When I decided to meet my friend Jorden for a month of Philippines backpacking adventures I had no idea what we would find amongst the 7500 islands that make up this beautiful country. We did about one hour of research together in Kuala Lumpur and planned a rough Philippines itinerary that would begin in Cebu. In total, we planned to visit 9 locations in the Philippines and our budget was $800 including all ferries, transfers, tours, activities, food, accommodation but not including flights.
Since this trip, I have now made 5 other backpacking trips to the Philippines and I can now share with you my Philippines Backpacking Guide. It should help you plan your itinerary and help you with your budget as you are backpacking the Philippines.
Wondering what Camera and Photography Gear I take all my photos with while traveling around the world? Click Here to view my detailed guide about all of the gear I use and recommend for travel photography.
My travel insurance: One last thing before you get started! Have you got your travel insurance yet? You can Click Here to find out how I get the best deal on travel insurance, which insurance recommend using in Southeast Asia and why I never travel without it. *This blog post involves photos of my bike crash.
What to pack for the Philippines?: After four trips to the Philippines, there are some items you NEED to pack. You can Click Here to view my recommended Philippines Packing List.
PHILIPPINES BACKPACKING BUDGET FOR 1 MONTH
If you have $1000 USD and are ready for an epic adventure throughout paradise this is my Philippines backpacking guide blog post that may just inspire you to pack your bags, jump on a plane and have the time of your life. I did the trip for just under $800 USD but you can definitely do it cheaper (or more expensive) depending on your accommodation and activity choices. These are some basic costs to give you an idea of what is possible while backpacking in the Philippines.
- Dorm bed in a hostel in El Nido: $7
- Mango Smoothie: $2
- Bus from Cebu City to Oslob: $5
- Full day of island hopping in Coron with lunch: $18
- Dinner at a local restaurant: $3-10
- Kayak rental: $6
- Motorbike rental full day $7
OUR PHILIPPINES BACKPACKING ROUTE
As first-timers to the Philippines, this was our route. Looking back it is still a pretty good route but many people would add in Siquijor and Siargao instead of just visiting Bohol while down south.
There are of course hundreds of other locations you can add to this itinerary but these are the main hot spots: Cebu, Bohol, El Nido, Coron, and Boracay. If it is your first time in the Philippines I think those hot spot locations are a great way to see some of the most impressive parts of the Philippines while you are backpacking. If it is your second trip to the Philippines you could look at other locations.
For this route, we landed in Cebu Airport and then departed from Manila Airport one month later. Both airports are international.
OUR PHILIPPINES BACKPACKING ITINERARY
CEBU CITY – 1 NIGHT
We landed in Cebu city planning to spend 1-2 nights couch-surfing about an hour from the city. Our hosts were brilliant, accommodating us and cooking us dinner and breakfast. When couch surfing it is inevitable not to be overwhelmed by how generous complete strangers can be.
We left the next morning, taking a bus for a couple of dollars down to Alegria where we would base ourselves for the next two nights. I would suggest Moalboal as a place to stay instead of Alegria like I did as Moalboal has more accommodations, restaurants, and things to do.
Not all of the waterfalls on Cebu are in the south, although that famous blue water tends to be. However, if you find yourself near Cebu City there is a cool little waterfall trek up in the hills called Budlaan Falls. When I went, we did an Adventure Bag Adventure Day and had almost 100 people come too Budlaan Waterfall to clean up the trash. Hopefully, it is in good shape when you visit.
The waterfall itself is pretty big and you can get in behind the flow of the waterfall to the caves. You can also trek up on top of the waterfall and follow the canyon below. There’s lots of exploring to do at this waterfall trek that takes about 1-hour round trip.
Read the full blog post: ADVENTURE BAG ADVENTURE DAY AT BUDLAAN FALLS
ALEGRIA – 2 NIGHTS
For $7 USD a night we stayed at D’Allegre, a wooden guest house that rose above the ocean on stilts. Each night the sunset over the ocean from our patio and we couldn’t help but feel we were underpaying for our accommodation.
On our first night, we still had a few hours of sun, which was seemingly begging us to take off on a short adventure. The guest house owner suggested we visit Mainit Hot Spring in Malabuyoc, a 15-minute bus ride away. The Hot Springs were steaming. So hot we could hardly sit in some of the springs which ranged from 38-42 degrees Celsius. Set in a rainforest just beyond a local village we could feel this was just the beginning of an amazing trip.
View Full Blog Post: MAINIT HOT SPRINGS IN MALABUYOC
Our next adventure began at 3:30 am the next morning. Jorden and I crammed onto the back of a motorbike with our expert driver. An hour cruise in the dark through the mountains and a complete loss of feeling in my butt had us arriving at the base of Osmena Peak in Guadalupe. The Peak is known for having amazing panoramic views across jagged cliff lines and the ocean. We were told it would be best for sunrise and we were left speechless by the scene from the summit of the short 20-minute trek.
View full blog post: OSMEÑA PEAK HIKE ON CEBU FOR SUNRISE
While still staying in Alegria we visited a town just north called Badian. Famous for the spectacularly blue Kawasan Falls. We planned to do a canyoneering adventure from Alegria to Kawasan that cost about $25 USD. After a few communication breakdowns with tour agents, we were finally taken to a village in the jungle where locals had a community discussion for about twenty minutes over who would be our guides.
In the end, four young guys in jeans and flip-flops took the lead and we began our canyoneering adventure.
My Recommended and the TOP-RATED Kawasan Falls Canyoneering tour in Cebu for under $40: Click Here to book
This was definitely a highlight of the Philippines backpacking trip. The adventure began by jumping into the vibrant blue water of the river. From that point on we floated, jumped and climbed our way down the river. All the time guided brilliantly by our expert local guides.
The highest jumps were 50ft but they were optional. The highest jump that everybody had to make to continue the course was only about 10-15 feet.
Halfway through the tour, our guides let us loose as it was mostly just walking and wading in the water to come. We didn’t need any more guidance about where to land or how to stay safe, so we spent the next hour nomadically exploring the canyons.
