Updated: Jul 17
Get Your Passports Ready - Your next tropical experience awaits!
I recently visited the gorgeous islands of the #Philippines, which – mark my words – will be the next “it” destination! It felt like re-discovering fanny packs before everyone and their mom started to love them. I got a taste of paradise before the rest of the world jumped on the bandwagon.
This trip didn’t just allow me to experience a new exotic place, but it helped me realize the type of travel style that suits me best. Most people say that there’s two styles of travellers:
The Impulsive Adventurer
However after two weeks of #islandhopping, I think I fall right in the middle. And after speaking to many other travellers, I’ve realized I am not the only one with this mixed travel style.
Experiencing a completely new place, is refreshing, eye-opening, and exhilarating. And I am ALL for spontaneity. However, I found that when I leave things to chance a couple of things happen:
I end up spending way more money than I originally planned. My FOMO gets the best of me, and I have a problem with saying no. This leads to a lot of un-budgeted adventures, a large hole in my pocket and a not so happy bank account when I return home.
I end up missing out on some of the things that I actually wanted to do or see while visiting that area. Whether that be because of poor planning and picking hotels that end up being hours away from a sought upon excursion, or procrastinating until things are booked up.
I’ve landed on being a “Spontaneous Planner”. A happy mix of both enjoying spur of the moment travel and activities, whilst also not going broke because I didn't plan properly.
To help all the other spontaneous planners out, I have put together a list of the must know tips when in the Philippines. These are sure to help plan your perfect ‘spontaneous’ trip!
Travelling to Manila: FLIGHTS
First things first – flights. Now, I know. The dreaded, burn-a-hole-in-my-wallet, save-for-three-years-and-sell-my-first-child type flights can really turn a person off from a particular destination. But FEAR NOT! There is a solution for those of us that would rather not sell our kidney to affordably arrive on vacation.
It’s easy to get lost online with the never ending sites that offer the “best ever number one guaranteed lowest price possible” offers. So let me save you the headache, and link you to the site you’ll end up on anyways. Skyscanner. This website was the lifeline to my vacation – not only does it offer flights, but it is one stop shopping for all of your travel needs. So let’s start with flights and work our way from there.
Whether Manila is a destination or somewhere you’re passing through, flying into here is basically your only choice. In the Philippines, island hopping is normal and there are multiple short-trip flights to all surrounding islands after that.
El Nido, Palawan:
Palawan is rated very high on the “Must See” Islands in Philippines so I’ve gone ahead to answer some classic FAQ’s bouncing around your head right about now.
How do I get here? Fly from Manila to El Nido – on average flights on Skyscanner are $180 CAD.
Where to stay: Panorama Boutique - the most unique experience I’ve ever had. I would HIGHLY recommend splurging for the night and experiencing the creative coconut rooms.
Must do excursions: El Nido is popular for it’s incredible island hopping excursions so if you’re going to spend a day in the sun visiting some of Philippines 7,107 islands – El Nido is the spot to do it.
Do it for the Insta: Looking for the most instagrammable spot in El Nido? Big Lagoon and Small Lagoon are two you don’t want to miss. These incredible photo-ops with beautiful turquoise waters and stunning views are sure to encourage some double taps.
Best Sunset Viewing Spot: Panorama is known for being the number one sunset view point on the island. People come from all over to join both tourists and locals in enjoying this breath taking view. <----- (!!!)
You’ll be thankful you packed: Pepto Bismol, Tylenol, Tums, anything to help the stomach. Food Poisoning is unfortunately more common in Palawan, and getting violently ill from the ice in your 4th vodka cranberry is no way to start a vacation.
Would Recommend: Trying a vegan a diet while on this island. Fruits, veggies and smoothie bars are insanely good!
Bohol came highly recommended to us as it is one of the most adventurous islands in the Philippines! From waterfalls to cave-pools to kayaking to the Chocolate Hills, there really is something for everyone.
How do I get here? You can fly into Cebu from $45 CAD on average. From here, hop on the Cebu – Bohol ferry and in two hours you’ll be in Bohol.
Where to stay: Whether you’re interested in luxury accommodations or a cheap spot to get your beauty sleep, Skyscanner has a range of places to accommodate all budgets. We stayed at Bohol Shores which was nothing short of heaven. We had our own private pool, in-room massages, the chance to jet ski and paddle-board right by the hotel, and the most incredible service I have ever had on vacation. The staff were unbelievably hospitable. Chill-Out Guesthouse is also recommended – it’s cozy, fun and credit card friendly.
Must do excursions: Like I mentioned earlier, the Chocolate Hills tour really is worth the full day. If you’re only spending a few days here, then I recommend a tour where you can see multiple landmarks and popular view points in this city.
Must try food: Gerarda’s Place. Cozy and casual – the blue marlin steak is to die for and the lemon chicken is a crowd favorite! (Probably best to reserve a table.)
Love it a Latte: Tamper Coffee and Brunch – get your caffeine fix with their wicked coffee selection and fabulous brunch food.
Weather: 32 degrees, not a cloud in the sky.
You’ll be thankful you packed: Sunscreen. Need I say more?
