The Philippines is one of the most beautiful, raw and welcoming countries I have ever been to. When planning a trip, especially if you are only going for 2 weeks like we did (there are more than 7000 islands!), it can get a bit confusing deciding which islands to visit. Here is the perfect Philippines travel itinerary for island hopping, best hotels, places to snorkel & of course lots of pictures!
But first, lets start with some basic information that everyone always asks me:
- Security: there are parts of Philippines that are NOT safe to travel to, especially the south that’s under martial law at the moment. Before traveling anywhere, I always check the recommendations from the Spanish government (which can be found here: https://bit.ly/2tP3dbo), that have up to date information on vaccinations, epidemics, terrorism & basic security. This said, the main touristic islands and all the north of Philippines is ABSOLUTELY SAFE to travel to.
- Travel: everywhere I looked when planning our trip said that flights take long and are expensive. In my opinion this is NOT true, but I guess it depends on what you consider expensive. We moved between islands every 3-4 days, bought the tickets 7 days in advance, and never paid more than 100€ per ticket. Flights are between 1-3hours length, and always on time (once our flight departed 40minutes BEFORE scheduled, lucky we arrived at the airport with plenty of time!).
- Visas: most countries get a 30 day visa on arrival to the airpot. Make sure to check this when planning your Philippines travel itinerary.
- Internet: most of the hotels offer WIFI but its terribly slow. We bought a sim card at the airpot from Smart for around 20€ that had 25gb of high speed internet.
- Moving around: in Manila the best option is to use Grab. Its quite cheap compared to Uber in Europe, and safe. In the islands there are few taxi-cars, and they tend to be expensive (maybe 40-60€), so the best thing is to move around in tricycles (4-10€).
- Currency: main hotels accept USD all over the Philippines. We exchanged money at the airpot (the rate was amazingly good!) and used mainly for tricycles, restaurants, shopping, attraction fees, etc. Credit cards are also accepted mainly everywhere.
- Length of the trip: no, 2 weeks is not enough. Philippines is HUGE and there is so much to do and see! I wish we could have had a month. But, 2 weeks its better than nothing so I put together this Philippines travel itinerary to help you decide which islands to visit.
How to get to Manila: we flew with Turkish Airlines from Malaga to Istanbul and to Metro Manila. I personally like flying with Turkish because the service is good, planes are always clean and food & entertainment are better than any other airline.
Where to stay in Manila: we are not big fans of cities, so we landed at 9pm and went straight to the hotel. We booked through booking.com (if you use this link you will get 15€ discount!), and stayed at City Garden Grand Hotel Makati. A friend of mine recommended this place, because its a safe neighborhood and it has an amazing pool & restaurant with views. One of the things that surprised me the most is the menu at the restaurant, offering Chipirones and gambas al ajillo, I felt like we never left Spain 🤣
Our flight to Coron was the next morning at 6am so we asked the hotel to organice a transfer for us.
Coron was our absolute favorite place we visited during this trip. We stayed here for 4 nights, but I would recommend staying a bit longer. It is still not over developed, there are not so many people, and Coron island is absolute MAGIC. Make sure to add it to your Philippines travel itinerary!
How to get to Coron: we took an early flight from Manila straight to Coron, which takes around 1h. We paid around 100€ for each of us (one way), and bought it 1 week before our trip with Cebu Airlines.
Where to stay in Coron: Our first day, we booked Hotel Corto del Mar (remember to use the discount on this link!) and they organized a free transfer from the airport. The airpot is in the north of the island, and the hotel and all places of interest are in the south, the ride takes around 40 minutes. We arrived to the hotel around 9am, checked in and asked them to organize a private boat that costed 50€ for both of us. This includes someone picking you up from the hotel, taking you to the local market so you can buy food you like, a captain, a cook, a guide and snorkel equipment. I would always recommend getting a private tour, so you can be flexible with time and enjoy at your own pace. Keep in mind that each place you visit has an entrance fee that goes from 2-5€ per person.
What to do in Coron: there are 3 island hopping tours in Coron that are totally customizable (if you go on a private boat), and I recommend doing all of them. We only did the first tour and I regret it! Its important to consider that Coron doesn’t have a pretty beach at all, the port is ugly and dirty and the island is quite rocky. So everyday that you spend there is best to take a boat and do a tour. They are designed based on distance:
- Coron Island Tour (confusing, I know, but the island in which you are staying is called Busuanga. Coron is actually a small island that belongs to the native people, in which there are no buildings at all and you can’t stay overnight). This one is the most popular, it will take you to Kayangan or Barracuda Lake, Twin Lagoon, 3 or 4 different beach stops around the island, Skeleton Wreck and 2 or 3 different snorkel spots. I absolutely recommend going as early as possible to Kayangan Lake, then Twin Lagoon to avoid the crowds. Also at lunch time the beach spots get crowded with 10 boats or so each, so its best to go early or late after everyone has finished lunch and are back on their tours. We also enjoyed snorkeling at Coral Garden, its really an underwater garden full of colors and life, and saw a couple turtles as well!
- Islands Tour takes you to 3 different islands: Malcapuya, Banana and Bulog Dos Island. This islands are around 1hour boat ride away from the departing point.
- Reef and Wreck Tour takes you to different ship wrecks and inhabited islands in the west of Coron: Pass Island, Lusong Gunboat and Coral Garden, and East Tangat Gunboat.
Our second day on the island we visited Kayangan Lake at sunrise, and Barracuda Lake. We were completely alone for half an hour or so, and it was pure magic. There is a silence that’s difficult to explain, everything is so peaceful, the water is so clear that makes it unreal, underwater is like a moonscape. It’s easy to believe all the stories the locals tell about the lakes.
