I had the extreme pleasure of traveling to 9 Asian countries and spending almost 7.5 months abroad. Every country had its unique things to offer, but the Philippines was by far my favorite. I’ve never met a kinder group of people and a more beautiful landscape, the bluest of waters, the most exaggerated landscapes, there’s so much to see and so much to do.
The Philippines is comprised of over 7000 islands of which I saw a handful. During my time in the Philippines, we stayed in 3 main areas: Manila, Palawan and Cebu. When you land in the Philippines you’ll be landing in Manila, however we don’t recommend spending any longer than you need to, simply get on the next flight from Manila and head to either Palawan or Cebu. For our trip we went straight to Cebu.
Traveling in The Philippines
Once we left the airport we went 15 minutes away, got a hotel and stayed there for about 2 days. Mactan is beautiful, but we don’t recommend spending too long there. After that we caught a cab going into Cebu City where we would go to the local bus station to catch a jeepney heading south.
Jeepneys are the buses used by the locals, they’re highly affordable, highly safe and I highly recommend using them. Once the jeepney took us to the southern tip of Cebu we took a ferry going to Dumaguete. Once we arrived in Dumaguete we got on the Filipino tricycles. You’ll see them everywhere. We took one of them into Dumaguete and spend the rest of the night drinking and singing karaoke with our new found friends.
The next morning, without any sleep, we got on the ferry and headed to Siquijor island. We got on the island and rented this crappy little car broke that broke down like 5 times, but there’s not really any other options, you have to rent some sort of a vehicle because there’s no other means of transportation. Siquijor island is known as a mystic island or for its voodoo magic, however, we didn’t see anything too weird. Siquijor island is also not very well known to the public, I barely saw any other tourists and it was mainly the locals knew of it.
One of the most beautiful places I saw while traveling for 7.5 months was here. Salagdoong beach— it was stunning. I remember looking over this diving platform and thinking there’s no way anyone jumps here the tide must be out or something and next thing I know these 3 dudes literally lunge themselves off into the ocean in may as well be called peer pressure beach because everyone ends up jumping at the end of the day! This was one of my favorite beaches in all my travels!
We spent our last day in Siquijor with the local strays and enjoying traditional Filipino meal known as a “boodle fight”. The reason it’s called that is because once people start eating it’s a “free for all.” The food consisted of fish, sea urchin, sea weed and a bunch of spices; it was surprisingly good!
After Siquijor we went back to Dumaguete, and then straight to Oslob. Oslob is known for one thing and that is the whale sharks. The whale sharks are some of the most amazing creatures you’ll ever see. For $30 you get 45 minutes to swim next to these whale sharks and there’s generally going to be 5 to 15 of them. The truth is they’re being fed so it’s not quite as impressive as seeing them their natural surroundings, but it’s still very impressive. I recommend you go at 6 AM, by noon they’ve eaten their fair share of tourists and go back into the ocean. No they don’t eat people, but you do want to be there early.
If you have extra time in Oslob I highly recommend checking out Tumalog Falls. It’s only about a 15 to 20 minute motorbike ride away and it’s definitely worth the site. Now this is a bit of an untraditional route, but one I highly recommend. After Oslob we went straight to Bohol, Bohol is an island. Because it’s a bit unusual you won’t see this advertised online. What we did is we simply went to the pier in Oslob and asked around until we found someone who was driving the boat across, I think we paid about $20 to $30 per passenger. If you don’t do this you’ll have to drive all the way back up to Cebu City and catch a plane or a boat from Cebu City.
After spending a day hanging out on a lonely beach, one of the most beautiful beaches, we rented a scooter and headed up north to the Chocolate Hills. This is a full day trip in itself, there’s a lot to do. You can see the beautiful cathedrals, the creepy little monkeys with big eyes known as tarsiers, and of course the Chocolate Hills. I love Bohol. I don’t recommend saying that out loud too often.
To get back to Cebu we went to the big pier in Bohol and took a boat going back to Cebu City. Once in Cebu City we took a jeepney going down Badian. This is about a 3.5 hour bus ride.
Badian is incredible, this is where we went canyoneering, one of the most memorable experiences of my entire trip. Although, I probably said that a few times now. If I would imagine we’re Gatorade came from I would imagine it was here. The water is one of the most unique blues you’ll ever see in your life. And one of the best parts of the whole experience is when you get to the very end of the canyoneering you’re lead to this beautiful waterfall known as Kawagan Falls. The company we use is called Badian Cebu Canyoneering. I recommend them.
