The Philippines was without doubt one of the most beautiful countries I have EVER witnessed. This place is pure and utter paradise. From the bluest, clearest water imaginable to palm trees and sipping coconuts on a hammock on white sandy beaches, it’s a beach bums dream. You’ll seriously think you’ve died and gone straight to heaven.
With over 7000 islands to choose from I found it extremely hard to decide which ones to visit. Our overall knowledge of the Philippines was limited and we wanted to get the absolute most out of our trip here. Our 30 day visa just wasn’t enough to explore everything we wanted, but we made sure to try and experience the highlights.
Our itinerary for the month was are follows:
- Manila: 1 night
- Coron: 3 nights
- El Nido: 8 nights
- Peurto Princessa: 1 night
- Cebu: 2 nights
- Maolbaol: 2 nights
- Oslob: 1 night
- Bohol: 2 nights
- Cebu: 1 night
- Boracay: 5 nights
- Manila: 1 night
All accommodation I mention in this post was booked through booking.com and offers an affordable, safe and enjoyable stay. As backpackers, nothing was too fancy! I will write in detail about specific adventures and activities we got up to in different places. If you want to know more about a place then just click on the link.
Manila: 1 night
Manila is the Philippines capital but it is a very scary and corrupt place so I would defiantly NOT recommend going into or staying in the city. Even the locals will tell you to avoid it at all costs. I would suggest flying out (to your first location) the same day you fly in, if you can. If you absolutely have to stay in Manila because there are no flights out until the next day like us, then stay close to the airport and not in the city. We stayed directly across from the airport in an apartment block called One Palm Tree Villa. It was basically like an air B&B type accommodation but it was perfect for us! The apartments are really comfortable and had all the essentials; Wi-Fi, Air-con, Sky TV etc. And best of all the complex had a pool! So there was enough to keep us occupied without venturing into the city.
Coron: 3 Nights
We flew into Coron not knowing what to expect. We arrived at the airport with no accommodation booked and had no idea how we were going to get to Coron town. In a matter of 5 minutes a lovely lady from Calamian tours organised our entire stay! She booked our hostel and tours for each day we were there. I was sceptical that this was going to work out way more expensive than if we were to organise this ourselves, but it turned out to be the complete opposite. We actually saved money turning up to the airport with no plans and booking everything there.
We stayed in AOP Pension House Hostel just outside the town. By “outside” I mean a 2 minute tuk tuk drive away. The hostel was very basic but it was very clean, friendly and incredibly cheap (around €10 a night between us, for a private double room). It was family run and the décor was so cute! Really bright vibrant colours. When it came to the room itself it was small, the air con basically didn’t work and our shower was… well, a bucket really! Ha I know I don’t seem to be selling it but honestly it was perfect for us and I believe most accommodation in the town is basic. Can’t beat a good old fashioned bucket wash in the heat! Haha. The breakfast was really nice too. Eggs, bacon, fruit etc.
Coron town was interesting. Very small, not a huge amount going on and quite simplistic. To get our barring’s we decided to climb to the top of Mt. Tapyas. Hiking the 742 steps in the scorching heat during the hottest part of the day was not one of our better ideas! Haha. We were DYING. I would recommend climbing this for sunset when it is a little cooler. At the top of the hill proudly stands a Hollywood-like “CORON” sign. The views are pretty impressive with beautiful panoramic views of Coron and the islands beyond.
There is no beach but FEAR NOT Coron is best known as a gateway and base for an abundance of adventures on the surrounding islands. Wreak diving, snorkelling and island-hopping to name a few. Island-hopping here is INCREDIBLE!! The scenery was just breath-taking and It was just like a real life Pinterest Board. (I always thought those pictures were edited, but NO. It really is as beautiful as the pictures and even better in reality). I hope to have a new blog post up soon for more detail on how to have an unbelievable adventure in Coron, so keep an eye out for that!
