Once an off-the-beaten-path destination for travelers in the know, the Philippines is now becoming a popular stop on the Southeast Asian backpacking route. From lush rainforests to world class beaches, the landscape is one of the most diverse we’ve ever seen. And with over 7,000 islands you really have to choose your Philippines travel itinerary carefully if you want to take in all of this incredible country. Whether you’re a true adventurer ready to take on grueling hikes up an active volcano, or prefer to spend all your time relaxing on the sand, you will not be disappointed in the Philippines!
Although we stayed in the Philippines for over 6 months, most of our time was spent volunteering with typhoon Yolanda relief in Tacloban, so we didn’t get to see as much as we would have liked. What we were able to see during our three week motorcycle trip through the Visayas, two weeks in Palawan and our weekends off from volunteering was incredible. From the famous Chocolate Hills in Bohol to walking one of the country’s longest sandbars on the incredible Kalanggaman Island, we were continually impressed with the Philippines’ natural beauty. There’s no doubt that we’ll return one day (hopefully soon!) to keep exploring.
With all those other locations in mind, to help us craft the best Philippines travel itinerary, we asked our blogging friends to tell us the spots they’d most recommend. And here’s what they said:
If you want to experience village life, where locals welcome you with a huge smile and you’re surrounded by lush green forests, then Tibiao won’t disappoint you. Located on the Antique island, not far from the popular Boracay beach, this place has lots to offer to eager ecotourists.
You can learn a lot about local life while walking along the main road. Busy villagers will show you how they build fishing boats, how to produce natural salt on the beach shore or make pottery and bricks, too. If you’re lucky to make some friends in Tibiao, they might introduce you to a local healer, Remedios Maniba, who can show you that miracles are possible.
Once you’re done with the village experience, we strongly recommend visiting a jungle near Tibiao. There you can try the zipline from above a gorgeous valley with some stunning views! Don’t miss out on jungle trekking to the Bugtong-bato Falls, where you can have a refreshing dip on the top. Tired after hiking? No worries! On the way back there’s a hot kawa bath with some soothing herbs waiting for you. There’s no doubt that Tibiao is a one of the best body and soul retreat in the Philippines.
Far away from the increasing hustle and bustle of El Nido’s main beach there is a way better place that you can escape to! Where the crowds are nowhere in sight and the locals are chilling out in true Filipino style. Apart from one or two tourists who have discovered the secret already, you’ve got this patch of sand to yourself (woohoo!). Tuk tuk drivers are going to try and convince you that to see the best sunset in El Nido you should head to ‘Las Cabanas’. You don’t need to go there.
Skip the ride, use your legs and pop around the corner from the main drag to bid adieu to another amazing day in this tropical paradise. The cheapest beer on the island is also here as well as a lovely table (there’s just one!) where you can pitch your bottom and soak up all the beauty. To find out this location, pop along to Teacake Travels to get the coordinates!
Over the last few years I’ve been island hopping all over the globe – the allure of empty beaches, barefoot living and pumping surf constantly driving my travels. But from the first time I stepped foot on Siargao Island in the South of the Philippines, (about an hours flight East of Cebu) I knew I’d found my ultimate island retreat.
Siargao – and in particular the General Luna are – ticks all the boxes for a traveling surfer or anyone looking to kick back on island time. Enjoy world class waves such as Cloud 9 or start to learn on fun breaks like Jacking Horse or Dacu – my personal favourite. The palm tree fringed beaches are near empty and the lagoon surrounding the island is the ideal place for a high tide swim, kayak or SUP in the clear, warm waters. And the best thing about it all? It doesn’t come with a budget killing price tag!
Dedicated surf camps offer great surf and stay packages, restaurants like Mamas Grill and Kityas serve up a range of local and western dishes and there are a few budget hostels kicking around too if you’re really wanting to live on a dime. One part of me wants to tell everyone about it, the other part wants me to keep this slice of Filipino paradise secret a while longer…
Cebu is an island filled with activity, but between exploring Cebu city and heading north to the beautiful outlying islands, it’s easy to miss out on one of the most amazing experiences the island offers – snorkeling in Moalboal.
Moalboal is a snorkeler’s playground with clear water, a large coral reef and plenty of marine life to be found. By hiring a boat, you can spend several hours in the waters off Moalboal, and around the nearby Pescador Island, observing some incredible underwater life and enjoying island life in the sun. In fact, if you look carefully you’ll most likely see several sea turtles and clown fish up close! The sardine run, one of the most unique and fascinating sights, can also be found in these waters where a huge school of countless sardines swim in one unbelievably large group.
Snorkeling in Moalboal is one of the best experiences to be had while visiting the Philippines. It showcases the natural beauty of the country and its islands, and after a day spent in the water, you can come back to the shore and enjoy some fresh and delicious local cuisine.
One of the most unique experiences you can have in the Philippines, and possibly the world, is in Coron. Here you can scuba dive the famous WWII Japanese ship wrecks. These ships have been at the bottom of the sea since a U.S. airstrike back on Sept. 24, 1944. On this day the U.S. sank 24 ships that were part of the Japanese supply fleet, 12 of them are now accessible to diving today.
This is an adventure not for the faint of heart. You’ll be diving down around 100 feet, making your way inside through gaping bombed out holes. Swimming through the narrow passages is like stepping back in time, you get to see the actual supplies still laying as they were. The hundreds of cement bags still intact and ready for delivery and the anchor awaiting deployment. It’s an experience that will send chills through your body and bring you down to the deep dark depths of history.