After 4 hours we finally arrived at Kawasan Falls and celebrated by finishing the day of canyoneering with one last 45 ft jump into Kawasan Second Falls.
View Full blog post: CANYONEERING AT KAWASAN FALLS
MOALBOAL (Alegria Alternative) – 2-3 NIGHTS
On my original trip with Jorden we stayed in Alegria, which was fun but had I known more I would have stayed in Moalboal. I suggest staying at least two nights in Moalboal. I really think that if you are going to be exploring Cebu, the best place to stay is in Moalboal. There are a few reasons why!
Cebu City might be where you land at the airport but if you are looking for adventure, you will need to head south as soon as possible. Most of the best waterfalls, whale sharks, snorkeling with sardines and turtles are all down south.
So where do you stay to do all of these adventures? Moalboal! Trust me I know… I rent an apartment in Moalboal and that is my base for all of the adventures you have just read!
Moalboal is a cool town, which is the free-diving and scuba capital of Cebu and even the Philippines. Here there are tons of hostels, hotels, and homestays. There are plenty of restaurants and even a small mall.
This is really the last spot as you travel down south where you will have good wifi, 4G connection, western restaurants and lots of facilities. Once you head further south to Alegria and Ginatilan those towns just aren’t set up for tourists really.
Moalboal is just a short drive from most attractions and even all the way down to the Whale Sharks is just a 1-hour drive. There are a variety of accommodations in Moalboal but I will tell you my favorite for each style of traveler. I have a recommendation for budget travelers, mid-level and luxury.
MoHo Moalboal Hostel – Budget: I stayed at this cool hostel for a few days. It is brand new and pretty modern with a huge chill-out space. The WIFI works! I was blogging and using WordPress and the connection was fine.
The dorm rooms are clean and modern with each bed having a blind for privacy. The staff were super chill and helpful. There was free water to refill your bottle and free coffee and tea. It is the cheapest option on booking.com at just 8 USD.
Teobas Homestay – Value: You need to click on that link just to see how rad this place is. It has a staircase down to the ocean into crystal clear water. I can tell you, I have snorkeled out the front of this place with turtles many times.
For about $30 USD you get a private room with all of the facilities you need. There is not much better than having ocean access and a bit of a sunset view!
Dolphin House Resort – Luxury: If you are looking for a nice resort, Dolphin House is a 5-star resort with a huge pool for less than $200 USD per night. It has ocean access, great restaurant, chilling areas and a beautiful garden throughout the property.
These are a few of the best waterfalls and adventures right near Moalboal:
Inambakan Falls is known for having a beautiful 100-ft waterfall that plunges into a wide pool of blue water. Surrounded by lush jungle greenery it is indeed an amazing scene. However, what makes Inambakan Falls such a memorable adventure is the multi-level trek to different pools and waterfalls.
Inambakan Falls is a solid four-hour journey from Cebu City. When I visited, I was based in Moalboal and the drive took less than an hour on the motorbike.
The main waterfall is a 100ft flow of water, which crashes down into the blue pool of water. I really love the limestone cliffs behind the waterfall. The orange tinge contrasts so vividly against the strong blue of the pool below.
We swam behind the waterfall into the cave and explored the rocks of the main pool before sending a couple of jumps into the pool below. You could adventure here for hours and it is an adventure in itself. However, there are five levels at Inambakan so this is just part of the experience.
The third level was such an incredible spot. A crystal clear pool, deep enough for cliff jumping, sits in front of a backdrop of idyllic palm trees. It is a slice of paradise right in the middle of the jungle.
Inambakan Falls is a full-day adventure and is easily one of my favorite waterfalls on Cebu!
Read the full blog post: INAMBAKAN FALLS IN GINATILAN
KABUTONGAN WATERFALL TREK
Kabutongan Falls trek is one of the most magical adventures on the island of Cebu. The trail follows the blue waters of a narrow stream up the canyon until you reach Kabutongan Waterfall. Here you will find a hidden cave behind the waterfall and several different cliff-jumps!
The cliff jumps at Kabutongan are pretty awesome. From the viewpoint, you have two levels. One if about 5-meters and the other is about 8-9 meters. The water was really deep here, which makes it a risk-free jump unlike some shallower pools on Cebu.
However, you must always check for yourself as rocks move below the surface or there could be debris or wood floating just beneath the surface. Your safety is your own responsibility.
Read full blog post: KABUTONGAN WATERFALL TREK
DAO WATERFALL TREK
Dao Waterfall offers not only an epic waterfall finale but it is the trek in that is truly astounding. For thirty minutes you wade through those trademark Cebu blues, while ferns and palms cover the canyon walls on either side. The trek to Dao Falls itself isn’t hard but it does require you to walk through the water and navigate your way around boulders and rocks. It is a moderate adventure with incredible scenery, which is far away from the crowds at Kawasan Falls.
Dao Waterfall is about 40-50m high and pours down into a large pool. You can swim safely in the pool and near the falls when the flow isn’t too crazy but of course be careful depending on the conditions. It was a great pool to refresh in after the short trail hike. I’ve heard that the falls used to be double the width but a landslide impacted the flow and it isn’t quite as impressive these days but it still impressed me!
Read the full blog post: DAO WATERFALL IN SAMBOAN
PALM TREE ROADS NEAR GINATILAN
On the drive to Kabutongan are some of the coolest roads on all of Cebu. If you are looking for a scenic road to take some epic photos and enjoy the jungle atmosphere, keep your eyes open on the drive up to Kabutongan Falls. However, there are palms all over Cebu and you will get some great shots with palms on the way to Inambakan Falls, Dao Falls, and Montpellier Falls.
Cambais Falls is an amazing waterhole in the hills of Alegria, Cebu. It’s less than an hour drive from Moalboal and there are several other great waterfalls nearby to make an epic waterfall adventure day. There are several waterfalls and different cliff jumping levels at Cambais as well great spots for swimming.