After Badian we went all the way back to Dumaguete. From Dumaguete we paid about $50 to get a boat to take us Apo Island. We split that cost among the four of us and paid another $10 to rent snorkel gear for the day. The reason it’s called Apo Island is because Apo means sea turtle, or at least the Filipinos told me that, and it makes total sense. We saw about 7 to 8 sea turtles that day and it’s just an absolutely beautiful island, 100% worth the visit.
After Apo Island we made our way all the way back to Mactan, the airport where we originally landed in Cebu. From Cebu airport we had a one way flight to Puerto Princesa Palawan. There’s an incredible cave you can explore in Puerto Princesa, but we didn’t spend any time and headed straight to El Nido. We paid about $15 to have a passenger van driver us north to El Nido. Now you’re probably asking why do I go all the way to El Nido. The answer is that it’s probably one of the most beautiful places in the entire world. In fact, it’s been consistently voted one of the most beautiful islands in the world.
On the mainland of El Nido there’s an amazing cliffside overlooking all of El Nido, it’s called Tarraw Cliff and it’s actually pretty dangerous. You’ll need a guide to bring you up. We asked around the town until we found a guide for about $30. Generally dive shops will be the most “in” place to go and they can organize you with anything from accommodation to tours. Just make sure they’re not taking advantage of you.
In El Nido we rented a bike and did a day trip to Nacpan Beach, my all time favorite beach. It was so unbelievably beautiful that we made another trip back to actually spend the night there. One note that should be made is that El Nido often loses electricity which leads to excruciatingly hot days and nights where the air conditioning does not work. To avoid this simply stay at a place that has generators. El Nido has a great reputation for scuba diving. We saw sea turtles, massive schools of fish and we even went scuba diving into a cave with super poisonous snakes, I didn’t like that part. If you’re really big into scuba diving, you want to go further north to Coron. Coron is widely known as the best place to scuba dive in all of the Philippines. Their sunken warships you can actually dive through and it’s very beautiful.
The next day we went back to Nacpan beach. We use the locals way of transportation and sat on the top of this truck. We paid probably about $2 each and it was an amazing way to meet the locals. I highly recommend you go out of your way to not only save money but try these unique and authentic experiences. Nacpan Beach is my favorite beach in all of my 7.5 months of traveling. It’s truly a hidden gem. If you don’t go to Nacpan Beach you’re missing out on a huge part of what made the Philippines so special to me. I absolutely love Nacpan. Nacapn was essentially our last night in the Philippines. After Nacpan we went all the way back to Puerto Princesa, took a flight all the way to Manila, the capital of the Philippines, and then left the Philippines from Manila.
Philippines Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
I thought I’d answer a few questions that I know will be commonly asked.
Is the Philippines safe?
The Philippines is very safe. Like any country there will be bad places and places you should avoid. In this case I recommend you avoid the south of the Philippines, also known as Mindanao. The best resource will always be your national embassy, see what they have to say on every country you plan to visit, but to conclude this question the Philippines was one of the safest countries I visited in my entire time in Asia.
Do I need a visa to visit the Philippines?
You actually don’t need to buy these in advance, but what you do need is you need to buy a two way ticket and this is crucial. When you’re going to the Philippines you’ll of course have bought a one way ticket into the Philippines but you also need to have purchased a return ticket. Your tickets cannot be more than 21 days apart because 21 days is the most the country allows you to stay without special permission. I highly recommend you always do your own research because terms can change, but to conclude make sure you have your return ticket bought in advance.
Where should I go if I don’t have time to see both Palawan and Cebu?
Well this will totally depend on you. In my opinion Cebu has more to do. You have options between the whale sharks, cliff jumping, going canyoneering and even island hopping. Palawan on the other hand has a bit less selection. You’re either going to Puerto Princesa or you’re going to El Nido and El Nido is absolutely stunning so I would highly recommend you make your way there, but if you don’t want to spend 10 days laying around the beach and doing island tours I recommend you do Cebu. Both Cebu and Palawan have incredible islands to offer and if you can’t make them both work in this trip maybe consider doing one now and doing the next in the future. It’s definitely worth returning to see the other.
Is the Philippines expensive?
Now I’m not going to get into any detail, but a very vague answer is no, it is not expensive. It’s very comparable to traveling through Thailand. A meal will cost you anywhere from $2 to $5 and accommodations are a little bit more expensive. Going anywhere from $7 all the way up to $15 for a reasonable accommodation. Overall traveling the Philippines is very affordable and I highly recommend it.
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