touring | philippines - islands, coconuts & sunsets
'paradise islands hopping on a budget'
Phillippines, named in honour of king phillip of spain was one of the biggest adventures that i have embarked on in recent years. i arrived to this beautiful island nation with the wide eyed optimism of staying here for the foreseeable future but as in life things tend not to work out as you plan so i decided that after a turbulent few days that i would make the most of this country.
arriving in cebu city i really did not know what i was getting myself in for. the city was one of the busiest & yes polluted places that i have ever been so after a few days i decided that it was time to leave. my plan for the next month spanned the whole of cebu island, sequijor, bohol & finally the magical island of palawan.
this is one of the main gateway islands to central & southern parts of the philippines arriving into the city i decided to stay in the fabulous bai hotel (get $20 off your stay by booking here) located close to the airport as it gave me the opportunity to get there easily as cebu has some crazy traffic.
this hotel is surely one of the best locations in the city from the spacious rooms to the rooftop swimming pool & bar where i spent most evenings at sunset with a cocktail in one hand & a book in the other.
the breakfast here is something of a ceremony of sorts its was the biggest, most elaborate breakfast buffet that i have had the pleasure of eating at, for me one of the the highlights. from the gym to the executive lounge this hotel truly has everything you need to have an enjoyable stay in the city. now cebu city is really not a place that i can tell you is great as its mostly a transit city but there where a few gems to be explored while here. one of my favourite experiences of the whole trip was my time with the chocolate queen at the fabulous casa de cacao. this artisanal cacao producer is headed by raquel one of the most interesting & spirited persons that i have had the pleasure of spending time with, her passion vigour for life & general positivity made my day at the cacao course a truly unique experience.
the next day i took a local coach to the diving resort town of moaboal on the west coast took around four hours. the scenery along the way was awesome meandering first through the hills & then following the coast to this small town i got to see a glimpse of true filipino life.
moalboal was my first small town of many on my journey in the philippines a quite little place with a few bars & restaurants its a cool place to spend a few days. most people come here for the diving, its one of the best spots on the main cebu island. if your not into diving then you can do as i did & snorkel with the masses of sardines that are only a stone's throw from the beach. about 200m down the beach you'll find a coral reef that had starfish with the most vivid blue colours i have ever seen oh.... you can also find a few turtles there too.
moalboal had another side to it. canyoning is one of the main tours to go on costing around ($15) it was a whole day of trekking through the waterfalls of the nearby hills. a truly special experience where you have the opportunity to jump from multiple cliffs with the highest being over 20m. so if your looking for a little extreme adventure activities then this is the place to come too.
siquijor; is a small island off the coast of the southern most tip of cebu island. if your looking for a place to relax after your adventures in moalboal then this is the island to visit. a few hours ferry ride from the main cebu island its a paradise of serenity. mostly untouched by the mass tourism of the other islands it was a place where i thought eco was the way to go so i decided to tent it. i stayed at the wonderful glamping siquijor. located on the southwest of the island this glamping site has all the modern amenities that you would expect from a hotel like wifi, fans, breakfast & some of the most fabulously designed bathrooms that i have ever seen. the cherry on top of the cake had to be the sunsets, i can honestly say they had to be some of the best i have ever seen.
this is one of the main tourist destinations from cebu. a busy beach resort that has everything you need to for a few days in the sun. i have to give a big shout out to the hostel i stayed in here; moon fools hostel was a world away from the city. this hostel is super eco forward in their use of materials as most of the hostel is made from recycled items. i think its the best budget place to stay on the island located close to all the main attractions, they even had an in house scooter rental business that i took them up on as its the best way to get around panglao & bohol.
i stayed on the island for five days as i wanted to chill a little but i think three days is more than enough. so what's there to do?.... well with my bike & a few friends in tow we explored the island making our way to the famous chocolate hills, tarsier conservation park, cliff diving & underwater caves but my favourite experience had to be my boat trip to the famous whale shark swimming site of oslob with with dreamcat adventures. their ship is the biggest & most advanced on the island from the catering onboard to the jacuzzi, tv, sun loungers & upstairs deck if you want to see the whale sharks in style then this is the boat to go on.
