As you know we’ve planned more than a few travel adventures over the last few years! So you would think that we’ve got our travel planning strategy nailed by now? Well we thought so, until it came to the Philippines…
It’s probably something to do with the 7,000 or so islands (!), but when it came to planning our first Philippines adventure, it proved to be much more challenging than expected.
We’d been inspired by an array of idyllic Instagram photos showing off its stunning crystal clear snorkelling waters, pristine beaches and dramatic island sunsets, but other than those, we didn’t really have much clue about where to go, when to go or how to travel around. All we knew was that we couldn’t wait to explore a new Asian country, so the planning began…
Planning Our Trip To The Philippines
Where To Start
We started in all of the usual places by ordering a Lonely Planet guide, consulting our trusty friend Trip Advisor, and of course various blogs and forums.
The result? An even longer ‘must visit’ list…argh!
When it comes to visiting a new country, the Lonely Planet guide is usually our initial ‘go to’ resource to get a broad overview of a place. We especially like the ‘Top Destinations’ and history and culture overviews, however when it came to deciding on where to go in the Philippines, we were left struggling to decide, especially on a sensible route. That’s where the book let us down.
“Thank goodness for blogs!” I remember blurting out one day when I finally got the information I was looking for and figured out a plan!
Of course we didn’t expect to have time to cover ALL of the ‘best’ places in our roughly 3-4 weeks. One thing we’ve learned over the years from our travels is not to rush around trying to fit everything in. We’d much rather fully enjoy a few places and experiences, than fleet from one place to another without having a chance to fully explore. And of course, some time to relax too!
When To Visit
It’s important to take into consideration time, budget and seasonality when it comes to planning a trip to the Philippines, as the ‘best’ time to visit can vary significantly from place to place. Especially given the country’s vast geography!
Thankfully we planned our adventure for the months of December and January, which is typically a good time to visit as it’s mostly dry and not too hot. If you plan to visit during the wet season (typically from May to October), then it’s recommended to allow extra travel time in case your journeys are disrupted by typhoons. As you’ll rely on air and boat travel to get around, it’s probably wise to avoid low season where possible.How To Decide Where To Go
When it comes to the Philippines, there’s no obvious route or well-trodden backpacker path, like with say Vietnam or Cambodia, which is why it’s so tricky to decide. So instead we decided to focus on the places and more importantly, experiences that excited us the most.
Whether you’re passionate about hiking volcanoes, trekking through rice terraces, discovering local marine life, or simply kicking back under a palm tree with a fresh coconut (mm!), you’re spoiled for choice in the Philippines. Being a lover of lists, I decided to write down all of the places that excited us then work through each one to determine:
Is it the right time of year to visit?
Is it a unique natural wonder?
Is it more or less exciting than the previous place/experience?
Can it be worked into a sensible route?
Three and a half weeks sounds like a lot of time, but once you factor in travel time, it’s really not that long. You could literally spend months touring the country’s thousands of islands!
With an initial list of around 12 different places and experiences, it was a hard job whittling it down to my target of 3 or 4, but it had to be done! So here’s what we decided upon, including our route and timings…we hope it helps!
Where To Go In The Philippines: Our Top 4 Destinations!
Our route and itinerary may not be exactly for you, but we had a wonderful time and would highly recommend everywhere that we visited!
So in order of highlights, here’s our final destination list:
1 – El Nido, Palawan Island
El Nido is probably one of the most popular destinations in the Philippines, and for good reason. From beautiful white sand beaches and secret clear water lagoons, to stunning cliff-backed islands and spectacular sunsets, it’s a truly magical place. We spent a full week exploring and could have easily lingered longer. For a full account of our El Nido experience, including details of our favourite El Nido Tours, head over to our full article ‘Island Hopping In Paradise: Our Favourite El Nido Tours’.
2 – Bohol Island (Western Visayas)
It’s most famous for its unique ‘Chocolate Hills’ and small primates (namely the very cute ‘Tarsier’), but we discovered that Bohol island has a lot more to offer, especially around its beautiful Loboc River. We spent 4 days here with a mix of touring the island’s main sights and relaxing by the Loboc River, which was a great combination. We especially loved our first experience of stand up paddle boarding! For a full account, head over to our article ‘Top Things To Do In Bohol, The Philippines’.
We hit the jackpot with our accommodation choice in Bohol! Most of the photos above are from our time at the Loboc River Resort, so if you’re heading to Bohol, we’d recommend checking if its available on your dates!
3 – Boracay Island (Eastern Visayas)
You can’t visit the Philippines without visiting one of its famous white sandy beaches, and although it’s cliche, we decided to see what the fuss was about at Boracay’s famous ‘White Beach’. We were wary about its booming tourism and busy ‘stations 1 & 2’, so we decided to stay near to ‘station 3’ hoping for a more quiet and relaxing time, which thankfully it delivered! You can easily fill your time with some of the various water sports, sailing or island hopping but after a busy time touring and hiking, relaxation was the name of the game for us. So that’s what we did.
For more information on how to get to Boracay, including tips on where to stay & what to do, visit our article ‘Manila To Boracay – How To Get There & How To Plan Your Holiday!’
There are so many great places to stay on Boracay, the island has a huge range of accommodation from budget to high end luxury!
4 – Mount Pinatubo (South Luzon)
Our day hike to Mount Pinatubo was most definitely one of our most memorable experiences in the Philippines. Not only was the scenery unique and spectacular, it was a great adventure! Starting off with a bumpy jeep ride through amazing lunar like landscape, followed by a fairly easy but rewarding hike to the stunning crater of Mount Pinatubo. It was well worth the trip! For our full account and lots more photos, head over to ‘A Spectacular Mt Pinatubo Tour, Philippines’.
Note: It’s possible to do Mount Pinatubo as a day tour from Manila, however we’d highly recommend dedicating at least a couple of days to it. Depending on Manila traffic (which can be horrendous speaking from experience!), the travel time to get there can be quite long and tiring. So to fully enjoy this day hike, we recommend staying at Alvin’s Homestay in the nearby town of Santa Juliana before embarking on one of his brilliant day tours.
With more time we would’ve loved to visit the famous Banaue Rice Terraces in North Luzon as they look spectacular!
Our Philippines Route
Here’s a summary of our chosen route and how we got around:
- Manila -> Mount Pinatubo (via private car)
- Manila -> Bohol (via flight to Tagbilaran airport)
- Bohol -> Cebu (via fast ferry) -> Palawan (via flight to Puerto Princesa airport) -> El Nido (via pre-booked shuttle bus)
- Manila -> Boracay (via flight to Caticlan Airport then pre-booked ferry & shuttle bus)
Notes & Tips:
- We arranged a private car to Mount Pinatubo on the day we arrived to Manila due to the arrival time of our flight, however you can also travel by bus then jeepney or taxi to its nearby town of Santa Juliana, the starting point for Mount Pinatubo Tours.
- We highly recommend booking your return shuttle bus journey from Puerto Princesa to El Nido in advance, as the best companies get booked up far in advance. Ask your accommodation for up-to-date advice on the most reliable companies to book, however we used Daytripper who were excellent.
Get Your Trip Organised!
Book Your Train/Bus/Ferry Tickets Online!
We always recommend that you book your journey in advance, so you have peace of mind that your seats are booked! We recommend using 12go.asia as they offer train, bus and ferry ticket booking online in advance! Check out your journey options and prices here and get your seat reserved!