A 2 Week Philippines Itinerary: finding paradise without the crowds

The Philippines is a country that is now one of the top destinations in the world for the intrepid traveller. Like Indonesia, this archipelago has everything: volcanoes, paradise beaches, pristine reef, stunning waterfalls, and epic mountains.

We first came here for three months in 2013 and fell in love with the country. The people here are so friendly and welcoming, and we loved how diverse it was. We returned in 2018 to find that - whilst it was a lot busier than it used to be - the things we loved still remained.

So here’s the ultimate itinerary for you, covering our favourite parts of this country and how to put it all together. This blog will be all you need to create a trip of a lifetime in one of the most spectacular countries on earth.


Philippines Itinerary

Before we kick into the itinerary, it is worth letting you know what a trip to the Philippines entails. Whilst it may not look that big on a map, the distances between the majority of islands are pretty big, so you’ll be taking quite a few internal flights or ferry rides to get around. The infrastructure has got better, but few of the journeys are quick - it took us four hours to travel just 80km in Cebu.

This means that you may not be able to cram as much into two weeks as you can in countries like Thailand.

Don’t let this put you off! We’ve chosen islands that are jam-packed with incredible experiences and you could easily take our itinerary and spread it across three weeks instead of two!


Day 1: Arriving in Cebu

The island of Cebu was off the tourist trail for a very long time, but it is gradually becoming one of the top spots in South-East Asia to visit. If you’re looking for glorious waterfalls and a bit of adventure, there are few better places to visit!

There are direct flights into Cebu City from several countries in South-East Asia (such as Singapore and Malaysia) so you won’t necessarily have to fly via Manila. As soon as you arrive, we recommend trying to make your way out of Cebu City and down to Moalboal. The bus from Cebu City to Moalboal can take up to four hours, so you will want to consider that when booking your flights.

If your flight arrives late, then you may not have a choice, but don’t worry we have some ideas for you.

Tumalog Falls in Cebu - another we could have added to the list

If you stay in Cebu City

If you choose to stay in Cebu, then there are plenty of good hotels to rest up in or coffee shops to chill at. It also has some pretty good restaurants, we loved Gourmet Shawarma (location on the map below), a tiny little restaurant that serves up delicious food (a lot of the dishes are under 100 pesos - $2 USD). We went there several times and had some of the best food we’ve eaten in the Philippines, the falafel is divine!

 

Where to stay in Cebu

Best Western Plus Lex

The Best Western is a little haven of quiet and comfort in the middle of this busy and noisy city. The rooms aren’t huge, but the beds are perfect to sink into and the showers have the best pressure we found in Cebu (something you’ll struggle with for the whole trip!).

It is conveniently close to places to eat and a great hotel to rest up in after a long journey. It is a little more expensive than some of the mid-range options in town, but good value if you can snag a deal.

Booking.com
Booking.com

If you head onto Moalboal - White Beach Sunset

It’s likely you’ll arrive relatively late to Moalboal, but you may be able to squeeze in sunset at White Beach. This is the best spot to look out over the sea and watch the sun set behind the neighbouring island of Negros.

 

Where to stay in Moalboal

D Gecko Hotel

D Gecko has everything you need for a trip to Moalboal, comfy rooms, space and a location right in the middle of the restaurants and by the beach. You can literally hire a scooter next door to the hotel! It is a little on the pricey side for what it is, but the majority of the time we found it to be quiet and a good place to sleep.

However, be aware that this isn’t a good place to stay on Fridays when the beach party is on (although we aren’t sure there is anywhere which doesn’t feel the full brunt of the music). The music is loud and echoes through the corridors until 3am, making you feel like you’re in the middle of the party!

Booking.com
Booking.com

Day 2: Epic Waterfalls


Now that you’ve made it to the heart of Cebu, its time to visit some of the best waterfalls we’ve ever seen. We recommend making an early start for this absolute stunner. This day is action packed and could easily be split in two if time is on your side. If not you’ll need to make an early start and a late finish : )


Kawasan Falls

Kawasan Falls has some of the most beautiful water we have ever seen - these photos are not photoshopped! These falls are surrounded by jungle and the stunningly bright blue water is the kind we’ve only ever seen by glaciers!