most of the time the ferry is the perfect way to get to your new destination but their are sometimes when taking a ferry is not so wise. to get to the island of palawan the ferry would take days so i opted for an air asia flight to porto princessa the main town on the island of palawan. this was not my destination but at flight for less than $50 return from cebu was the only option my budget. my final destination was actually el nido in the north of the island & even though they have an airport here the flights are well in excess of $300. this has created a whole mini bus industry from porto princessa airport to the town of el nido about 6 hours away in a mini van. at about $10 one-way its a bargain for the distance although the journey can be testing as the drivers are crazy but at least you get one rest stop to stretch the legs. i would recommend to stay in the front seat with the driver as i did, its a much more comfortable experience.
when your arrive i would recommend to go with a bus that is nearly full as you could waiting for hours if they don't have enough people.
panglao - el nido
if you speak with anyone who has been to the philippines travelling one place always comes top of their list & its el nido. arriving in to this once small town that has been expanded exponentially over the past few years i decided to stay in one of the most famous hostels in all of the philippines spin designer hostel. truly one of the best places architecturally i have ever stayed. this hostel also had one of the best free breakfasts that i have ever had, i would recommend to book well in advance as this place fills up months in advance. actually most of the good places in el nido fill up way in advance its one of the only places that i have ever travelled to that i needed to book this early as most backpackers book on a day to day basis but here you will find yourself sleeping on the beach if you don't book in advance.
so why is el nido so popular? well its the starting point to visit one of the most beautiful archipelagos in the world. most of the islands are uninhabited with pristine white beaches &
untouched fauna. now its really very difficult to find your own private island as the government has stepped in to regulate the whole industry so now you have a choice of four boat tours (a,b,c,d) now each of the boat trips go to different islands & lagoons of-course with some cross over & include a bbq lunch. my only issue was that i came here in the shoulder season & every place that the boat trip took us was absolutely packed so i can imagine in the high season it would be close to unbearable for me. don't get me wrong i had a nice time visiting the islands but i felt the experience was totally destroyed by the sheer amounts of tourists, im talking 1000's per day. the prices on the island & in el-nido are for sure the highest that i experience in philippines with hostels around $20 per night & tours at $25 this compares to most hostels in philippines costing around $10 so if your on a budget then a week here can blow it. the town its self has lots of restaurants & bars so you won't find it hard to eat good here. i even had a pita with hummus at the happiness bar that was extremely good. years ago i believe this place was something truly special but as with all destinations when the word get's out, tourists come flooding in destroying everything in there path. i may be a hypocrite by saying that as i am also a tourist but i try to have as much of a local experience as i can when exploring new destinations. either way with all its flaws it still a must visit destination.
now my favourite place was not actually el nido it was a short free shuttle ride away to lio beach. this mostly unknown beach has recently been developed into a tourist heaven with the environment & astectics in mind. the beach has a maximum of 50 people at any time & most of the time in the mornings i found myself to be the only one. the area has bars, restaurants & good hotels set behind the tree line all tastefully done keeping the natural aspect of the beach intact.
to sum up...
yes as with every place my time had to come to an end. if your looking for paradise on the cheap then this has to be the destination for you. stay away from the main cities & head straight for the small islands, surly you will not be disappointed. even though my trip to philippines did not exactly go to plan i met some amazing people along the way & truly had some unforgettable adventures in this island nation.
⦿ they use peso, its a cheap country budget ($20) a day. ($40) a day in el nido.
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country travel tips
atm: only hsbc bank does not charge a fee. all others are around $5 per transaction.
sim card: smart is the best data provider. 30GB is ($17) for 30 days.
transport: use grab to get around in most places. coaches & ferry's elsewhere.
taxi: grab taxi app is cheap | uber? use promo: carlm5078ue for free ride.
accommodation: get ($20) off your first booking.com reservation here