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The Philippines Travel Guide
Atualizado: 3 de jul. de 2018
The Philippines, officially the Republic of the Philippines, is an island country in Southeast Asia and it consists of about 7641 islands. Its population is about 100 million people. Filipino and English are the two official languages. The philippine peso (PHP) is the official currency (1€=62,73 PHP as of January 23rd 2018).
For stays up to 20 days, Portuguese citizens do not need a visa to enter in the Philippines. For longer stays, it is necessary to apply for a visa in the Philippines Embassy in Portugal.
Regarding weather conditions, the high and dry season occurs between December and April for most of the country, being December, January and February the coolest and most pleasant months. The low and rainy season tends to be from June to September where torrential rain is expected.
A SIM card may be easily obtained while arriving in the Philippines. There are two communication companies: Globe and Smart, offering similar pre-paid SIM cards solutions. We opted for Smart, since we were told that their network coverage was better outside the big cities. However, do not expect to have good network in the remote islands. We bought a pre-paid SIM card with 800Mb data per day for one month (1100 PHP/17,54€).
In what concerns transportation between islands, the most convenient mean is the airplane, especially if the islands are considerable far from each other. Sometimes, the ferries are also a reasonable option, if the islands are close to each other. For instance, from Cebu to Bohol or from El Nido to Coron. Within the islands, buses or shared vans are very common, but expect to take considerable amount of time to do short distances, given the road conditions and lack of road alternatives.
From our experience, people from the Philippines are friendly and helpful. We always felt safe during our whole stay in the country and most of the places we visited were quite touristic, so we were surrounded by western faces. Still, we could also experience the locals and the local culture, which made this trip so unforgettable.
We spent 20 days in the Philippines. Our plan was the following:
(A) Bohol > (B) Oslob, Cebu > (C) Cebu City, Cebu > (D) Palawan > (E) Coron
Note that from Coron we went back to El Nido, Palawan, to spend three more days exploring the area. After that, we caught a flight from Puerto Princesa, Palawan, to our next destination.
Please disregard the transportation line from C to D shown in the map, since it was not the real route (we just flew from Cebu to Palawan).
Detail island by island
Bohol (3 days)
Bohol is located in the Central Visayas region and is capital is Tagbilaran. This island is known for the chocolate hills and the small primatas called tarsiers. Also Panglao Island, located just southwest of Tagbilaran, is considered one of the top ten diving locations of the world.
Arriving time: we come by plane from Singapore to Cebu. From Cebu we took a 2-hour ferry to Bohol. There are several companies providing this service. We went for the most known one, OceanJet. The tourist class (seats in an air conditioning area) costs 500 PHP/7,97€ per ticket. Please note that this price does not include the terminal fee (25 PHP/0,40€), neither the luggage fee (the price may vary depending on luggage weight, but in our case we paid 50 PHP/0,80€ for each bag). There are ferries available quite frequently (almost every hour) and the schedules go from 5 am to 6:30 pm.
Sleeping time: we stayed in the Open Doors Haven Hotel. It is in the city center of Tagbilaran and very close to the port (walking distance). The bathroom was shared with the other guests, but our private room was quite comfortable. It was a good value for money but a bit raw.
Eating time: in Loboc we found a nice restaurant called “Sarimanok Inn and Resto”. In the Tagbilaran City we tried a more international restaurant, famous for its pasta and pizzas, the Shakey’s. It was a good option.