The highlight of our time in the Philippines was definitely spending three days in Danjugan Island, a tiny island off the coast of Negros Oriental managed by a conservation NGO. We had the chance to meet the president of the foundation, who told us that he purchased Danjugan to save it from overfishing and development. If it wasn’t for them the island would probably be covered in concrete tourist resorts with jet skis buzzing back and forth.
Instead, it’s an Eco paradise. There’s no wifi or electricity and we stayed in a cabana, made with mud from the island, that was powered by solar panels. During the day we walked along the islands trails and visited the ‘bat cave’, or kayaked to a magical lagoon that looked like it was out of Jurassic Park. We watched the sunset every night, in silence, then watched the sky being lit by a million stars. It wasn’t just an amazing holiday and we know that our stay in Danjugan made a difference and helped conserve this fragile environment.
The Philippines is all about pristine beaches and watersports. Within the island life paradise, however, we found a different way to enjoy it! A unique experience we had in Bohol Island was the stand-up paddle on the Loboc River. The river is huge, clean and surrounded by forest, the perfect spot for SUP. We got on the boards and paddled for hours. The water is very calm and you don’t need to be a professional surfer to enjoy it.
It was a perfect afternoon with the birds singing, a few kids playing on the river banks and the sun shining through the green water. The scenery is beautiful, peaceful and you feel like you own the river. We managed to stay dry during the paddling, but afterward Rob decided to overcome his fear of heights and jumped into the river from a swing on the top of the tree. Nothing like an adrenaline rush to end our SUP tour! It was definitely an unmissable experience in Bohol Island. After the SUP, we recommend strolling around the village and trying some local food, especially the malunggay soup and the sweetest mangos you’ll ever eat!
If you’re looking for some peaceful time away from the crowds, you may want to put Port Barton on your travel list. Located between El Nido and Puerto Princesa, this quiet town is a real escape. While much of the Philippines have been “discovered,” Port Barton sits on the verge, maintaining a rare and sincere charm. I spent more than a couple of nights admiring this appeal with fellow travelers. We wandered down the dark, empty streets finding cozy eateries and commenting on how nice it was to be left alone without tricycle drivers or tour guides hounding us for their next commission.
Boat tours are available daily, and you can find a captain on the beach to negotiate a price – roughly half the price of a tour in El Nido, if done properly. Currently, the town of Port Barton only has electricity from 5pm until midnight, though some of the hotels have generators to supplement. I was told that by the end of 2016 new generators will help to provide the town with electricity 24 hours a day, who knows if that will happen on schedule! Despite the lack of electricity – and therefore wifi – there is plenty of infrastructure to support what is sure to be a growing tourist market in the town. The beach is lined with cool hotels and cafes; I even found this adorable tree house on the beach for $20/night.
We visited the Philippines in 2015 and completely fell in love with it. So so many islands to explore. Our favourite from the ones we visited were the islands just off Palawan, in particular, Flower Island.
Flower Island is a tiny island around 40 minutes speed boat ride from the Tay Tay harbour on Palawan. It is located right in the heart of a pearl farm, which we got to visit during our stay there. The Philippines specialises in producing golden pearls, which is a very complex process taking over 2-3 years to produce the perfect shape and color golden pearl.
There’s only ever a handful of people on the island: a few locals and tourists like us coming to soak up the Robinson Crusoe like feel of the place. The island is surrounded by untouched and very healthy coral, making it a paradise for snorkelling. And the sunsets, every evening…incredible! We loved our time here and definitely want to return.
Diving in Moalboal is something you don’t want to miss. I dove in a lot of great locations around the Philippines, but Moalboal possibly had the greatest diversity! From the incredible and famous Sardine Run, to overloads of turtles, and fun little wrecks, there was always something new and exciting to see. On one single dive just off shore from my dive resort, I counted no less than 20 turtles, some small and some enormous.
There’s even a purposely sunk little air plane in one dive site, that makes it a unique dive, and on the same site there are countless nudibranch sightings and other macro critters. When not diving, the beaches around Moalboal offer some great white beaches, nice bars, and tasty restaurants. To get there, it is about a 4 hour bus ride from Cebu City.
These days the Philippines travel buzz is all about Palawan, especially El Nido, but another deserving part of the Philippines archipelago is the Caramoan Peninsula. Camille and I visited Caramoan two years ago, and on a spontaneous trip with our families we ended up back there earlier this year.
The location of the reality show Survivor helps prove its worth as an off-beaten-track destination with a high dose of raw beauty and empty beaches. The active adventurer won’t be left disappointed, as you can go island hopping, snorkeling, rock-climbing, kayaking, caving, and any other water activity you can imagine. For those looking for less adventure than Survivor you can pop into one of the many home stays in the Caramoan town. Given it’s remote location, tourism shouldn’t negatively affect the area for years to come, but with that said the best time to come is now.
We spent six months in the Philippines so we have a long list of recommendations for travelers heading that way. Our all-time favorite spot, however, would have to be Apo Island in Negros Oriental. On the coast of this small island one of our biggest bucket list items came true – swimming with wild sea turtles! The locals set up a marine sanctuary just off the shore to protect these beautiful sea creatures after the turtle population was decimated by hunting.
We swam side by side with dozens of turtles, watching in awe as they floated around, munching on algae. Although the island itself is tiny (there are no main roads or cars!), it’s a popular day trip for snorkelers and scuba divers. Not as many tourists explore the town on the interior of the island, however, but we highly recommend it. We loved exploring the narrow alleyways, watching the kids fight spiders and chatting with older locals who have been on the island for decades. We couldn’t recommend it more