If you follow our blog regularly then you must already know we are always searching for the next country to visit. The world is full of amazing places and the list is just endless, so we hardly have time to re-visit some of the places we liked the most.
2 years ago we were bewildered why so few people visit the Philippines, and tried to explain why we think it’s so great. Since then, the country have seen a huge rise in popularity and marked itself as one of the trendiest exotic destinations. We feel it’s a great opportunity for us to use our knowledge and experience to make sure visitors keep this paradise unspoiled and travel responsibly.
The Philippines reminds us a lot of Thailand 20 years ago, before over commercialization kicked in and changed it for the worse. Noise, littering and an overall rude, entitled behavior by tourists quickly turned Thailand’s islands into a westernized tourist trap. It’s no wonder tourists are now gravitating towards the Philippines, and we fear it will suffer the same fate.
As with most exotic countries, culture and nature are inseparable in the Philippines. In this post we’ll have to constantly jump between the two, while trying to explain the right way to experience everything the country has to offer. To do so, we present our ideal travel plan, allowing you to go to many different and unique locations and understand the local culture better. This plan was created with the help of our friends Philippine Travel Packages, a great local travel agency who offer customized travel packages based on your personal interests. There is nothing like local knowledge when it comes to travelling.
Philippines Destinations as recommend by a local:
As soon as you land in Manila, don’t waste too much time and make your way up north. Don’t worry, you’ll get plenty of time to discover the City later on. Easiest option for getting to North Luzon is taking a flight to Laoag, but those can be a bit pricey. So, if you are not too exhausted from the long flight, take the 7 hours bus ride to Vigan instead.
It makes no real difference if you get to Vigan or Laoag first, since the plan is to spend some time touring the whole Ilocos area anyway. Most foreign tourists aren’t even aware of this province’s existence, and that’s a big part of its charm. Ilocos was the first region to be conquered by the Spaniards after Manila, so it’s home to many culturally and historically significant monuments.
Ilocos is large and there’s plenty to see and do, but luckily Laoag and Vigan are quite close to one another. Vigan city is a UNESCO world heritage site, and named as one of the new 7 wonder cities. it is an extremely well preserved Spanish colonial town, with a unique Asian twist. There are a lot of ancient churches and museums, where you can learn more about the town’s rich history.
Activities we liked in particular were the clay workshops near the town’s center and the Caoayan Town Loom weaving factory. At both you can witness traditional craftsmanship, and even try creating some goods yourself. Make sure you buy whatever you create, it’s a great souvenir and also a way to support the local community.
Laoag also has its fair share of attractions, most notably the sinking tower and the Paoay church, another world heritage site. If you have enough time to spare, consider heading even further north to Pagudpud. Nicknamed by locals as the “Boracay of the north”, it has some of the most beautiful beaches in the whole country. You can also find some really fancy resorts here, at only a fraction of the price you’d pay anywhere else.
Once you are done touring Ilocos take a bus heading south to Sagada. If ilocos is known for its European vibe through heavy Spanish influences, This mountain province is the exact opposite. Sagada lies in the heart of rural area, where old indigenous traditions are still kept alive. Most famous of all are the Banaue and Batad rice terraces. Created by the Ifuago tribes more than 2000 years ago, they are still used today. It’s a really powerful proof to man’s ingenuity and ability to harness the forces of nature.
Sagada is a great place to go hiking, and even spend a few days outdoors camping. There are countless beautiful mountains, waterfalls and caves in the area you could go explore, and everything is perfectly safe. If you want a more challenging trek, stop by Mt.Pinatubo as you continue to make your way south towards Manila. This volcano offers some of the best scenic views in the whole country, and makes for a great camping site.
Manila and surrounding areas
Now, when you are back in Manila it could be a good time to explore the city. However, you might want to wait with that to the end of your vacation. Once you had your fair share of nature and beaches, it can feel quite nice to be back to a more urban environment. Just 2 hours south of Manila is Tagaytay – a mountain ridge where temperatures are lower and views are breathtaking. Consider spending a night there, so you can go swimming in the Taal volcano crater lake.
From Tagaytay continue south to Batangas pier and take the ferry to Puerto Galera. This sleepy beach town is a favorite getaway destination for people who live in Manila. Puerto Galera has some of the best dive spots in the Philippines, and its a great place to get certified in.
A more special experience will be heading off into the mountains to meet the locals living in Mangyan village. The village is home to the Irayas, one of the indigenous tribes of the Philippines, and its people still preserve their old ways of living. It’s probably better to hire a tour guide who can help you communicate and understand, but the people there are so friendly that it’s perfectly safe to go there on your own. These people make beautiful woven baskets and other small trinkets to support themselves, you can buy them on the spot or at Manila. You can also donate or volunteer to help them continue their traditional way of life.
Boracay and Palawan
If you don’t want to head back to Manila and fly to Boracay, it’s possible to take a bus+ferry ride directly from Puerto Galera. It might be a bit tedious, but the view is great and you get to travel like a local which is always nice.
Boracay is considered one of the best beach destinations in the whole world, and is an extremely popular tourist spot. Luckily, Filipinos are aware of the risks involved with a growing tourism industry, and are doing all they can to prevent it from experiencing the same fate as Thailand’s popular islands. You can volunteer and be a part of that effort, there is beach cleaning and coral planting missions on a regular basis.
Since you are staying at one of the best islands in the world, don’t spend all your time cleaning. Make sure you spare some time to relax and enjoy the beach. There is only one flight a week from here to Palawan, our next stop, so plan your time accordingly. This is a SouthEast Asian Airlines flight taking off every Tuesday, and if you miss it you’ll have to take a long detour so be careful.
We already covered Palawan during our second visit to the Philippines, so we’ll keep it short here. Much like Boracay, Palawan is considered among the best islands in the world and is a huge tourist magnet. The province is much larger though, there is a lot more to do and it feels a much less crowded. Since you’ll most likely spend some time in Puerto Princesa anyway (where the underground river national park is), take a 2 hours drive to visit the Batak tribe. This is a similar experience to the Mangyan village, but of course with its own unique flavor.
Palawan is also a great place for diving, with some of the most impressive dive sites in the world. The best area for diving is around Coron. It’s also a much less developed area, which suits our type of vacation very well. Don’t expect any luxury resorts here, cozy bungalows and simple living is all you will find. Taking a bus to Coron is simple enough, but we recommend you take a Bangka instead. This traditional fishing boat will provide a special adventure, and allow you to stop at many smaller islands as you make your way there.
Cebu, Bohol and other destinations
The best way out of Palawan is by flight. Luckily there are regular flights to most major cities so finding a good deal should be easy. If you haven’t spent all your vacation days yet, then the best place to continue to is Cebu island. Cebu city is the 2nd largest city in the Philippines, and also a starting point to visiting many beautiful islands nearby.
Once you are done exploring Cebu island, you can head off to other Visayas destinations. These include Bohol, Dumaguete and Siquijor among many others. We’ll try to cover Visayas soon hopefully, there is so much to do over there it almost feels like a separate country. In the meantime you can find a full guide to Cebu, as well as travel packages and tours at Cebu Tours or Visiting Bohol Island.
We hope we’ve done enough to convince you why the Philippines should be on your bucket list. It is an amazing, developing country, where the options for travelling are endless. We tried our best to create an extraordinary travel plan, allowing you to both experience the country fully and travel safely, respectfully and responsibly.
Have you already been to the Philippines, or planning to visit soon? Do you know any more unusual adventures one can try there? Share your stories with us.