Cambais Falls has two distinct levels. On the first level, a huge, milky blue pool is surrounded by ferns, boulders, and trees. The waterfall at this level pours over the limestone cliff wall without extreme force, more of a pour! It seems to drip off the limestone in lines, which creates a beautiful scene from below. There is a lot to explore on this level like a few small caves and plenty of rocks to jump off.
Read the full blog post: CAMBAIS FALLS IN ALEGRIA
Montpellier isn’t the most popular waterfall on Cebu amongst tourists. In fact, most probably don’t know about it. The locals are happy to share this one. They have painted a big mural and sign near the road, which marks the entrance. It is a great little watering hole without much of a hike and a great way to cool off after exploring Osmena Peak (on the same road).
Read the full blog post: MONTPELLIER WATERFALL IN ALEGRIA
BINALAYAN (HIDDEN) WATERFALL
Tucked away in Samboan is a beautiful waterfall at the end of a tranquil jungle trail. It is also the place of one of the most dangerous cliff jumps I’ve ever done in my life. It’s a beautiful but short little adventure, which you can combine with the other waterfalls in the Samboan region of Cebu.
Binalayan Waterfall is also known as ‘Hidden Falls’. Like many ‘hidden’ places around the world, it is not hidden at all. It is advertised with a road from the sign, which directs you to a parking lot and the ticket office.
The trail only takes about 20 minutes from start to finish but provides a beautiful coconut palm-lined path and peaceful scenery. Most of the path is a steady dirt trail, which we traversed in flip-flops. Enormous palm trees cover the land. One of our guides showed off his rapid climbing skills and gathered some coconuts for us, which was super impressive.
Read the full blog post: BINALAYAN FALLS (HIDDEN FALLS)
Aguinid Falls has become one of the most popular waterfalls on the island of Cebu. While it may never surpass the popularity of Kawasan Falls down the road, the Aguinid Falls trek is a great, adventurous activity for explorers of all levels. Personally, I think this is one of the best things to do on Cebu.
You can do a tour that lets you see Aguinid Falls and swim with the Whale Sharks all in one day! That is a great way to see one the best of south Cebu waterfalls and swim with the Whale Sharks on a tight schedule from Cebu City! You can book this tour online and check the availability for your dates by Clicking Here.
Aguinid Falls is split up into multiple levels. The adventure used to take you to eight levels. However, since there were a few accidents and fatalities on the higher levels, you are now required to take a guide and you will only reach level five. Don’t worry this is more than enough adventure!
The adventure to the waterfall is the attraction. You will walk through the water, along with bamboo bridges and at one point scale straight up the waterfall aided by a strong rope. Don’t worry it isn’t vertical. It is more of a 45-degree angle and not slippery at all.
After about half an hour we reached the level 5 waterfall, which pours down over the rounded waterfall. Caves inside can be explored and it is a great place for a refreshing dip. This is definitely one of the best waterfalls on Cebu if you want a big adventure!
Read the full blog post: AGUINID FALLS IN SAMBOAN
FREEDIVING WITH SARDINE BALLS IN MOALBAOL
One of the coolest things to do on Cebu is to head down to Moalboal and get amongst the diving scene. The big attraction at Moalboal is the sardine balls. A sardine ball is a collection of thousands of sardines that all swim together in unison. When you dive down they move as a collective this way and that way in what is an incredible dance.
The best part about this activity is that it is only 30-meters from the shore. This means you don’t need to pay for a tour or rent a boat. All you need is your goggles and mask.
To be honest you may not even need fins if you are trying to save money. You can rent these from any of the dive shops for less than $5 and enjoy the clear water of Moalboal! It’s definitely one of the most unique things to do on Cebu so don’t miss this one.
SWIM WITH THE RESIDENT TURTLES
Moalboal is home to hundreds of turtles. Every day swimming and snorkeling near the drop-off I would encounter sometimes up to five turtles!
You don’t need to go chasing and annoying the turtles as they just cruise around doing their thing and will often swim closer towards you if you just stay still. The best place near Moalboal to look for turtles is in between Tongo Point and Main beach at Moalboal although they seem to be everywhere. You will also find turtles around other spots in the south of Cebu but I have only personally swum with them in Moalboal.
The best way to experience the turtles, Sardines and island-hopping of Moalboal is with this combo tour. It combines swimming with the sardines, swimming with the turtles and island hopping to Pescador Island all in one trip. You can Click Here to book online in advance.
OSLOB – 1 NIGHT
While there was plenty more to see in the Moalboal/Alegria region we decided to continue our journey south in Cebu to Oslob. (I have since explored Moalboal and South Cebu in more depth as you can see from all of the waterfalls above but originally it was just a couple of nights in that region before we shifted to Oslob to keep our Philippines backpacking itinerary moving. A one-hour Tuk-Tuk journey along the coast was a relaxing way to transit out of Alegria. We arrived at the small coastal town, well known for being the prime tourist location for swimming with whale sharks.
View the full Blog Post: OSLOB TRAVEL GUIDE: THINGS DO IN OSLOB
HOW TO GET TO OSLOB: The most efficient (cheap) way to get to Oslob is to take a taxi to the bus station from the airport. Here you will get on a bus that goes all the way to Oslob. If you are looking to book a ride in advance you can book a seat shared van that picks you up from the airport in Cebu and drops you in Oslob for just $20. You can click here to book your seat.
WHERE TO STAY IN OSLOB: Ideally if you are coming to Oslob to swim with whale sharks you want a place by the ocean and near the whale shark tours. The tours begin at sunrise so it helps to be nice and close. There are some other cool things to do in Oslob so you may want to consider two nights in this coastal town.
Best Value Budget option: Casa Bonita Inn
Mid-Range option: Ocean View Lodging House
Luxury option: Germaroze
Jorden found himself in trouble as soon as we arrived, discovering he had left his passport and a wad of cash under the bed in Alegria. Too smart for his own good. I said goodbye to Jorden for the afternoon as he had to make the journey back to grab his cash and passport. I sat down for lunch and made friends with a boat captain who took me out no charge to Sumilon Island to explore.
