Modessa Island, Palawan, Review

Before our training began with APAX English in Hanoi, we were asked to complete a Visa Run. After very little research and for no particular reason whatsoever, we decided we’d take the opportunity to visit the Philippines where we beached on the incredible island of Modessa.

Modessa Island, Roxas, Palawan
Modessa Island, Roxas, Palawan

With 10 days spare and a extra little cash in our pocket we booked our flights to Manila from Hanoi. From here we caught a connecting flight to Puerto Princessa. All of this was done on an absolute whim. And as a result we booked the most affordable island resort we could find.

Getting to Modessa Island Resort

Modessa is situated off the coast of Roxas. A two hour drive from Puerto Princessa airport and a one hour ferry from Roxas port. Quite literally In the middle of nowhere.

It is possible to fly directly into Puerto Princessa, however most flights require a connection at Manila airport.

Modessa Island offered to arrange a driver to greet us from the airport for around $60. Our driver was extremely friendly and had arrived early to meet us from our flight.

It is possible to catch a bus to Roxas from the airport for around $6-10. The bus takes between 3-4 hours.

As we were driven north of the airport and along the coast of Palawan, we were awestruck by the mountainous scenery. The two hour drive is an experience in itself.

When we arrived in Roxas we were seated in a restaurant overlooking the bay with a few other guests heading to various islands close by. Here we were able to grab a light lunch before catching our ferry at 14:30.

Modessa Island Ferry Dropping off Islanders
Modessa Island Ferry Dropping off Islanders

The ferry to Modessa Island runs twice a day and takes about 1 hour. Once at 09:30 and again at 14:30.

Along with a few other guests we boarded what appeared to be an oversized fishing boat on a very choppy sea. Do not however let this put you off, as it is all part of the experience.

But maybe leave gran at home for this one.

We passed a number of islands on the way. All of which were the typical image of a desert island. Modessa being no exception.

The ferry was docked just on the outskirts of the island and we were boarded onto a small, questionable boat. Surprisingly it got us to the shore safely. Although we did think our laptops may have been about to meet a watery end.

At this stage, we weren’t quite aware of the islands extensive collection of sea life. And were pleasantly surprised to learn there were various things that can hurt/kill you in the shallows.

Modessa Island, Diving
Modessa Island, Diving

Something Eddie soon obsessed over. (See the diving section as an example)

Accommodation and Island Staff

We were greeted by Marco, a member of the island staff who has very good English. Seated with fresh coconut water, he explained the running of the island to us.

Meals are served to all islanders three times a day. You are able to select your meals from an extensive menu. It’s possible to eat something different each day if that’s what you want.

And all of this is included in your room fee!

The generator is only turned on during the evenings, between 18:00 and 08:00. And is the only time you are able to charge and electrical items. Wi-Fi is available during this time also, although it is very temperamental.

We didn’t connect to Wi-Fi at all during our stay. At first it was frustrating, but it soon became liberating (once our families knew we hadn’t been kidnapped by pirates anyway).

The island staff themselves are extremely helpful and friendly. All can speak varying levels of English and are happy to chat.

You may have to wake them from their afternoon naps for a beer on occasion, but that’s ok. The beer is always served cold, which is more than we can say for Vietnam.

At 5pm daily the staff will try and round you up for a game of volleyball. This might seem like a friendly activity, but they are very experienced and passionate about the game. So expect some competitiveness, but mainly huge amounts of laughter, especially if someone gets a ball to the face.

The private beach huts themselves are extremely basic but clean. They all have a true castaway feel.

Most huts face the beach, which is lined with hammocks between palm trees just 50 meters from the seashore.

Modessa Island, Beach Hut
Modessa Island, Beach Hut

There is no air-conditioning on the island, but the sea breeze offers a cooling solution. Each hut has two fans that can be turned on during the evening to keep you from melting.

The water from the shower and taps does have a slight salty taste. But given the location of the island, it can easily be forgiven.

