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Philippines itinerary- Budget backpacker edition

Coron beach

In this post I present a model Philippines itinerary for 3 weeks. It is focused for first-time visitors with some most popular destinations but also recommendations of some less-visited destinations.

Philippines is my favorite travel destination currently. It is hard to put word on what excites me about it, maybe it is the beautiful islands and beaches, clear blue water or the culture, maybe all of the above. Crystal clear turquoise waters, beautiful marine life and corals, white sand beaches… Philippines has it all!

The problem is, where to go?

There are numerous different destinations and islands to choose from so it might prove to be a difficult task to decide. I  constructed a three week itinerary for first-time visitor including some of the most popular options but also some of the more quiet places that are extremely stunning and definitely worth visiting.

Philippines itinerary week 1:

MANILA

Chances are that you will start your 3-week Philippines itinerary from Manila simply because flights mostly land into Manila, the capital city of the Philippines. Manila city is large, noisy and polluted chaotic city and for that reason many backpackers choose to skip it and not spend there any more time if necessary.

CORON

First destination in your Philippines itinerary is Coron or El Nido. Best case, both. I wrote a post comparing these two, check it out here.

It is difficult to choose between them, because these two places are both incredible. On the other hand they are also very similar. Visiting both can easily be done, but if you are limited in time maybe choosing either or is better. Coron can be reached two ways;

2GO Boat or airplane

HOW TO GET THERE:

Boat option is way more budget-friendly, but the problem with this option is that these boats leave only on Fridays! So if you arrive in any other day, choosing airplane might be only reasonable option.

Also, if you are expecting some luxury boat trip, this is not it.

There are rows of bunk beds and a mattress. Only difference between tourist class and general is that tourist class is situated inside with air condition, so would recommend choosing tourist option if your budget allows.

WHAT TO DO:

coron must see

Coron checklist of must see places

The main thing to do in Coron is definitely go for a  island tour. Choose any tours that seem appealing to you, but best spots not to miss in my opinion are Barracuda Lake and Malcapuya island beach.

There is one tour called something in the lines of three island tour, don’t skip that one!

But be prepared that the boat ride to the first island on that tour takes a couple of hours.

It is still wort it.

Other tours differ between companies, but I would choose one that takes me to at least barracuda lake, ship wrecks, coral garden and/or siete pecaros and hidden lagoon.

Coron  town itself is nothing much, there are few tings you could do for example visit the hot springs, just as a tricycle driver to take you there.

It at first felt really weird to be in a hot water in a hot climate, but it was still relaxing after a long day of island tours.

TIP: If you are travelling in a group, rent out thw whole boat for youselves!

EL NIDO

philippines itinerary Boat tour El Nido

Boat tour El Nido

HOW TO GET THERE: 

From Coron, you can arrange a boat ride to El Nido. If you decide to skip Coron and go straight to El Nido, fly to Puerto Princesa from Manila and get a minivan ride there from the airport.

This minivan ride is not for people who get motion-sick easily

May I warn you. It takes about five hours and the road is bumpy and unstable. My friends played card the whole trip to El Nido even though the cards kept flying everywhere in the van, but I felt so sick that I had to lay there with eyes closed for the whole trip. It is possible to fly to El Nido from Puerto Princesa, but of course that is more expensive route.

WHAT TO DO:

what to do in el nido

El Nido checklist

Scenery is very similar to Coron, but advantage of El Nido is definitely the town. It is a fun laid-back small town with nice bars and restaurants located just by the beach if you feel too lazy to leave anywhere else. Also, hire a motorcycle of pay for a tricycle driver to take you to nice beaches surrounded in the El Nido area.

Likewise in Coron, one main attraction is the boat tours. There are tours A, B, C and D, but most people recommend doing tours A and C.

If you feel adventurous, ask around to arrange over-night sleep in one of the many islands. It is my best experience in El Nido. Boat drivers will drop you and other participant off to an empty island with some rum and coca-cola alongside food and camping equipment. The night will include drinking, talking, bonfire and if someone is up to play some guitar by the camp fire.

