Look no further than the Philippines if you’re searching for beautiful beaches and cool diving experiences. When I told other travelers about my plans to visit the Philippines, a few asked if it was safe. It’s true that foreigners should avoid Mindanao, where attacks and kidnappings have occurred recently. However, the Philippines are huge, and many islands are safe for tourists. As always, the best rule is to pay attention to travel alerts and the news when deciding whether to visit a particular location.
I spent three weeks in the Philippines and would have loved to have spent more time there. I arrived on August 25 and left on September 15. Below is a summary of the locations, accommodations, transport, and tours from my time in the Philippines.
Manila (August 25 to 26, August 30 to 31)
- MR Guesthouse (August 25 to 26). Not my favorite accommodation. I stayed in an apartment, which was in a decently maintained complex. However, my apartment could have been cleaner. On the positive side, the air conditioning was powerful, and the wifi was great.
- NomadsMNL (August 30 to 31). Short but sweet stay. Monique, the owner, was very responsive on WhatsApp. She also booked transfers between the airport and guesthouse. I stayed in a loft on the top floor of the guesthouse, which was roomy. Although the loft wasn’t enclosed, it still provided privacy since the other guests were on lower floors. Monique also prepared a free, filling Filipino breakfast.
- Transport to Manila:
- Four-hour flight from Denpasar, Bali for my first stay in Manila
- 10-minute ferry ride and a 1.5-hour bus ride from Boracay to Kalibo, then a 45-minute flight to Manila for my second stay
- Transport within Manila:
- I only stayed in Manila between flights, so I didn’t have time to explore the city. Taxis between the airport and my accommodations were my only transport.
- Expect major traffic if you visit Manila. The airport and MR Guesthouse were only about 6 miles apart, but the trip took 1.5 hours on a Friday afternoon. Fortunately, my taxi driver was charming and taught me a lot about Filipino culture.
Boracay (August 26 to 30)
- Accommodation: Chill Out Boracay
- The staff was polite and had good intentions. The hostel had a pool and offered free drinks every evening, which would have been a good way to meet other travelers if it wasn’t the low season. My dorm room was clean, but the bathroom ended up being a problem. It rained heavily a few times during my stay in Boracay, and the bathroom flooded with raw sewage. The odor drifted to the the bedroom, which was…unpleasant. My roommates and I were allowed to use the bathroom in another dorm, but we had trouble sleeping in our room due to the smell. A staff member did tell me about this problem when I checked in, and it was my fault for not being more proactive. I should have asked for another room or a discount.
- Transport to Boracay:
- 45-minute flight from Manila to Kalibo, then a 2.5-hour bus ride and 10-minute ferry ride to Boracay
- Transport within Boracay:
- I took tricycles between the port in Boracay and my hostel. Otherwise, I went everywhere by foot.
- Two fun dives with Free Willy Diving
- Blog post:
Puerto Princesa (August 31 to September 2)
- Accommodation: Treffpunkt 5300
- Newly opened, charming hostel. The hostel focuses on sustainability, so there is no air conditioning. It wasn’t too hot in Puerto Princesa, so I was comfortable with just fans. Wifi is restricted to 200 MB per day per guest, but this is reasonable, and the wifi works quickly. I liked the free breakfast because it included whole-wheat toast, a welcome change from the white bread I had eaten for most of my trip up to this point. Hey Jude, the resident dog, was adorable.
- Transport to Puerto Princesa:
- Hourlong flight from Manila
- Transport within Puerto Princesa:
- I walked most places, including from the airport to my hostel. Transport was provided for my Honda Bay tour.
- Full-day Honda Bay island-hopping tour with Corazon Travel and Tours
- Blog post:
El Nido (September 2 to 7)
- Accommodation: Spin Designer Hostel
- Loved this hostel. It was on the pricier side, but it was worth it. The free breakfast buffet was awesome. The staff was amazing: they hosted daily events and kept everything clean. The dorm rooms were huge, and the bathrooms were modern. The wifi was slow, but this was typical for the Philippines.
- Transport to El Nido:
- Six-hour van ride from Puerto Princesa, with an hourlong break
- While I took a van, buses run frequently between PP and El Nido and might be a roomier, more comfortable option.