The bottom falls are the most photogenic and the most popular, so head here first, take in the view and take a swim in paradise (it was surprising to see how many skipped that last part).

The famous view

After the bottom falls head up and explore the next two levels which the majority of visitors ignore. You’ll find beautiful spots where you can swim, jump or swing into the stunning water. We spent hours here, exploring the whole area. It’s one of those spots which is hard to leave!

To avoid the crowds we recommend arriving as close to sunrise as possible. We arrived at 6am in off-season and still found a few people there when we arrived! In peak season, even early morning can be relatively busy, especially at the weekend.

You can read in-depth information about all our favourite spots in our blog all about how to avoid the crowds at Kawasan Falls.

Getting to Kawasan Falls from Moalboal


The easiest way to get to Kawasan Falls is with your own motorbike. You can hire one in Moalboal for 300 pesos per day ($6 USD) and it is a 30-40 minute ride to the falls along a paved road. The junction is a really abrupt turning off the main road just before a corner. Be prepared to stop suddenly!

 

Canyoneering Kawasan

If just looking at a waterfall sounds too sedate, then you can go canyoneering around Kawasan! This takes you through the back routes of this beautiful area, away from the crowds at the bottom falls and through spots only known by locals. It will require some scrambling, jumping and climbing, but you’ll have guides to help you along.

You can book in advance with Klook, simply click the link below to organise your adventure!


Cambais Falls

If you were to imagine a perfect jungle waterfall and swimming area in your mind, it would probably look a lot like Cambais.

The falls here are pretty small, but the whole scene is pure bliss. The pool is fringed by jungle, rocks and even has the occasional tree in the water.

Although this isn’t as popular as Kawasan, it can begin to get busy in the middle of the day but people don’t tend to stay too long so hopefully you get it to yourself, at least for a little while!

Jungle Paradise at Cambais

Getting to Cambais from Kawasan Falls

Cambais is 30 minutes south of Kawasan. The road can be a little bumpy, so be prepared for a slowish journey!

 

Inambakan Falls

For the final part of the day, head to Inambakan Falls - a five level waterfall that has a little adventure added to it. The bottom level is the most picturesque, with a huge waterfall that is so powerful that you will be blown away when you get within five metres of it! If you are feeling worn out by now this is the most spectacular level so you could end your day here. If not read on…

The huge falls at the bottom

From here there’s a dirt path that leads up to four other levels that each offer a unique waterfall. There’s a couple of still and placid pools, one level is a rocky fall on the top of another fall and the top is a beautiful emerald jungle pool with a narrow fall tumbling down.

Inambakan is a fun area to explore and the kind of place that is big enough to find some space, no matter how busy it gets (though it’s popularity is yet to catch on so we saw no one on our visit).

The falls at the top of Inambakan

If you want to read up about what to expect and our favourite spots, check out our post all about Inambakan Falls.

Getting to Inambakan Falls from Cambais

Inambakan is an hour further south from Cambais Falls. The majority of the route is along the Cebu ring road, but be prepared for some really bad and incredibly steep roads to get here. This ride isn’t for beginner riders unless you are totally gung-ho!

 

Day 3: Adventure in Cebu


Now it’s time to add a bit if adrenaline to the mix! Luckily you won’t have to go far for the first activity.

The Sardine Run

It’s incredible to think there is a natural wonder just metres off the main beach in Moalboal! You can hire a snorkel and mask, walk to the shore and then after 10-20 metres you’ll find sardines by the thousand!

Once you start swimming around, you’ll notice huge balls of sardines that are perfectly co-ordinated, moving seamlessly in the same direction and keeping the perfect swirling shape.

If you swim towards them, you may find they start to swarm around you! It’s a really unique phenomenon and something that is surreal to experience. Sometimes they get a little too close for comfort as Cat found out when one fell out of her hair in the shower!

If you keep your eyes open, you may even see a turtle or two as well!



Aguinid Falls

Ever wanted to climb up a waterfall? How about 5? Well Aguinid offers the perfect blend of hiking up waterfalls without the need for ropes or any safety equipment.

