A Four Week Itinerary for the Philippines
How to see
all of the things.
I wonder if there's a cap on how many places you can develop a legitimate yearning for. If there is... I'm happy to be nowhere near it. My most recent lust for a landmass belongs to none other than the Philippines. They call their tuk-tuk's tricycles and they fiend a good fiesta.
Like a scorned ex on social media, this destination won't grant me the gift of space. In the 14 short days since our trial separation began (it's just a break, I swear she'll take me back...) the Philippines hasn't let me forget what we had. I've tried to displace her from my mind but she keeps materializing; rearing her beautiful bits all over the interwebs. Not to mention the constant messages from you folks, asking for personal details of our fondest moments together.
To channel my zest into something fruitful, I'm putting forth my maximum effort and presenting to you...
My full 30 day itinerary to make the most of the Philippines.
Week One: Moalboal
Day one. I arrived sweaty and smiling in the land of fried pork knuckles.
I landed in the city of Cebu. Many people fly in and out of Manila, which is my first piece of avoidance advice. Flying into Cebu puts you in a great position to see some of the most memorable islands this country has to offer. Instructed by my travel companions, I left the city of Cebu and grabbed a 3.5 hour bus to a mega-cool area called Moalboal.
A stone's throw from the beach at all times, moalboal is a great place to start
Moalboal is as fun as it sounds. Pronouncing that word is like a foreshadow for the slurry nights ahead of you (circa a very fun bar by the name of Chilli's). We stayed in a dope hostel called Chief Mau, with a perfect hangover lounge built of hammocks and bean bag chairs a-la-plenty. They served a damn good oatmeal breakfast and a cheap selection of strong pre-drinking materials. Chief Mao also set us up with a canyoneering tour which I highly recommend.
Do not miss the opportunity to go to White Beach. As I soon came to learn, pretty much every beach in the Philippines is aptly named "White Beach." However, that's not to subtract from the awe-factor of my first time. Moalboal's White Beach is a gorgeous stretch of crystal clear warm-ass water. The mountainous backdrop made for the most spectacular sunset of my trip, right out the gate.
Last but not least, do not leave Moalboal without hitting up Ven'z Kitchen... like a hundred times. I'll be doing a full blog post on their glorious grub soon. I will no doubt be retrospectively drooling all over myself.
Week Two: Siargao Island
"Where should I go in the Philippines?" The long answer is what you're currently sifting through. The short answer is Siargao. This place is everything. Its beach is called Cloud 9 and it's freaking perfect. Siargao isn't just a dream destination for surfers; it hosts the sickest kind of travellers and locals you can find. If you ask someone why they like it, you'll often hear it's just got the right vibe. This island is a millimetre ahead of a massive popularity boom. I'm almost tempted to stop here and just let you experience it, but I suppose a bit more detail would be cordial.
Sugba Lagoon: An easy day trip from the main town of General Luna. With emerald water & beautiful mangrove FORESTS!
The main part of town is called General Luna. It's not too far from the ferry port of Dapa. Second major piece of transportation advice. FLY TO SIARGAO. We took, one bus, one overnight ferry, one short ferry and one troublingly rusted jeepie. Sounds fun?
Nope! Flying is the way to go! However, like many things in the Philippines, you've got to plan ahead.
If you book your flight in advance, you can fly directly from Cebu city to Siargao, and it won't even cost a fortune. Get to Siargao and get there now, before it bottoms out and gets scummed up Boracai style.
Week Three: Port Barton
Leaving Siargao was tough. It was like taking your dog to the groomers, watching her pee on the floor and just walking away. Unfortunate for all parties involved. However, like a freshly primped canine, I came out on top.
Week three we flew across the country to the province of Palawan. Flying into Puerto Princesa, many people go straight to El Nido. THINK TWICE. We got the hot tip from other travellers to make sure Port Barton was on our agenda. Knowing nothing more than it's humble population and limited power supply, we were intrigued.
Nightly views of the cotton candy mountain line from the main beach in port barton
not too shabby
Port Barton was an amazing way to fill the void Siargao imposed upon my heart. Known globally by tourists, we never expected to find such a secluded refuge on the province of Palawan. The main beach in town is quiet, sandy and packed with perfect waves to got thrown around in. The local food is afordable and the Western style vegan/vegetarian cafes are to die for. I highly reccomend Port Barton to ease your way into Palawan and keep the incredible relaxed Siargao-esque vibes alive!
Week Four: El Nido & Coron
If my trip self-destructed at week three, I would have been content. Before you close this post, know I am not at all shitting on Palawan. There's TONS of great things to see and do in El Nido and Coron, BUT my heart belongs to weeks 1-3. Let me explain...
From Port Barton we took a five hour bus ride to the ever-popular El Nido. Within moments I felt like I was back in Seminyak, Bali. Now, for those looking for an upper class vacation with island hopping, shopping, great eats and sightseeing... dive in. El Nido just felt strenous to me. I heard it countless times from like-minded travellers, "El Nido is nothing but a Western tourist trap." While I wouldn't call any island with this much beauty a "trap," I would say El Nido has grown too big for its boots. It's hard to get down a street without hitting a human traffic jam, and the prices are extortionate compared to all of our prior destinations. Points for El Nido do include: great night life, tasty (but pricey) eats and wicked shopping.
Not an actual photo of el nido but it gets my point across
Ready to bail on El Nido, we continued north to Coron. The last leg of our journey was driven by diving. While I never actually got my dive license, my friends were treated to a stunning shipwreck dip. We booked a DIY island hopping tour which I strongly recommend! We basically paid two nice dudes to take us around in their boat, only to the destinations we actually sought. Better yet, we moved about in contrast to the common tour schedules, meaning we weren't fighting the masses to see the sights. We stopped at the market in the morning and picked up lunch supplies, which were cooked to perfection by our lovely captains (right on the boat!) If you make your way to Coron, I highly recommend Hop hostel. The priciest hostel of our trip, Hop still only set us back like $16 a night! We each had our own queen sized bed and the hostel had a full kitchen, free amazing breakfast and an indoor cinema room. Couldn't have asked for better facilities to end my month.
What I Would Add
Two of my travel companions / favourite humans had an extra three weeks prior to my arrival in the Philippines. During this time they visited an island called Camiguin which they adored. Without having visited it myself, I can't give a firm opinion but it's sparked my curiosity and I'd like to trigger yours as well.
Other than that, my only other quam would be having only one week in Siargao. Shock... If you can't tell, it was decent.
What I Would SKIP
Just kidding. Not really.
Anyways, if you're working on a tighter time frame, I'd skip Palawan all together. That's a tough call, because I did LOVE Port Barton, but it can't compete with how much I loved the South-East of this country. El Nido specifically was a touristic destination that I need not revisit. Similar to what has happened to Boracay, I wouldn't be surprised if this spot gets shut down for conservation in the near future.
Hopefully this itinerary helps you map out your route and make the most of your 30 day visa.
I sincerely hope you fall face first into love for the Philippines.
**Huge shout-out to Matt, Han and anyone who gave them advice on these destinations. If left to my own devices, my trip would've been exponentially less legendary. Guaranteed.**