20 days island hopping in the Philippines

By Federico F · Apr 3, 2017

Rome, Italy
First stop, Cebu
Main mode of transport
Aeroplane (Al Italia/Etihad) and Cebu Pacific and speedboat
Cost per person
Mid range / low cost
Henry Hotel (Cebu City and Manila), Vitton Resort (Donsol), The Venezia (Legazpi), Coron Underwater Garden Resort (Baquit), Garden Beach Resort (El Nido), Panja Resort (Puerto Princesa)

Best Bits

  • The island of Coron - it’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen.
  • The daily boat excursions from our accommodation in Coron to explore the beaches and lagoons.
  • Overall the nature and sightseeing on this trip was excellent
  • Value for money: Our trip including all flights for 2 people cost 5000 Eur for 20 days
  • Massages everywhere were great and cheap

Worst Bits

  • Not seeing whalesharks in Donsol.

  • The feeding and enclosure of whalesharks in Oslob, changing their natural migratory paths and feeding habits for tourism.

  • A lot of logistics are required to see the best of the Philippines because there are so many islands. Just getting from one place to the next takes up a lot of your travel time. We went for 20 days and only saw a few places because we wanted to spend at least 4 days in each location.

  • As an observation, we found that although value for money was really good, money doesn’t buy luxury in the same way it does in other countries. On a recent trip to Indonesia, for example, a $600 accommodation there was more luxurious than the same $600 in the Philippines. In the Philippines you’re paying for the incredible setting, but not necessarily the smaller details that elevate a great stay to a luxury stay.

Trip Dates and Comments on Timing

We went in February and March which are considered to be the best months because it’s right before the summer which is too hot. The weather for us was perfect. It was hot during the day and it cooled down at night. In theory, February/March should be a great time to see whalesharks as well.

Arrival Logistics

We flew from Rome to Hong Kong for a 3 day stopover on the way to Manila. We always like to break up long flights with a short city break built in so that we’re adjusted by the time we arrive to our final destination. We flew with Al Italia / Etihad.

We planned an early morning arrival in Manila so that we had plenty of flight options to connect right away to Cebu. We didn’t want to spend time in Manila.

The high level itinerary was:

Cebu - 3 nights Bohol - day trip Donsol - 3 nights Legazpi - 1 night Coron / Baquet - 4 nights El Nido - 4 nights Puerto Princesa - 3 nights Manila - 1 night

A few notes about logistics in general:

  • We took about 6 internal flights during our trip, all with Cebu Pacific. From the airports to the boarding and luggage, everything was incredibly well organised and punctual. When you book it’s worth it to pay extra for front row seats and extra leg room.
  • Given the option, the best way to travel in the Philippines is by airplane. By car it takes for ever to cover a small distance because of winding roads, one-way traffic, etc. Even 40km can take 2 hours by car, so budget for internal flights.

Main Activities

Sightseeing, nature, beach, relaxing, kayaking, spa, boating

Federico’s Experience

One of the main reasons we chose to visit the Philippines was to see whalehsharks. It didn’t happen and it was still an amazing, very worthwhile trip.

Our first destination was Cebu. The main attractions were:

  • Kawasan falls - gorgeous lagoon in the hills that you can also swim in

Federico in the Philippines

  • Day trip to Bohol - we took the 4 hour boat ride from Cebu to see Bohol for the day, mostly to see the chocolate hills which were beautifully and totally worth the trip.

Federico in the Philippines

  • Once in Bohol we hired a personal driver. They’re easy to find upon arrival. The drivers all take you on the standard tourist sightseeing route, but you can pick and choose. We also did the Margaret River cruise in Bohol. It’s quite touristy but it was enjoyable and a worthwhile experience. If you’re on a day tour then you have to have lunch at some point so doing it on a river cruise seemed like a good option. The flora and fauna as you go up and down the river was gorgeous. We didn’t go to the butterfly hatchery but other people said it was nice. On Bohol we also got to see the tarsier animal.