Philippines itinerary week 2:

BOHOL

philippines itinerary tarsier bohol

tarsier bohol

HOW TO GET THERE:

If you skip El Nido and only go to Coron, take a 2GO boat back to manila and fly to Cebu. From El Nido, take a van back to Puerto princesa ad fly to Cebu from there. Same as Manila, Cebu city itself is not very interesting.

So depending on what time you arrive, stay one night in Cebu or go straight to harbor and catch a boat to Bohol. There are many different areas where to stay around Bohol, but it does not matter that much where you stay because

Bohol is best explored with motorbike!

WHAT TO DO:

Bohol must-do checklist

Bohol must-do checklist

 

For exploring Bohol, just take a motorbike for a day or two and you can easily and cheaply see everything.

From example leaving from Alona beach (good place to find hotels), start driving towards chocolate hills and you will pass tarsier sanctuary, manmade forrest, loboc river, hanging bridge and baclayon church.

This might be bit too much for one day, so divide some for second day and also go visit cave on that day and you have seen all these!

There are  at least two different tarsier sanctuaries; other one is more popular and crowded where all tour busses take people, witch is also worse for the tarsiers.  So I would recommend going to the one called Philippine Tarsier sanctuary that is on the loboc road.

Tarsiers are funny little creatures, with huge eyes (each eyeball is around 16 millimeters in diameter, which is as large as the tarsier’s entire brain) and long fingers.

Captivity does not usually suit Tarsiers because of their tendency to commit suicide. Because the tarsier is often shy and nervous, many activities associated with captivity (such as camera flashes, being touched, and being kept in an enclosure) stresses the animal (Source: wikipedia).

That is why in the sanctuaries, visitors have to be quiet and not take any flash pictures or disturb the animal at all.

Chocolate hills are magnificent view. Be prepared to pay something to drive up there, I don’t know if it is mandatory of if we got screwed over. We paid the amount they asked or at the entrance but noticed afterwards that the lady sold us 10 entrance tickets (!). Anyhow, it wasn’t too expensive but be wary of that.

While driving towards the hills, you’ll pass though manmade forrest. There is some kind o paid entrance also, but I wouldn’t bother, you’ll see the forrest for free by just driving thorugh.

Loboc river is also very beautiful, but the cruise part depends how much money you’ll want to spend. We skipped the cruise and just enjoyed he view from a bridge, but if you have bigger budget, the cruise seems fun.

ADDITIONAL PLACES:

These are places we did not visit but might interest you;

Baclayon church (It might be somewhat destroyed because of the earthquake)

Hindagdanan cave

Loboc river cruise

 

DUMAGUETE

philippines itinerary Swimming with a turtle at Apo Island

Swimming with a turtle at Apo Island

HOW TO GET THERE:

From Bohol, take a boat straight to Dumaguete. This part of the Itinerary differs somewhat from what people traditionally recommend, but I advice not to skip it because of one reason;

Apo Island

It is possible to also stay over-night in Apo island. I preferred not to because the island is lacking many things such as electricity and clean water. But if you don’t mind the rural environment; go for it. If that’s not your thing, don’t worry, because it can be accessed as a day trip from Dumaguete.

WHAT TO DO:

Island itself is not the main attraction. It is the countless turtles, clean waters and corals that surround the island. The name itself means turtle, so I can almost guarantee that you will see many of them! We saw about 4-5 turtles plus some amazing corals. Many people go diving there, but if it is not your thing, don’t worry; snorkeling was really awesome also.

SIQUIJOR ISLAND

philippines itinerary Salagdoong beach jumping board

Salagdoong beach jumping board

HOW TO GET THERE:

From Dumaguete, take a ferry to this lovely island with interesting history. Siquijor is seen as mysterious island filled with witchcraft and mystic healers. What is the best part of Siquijor is to rent a scooter or a motorbike and drive around the island to see countless of amazing views, waterfalls, beaches and so on.

WHAT TO DO:

Siquijor must do

Siquijor must do

Salagdoong beach was my favourite part of Siquijor. The main reason for that is the awesome views you get from the jumping board!

I did jump down from there but it might have been better if I didn’t because I ended up with a lot of pain because of bad landing (I suspect that I broke a rib). But don’t worry I didn’t hear anyone else hurting themselves.

