In a country with more than 7,000 islands you can imagine how hard of a decision was to pick what I was going to see in two weeks. On top of that I had to change my plans last minute due to a typhoon. Little piece of advice, if you are planning a trip to the Philippines be aware of typhoon season as this might change your itinerary, check the news and advisories before your trip. I would say two weeks is perfect to visit 2 to 3 islands maximum. Each island has so much to offer. It is easy to spend 10 days in just one island, so I would suggest picking your favorite (depending on what you enjoy doing- diving, surfing, adventure, hiking) and sticking to a maximum of three. My choice was Palawan and Bohol. Originally I planned to see Palawan and the north of Luzon, but as I mentioned a typhoon hit Luzon 2 days before I flew to Philippines, so I decided to change my plan and went to Bohol instead (which I don’t regret for a minute). On my next visit I am definitely adding Siargao to my list, as I heard amazing things from other travellers (even from non surfers like me).
Palawan (1 week)
First piece of advice, don’t limit your visit to Palawan just to see El Nido! Yes El Nido is amazing but I am so glad I was able to see other things on the island and I highly recommend taking your time to explore Palawan. For me the greatest thing about Palawan is how green the island is. This makes easy to just ride around it and be amazed with the views and surroundings all the time.
You can fly to Puerto Princesa from Manila or Cebu. Once you arrive to Puerto Princesa, I recommend hiring a scooter here and exploring the surroundings.
Some of the activities you can choose from include: island hopping in Honda Bay, kayaking through mangroves, Nagtabon Beach and exploring the waterfalls in Estrella Falls. On my first day in the island I was able to kayak through amazing mangroves (even got to see monkeys) by chance. Original plan was to go to Nagtabon Beach but on the way there was big grey cloud that put us off from heading there, so instead we found this small, non-touristy place that rented kayaks to go through mangroves up until the ocean. It was really amazing!
Although I didn’t enjoy the day at Nagtabon Beach, I can recommend checking a viewpoint for sunset here. I headed here after the mangroves and it was a perfect sunset.
For my second day near Puerto Princesa, I decided to go island hopping in Honda Bay. As I mentioned I am not a tour person, and I can recommend to this on your own by hiring a scooter and arranging the boat without a tour in the harbor (its cheaper this way!).
There is an entrance fee for each island (environmental fee), and if you find a group of other tourists you can do 4 islands for around 500 pesos. We visited Luli Island, Starfish Island, Cowrie Island and Pambato had a perfect day snorkeling and just enjoying the sunshine!
For some nightlife in Puerto Princesa, make sure you hit Tiki Tiki bar and enjoy some live cover band (that literally can sing any song you request).
After these two days in Puerto Princesa I decided to check the subterranean river in Sabang on my way to El Nido. Huge mistake! I know a lot of people recommend visiting the subterranean river; however I wish someone had told me not to do it! Yes, the idea of visiting one of the longest subterranean rivers in the world is impressive; the tour itself is not worth it.
More so if you have been to Guatemala or Mexico and have seen cenotes or similar subterranean formations, this is not going to impress you. To summarize my experience: it was a very expensive tour (30 USD), for 30 minutes of a boat ride with an audioguide in a river where all I could see was bats. Not my type of tour. However, another option is to stay in Sabang and enjoy a beautiful beach surrounded by jungle.
I spent my last days in Palawan in El Nido. Again, most people just stick to the tours of the archipelago (yes A and C are the most recommended). However, if you have time, there are other things to see and do in El Nido. I decided to split my time between tours and exploring some of the beaches. I was only able to do tour A.
Although there are a lot of tourists (don’t expect to be alone in the lagoons) it is one of the most amazing places I’ve ever been. Tour A takes you through the Small Lagoon, Big Lagoon, Secret Lagoon and 7 Commandos Beach. Get yourself ready to be surrounded by limestone formations in one of the most turquoise waters I have ever seen! It is really a paradise!
You can rent a kayak to explore the Small and the Big Lagoon. It is a good idea if you want to take some nice pictures and you don’t have a water camera.
However, you can also swim in both of them. Besides the tour, I rented a scooter and went to Nacpan Beach. It is a really nice beach stretch and again as everywhere in Palawan the ride is half the fun!
