Ultimate 3 Weeks Philippines Itinerary
After spending the last two years exploring Europe (including a superb trip to the Lofoten Islands ), I wanted to go back to Asia.
Having wandered quite a bit in this region of the globe, we looked for a country that I did not yet know and which was rather easy to travel there because it was Daniela’s first backpacking trip.
That’s how we chose to go on a trip to the Philippines for 3 weeks, a destination made up of white sand beaches and paradise islands.
I think this is the first time that I have prepared so much of a trip itinerary, indeed with its more than 7,000 islands, the Philippines offers a multitude of possibilities.
Each island is different and of course when you want to see everything it quickly becomes a headache to choose your itinerary.
Travel between remote islands being done by plane, this requires planning everything in advance so as not to blow the budget.
With this blog post I give you all my information and advice to prepare the itinerary of your trip to the Philippines: which islands to choose, how to get around and what budget to plan .
How to come to the Philippines and move between the islands
The Philippines has two international airports, that of the capital Manila in the north of the country and that of Cebu in the heart of the Visayas.
Depending on your itinerary in the Philippines and the islands you plan to visit, it may be interesting to choose one or the other.
It is wise to go through Manila if you want to go north of Luzon to see the rice terraces, it is also the best choice to take an internal flight to the Palawan archipelago (especially Coron which is quite close).
Arriving directly in Cebu you will be next to the islands of Bohol and Siquijor.
It is quite possible to arrive in Cebu and leave from Manila in order to save transport time, which is what we did by taking a multi-destination ticket.
To move between the different islands of the Philippines you have the choice between the plane and the boat.
The country has several low-cost companies (Air Asia and Cebu Pacific) which makes it possible to find good rates for internal flights provided you book in advance.
But not all the islands have an airport and the main means of transport remains the boat.
There are fast and slow ferries for all the islands, we never needed to book on the internet, just go to the port to buy your ticket (at best the day before).
Which islands to visit and the itinerary
Difficult to answer this question as the choice is personal, it will be necessary to take into account the weather which is not the same in all the islands of the Philippines and your travel desires (beach, trek, party, diving, …).
Know that the Philippines are famous for their heavenly beaches (Palawan and the islands of the Visayas), diving sites (snorkeling and bottle) and treks in the rice terraces (Luzon).
The cities are on the other hand quite ordinary (not to say that we didn’t like it at all), we only made a brief visit to Cebu and Manila.
Unfortunately, there is no archaeological remains as can be found in Bagan in Burma or Angkor in Cambodia.
A word of advice: do not plan an itinerary in the Philippines that is too busy because travel times are quite long, it often takes a day to change islands and plane or ferry cancellations are not uncommon.
For example, it took us more than 24 hours to go from Siquijor to Port Barton by linking two ferries, a flight and a van trip.
Our itinerary in the Philippines
For our trip to the Philippines we had 3 weeks and chose to visit 3 islands: Bohol and Siquijor in the Visayas (accessible by ferry from Cebu) then the Palawan archipelago with 3 different destinations: Port Barton, El Nido and Coron.
Our itinerary broke down as follows:
Day 1-3: Bohol
Loboc: idleness by the river
After an imposed stopover of one night in Cebu (our flight arriving too late to continue with the ferry), we take the fast boat of the company Oceanjet towards the island of Bohol at 1h50 from the port of Cebu City.
If you haven’t had time to change money at Manila airport (which has one of the best rates in the Philippines), there is a “money changer” in the Cebu City ferry departures hall which offers a great rate (the best I’ve seen after Manila airport).
Don’t change at Cebu airport the rate is really bad.
From the port of Tagbilaran on the island of Bohol we take a private transport (800 pesos) to the accommodation we have reserved in Loboc: Stefanie Grace Inn, a friendly hotel with a swimming pool by the river.
We chose to stay in Loboc to avoid the overly touristy side of Panglao Island.
In addition Loboc benefits from a more central position on the island which facilitates travel by scooter to visit Bohol.
The small town of Loboc has a cash machine (ATM) and a few stalls along the main road, enough to find the essentials there.
We spent this sunny afternoon (the only one of our 3 days in Bohol) recuperating from travel and jet lag enjoying the hammocks by the river and pool.
Accommodation in Loboc
Here are some good addresses for accommodation in Loboc, remember to book in advance, especially during the high season because accommodation fills up quickly.
Even if we took it in advance, the best ones were already booked for our dates in February.
It is possible to take a cruise on the Loboc River aboard floating restaurants (meals served as a buffet) where groups and singers perform.
It’s a pretty popular attraction but we didn’t do it, I’m not a fan of that kind of atmosphere but you might like it.
The boats passed right in front of our accommodation.
In the same way it is possible to take a cruise at nightfall to see the fireflies in the trees by the river.
The boat can pick you up directly at the Stefanie Grace Inn (500 pesos per person).
For a more enjoyable experience, I recommend the kayak trip on the Abatan River (4 km round trip) organized by the Kayakasia agency.
Chocolate Hills loop from Loboc: 189 KM
This morning we rent a scooter for the day at the Stefanie Grace Inn (300 pesos), our goal is to complete a 189 km loop to visit the main tourist sites of Bohol.
