The Philippines – long, white sandy beaches; clear, turquoise water and overhanging palm trees. A colorful collection of paradise islands, where the locals are just as welcoming and happy to see you as you are to be there. That’s what comes to my mind when I picture the Philippines – and it’s the reason why travelers from all over the world have it high on their lists ‘must visit’ places.
When you’re not basking in the sun sipping on daiquiri’s, you can venture further inland and conquer jungle hikes, volcanoes or make the most of some of the best scuba diving in the entire world.
With every single island offering their own unique slice of tropical bliss, you’ll be wanting to move between a few of them during your stay. The intricate maze of buses and ferries, flights, tuk tuks and timetables can sometimes be overwhelming, so let me walk you through some of the best ways to get around in the Philippines during your stay.
Part of the province of Palawan (voted ‘The Best Island in the World’, multiple times), it is actually separate to the rest of the island by about 250km of water. Because of this, it is slightly behind on the tourist traffic that some other areas may be experiencing. You’ll be able to explore the mind melting scenery without needing to share. There are lakes, lagoons, bays and underwater mountains. If you’re looking for that quiet island getaway, then this is the place.
Twin Lagoon is a must do. During low tide, a gap appears beneath a limestone wall that usually separates the two. You can then swim to the other side. If you’re feeling a little more adventurous, you can swim underwater and through it even when it’s not exposed. The lagoons also allow you to experience the meeting of fresh and salt water, creating varying temperature pockets.
A really unique experience that Coron offers are the underwater mountains of Barracuda Lake. After a short hike up some rickety wooden stairs, you can dive in a crystal clear lake and float on by the mountain peaks, much easier than hiking them! This can be done with just a snorkel, but if you really want an otherworldly experience then we’d suggest going scuba.
The best way of getting to Coron would be from El Nido, the last stop off destination on the north end of Palawan. There are ferries leaving every morning from El Nido to Coron, taking between 3.5-4hours depending on conditions. The ride is comfortable and has A/C. Be sure to check the weather forecast. A storm will of course mean no sailing and your departure will keep being moved back until a clear day.
Another option would be to fly. Both El Nido and Coron have airports, so it comes at little inconvenience and saves time overall – this can sometimes be the simplest way when traveling in the Philippines.
El Nido – the Nest – is located on the northern tip of Palawan. It’s bustling with backpackers and for good reason. A stretch of beach curves along the town, with many bars and restaurants spilling out on to it. It’s a great place for the social traveller, and the countless nearby islands offer an escape for those searching for silence.
If you’ve ever seen a photo of somebody on the nose of a longtail boat or kayak, surrounded by sparkling turquoise water and sheer karst mountains stabbing out the sea and into the sky – then it was probably taken during a boat tour leaving El Nido.
As well as the many island hopping options, the scuba diving out of El Nido is incredible (starting to see a theme here?). The most fascinating spot of all is the Dilumacad underwater tunnel off of Helicopter Island. Referred to as ‘the Tunnel’ by locals, it starts at 12m below the surface and continues for 40m right through to the other side of the island. This is for advanced divers only.
If you’re starting from Coron then you of course have the same options for heading this way – Coron to El Nido flight or ferry. And if you’re heading from Puerto Princesa up then you have the option of traveling overland. Prices vary considerably depending on the level of luxury you would like, or the amount of stops your bus will take. A minivan can get you there from as little as $12, and if you’ve got a decent podcast saved for long journeys then this is a really great option. You’ll be thankful for the amount of extra mango smoothies you can afford!
If you’re not a people person then private transfers are also available, you pay for the vehicle so if you have a large enough group then this option actually works out fairly evenly.
Traveling to the Philippines? Check out our Philippines Travel Itinerary for all the best spots to visit!
Officially The City of Puerto Princesa, it is actually the least densely populated city in the Philippines. Being more urbanized than other places on Palawan allows for the comforts that go with it – better wifi, more shopping options and access to electronic stores to replace lost charger cables. There is somewhat of a nightlife scene here, compared to other places, and there are plenty of good eating options for the foodies.
This is the Philippines, so yes of course there are just as many accessible beaches from here on the west coast. Particularly Nagtabon, a beautiful long half moon shaped beach not too far from the city. There are often locals fishing around here who are more than happy to sell you some of their catch, which has travelled no more than 10m from the sea to the BBQ.
Another must do is the Subterranean River National Park, with the optional extra of caving and zip lining. This is underground river tour offers door-to-door options, really creating a hassle free yet adventure filled day of exploring a cave system hundreds of millions of years in the making.
Being a city, and in fact the capital of Palawan, means there are more travel options. Again, if you want to travel from Puerto Princesa to El Nido, then the minivan option would probably be the best bet. Buses in the Philippines can get a little hectic, particularly in the hustle and bustle of the city. Approach all travel days with an open mind, a loose schedule and a ‘go with the flow’ attitude.
Home of the world’s tiniest primate, the tarsier!
That should be enough to get you over there, but I shall continue anyway. The tarsier is so small it is only about the size of your fist. They have comically large eyes and can rotate their heads 180 degrees without moving their body. You can visit the Philippine Tarsier and Wildlife Sanctuary run by the Philippine Tarsier Foundation. Please note that there are a few mimicking organizations that are just out to profit from the tourism brought in for tarsiers, so please do your research.
Bohol is also famous for its Chocolate Hills, an incredible geological phenomenon and fabulous example of conical karst topography. Over time the limestone karsts have been worn down from ocean, rain and wind to create cone like shapes. In the dry season the grass on them turns brown, hence the name. Bohol boasts the chocolate hills on its regional flag, and they are been put forward to be included as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
To get here, there is a ferry from Cebu to Bohol, which would be your best way across. You can either sail in economy or business, with the difference being air-conditioned and slightly more comfortable seats.
A combination of idyllic islands and modernity provided by Cebu City, it is easy to see why most expats and nomads decide to call this part of the Philippines ‘home’.
There is a rich cultural history on offer in Cebu City, really showing the Spanish influence on the nation. Fort San Pedro and Maggelan’s Cross are worth checking out, as well as the Cebu Taoist Temple for your daily dose of serenity.
Or you can go in completely the other direction and check out the Sky Experience Adventure – an adrenaline fueled 120m+ walk above the city skyline on a glass floor. You can even opt for the ‘extreme’ version, where you are basically dangled off the edge.
If the big city life isn’t your thing, then the many waterfalls of Cebu island may be up your street. Kawasan Falls being the most prominent, you can even book a canyoneering adventure package leaving from the city.
Again, from Bohol to Cebu you have the two ferry options, with or without aircon. If this is the first destination of your trip then there are plenty of flights in from Manila.
One thing to note, if you’re visiting Cebu and want to experience swimming with whale sharks, we’d ask you to read our article and reconsider whether this is an ethical animal interaction. There is a lot of evidence to suggest this is actually damaging the whale shark population in the Philippines. Alternatively you can swim with sea turtles not far from Oslob, which is a much more sustainable animal activity.
This article has been a sponsored collaboration with Bookaway. Bookaway is an easier way to book transportation, keep up to date with timetables and plan your travels around the world. As always, all opinions are our own and we would never recommend a company that we didn’t fully support or use ourselves.