An unexpected afternoon with a couple of new friends on a beautiful slice of paradise in the middle of the ocean was a perfect introduction to Oslob.
View full blog post: SUMILON ISLAND SANDBAR AND RESORT
SWIM WITH WHALE SHARKS
At sunrise, we lined up on the beach with many other tourists eager to share the water with the huge whale sharks. The whole experience cost about 1000 Pesos or $23 USD. Before we dove we were told that touching the sharks is a criminal offense and that it will result in a huge fine or jail time.
The Whale Sharks are fed, which is the center of controversy. I have experienced the Whale Shark center in Donsol and also swam with the Whale Sharks there. They don’t feed them in Donsol but they did chase them with motor boats.
Neither operation is perfect but it has been a good transition from killing the whale sharks. Both tourism operations still have a long way to go to be considered eco-friendly but they do have environment teams working on it. As with all animal tourism, it is a balance of economics and the animals.
I did the experience in Oslob in 2016 and 2018. In 2016 you just went free-roam and swam wherever you like. It was hectic and I saw many people touch the sharks. On my last visit in 2018, the tourists all line up and stay near their boats. Their captain and instructor watch their 10 customers very carefully in one spot.
The Whale Shark is led up and down the line guided by the plankton it is being fed. It is never in a net it comes and goes at its own will and the experience was much calmer this time around. It isn’t perfect but they have made huge improvements to the process.
Book a tour: If you have just one night, you can still tick off three of the best things to do in Oslob. Sumilon Island, swim with Whale Sharks and visit Tumalog Falls. You can actually book a day-tour that includes all three attractions. You can click here to book your tour that includes Sumilon Island, swimming with Whale Sharks and visiting Tumalog Falls all in one day
A quick shower and we were off on a fishing boat for an hour journey to Bohol, our new island home for just under a week. (If you have more time in Oslob you can check out Tumalog Falls. Tumalog Falls is one of the most impressive waterfalls on Cebu. You can swim here and enjoy the morning after swimming with the whale sharks. It only costs $1 for entry and is just a 10-minute drive from the whale shark area.
BOHOL – 3-5 NIGHTS
My Bohol Adventure was an off-the-beaten-path exploration of an island so diverse that I found something unexpected around each corner.
WHERE TO STAY ON BOHOL
Bohol Beach Club – Luxury: It’s everything you would expect from a luxury resort in a tropical location. It’s beachside with amazing pools, bars and chill-out areas. Right near the restaurants, bars and action of Alona Beach but hidden away so that you can relax after a day of island-hopping or adventures.
Venezia Suites – Value: The Venezia Suits present the best value on Bohol. If you are looking for luxury but only want to spend mid-range often you need to get lucky. Venezia will hook you up with a beautiful suite that comes with a pool and living space. It’s a damn good deal and located right near all the action of Panglao so you are in a good spot.
HM & B Backpackers Inn: As a backpacker generally you check price, location and cleanliness. HM & B ticks all those boxes as one of the cheapest hostels near Alona Beach but also maintains good reviews, cleanliness and is pretty cheap compared to everything else near Alona Beach.
If you want to have a look for yourself you can click here to jump over to Booking.com to check out all of the accommodation options for Bohol.
RENT A MOPED
The first thing you will need to do is to rent a moped or motorbike for a few dollars and book it in for your entire stay. On Bohol, I assumed the role of Jorden’s personal moped taxi service. I was quick to remind him I’ve only ever had one crash in which I knocked out 2 teeth in Indonesia, so he was in good hands.
*Warning the following may distress some viewers. Drive safe kids. Luckily I never leave home without my travel insurance.
We did a full day adventure from 9 am til 9 pm on the moped and we made short stops at the following spots.
It’s on the way to all of the waterfalls, Chocolate Hills and pretty much everything from Alona Beach. It is overflowing with tourists most of the time but somehow we entered the cave and we enjoyed it all to ourselves for a good fifteen minutes before more than 40 nervous tourists huddled around the pool as we backflipped and dove into the crystal clear water.
While I was expecting a scene a little more magnificent, the drive through the man-made forest is worth the journey if you are heading north from Alona Beach. Gigantic trees create a natural tunnel. Crickets and birds seemed to chirp louder than normal, which had Jorden convinced the sounds were also man-made and coming from hidden speakers. It is only a short stretch of road and we were a bit puzzled as to why on an island full of forests you would need a man-made one.
Nevertheless, you will see lots of people out of their cars taking photos of this stretch of road. It’s a good stop to rest the butt from the moped but I wouldn’t plan your day around it.
Chocolate Hills wasn’t quite as impressive as I had imagined and we were a little underwhelmed after such a long day of driving, it was still an interesting landscape. It is constantly rated as one of the best things to do on Bohol and even one of the best places to visit in the Philippines. Maybe my expectations were so high because of how many people had recommended it.
The sunset wasn’t prolific, but that’s the luck of the draw. It was a beautiful view and a type of landscape I had never laid eyes on before. The drive home in the dark was a crazy experience, which I also don’t suggest if you aren’t up for a challenge.
I think the key here is that in the rainy season the hills are a little less chocolate and a little more green. It was still an amazing landscape and any adventure on Bohol is fun. I had just seen a few photos online where the brown of the hills was very distinct and as you can see it wasn’t quite like that in reality when I visited. It’s a long drive from Alona Beach, so if you are staying there, make sure you plan a few other spots along the way like Twin Falls in Dimi Ao or the Tarsier sanctuary to make the journey worth it.
One of the best ways to visit Chocolate Hills is with a Bohol Countryside Tour. This tour is great because you get to do a lot just in one day for under $30! In just one day your countryside tour will take you to the following places.
- Visit the historical Blood Compact Shrine, and learn about the story behind its name
- Marvel at the Neoclassical architecture of the Baclayon Church, which was completed in 1727
- See the world-famous Chocolate Hills with its 1,268 cone-shaped hills that turn brown in the summer
- Stroll through the beautiful Bilar Manmade Forest, a mahogany forest stretching in 2 kilometers long
- Enjoy a delicious local buffet lunch on a floating restaurant that cruises through the Loboc River
- Meet the tarsiers at the Philippine Tarsier Sanctuary, which was built to protect the world’s smallest primates
To book your countryside tour, (I think it is the best value tour you will find on Bohol!) you can Click Here to book online.