On the program for this day: the sanctuary of the tarsiers, the mahogany forest, the Chocolate Hills, the rice terraces of Pilar then return by the road from Sierra Bullones to Jagna which according to the Lonely Planet would be picturesque.
This circuit represents a good distance and I don’t hide the fact that at the end of the day I was tired of driving, especially with the weather we faced.
If you start from around Alona Beach on Panglao, this loop is even longer with 230 km, honestly I don’t advise you to do it on a scooter unless you really like to ride (that’s why we chose accommodation in Loboc to visit Bohol).
Philippine Tarsier Sanctuary
There are two places to observe tarsiers on the island of Bohol, the Philippine Tarsier Sanctuary which is in Canapnapan (next to Corella) and the Tarsier Conservation Area in Loboc.
It is absolutely necessary to go to that of Canapnapan which is an official foundation which works for the protection of the tarsier and where the primates are free unlike the second.
The tarsier is one of the smallest monkeys but also the oldest survivor of the group of primates.
His huge eyes are 150 times larger than human eyes (proportionally) and he can turn his head almost 360°.
Despite its small size and sleepy appearance (it is a nocturnal animal), the tarsier can leap up to 5 meters.
They are animals very sensitive to noise and light and can commit suicide if they are under great stress, hence the precautions to be taken (no noise and no flash) when observing them.
Unfortunately tarsiers are endangered, they are found on the islands of Samar, Leyte and Bohol but it is very rare to see them while walking in the forest.
The Philippine Tarsier Sanctuary allows you to observe 8 tarsiers in the observation area but a good hundred live in the immediate vicinity of the center.
The visit (60 pesos) must be made in small groups with a guide. In the morning, the staff spot a few tarsiers which they then show to visitors by taking a small path.
I admit I was shocked by the behavior of some tourists making noise and going so far as to stick their cell phones on the heads of the tarsiers when it wasn’t to take a selfie with them.
It’s a shame that the guides don’t enforce the instructions more.
Cars Man-Made Forest
The “Bilar Man-Made Forest” is a mahogany forest which, as its name suggests, was planted by man, so its appearance is not natural.
Honestly we can’t say that this is one of the things to see in Bohol, but as this forest is on the road to the Chocolate Hills you will necessarily pass by.
Be careful if you are on a scooter, a lot of tourists put themselves in the middle of the road to take their picture.
The “chocolate hills” funny name for these undulating hills, this one comes from the chocolate brown color that the vegetation takes on during the driest months (February to July).
The Chocolate Hills are said to result from the uplift of ancient coral deposits shaped by rain and erosion.
There are 1,268 hills spread over 50 km², the largest site to observe them is at the viewpoint of the Chocolate Hills Complex (access 50 pesos per person).
This complex built on one of the hills houses souvenir shops and a restaurant offering meals and sandwiches.
During our visit to Bohol the weather was not on our side which limited the visibility on the Chocolate Hills.
Note that this is the only place in the Philippines where I saw a sign prohibiting drones (after 8am).
For the little anecdote we punctured with the scooter just before arriving at the Chocolate Hills, fortunately there was a repairman (indicated “Vulcanizing” at the edge of the road) 5 min further.
For barely 100 pesos (not even 2 euros) he repaired the tire and the inner tube and we were able to continue our journey.
Pilar Rice Terraces
The rice fields are not easily accessible, we would never have found them without the maps.me GPS application (enter the destination “Pilar Rice Terraces”).
From the center of the village of Pilar you have to take a stony dirt road but this is not a problem with the scooter, you just have to be careful.
Follow the GPS at each fork (because you won’t find any signs) to come to a basketball court where you can park.
From here you have to continue on foot for a hundred meters to see the first rice terraces.
Route from Sierra Bullones to Jagna
From the rice fields of Pilar we return to the village of Poblacion to take the road to Sierra Ballones which will take us to Jagna on the south coast.
This road crosses beautiful landscapes between hills and rice fields and offers some superb views of the coast.
Unfortunately we face a light rain and mist all along the 36 km journey which did not allow us to see much.
The many advertisements for McDonald’s in Jagna along the road will leave me little choice, Daniela absolutely wants to stop there for a sundae (I also gave in to the temptation).
From Jagna we follow the south coast to return directly to Loboc, there is nothing to visit in this part of Bohol and I admit that I no longer saw the end of this loop.
The traffic is denser on the seaside road, you have to be vigilant especially at nightfall because the headlight of the scooter does not illuminate anything at all.
I take this opportunity to fill up for 160 pesos (it must be returned with the same level of gasoline but no one has ever checked).
After this long day and lazy to come out, we dine at the Stefanie Grace Inn (the dishes are around 150 pesos).
For the moment the food in the Philippines does not really enchant us, most of the dishes are greasy and fried, we are far from what I have eaten in other Asian countries.
The next day the weather did not improve, it rained all night and it continues, we are a little disgusted because it is not at all the weather it is supposed to have in February.
Finally it calms down a bit, so we take a scooter for the day (300 pesos + 50 pesos of gasoline).
Bamboo Bridges of Seville
7 km north of Loboc in the municipality of Sevilla are two bamboo bridges that cross the Loboc River (Twin Hanging Bridge).
