The Philippine archipelago comprises of over 7000 islands, so there is plenty to explore! Each island has its own attributes, Cebu with its tropical waterfalls, Palawan has some beautiful smaller islands and landscapes to explore and Coron has amazing shipwrecks! I didn’t get the chance to explore everywhere I wanted to but here is my Philippines itinerary along with all my top tips!
The Philippines was the only country in SE Asia where I at no point felt like I was being ripped off. The Government has put in regulations so most journeys/tours have set prices and the taxi meter drivers actually turn on the meters. It was so refreshing to not have to haggle all the time!
The main mode of transport for short distances in the Philippines are tricycle tuktuks or mopeds. A lot of the residential islands don’t have beaches on the mainland so you’ll need to hire a boat (or join a tour) to explore the surrounding islands.
For longer distances there are buses, boats and flights. We booked our overnight boat from Coron to Manila with 2go, it was cheap but it wasn’t the best experience as there are a lot of beds packed in to the space for the super value and tourist classes. TOP TIP: I would try to book your flights and overnight boats as early as possible to get the best price.
Travelling around Cebu is easy, there are a lot of well priced buses (with or without aircon). We took the bus from Cebu south bus terminal to Oslob, then Oslob-Bato-Moalboal, then Moalboal back to Cebu city. You don’t need to book in advance, just show up as they are quite frequent (or ask your hotel if you’re unsure).
Why you shouldn’t swim with whale sharks in Oslob:
This was something I was originally really excited to do, however I found out that in Oslob they feed them from a boat in order to attract them. This act changes both the migratory and breeding habits of the whale sharks (already whale sharks don’t mate until they are 30) as well as encouraging them to approach boats which leads to them colliding with the motors. By swimming with them in Oslob you are promoting the gradual decline of these beautiful underwater giants.
If you want to swim with whale sharks head to Donsol, but I believe you need an open water dive certificate for this.
These waterfalls are like something out of a fairytale. Imagine a large green wall with thousands of trickles of water gushing down in a beautiful green pool.
TOP TIP: The locals love these falls as much as the tourists so if you want less people try to avoid going on the weekend.
You can get a tricycle here from Oslob for 50 pesos. They will drop you at the bottom of the hill and you can either walk up then down (about 30 min walk) or you can get a moped up for 10 pesos (just negotiate down from 30). They will drop you at the top of hill and then you can walk the rest of the way downhill (only ATB are allowed down this part).
These waterfalls were not at all what I had expected (in a good way)!
You have to hire a guide (theres no set rate you just tip them) but they are awesome and great at taking photos for you! The waterfalls climb up 5 levels – be ready to get WET! I did this all in flip flops and a swimming costume with my guide ensuring my camera didn’t get wet.
TOP TIP: As you have a guide they take you up and down which means you don’t get a congestion/big group of people so you can visit at any time.
We took a tricycle here from tumalog falls for 600 pesos return (plus 100 pesos extra to get back to Oslob).
So I didn’t get to swim with whale sharks BUT I did get to swim with sardines! You’re probably thinking “what’s so cool about that?”. Well sardines swim in formation! Moalboal has thousands and thousands of sardines just at the coral wall and it’s quite the experience to snorkle amongst them and see them move in unison.
Remember that scene in finding Nemo where Dory is asking the sardines where Nemo is and they create the shape of a whale? Well it was basically like that!
TOP TIP: You don’t need to do a tour, the sardines are easily reachable from the shore at Panagsama beach. Just hire a pair of snorkles, you can get them for 100 pesos from most dive resorts and then swim about 20m to where you will see the coral wall and the sudden drop in depth.
Located a 600 pesos return ride from Moalboal, the kawasan falls are really large and the perfect place to spend at least half a day! The drive takes about 30 minutes in a tricycle plus an easy 20 minute walk.
TOP TIP: The falls start to get busy around 9am, this is also when they start to put out tables in all the available land space (which you have to hire out for 200 pesos). So go early if you want to avoid the crowds.
Unfortunately you can no longer hire rafts here but a common activity is canyoning! If you don’t go canyoning make sure you walk the length of the river and various waterfalls, don’t just stop at the start!
A lot of people do tours on Bohol to see the Tarsiers and chocolate hills, but we ended up spending our days by the beach. TOP TIP: Having spoken to other travellers it seems the best time to visit the chocolate hills is for sunset.