Also, if you are looking for a few beers after a long day of island-hopping, ‘No Name’ bar is where it’s at. Beach bar vibes in the centre of the town, good tunes and generally where you’ll find fellow backpackers to mingle with. We celebrated Darragh’s big 25th birthday bash there! Few too many red horse beers consumed… (An unregulated local beer of 6.9%, too many of these will blow the head off you!).
As regards where to eat, everywhere is ridiculously cheap. We got an entire meal (two mains and two beers) for €6. If you are looking for something a little more up market (but still cheap!) then ‘Kawayanan Grill Station’ was a BBBQ restaurant and it was delicious. Just remember NO ICE anywhere! In the majority of cases it’s made from tap water and it will make you sick, so avoid and drink bottled water only.
El Nido: 8 nights
To get to EL Nido from Coron we took a 7 hour boat. The boat was a wooden, cramped, uncomfortable and sweaty experience to say the least. The journey was long and extremely hot. The seats inside could only be described as plastic garden furniture haha. The one tip I can give you is after the boat departs from the dock, go upstairs to the shaded area and claim your spot. This is the place to be for 7 hours. It’s nice, breezy and just overall less Claustrophobic. We missed out on this spot so spent 7 hours dripping in my own seat on the garden chair in the cabin…lovely! Ha. The boat can be booked through your hotel/hostel and costs about 1300 pesos or 20-25€ each. There is another option of a fast boat however. This takes about 3.5 hours, but I’ve heard it is actually closer to 5. It’s more expensive but it has air-con and is WAY more comfortable. That alone makes it worth the extra cost. Unfortunately for us it was booked out! It costs about 1700 pesos. So…
Top Tip: Book the fast boat well in advance if you can. It’s pricier but it’s worth it. Well when I say ‘pricier’ I mean it’s about €8-12 extra. It’s not a lot, and let’s face it you can’t put a price on air-con.
After our long trip we made it to the heart of the Philippines and let me tell you, it delivered BIG TIME. If you are tight on time and only have time for one location on your trip here, make it El Nido. This place has it all. The most amazing scenery I have ever witnessed, cheap, sunsets that are out of this world and island-holiday vibes you cannot beat. We could have spent the whole month here alone.
We stayed in ‘OMP hostel‘ in the centre of the town. It is a party hostel so don’t expect a relaxing retreat here. It was so good for meeting people and I would highly recommend it. It’s nothing fancy but the atmosphere was amazing and it was just so much fun! It’s in high demand though, with people coming in everyday trying to get a room. So I would recommend booking this in advance if you wanted to stay here.
El Nido is bursting with quirky little smoothie, gelato and crepe bars. There are numerous restaurants and cafes to choose from so you will have no problem finding somewhere to eat. Some of our fav’s were ‘The Art café’ for brunch, ‘Trattoria Altove’ for hands down- the best pizza I have ever eaten and ‘Gusto’ for the most INCREDIBLE Nutella crepes and gelato. (I need one now). El Nido is famous for its Falafel wraps from ‘Blue Azul’, but there are several other falafel bars scattered around the town. These were SO good and defiantly worth trying. When it came to afternoon drinks ‘SAVA Bar’ had the BEST happy hour quite possibly in the world? Two for one cocktails for a grand total of 4 EURO people! These cocktails were absolutely delicious and had just the right amount of alcohol. Sip away on a bean bag while soaking up the rays overlooking the beach. DREAMY. We legit went to happy hour every day.
For a good night out then you need to head to ‘Pukka Bar’. This place is WILD. A mixture of locals and tourists drinking far too much rum, dancing to weird mixes of pop tunes overflowing onto the beach. Shots of rum are 50 cent in the Philippines. YES, 50 cent. So it’s true what they say, a single is more expensive than a double and a double is more expensive than a triple. You are paying for the mixture essentially. Dangerous stuff, but it’s something to experience!