Recommended Transport: Renting scooters or bikes is the easiest (and most fun) way to get around the island. However, if you don’t feel comfortable with that, there are cheap taxis that are always available.
What surprised us about the place: Coming from one of the friendliest places in the world (Canada) I was not expecting to be out done and beat in basically every way. I’ve solved the world unhappiness problem… and the solution is Bohol hospitality.
Do it for the insta: Your insta feed is about to look super blue from all of the turquoise and aqua picturesque photos you’ll take near the water – so mix it up with some bright greens and emeralds with Bohol’s Chocolate Hills.
Expect to feel: Like royalty. It isn’t a rumor, the people in the Philippines really are that welcoming, friendly, and accommodating so expect to feel like a king or queen on this trip.
For us, Cebu actually began as a “just passing through” city, but after reading up about it on Skyscanner we decided to extend our stay to see as much as we could.
How do I get here? So if you’re coming directly from Bohol (which I recommend) then just hop back on that ferry. But if not, then check out some incredible flight deals from Manila here.
Where to stay: If you’re a social butterfly and able to survive on less than 3 hours of sleep – trust me - Mad Monkey Hostel is for you. Fun activities are planned every night, and it has an awesome vibe. Radisson Blu Cebu is straight up classy if the party night life is to much. A range of other hotels in Cebu City can be found here.
Must do excursions: It's common that travellers in Cebu, make a trip to Oslob to visit some creatures found in the area. Swimming with Whale Sharks should be the “must do” activity if you can only chose one while here. It is a once in a lifetime opportunity to be up close and personal with these gentle giants.
Love it a Latte: Bo’s Coffee Shop. Great cappuccinos, and lattes. Nice little spot to sit down and catch up on any emails, work, or the 20 missed texts from your mom for a few minutes.
You’ll be thankful you packed: Bugspray! The critters took a liking to my blood, covering my legs with large swollen spots to compliment my red bathing suit.
What surprised us about the place: Cab drivers would try to rip us off a lot! (And by a lot I mean every time!) This was surprising coming from El Nido and Bohol where everyone had our best interest as foreigners. *Travel Tip: agree on a price before getting into a cab to lessen the confusion when it comes time to pay.
Do it for the insta: If your mode of transportation is scooter or motorbike (or even if its not, no one can tell from the photo) – you’ve gotta get that “I’m an adventurous traveler riding a bike” shot.
Did I save the best for last? Absolutely. Siargao Island was our favourite island in the Philippines. It was the perfect mix of locals and tourists.
How to get there: If you’re flying from Manila, flights can be as little as $90 on Skyscanner.
Where to stay: Most people tend to stay in General Luna, which I highly recommend for the majority of your nights in Siargao, however there are beautiful hidden gems in the northern part of the island that shouldn’t be overlooked. Check out all of the options here.
Must do excursions: The options are endless, so let me name a few. Surf Cloud 9 - if there’s any place to try surfing for the first time, its here in General Luna. A surfer’s paradise, Siargao is the surf capital in the Philippines and there’s a wave for every level. Island Hopping – I know this was suggested in El Nido, but can you really hop too many islands? Most excursions will take you to Naked, Daku, and Guyam Islands. Magpupungko. (-try saying that five times fast.) This fun spot has snorkelling in clear blue water, cliff jumping, and great food on the beach. Travel Tip: go during high tide so you can snorkel in deeper waters and catch the whole cast of Finding Nemo. There is a lot more to be found on this magical island, so check out the list here so you don’t miss anything.
Must try food: Shaka Café. I swear I tried a different smoothie bowl every day we were there, and I have never seen such a masterpiece with mangos in my life time. The photos say it all.
Best Live Music Spot: Loose Keys. When we first arrived, we stumbled upon this little dive bar with some awesome drinks and creative poke bowls. After sticking around for an hour, we had the chance to hear live music from local musicians.
Recommended Transport: Scooters and Motorbikes.
What surprised us about the place: How it wasn’t as popular as other destinations in the Philippines… yet.
Do it for the Insta: It’s a pretty difficult task to take a bad photo anywhere in the Philippines. Here in Siargao – grab some classic flat lay shots at Shaka Café, a pic of you and the surfboard at Cloud 9 (yes, I know you’ll throw up the hang loose sign) and don’t miss coconut road. The best time for this is at sunrise and sunset to get that golden glow. You’ll truthfully be able to hashtag #nofilter here.
Expect to feel: Sad to leave. Leaving this island was pretty difficult, (especially because we were returning to negative 10 degrees and icicles back in the north) so really make sure to soak it all in while there.
*Travel Tip: do yourself a favour – limit the number of islands you travel to. You’re going to want to do it all – trust me. But fight the temptation, do your research (aka read this skyscanner.ca blog) and plan ahead by booking your flights ahead of time to save on last minute booking fee’s.
If I can offer any advice while travelling these amazing islands, it would be to stay present, get out of your comfort zone, and really make an effort to get to know the stories of the people who are surrounding you. I find my best memories while travelling are the amazing testimonies I get to hear, and the adventures I took a risk on.
So do yourself a favour, take my advice. Book. That. Flight.
*This trip was sponsored by Skyscanner, but all views expressed are that of Joelle Farrow*