It’s no wonder that the Maldives is considered the ultimate tropical beach destination for romantic getaways. It is so enchantingly beautiful with its gorgeous white sands, aquamarine waters that are glowing in the night in some places and amazing sea life. There is magic everywhere and it is hard to find a place that can easily rival such a wonder…until Palawan.
Palawan, in the Philippines, has been hailed as the best island in the world multiple times now and as the island becomes increasingly more popular, it is becoming more and more challenging to ignore, with travellers singing their praises to its magnificent natural beauty. And Palawan’s marine life, white sandy beaches and aquamarine waters closely resemble that of the famed tropical paradise, the Maldives.
If you were to choose between the two without looking at pictures, it would be easy to just pick the Maldives because it is more popular and already established in the world of tourism. But once you get to see Palawan up close, you will definitely fall in love with the best island in the world. Choosing between these two magical destinations is difficult and so here is the comparison to help you decide between visiting the Maldives or Palawan.
Getting to the Maldives
It is easier and more convenient to get to the Maldives than to get to Palawan. The Maldives is very small and easily accessible from different countries. From the main airport to the islands, transport is also easier and faster compared to going to Palawan. Most visitors arrive at the International airport in the island of Hulhule which is 2 kilometers from the capital, Male. There are also two other airports in the country that service other international flights, Gan International Airport and Hanimaadhoo International Airport. The international airline is Maldivian and other domestic airlines include FlyMe and Mega Maldives.
Getting to Palawan
Direct flights from other countries to Palawan are very scarce, so the most popular route is via Manila. Puerto Princesa International Airport is the main gateway to the island. Since Palawan is one of the biggest provinces in the country, the islands are scattered everywhere and so access to them is limited via boat or plane. To go to El Nido, one has to go to Puerto Princesa first and then take a shuttle to El Nido for 6 hours. Another easier but more expensive alternative is to take a chartered flight by AirSwift and fly directly to Lio Airport in El Nido either from Manila or from Cebu. To go to Coron, which is also another beautiful municipality in Palawan, you can fly directly from Manila to Busuanga Airport, a 30 minutes ride from Coron town center.
Accommodation in the Maldives
All Maldivian Resorts are on their own Island. Most resorts have a variety of accommodation types with different costs; but what sets Maldives apart from the rest of the world is that there are no high rise hotels or resorts in the Maldives, only bungalows or two-floor buildings. The other difference in Maldivian accommodation is location: either it is set on the island, directly on the beach, or over the water with stilts. There are numerous resorts that offer water villas on stilts, although not all villas have direct access to the water underneath. Accommodation density in the Maldives is also not directly related to the size of the island. Smaller islands don’t necessarily have fewer rooms. Rather, more expensive islands have fewer guest villas on offer for more exclusivity.
Accommodation in Palawan
Accommodation in Palawan varies greatly not only in style but also in the amenities they offer. Some are really basic, but there are also those that are very extravagant. One thing noticeable with Palawan accommodation is that their quality and the amenities are not yet a match to those in the Maldives. Philippine tourism infrastructure is not yet at par with international standards and it is noticeable in the quality of the resorts and hotel accommodations. Compared to the resorts in the Maldives, luxurious Palawan resorts are still a bit behind in terms of overall aesthetic quality of the villas, facilities and transportation.
Some of the best Palawan resorts that best resemble Maldivian atmosphere are:
- Amanpulo: Located on the Northern part of Palawan Island among the Cuyo Islands in the Sulu Sea, this private island resort is accessible exclusively by private flights that land on its own airstrip. From Manila to Amanpulo it takes 70 minutes by a private plane that can accommodate 15 guests. Villas and Casitas offer direct access to the beach but no villas are situated over the water.
- Huma Island Resort and Spa: This uber-luxury resort in Coron closely resembles a true Maldivian accommodation complete with villas on stilts over the water. Each villa has its own jacuzzi and outdoor shower located on the massive balcony with unobstructed views of the Cerulean Sea. The room interiors are excellent, very spacious, and bathrooms are luxurious. Another feature of this resort is the glass-floored spa where guests can enjoy a relaxing massage while looking down into the clear ocean floor with marine species swimming everywhere.
- El Nido Resorts: El Nido Resorts is a chain of luxury resorts in El Nido located on the private islands of Lagen, Apulit, Miniloc and Pangulasian. These resorts offer luxury cottages built on stilts over the water, although the size of the rooms are much smaller and only limited to 2 persons. There are other rooms on offer for family and big groups, but the rooms are not over the water.
- Dedon Island: Dedon Island is quite not in Palawan but on the Philippine island of Siargao. This small exclusive resort houses nine villas that each have direct access to the beach, complete with fancy tropical interiors similar to Maldivian designs.
For another resort recommendation in Palawan, check out my review of The Funny Lion Coron
Facilities in the Maldives
While the facilities in most Maldivian resorts are superb, you need to bear in mind that you are located on an island. This means that facilities such as bars, sports and entertainment and restaurants are limited to the ones that exist inside the resort and nowhere else, unless you leave the island. It is therefore important to carefully consider the facilities before you book your Maldivian resort. Some resorts have one or two restaurants only, while others don’t have a pool. Careful planning is necessary if you don’t want to be disappointed. Check also for spa options and evening entertainment, as it is not always included in most of the resort facilities. Dive centres, however, are mostly included because diving is one of the main activities on the island.
Facilities in Palawan
One thing that is really superb about Palawan is the access to other islands. Even if you have limited facility in the resort, you can easily go to another island, to dine for example. You don’t need to be confined in your own island resort because countless other islands are just within your reach. Guests can easily go to the mainland by boat for restaurants and bars. Guests can also opt to have the butlers or the boatmen cook food for them fresh from the sea. The options are endless in Palawan. Facilities-wise, Maldivian resorts usually have better and more modern facilities than the ones in Palawan. It is more common to see a room with private jacuzzi or plunge pool in the Maldives than in Palawan.
Value for Money?
If you want to splurge in the Maldives, you really need to be prepared to spend a hefty price for everything. The standard price for a typical Maldivian resort includes bed and breakfast and nothing else. Take note that with the exception of fish and coconuts, everything else in the Maldives has to be imported, making for high costs The average cost per night in the Maldives is $500 USD (only bed and breakfast), excluding lunch, dinner, drinks, transportation to and from the airport, tours and diving excursions, spa treatments and souvenirs. All-inclusive in the Maldives does not always mean everything is included. Some full-board meals may only include the ones served in the main restaurant, but not when you decide to eat elsewhere. The same is true with water sports equipment.
When it comes to the issue of money, Palawan is indeed the cheaper version of the Maldives. Everything in Palawan is at least 40% cheaper than the Maldives. Your $500 will go a long way and would have included transport to and from the airport, full board meals (in some resorts), and use of non-motorized water equipment like kayaks, paddle boards and snorkeling gear. For that price, you can easily get a complete all inclusive vacation package. The most luxurious resorts in Palawan located on private islands cost an average of $400 per night. While in the Maldives, your $500 a night is not even at the most luxurious resort, but rather an average one.
If you have the money, go to the Maldives for an ultimate island getaway. The experience will be unmatched anywhere else. But if you have a limited budget but still want to experience the iconic tropical paradise, Palawan is your perfect alternative. It offers Maldivian underwater scenery and Maldivian villas on stilts for a fraction of the cost, plus better natural settings.