After spending a month in The Philippines with Harmony, I know that it can be a challenge to plan how you're going to spend your time there - there's so much to do!
Visas are typically 30 days, which you can extend but Harmony and I thought that we'd save the stress and stick to what we were given on arrival. As a result of that limitation, we unfortunately didn't get to do everything that we wanted to, but also didn't have to cram everything in.... We found a good balance!
Based on our own experience, I thought that I could share a bit about our most loved islands and must see places...
Out of all the cities in The Philippines, Manila was most definitely our favourite. It gets some bad press and is supposedly not the safest of places, but don't let that stop you! Just look after your valuables! At least one full day would be good so that you can check out Intramurous and watch the sun go down at Mall Of Asia.
We stayed in Manila for four days, which was much longer than needed. Although, one day was taken up by us switching hotels and moving from the Malate district (convenient location for sightseeing) to the Makati district (safer and nicer area). In Makati, we stayed on the 56th floor of the most amazing hotel - The Gramercy! The view from our balcony was no doubt one of the best in the city and our little kitchen came in very handy at breakfast time. It was a bit on the pricey side compared to other hotels though - other hotels that looked just as nice and even had rooftop bars.
Unfortunately, we never made it to Taal Volcano or Hundred Islands National Park as we had hoped to, but these are some excellent ideas if you have the extra days, and should be pretty easy to organise. They're now top of our to do list for whenever we come back, along with Boracay, Siargao and Siquijor Islands.
Next, we flew to Coron. We had some of the worst airport experiences in The Philippines, but landing on Busuanga Island was easily one of the best! The scenery is shockingly stunning! Top tip though - the flights fill up quickly in The Philippines and so do the hotels. Booking at least a week in advance wasn't our favourite way to travel, but it is a bit of a must do.
A couple of days are okay for Coron... Coron Town isn't the nicest of places as it's still slowly developing. Plus, it probably didn't help that we were staying at a hotel that was still being worked and didn't even have a plane of glass in the window frame! That said, this place is still not to be missed thanks to the island hopping, snorkelling and scuba diving. Be sure to visit Kayangan Lake and Twin Lagoon on Coron Island, which most island hopping tours will do. Mt Tapyas is also worth the hike and there's some hot springs about an hour out of town too.
El Nido, Palawan
From Coron, we headed south to El Nido stopping off along the way at some of the most remote islands in northern Palawan. This was on a three day trip with TAO Philippines. Click here if you want to read more about it. Otherwise the "fast" ferry can go direct to El Nido in under four hours.
When it comes to El Nido, I can’t even think of the words to describe it! I still find myself speechless! We were lucky enough to hire a private boat for the day, so we had the best time seeing some of the most amazing locations in the world! Towering limestone cliffs, bone white beaches and diverse coral gardens - it was perfect! If it weren't for the plastic pollution at least...
I could've stayed forever! But realistically, three full days was good. Two more days would've been better. It depends how many boat trips or diving you'd like to do really. Plus, there's some other nearby beaches that you can visit if you feel like mixing it up.
Puerto Princesa, Palawan
The capital city of the Palawan Province only deserves a day or two. From here, you can island hop around Honda Bay or go on a tour of the world famous Underground River. Sadly, we couldn't do the latter because we didn't book far enough in advance, so we went to Honda Bay instead, which we wouldn't recommend to anyone. Compared to the island hopping in El Nido, it isn't nearly as impressive.
Cebu City is another place that you don't need to spend much time in. Get the bus straight down to Moalboal or Badian on a public bus from South Cebu Bus Terminal (aircon!) for waterfall chasing and diving. We couldn't do any diving unfortunately but it's supposedly worth allowing an extra day for. The waterfalls of South Cebu are particularly incredible and we can personally recommend Inambakan, Dau and Kawasan falls, although I had some safety concerns at Dau and Kawasan is astonishingly touristy, so go as early as possible!
Oslob is another popular destination for tourists because you can swim with whale sharks. However, it isn't very ethical or natural, so I'd actually advise against it.
We spent six nights in Bohol, which was probably a bit excessive... there's plenty to do, but it's a big island, so it depends how much you like relatively long journeys. For example, we went to the Chocolate Hills one morning, which took over an hour to get to, but was completely worth it. We hired a car to take us for 2500 pesos and also rode ATVs at the base of the hills, which was another 900 pesos each and a lot of fun!
There's a tarsier sanctuary nearby which our driver would most likely have been happy to take us too, but it slipped our mind. By the way, a tarsier is the world's smallest mammal and probably the cutest!
The most popular place to stay in Bohol is Alona Beach, which is actually on an island called Panglao, just off from Bohol. It's easy to get to the ferry port and airport too. The beach itself was pretty nice and there were lots of bars, restaurants and dive shops, but the best thing about it was the stunning sunsets that we saw every single night!
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