Climbing up the second falls in Aguinid

The hike from the bottom to the top passes through four levels with pools to swim in, before reaching the ultimate falls at the top. It’s a really fun way to spend a few hours and is a very different experience to the other waterfalls in Cebu.

Unfortunately you can only visit Aguinid with a guide, but the money you give will help support the local community. You can check out what to expect in the video below and our post all about Aguinid Falls.


Getting to Aguinid Falls

Getting to Aguinid from Moaboal is a bit of a journey as it is over 56km away. It will take nearly 1.5 hours by motorbike or tricycle and even longer by bus! The main road is paved but the side road is dirt track, this is the same for Kawasan or Oslob. If you want to be closer you can leave Moalboal and spend a night at Fantasy Lodge which is just down the road from the falls.

 

Dao Falls

Dao Falls is off the main tourist trail and this makes for a much quieter adventure. It is also one of the activities where the hike to the falls is a lot more impressive that the waterfall! itself (although there’s no denying that’s beautiful too).

The trail starts in the jungle interior and sharply heads down to the river. It’s not long before you reach the beautiful, narrow gorges with the milky blue water and lush green jungle all around. For much of the way you will be walking in water so bring along shoes that can get wet.

The beautiful gorge at Dao

Soon the path goes up the side of a cliff and it all begins to open up. The track becomes very narrow (but not difficult) as you climb higher the scenery continues to be jaw-dropping scenery.

It takes about 25-40 minutes to get to the falls and is not difficult but you will be walking on water and on rocks so bare feet is not a good idea!



Getting to Dao Falls

Dao Falls is a 12 minute ride north of Aguinid. The road here isn’t great, but it is not the worst in Cebu!

 

Day 4: Siquijor Sunsets

If you felt Cebu was a bit too busy, then Siquijor is the perfect remedy. This tiny island South-East of Cebu has a much slower pace and is the perfect place to chill without the traffic and bustle of Cebu. It reminded us of what the majority of the Philippines was like when we visited six years ago: there were hardly any travellers and everything was slower, quieter and more relaxed.

There is enough to keep you busy though, so don’t think that a trip to Siquijor is only a beach break. This little island has some of our favourite spots in the country.

One of those iconic Siquijor Sunsets

One of those iconic Siquijor Sunsets

Getting to Siquijor

Getting to Siquijor is a slow process. There are no flights, so you will need to take a boat from either Liloan on the very south of the island (down the road from Fantasy Lodge) or the fast ferry from Cebu City. The boat from Liloan takes a minimum of four hours (it will undoubtedly take longer, though they will tell you it takes two!) and leaves once a day at 10am. It is essentially a cargo ferry with some plastic seats for any passengers and open to the elements, so we don’t recommend it if you’re expecting heavy rainfall - you will feel every drop, we know because this happened to us! There are rain flaps but they can’t contain rain of the magnitude that can hit in the Philippines! This ferry is a bargain at 200 pesos per person ($3.80 USD).

The other option is to head all the way back to Cebu City and get the fast ferry that goes via Bohol (Tagbilaran) that leaves at 8am and costs at least 1,150 pesos ($21 USD). This boat is quicker and much more comfortable with air-conditioning and comfortable seats, but if you wince at the thought of getting that bus again (we don’t blame you) then we’d suggest grinning and bearing the boat from Liloan.

All boats arrive at Larena, the opposite side of the island to all the good accommodation. Here you can hire a tricycle to take you round, but you will pay an unusually high price, you may be able to haggle it down if you give some hints that you may hire them again in the future.

You can read all the ways of getting to the island in our post all about Siquijor.



Happy Hour at Coral Cay

After putting up with that ordeal, you deserve a good drink and a view. Most hotels hire motorbikes for 250 - 300 pesos (about $5-6 USD) and this will make getting around surprisingly cheap - a lot of tricycles will charge this per journey.

Once at Coral Cay grab yourself a drink (a beer is $1 USD in happy hour) and either watch the sunset in front of you, chill in a hammock or have a swing. It’s a tough choice.

I chose the swing 😂

 

Dine at U Stay

So we get it, you didn’t come to Siquijor for Balinese style, but you’ll have plenty of time to explore this island and get the more Filipino vibe in the coming days. U Stay serves some of the best food on the island and is a picture perfect place to dine and chill.

