The Philippines is an absolutely amazing and fascinating country. I have spent a full month traveling all over the archipelago. It has been one of my best trips ever. You can find and do almost anything you might be looking for when going out traveling like quiet white beaches, dramatic volcanoes and almost surreal green rice plantations.
You can swim with whale sharks during the day and party hard and wild during the night. You can rent a motorbike and drive… where ever you feel like. All that said, it comes even better when you know how affordable, I’d almost say cheap, all that is. The Philippines have been one my best value-for money destination ever. In this post I’m going to present you my 5 personal highlights of my travel through the Philippines and hopefully giving you an incentive to see it with your own eyes.
1. Hiking from Batad to Banaue
My best hike in the Philippines. I first took a night bus from Manila to a small town called Banaue (bring a sweater or the aircon makes you freezing in the bus) and from there via tricycle taxi (20 mins) and 1 hour hour hike up to a village called Batad. The rice terraces there, or “amphitheater” they call it, are the most beautiful ones I have ever seen. The view from the village is absolutely amazing. It is one of these pictures you always see on Philippines tourism advertisements and here you can see it with your own eyes.
Take a walk, stroll along the rice plantations and then start looking around in Batad’s guesthouses for a partner for your hike to Banaue. It is not the same route that you took on your way to Batad but a significantly longer one, but also a significantly more beautiful one. I shared a local Filipino guide with a Swedish girl, we paid him USD 10 each and invited him for dinner and beers back in Banaue. It is a full day hike so you want to leave early in the morning, we started our hike at around 7am. Just before getting around the corner and leaving the Batad amphitheater, I took the photo you can see here.
The whole hike from Batad to Banaue takes about 8 to 9 hours, depending on your fitness level (gets extremely steep on some parts of the trail) and how many breaks you take. Just start early as we did and you will be fine, also I recommend you taking a guide as we did as you will not meet too many people along the way that you can ask for help and the trail is not always that easy to follow. You will pass several more rice terraces with similar striking views, the last one hour you walk through a rainforest before arriving back in Banaue.
2. Camiguin Island
My favorite island in the Philippines. Even though it is so small that you can drive all around the island with the motorbike in one hour and fifteen minutes (I did it) it is packed with natural attractions: There are 7 volcanoes, in fact Camiguin has the highest concentration of volcanoes in the world. You can take a relaxing bath in the Hot Springs of Hibok Hibok Volcano. You can get up early in the morning and take a longtail boat to White Island, a strip of pure white sand just 300 metres from the northern coast. And you can rent a motorcycle and drive all around the island, one highlight among the many is white beach on the southern coast, just another perfect beach.
Camiguin is located between Bohol and mainland Mindanao. I took the ferry from Jagna in Bohol Mambajao in Camiguin (about 2 hours). You will have to take a tricycle taxi to get to your accomodation, preferable on some beach. I shared a bungalow with a Canadian guy on the north coast right at the beach for just 200 pesos each. I spent four full days in Camiguin before continuing my journey to Cagayan de Oro on Mindanao, again by ferry from Mambajao (about 3 hours).
3. Swimming with whale sharks off Donsol
One of the coolest thing I have ever done was jumping in the ocean and swimming along with 5-meter-and-longer massive whale sharks. The best time of the year to do that in the Philippines is between January to March and the most popular place to do it is off the coast of Donsol in south-eastern Luzon. You can get there from Legazpi (8 hours by bus from Manila) by taking one a jeepney, the Philippine’s most popular mean of public transport. It takes one to two hours from Legazpi to Donsol.
Once you’ve arrived in Donsol, walk to the sea (it’s more like a harbor than a beach) and look around for people to share a boat with. If the boat is full (max. 10 people) you won’t pay more than 150 pesos for your trip – the less people, the more expensive. You can also rent your snorkeling gear for about 50 pesos a piece like I did it. Try to show up before noon as the whale sharks will only be around during the morning till around 1pm or 2pm in the afternoon. After that there are no more boats going out and you will have to spend a night in Donsol. Avoid that by getting up early in Legazpi (recommended 6am) take a jeepney at 7am and take your whale shark snorkeling tour at around 9:30am-10am.
4. El Nido Archipelago, Palawan
It is certainly some effort to reach the destination El Nido on the remote island of Palawan, but this has been another highlight of my trip through the Philippines. You will first have to fly to Puerto Princesa, the capital city of Palawan. From their, either another flight to El Nido or by jeepney all the way up to the (near) top of the island, it about 10 hours for this trip. Or you just rent a motorcycle and drive all the way up by yourself like I did it, see highlight Nr. 5.
Once in El Nido, look around for your accommodation, you don’t need to book in advance. There are some great deals with simple rooms for 200 pesos or bungalos from 300 pesos. Next, you might sign up for an island hopping tour, this is the reason why you came to El Nido after all. There are several tours, some go to the closer islands, some to more remote ones, you have to make a choice if you are on a tough schedule like I was. I took the standard tour which cost me 400 pesos plus 100 pesos national park fee and it turned out to be only me and a Dutch guy on one boat. We visited four islands, a big lagoon, a secret lagoon, had a barbecue lunch on the beach (included in the tour price) and came back to El Nido just before sunset (which was a terrific one). Great tour, if you have the little extra time and money to get to El Nido – do it.
5. Crusing around with the Motorcycle
It is a bless cruising along Philippines’ beautiful hill country and coastal roads. You can stop where ever you want, take your pictures, travel on your own pace and just be free. You can rent motorcycles all over the Philippines. All you need is an international drivers license and cash. Normally the bikes are rented out on a daily basis, 200 to 300 pesos are a common standard price per day. Obviously sometimes you need to do some bargaining to get these prices, which is generally very easy. There are many petrol stations along the main highways and if you should decide to ride off the beated path, there are many “convenience stores” that sell petrol in one liter coke bottles for just a little surcharge, so don’t worry you will be running out of petrol and get lost somewhere. There is always someone around to help you out.
The picture above I took on my 10 hour cruise from Puerto Princesa to El Nido in Palawan, one of the most beautiful trips I have ever done.
For more information about riding the motorcycle in the Philippines, check out this post.
This are five of my highlights in the Philippines. How about you? Have you been traveling the Philippines too? What were your favorite experiences?