Read the full blog post: CHOCOLATE HILLS – WAS THE JOURNEY WORTH IT?
Our second big adventure on Bohol was a day of waterfall hunting. We had met a local girl through that great old app Instagram, who was nice enough to show us to her favorite secret spot. I can’t tell you that spot because like I just said, it’s her secret spot but we went to another more well-known waterfall that was amazing too. With a bit of digging and exploring you will likely find too many waterfalls to handle on Bohol.
The second falls we went to was called Twin Falls and it ran a close second to the first Waterfall. This one wasn’t quite deep enough to do any big jumps into but we hung out in the tranquil surroundings for a couple of hours enjoying some of the best Bohol has to offer.
BALICASAG AND VIRGIN ISLAND – ISLAND HOPPING DAY TRIP
The final big adventure we did on Bohol was a day trip of island hopping. Each day a friendly guy tried to get us to join his tour and on the last day, we finally buckled.
At 6 am we met him and it was actually a really good day that happened to be my birthday. I didn’t have all my friends and family around but I did see dolphins, swim with turtles and got a belter of a tan while baking on our boat. The tour takes you to Balicasag Island to snorkel with turtles, fish and in amongst a marine park with beautiful coral.
The Day trip begins with dolphin watching near Bohol and then heads to Balicasag for snorkeling before finishing at Virgin Island, which is a sandbar. If you want to book this tour online in advance you can check the rates and availability of the top-rated tour by Clicking Here.
Read the full blog post: VIRGIN ISLAND BOHOL & BALICASAG ISLAND DAYTRIP
The second stop on the tour is Virgin Island, which was a little bizarre as there was no swimming there and not really much there at all. We still wandered around inquisitively and found a few starfish and abandoned boats to entertain us.
We had a blast on Bohol but it was time for the next destination. This wasn’t a month of relaxation, we were on a whirlwind tour of the Philippines. An early morning ferry to Cebu followed by a flight to Puerto Princesa took up the majority of the day.
PUERTO PRINCESA – 2 NIGHTS
We couch-surfed in Puerto Princesa for two nights with a lady who had a spare room above her house. We did a lot of work on the computer, met some of Jorden’s friends, who were in town and recovered from the first 10 days of the trip. Even if you aren’t a digital nomad you may want to take a break during this Philippines backpacking trip as one month of adventures can be fatiguing.
Puerto Princesa wasn’t one of the highlights of the trip but it is the easiest place to fly into Palawan from Cebu, especially with the route we were taking. However, one night as a stopover is more than enough if you are tight for time.
***HOT TIP: An important point to note is that we booked most of our hostels and tours the night before we arrived. However, don’t stress trying to plan out every single hostel, flight, ferry, and tour before you arrive. Accommodation can easily be found upon arrival at most of the locations we visited. Out of all the places on this Philippines backpacking itinerary, El Nido seems to be the most booked out for the cheap hostels. Everywhere else was easy to book.
So most people fly into Puerto and then head to either El Nido for the island hopping or to Sabang to see the famous underground river. For both of these destinations, you will book a seat in a shared van unless you are fancy with your own private car. This is a Philippines backpacking guide so I will assume you are choosing the van. The links below let you book the van online the night before and are about the same as the price you will find from the guy on the street who likely won’t have an A/C fan or will cram an extra tourist in the car.
How to get to Sabang from Puerto Princesa: Click here
How to get to El Nido from Puerto Princesa: Click here
SABANG – 1-2 NIGHTS
Sabang is a hotspot for tourists trying to visit the underground river cave which has been listed as one of the New 7 Wonders of the World. It wasn’t cheap and was the most expensive tour we did and definitely not the best compared to the island hopping in El Nido.
The cruise was interesting but the bottom line is that you glide through the caves for 45 minutes in a boat, the majority of the trip is so dark you only see what the tour guide points to with the torch. It was interesting but if you are tight for cash it might be best to save it for El Nido and Coron. It was a unique experience but I just wasn’t blown away by the boat trip into the cave.
If you do want to book this trip you can get a tour from Puerto Princesa, which includes lunch and the tour for a similar price as a tour itself by Clicking Here.
We decided to crash in Sabang for two nights even though most tourists come for the day and head straight back to Puerto Princesa. We ditched our van as it drove back and we stayed at Cafe Sabang and explored the area for a couple of days. It was a good change of pace in a small coastal town that operates largely without electricity. After Sabang, El Nido is coming so brace yourself and enjoy the quiet atmosphere of Sabang.
We played soccer at sunset with local kids, watched the fishermen go about their daily tasks and did some exploring up and down the coast even checking out a waterfall that is right on the beach.
EL NIDO – 4-8 NIGHTS
We rode on the roof of a Jeepney to the junction from Sabang before riding in a 5-hour van from the junction to El Nido. From there we jumped into an official van and I recall paying about $5-8 for the 5 hour journey.
WHERE TO STAY IN EL NIDO
I stayed at the Spin Designer Hostel. The vibes at this hostel were about adventuring during the day and partying at night. The staff helped to book tours cheaper than the vendors on the street and gave discounts if you did multiple tours.
If you are looking for a fun and cheap time you can’t go past Spin Designer Hostel. Make sure to book in advance as El Nido does get booked out.
Finally, we were arriving at the gem of the Philippines and it delivered big time. If you only have time for one location during your Philippines backpacking itierary, this is the spot. El Nido has the best of everything. It’s cheap, the scenery is out of this world, the island vibes are strong and I felt like we could’ve spent a month here.
We ended up spending 8 days here but you could do 3-4 and still see a lot. I don’t like rushing and it allowed us room to endure two rainy days. If we had only scheduled 3 days and our itinerary was strict we would have only had one day of sun. Flexibility is key.
