A chilly and windswept winter always has us dreaming of far-off exotic destinations, where white sands and palm trees provide the most perfect backdrops. And boy, do I have a lovely place to share with you! Have you ever considered the Philippines for your next trip? If not, have a glance through this quick guide to island hopping in the Philippines and see if this adventure could be for you!
The Philippines is an archipelago of over seven thousand islands, all with their own unique charm and stunning beaches. It’s a place that isn’t jam-packed with tourists at every turn: it still harbours hidden secrets with pristine and quiet stretches of pale sand to sip coconuts on in blissful peace.
You can easily spend a few months exploring the many islands, but three to four weeks is enough time to give you a good feel for the place and a taste of island life. It also gives you some travel days for ferries and buses – many of the islands don’t have airports and if they do, they’re quite expensive to fly to.
Be careful with talking with other travellers about their route as there will always be another island ready to tempt you. Do your research, see which islands catch your eye and set sail! Let’s get stuck into my quick guide to island hopping in the Philippines…
A quick guide to island hopping in the Philippines
1. Fly into Manila for one night
Manila airport is the hub for all international flights, so you’re bound to be landing in the thick of this crazy-hectic city. It’s a mammoth sprawl scattered with numerous districts, many of which get grid-locked with painfully slow traffic so, for the love of god, stay close to the airport if you’re having a fleeting visit.
The airport borders on Pasay City and trendy Makati, so if you don’t want to stay at a business hotel next door to the airport, aim for one of these districts in which to recover from jetlag. Head to Manila’s top boutique hotel,
Wash off any fatigue with a dip in the pool, get stuck into fluffy breakfast pancakes, and take a 15 – 40 min (depending on traffic) taxi ride to the airport – the islands are calling!
2. Fly to Palawan island: El Nido
Palawan is a province that encompasses a few islands between the South China Sea and the Sulu Sea. The large Palawan island that has the main airports (Puerto Princesa and El Nido) was voted
Fly into Puerto Princesa if you wish to explore this town and see the magical Subterranean River – one of the new seven natural wonders of the world – or fly directly into El Nido for some beach life. El Nido’s town is a cramped area that’s full of bars, restaurants and tourist offices. It can feel a bit manic during the day as the narrow roads are busy and there are no pavements, but in the evening the town’s main roads are off-limits to cars and tricycles (the Filipino version of Tuk Tuks) making it easier to navigate.
There are many backpacker hostels and cheap accommodation options around this area, but if you can splurge a bit, head up to Corong Corong for a quieter life, idyllic views and beach bars. Accommodation runs along the beach, but with many, you’re paying for the location and view… the rooms aren’t what you could get in Thailand for the same money. But waking up to a view of dawn breaking over expansive sea with misty islands in the distance really does make it worth it.
Corong Corong only has a small strip of sand for a beach, but it’s enough to pull up a chair and enjoy seafood BBQs with a Pina Colada – plus, the sunsets here are phenomenal. If you’re after a gorgeous beach with swimmable waters and coconuts served from a shack, then head to Las Cabanas, a mere 100 peso trike-ride away! It’s been claimed to be
3. Island trip through Bacuit Bay
When in El Nido, you’ll see a large amount of tourism companies touting numerous excursions. They range from A to D and each boat trip will whisk you to a range of islands in Bacuit Bay, off the coast of Palawan. Yes, they are group tours so you’ll be sharing the boat with 20 other strangers, but if you are travelling in a large enough group, you can nab yourself a private boat and set off earlier to miss as much of the crowds as you can.
Tour A is the most popular boat trip as the lagoons and coves are absolutely stunning: swim in the Small Lagoon, canoe through the still waters of Big Lagoon, enjoy a seafood feast on Shimizu island, watch the sunset with a beer on 7 Commando Beach. And along the route, you’ll pass by the beautiful Lagen Island….
4. Stop a while on Lagen Island
Lagen Island is accessible by boat from El Nido’s port, but it’s not featured in any of the boat tours. If you want to visit this hidden bay, you’ll have to stay at
A pick-up boat will get you from El Nido and whisk you out to this patch of paradise. The 18 water cottages – reminiscent of the famous
Now this place is a serious honeymoon destination (it sure had me pining for my loved one!), but also a top place to come to chill with a bestie. Relax by the pool, enjoy a happy hour cocktail (or three) and do a spot of stand-up paddle boarding before succumbing to the spa. If you’re keen for more action, take off along the Lagen forest trail to spot copious amounts of birdlife and swinging monkeys, ending with brilliant views out to sea. Rule over your very own slice of paradise and soak up the relaxation of this sanctuary adrift in Bacuit Bay.
5. Seek out Siquijor
Fly to Dumaguete from either El Nido or Manila for a ferry bound for Siquijor. Shrouded in mystery and witchcraft, this small island is known amongst the locals for the healers who used to cook up potions. Less witches and more beaches is today’s theme, but you’ll still surprise (and sometimes shock) Filipinos when you tell them you’re heading to Siquijor.
Another tropical little island, this place can easily be driven around in 6 hours along the coastal road, where you can visit numerous beaches and picturesque waterfalls:
- Head to Salagdoong Beach for dizzying cliff-diving into the clear open sea.
- Swing off rope swings into the Cambugahay Falls or simply paddle in one of its three tiers.
- Explore the hidden Kangusuan Beach and feel like a castaway.
- Sit in the shadow of the majestic Balete Tree and dangle your feet into its cool pool – let shoals of fish nibble the dry skin off your feet, if you dare!
- Be sure to head to the white sand beach on the southwest of the island – there’s not much going on here apart from the friendliest locals and squealing school kids to make friends with. If you’re game for a spot of volleyball with them, go ahead and get involved!
6. Escape to Panglao Island and Bohol
From Siquijor, catch a ferry up to Bohol and escape to Panglao Island. The southern part of Panglao constituted the most nightlife I saw throughout my trip, and even then, it didn’t ever feel at all feel crazy or out of control. The Philippines is still such a hidden gem!
Panglao Island is a small island attached to Bohol’s south-west tip. The main hustle and bustle is along Alona Beach – stay nearby at either a resort like
Alona Beach can get super busy and has many sections reserved for resorts – venture up to the east side to find a spot, or go as far as Libaong Beach for less tourists and more locals. Oh yeah, and the warmest, cleanest, most turquoise-hued waters!
If you’re after more action, hire a car and take off over the bridge into Bohol. See the Tarsier monkeys at the
Journey 1.5 hours inland to the famous
If you have time, pop by Borocay which is a backpackers’ haven (see the best of Borocay
Island hopping in the Philippines will take you back to how SE Asia was before ‘The Beach’ made it everyone’s hot spot. It’s quiet, it’s beautiful, it’s relatively untouched, and it’s yet to form a well-trodden backpacker trail. Carve out your own little adventure on these islands; like they say, ‘it’s always fun in the Philippines’!