Tim and I spent a little under a month hopping around the Philippine islands. Below is the itinerary we used and some major tips to help you get the most value for your money and avoid big crowds!
(Note – this post includes links to our accommodations and ways to earn points you can redeem for free travel. All of my recommendations are genuine, and if the link has the potential to give me a commission, I disclose this outright.)
Fly into Manila. We flew in from Hong Kong using 17,500 Delta Miles plus $33 per person on China Airlines.
We decided to book 3 nights at an Airbnb that had great reviews and was only $20 per night. If you haven’t checked out Airbnb yet, you really should. Tim and I use them so often that Airbnb is what we check first before even looking for hotels. They are typically affordable, comfortable, loaded with amenities like a full kitchen and laundry machine, and give you a direct line of communication with a local (your host) for tips and insider information. If you sign up using this link, you’ll get $40 towards your first trip, and I’ll get $20 in travel credit once you travel.
Explore the old walled city of Intramuros and the world’s oldest China Town.
Head out of Manila for a day trip. We opted to hike Mt. Pinatubo, a beautiful peak near a crater lake.
We redeemed 9,666 Chase Points per person for this tour (saving us each $140). Tim and I both have the Chase Ultimate Rewards Sapphire Card. It has a larger annual fee ($450 per year), but it comes with $300 cash back on travel purchases and access to airport lounges around the world (which typically range from $20-50 per visit without a pass). If you apply and are approved, you can earn 50,000 bonus points. That is the equivalent of about 5 hikes to the top of Mt. Pinatubo. Note: I will also receive a small commission in points if you apply and are approved. Learn more here.
You’ve had enough time in the capital city. It’s time to get your beach on in El Nido. You’ll need to fly from Manila to Puerto Princesa ($47 per person on Cebu Pacific Airlines) and then take a shuttle from there to El Nido ($11 per person booked through El Nido Paradise for a shared bus transfer). Expect the drive to take 6 hours and to be uncomfortable.
Paradise awaits you, though. We decided to stay in an Airbnb at $45 per night for 5 nights – well worth it for the beach-front villa we would call home.
Spend your days relaxing, or venture out on any of the popular sailing trips that explore the nearby islands and beaches (about $30 will get you a day of island hopping and buffet lunch). The company who arranged our shuttle from Puerto Princesa also books these tours.
Set sail from El Nido headed for Coron on a sailing expedition. We booked with Tao Philippines for their small group sizes, exploratory and spontaneous attitude, and private beach camps to stay along the way. We paid $545 per person for the trip, also inclusive of meals and accommodations. This is easily the best thing we did the whole trip!
Settle into Coron. We stayed at the Seahorse Guesthouse for its basic and affordable accommodations for just $95 for 4 nights. If you book a hotel using that link, I’ll receive a small commission that helps keep this blog going!
In Coron, take advantage of the amazing WWII shipwrecks by exploring underwater either by scuba or snorkel. You can also explore the nearby islands on a group boat tour (about 1600-2000 pesos per person, or hire a private boat for 2700 pesos. We opted to hire a private boat from a local operator. Once you include food and entrance fees to the sites you want to visit, it’s only a tad more expensive (think $15 USD) than the group tour, and you get to create your itinerary. Tell the captain to go to the sites in the opposite order of the big group tours and you’ll avoid the crowds! For more info on Coron from a Filipino, check out Tara Lets Anywhere’s guide!
Fly from Coron (Busuanga Airport) to Cebu. We flew with CebGo Airlines for $45 per person. We stayed in another Airbnb here for just one night for $27.86. You could also skip Cebu and fly directly to Tagbilaran on Bohol Island.
Take the ferry from Cebu to Bohol (we paid 300 pesos per person). Once again, we stayed at an Airbnb, this one in the jungle near the famous Chocolate Hills, for 2 nights at a total of $35.80. While in Bohol, take a countryside tour to visit the Chocolate Hills and the Philippines Tarsier Sanctuary (about $30). For more tips on the best things to do in Bohol, check out Adventures with Nie Nie’s comprehensive guide to the island!
Make your way back to Manila via the ferry to Cebu and then the flight from Cebu to Manila, or a flight from Tagbilaran to Manila.
Fly out to your next destination this day or the next. We stayed the night at the Nichols Airport Hotel for $34 – chosen for its proximity to the airport. If you book a hotel using that link, I’ll receive a small commission that helps keep this blog going!
The next morning, we flew from Manila to Auckland, New Zealand to embark on the next leg of our 20 month round the world trip!
- Get out plenty of cash (pesos) when you arrive. Many places don’t have ATMs available for foreign cards
- Don’t drink the water or even brush your teeth with it! You will get sick. Even if you heed this warning, you may still get sick.
- Showers will likely be low water pressure and/or cold.
- Most toilets will not be what you are used to at home. In general, they will be bucket flush toilets. Instead of a toilet seat, you sit directly on the bowl. When you’re done, use the bucket in the keg of water beside the toilet to dump water into the bowl. Your waste will flush away. Also, throw your toilet paper in the trash can provided, not in the toilet.
- It takes a while to get around in the Philippines, so if you’re time is short, limit your destinations to one or two key places you want to see.
- Expect crowds in touristy places, and scarce amenities in non-touristy places.
- Everyone is very kind, and the scenery is gorgeous! Set your expectations as described above and you’ll have a great time!
Read More: Village Life in the Philippines