The Philippines was the first destination of the nine month trip that changed the way I see the world. This island country is famous for its pristine beaches, rich marine life, stunning landscapes, volcanoes and rice terraces.
Spending one month in the Philippines made me realise that is the friends you meet along the way that help us appreciate the journey. Philippinos are so friendly and have such a posivite attitude towards life that is contagious. The country still has a Spanish influence, especially in its religion and gastronomy, being the only Christian country in Asia. The US colonial influence is visible in the architecture and distribution of large cities such as Manila and Cebu, the use of jeepneys (army jeeps that the U.S. military left after World War II converted into buses), as well as in the language, being the Philippines the fifth country in the world with more English speakers.
The Philippines has over seven thousand islands which makes it extremely difficult to decide which ones to visit. The best time to visit the country is between November and June when is less chances of rain.
We choose to visit five islands: Luzon, Panglao, Siquijor, Cebu and Palawan. This was our one month itinerary:
– Manila (Luzon) – 2 days
– Banaue (Luzon) – 3 days
– Panglao – 7 days
– Siquijor – 3 days
– Moalboal (Cebu) – 3 days
– Puerto Princesa (Palawan) – 2 days
– Port Barton (Palawan) – 4 days
– El Nido (Palawan) – 7 days
Manila was for me the gateway to the country, so I barely spent a couple of nights in the capital. I had heard terrible things about the capital of the Philippines, the city that leads the ranking of world population density. Honestly, after visiting India during the monsoon, Manila seemed a very organized, advanced and a safe city.
Where to stay: Stay Malate (former Wanderer guest house) – 5€ per night in a 10 bed dorm with hot showers. It has a cool rooftop bar and chill lounge with strong wifi connection.
What to visit: Intramuros, the historic city centre with spanish churches and colonial buildings.
How to move around: Uber works well and is cheaper than taxis.
Banaue is a town on the Cordillera mountain range in the north of the island of Luzon, in the Philippines. It is mainly visited for its stunning rice terraces, which are a UNESCO World Heritage sitewhich is a UNESCO World Heritage site and also called as the 8th wonder of the world.
How to get there: the cheapest way is taking a night bus from Manila. There are two daily night buses at 9 or 10pm and arrive to Banaue in the morning, anytime between 6 and 9 am. There is no fix arrival time as they have several stops several to pick up locals. You can buy the tickets in advance at the hostel or at the counter at the station.
Where to stay: Banaue Homestay – 10€ for a private room with shared bathroom.
What to visit: the rice terraces of Banaue and Batad. Tip: bring some warm clothes as the a/c in the bus is on all night and gets very cold and it also gets very cold in Banaue and Batad, a rain coat is a must.
Panglao is a small island just off the south-west tip of the main island of Bohol. Panglao is popular for the pristine Alona Beach, from where tours can be organised to world famous diving sites, and stunning tropical islands like Pamilacan and Balicasag.
How to get there: flight from Manila to Cebu and ferry from Cebu to Bohol. You can buy the ferry straight at the port on the day, there are 2 different companies and they leave every couple of hours. What to do: Chill at either Dumaluan beach o Libaong beach, take a day trip to Bohol to see the chocolate hills and the tasiers sanctuary, do the island hopping tour to Balicasag island, Virgin island, Star island and dolphin watching.
Tip: buy the ferry with no a/c, is almost half the price that the cabin with air con.
How to move around: rent a motorbike, a mototaxi o take a jeepney (local bus that leaves only when it´s full)
Also known as the Island of Fire, is one of the most beautiful and charming islands in the Philippines for its relaxed white sand beaches, colonial churches, mangrooves, waterfalls and the magical and enchanted atmosphere of the mountanous interior, where the healers brew traditional ointments.
Where to stay: JJs Backpackers Village, great vibe and a gorgeous private beach on San Juan, the most lively part of the island. Stunning sunsets.
What to visit: Cambugahay waterfalls, Salagdoong beach, Paliton beach, Guiwanon mangroove park.
How to get there from Bohol: there are ferrys directly from Bohol 3 times a week, ask at the port on arrival to Bohol as it constantly changes. Otherwise you must get a ferry that stops first in Dumaguete and is 3 times more expensive that the direct one.
How to move around: Siquijor still a very local island with not many tourist and is beautiful to explore by motorbike.
Where to stay: Maya´s Native Garden: cozy bungalow with how showers. 14€ for 2 people.
What to do: Kawasan falls (the most beautiful waterfall ever!), snorkling in white beach.
How to get there from Siquijor: ferry to Santander and shuttle bus from Santander. You can purchase only on the day at the pier, there are 4 ferrys daily.
How to move around: rent a motorbike o hire a tuk tuk for the day.
Tip: there is a really cheap local fruit market in Moalboal town.
Where not to stay: Dallas inn, wouldn´t recommend it as the bamboo walls are very mouldy and have a funny smell, plus the toilet was in terrible condition too.
What to visit: the subterranean river. You can either get there by boat or trek from Nagtabon beach. Due to the bad weather there were no boats and we trek the 2 km from the beach to the entrance of the river.
How to get there: flight to Pruerto Princesa with Cebu Airlines.
How to move around: the tuk tuk from the airport to town are cheap as it is really close by. We arranged the tour with a travel angecy but found it very expensive.
Tip: unless you are really into caves you can skip the subterranean river. It takes a long time to reach from Pruerto Princesa and is quite expensive day trip.
Where to stay: El Busero hostel. Right by the beach with a nice common area with hammocks. Private rooms are cheap with share bathroom.
What to do: the beach of Port Barton is quiet and despite not being turquoise water is really pretty with lots of palm trees and beautiful sunsets. Its a great place to meet people, dont miss the Purple turtle bar right next to El Busero, thw owner Honey and her friends play great live music daily. Another must is the island hopping tour, we combined the tour with a night at one of the deserted islands. The snorkel is great and the places very quiet.
How to get there from Puerto Princesa: suttle mini-vans leave daily and take about 4 hours due to the poor road conditions.
How to move around: everything is walking distance from town, you can go to white beach and do a trek to the waterfalls nearby.
Tip: Most people skip Port Barton and go straight to El Nido, but if you are looking for a quiet relaxing and way cheaper place don´t miss it.
Where to stay: Pension Gomez. Newly build guesthouse 2 minutes walk from the main beach.
What to do: Napcan beach (possibly the most beautiful beach I´ve ever been to), las Cabanas beach, Tours A and C.
How to get there from Port Barton: the mini vans take about 3 hours and depart daily around 9 am. There are plenty of travel agencies selling the tickets.
How to move around: you can rent motorbikes to explore the beaches nearby El Nido or hire a tuk tuk driver.
Tip: the bars by the beach with live music are quite expensive, you can buy beers or rum (1.5€ and it´s delicious) and drink at the beach.