Not really knowing what to expect before going there, I thought I would find a bridge used by the locals to cross the river, but not at all! It is in fact a paid tourist attraction (35 pesos) whose crossing leads to souvenir shops.
So we find ourselves in single file walking on a bridge with lots of other tourists landed here by minibus.
And if you want, you even have the right to a magnificent souvenir photo like at Disneyland.
Unless you are in the area, there is no great interest in coming here to take these bamboo bridges.
When in the souvenir shops you will find the same thing as elsewhere, they still served us as shelters while waiting for the end of the downpour.
So as not to end up soaked at the end of the day, we stop in Loboc to buy two magnificent plastic ponchos (20 pesos).
Given the weather we had in the Visayas, they were very useful to us since we also used them in Siquijor.
In the planning that I had made to visit Bohol I had planned to go see Camugao Falls, a pretty waterfall 25 km from Loboc.
Only seeing the rain we have today I gave up on the idea knowing that to get there you have to take a dirt road and then a steep path.
Nevertheless I strongly urge you to go there if you have a sunny day.
You will also find another waterfall, Kawasan Falls, less than 10 km away.
The imposing coral block Baclayon Church was built in 1727 and is one of the oldest in the Philippines.
Some 200 forced laborers were needed for its construction, the coral having been extracted from the Bohol Sea just opposite.
On its wing is an impressive watchtower.
The Baclayon church was badly damaged during the 2013 earthquake, but the restoration work is now complete.
The interior is to be seen with a nicely decorated ceiling on the other hand the museum (entrance fee 20 pesos) which looks more like a bric a brac is not worth a look.
The Baclayon church being on the road to Panglao does not require a detour.
Island of Panglao
The island of Panglao southeast of Bohol is connected to it by two bridges, while riding a scooter you don’t really realize that these are two different islands because they are relatively close.
The island of Pangalo is famous for its seaside tourism and its hotel complexes, it is here that most of the tourists who come to visit Bohol gather.
Asians (mainly Chinese and Koreans) make up the vast majority of visitors to Bohol.
Having traveled during the coronavirus crisis where the Chinese were banned from traveling to the Philippines, we took advantage of an island relatively calm compared to what it can be.
For a lunch break on the road that runs along the south coast of Panglao before arriving at the beaches, I recommend the Bohol Bee Farm which serves excellent dishes.
As a bonus, you will enjoy a magnificent view of the sea.
Dumaluan beach and White beach
Alona Beach in Pangalo has the reputation of being invaded by tourists and boats, so we prefer to go to Dumaluan Beach located a few kilometers before Alona Beach.
To access Dumaluan beach, which is in front of a hotel, you have to pay 25 pesos per person plus 25 pesos for the scooter parking lot, valid all day.
If you don’t want to pay you can go to White Beach located just before Dumaluan.
From the main road that runs along the south coast, you have to turn at the junction towards the “Chocolate Hill Resort” and go down the road to the beach.
It is not very wide but quite pretty and without too many people (you will tell me, given the weather, it is normal for there to be nobody).
By walking to your right you can reach the public part of Dumaluan beach.
Accommodation in White Beach and Dumaluan Beach
To avoid the crowds of Alona while staying on superb beaches, here are the addresses where to stay in Dumaluan and White Beach.
Visit the Beach
To see what this famous beach looks like, we continue our journey on a scooter to Alona Beach.
Change of scenery, the area is very touristy with its lot of sellers of all kinds and its string of bars and restaurants along the beach.
Nothing to do with the rest of Bohol, which reinforced our idea of basing ourselves in Loboc.
We hadn’t come to visit Bohol for its beaches knowing that afterwards we would go to El Nido and Coron, we rather wanted to see the interior of the island.
Accommodation in Alona Beach
If you prefer lazing around in a beachfront hotel with a nightlife vibe, below is a list of the best accommodations around Alona Beach.
I had considered visiting the Anda region southeast of Bohol before realizing that it was 96 km from Loboc which meant a lot of scooter driving for just one day.
The ideal if your accommodation is in Loboc or on Pangalo is to go there by private transport.
The Anda Peninsula is renowned for its white sand beaches, karst caves and underground pools (Lamanok Island).
If we had had more time to visit Bohol (at least 4-5 days there), we would have liked to spend a night or two in the Anda region.
It is also an opportunity to see Can-umantad Falls (a beautiful waterfall) and the rice fields located in the area.
Day 4-6: Siquijor
Landing on the island in the midst of the coronavirus crisis, we were treated to a rather special welcome committee at the exit of the ferry.
Mandatory hand washing with alcohol, temperature taking and passport verification to find out if we had been to China (at the beginning of February the coronavirus had not yet reached France).
Once cleared to disembark, we take a tricycle from Larena Port to our accommodation, Chekesh Casa , located in Tubod in the San Juan sector on the west coast of the island.
Where to stay on the island of Siquijor?
The tourist area that houses most of Siquijor’s accommodation as well as bars and restaurants is around the town of San Juan on the west coast of the island.
It is on this side that the most beautiful beaches are to be found to admire the sunset.
Tubod Beach and Marine Sanctuary (snorkeling)
As it is high tide at the end of the afternoon and it is the only time to enjoy the sea, we go to Tubod Beach, a beach located right next to our accommodation and in front of the famous Coco Beach. Resort.