Visiting time: the best way to explore Bohol is on a motorbike. It is easy to rent everywhere and the prices are quite reasonable (400 PHP/6,38€ per day). Our suggestion is to go directly to the Tarsier Sanctuary, a place where you can contact with the smallest primates on earth. For 60 PHP/0,96€ you have a guided tour and the possibility to see some of these cute animals. Make sure you go to the original sanctuary, near Luzon, since there are other "fake" sanctuaries where the experience might be different and the little animals tend to suffer from maltreatment. After this, proceed to Loboc. It is famous to have a cruise lunch on the Loboc river, but we did not try it. Some kilometers after, you will find the Sipatan Twin Hanging Bridge. For 35 PHP/0,56€ it is possible to walk on the bridge. The next destination should be the man made forest (stop for some nice pictures), following the street that leads to the famous Chocolate Hills. The entrance fee is of 50 PHP/0,80€. If you have more time, we suggest a visit to Panglao to enjoy the beautiful beaches. We did not go but heard it was worth it (maybe next time).
Cebu (3 days)
Cebu island is also a province of the Philippines located in the Central Visayas and its capital is Cebu City. This island has several points of interest, however in this article we going to focus on two of them, which we will detail below.
Arriving time: we arrived from Bohol on a 2-hour ferry. Cebu is a larger island, so distances between different cities can be quite long. We went directly from Cebu City to Oslob on a 5-hour bus trip. There are several buses, which depart every 30 minutes and tickets cost around 150 PHP/2,39€.
Sleeping time: since we wanted to explore two of the main attractions in Cebu, the whale shark watching and the canyonnering in the Kawasan Falls, we decided to stay in Oslob during our 3-night stay. The hotel was called “Casa Solmar Oslob”, fifteen minutes far from the whale watching point and 2 hours far from the Kawasan Falls. The staff was very kind and helped us booking the canyonnering tour the day before. Moreover, they helped us renting scooters from people they knew, as Oslob was somehow overcrowded and we were experiencing some difficulties in renting a motorbike.
Eating time: in Oslob with had two nice food experiences. The first one was in an Italian restaurant, “VLK Pizza & Creperie”, and the second one in “Paul & Madz”, a local restaurant. Both of them are a good value for money.
Visiting time: as we said before, in Cebu we focused on two attractions. First of all, the whale shark watching, which is a very touristic place. When we say it is very touristic, we really mean it! Despite this, we think it is worth a visit, since the chances of swimming with the whales are extremely high (close to 100% probability) and these amazing animals will be unexpectedly close to you. From our experience, we recommend to choose a hotel nearby and to be in the place (called “briefing area”) very early, around 3:30 am to get the one of the firsts "reservation numbers". In our case, we arrived at the place at 4:15 am and we already got the reservation number 19. Please note that each reservation number might comprise more than one person, sometimes groups of 20 people. They only start selling tickets, based on the reservation numbers, at 6 am. Sometimes it can be later, since they only sell the tickets from the moment they watch the first whale on the sea. So, our advice is, get your ticket around 3:30 am and go to your hotel to get some more sleeping hours. Then, around 6 am, come back and wait for your reservation number to be called. Hopefully, this won’t take long and you will be on the water at around 7 am. There are different tickets: watching from the boat, snorkeling and diving. We opted for the snorkeling and it costed us 1000 PHP/15,94€ per person. Regarding the canyonnering to the Kawasan Falls, we booked it from our hotel in Oslob. The contact was Erwin Africano and we really enjoyed the guide that accompanied us during the whole tour. We paid 1500 PHP/23,91€ each, including all the necessary equipment and the lunch. We left Oslob at 5 am and drove our motorbike for almost two hours until Badian. There we met Africano, who took us to his home to give us all the equipment we needed: a helmet, a life jacket, water shoes and a dry bag to put some food. If you have a Go Pro, do not forget to take it! At 8 am, they gave us a ride to the starting point and from there we still had to walk for fifteen minutes until the first jump. After that, we experienced three/four hours of beautiful nature, crystal clear water, challenging jumps, and interesting conversations with our local guide. If possible, start early, to avoid other people and enjoy this beautiful place on your own. The lunch was served almost in the end of the tour, in one of the Kawasan Falls stops. After that, the transportation back to the starting point was by tricycle and it was already included in the tour price. What a day!