It rained for 24 hours one time and we all hung out in the hammocks at the hostel reading books, editing photos, chatting and drinking. Those days are sometimes equally as memorable as the epic island hopping trips.
We did Tour A and Tour C island hopping. Both are all day adventures that include a gourmet lunch. You get to visit 5-6 islands and do some snorkeling in between the islands. We had about 15 people on our boat and both days were just amazing. Each tour costs about $15-20 but considering the gourmet lunch, it is about $12 for the tour. Such value!
ISLAND HOPPING IN EL NIDO, PALAWAN
I was lucky enough to experience Tour A and Tour C, but I am sure Tour B and D would be awesome as well. In fact even the day I paddled out on a kayak was amazing so don’t stress about which letter will be the best. It’s El Nido, you are going to be visiting lagoons and beaches that will blow your mind.
I photographed the entire Tour A experience and will now spend the next few paragraphs convincing you why your life needs an El Nido island hopping experience.
El Nido Tour A is the most popular tour as it combines lagoons, snorkeling, and secret beaches.
To book your EL NIDO ISLAND HOPPING A TOUR you can Click Here to check the availability and book online (It’s just $18 USD)
- It includes Three Lagoons at Miniloc Island, Shimizu Island, Snorkel with turtles at Seven Commando Beach, BBQ Lunch
To book your EL NIDO ISLAND HOPPING B TOUR you can Click Here to check the availability and book online (It’s just $18 USD)
- It includes Snake Island, Pinagbuyutan Island, Cudugnon Cave, BBQ Lunch
To book your EL NIDO ISLAND HOPPING C TOUR you can Click Here to check the availability and book online (It’s just $18 USD)
- It includes Helicopter Island, Secret Beach, Matinloc Shrine, Talisay Beach, BBQ Lunch
To book your EL NIDO ISLAND HOPPING D TOUR you can Click Here to check the availability and book online (It’s just $18 USD)
- It includes Cadlao Island, Pasandingan Beach, Small Lagoon, Natnat Beach, BBQ Lunch
SEVEN COMMANDO BEACH
Coconut trees lined Seven Commando beach and we, of course, sipped on a few after a quick snorkel. Our boat docked here for a 45-minute chill/exploration session. Many people snorkeled but we just hung out on the beach and had a swim. The rocks in El Nido are incredibly sharp, Seven Commando Beach was no exception. Wear shoes if you are planning on exploring in caves and on rocks like us.
BIG LAGOON EL NIDO
Cruising up the lagoon was our first real look at how dramatic the cliffs and landscape was in El Nido. The lagoon has a narrow and the boats manage to navigate alongside each other as everyone on board arches their necks checking out the intense cliffs. The boat glides across the glassy water, almost crystal as the narrow entrance finally opens up into a giant lagoon. The boat did a slow circle in the lagoon letting us take in the sights before heading back out the narrow stretch.
LUNCH AT SHIMIZU ISLAND EL NIDO
Our guides had been cooking on the grill all morning as we cruised around from island to island. It was time to see what they had produced. It was an absolute feast.
I’ll be honest I’ve been on some tours where you get a cruddy sandwich and a bag of chips. This blew it out of the water. Grilled pork and chicken, fresh grilled fish and fruits and of course an abundance of rice.
There was plenty for everyone as we sat around on the logs watching monitor lizards amongst the trees. A bit of exploration post-lunch never hurts and we found a very shallow spot for a couple of jumps.
SECRET LAGOON EL NIDO
This spot was amazing but probably my least favorite as there were more than fifty tourists crammed into a tiny lagoon at once. We had to swim to a small hole and clamber through. One through sun shone down into a tennis court-sized lagoon, totally enclosed by sharp cliffs. It was a great spot but a little bit of an anti-climax.
However, the beach around the corner once back out of the lagoon was really cool. The landscape here was by far my favorite spot of the day and I camped on my favorite spot at the front of the tour boat as we left snapping a few shots to capture the entire scene. I have never seen anything like it before in my life.
SMALL LAGOON EL NIDO
Our last stop of the day would be the small lagoon. By now I had become a bit desensitized to the majestic beauty all around me. But the small lagoon hit another chord.
We were offered kayaks as we arrived but also given the option to swim. Being the cheap guys Jorden and I were of course we swam. It wasn’t too far just a few hundred yards both ways.
Swimming through this lagoon was beautiful, calming and a great way to end the day. We went as far in as we could and just spend a while floating on our backs taking in everything around us.
We tried to hike Taraw Peak multiple times unsuccessfully as our guides did a no-show or bailed. It turns out it was closed due to a landslide, so if you can try and do that hike and send me a photo, I will be eternally jealous.
EL NIDO MOTORBIKE JOURNEY TO NACPAN BEACH
One of my favorite days in El Nido was a moped journey. Of course. We hired a few mopeds and a convoy of us from the hostel visited Nacpan Beach, Duli Beach and Verde Safari.
Nacpan Beach is a huge stretch of sand with some decent sized body-surf waves. Down one end there are a few small hills with trails that have great views and climbing trees.
View the full blog post: EL NIDO MOTORBIKE DAY TRIP TO NACPAN BEACH
Duli Beach had a big swell that I swam out in. For me it was just big enough to scare the shit out of me a few times but small enough that it wasn’t going to drown me. Long story short, floating out in the ocean amongst the waves was a great way to view the sunset.
Verde Safari is a beach we visited by mistake after overshooting Duli Beach. It was really impressive and totally deserted. We almost stayed for sunset but I’m glad we headed back to Duli.
One of the girls in our crew got a flat tyre and we had to drive to nearby town buy another one and bring it back to a vulcanizer, who fixed it on the spot. Total cost $3 for a new tyre and labour.
EL NIDO KAYAK ADVENTURE
The last big adventure we got up to in El Nido was a kayak adventure for sunset. Jorden and I hired a double kayak and paddled out of the harbor. We cruised along checking out several islands and enjoyed going at our own pace.
We ended the night floating in the middle of the ocean after all of the tour boats were safely back in the harbor. The sunset delivered and it was a moment to remember.