The beach is privately owned, so you have to pay a small fee, but is worth the view!

Cambugahay Falls could share actually my number one spot in Siquijor experience, they are extremely fun! For  small fee, you can jump down with the vine like Tarzan. (Last picture of the checklist)

I just happened to hurt myself before going there (salagdoong beach..) so I was not in a mood to be jumping ever again, but if I had a redo right now, this would be the first lace I would go to.

Lugnason falls look really beautiful especially in the pictures and definetely fun to swim in. Negative side is the local kids that will be stuck to you like glue and are after your money. Thety follow you everywhere until you pay something as a donation to park in the side of the road. I don’t mind paying something but I felt uncomfortable because someone is following me everywhere I go.

Century old balete tree was visually appealing, and there is a natures fish spa underneath the three. Also if you are into buying love potions you can do it there.

ADDITIONAL PLACES:

Paliton beach

Kagusuan beach( we ended up not visiting these beaches because for the rest of the time in siquijor it was raining for us.)

Guiwahon Spring Park (We did visit, but it is strange. Takes about 2 minutes to explore and they ask an entrance fee for it. People visit to get nice pictures)

 

Philippines Itinerary week 3

OSLOB

philippines itinerary Swimming with whale sharks

Swimming with whale sharks

HOW TO GET THERE:

From Dumaguete, take a ferry to mainland Cebu, Liloan and from there, bus ride to Oslob. When you reach Liloan, there are some tricycle drivers trying to get you with them telling you there is no bus coming but don’t believe them and just wait for the bus because it is much cheaper and fast and convenient! You might not even fit into the first bus coming, but there will be another one after 15 minutes. People come to Oslob for one reason;

Whale sharks!

WHAT TO DO:

You can swim with these majestic creatures with little money and see them really close. Only downside is that there is probably about 100 other people also in the water at the same time, so it can get really crowded. Also, I heard that there are problems of tourists touching these animals witch is extremely bad for them because of differing bacteria.

 

ADDITIONAL PLACES

If I would go there again, I might skip the whale sharks and go for a day trip to Sumilon island.

MOALBOAL

philippines itinerary Kawasan falls

Kawasan falls

HOW TO GET THERE:

Last destination in Philippines itinerary, Moalboal. You’ll reach here easily and affordably with buss from Oslob. Buses pass through Oslob every 30 mins to Bato. Change at Bato terminal for Moalboal.

WHAT TO DO:

Best things to do in Moalboal are Kawasan falls (go kanyoneering if you like adventure) and seeing sardines!

There are thousands and thousands of them and it is an awesome feeling to swim in the middle of the sardines! Most people see the sardines by diving, but if you want to save money, they can be seen with a snorkel from shore. Just ask a dive shop by the beach to rent you a mask and fins and if you ask nice enough they can look after your bag as you go swimming in the flocks of sardines.

Kawasan falls are reached best by going with motorbike and skipping expensive tours. It is not hard to find on your own. If you arrange a trip to go kanyoneering, transport is probably part of the deal. We did not go kanyoneering (jumping down to different waterfalls) because of my accident in Siquijor, I was not up for any jumping for a while.

Center of Moalboal is not interesting but by the beach is a nice relaxed backpacker area, so I would recommend finding accommodation from there.

 

Backpacker tips to Philippines:

  • Remember to ask a price in advance from tricycles, otherwise you might end up paying way too much
  • Tricycle price should be around 8P!! It might prove to be hard to get that price though. We paid around 30-50 pesos. check out lonely planet article about prices
  • When arriving especially airports and other harbors be prepared that you won’t get cheap prices, if possible try to walk a bit further and get transport from there
  • Buy a sim card from airport
  • Last time we visited in December 2016, Uber did not work and locals used Grab.
  • Download Google offline maps to your phone before arriving
  • Agoda is a really good website especially when booking around Asia
  • Hotel prices are around 20-25 euros or dollars/night at cheapest with air con
  • Cheaper options are without air con or hostels, but there are not many hostels in Philippines

And that’s it! 3-week philippines itinerary with tips on what to do and how to get there.

This is my first blog post so let me know how I did and what could be improved upon in the comments

-Riikka

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