(Editor’s Note: In February of 2018 I returned to Port Barton and couldn’t help but noting tourism has picked up in this small town. It’s still a humble destination, but there are many more backpackers and couples on the beach than before. German Island has been turned into party-like pit stop, and some tour boats play music from speakers. I still recommend Port Barton as one of Palawan’s most beguiling places, but if you want peace and privacy, BE SURE to book your stay on the islands and beaches outside the bay. This is the best part of Port Barton after all.)
The approach to Port Barton, whether by land or water, is bound to have some bumps. During the rainy season, gusty waves sweep in from the West Philippine Sea. There are no boats from Sabang, and the rains leave the unpaved roads muddy and sometimes impassable. But get there in the right month, and Port Barton is about the closest thing the Philippines has to heaven.
There’s something about this sleepy village, sandwiched between jungled hillls and placid Pagdanan Bay, that brings travelers back to themselves in a powerful way.
While tourists are whisked to El Nido by vans and buses, the unfinished road to Port Barton keeps it from the brunt of Palawan’s popularity. That, and the fact that electricity lasts for all of five hours, from 6pm. World-weary travellers will find a tonic for their cares on Port Barton’s idyllic beaches. Sun-drenched hours are spent idling in hammocks, kayaking, soaking up golden sunsets and walking the shoreline under the stars.
A string of humble cottages and restaurants line the curve of the town’s main beach, where the ubiquitous Philippine banca is on display in all sizes and colours. A tight grid of sand roads behind the beach make up the town proper: elementary school, high school, health centre and tourism hut. Scattered here and there are guesthouses, restaurants and sari-sari stores. Beyond the town, footpaths lead to hills, waterfalls, rice paddies and other beaches.
Port Barton’s greatest appeal is its unruffled pace of life. Mornings are worth getting up for. The water in the bay touches the sand with barely a ripple, then edges away. In the cool early hours, locals rake the beach, little boys hawk a small catch from the previous night: a kilo of shrimp, some pink fish, maybe a mackerel. Boatmen loiter about, looking toward the mirror-like water and smoking.
Most of the action, if it can be called that, takes place on the beach. All day, boats come and go, ferrying away or depositing visitors — bags held aloft — in the surf. At night beachfront restaurants light torches or flick on colourful lanterns, but there’s little to do once the generator powers down.
Since the beach in Port Barton town is not always suitable for swimming, most visitors opt for day-trips to the nearby islands. There are some lovely opportunities for snorkeling within an hour of Port Barton, as well as two dive shops in town for those looking to go deeper. Port Barton can be leisurely to the point of sluggishness, so it feels good to exhaust the limbs with a day of island-hopping or hiking to the waterfalls. Even with just a short stay in town, you’re bound to have a few wind-swept boat rides and sandy swimsuits.
Far and away the best reason to come to Port Barton is to relax. To really get away from it all, book a few nights on one of the amazing islands nearby. Several resorts have laid claim to undisturbed coves and pockets of white sand just a short boat ride from town. No traveler can say they’ve seen the best of Port Barton until they’ve lost track of time on one of these untamed beaches.