The Philippines is made up of over 7,000 islands! You could spend years travelling through this vast country and still not see all the highlights. While I am a big fan of booking a flight and seeing where the adventure takes me, I found the key to a successful trip around this oceanic region is pick a few main destinations you want to visit, and stick to them. Too much chopping and changing can result in lost time, backtracking on routes already taken, and a lot of wasted cash.
Familiarising yourself with the Philippines
Before setting an itinerary in stone, take a moment to familiarise yourself with some information on the Philippines:
- Free 30-day visas are granted on arrival for most nationalities, but you MUST hold a flight ticket on to your next destination.
- The dry season starts in late November and ends in May. The rainyseasons starts in June and lasts till October.
- While the Philippines is rapidly catching up with tourism compared to where it was ten years ago, there are still some islands where electricity and running water are intermittent. If this is of concern to you make sure you research your islands and their commodities.
- Wi-fi is a luxury in the Philippines, but luckily local data SIMs can be bought for cheap in most convenience stores or at airports
- The Peso (PHP) is the currency of the Philippines, but ATMs are sparse on many islands so make sure you have enough cash when travelling
I explored the Philippines for three weeks and would loved to have stayed for longer. Unfortunately due to time restriction, we could not give any more time to the islands. Although I do have to say, after the three weeks were up, I was exhausted from a serious amount of travel! I think three weeks is a decent amount of time to spend in the Philippines, you see the highlights and leave wanting more!
Boracay is the top beach destination in the Philippines. The title however doesn’t come without a price, it’s also by far the most touristy! Be prepared for an influx of beach vendors, tour operators and packed restaurants. Boracay is popular with Asian tour groups, European backpackers and families from all over the globe.
Update: President Rodrigo Duterte has closed Boracay calling it a “cesspool” tainted by dumped sewage and rubbish by hotels and bars. Instead of spending a few days here, substitute it for Siargao, Siquijor Island or more time exploring Palawan.
Edit: Since time of publication, Boracay is now closed to tourists. Instead, substitute Boracay for Siargao, it’s more remote, with beaches just a beautiful as Boracay.
Bohol in my opinion has it all, the white sandy beaches, great diving with turtles around every corner and mesmerising nature like the Chocolate Hills. After four days in a densely populated Boracay, we welcomed Bohol’s contrast, with its rural roads lined with green paddy fields and local kids strolling home from school eagerly egging us on to honk our scooter horns.
We stayed in the more touristy Alona Beach and from here rented scooters to discover Bohol. We visited the Tarsier Sanctuary, explored the Chocolate Hills and paddle-boarded down the Loboc River. We also took a day out to dive the reefs around Balicasag island; talk about a turtle haven!
For more on Bohol you can visit my full itinerary here.
My main reason for travelling to Cebu was to visit the Kawasan Falls. I had heard mixed feelings about the falls, some saying they were the best thing they did in the Philippines, while others say they’re overcrowded and too touristy. We stayed in nearby town Moalboal, and rose super early the next morning to get to the falls before everyone else. We sped off on our bike, followed the signs, and got there just before 8am. We were the only people there and got to experience the blue waters all to ourselves, definitely worth the trip!
Moalboal is also home to the Sardine Run. Rent a snorkel and just meters from the beach, experience the huge school of sardines swimming around in mesmerising circles. There are also lots of turtles to spot here as well as gorgeous fish and corals.
You can read more about the Kawasan Falls and Moalboal here.
El Nido – Palawan
If you have less time to spend in el Nido, say eight or nine days, I would focus on Palawan alone. This island has so much to offer, we could easily have spent our three weeks exploring all the nooks and crannies of this amazing region.
Our first stop in Palawan was El Nido, where we spent five chilled-out days discovering beaches, enjoying sunsets and exploring the wonders around the island. The biggest draw to El Nido is the boat tours around the Archipelago. There is an abundance of tour guides around the town of El Nido, all offering the exact same tours (creatively named Tour A, B, C and D) for the exact same price (roughly).
Tour A was absolutely amazing, and by far my favourite. Swim or kayak through Small Lagoon, view the high cliffs of Big Lagoon, see the beauty of Secret Lagoon and enjoy the underwater corals and fishes at Simezu Island. Tour A’s last stop is at 7Commando beach where you can chill with fresh coconut juice.
El Nido was also a great island to get in a few dives. The Philippines is one of the cheapest (if not the cheapest!) places to dive around the world, and boasts some truly breathtaking dive sites.
Staying on Palawan Island, take a (long!!) bus from El Nido to Port Barton. This little Philippino gem, one undiscovered by tourists, is slowly making its way to the top of most travellers’ bucket lists.
A quieter, unspoilt version of El Nido, use your time here to completely unwind and enjoy some quiet time. The scenery is incredible and island hopping tours are available here. They are different to the El Nido tours so don’t worry about repeating your adventures.