Another transit day was coming up and this one featured a 6 hour ferry trip that was surprisingly smooth. We arrived in Coron in the early evening and felt ready to embark on new Philippines backpacking adventures.
CORON – 4 NIGHTS
Coron is a hotspot for divers but neither Jorden or I have done any diving so we were a bit skeptical about how much we would like Coron. The city was interesting but I wouldn’t want to spend too much of my vacation in Coron Town. Coron is all about the island hopping.
We decided to hike up Mt. Tapyas. 742 steps in the burning sun proved to be a good wake-up call before breakfast. At the peak, a Hollywood-style ‘CORON’ sign sits atop the hill. Beautiful panoramic views gave us a good sense of direction and provided a variety of landscapes on Coron.
THE WARM UP AT MT. TAPYAS
Arriving in a new place, it’s sometimes tough to get your bearings to begin with. One of the best ways to figure out the layout of the town or city is to get to the highest viewpoint and take it all in. Coron has a great little trek that leads you up 742 steps to the summit of Mt. Tapyas. Don’t be intimidated, you can make it!
A Hollywood-style ‘CORON’ sign is perched on the hill below a giant cross. The cross is covered in lights and is quite impressive at night. The hike will only take 10-15 minutes and the view is worth the effort. My tip is to walk out the back for 30 minutes exploring the hill trails as it is quite beautiful out there too!
CORON, PALAWAN ISLAND HOPPING DAY 1
To book your ISLAND HOPPING A TOUR you can Click Here to check the availability and book online (It’s just $20 USD)
- It includes Kayangan Lake, Coral Garden Snorkel, Cyc Beach and Lunch
To book your ISLAND HOPPING B TOUR you can Click Here to check the availability and book online (It’s just $20 USD)
- It includes Barracuda Lake, Banol Beach, Snorkel at Skeleton Wreck, Twin Lagoon
I stayed at Casa Fidelis resort in a collaboration with them and the awesome part about that is that they had their own long-tail. This meant that we could leave before the crowds for a fun day out on the longboat. The crowds do get kind of intense in Coron so finding a private tour or paying a bit extra for early departure can be well worth it.
We cruised for about twenty minutes before gliding in towards Kayangan Lake. Breakfast was served on the boat and I can say I’ve never enjoyed a more scenic pancake. The water was so clear I could see every detail and every fish just by peering over the side.
KAYANGAN LAKE CORON
Kayangan Lake has a short hike up a couple hundred stairs to a little viewpoint hidden in the cliffs. From here you can fully appreciate the crystal clear water you have cruised in on. As you can see from the photo below there are hardly any boats in the harbor. This is because we were the first ones there.
If you take a normal tour you can expect at least 20 boats parked here. (Scroll down a few photos and you will see the packed harbor full of boats from a drone shot I took when I visited two years later. It’s a view I won’t forget and even after El Nido this one blew me away. The Philippines is truly one of the most beautiful places on earth.
From the viewpoint you walk down the other side of the cliff for a few minutes and reach Kayangan Lake. We arrived before any other tourists and enjoyed the peaceful atmosphere of the idyllic lake. I’m not going to keep going on about how clear the water is I promise. I will let the photos do the talking about the water clarity from here on in.
I returned to Coron a second time and did the same tour but during peak hour. It was still great but definitely much more peaceful. This time I had my drone and sent it up for a fly. I also filmed this short video that somehow went viral and had over 100 million views on Facebook!
SIETE PECADOS MARINE PARK
Next stop was a snorkel at Siete Pecados. The coral was like an underwater fossilized forest. Each snorkel is always different and this was no exception. Starfish, hundreds of different fish and fluorescent coral.
Lunch wasn’t going to just be a packed sandwich with Casa Fidelis, a full seafood and barbecue spread was conjured up on the grill at the back of the boat. We ate in a small hut on Atwayan Beach while looking out over the glistening bay.
SKELETON WRECK CORON
Something I was quite excited about was free diving at Skeleton Wreck. It’s one of the most popular things to do in Coron for free-divers. It’s a mostly intact WWII ship that found its resting place in Coron, Palawan.
Thousands of fish surrounded the wreck and swarmed us as we swam. To get down deep enough at the level of the wreck you will need to dive about 15ft but you can still get a great view from the surface. One of the guides managed to free-dive into the cabin of the ship and out of the window.
We threw down the kayak and paddled a whole hundred yards to Cyc Beach. A reggae crew drank, sang and played music on the shore. We chatted for a while before exploring the mangroves and rocky coastline.
CORON TWIN LAGOON
Our final stop of the day was Twin Lagoon, a stunning pool of water hiding amongst the breathtaking cliffs. Through a small gap, you can swim under the cliff and into Twin Lagoon. A vast lagoon, our own giant, private swimming pool for half an hour. As you can see in the photo below, we are once again the only ones in the lagoon.
However, these days if you go at peak time, there could be hundreds and hundreds of tourists in life jackets. I don’t want to discourage you from visiting Coron, Palawan. It is an amazing place. But the tourists packed into lagoons like sardines is a bit of a killer at times.
CORON ISLAND TOUR DAY 2
To book your ISLAND HOPPING C TOUR you can Click Here to check the availability and book online (It’s just $20 USD)
- The tour includes Malcapuya Island and Bulog Dos Island
I didn’t think it would be possible for our second day on the boat to live up to the adventure we had on Day 1. It was definitely slower but equally as impressive. The first island was Bulog Dos but it was actually several islands.
BULOG DOS ISLAND
Depending on the time of day you visit will depend if the sandbars connect. I climbed to the top of the hill and almost destroyed my camera in a tumble down the rock face after my handhold crumbled. I knew I wanted a better vantage point of the whole scene and in the end I think it was worth it.
A higher-end resort lays claim to most of the land on the island but it is a great place to visit. I have a thing for sandbars too so I was in heaven.
BANANA ISLAND CORON
Lunch was at Banana Island which might need to be renamed ‘The Hammock Island’. We enjoyed another amazing spread for lunch including oysters, squid, grilled pork, salads, and fruit. After lunch everyone got into the hammocks and had a mini siesta in the shade. I am terrible at relaxing and switching off but even I hung out in the hammock for twenty minutes.