We paid around $600 for a 7 night stay in August. Which is apparently the back end of wet season. And despite watching various impressive lightening storms on the horizon, we didn’t experience rain once. Nor did we really experience any cloudy days.

For the price, this place is a bloody bargain.

What you need to know before arriving on Modessa

  • Beach huts are generally open, this isn’t luxury. But go with it, it’s amazing.
  • If you want 4G, then buy a prepaid GLOBE Simcard. Smart is not covered on the island.
  • Listen to the staff regarding sea life
  • Watch your step when paddling
  • Bring enough cash. If you are planning on diving, email Tarvis Dive centre ahead of arrival
  • Suncream. Suncream. Suncream (Ellie will attest to this)
  • Try and cover up whilst snorkelling.
Hammock on Modessa Island
Hammock on Modessa Island

Modessa Resort Food

Whilst on Modessa Island you’ll get 3 meals a day at no extra cost. Sort of like a semi-all inclusive deal.

When we arrived we got an open buffet, however this was a one off and the rest of the start was a la carte.

The food is exactly as you’d expect. Plenty of rice dishes, some basic western stuff like Chicken Schnitzel and some pretty amazing French fries to go with.

It’s not going to blow you away, but it’s also pretty wholesome and tasty. Just be prepared to get your hands extremely dirty if you order some of the amazing sautéed crab. In a post CHECK humourous act of revenge, this meal actually left Eddie bleeding from his hand. 

Every meal is punctuated with fresh fruit and a very welcome salad.

For breakfast Ellie stuck with a dependable Spanish Omelette and side of banana ketchup (odd, but addictive), whilst Eddie found an absolutely rad corned beef dish – Phillipino Breakfast, which came with garlic rice and a yolky fried egg.

A few meals we had, all tasty and filling:

  • Chicken Coconut Curry
  • Fried Calamari
  • Sautéed Crab
  • Baked/Curried Fish
  • BBQ Chicken
  • Fresh Stuffed Squid

In-between meals if we’d tired ourselves out from hours on end in the water, we’d grab some snacks from the island bar. Ending the afternoon on a few 6.9% Red Horse beers.

Drinks and snacks work out at around £1 each. And include MSG-nuts (Peanuts with MSG and flavouring) and various crisps.

If you end up out on a dive or snorkel and accidentally get a mouth full of Poseidon’s tears, then a bottle of coke is probably a good idea. (It’s also in a glass bottle, which when combined with a tropical island, is like living in your own tasty advert.)

Tarvis Dive Center: Modessa Island Resort

As this pair of idiots write up this part of the Modessa Island review, we are fresh off a 36 minute scuba dive and over 90 minutes snorkelling in a coral reef just off the Modessa Island resort in The Philippines.

Baby Black Tipped Reef Shark on the Shore of Modessa
Baby Black Tipped Reef Shark on the Shore of Modessa

Our hair is still wet and salty and our adrenaline still running quite high after spotting one of the reefs more notorious residents, the Giant Moray Eel, staring at us about 2 meters away tucked away in a little cavern.

For an island we booked on a whim, the diving around Modessa island is breathtaking. Wether you’re open to taking on a new challenge and scuba diving, or just bobbing around with a set of fins and snorkel, you’ll encounter a massive array of marine life. 

Scuba Diving at Modessa

The dive centre staff are awesome, prior to arrival on the Island we were speaking directly with Richard, who is the owner. Upon arrival we met the dive master, Randy, and Eddie’s tutor, Rain.

There’s an R and R joke in there somewhere, given how absolutely chilled and knowledgable these two were.

It took me (Eddie) around 3 days to finish my PADI Open Water qualification on the Island at a very good price. And although I’ve not met many scuba diving instructors, Rain was highly experienced and a complete natural at guiding me through the course.