After dinner there is a cushioned area where you can sip a drink and unwind. If like us you tried to book to stay here and it was full they will usually accept walk in diners, though they do prefer advanced bookings.

The dining area

The chill out area

 


Where to stay in Siquijor


The great news is that Siquijor has plenty of good accommodation that isn’t too expensive. The bad news is that the best can sell out in advance, so you don’t expect to be able to just rock up to the best ones and haggle for a room.


Best choice - U Story

We really wanted to book U Story, but it sold out a long time before we visited Siquijor. The whole place is Balinese themed and instantly relaxes you when you arrive. The rooms are spacious, comfortable and in a really quiet location to rest and unwind.

The hotel is just a 10 minute ride by motorbike or tricycle from San Juan town, but the food at U Story is so good that you won’t need to go to San Juan for every meal! Whilst we couldn’t stay we ate there several times and not only was the food great but the setting was absolutely stunning.


Budget choice - Gold View

Having failed to get into U Stay, we opted to go to Gold View Resort. It is a good option as the hotel is set on a wilder beach than the likes of Paliton or Salagdoong, and it is very quiet and a nice place to rest after a day exploring.

The rooms are a bit spartan, but the beds are as soft as they come in the Philippines and are comfortable. The wifi can only be used at the restaurant area which can be a pain, but most wifi and phone signal in the Philippines is shocking anyway.

It is 15 minute ride (around 7km) from San Juan and down a short dirt track to the entrance. The staff were the friendliest we met in the Philippines (a famously friendly country) and the laundry was the best we had in three months in Asia.

Booking.com
Booking.com

Day 5: Explore the island

After a relaxed start to Siquijor, its time to hop on the bike and explore!

Motorcycling around

Even the most novice of motorcyclists will find getting around Siquijor easy as the roads are in great condition and have next to no cars on it and very few motorcyclists. Traffic is a non-existent concept on this island!

We found it really fun just taking in the views, the rural life and the peace of Siquijor. We wouldn’t normally put commuting around as an activity, but in Siquijor it was really enjoyable.

Philippines Itinerary - exploring the island


Cliff Diving at Salagdoong

The first stop is Salagdoong Beach, a small beach with tall cliffs all tucked inside a dense forest. This spot is famous for the really tall diving board where visitors pluck up the courage to take the dive into the stunning clear water below.

Even if you don’t want to dive (we don’t blame you) this spot is really interesting to watch all the people taking the jump! There is also a swing in the middle of the sea and kayaks you can hire to explore.

 

Century Old Balate Tree

If you thought that all places were rushing to be modernised, then you’ll be reassured that Siquijor still has a tree that is revered. The Century Old Balate Tree is a place that has all kinds of stories and myths associated with it (including the disappearance of locals) and Filipinos on Siquijor treat the tree with respect to ensure fair treatment from it.

The Century Old Balate Tree

It is just a stop on the side of the road with a small pool in front of it full of those fish which give you a pedicure. Even if you’re not superstitious, its worth checking out.

 


Lugnason Falls

Whilst the majority of people head to Cambugahay (you’ll see that tomorrow), Zodiac Falls is a beautiful set of falls in the interior of the island. The best is Lugnason, a pool set at the foot of a huge waterfall with stunning blue water.

The pool at Lugnason Falls

It is a beautiful, jungle fringed spot which doesn’t see many visitors, making it a great spot to chill out and cool down in the midday heat. Some daredevil Filipinos love nothing more than to jump from miles above, flip and dive into the pool below.

The divers who hop into Lugnason Falls

 

Day 6: Waterfalls and beach bliss

AM - Cambugahay Falls

It’s time to check out the most famous attraction in Siquijor - Cambugahay Falls. We recommend going early as this waterfall can get really busy with tourists and locals alike, but if you arrive before 8am you’ll see virtually no one here.

The top pool at Cambugahay Falls

Cambugahay Falls is one of the most beautiful spots in Siquijor and is popular for a reason. These falls are set in the jungle surrounded by palm trees, and with striking blue water that make them a picture perfect place to cool down.