Although I didn’t have time there are also some waterfalls you can visit near El Nido (Nagkalit Falls) if you rent a scooter. Finally, I spent my last day in Las Cabanas Beach. This beach is very close to El Nido city center, you can get a tuk tuk there or go in motorbike if you rent one. There is a fun and unique zip lining experience here that crosses the beach, as well as some few beach bars and restaurants with a chill environment for a nice sunshine day. If you can stay here for sunset as it is a perfect spot!
As for nightlife in El Nido, there are a couple of bars and restaurants by the beach, however I have to agree Pukka Bar is the place to be. Listen to some live reggae music and enjoy Philipino rum!
For my next visit in Palawan I am adding Port Barton to my list as it seems it is a less touristy version of El Nido, with opportunities to go island hopping and relax.
Bohol (4 days)
After a week of mostly beach time, I was ready to check another island with a greater variety of activities. Bohol seemed to be the perfect place to do this. Again as my original plans changed I didn’t plan my stay in Bohol much. Although originally I was hoping to stay here two nights and then jump to Negros, I ended up staying 4 nights here! I can highly recommend my hostel, Bohol Coco Farm in Panglao if you are looking for a chill place to relax and have good food. Although it is not on the beach, White Beach and Alona Beach are reachable by motorbike. Similar to Palawan hiring a scooter is a great idea. It gives you greater freedom and you can explore more than what the tours offer. On my first day I had amazing ride through Bohol. From Panglao, take the highway direction to Jagna instead of driving towards Bilar.
I can highly recommend taking this route to reach the famous Chocolate Hills rather than the traditional route. You will be able to have incredible views of the jungle, rice fields, and the ocean, and most important of million of smiles on the road from all the locals. Although our luck that day was not great as we got 2 flat tires, the drive was amazing. After not seeing any other tourists on the road, we knew we were close to the Chocolate Hills once we started to see tourist buses and fellow travellers on scooters on the main highway near El Carmen. The view from the top of the Chocolate Hills is quite impressive. I have to say the hills look like something out of space.
From there you can continue down south to Loboc to visit the Man Made Forest and stop in the zip lining.
Although we arrived late and were not able to zip line that day, we went back the next day and I can highly recommend it. You get an amazing view of the forest and the river. Other activities near Loboc include a boat tour down the river or renting paddleboards.
On my second day in Bohol, I went to Balicasag Island to snorkel. Most places offer tours that include a stop in Balicasag and in Virgin Island. But again I decided to avoid the tours and negotiated a boat ride only to Balicasag on Alona Beach. The colors of the corals are really impressive here! You can easily spend a couple of hours just snorkeling around the corals. Although there are places to eat in Balicasag, I would recommend to just pack some snacks and head back to Alona for a nicer and cheaper meal. After the snorkeling I went to the zip line. As I said, it was quite a nice ride with a scenic view.
As for beach time in Bohol, I would recommend spending time in White Beach rather than Alona. It is nicer and quieter. Make sure to bring snacks as in comparison to Alona there are not any restaurants here but believe me you will have the beach almost for yourself.
Finally, the last attraction in Bohol is visiting the Tarsier Sanctuary. Unfortunately I had no time to do it, as it was raining all day one of my days in Bohol and almost couldn’t leave the hostel. However, from all the pics I saw from other travellers I can say they look so cute, but make sure you do your research and go to the sanctuary that protects them.
Bohol was great as it offered the right balance between ocean life and jungle life. Definitely a place I can recommend.
Manila (2 days)
My final days in the Philippines were in Manila. As most capital cities it is chaotic and big. However, it still holds its charm from the mix of modern and old, developed and non-developed.
The main tourist spot here is Intramuros, the walled Spanish colonial center of Manila. Being from Latin America, I found Intramuros very interesting as I found myself transported back home to old Spanish colonial houses and churches.
You can spend a morning visiting the most important sites in Intramuros including the San Agustin Church and Museum as well as Fort Santiago (the old Spanish fortress).
Besides this touristy area there are other more modern areas to have a nice meal such as BGC (Bonifacio Global City). This area has a lot of restaurants and shops. Moreover, be prepared to spend half of your time in the traffic. Still, as I was visiting a family friend, my stop in Manila was enjoyable, but I can see why many travelers just skip it.
If there are two things I can highlight from my time in the Philippines are the smiles from everyone I met and the amazing green lush surroundings! Happy people that transmit joy along your travels.