There is no doubt that one of the more famous and most photographed locations in Coron is Kayangan Lake. This brackish water pool (a mixture of fresh and salt water) is said to be one of the cleanest, and clearest in all of the Philippines.
While “in all of the Philippines” is a term that can certainly feel like it is being overused, “clean” is not one of those terms typically included; so to hear that definition being thrown around incites interest to many would-be visitors.
The irony in the popularity of a pristine location is that it typically doesn’t stay that way for long, and perhaps that is the direction that Kayangan Lake is doomed to be heading in. For now, despite the crowds and recent construction, it still appears to be amazingly clear.
Kayangan Lake is on Coron Island, just a 20 minute trip from where most tourists stay in Coron town, which is actually on Busuanga Island.
The approach can be described as surreal, due to the mountainous chunks of rock shooting directly out of the sea. These cliffs, so to speak, have been weathered by time to almost a rounded, dome-like top. They serve as not only the barrier to the islands, but also as the anchor point for dozens of variety of green plants and trees, adding to the splendor and view as you approach Coron Island.
Skilled boatmen seemingly memorize the reefs and channels, as one cannot take a straight line to the destination. Instead, the small private tour boat weaves and cuts against the waters flow, eventually taking us into a natural harbor where we find many, many other tour boats parked.
This harbor is well prepared to receive tourists. A concrete walking path lines its rim, with shops housed in native huts selling fresh coconut, drinks and snacks. A shallow concrete death pool housing a beautiful yellow, puffer fish endemic to this region. Seriously though, with no oxygen or flow of it into, or out of this decorative pond, how long can ANY fish survive in here?
A guard checks paperwork at the entrance to make sure that all fees are paid. The payment is typically done ahead of time by the tour company and comes with an official receipt that most tourists never see. Signs everywhere state that no swimming is allowed without a life jacket on, much to the dismay of… most people.
Ascending the irregular staircase can be a challenge for some, it totals about a 3-4 story climb (its hard to tell because the steps are not all of an even rise, so even counting them can be misleading) followed by a 2 story descent to the lake itself. At near the peak of the climb, a fork in the path allows tourists to go left towards a lookout point, or continue to the right and get directly to the lake.
The wooden platform of the lookout point is a great photo opportunity, and the line to get there is the best indicator of that. While the wait is almost never long, one must be patient while other groups get their selfie time. Ironically, it is THIS spot that offers the MOST iconic views of this particular destination, and is very often mislabeled as Kayangan Lake on social media. It is a must do/ can’t miss if you are planning on visiting this location. There is also an unmarked cave behind this point that seems to only collect trash, but it goes down fairly deep into the rocks.
Doubling back and getting onto the path that leads to the lake is just a few short steps away. A quick walk down the stairs lands you on a narrow wooden platform which encircles nearly all of the swimmable area.
Even with such a long platform, it can be congested with tourists during the high season. The photographs in this article are during the extremely busy Holy Week (the week prior to the Catholic Easter Holiday which changes dates every year) so it is a good gauge of what ‘busy’ really looks like. But even with all the tourists, the lake’s swimmable area is large enough that once in the water, you will not feel too crowded. It just takes a little bit of paddling towards the outer boundary.
The limestone rocks can also be walked, or sat on, but keep in mind that they can be very slippery and extremely sharp.
Swimmers will be delighted to share the lake with the tiny, native needlefish. They do not pose any harm to humans, and seem to be very fearless, often swimming directly up to, or even alongside tourists.
A mask is definitely advised as a ‘must bring along’ item as visitors will be able to see the sandy bottom which can be as far as 15 meters (45 feet) down. The guide that was in charge of the tour, who was not required to wear a life vest, spent the entire duration of the visit to Kayangan Lake picking up trash from the lakebed, and recovering items that tourists had inadvertently dropped. His care for the natural area and the comfort of its visitors was definitely felt.
Exploring along the edge of the platform is also quite enjoyable, as you can see the crudely fashioned bamboo poles holding up the wooden platform, and how they are merely wedged into the submerged rock. These rocks themselves are also amazing to inspect up close. This experience is quite possibly the closest one can come to exploring an underwater cave without the dangers of actually doing so. The formations are jagged and interesting, but they can also be very sharp so visitors should exercise caution.
With so many people around, exiting the water can be difficult at times. The crude staircases and ladders leading people out of the water will often times form a queue, and the platforms can be very slippery when wet. Visitors need to practice caution when getting out of the lake itself.
Getting back to the tour boat is a simple reversal of the staircase route, but this time, the shorter climb comes first.
For those willing to spend a little bit more money during the high season, hiring a private boat will allow the staggering of arrival times, thus being able to avoid the largest crowds, even if just for a short while. The experience of an empty lake compared to a full one, will make quite a difference.
Want more images both above and below? Check out the photo story!
Enjoy your time in Coron and your visit to Kayangan Lake!