The bottom falls are the most popular, with a swing and the largest pool. For a more relaxed affair, head to the top where fewer people go. You can rent a raft to chill out on or just simply go for a swim. You could easily spend a few hours here, so that’s your morning gone!

The bottom falls at Cambugahay

 

PM - Paliton Beach

Our favourite sunset spot (and probably the best beach on the island) is Paliton Beach. This island has a reputation for stunning sunsets and there’s no better spot than Paliton.

There’s a bumpy road and short walk to get to the main part, but this beautiful beach is everything you’d want for a chilled out afternoon: white sand, clear water and palm trees swaying in the breeze above you.

It is the perfect place to go at the end of the day as the sun sets directly in front of you.

 

Day 7: Coron: Sunset and Hot Springs


After Siquijor, head back to Cebu City for the flight to Coron - the entry to several paradise beaches, lagoons and islands.

The transit is pretty long and will take up the majority of the day, so we’d recommend getting on an early bus. The only airport in Coron is Busangua and it has a few flights per day from Cebu.

It is a short flight, but the runway is shockingly short (our plane came within inches of going through the fence at the end of the the runway) eeeek.

Once at Busangua, hop on a van to Coron Town, check in and then head to the foot of Mount Tapyas.

Mount Tapyas Sunset

We know you’re going to be tired and the thought of 700 steps uphill sounds horrific, but persist as it is well worth it!

Mount Tapyas has a sunset view which is one of the best in the Philippines, overlooking hundreds of islands and sea as the sky lights up. It is a beautiful and refreshingly cool spot to take it all in, especially as your legs will be tired by the top!

 


Manquinit Hot Springs

To soothe those sore legs, head to Manquinit Hot Springs to relax. These natural springs are surprisingly hot, so it is a place you want to avoid in the heat of the day. However, they are bliss in the slightly cooler evening and work wonders for an aching body.

The Hot Springs are open until 9pm but stop accepting people from 8pm onwards, unless you arrive and beg like us (we only narrowly got in though so we wouldn’t recommend it!).

The hot springs in the evening


Getting to Hot Springs

The hot springs are down one of the bumpiest and roughest roads in the Philippines. You can either hire an incredibly expensive tricycle driver for 500 pesos ($10 USD) or hire your own motorbike for a few hours for 300 pesos ($6 USD) and risk the road. Neither are great options sadly, but we preferred to drive onto dinner and back to the hotel for less than the tricycle ride just to the hot springs.

 

Where to stay in Coron


Budget - Charms Hotel

Finding good accommodation at the budget end in Coron is difficult. For one, everywhere is overpriced, but a lot of places suffer really badly from noise and are run down.

Charms is a great option as it has recently been built and is outside of town. The rooms are clean and have a good shower - essential after a day of island hopping. It is only 15 pesos to get to town on a tricycle (30c USD) and takes 5 minutes.

Booking.com

Midrange - The Funny Lion, Coron Town

The Funny Lion gets rave reviews and it must be on to something as everyone we met seemed to be staying there! They are building one in El Nido as well to emulate the success of the place in Coron.

The rooms look great and the views even better! We would have stayed here, but sadly it was fully booked when we visited.

Booking.com

Luxury - Two Seasons Coron Island Resort & Spa, Bulalacao

There’s only one place which people talk about in the luxury bracket and it’s the Two Seasons. The rooms are individual bungalows that look out onto the beach and the sea - a dream compared to the dusty Coron Town.

However, being away from Coron Town could make things like boat tours very expensive. We would recommend checking before you book so that you don’t have a costly shock!

Booking.com
Booking.com

Day 8: Island hopping 1


So this is the reason you came to Coron: forget the run down town, traffic, noise and not so great food, the main reason you are here is for all the stunning islands that surround Coron.

Island Hopping in Coron

There are a few different types of island hopping tours you can do, but we recommend making two different trips and starting with Coron island. This is because the further islands take too long to get to, so you can’t combine all the highlights of Coron Island with the outer islands in a day.

Coron island is the closest by and has the majority of star attractions: Twin Lagoons, Kayangan Lake, Barracuda Lake, Banul Beach and a few snorkelling areas. However, this is also one of the most popular places to visit, so planning your times is crucial.