In addition to its beautiful sandy beach, there is a marine sanctuary here where you can see superb corals and fish, perfect for a snorkeling session.
To protect this space, access to the sea is chargeable : 25 pesos for swimming and 50 pesos for snorkeling.
If you only stay on the beach to sunbathe it’s free.
The Lugnason waterfalls are now a thing of the past, I prefer to warn you before you go there: there is no water at all either in the waterfall or in the basin.
The river that fed these waterfalls was diverted by farmers to irrigate their rice fields.
Balete (Banyan Tree)
This 400-year-old banyan (strangler fig) tree is said to be enchanted.
If you come from San Juan you cannot miss it, it is on the road to the Cambugahay waterfalls.
Right at its feet is a pool fed by a spring and filled with cleaner fish, all you have to do is put your feet in it for a fish spa session .
Access to the balete and its basin is chargeable: 10 pesos per person.
Lazi Church and Convent
We continue our visit of Siquijor by scooter to arrive in the town of Lazi which houses the pretty Saint Anthony of Padua church dating from 1884 and built in coral stone (like the one we saw in Bohol ).
Opposite this church is the oldest convent in the Philippines in a superb wood and stone building typical of Spanish architecture of that era.
Small museum upstairs (20 pesos), I advise you to go up there because you only have a brief overview of the convent from the outside.
If there is one site to see in Siquijor, it is the superb Cambugahay waterfalls.
They are easily accessible by scooter, from Lazi take the road for 2 km towards the north (it is signposted from the church) to arrive at a parking lot improvised by locals at the edge of the road (20 pesos).
You then have to pay the environmental tax of 10 pesos per person to access the falls by a somewhat steep staircase (the guide was refused).
On site you can enjoy several waterfalls and basins with turquoise waters to refresh yourself.
Residents exploit lianas to play tarzan, diving boards and rafts for Instagram photos (paying).
Several food stalls (barbecue skewers, snacks) and drinks on site and especially a lot of tourists.
We were there on a Saturday morning and there were also locals, if you want to be quiet at Cambugahay Falls come early in the morning on weekdays.
Considered one of the most beautiful beaches in Siquijor, Paliton Beach is at the north western end of the island (6 km from Tubod where we were based).
This is the best spot to watch the sunset and the Filipinos have understood this well since they have set up several stands on site to have a drink and eat.
Be careful if you follow maps.me or google maps you will not find Paliton Beach but Paliton Marine Sanctuary (this is what happened to us the first evening).
It is a much smaller and less beautiful beach, it is surrounded by mangroves rather than coconut palms.
To reach Paliton beach which is just after it, turn from the main road at “EMJ’s Burgers” and take the direction of “See Kee Hor Cafe and Hostel”.
At the end of the path is a parking lot for scooters.
Coral Cay Beach
This beach, which takes its name from the Coral Cay Resort hotel located here, is located 2 km before Paliton beach.
Access to the beach is free and there is 2-wheel parking available for people outside the hotel.
The beach is very beautiful, there are even hammocks set up between the coconut trees and unlike the other beaches in Siquijor, we were alone.
On the other hand, swimming is not possible at low tide but it is common to all the islands of the Visayas.
Where to eat and drink in Siquijor
- Chekesh Casa: the restaurant of our accommodation, the caramelized banana pancakes for breakfast are a killer, excellent smoothies and cocktails, good food (150 to 350 pesos), this was our HQ during our 3 days in Siquijor.
- Marco Polo: run by an Italian, this restaurant directly overlooking the beach serves pasta, pizzas and paninis.We only tasted the paninis (195 pesos) which are very good, but the service is quite long.You will also find a real espresso coffee here, just like at Napoli Café located next door.
- Baha Bar: the best place where we have eaten, an all-wooden restaurant in a great setting with a band playing live.The dishes are elaborate and excellent and their beers are artisanal.Fast service which is rare in the Philippines.
- Coral Cay Resort : very nice beach bar for a drink facing the sea.
- Legends Sports Bar: we wanted to stop here on our way back from the Cambugahay waterfalls, but this restaurant featured in the Lonely Planet guide no longer exists.
- Coco Grove Beach Resort: We haven’t been there, but the classy restaurant at this resort is perfect for a romantic dinner on the beach.
Day 7-9: Port Barton
Discover the village and the beach of Port Barton
You will have quickly made the rounds of Port Barton which is limited to two streets parallel to the beach where most of the accommodation is located as well as a few stalls with the essentials for refueling.
Most of the bars and restaurants are spread along the beautiful and wide beach facing the bay and the superb sunsets.
There can be quite a few boats moored on the beach (less during the day when they are all gone with the tourists), to enjoy the sea it is better to go to the southern part of the beach.
Where to stay in Port Barton
Now that Port Barton is starting to be a popular destination for tourists, there are quite a few accommodations.
However, booking in advance will allow you to choose the one that best suits your criteria.
During our trip in February during the high season, many accommodations were full.
White Beach: one of the most beautiful beaches in Port Barton
White Beach is one of the prettiest in the area but above all it is easily accessible from the village of Port Barton unlike those you will discover while island hopping.
