Philippines- My Itinerary and What I Learned From It
I was in the Philippines for about one month. Two weeks were spent on a medical mission trip with Project Helping Hands (PHH). We were in the city of Ilagan, on the main island in the north east, setting up day clinics. We did go to Banaue/Batad for the weekend, but otherwise we weren’t actually tourists – we were medical personnel. I will write another post about my experiences on the medical mission part of my trip and why I chose PHH. Though my travels were brief, I gained a good sense of the people, culture and food of the Philippines, all of which are amazing.
(PHH team at Batad)
We ended the mission in Manila, the capital of the Philippines. From there everyone went their separate ways. I tagged along with two friends, Zane and Will, from the mission trip. We went to Bohol, the Dumaguete, and Cebu. Then Zane and I split off and went to Palawan. Zane left Palawan seven days before me. The trip was amazing! I met some incredible travelers and did things I have never done before. I highly recommend visiting the Philippines.
My Vacation Itinerary:
Day 1: Bohol
AM Flight from Manila to Tagbilaran (Bohol). The flight was about onehour long. It is HIGHLY recommended to get to the airport at least two hours early for all domestic flight.
Tour of Bohol Island including the Bohol Bee Farm, HInagdana cave, and the Nova Shell Museum.
Beach time at the hotel
Day 2: Bohol
Morning: Boat ride to snorkel at a local reef, and watch dolphins
Afternoon: Chocolate Hills and Tarsiers
Evening: Dinner and exploring local shops
Day 3: Negros
Morning: Boat from Bohol to Dumaguete, Negros
Afternoon/Evening: beach time
Day 4: Negros
Morning/Afternoon: snorkeling at Apo Island
Evening: changed hotels/night out in the Dumaguete
Day 5: Negros/Siquijor
Day trip to Siquijor. Paid a private driver to takes us to major sights including Cambugahay Falls, and Salagdoong beach
Night out in the Dumaguete
Boat to Cebu Island
Snorkeling with Whale Sharks
Canyoneering at Kawasan Falls
Bus to Cebu City
Day 7: Palawan
Morning: flight to Puerto Princesa, Palawan
Evening/Night: Dinner and exploring the Baywalk
Day 8: Palawan
Van ride to El Nido, Palawan (about six hours)
Evening/Night: Find a place to stay/dinner and exploring El Nido
Day 9: Palawan
Morning/Afternoon: Plan/organize overnight camping on private island
Evening/Night: Camping on a private island (BEST PART OF THE TRIP)
Day 10: Palawan
Said goodbye to friends
Rest from the other night
Day 11: Palawan
Island Hopping Tour A
Day 12: Palawan
Island Hopping Tour C
Day 13: Palawan
Morning: Sleep in, (got a tattoo)
Afternoon: Moped drive to Nacpan Beach
Day 14: Palawan
Morning/Afternoon: Van ride back to Puerto Princesa
Afternoon: Chill at the hotel (Palo Alto Bed & Breakfast)
Day 15: Palawan
Morning/Afternoon: Island Hopping tour
Day 16: Palawan
Morning: Dolphin watching tour
Evening: Chill at the hotel
Day 17: Palawan
Afternoon: Flight to Manila
Morning/Afternoon: Window shopping at the Mall of Asia*
Evening: Flight back to the States
*The day before was election day and I didn’t feel safe exploring Manila after the election, especially on my own. I thought the mall would be safer.
(Map of the Philippines)
Type A Tips:
- In tourist-y spots a lot of people speak English (this is less true the more rural you go)
- The airports are CRAZY! There is security just to get into the airport, long lines to check in, then more long lines to go through security to get to your gate. Long story short, you should aim to get to the airport at least two hours early for all flights in the Philippines.
- El Nido has one ATM, and it runs out of cash within hours. Make sure you bring enough cash!
I always take out $2,000 US dollars in the local currency before embarking on my travels. I highly recommend this for any trip, but especially the Philippines. I did not see many ATMs in the Philippines, so replenishing cash in the country is difficult.