The beautiful Banul Beach

We chose to have Twin Lagoons at the start of the second trip as squeezing all three lakes in before 9am felt rushed. However, if you can convince a crew to take you early enough, you could add it to this day’s activities.

There are shared group tour options for Coron which are a lot cheaper, but you will be following the crowds and on their timetable. A private tour is more expensive, but you will have the benefit of being able to see places at the best times with few people around.

If you want to check out our in-depth advice on organising the perfect island hopping trip, check out our post all about it.


Stop 1: Kayangan Lake

We chose to arrive at Kayangan Lake at 7.30am to avoid the crowds. This is one of the most picturesque parts of Coron Island, made famous by this viewpoint which looks back to where the boats dock. It isn’t where you swim, but is a stunning view.

The viewpoint on the way to Kayangan Lake

The main lake is a huge crater lake with a mix of salt and fresh water. This produces a deep blue colour and is blissfully warm to swim in.

After 9am, this place can get really busy. We got the whole place to ourselves for a little while when arriving so early.

Stop 2: Barracuda Lake

Barracuda Lake is another crater lake which feels even wilder than Kayangan. To get there requires a path through some really picturesque jagged rocks, before opening up to a huge lake.

The path to Barracuda Lake, Coron

It’s another beautiful place to explore the cliffs, the deep blue water and the rock formations below. You could easily spend the whole morning here, but like many places in Coron it begins to get busier and a lot less fun.

If you can squeeze this in before 9am, you’ll be a lot better off.


Stop 3: Banul Beach

Banul Beach is everything you want from a paradise beach: white sand, stunningly clear blue water, a few ricketty shacks for when you want a bit of shade. Time this right and you could have the Robinson Crusoe experience here.

The beautiful Banul Beach

Most group tours choose Banul Beach as a lunch stop, so if you arrive here a couple of hours before, you’ll find no one else here. We turned up at 10.00 and didn’t see another person for nearly two hours.

As well as being stunningly beautiful, Banul Beach is a great place to swim as the water is relatively calm and really warm. It makes for a nice place to chill in the middle of your tour.

Paradise

Paradise


Stop 4: Snorkelling

Sadly you can’t avoid the crowds all day, so we recommend a snorkelling stop or two being where you compromise. Everywhere seemed to be busy in the middle of the day, so at least snorkelling wasn’t the worst of activities to do with tour groups around!

We chose to do Skeleton Wreck, a rusty boat just off the shore which has attracted plenty of fish and coral all round it. You can take it in with a mask and snorkel, but it is a lot better if you are happy to dive down.

Skeleton Wreck

We also chose snorkel at the Coral Garden which wasn’t so great. Although it was shallower and you may see turtles here, the endless stream of boats going by creating huge waves which threw you around. It wasn’t a relaxing experience and it felt like you were snorkelling in the middle of a shipping lane. It’s not that there isn’t interesting things to see just that the conditions made it way less fun.

Contrary to what most people say, we didn’t love the snorkelling in Coron. The visibility was ok, but the mass tourism really detracted from the experience and the fish weren’t as plentiful as we’ve seen in other parts of South-East Asia. However, as it can be included in the trip for free (apart from the small entrance charge, the boat drivers do not charge extra), you may want to add it to the itinerary and judge for yourself.


Day 9: Island hopping 2 Coron


The second island hopping trip is all about the beaches and remote islands that are a little further away from Coron. The journey to these places is longer, so you may want to take that into account when planning.



Stop 1: Twin Lagoon, Coron Island

We chose to make Twin Lagoon as our first stop as we were eager to avoid the crowds. The compromise is that it is in the shadow until late morning, making it really bad conditions for photos.

One of the twin lagoons

We don’t regret it, as we were able to swim in this incredible place without dodging tour groups, but our photos don’t reflect the stunning beauty of Twin Lagoon. Unlike the lakes, the lagoon is open to the sea making the water cooler and more salty. It doesn’t take long to warm up and with two places to explore you can spend hours taking it all in.

It’s another spot where you need to pinch yourself to check it’s real.