As it is a private beach, there is a charge for access (50 pesos per person) but this gives you access to the facilities of the hotel complex (showers, toilets, hammocks).
There is a restaurant bar on site (dishes 250 – 450 pesos), enough to easily spend the day there as we did.
This is one of the must-see sites if you come to visit Port Barton.
How to get to White Beach :
- By scooter: daily rental 500 pesos
- By kayak: daily rental 400 pesos
- By boat: 150 pesos per person one way (300 round trip)
- On foot: free but for the most motivated (about 1 hour walk)
We chose to go to White Beach by kayak, there is a rental company on the beach near the Lady Gha Gha Guesthouse.
It takes 30 to 45 minutes depending on the level of the rowers, at low tide you can’t go along the coast, you have to go around the shallows.
Along the way we pass another beach belonging to a resort: Coconut Beach.
Island Hopping in Port Barton: which tour to choose?
As in El Nido and Coron, one of the main attractions of Port Barton is the boat tour from island to island (island hopping) which allows you to discover the beaches, sandbanks, lagoons and snorkeling reefs located in the bay.
There are 5 different tours (A, B, C, D and E) whose program you will find on the posters of agencies all over town.
You will also be in great demand on the beach, so it’s up to you to choose the tour that best meets your expectations.
Tour A is reputed to be the best and allows you to see the essentials, so this is the one we chose because we only had one day to do island hopping in Port Barton.
The various tours that include the meal, the mask and snorkel, as well as the entry taxes on the islands are all priced at 1,200 pesos per person (22 €).
Private or group boat tour?
It is possible to opt for a private tour (5,000 pesos for two people, 7,000 for 3 to 5) including meals, snorkeling equipment and entrance taxes or to rent a boat (5,000 pesos for up to 6 people) but it is up to you to bring your meal and snorkeling equipment.
The advantage is that you can choose your own route, stay as long as you want on the different spots and above all avoid other boats.
I don’t want to spoil you, but if you go through El Nido first (which let’s face it sets the bar very high) you might find Port Barton’s island hopping a bit disappointing.
And I can’t even say there were fewer people on the Port Barton tour since we did the island hopping from El Nido by speedboat to avoid the crowds.
On the other hand, the snorkeling in Port Barton is a little better than in El Nido.
Island Hopping Tour A
We have an appointment at 9 a.m. on the beach for the start of this tour A, but until everyone gets busy, we won’t leave before 9:30 a.m.
There are 13 of us on board the bangka (the traditional Filipino boat) and the weather is clearly not sunny.
It’s been a bit of a constant since the beginning of our 3 weeks itinerary in the Philippines, yet February is supposed to be the best time.
1) Snorkeling on reefs
First stop on a coral reef for snorkeling, some fish and corals but nothing extraordinary either.
The downside is that there is stinging plankton on this spot (problem that we will also encounter in El Nido and Coron), on the other hand the jellyfish that we saw are harmless.
2) Lunch on a desert island
For lunch we land on a desert island where the crew concocts for us in a small fitted kitchen a great meal of barbecued chicken, pork and fish accompanied by rice and vegetables.
We stay there for a while, it’s an opportunity to enjoy the beach even if it’s far from being the most beautiful we’ve seen (the weather doesn’t help either).
Next to the huts we discover in a bucket a dozen baby turtles which are fed while waiting to be released at sea so that they have a better chance of surviving.
3) Turtle spot
After lunch we go back to a site called “turtle spot” where it is possible to observe turtles.
The guide dives and as soon as he finds one he indicates it to the whole group.
The problem is that we end up with 4 boats at the same time with at least 30 people swimming behind a turtle.
For some their only goal is to take a selfie by sticking to the turtle which obviously gets scared and tries to flee everyone.
In short, all this circus disgusted me a little and I returned to the boat after 5 min.
It had nothing to do with my experience during my trip to the Maldives where I swam alone with the turtles.
4) Exotic Island
The next stop is Exotic Island, two islands so close you can cross from one to the other on foot.
Moreover, we drop anchor at sea and it is on foot with water up to our waists that we will reach the main island.
A sandy beach, a volleyball court and picnic tables for the groups that come to have lunch there, that’s all there is on the island.
5) Snorkeling on reefs #2
Another snorkeling session on a coral reef but this time without stinging plankton.
On this subject I had brought my special long-sleeved t-shirt for surfing and snorkeling which served me well.
6) Starfish Island
This island allows you to see small starfish that have remained in the puddles of water from low tide.
Be careful not to touch them and especially take them out of the water because they can die.
The beach is home to a resort and a bar but since it’s raining now we don’t stay long.
7) Sand Bar
Last stop of this tour A of island hopping on a sandbank in the middle of the sea. Four boats landing their waves of tourists on a small sandbank I let you imagine what it looks like (there to look at in photo in fact).
With sun and alone it must be nice…one more reason to choose a private tour.
Where to eat and have a drink
- La Petite Table : this small snack bar run by a Frenchman was right next to our accommodation (in Lona St), we had our breakfast there.Prepares authentic and excellent pancakes (from 150 pesos) as well as piadini (180 pesos) and other dishes.
- Gacayan : Filipino restaurant serving inexpensive breakfasts (120 pesos for a full breakfast) as well as a few sandwiches and burgers.
