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 saltwater) 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. The ability for the light rays to touch the white sandy bottom through 15 meters of water (about 45 feet deep) is remarkable clarity for a natural body of water.
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. Despite the conflicting names, these islands are both part of a group that makes up the Calamian Archipelago.
When leaving Coron harbor, the boatmen, skilled navigators, wind their way around the shallow rocky reefs, and across the channel to Coron 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.
Once across the channel, the small tour boats weave and cut against the waters flow, eventually making way into a natural harbor where there are 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 pond housing a beautiful yellow, puffer fish endemic to this region. Unfortunately, with no oxygen or flow into, or out of this decorative pond, how long can ANY fish survive in here?
At the bottom of a tall stone staircase sits a plywood guard booth. The guard on duty checks paperwork presented by tour guides, to make sure that all fees for each group are paid. All of these transactions are typically taken care of ahead of time by the organizing companies. These are officially sanctioned by the department of tourism and come with an official receipt that most tourists never see. The handling of these environmental fees at each checkpoint is an underrated service that tour companies provide. Also, taking care of large groups at a time speed the process along greatly.
Next to the guard booth, and scattered throughout the walkway to the staircase are official signs that state “no swimming is allowed without a life jacket on”, much to the dismay of… most people. Safety of all visitors is indeed a concern of the Department of Tourism.
Ascending the irregular staircase can be a challenge for some, it totals about a 3-4 story climb (it is 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. Even if you do not actually go to Kayangan Lake itself, this view is worth the climb. Continue on to the lake for sure though! At this point, you have already made the tallest climb.
There is also an unmarked cave behind this popular lookout point, but as of 2018 it seems to only collect trash. There are no signs to stay out of it, and it does appear to go down fairly deep into the rocks. Perhaps this is a future attraction at Kayangan Lake? As crowded as it can be here at times, it would be nice to have more to see and do at this location.
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 sometimes 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 travelers that are willing to spend a little bit more money during the high season, a handy piece of advice is to look into hiring a private boat. Doing so will allow your party to stagger your arrival times to be in between the largest crowds. While this method will still require you to deal with the crowds for most of the day, what it does, even if just for a short while, is place you at these coveted photography locations on Coron Island, almost alone. The experience of an empty lake compared to a full one, will make quite a difference in how you remember the day. This is of course, not for everyone; there is absolutely no shame in taking joy in just participating in a tour.
Want more images both above and below? Check out the photo story
Enjoy your time in the amazing tropical paradise of Coron; and may your visit to Kayangan Lake be as magical an experience as it was for many others!