Getting this place to yourself is bliss



Stop 2: Malcapuya Island

Malcapuya is a very popular spot for day trippers, but head there first and you should beat the crowds.

The white sand beach at Malcapuya

This island is famous for its huge white beach, fringed with palm trees and small huts for shade. In a place with hundreds of beautiful beaches, we understand why Malcapuya is on the list for day trippers. Come 10-11am and you’ll see all the boats turn up and the experience becomes less blissful.


Stop 3: Ditatayan Island

This place was amazing, a sandbar that just appears out the ocean. It looks even better if you have a drone and can get a shot from above!

Ditatayan from above


Ditatayan is just a short trip from Malcapuya and is one of the most beautiful spots in Coron. The water here is blissfully warm and great for a dip. Otherwise it is another spot to sit back and wonder why the Philippines has an unfair share of the most beautiful places in the world! Or you can just feel smug that whilst everyone is being crushed together on other beaches in South-East Asia, you’ve found spots like this to yourself!

The tip of Ditatayan Sandbar

The key is to avoid Ditatayan at the lunch hours. Most tours take their group here in the middle of the day. Either side of this and you’ll have a decent chance of seeing hardly anyone else here.

Stop 4: Banana Island

After all that hard work, you deserve a rest, so head to Banana Island. This place is famous for the many hammocks that have been strung up beneath the palms which overlook the ocean.

Hammock bliss on Banana Island

Our boat driver told us there are more beautiful islands but to be honest we just wanted to swing in a hammock! It is busy most of the time here, but with some patience you can snag a hammock and either admire the view, read a book or take a well earned nap. It’s one of those paradise experiences you’ll always remember.

After 2pm it emptied out and we were the last people on the island!



Day 10: Boat to El Nido

Sadly, day ten is primarily a day of transit. The trip to El Nido takes about four hours (it can easily take longer) and leaves three times a day.

The crossing can be rocky, and the boat companies love nothing more than to turn the air con up to Antarctic temperatures so bring your warm clothes for this bit.

Once you arrive you’ll see the characteristic limestone karsts of El Nido. You couldn’t pick a more picturesque setting to build a town, it’s just a shame that El Nido town itself is such a dump. It may be a step up from Coron Town but only just.




Sunset at Las Cabanas

You probably won’t have long after the boat journey, so take a tricycle or hire a motorbike and head to Las Cabanas - El Nido’s best sunset spot.

The views from Las Cabanas

To get there you’ll have to walk along Marrimegmeg Beach and keep going until you see the beach curve round with a bar on the corner. Then buy a drink and enjoy the sunset in front of you. Las Cabanas is a bit rocky so it’s not the best beach on the island but it is the place to be at sunset.

The bar at Las Cabanas


Day 11: The beaches of El Nido

If you ask us what the highlight of El Nido is, we’d say hiring a kayak and exploring on your own terms. Getting to the beaches around El Nido is surprisingly easy and with a little bit of effort you can get a stunning white sand beach without the mass tour groups.

Most hotels hire out kayaks for 500 pesos for the day (about $9.50 USD) or 300 pesos for the half day ($5.50 USD). We recommend packing a lot of water, sunscreen and a hat as the sun is brutal in El Nido!

Ipil Beach 2

Our picks for peace and quiet would be Corong Corong (close, small but cute), Lapus Lapus (big swathes of white sand paradise) and Ipil Beach 2 (a wild and rugged beach that is the furthest away of the three). However, if you time it right you can get stunning beaches like Papaya and Seven Commandos with no groups tours around (two of which are stops for several of the island hopping tours).

You can read all about our thoughts and favourites on our article all about visiting stunning El Nido beaches without a tour.

Papaya Beach


Day 12: Island Hopping in El Nido

Island hopping tours in El Nido aren’t cheap and they are incredibly popular. Overtourism has become a problem in this area and trying to visit some of the most beautiful spots without anyone around can be very difficult.

If you book onto a group tour, you will save a lot of money, but it will be a lot more crowded and you will be on their time schedule.

A private tour will cost a lot more, but will give you control so you can have the perfect experience in El Nido. You paid enough to get here, why not pay some more to have the best experience possible? You can read more about how to plan the perfect trip here, but here’s our favourite spots to see, as well as a couple of ‘you might as well because they are on the way stops!’.