- Minalo Coffee : for fans of Italian coffee, here you will find espresso in all its forms (100-140 pesos) as well as bruschetta (150 pesos).
- Besaga beach grill : located at the very end of the beach to the north, the restaurant of this hotel offers an excellent barbecue every evening.You choose everything you want between fish, meat and seafood (prices are by weight and by the piece).
- Gorgonzola : contrary to what one might think, this restaurant is not run by an Italian and besides, I don’t really recommend it even if it’s a Lonely Planet favourite.Very long service and poor hygiene, here you will find pizzas and other bruschetta (250 pesos).
To drink a beer or a cocktail you will be spoiled for choice between the tables set up directly in the sand facing the sunset (come early otherwise impossible to sit) and the bars of the restaurants on the seafront. The official beer from the Philippines, the San Miguel Pale Pilsen, is about the same price everywhere (which is not the case with cocktails and smoothies).
The next morning we take the 8am van to El Nido for the rest of our adventures in the Philippines.
In fact we left at 8:30 am because it was a bit of a cacophony that morning at the Port Barton bus station, the Filipinos trying to best manage all the tourists to get into the different minibuses.
It jostles and pushes to find a place, special mention to this French tourist who yelled at everyone to get his family into a van.
Day 10-13: El Nido
Visit El Nido: base point for booking excursions in the Bacuit archipelago
Coming from the quiet Port Barton the contrast with El Nido is striking, the city is noisy with a lot of traffic and construction sites on all sides.
The few streets are crowded with tricycles but fortunately every evening from 5:30 p.m. part of the main street is made pedestrian.
El Nido is the site in the Philippines where we met the most people, and again we traveled during the coronavirus crisis when there were no Chinese (which represents a very large part of tourism in Palawan), so it remained bearable.
I think it must be different in normal times but that’s the price to pay to visit the magnificent Bacuit archipelago.
The advantage of a small town is that you find everything at your fingertips to organize your stay in El Nido and your excursions in the Bacuit archipelago.
Agencies offering boat tours, hotels, bars and restaurants, waterproof bag sellers, bank, … in short, enough to easily plan what you want to see and do in El Nido.
About banking, you will find many cash dispensers (ATM) in El Nido but it is better to use that of the BPI bank located in Real St which allows you to withdraw up to 20,000 pesos (compared to 10,000 elsewhere).
Where to stay in El Nido
This is the crucial question that everyone asks before coming, choosing accommodation in El Nido can be complicated because the value for money is not at all the same as elsewhere in the Philippines.
A single key word: booking well in advance is the only solution to find your happiness.
Even if we took it 2 months before, there was almost nothing left that was correct at a reasonable budget.
Different sectors are to be preferred depending on what you are looking for.
In the center of El Nido : close to all services and ideal for night owls who want to party and go out at night thanks to its many bars and restaurants.
You will also be at the start of island hopping tours.
Know that there are quiet corners even in the center since this is where we spent our 4 nights.
Corong Corong : located 1 km south of El Nido, this is the ideal place if you want to have a beach near your accommodation, enjoy the beach bars and admire the sunsets (which you cannot see in El Nido).
Fewer backpacker addresses than in the center of El Nido.
Private islands : luxury and calm in these islands located in the Bacuit archipelago (access to your accommodation will be by boat).
It is the best choice for an unforgettable experience.
El Nido and island hopping in the Bacuit archipelago: which tour to choose?
That’s it, are you ready to discover the Bacuit archipelago in Palawan but you don’t know yet which island hopping tour to choose? I will try to help you in your choice.
There are 4 different tours (A, B, C and D) which are done aboard bangkas, the traditional Filipino boat with its two floats.
These tours include lunch and snorkeling equipment (mask and snorkel).
You can book these tours in the many agencies or directly through your accommodation.
It is not necessary to book long in advance, you can easily organize your island hopping on the spot.
The most popular tour (and therefore the one where you will meet the most people) is tour A.
For all the tours you have to pay an ecotax of 200 pesos valid for 10 days, you will only pay it once even if you do several island hopping tours.
Small lagoon is no longer in tour A but in tour D to avoid overcrowding of the two emblematic lagoons of the Bacuit archipelago.
This also makes it possible to better distribute the tourists who tend to take the majority of tour A.
Routes and spots of the 4 towers
Here is the program for each of the 4 boat tours, departures are all at 9 a.m. with a return at 4 p.m.:
Tour A “Lagoons and beaches” – 1,400 pesos
- Big lagoon
- Secret lagoon
- Shimizu Island
- Snorkeling spot
- 7 commando beach
Tour B “Caves and Islands” – 1,300 pesos
- Snake island
- Entalula island
- Pingabutian island
- Cathedral cave
- Cudognon cave
Tour C “Islands and beaches” – 1,400 pesos
- Hidden beach
- Secret beach
- Talisay beach
- Helicopter island
- Star beach
Tour D “Lagoons and beaches” – 1,200 pesos
- Small lagoon
- Cadlao lagoon
- Pasandigan beach
- Ipil beach
- Paradise beach
- Bukal beach
With El Nido tours being victims of their own success, bangka traffic jams are common, but luckily there is an alternative to classic island hopping that will allow you to avoid the crowds as much as possible.