What I can recommend for Bohol is going on a boat tour. We did one leaving at 6am in order to catch sight of some dolphins! We then spent the rest of the day on Pamilacan, the best place to feel authentic island vibes! There is also an AMAZING snorkling site here -the coral garden, so so beautiful! There are a few tours to choose from with others going to similar virgin beaches. Our boat cost us 2500 pesos for the day.
Not the easiest island to get to as boats are not very frequent but this just adds to its charm of being as it’s less touristy! I would spend at least 2 nights here and make sure you check the departing boat times on your arrival as generally there’s only 1 boat a day.
I stayed at the Salamangka resort just south of San Juan. They are an eco resort and each resident gets a reusable bottle for water! The flatbreads in their restaurant are to die for and they also have a gym, beauty salon and pool overlooking the ocean!
Make sure you spend one day by the beach in San Juan, this palm fringed beach is super long and mostly empty. Plus there are loads of hammocks and tyre swings to use!
Another day needs to be spent doing a tour of the island. Most tricycles will offer this and will have a list of stop off options for you. We visited the Century Old Balete Tree fish spa, having my feet nibbled is definitely not my idea of fun but the tree was amazing! A must see is the Campughan falls, you’ll need to hire a guide to go here (even though it’s just down some stairs) but there are 2 swings and you can hire a raft! Each activity costs 50 pesos. We finished our tour at the Salagdoong Beach Resort , from the photos I imagined more of a beach… But it was mostly concrete steps and then crystal clear ocean. Good thing though is that they had lots of floaties and floating swings!
As there are no beaches onland the main thing to do here is a day trip on Honda Bay. You can book a tour for 1500 pesos per person. TOP TIP: OR you can head down the honda bay pier and organise your own boat for 1500 pesos (for up to 4 people) and you then just pay entry to the islands you wish to visit. We decided to visit Pandan island as it is not included in tours (thus not busy). It was 1000 pesos to enter but this includes a buffet meal, a cottage and use of their amenities such as paddle boards and kayaks.
You can also choose to do a tour to the underwater cave. We decided to miss this as it took up the whole day and was around 3000 pesos. TOP TIP: if you wish to visit the underwater cave I would make your own way there (maybe as a stop off between Puerto Princesa and El Nido?), this way you only need to pay for the boat in the cave!
My personal favourite spot in the Philippines! It is more expensive than the rest of the Philippines but the landscapes are just incredible!
We spent 4 days here exploring the nearby islands and on land beaches.
Another gorgeous place in the Philippines, but again no beaches on the mainland, you need to book a tour to the neighbouring islands.
The Main sites here are:
– Kayangan lake
– twin lagoon
– siete pescados (craziest coral I’ve ever seen)
– skeleton wreck (snorkle a japanese war ship from world war ii)
– coral garden (we saw 2 turtles!)
You can either choose from a variety of tours that offer a different amount of stops OR TOP TIP: book a private boat! A boat for the day for up to 8 people costs 3000 pesos. You then need to count in the cost for each stop (150-300 Pesos per stop) and lunch (the guide will take you to the market in the morning). We managed to make friends with 3 Italians who we saw were also looking for a tour and we hired a private boat all together! Having a private boat means you can leave earlier and get to Kayangan lake before the tour groups arrive (around 9am). It also gives you flexibility to stay as long as you want at each stop.
Another day we did a tour to 3 beaches for 1200 pesos each. These were located 1.5 hours from Coron town. The beaches were nice but I’m not sure I would recommend them as it’s quite a journey!
If you are a scuba diver or interested in trying it out then you definitely have to dive in Coron! The area is littered with huge Japanese war vessels from WWII and swimming inside one was such a surreal experience!
You can book a ferry inbetween Coron and El Nido from your hotel or a travel agency, they run twice a day in each direction. TOP TIP: Book your ticket at least 2 days in advance as they sell out fast!
Just to manage your expectations of the Philippines, YES there are some incredible beaches here but they are NOT everywhere. Generally you will need to get a boat to a neighbouring island.
If I were to come back to the Philippines I would want to visit:
– North of Manila
– North of Cebu
– Port Barton
If you’re interested in learning more about my spendings for my 7 month trip, check out my blog “How to Travel on a Budget in Asia“.