My round-trip flight to the Philippines was about $1,000. My flights within the Philippines cost about $300 total. Housing and food were very cheap. Except for the last two hotels I stayed at (I wanted to stay some place really nice, and not share a room at a hostel) I paid for all my housing, food, tours and souvenirs with the $2,000, plus another $500.
Overall my trip was about $4,000 for two weeks (the two weeks of my mission trip and its costs are not included).
- Spend at least two weeks in the Philippines, or make it part of a longer trip to Southeast Asia. Travelling to the Philippines from the US is the expensive part. Once you are there is it pretty cheap.
- Stay out of Mindanao- south most islands. This is where most the extremist are, and where tourist have been kidnapped.
- If doing a day trip to an island (like I did to Siquijor), than buy your return ticket for the ferry right when you arrive- tickets do run out the later it gets in the day
- The Philippines are hot! Try your best to get a room with AC, not just a fan. It is worth the extra money. The AC also helps to keep the mosquitoes out.
- Taxi drivers/tricycle drivers can be a great resource for finding a place to sleep, just keep in mind that they will take you to places where they get a kickback, so stay true to your budget/desires. Don’t be afraid to keep asking them to bring you to another place.
Things I would have changed:
- I heard good things about staying on Pamilacan island, which is off of Bohol Island. A solo traveller I met highly recommended the island. She told me it was not that touristy and was a beautiful, relaxing place to stay. She also got an opportunity to swim with wild dolphins (a goal of mine).
- Bohol and the Chocolate Hills were nice, but in my opinion not that great in comparison to the rest of the Philippines. Knowing what I know now, I don’t know if I would have gone to Bohol – I would only consider going again to visit the Pamilacan island which has great snorkeling and dolphins.
- Cebu… overall I was not impressed with Cebu Island, though I was only there for a day, so not long enough to really explore it. Cebu Island was also the source of my least favorite activity: swimming with whale sharks. I had read a lot about the controversy over the Oslob whale shark “watching.” The whale sharks at Oslob are fed to encourage them to stay in the area for tourist. This means that many of the whale sharks are no longer migrating, but staying in Oslob.(Here is a link with more information about this controversy: ). I finally decided to try it because my travel companions were interested, and I wanted to truly understand what was going on. In my opinion it was morally wrong: we were rowed out (only a couple feet from the shore) and then were allowed in the water. The whale sharks were practically towed around, encouraged by constantly dropping food. They had told us not to touch the whale sharks but they were brought by so closely that I accidently touch one myself. I had the wonderful experience of swimming with whale sharks in the “real” wild in Mexico. While in Cancun, my friends and I took a small boat out to the ocean to a spot where whale sharks were known to feed (at that time of the year). Once there we were free to swim with them (but not touch them), and there weren’t nearly as many people around. My experience in Mexico was magical while the Oslob experience was fake in comparison. If you are on the fence like I was, I’d say do not do it! There are plenty of better, more ethical places where you can see and swim with whale sharks.
(Whale Sharks at Oslob)
- I think Apo Island, off of Negros Island, is a must. The snorkeling at Apo Island was incredible. I swam with so many sea turtles, more there than anywhere else! There are a few hotels on the island, though with limited electricity. I wish I could have spent a night on the island so I could have more time to snorkel and a chance to explore it.
- I spent way too much time in El Nido. My plans changed last minute and ended up with a couple more days than expected, and it ended up being too long. Don’t get me wrong, El Nido and the island hopping tours (tours where you go from one gorgeous island to another) were incredible, but it is a pretty small city with not much around it to explore.
- From talking to people, Coron is supposed to be even more beautiful. I want to go there next time to see it. There is also a kayak tour to and from Coron that has great ratings. There are other tours, but El Gordo has the highest ratings. If I could do the trip over again I would have spent two days in El Nido. I would have then done the tour to Coron. There is an airport in Coron, which would save me from having to go back to Puerto Princesa.