The awesome part of touring with Casa Fidelis was the lax schedule. If we wanted to lay in the hammock for an hour it would have been fine.
MALCAPUYA ISLAND CORON
Our last island to visit on our adventure was Malcapuya. A stunning stretch of sand, lined with coconut trees made the perfect spot for our afternoon chill session. There is a little viewpoint on the left side of the beach and caves to explore on the right. Coconuts are harvested by locals who free-climb the trees and cut the coconut. It doesn’t get any fresher.
If you want to just cruise out to Malcapuya Island for a day trip there is a tour purely dedicated to getting you to this magical land of palm trees. You can book the Malcapuya FULL DAY Island trip by Clicking Here.
THE FINISHER: MAQUINIT HOT SPRING
Now that the island hopping was over, it was time to relax with a nice warm (public) bath!
Only a 20-minute drive from Coron town in a tricycle is a hot spring oasis in the mountains. Amazingly the hot spring also has a view of the ocean and it is a salt-water hot spring. The sunset was beautiful and lit the sky up with deep pinks and purples. I enjoyed it too much to get my camera out quick enough but this is what the hot springs look like.
It is busy but there is enough space for everyone to chill around the edge. Sometimes I prefer places to be empty but the Maquinit Hot Spring had a really chill vibe with everyone enjoying their bath under the stars.
There is actually a really interesting half-day town tour you can join for just $10 USD. It takes you to Mt. Tapyas, Maquinity Hot Springs and a couple of other sights around the town on a nice half-day town tour! It’s a great way to offset the overdose of epic island hopping you will do while in Coron. You can check the availability and book the tour by Clicking Here.
By this stage of the trip, we were both exhausted but we still had one more location to hit up. The Bali of the Philippines. You know it… Boracay. We took a flight from Coron to Boracay, which was actually a scenic joy ride that I won’t forget in a hurry.
Boracay was closed for 6 months in 2018 but it now re-opened. It was closed to clean-up, improve the logistics and systems that never had a chance to catch up to the quick growth of Boracay.
BORACAY – 3 NIGHTS
Boracay is a great way to finish the Philippines backpacking trip because we didn’t feel the need for adventure as we did during the first week and we were happy to enjoy the beautiful beach and watch the sunsets from our favorite bar, Spider House Boracay.
Each night we went to Spider House, a bar that looked out over the ocean. It was a perfect spot for sunset and if you don’t mind shallow water, a little bit of cliff jumping isn’t out of the question.
We also got out to Puka Beach and chilled under the umbrellas with smoothies reminiscing about our time in the Philippines and what a crazy adventure it had been.
Philippines is one of the friendliest places I have ever visited. Not once did we have a single issue regarding money, safety, scams or theft. In fact, we had the opposite. Generous couch-surf hosts, people letting us join in games on the beach and constant smiles. (Maybe they were laughing at us I don’t know, I like to think they were smiling)
I’ve never been thanked for visiting a country so many times on the blog and social media than when we visited the Philippines. The people are so proud of their country and rightly so. They want to share it with you and show you how amazing it is to spend time in their backyard.
If you have any comments or tips about Philippines backpacking add them below. We missed out on plenty of places but the 1-month visa only allowed us to do so much. Travel safe and adventure hard!
MORE PHILIPPINES BLOGS
I have also visited many other places in the Philippines that you may want to add to your itinerary and remove one of. the locations I visited. There is no right way to travel to the Philippines. The reality is that you will miss some awesome places no matter what Philippines backpacking route you take. You can check out the links below to my other Philippines backpacking guides.
Siargao: 30 AWESOME THINGS TO DO ON SIARGAO
Caramoan: CARAMOAN ISLAND HOPPING
Romblon Island: ROMBLON TRAVEL GUIDE: 17 AWESOME THINGS TO DO
Tablas Island: TABLAS ISLAND TRAVEL GUIDE: 20 AWESOME THINGS TO DO
Sibuyan Island: SIBUYAN ISLAND TRAVEL GUIDE: 9 AWESOME THINGS TO DO
Sohoton Cove: SOHOTON COVE NATIONAL PARK TOUR – CAVES AND LAGOONS
Carabao Island: CARABAO ISLAND TRAVEL GUIDE: 5 THINGS TO DO
Cebu Itinerary: CEBU 5-DAY ITINERARY – DETAILED ADVENTURE TRAVEL GUIDE
Cebu Things To Do: 16 AWESOME THINGS TO DO ON CEBU
Ultimate Philippines Travel Itinerary: ULTIMATE PHILIPPINES TRAVEL ITINERARY FOR 3-4 WEEKS
Monday 17th of April 2023
Hello Jackson, thank you for sharing your post. It's honest and it makes a lot of sense. For a budget traveler like me, this is exactly what I am looking for. Just to add, you didn't mention if tipping in the Philippines is necessary especially when eating in a restaurant. What are your thoughts about it and do you have any issues dealing with the local? It's always good to share our personal experiences when traveling to the Philippines.
Friday 27th of May 2022
Hiya, love the article! I'me hading to the Philippines in August for a couple of weeks, just wondered if you've ever been at that time of year, any tips on going in the wet season? Thanks!
L U Z O N – Dream it. Experience it. You’ll love it.
Wednesday 3rd of November 2021
[…] Island is a pristine region in the Philippines, which could be likened to El Nido on Palawan. We traveled to Caramoan from Legazpi, and were […]
How I Spent a Month Backpacking the Philippines With US$800
Tuesday 17th of August 2021
[…] I decided to meet my friend Jorden for a month of Philippines backpacking adventures I had no idea what we would find amongst the 7,500 islands that make up this beautiful […]
An Ode to the Best Filipino Food | The Making of a Foodie
Tuesday 13th of July 2021
[…] for me, I would have help in winning Ajay over. Ajay was a part of my FAM trip in the Philippines during my recent TBEX experience. If you recall, the event organizers did a phenomenal job of […]