Federico in the Philippines

Now that I’ve been there, I would say that Bohol is more beautiful than Cebu and both have airports. My personal recommendation to others would be to do the opposite of what we did and stay in Bohol and do a day trip to Cebu. If I were to go back again I would also visit Panglao from Bohol - it’s a small island known for the Panglao reef flat with beautiful beaches and resorts. We didn’t go because we didn’t have time.

In Cebu City we stayed in the Henry hotel. It’s a wonderful boutique hotel (they have one in Cebu and 1 in Manila) with amazing value for money. We got a nice room but not the nicest. The rooms were as big as whole apartments and the bathrooms were great!

Federico in the Philippines

They have a nice swimming pool, restaurant, and an eclectic and very cool design.

Federico in the Philippines

Federico in the Philippines

The only downside is that the location is not particularly attractive. It’s located about 30 minutes from the airport and 30 minutes from the port, which are really the only 2 points you spend time at in Cebu City.

Cebu (the island) is famous for the city of Oslob because it used to be a natural place to see whalesharks. We didn’t go because over the years people have been feeding them and putting nets around them, changing their natural migratory paths and their feeding habits. I refuse to go there but if you do go you are guaranteed to see a whaleshark.

From Cebu we flew to Legazpi and took a taxi 1.5 hours to get to Donsol. We didn’t organise the taxi in advance, they were easy to get at the airport and cost only 10-15$. Legazpi is famous for the Mayon volcano which is notorious for being the most famous cone in the world. You can hike up the volcano and ATV around the base if you want. Otherwise, there’s not much to do in Legazpi so we went straight to Donsol which is where our best chances were of seeing whalesharks in their natural environment.

In Donsol, we stayed in the best resort they have called Vitton Resort – they have a beautiful swimming pool and the massages were amazing (we had massages everyday on this trip!).

Federico in the Philippines

It’s not a well-connected place so due to schedules we had 4 nights there. It was very relaxing and peaceful and there weren’t a lot of tourists. Everyday was the same - we took the boat out to look for whalesharks, came back and relaxed, had massages and ate.

Federico in the Philippines

In the end we didn’t see any whalesharks. There was too much wind and it was scaring the plankton far enough away from the coast that it wasn’t safe for the small boats to go out that far. We also couldn’t go scuba diving or to the nearby Manta bowl to look for manta rays because of the wind. It was such a shame because without the whalesharks, there’s no real reason to go to Donsol - the water is nice but not the nicest you’ve ever seen.

On the way back we stayed in Legazpi for 1 night in a wonderful hotel called the Venezia. We chose it because it was the closest hotel to the airport (5 minutes walking with luggage!), perfect for our flight the next morning at 6am. It was actually quite luxurious considering you’re in the middle of nowhere.

From Legazpi we flew to Manila to then fly onward to Coron in the province of Palawan. This is where our beautiful vacation really begins! The first part was about the chocolate hills and whalesharks. This part is all about beautiful beaches and relaxing.

In Coron we stayed in the Coron Underwater Garden Resort. It’s located on a tiny little island called Baquit, just a 10 minute boat ride from the main island where Coron is. Baquit only has the one resort and you sleep in your own private chalet on the water. Chalets were very modest but beautiful and with gorgeous views. Book well in advance because we got the last hut on the water booking in advance. We paid 75 Euros / night.

Federico in the Philippines

Federico in the Philippines

Pros of Coron/Baquit: • It’s a must visit place. Coron is on an island 4 hours by speedboat from Palawan (the province and main island). Note that Coron Island is different from the town of Coron. • The transparent green water, lagoons, beaches, vegetation and dramatic rock formations make it one of the most beautiful places I’ve been in my life.

Federico in the Philippines

• It’s famous for wreck diving and lagoons which have different levels of salt/fresh water.

Federico in the Philippines

• Hire a private boat to take you exploring the lagoons or get on a boat with others for the tour. There are 3 different tours and we did all of them (the lagoon tour is a must, then the white beach tour also a must). It is touristy, but you must do it. The places they took us, including the contrast between the vegetation and water was incredible. It reminded me a bit of Seychelles.

Federico in the Philippines

• You can take a water taxi from Baquit into Coron for massages and dining, but we usually stayed in and only went into town once.