- Transport within El Nido:
- El Nido proper is easily walkable, but a couple of beaches are a 15- to 20-minute tricycle ride away from the center. Tour companies provided transport for island hopping and diving.
- Three fun dives with Submariner Diving Center
- Two full-day island-hopping tours, booked through Spin
- Blog post:
Coron (September 7 to 11)
- Accommodation: Corto Divers
- Corto Divers has an apartment above its office, and I stayed in one of the rooms. Each bedroom was clean and had its own lock. The apartment felt just like home: it had a kitchen, living room, and large patio. Good, reasonably priced accommodations can be difficult to find in Coron, so I was very pleased with the apartment.
- Transport to Coron:
- Five-hour fast boat ride from El Nido to Coron. The trip is advertised as being 3.5 hours, but you may not be able to rely on this.
- Transport within Coron:
- I walked within town, and tour companies provided transport for island hopping and diving. Corto Divers booked a van from their office to the airport, which was about 45 minutes away from the town center.
- Five fun dives with Corto Divers
- Full-day island-hopping tour with Nice in Paradise
- Blog post:
Moalboal (September 11 to 14)
- Accommodation: Savedra Beach Bungalows
- I stayed in a private room, which had a balcony that faced the ocean. It was cool to hear the waves outside my window. My room was basic but had everything I needed. I liked that the room had a big filtered water dispenser and a mini fridge.
- Transport to Moalboal:
- Hourlong flight from Coron to Cebu City, then a 3.5-hour car ride to Moalboal
- Transport within Moalboal:
- Moalboal is small, so it was easy to walk wherever I needed to go. For canyoning, Cyan Adventures took care of transport to the waterfalls, which were about 45 minutes from the center of Moalboal.
- Five fun dives with Savedra Dive Center
- Full-day canyoning tour with Cyan Adventures
- Blog post:
Cebu City (September 14 to 15)
- Accommodation: Zen Rooms M. Velez Street
- I only spent about 14 hours in Cebu City, so my priority was a nice bed. Zen Rooms fit the bill. The bed was big and comfortable, and the bathroom was clean and modern.
- Transport to Cebu City:
- Four-hour car ride from Moalboal, booked by Savedra
- Transport within Cebu City:
- Since my stay was brief, my only transport was a Grab car from my accommodation to the airport.
During my 22 days in the Philippines, I spent about $2,110.54, or $95.93 a day. This was one of the pricier destinations on my trip, but the good memories made everything worthwhile.
My expenses were categorized as follows:
- Entertainment: $722.06
- This category includes tours, activities, entrance fees, and spa treatments. Diving was the biggest expense (~22,351 PHP/$433), consisting of about 60% of this category. Clearly, you can save a lot of money if you don’t dive. I don’t regret this though since the diving in El Nido, Coron, and Moalboal was fantastic. Canyoning in Moalboal was another significant expense at $69, but again, it was worth the cost. I went on four island-hopping tours in Palawan (one in Honda Bay, two in El Nido, and one in Coron), which cost about 6,790 PHP/$132 altogether. You can find cheaper island-hopping tours if you’re willing to ask multiple companies for quotes.
- Transport: $675.77
- This category includes my flight from Bali to Manila (~$195), domestic flights, boats, buses, vans, cars, taxis, tricycles, and terminal fees.
- Unless you stay on one island, you’re probably going to have to fly in the Philippines. I took five domestic flights (13,707 PHP/$266), which consisted of about 39% of this category. Four of my flights were operated by AirAsia, and one was with Philippine Airlines. Cebu Pacific usually offered the cheapest flights out of the three, but I couldn’t book tickets online with a foreign credit card.
- Another big expense was my roundtrip private transport between the Cebu City airport and Moalboal (5,600 PHP/$109). I could have gone for a shared minivan or bus if I wanted to save more money.