Palawan (6 days)
Palawan is located in the region of Mimaropa and its capital city is Puerto Princesa. Although there were some other points of interest in Palawan island, as the Underground River and Port Barton, we decided to focus our stay in El Nido.
Arriving time: we took a flight from Cebu to Puerto Princesa, in Palawan. The airline was Cebu Pacific and it took about one hour and a half. From there we went directly to El Nido on a shared van with 8 more people. We did not book in advance and there was no problem at all, since there are plenty of vans outside the airport exit. The price is around 500 PHP/7,97€ per person and the journey is quite long (at least 5 hours driving).
Sleeping time: we stayed two times in El Nido, each one in a different place. We recommend both hotels, Aqua Travel Lodge and Marikit Pensionne, quite central in the middle of the town and practicing affordable price, of course having in mind that accommodation in El Nido is generally expensive. We had private rooms with AC so the price was even higher. We you are on a lower budget there are some hostels in the area, but pay attention, Philippines tend to be tend to be pricey. Book in advance if possible.
Eating time: El Nido is super touristic, so as expected the restaurants and bars tend to be pricey and to offer more international food. If you miss Italian food, La Trattoria Altrové is a must visit. The pizzas are so good! It will take back to Italy for 15 minutes! Make sure you arrive early for dinner, since it is always full of people. For a more local experience, go for a visit to the Maa's Grill and Restaurant and try the grilled fish or meat. To have a drink in one of the most chilling places in El Nido, do not miss Happiness Beach Bar (tip: go on happy hour and have two margarita for the price of one).
Visiting time: El Nido is famous for the island hopping. There are organized tours (tour A, B, C or D) with fixed price and path. What happens it that every tour departs daily at the same time, each boat takes about 20 people and all do the same stops, which means all the beautiful places with be extremely crowded. Knowing this in advance, we decided to book a private boat with 6 more people to do tour A (the tour focused on the beautiful lagoons). We left earlier, around 8 am (the group tours leave at 09/09:30a am) and tried to do the path the other way around. We ended up paying the exact same amount (1200 PHP/19,13€ per person) we would have paid for the big crowded boats. So that is our recommendation. Apart from the island hopping, we also suggest a day on the beach. Cabanas Beach is a wonderful place, especially at sunset time. We loved it!
Tao Expedition (5 days)
Tao Philippines is a community of almost 300 islanders that welcome travelers from all over the world to the Northern Palawan remote islands. They have different initiatives, from boat expeditions, islands visits to mountain retreats and trekkings. We decided to embark on a 5 days/4 nights boat expedition from El Nido to Coron and it was one of the best experiences we had so far. Although expensive and completely out of our daily budget (around 500€ per person for the whole expedition during the 5 days, including accommodation, food, and even a massage!), we risked it and we completely loved itr more detailed information about Tao Philippines just check their website: www.taophilippines.com.
Tao (human in Filipino) is an organization which intends to empower local people by showing the wonders from North Palawan to tourists on a non-touristic way. Along the 5 days we enjoyed and capture amazing footage. If you want to check the result see our travel video we created about our expedition.
Arriving time: we started the boat expedition in El Nido. It is necessary to attend a briefing the day before (5 pm) in the Tao shop. Some shopping is also needed for the expedition: dry bag, reef shoes, rush guard, among others.
Sleeping time: the four nights are in four different Tao basecamps. There are small cabanas on the beach and a mattresses, blankets, pillows and mosquito nets are provided to everyone. Actually the beds were quite comfortable. And it is not everyday that you fall asleep and wake up while listening to the sound of the waves. Literally!
Eating time: the boat crew includes two cooks that prepare all the meals with local food from the remote islands. The dishes include mainly fish, seafood and sometimes pork. A lot of vegetables and salad and the rice is always present. As they called it, the “Filipino power”! Despite not being "sophisticated" food it was one of the best we tried during our 20 days in the Philippines!