Activity wise, where do I start with El Nido? We did the tour A and C island hopping tours. These are the most popular and my god where they impressive. On each tour you visit a total of 5-6 different islands and go snorkelling, kayaking and swimming in between. These islands are PERFECTION and the views are just spectacular, the landscape is just wow. You are on the boat with about 10 other people and if you’re lucky with your guides, they have the tunes blaring all day! It just adds to the atmosphere and you can bring beers with you too. The tours cost about 1200 pesos (€23) each, but considering the most impressive lunch spread is included it’s such a steal really and completely worth it. For more details on what the tours include I plan on doing a separate blog post for this.
One of our favourite places to go in El Nido was Las Cabanas beach. We went here almost every day and LOVED it. It’s got a hippy vibe to it and is just so chilled out. There are multiple beach bars and restaurants along the beach that offer bean bags, loungers and hammocks to relax on. Beer in hand, tropical pop playing and the most amazing views, holiday mode is in full swing here. You can easily spend an entire day here. The sunsets here are out of this world!! Hands down the best sunset I have ever witnessed. One evening we went out on a kayak to enjoy the sunset views from the sea. It was amazing. I’ll let the pictures do the talking here.
To get to Las Cabanas you just need to hop on a tricycle which will set you back 150 pesos (€3). It will take about 10-15 minutes. The tricycle rides are actually hilarious, you won’t experience transport like it anywhere else!
Another popular location among tourists is Nacpan Beach. A beautiful stretch of white sand offering good size waves for surfing enthusiasts. Unfortunately we never made it there but heard really good things. The only downside is that it is about a 45-50 minute trike ride away on extremely bumpy roads, so if you want to go here it may be best to book a taxi van.
Puerto Princesa: 1 night
We used Puerto Princesa as a stopover as way to fly to Cebu in order to easily reach our next location, Maolboal. We stayed in a hotel called ‘One Manalo Place‘. This was defiantly a little fancier and a big step up from our previous accommodation choices, but we felt we really needed to get a proper rest after the craziness of the hostels.
We didn’t get to see a whole lot of Puerto Princesa because we arrived late from El Nido and left for Cebu the next day. We did hear that it was hard to find accommodation here so I would recommend booking in advance if you can.
Getting to Puerto Princesa from El Nido was long. We wanted to break up the trip so we decided to do the underwater river tour in Sabang on the way. This is extremely popular with tourists and is listed as one of the new “7 wonders of the world”. This was probably the most expensive tour we did and to be honest, it wasn’t the best. The cruise itself through the cave was obviously impressive, however what I didn’t know was that there would be thousands of bats flying into my head during the whole thing! I was terrified! (but I’m afraid of everything haha). That defiantly took away from the experience for me, so if you’re screamish like me be warned!!
Ok so I know a lot of (normal) people who aren’t like me will really enjoy this. But another turn off of this trip for me was the waiting around. You spend so long (2-3hours) waiting for this 45 minute cruise in the heat. You can go zip-lining while you wait which we did, but it’s harmless enough. We left El Nido by van that morning at 4am, so by the time I got on the cave cruise (3pm) we were absolutely exhausted. We didn’t get to our Hotel in Puerto Princesa until 6pm that evening.
In hindsight we should have went straight to Puerto Princesa from El Nido without doing the underwater river tour and got there much quicker. HOWEVER some people loved this tour, this is just my own experience of it. The cave was really beautiful…if you take the bats out of the equation haha.
If you want to experience this, then I would recommend staying in Sabang for one night on your way down to Puerto Princesa. It just gives you more time to enjoy it, without the exhaustion of travelling all day.
Cebu: 2 nights
We landed in Cebu city planning to do one night as we were using it as a way to get to Maolboal. However we ended up staying two because we met friends, but one night is plenty. We stayed in the ‘Red Planet‘ hotel. I would HIGHLY recommend staying here. Budget friendly, really nice and in a brilliant location. There isn’t a whole lot to do in Cebu. Surprisingly there was a ginormous shopping centre with every possible brand imaginable across from the hotel. You can easily kill a few hours here, it is massive!! Sadly as a backpacker, I had to window shop and couldn’t buy anything…*crys*
We ended up meeting the friendliest and funniest group of locals at a bar one night. They were having a school reunion and invited us and our friends over to their table for drinks. Hilarious and so random. The Pilipino people are so friendly. They love to drink and have a good time and are ALWAYS singing!! You’ll notice this when you are here. Westlife and funny enough Shayne Ward (random?) made quite an impression in Asia! Every. Single. Country.