- Accommodation: $425.71
- I stayed in private rooms in:
- Manila (1,900 PHP/$38 per night for MR Guesthouse and 500 PHP/$10 per night for NomadsMNL)
- Coron (900 PHP/$17 per night)
- Moalboal (1,935 PHP/$38 per night)
- Cebu City (1,531 PHP/$30 per night)
- I stayed in dorm rooms in:
- Boracay (550 PHP/$11 per night for a six-bed dorm)
- Puerto Princesa (400 PHP/$8 per night for a four-bed dorm)
- El Nido (1,070 PHP/$21 per night for a four-bed dorm)
- I stayed in private rooms in:
- Food: $243.79
- Most of my meals were $4 to $6. My most expensive meal was a tuna bowl and smoothie in Boracay, which cost 588 PHP/$12.
- I didn’t love Filipino food (apologies to Filipinos). Many dishes, including meat and bread, were sweet. It’s possible I was the problem: I might have chosen the wrong restaurants. It’s worth noting that the food on dive and tour boats were among the best I had in the Philippines.
- Pork is a staple in Filipino cuisine, and the fat usually isn’t trimmed. A few Filipinos told me that a meal is incomplete without rice. Accordingly, rice is served with carbs like pizza and pasta.
- Miscellaneous: $43.06
- This category includes a Smart SIM card (1,500 PHP/$30). I don’t remember how much data was included in my plan, but it was enough for my stay. The quality of service varied across locations. It was practically nonexistent in El Nido and Moalboal. Travelers with Globe had better service in El Nido.
- I restocked on toiletries in the Philippines. Conditioner was difficult to find in Boracay.
Of course, I couldn’t see everything in three weeks. Below are a few noteworthy destinations that I missed:
- I didn’t think El Nido or Coron was overly crowded, but some travelers thought these locations were touristy. If you want to feel like you’re on a private island, Siargao is the place for you. It’s supposed to have beautiful beaches and barely any tourists. I met travelers who reported that the beaches were completely deserted.
- Bohol is probably best known for the Chocolate Hills. I love mountain scenery, and the hills would have been only a two-hour ferry ride from Cebu City. However, I had to prioritize and decided to stick to beaches.
- Divers and snorkelers visit Oslob in Cebu to swim with whale sharks. This sounded cool, but I opted for the sardines in Moalboal instead. Locals and tour operators feed the whale sharks so visitors have a good chance of seeing them. As a result, many people refuse to go on whale shark tours in Oslob because they don’t want to encourage a practice that might cause the sharks to become dependent on humans. Puerto Princesa is an alternative for seeing whale sharks: the chances of seeing sharks are lower, but feeding isn’t a widespread practice.
Finally, some general notes about the Philippines:
- The humidity in the Philippines is unreal. I thought I had gotten used to sweating through my clothes in the other Southeast Asian countries I visited. Nope. A blast of thick moisture hit me as soon as I stepped off my flight to Manila.
- Filipinos are among the kindest people I’ve met anywhere. Within minutes of meeting you, they’ll proclaim that you’re beautiful and nice. In reality, they’re the ones who deserve the compliments. They were generous, friendly, and eager to welcome visitors. For instance, I sat next to a Filipino family while waiting for a flight. As I chatted with the family, the father was fetching lunch for his kids. He asked if I was planning to eat anything, and I said I might get some water later. He got up and soon reappeared with a bottle of water for me.
- Courtesy seems to be a priority in the Philippines. Filipinos regularly address guests as “ma’am” or “sir.” If they’re speaking to a group, they’ll go with the catch-all “ma’am-sir.” I knew this was supposed to be polite, but “ma’am” normally makes my skin crawl. It really bothered me when I first arrived in the Philippines, but “ma’am” eventually became white noise since I heard it so often. A friendly taxi driver in Manila also advised me to add “po” at the end of every sentence if I wanted to sound like a real Filipino. According to the driver, “po” is used to show respect.
- The Philippines were the first location on my trip where I regularly met domestic travelers on tours and in hostels. It was fun to be able to get more insight into Filipino culture. Unfortunately, I rarely met domestic travelers in the other Southeast Asian countries I had visited.
- Travelers should avoid drinking tap water in the Philippines. Tour guides warned me about the tap water in Palawan specifically. I met a few travelers who got horribly sick in El Nido, and they all had drunk tap water. As long as your stomach isn’t particularly sensitive, you’ll probably be OK brushing your teeth with tap water.
- While the Philippines has so much to offer, good wifi is one thing you shouldn’t expect. You might get lucky in some accommodations, but wifi is generally spotty, at best.