect view down to the ocean lagoon where the tour boats are moored.
Our boat captain had told us we needed to pay an entrance fee, but we found no booth or money takers. They found us though—two unofficial-looking guys boarded our boat to collect 200 Pesos from each of us.
Second stop: snorkelling at Siete Pecados Reef, a small, protected marine sanctuary. The number and variety of fish were a little sparse, but the coral was beautiful. We had the place to ourselves— a bonus at this popular spot.
Well, we thought we were alone. Just as we were untying from the buoy, a rickety canoe that had seen better days appeared out of nowhere. A scraggly looking guy with his head and neck wrapped in a black shawl deftly paddled to the side of our outrigger and asked us to pay the 100 Peso entrance fee. No sign, no badge, nothing official. Our boat captain just shrugged. The entrance fee pirate, as we dubbed him, stashed the money in a ratty pouch and paddled off as quickly as he had come.
Third stop: lunch on a glorious stretch of fine white sand. We feasted on a picnic of fresh fish, chicken, salads, and the delicious mangoes that we had all become addicted to. After a short siesta, it was back on our craft for more Coron Island delights. But not so fast, first we pay the entrance fee for our lunch spot. I see a theme emerging.
Fourth and favourite stop: Twin Lagoons. The approach to the lagoons through shimmering turquoise waterways bounded by razor edge pinnacles is like entering Shangri-La. The tides cooperated and we were able to swim through a small opening in the rocks from one lagoon to the other—a magical experience! There is a stairway that connects the two lagoons if the tide is too high. We were lulled into such a state of well being that the entrance fee pirate who paddled to the side of our boat after our swim didn’t faze us. Where did he come from?
Final stop Barracuda Lake, home to an extraordinary natural phenomenon. The water in the lake changes temperature from about 28° C at the surface, which is mostly fresh water, to almost 40° C as it gets deeper and the fresh water mixes with salt water. To really experience this thermocline you need to take a plunge with scuba gear. We were happy to swim and watch the daredevils dive off the sharp limestone cliffs.
All to soon our wonderful Coron island hopping day was over, but not before paying a final entrance fee at Barracuda Lake.
Five entrance fees later we had paid about 600 pesos each (less than 14 US $), which seems immensely reasonable. The money collection process gave us a good laugh, albeit a tad frustrating fumbling for small bills at each stop (the pirates had trouble producing change). Perhaps one of these days the separate entrance fees will be consolidated into a more convenient lump sum payment that all visitors have to pay to help preserve these special spots and assist the local inhabitants.
Read about wreck diving in Coron Bay. It’s not all deep, dark, and dangerous!