Maolbaol: 2 nights
Getting to Maolboal from Cebu was interesting to say the least. We got a three hour bus, but the bus was very small, cramped, old and had no air-con. The latter being the issue in 35 degree heat. The bus was over packed with locals and extremely sweaty. It was chaotic. There was people jumping on and off selling bananas, pies (weirdly?) and even mini children choirs singing for money haha it was complete madness! There was even people bringing live chickens in their bags on board. Yes they were ALIVE. The driver was crazy man and we definitely had a few near death experiences on the way, but we made it. Sure isn’t this what backpacking is all about, experiencing the culture? Found out later that there is actually a normal, air conditioned bus that runs too hahaha. So after my little story there my advice would be, yeah to get that bus.
We stayed in ‘Pescadores Sea View Suites‘. Really great location, right on the beach and even had a swimming pool. It was perfect. You could walk down a few steps from the pool, jump in the sea and go snorkelling!
Top things to do here is to visit the very famous Kawasan falls and to go canyoneering. We unfortunately didn’t get time to do the canyoning but I heard it was absolutely brilliant here! We did get to do it in Vietnam and I would highly recommend giving it a go. It was just so much fun and one of the highlights of our trip. It basically consists of climbing and jumping off cliffs and through waterfalls. It does sound scary and it was at first, but honestly it was one of the best things we have done. The biggest jump is 50ft but that is optional. The smallest is about 7-10ft. This trip costs about 1500 pesos, so don’t pay any more than that.
Next up was the very beautiful Kawasan Falls. It was about a 20min drive away from our hotel. We wanted to go really early to avoid the crowds and have the place to ourselves, so we booked our taxi for 6:30am. This plan soon fell through when reception told us that “the park didn’t open until 9:30”. More like “our driver isn’t available until 9:30”. Needless to say that when we arrived we found out its always open. We didn’t get the place to ourselves but the sheer beauty of this place distracted me from the crowds. It was breath-taking! Kawasan falls is made up of three waterfalls, with the largest flowing into a massive turquoise blue swimming hole. The second and the third waterfalls are definitely quieter and not as busy but if you get up early enough you are sure to have the place mostly to yourself. You have to pay a small fee of 10 pesos to enter the park. We did the bamboo rafting here that brings you underneath the waterfall. We didn’t expect much but it was brilliant! We literally laughed until our sides were sore during the whole thing. So I would defiantly recommend getting your own raft. It cost about €8 but you can 100% get it for cheaper, you just need to haggle.
As regards where to eat in Maolbaol your options are limited. ‘Chili Bar’ is famous here for sunset drinks and their delicious thin-crust pizzas. We ate here a few times and the pizza did not disappoint. By night however, this place gets wild. Expect a DJ, retro laser lights and your fair share of locals and sometimes lady boys! Very friendly staff and just good craic in general, definitely worth a visit if you’re staying in Maolbaol.
Oslob: 1 night
We made our way to Oslob from Maolbaol by bus. This took about 2.5-3 hours and cost 100 pesos each. We booked it through our hotel. One annoying thing with this was that we had to transfer in Bato to another bus. But in general the trip was fine considering it was so cheap.
Oslob is a small coastal town made famous among tourists for swimming with whale sharks! I was VERY excited about this but also a tad nervous considering the size of them! The D’Downhill homestay was our home for the night. It was very basic but because we were only staying for one night it didn’t matter to us. It cost €17 for the night and was located right beside the whale sharks. The lady at reception was so helpful and friendly, she even organised our boat trip to Bohol.
NOTE: We found nothing online on how to get to Bohol from Oslob. We thought that we would have to go all the way back to Cebu, then across to Bohol by boat. Which was not ideal at all. However there IS a boat that goes from Oslob straight to Bohol. You just need to ask and book it in your hostel/hotel. It cost about 1000 pescos (€20) each. Slightly pricey but completely worth it.