Big Lagoon


Stop 1: Big Lagoon


The Big Lagoon is one of our favourite places in the whole of the Philippines. This stunning lagoon has electric blue water and is so beautiful that it has be seen to be believed.

It is a surprisingly big place (I guess the clue was in the name!), so unless you are a super strong swimmer, we recommend hiring a kayak to see it all. The huge cliffs, beautiful water and coral make this a spot unlike anywhere else and should be on everyone’s list.

The coral at the Big Lagoon

If you book the time slot before 9am, you will likely get this place with hardly anyone else there. However, by 8.30am the tour groups begin to drip in. It isn’t long before even this large place begins to feel like Disneyland in the school holidays.


Stop 2: Secret Lagoon

Another really popular stop in El Nido is Secret Lagoon, so try to squeeze this one in early as well. This lagoon is only accessible by a tiny hole in the rock on a beach which has a very Robinson Crusoe feel think wild and rugged.

Inside the Secret Lagoon

The Lagoon is pretty small and is beautiful when no one else is there. If you arrive with any other group, you will have to queue (we aren’t kidding - check this link out). You really can get that “secret spot” feeling if you time it right. It’s not really a place to swim though as it is pretty small and shallow, but you can take in this beautiful place whilst having a small dip. Watch out for tide times it’s a nightmare at low tide without reef shoes.

The entry to the Secret Lagoon



Stop 3: Secret Beach

The fun of Secret Beach is the mission to get there. As boats can’t get very close, you will be dropped off in the sea and told to swim to a gap. You’ll be thrown around and have to work hard to get to this “Secret” beach - it’s on every tour C!

The waves here are brutal, so I don’t recommend this for anyone who isn’t a confident swimmer. The beach inside is also not that impressive, it’s simply a small bit of sand in an enclosed area. Soon you look and realised that there’s no views, nowhere to swim and tour groups coming in and out. It is really a “tick off and move on” kind of place.


Stop 4: Matinloc Shrine

Mantinloc Shrine isn’t really worth it, but it is halfway between Secret Beach and helicopter island, so you might as well stop here.

The views are the main reason to visit as you can get high up and take in the rugged islands and paradise blue water around. The shrine is a bit naff though, so feel free to skip.



Stop 5: Helicopter Island

Helicopter Island is where it’s at. It’s a beautiful spot to stop, chill and take in those classic El Nido views. The beach here is big enough to skip to the end and avoid all the group tours who turn up to the same place, have a five minute look and move on.

We enjoyed having some lunch and chilling in the shade while watching the world go by, something you can only do if you’re on a private tour. It was easily our favourite place after the Big Lagoon and we ended up staying here for three hours.



Day 13 Fly to Manila


After a few beautiful days in paradise it’s time to head to the Filipino capital (where the majority of trips end). You can either fly from El Nido with Swift Air (one hour) or take the cheaper option by heading down to Puerto Princesa by van (6-7 hours). This will add on a lot of time and you will have the risk of car sickness on the endless winding road, but you will save some money.

We opted for the flight and it was great, fairly scenic and quick. The airport also gave you free treats and Twinings tea which was an unexpected bonus!


Where to stay in Manila

We’ve stayed in Manila many times in all types of accommodation and there’s one place that stands out above the rest.

Antel Hotel

We loved this hotel because it had large, comfy rooms and little kitchenettes so we could have breakfast in the room (there’s a handy supermarket almost next door). They also had a good pool with city views. We’ve stayed there three times and when we aren’t on a tight budget it is our go to.

Booking.com
Booking.com


Day 14: Tagaytay - A lake in a volcano in a lake



If you have time, we recommend hiring a taxi to take you to Taal Island in Tagaytay, it is one of the most unique places in Luzon and is only 1.5 hours south of Manila.

The view from the top of the volcano

The main attraction here is the volcano which has a lake inside its crater. However, to get to the volcano you need to cross a large lake, adding to the adventure! Once you’ve made it across the bumpy lake, the hike to the top begins for an epic view! It was our favourite thing to do in the Manila area and if you still have some energy left a very worthwhile ending to the trip.


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