It requires a higher budget but I strongly encourage you to opt for one of these two options, it will completely change your experience.
Private or speed boat tours
The first alternative to the classic alphabet tours is to opt for a private bangka tour at around 8,000 pesos for two (€140).
You choose your own route and the sights you want to see, and your captain will do his best to avoid other boats.
The second alternative is to take a speed boat tour for 3,200 pesos per person (57 €) which will allow you to “overtake” all the bangkas which sail much more slowly and arrive first at the sites.
The other advantage of the speed boat is that thanks to the time saved on the trips between the islands and beaches you combine two tours in a single day (which is impossible in bangka).
There are also fewer passengers on a speed boat compared to a bangka.
Our choice: the speed boat
We chose to do the 4 combined speed boat tours, tour A+B on the 1st day and tour C+D the next day.
To sum up, here are the top 5 sites that I preferred :
- Big lagoon (tour A)
- Small lagoon (tour D)
- Secret lagoon (tour A)
- Secret beach (tour C)
- Snake island (tour B)
In the end, if I had to choose only one, I would take tour D (which also stops at Cadlao lagoon where we didn’t kayak), but tour A would be right behind.
The beaches around El Nido
The city of El Nido does not have a beach allowing you to enjoy swimming and the sun, it is for this reason that some prefer to stay in the nearby surroundings, especially between Corong Corong and Las Cabanas.
We stayed 3 days to visit El Nido including 2 days of island hopping, so we couldn’t discover all the beaches.
We popped in one night while looking for a place to dine in Corong Corong.
The tide was low and it was almost impossible to swim there at that time.
In the morning and evening there are quite a few boats parked there, it is not the best place to swim.
Cabanas (Maremegmeg beach)
Located a little further south than Corong Corong Beach, Las Cabanas Beach (also called Maremegmeg) is the perfect place to spend a day at the beach while still being close to El Nido.
This is what we did on our last day before leaving for Coron.
The beach is beautiful with a nice view of the karst formations and you can swim easily.
There is a very good beach restaurant on site that I recommend ( Maremegmeg beach bar ) with good food and music.
Happy hour from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. with a cocktail offered for one purchased.
To watch the sunset you have to go to the bottom of the beach where the Las Cabanas Resort is located.
You can also enjoy a zip line (zipline – 500 pesos) which joins Maremegmeg to the small island that we see in the photos.
You will find on the beach the sign indicating the direction.
The other beaches
As I said we couldn’t take advantage of all the beaches because we would have had to visit El Nido for a week.
The beaches below are famous for their beauty, do not hesitate to indicate in the comments of the blog if you recommend others.
- Lio Beach (airport beach) : beach located next to the airport 7 km north of El Nido.Rent a scooter to get there or take a tricycle (300 pesos).
- Nacpan Beach : One of the most famous beaches around El Nido, it is located 20 km north of the city.There are several solutions to get there, either rent a scooter (be careful, the last kilometers of the dirt track are difficult), or take a tricycle but it is expensive (1,000 pesos one way) or use the shuttle (Nacpan Beach Shuttle Service which leaves every hour, 1,200 pesos per person round trip).
- Duli Beach : a little further than Nacpan beach (allow around 1 hour by scooter), Duli beach is renowned for being wild and almost deserted.Possibility to go surfing.
Activities on land
Visiting El Nido is not limited to boat tours and the beach, there are also a few inland sites.
- Taraw Cliff : climbing these cliffs allows you to discover a sumptuous panorama over Bacuit Bay, unfortunately this activity is not within everyone’s reach.You have to climb non-stop on vertical walls with sharp stones to reach the top (allow 3 hours round trip with a guide), it’s not a hike but a lot of climbing all the way.
- Nagkalit-Kalit Falls : waterfalls that can be reached after a 40-minute walk, you can go there by scooter or tricycle.After seeing photos on Instagram we skipped it because these falls are nothing extraordinary and there are better things to do in El Nido.
Day 14-17: Coron
The one and only interest in coming to visit Coron is to discover its magnificent beaches and lagoons during island hopping outings.
For divers there are quite a few recognized diving spots in Coron, especially on wrecks.
Visit Coron city
To tell the truth there is not much to see or do in the town of Coron, it is mainly a base point for the boat trips from island to island which leave from the port of the city.
Unlike El Nido which was ultra touristy with its few streets intended for tourism, here in Coron we do not really feel this atmosphere.
Have a drink and watch the sunset from the Sunburn Rooftop
Located on the 6th floor of a hotel without a lift, this rooftop (including a rooftop bar) offers one of the most beautiful views of Coron Bay and its islands, especially at sunset.
Good atmosphere and fair prices, it is one of the landmarks of tourists at the end of the day.
Climb to Mount Tapyas for the view of Coron Bay
You have to climb some 700 steps to reach the top of Mount Tapyas and discover the magnificent panorama over the bay of Coron.
You will easily recognize Mount Tapyas from the city, it is the hill with the letters “CORON” inscribed Hollywood style and the large cross (Filipinos are very religious).
This excursion is popular in the late afternoon as everyone comes for the sunset.