At 6am we woke up to watch the sunrise over the ocean and get ready to hop on a boat to swim with the whale sharks. SO EXCITING. The experience really was incredible and I felt so lucky to be able to do this. Gigantic whale sharks circled our boat while hoovering up fish into their MASSIVE mouths. I was so nervous at first but it was really something special and a memory I will never forget. You only get 20mins in the water with them which was a shame. I felt I was just getting used to them when I had to get out. You need to stay so calm when they start to approach you and not touch them. These are wild animals so you need to treat them that way. They really are gentle giants and believe it or not, have no interest in eating you! Haha
I will admit that the whole experience was slightly tainted by the amount of tourists there. In my opinion they had too much of us out in the water at the same time and it didn’t feel natural. There is a 5 ft. rule that you need to stay away from the sharks, however many tourists didn’t pay any attention to this and it really frustrated us. Wild animals need space. I feel stricter guidelines should be put in place for the well-being of these animals.
We heard that you can swim with the whale sharks in Donsol also. But this is not a tourist attraction and is where the whale sharks naturally go. We would have loved to have done this but we just didn’t have the time and it was too far off our route. Swimming with whale sharks however, should 100% be on your bucket list. When you are in the water with them it is an experience like no other and memories that last a lifetime.
The boat left at 12pm to Bohol. This journey would have been a perfectly enjoyable boat trip if it wasn’t for the storm we experienced! The minute we left the heavens opened and it was the craziest storm I’ve ever witnessed! It was only a small wooden boat with some plastic covering a section of it…clearly not build for heavy rain. It was hilarious and all we could do was laugh! The boat nearly tipped over on several occasions, we were absolutely soaked from the rain and waves and everyone was running around screaming hysterically. An experience to say the least! We arrived in Bohol slightly later than planned as a result but alive all the same!
Bohol: 2 nights
Bohol is a little beach town that offers various options for travellers both on and off the beaten track. Made famous for its Chocolate Mountains and home to the very cute bug-eyed Tarsier Monkeys, Bohol has become an increasingly popular stop for backpackers and tourists. The main area to stay here is actually a little outside of Bohol itself near Alona Beach. This is a stunning little beach that accommodates a long strip of restaurants and resto-bars decorated with fairy lights. All of the restaurants along here are really good and have an impressive spread of BBQ and seafood. One of our favourite places to eat here was actually a vegetarian Italian located along the main street called ‘Luna Rossa’. It took a lot of convincing to get Darragh on board to go to a vegetarian place but even he loved it! The pasta is AMAZING.
We stayed in a newly opened boutique hotel called ‘The Leux Hotel’. I cannot recommend this place enough. Brilliant location, 5 minute walk to the beach, very affordable and brand new. The room was massive and best of all it had brilliant Wi-Fi, which is extremely hard to come by in the Philippines! We got some much needed Netflix in during our stay there (priorities). Make sure you go to the French bakery downstairs for Breakfast. Absolutely delicious and everything is baked fresh every morning.
The next morning we went out to explore the main highlights of Bohol that we could fit into our short stay here. We hired a taxi from our hotel to bring us to the Chocolate Mountains and the Tarsier Monkey Sanctuary which was about a 1-2 hour drive away. You can also hire a moped for just 250 pesos per day if you prefer. The journey will be a little longer this way of course, but it gives you the freedom to stop along the way and explore rice terraces, villages, markets and the surrounding countryside. The journey is also not for inexperienced drivers, the roads are bad and the traffic can be too.
We arrived at the Chocolate Mountains around 1pm and the entrance fee was 50pesos or €1. We climbed to the top of the hundred steps to the viewpoint which overlooked the slightly brown (but more so green) termite mound hills. It was very crowded at the top and I’ll admit we found it a little underwhelming. As one of Bohol’s main highlights and although the landscape was fascinating, it wouldn’t be something I would put top of my Philippines bucket list.