Visiting time: during the 5 days, we visited lagoons, desert islands, great snorkeling spots, contacted with some local people living on the islands, and we got to know our diversified group of travellers. The even coller aspect of it? All of this was just for ourselves! We were 18 in total and the maximum allowed is 24. Helicopter Island, Cadlao Lagoon, Daracuton Island, Cobra Island, Araw Beach, Ngey Ngey Island, and Lusong Gunboat were some of the places we had the opportunity to visit.
Coron (3 days)
Coron also belongs to the province of Palawan. It comprises the eastern half of Busuanga Island, all of Coron Island and about 50 other minor islets.
Arriving time: we arrive in Coron by boat, the final destination of the Tao Expedition. After our stay in Coron, we came back to El Nido on a boat. There are two companies providing this service: Montenegro fast craft and Bunso ferry. Montenegro offers a fast craft ferry, which means it takes only around 3,5 hours, and the price is 1760 PHP/28,06€. Make sure you book in advance, especially during high season, because tickets tend to be sold out. Ferries depart daily from El Nido to Coron at 6 am and from Coron to El Nido at noon. Alternatively, there is also the Bunso ferry, which takes about 6 hours and the price is 1200 PHP/19,13€. This leaves El Nido daily around 8 am and also Coron around 8 am, on a daily basis. We opted for the second alternative, for saving reasons. The seats could be more comfortable and there is no air conditioning, but still okay since the sea was calm. We were served a simple lunch, which we were not expecting!
Sleeping time: we stayed in Divine Castle Travelers Inn. Its location is central, walking distance to Coron town. We highly recommend it!
Eating time: during our stay in Coron, we experienced nice meals in two different restaurants, both located in town. The first one was called “La Sirenetta”. Literally in the middle of the sea, it is a gorgeous place to have dinner. To experience local food, try “KT’s Sinugba Sá Balay”. The sizzling dishes were delicious!
Visiting time: Coron is known for the island hopping, snorkeling and diving experience around Coron. Similar to El Nido, there are different island hopping tours. The Two World War ship wrecks are one of the most famous attractions, since there are plenty of spots near Coron where it is possible to dive and see them. During Tao Expedition, we had the chance to see a ship wreck while snorkeling, so we decided to skip this attraction during our stay in Coron. Apart from the sea activities, Mt Tapyas is worth a visit at sunset time. There is no entrance fee and it takes about half an hour to climb (around 700 steps). If the weather is not cloudy, the view from the top is amazing! Additionally, Maquinit Hot Springs are also a famous attraction in Coron. Since the water is extremely hot (40º), the visit should be after sunset, around 6 pm. The entrance fee is 150 PHP/2,39€ and it is possible to reach the Hot Springs by tricycle and the driver will wait for one hour to get you back. They typically charge 350 PHP/5,60€ for this. We ended up not going there, but some people we met enjoyed the experience. Good to relax, but pay attention, go at sunset as it tends to be less hot to enjoy the high temperatures of the hot springs.
Best of The Philippines
In case we had to choose our top 3 in the Philippines, according to our experience in this country, we would vote for:
Tao Expedition - it was, for sure, the highlight of our trip to the Philippines;
Discovering Bohol on a motorbike - which allowed us to see all the main attractions while witnessing beautiful green landscapes;
Canyonnering to the Kawasan Falls - an enthusiastic and challenging experience, while contacting with pure nature.
What we will not miss next time
The Philippines have so much to explore and discover, so 20 days were just to have an idea of its potential!
In the end, we really regretted not having the time to explore some places, which certainly we will not miss next time:
Port Barton in Palawan - a place we regret we did not visit during this trip, known for the sea turtles;
The Banaue Rice Terraces - located in the mountains of Ifugao and frequently called the “Eighth Wonder of the World”;
Siargao Island - for the ones who enjoy surfing and spending some time relaxing on the beach.
Hope you enjoy this guide we created based on our experience in the amazing Philippines. In case you have any questions, please contact us by email (firstname.lastname@example.org).