Scuba Diving at Modessa Island
Scuba Diving at Modessa Island

A large part of scuba diving is keeping calm and not freaking out. And even in the face of some minor issues (I need to remember to read my gauge and not just stare at fish) Rain kept completely chilled and calm.

Something that made the whole process of breathing from a compressed tank 18m underwater surrounded by venomous and teeth laden fish, more therapy than terror.

The island is surrounded by it’s own house reef and a few more in the local area. As a diving experience, it was perfect. With boat and shore entry available and individual dives with Randy at a more than affordable cost too.

Whilst I was getting to grips with things that would and wouldn’t bite me, and also controlling my buoyancy using my lungs (weird), Ellie was sticking to the snorkelling due to problems with her ears.

Snorkelling at Modessa

What you can see when snorkelling at Modessa is very similar to what you see whilst Scuba diving. Just remember to keep fins away from the coral and don’t stir sediment.

Snorkelling at Modessa Island
Snorkelling at Modessa Island

The Tarvis dive centre staff will get you sorted out and even help you get started with floating your way above the islands coral.

Snorkelling was a daily activity, from floating still for 20 minutes, just to see one of the baby black tip sharks close in the water, or hovering whilst a school of Jackfish surrounded us further from the shore, it’s something that HAS to be done on a visit to Modessa.

Try and get out whilst the tide is slightly higher (8am for us) giving you more clearance over the coral and less chance of you pissing anything off you shouldn’t.

Don’t let the idea of dangerous aquatic life put you off giving snorkelling a go though. It’s perfectly safe, just keep your distance and listen to Randy’s sage advice (or any members of the dive centre staff).

Snorkelling at Modessa Island
Snorkelling at Modessa Island

Also, as Ellie knows very well, when out snorkelling through the middle of the day, cover up. Because whilst you’re looking at some vibrant marine life underwater, it’s almost a guarantee your arse is turning an aggressively vibrant colour of it’s own above the surface. Which might potentially serve as a warning sign to bigger predators though.

Us idiots also took kayaks out a couple of times. Which is equally amazing and a must do if you are wanting to see the island from a distance and potentially see some of the sealife from above.

Paddle gently and stop and wait to get the best views though. 

Clown Fish, Modessa Island, Palawan, Roxas
Clown Fish, Modessa Island, Palawan, Roxas

There are also paddle boards available to hire from the dive centre. Although the water can get slightly choppy at times making it very frustrating. If you try it with your wife, remember, it’s your fault she is falling off.

All in all Tarvis Dive centre and Rain and Randy turned out to be an amazing choice for me (Eddie) to finally get my initial PADI license and start diving. But was also a welcoming base for some of the most amazing activities that Modessa has to offer and a good place to chill out with a few late night beers. 

Modessa Island Sea Life Bingo

If you’re visiting Modessa and do get into the water, here’s a list of some stuff you’re likely to SEA. Or what we did anyway after hour upon hour in the water.

Most exciting and potentially painful first:

  • Giant Moray Eel
  • Lionfish
  • Blue Spotted Stingray
  • Stonefish
  • Trigger Fish
  • Sea Urchins (V sharp. V black.)
  • Baby Back Tip Reef Sharks (Harmless)
  • Crabs (Shifty and hilarious)
  • Needlefish
  • Fish of basically every and any colour
  • Sea Turtles (If you’re lucky)
Clown Fish, Modessa Island
Clown Fish, Modessa Island

The Future of Modessa

On the island we learnt that there are some plans to begin some development. Which, after really embracing the semi castaway lifestyle offered by the resort was a bit worrying.

Luckily though, the owner, May was on the island and told us there were no longer any major development plans. Other than a bit of a clean up of some of the slightly rougher edges.

This is great news, because the Modessa Island Resort, Tarvis Dive Centre and the surrounding reefs are truly spectacular. And based on nothing other than a distant view of packed, heavily developed other islands, a rare piece of calm and natural paradise off the coast of Palawan.

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