Next we went to the Tarsier Monkey Sanctuary to visit the world’s smallest monkey measuring just 10-15cm in length. It’s quite hard to see the monkeys in the sanctuary itself as they are tucked away and because they are so small they can be hard to spot. They are nocturnal animals so they sleep during the day which can be annoying because you want to see their really cute bug eyes! Luckily for us I spotted one opening his eyes and for that split second I managed to grab a picture. It’s defiantly worth a visit just to see the animals. The staff really do care and look after them which is lovely to see.
Our time in Bohol was short but sweet. Although we covered the main attractions, Bohol is by no means limited to these activities. You can also do island hopping tours here to Panglao Island which is hugely popular for diving and Balicasag Island for snorkelling. Had we more time then we probably would of done this! With its jungle interior, rice fields, stunning waterfalls and pristine white beaches, Bohol has a lot to offer.
We needed to get back to Cebu so that we could fly to our next and final destination, Boracay. We got the taxi man to drop us to the Bohol ferry port after our day of activities. This is about a five minute drive from Alona beach. We got the Ocean Jet fast ferry directly to Cebu from here which cost about 800 pesos each (€16). It was really comfortable and got us there in less than two hours. We stayed in the Red Planet hotel again for one night before flying to Boracay early the next morning with Cebu Pacific Airways.
Boracay: 5 nights
Boracay is a tiny island that has surged its way to the top as the Philippines number one tourist destination. The most beautiful, long white beach is in the centre of the action with multiple bars, restaurants, shops and hotels located on its shores. After experiencing rapid growth in recent years, Boracay is a very popular destination for large package tourists from Korea, Taiwan and China primarily. This little island is BUSY and very different to the chilled out El Nido and Coron. Boracay is a place that you can get whatever you want out of if you know where to look. Whether its relaxation, luxury, adventure or partying you’re after, you’ll find it here.
Boracay was a really great way to finish our Philippines trip. Our plan was to sit back and relax after a very busy three weeks exploring the rest of the country. That was until Darragh booked us five nights in the ‘Mad Monkey’ hostel. My plans to enjoy the beautiful beach, watch sunsets and work on my tan were soon forgotten as this place was WILD. If you are not the partying type then do not stay here! Otherwise it’s absolutely crazy and really good craic. It’s a really cool hostel where you will meet so many other backpackers. It’s cheap, the staff are gas and there are free shots on the hour EVERY hour. Five nights here was a challenge of endurance.
Continuous drinking and peer pressure led to five fun-filled (slightly blurry) days. The pool party runs seven days a week and twice a week there is a BBQ. Every Tuesday there is a Boat party that goes out to Ariel’s Point where you can go cliff-jumping. Who ever thought that bringing drunk people cliff jumping was a good idea….wasn’t mistaken, it was hilarious! The booze cruise had unlimited drink all day. We were sceptical of this at first given the size of the boat and the amount of people, but yes it really was an unlimited supply! It was just so much fun. Even if you don’t stay here I would still recommend signing up for this.
To be honest, most of our time in Boracay was spent on the beer. Having said that, it was still a really good way to let loose, meet people and have fun. I don’t know if I would recommend staying here as long as we did, it nearly killed me! But for a two or three day stay it really was a lot of fun if that’s what you are looking for.
One popular place to visit in Boracay is the Spider House bar, which overlooks the sea. This is the ideal place to enjoy postcard perfect sunset views with a cocktail in hand. After a wild few days we flew back to Manila where we would say goodbye for now to this incredible country.
The Philippines was honestly one of the most amazing places I have ever been. The people are incredibly friendly, the views are literally out of this world and the sea is the clearest, most beautiful water I have ever seen. It’s like stepping into complete paradise and that is no exaggeration. I would strongly urge everyone to visit this amazing country before it falls victim to the increased growth of tourists. It is perfectly unspoiled at the moment and really something special experience.
I hope this guide helps anyone who is planning on visiting the Philippines. If you have any other questions please feel free to ask, I’d love to hear from you.
Thanks so much for reading. Philippines, I’ll be back!!