Private Island in Coron: for the next 3 nights, we decided to book something a bit more luxurious and went to Club Paradise Palawan (remember to use my link for a discount!). The hotel it’s the only “luxury hotel” and it’s in the North of the island, which means far away from all the touristic spots, so make sure you have done all the tours before heading here. Your previous hotel will drop you back at the airpot for free and they will pick you up from the airport, and put you on a boat for around 30minutes to get to the island.
Now, we chose this place because its a private island (and we do love private islands) and because it’s a turtle sanctuary! In our 3 night stay, we got to see turtles hatching (and I got into a fight with some tourists that were blocking and grabbing the little turtles), and the coral reef is amazing here! Just by the boats on the shore in the picture, there is a field of seagrass, and there are turtles eating 24/7. We even got bored of seeing turtles, can you believe it? 🤣 Then all the rest is a huge coral reef full of life and colors. We saw sting rays, sharks, giant clams, more turtles and all kind of fishes, all this is 1 minute away from the shore. Definitely, the best snorkel in Coron, and the place to stay if you are looking to swim with turtles.
The island is also home to monitor lizards and THOUSANDS of fruit bats. It’s super cool! I absolutely recommend staying here, but if you do make sure to book a sunset bungalow. The other rooms are in an ugly building, in an ugly part of the island, full of mosquitoes, so absolutely don’t stay there! They also organize dinner by the beach, which is super romantic. Also if you dive, they have amazing diving trips to Apo Island and swimming trips with dugongs. Make sure to email in advance as when we got there they couldn’t organize it.
EL NIDO, PALAWAN
How to get to El Nido: we flew direct from Coron to El Nido with Air Swift, took around 30 minutes and arrived in the morning around 11am. The flight is very scenic so make sure to get window seats! Once arrived at El Nido Airport, our hotel organized a transfer for us.
Where to stay in El Nido: We stayed at Panorama Resort (unfortunately only for 1 night because they didn’t have availability, but it’s the only hotel I recommend in El Nido), which was absolutely awesome. The rooms are shaped like giant coconuts, the decoration is beautiful, and the food was the best we had in the Philippines! Its definitely the best place to stay in El Nido, and their restaurant is perfect to watch the sunset.
What to do in El Nido: pretty much like in Coron, there are a few options of island hopping tours, only here the tour operators and itineraries are absolutely strict, due to the amount of tourists. We were told it wasn’t like that last year, but there was a new regulation. Also doesn’t matter if you do a private tour, the earliest you can depart is 9am, because they have to get a permit signed at some office. It was all really disappointing! But anyways, island hopping in El Nido is a must for a proper Philippines travel itinerary.
We did Tour A and C, and we asked our guides to try and avoid the crowds, and we were lucky as there wasn’t much people in any of our stops. For lunch they took us a bit farther away so we could have a whole beach just to ourselves!
Our last day in El Nido we decided to stay in land and rented a dirt bike. Renting a bike in the Philippines can be a bit tricky, so its best to ask your hotel to recommend a reliable company. We tried getting a cool bike but the best they have is a 125cc, so we rented it and headed up North to Nacpan Beach. It was way prettier than we expected! Long white sand beach with some bars, restaurants and sun beds at the beginning and completely empty the further away you get from the parking. The water is clear and turquoise, there are thousands of palm trees and we absolutely loved it.
After a having a nap, we headed to Duli Beach, which I can’t recommend enough. It was completely empty, there was a little surf school renting boards and around 5 people in the water. Obviously I spent the rest of the day until it got dark catching waves! And also got a full body massage, it was a perfect day!
How to get to Cebu: we flew directly from El Nido to Cebu Mactan Airport with Cebu Pacific Airlines. Depending on where you are going, it might be more convenient to flight to Dumaguete, as most Oslob hotels organice cheap transfers from there, while from Mactan Airport it costs around 80€ for a private car.
Where to stay in Cebu: we stayed for 2 nights at Oslob in Sumilon Bluewater Island Resort, because they have a sandbank and good snorkel. I absolutely DO NOT recommend staying here. We got food poisoning the first night, the island has a ferry bringing daytime-tourists every 30 minutes so there is absolutely no privacy, and prices are high.
We continued our Philippines travel itinerary going to Moalboal, and stayed at Badian Island Wellness Resort (have I already mentioned how much we like private islands? 🤣), which was super relaxing. We got a villa with private pool, because the price difference was not very high and we loved it. They have a boat that takes you to the main island any time you want for free, and they will help you organize bike rentals or activities. They also have a very nice spa with flower baths, but its super expensive. The best thing are the two friendly kittens by the dive center!
What to do in Cebu: there are 3 main attractions that bring tourists to Cebu: the beautiful waterfalls, the sardine run and the whale sharks. We skipped the whale sharks (and I ask everyone to please not support this activity) because they are being fed and kept in a bay for tourists, this is messing with their migration and reproductive patterns.
There are lots and lots of waterfalls all over the island and all of them are amazingly beautiful, they are the main reason why you should include Cebu in your Philippines travel itinerary. I definitely recommend visiting Kawasan Falls, even though they are very popular and very crowded its absolutely worth it. Its best to visit when you are staying around Moalboal, the first day we rented a scooter and tried to visit but we had a little issue (Mitchell decided to ride a bike in flip-flops and turns out it wasn’t such a good idea 😭), so we ended up visiting on our last day before going to the airport.
The sardine run is also next to Moalboal, and basically its a snorkel boat trip where you will see some turtles and thousands of millions of sardines going around and making shapes and its quite interesting to see!
After visiting Kawasan Falls, we ended our Philippines travel itinerary and started our 30h trip to get back home. Would have definitely preferred to stay in the waterfalls!
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