Federico in the Philippines

Cons: • Baquit/the resort isn’t set up for lounging with things like beachbeds and daybeds. It’s expected that you’ll spend the day out on boat tours and then be tired when you get back! • I wouldn’t go back a second time to this particular island but it was amazing.

Federico in the Philippines

From Coron we then took a speedboat (Montenegro ferry line) to El Nido. The boat ride cost 30 Eur / person and took 4 hours. They had comfortable departure times and aircon on board. The alternative is taking the slower boat which takes 8 hours and leaves early in the morning but costs half as much. We stayed right on the edge of the El Nido beach strip because it was quiet and less chaotic than the slightly more central options. We stayed at the El Nido Garden Beach Resort. At 120 Eur / night it was slightly above our budget. It had a beautiful swimming pool, gorgeous views from our chalet and location made it easy to walk anywhere from the hotel for shopping, food and massages.

Federico in the Philippines

We did 3 of the 4 boat tours offered by the hotel (like in Coron) to see the surroundings. Our room was comfortable. We only ever ate breakfast there which was good. The rest of our meals we ate in the town itself and at the small restaurants set up on the beach.

Federico in the Philippines

Comparing Coron and El Nido, Coron has way fewer tourists. El Nido was really busy and even when you hire a private boat, instead of joining a shared boat tour, wherever they take you (to secret, small, hidden beaches or lagoon, etc) there can be up to 100 other people around on other boats so you hardly see it. On our last day we hired the private boat again and asked them to take us to all the same places but on a different schedule to the tour boats. It was way better.

Federico in the Philippines

Coron is more beautiful than El Nido in terms of the nature, beaches and water, but El Nido has more to offer in terms of the city vibe and people watching scene, as well as more options in terms of accommodation. I wouldn’t go back a 2nd time to El Nido but I’m glad to have seen it once.

Next we took a 5-6 hour minivan ride to Puerto Princesa which is the main city of Palawan. We stayed at Panja Resort for 3 nights to relax before the trip back to Rome. I love the place we stayed. It’s a beautiful hotel with a great swimming pool.

Federico in the Philippines

It’s a bit secluded, located just outside of the town on a hillside, so to go anywhere from there is a trip.

Federico in the Philippines

They have a great restaurant as well so you don’t actually have to leave. We did a day tour of Honda Bay and then just chilled for the next 2 days.

Finally we flew to Manila and spent 1 night at the Harry Hotel. It was cheap and stunning!! The food was the best we had on the whole trip, for breakfast lunch and dinner! It’s a colonial style property with beautiful garden and trees. They have a small but cool swimming pool with lovely staff and good attention to detail. We considered the place to be amazing value for money. We chose this hotel because it’s close to both the airport and the biggest mall in the Philippines called Mall of Asia. We wanted to go there to check out some of the brands we don’t have in Rome.

Food and Drink Highlights

The main food in the Philippines is pork, chicken, prawns and fish, but fish wasn’t as ubiquitous as I expected. The food was really good everywhere we went but for me Thai food is better. A few of the highlights were:

  • In Donsol there was a restaurant called Bar Acuda which was very cool and made the best grilled fish. I highly recommend it.
  • Both Henry Hotels had amazing food at their restaurants, Manila especially.
  • There’s a wood burning pizza place in El Nido called Altrov’e which was good and I’m Italian! It doesn’t matter when you go you can expect a lineup.

Federico in the Philippines

Essential Packing for this Trip

We travelled very light, partly anticipating the weight restrictions on all of the internal flights.

It’s not a luxury holiday and there’s no dress code. Everyone wore shorts and flip flops. Bring a hoodie for the evenings and consider bringing your own snorkel and mask.

It’s very easy and cheap to get your laundry done along the way.

Pack your camera - I use a G7 Lumix which is very light and shoots 4K videos.

First Last Name

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I’m from Perth, Western Australia

My favourite trip as of late is New Zealand, solo travel in lots of nature for a soul-refresher.

My travelling style is to Book the first night, then wing it from there!

It’s a dealbreaker when I’m stuck around large groups of package tourists.

Continent I know best is Asia.

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