Where to stay in Coron
Good addresses near the center are not numerous, it is better to book in advance if you visit Coron during the high season because accommodation fills up quite quickly.
Unlike El Nido where the alphabet tours are the same in all agencies, in Coron the programs differ somewhat.
It is in your best interest to choose a tour that goes through the sites you want to see, do not hesitate to take a tour of the city with the many agencies to compare the routes.
The most popular and comprehensive island hopping tour in Coron is the Super Ultimate Tour at P1,750 per person.
We booked this boat tour with the agency Calamian Island Travel and Tours which has its offices in the port of Coron because the program it offered was quite comprehensive.
Unlike the island hopping in El Nido, we didn’t do this tour privately and to be honest with you, I rather regretted it.
The experience is not at all the same when you find yourself in the middle of the crowd.
I strongly encourage you if you can to choose your tour from island to island in Coron in a private bangka.
So the next day we organized a private excursion to visit 3 islands: Ditaytayan island, Banana island and Malcapuya island which was not on the Super Ultimate Tour program.
Super Ultimate Tour
Access to Lake Barracuda located on the island of Coron is chargeable (200 pesos included in the price of the tour).
This lake surrounded by karstic peaks has the particularity of having layers of different temperatures but you will have to be a diver to notice it.
As a reminder, since my reflex gave up the ghost in El Nido, all the photos are taken with a mobile phone, hence the average quality.
Contrary to what we had done in El Nido, this lagoon cannot be visited by kayak, so it is by swimming from our bangka that we go to the Twin lagoon. And with the obligatory lifejacket on your back, it’s really not easy to swim. So impossible to take pictures of the lagoon.
It is on this pretty beach nicknamed Beach 91 that we take our lunch.
The problem is that unlike the private tour where we were alone on a deserted beach and enjoyed an excellent barbecue, here we find ourselves with many groups on a small beach surrounded by boats.
The meal is served in the form of a buffet where everyone is queuing up to serve themselves as in the canteen.
This stop allows you to see the wreckage of a boat that was sunk in 1944 but the visibility was not excellent so I only saw the bow which is about 3 meters deep.
There were divers on site, it remains the best way to visit the wrecks of Coron.
CYC beach is the public beach of Coron, our bangka stops 100 m from the island because of traffic jams and to go to the beach the captain tells us that we have to swim to it.
Suddenly no one on the boat was there, we can not say that it is the most practical to go and land with your belongings on the beach.
Kayangan Lake is one of the must-see sites to visit in Coron, and it is inevitably here that you meet the most people.
It is located next to Lake Barracuda on the island of Coron, access is chargeable (300 pesos included in the price of the tour).
To take the famous photo that we often see on blogs and Instagram, you will have to wait for your turn because there is definitely a queue.
The guides take turns taking pictures of all the tourists in their group, and even if you just want a picture of the landscape, you have to wait because it’s a dead end.
One and only snorkeling spot of this island hopping tour in Coron, Siete Pecados offers beautiful things to see, I found it better than El Nido snorkeling.
Unfortunately I had forgotten to recharge the battery of the waterproof camera suddenly you will not see anything
It is possible to go snorkeling in Siete Pecados without going through an island hopping tour, the site is quite close to Coron.
A fisherman will be happy to take you there.
Private tour to visit Ditaytayan, Banana and Malcapuya islands
With Célia and Julie two French women whom we met on the island hopping tour and two Germans with whom they had met, we privatized a bangka for the day via the Tiffany Tour agency.
We chose to visit three islands: Ditaytayan island, Banana island and Malcapuya island.
With 6 people aboard the boat, it cost us 1,700 pesos each (30 euros), but you have to bring your meal (there is a bakery and markets in town) and your snorkeling equipment if you want to dive.
From the port of Coron it takes about 1h30 by bangka to reach the island of Ditaytayan whose characteristic is to have a magnificent sandbank jutting out into the turquoise sea.
Second stop of our private island hopping, Banana Island is home to a resort that seemed closed during our visit.
Beautiful beach lined with coconut trees where hammocks are installed.
The island of Malcapuya has a magnificent beach with turquoise waters, ideal for swimming and snorkeling because the boats dock on the other side of the island and will not bother you.
Visit the island of Busuanga
We stayed 3 days in Coron but on our last day the weather was very cloudy so we didn’t go out to sea. And to tell you the truth, I didn’t really want to rent a scooter to explore the island of Busuanga knowing that the distances are quite large and especially that there is not much interesting to see.
That said, I have noted a few things that I will share with you, if you ever have any nice sites to visit in Coron, indicate them in the comments 🙂
Maquinit Hot Spring
The hot springs of Maquinit Hot Spring are located 5 km east of Coron town, to get there take a tricycle or rent a scooter.
Don’t be afraid to face water at 40°c by 35°c outside, on the other hand (entrance 200 pesos).
If you plan to go there in the evening, be aware that it is very crowded at this time.
I had spotted this beach in the far east of the island after reading several travel blogs, the journey on dirt tracks does not seem easy, it takes about 1 hour on a scooter.
Honestly, after all the beautiful beaches we’ve seen since the start of this trip to the Philippines, I didn’t want to go all that way.
If you have any other questions to prepare for your trip to the Philippines, do not hesitate to ask them in the comments of the blog.