Many have asked me for tips on traveling around the Philippines and I usually give a list of places and sights that one shouldn’t miss out but I could go on and on for a long time. There’s actually more than 7,000 islands in this archipelago and it will take years for anyone to explore each and every one of them!
Making a travel itinerary for the Philippines is not really hard only if you know what your interests are and how much time you have got. Most nationals are allowed to enter the country for 21 days without a visa and though this may not be really enough to see the whole country, it is already a good amount of time to see and do a lot of things there. I can’t decide on making just one itinerary and not because I’m the most indecisive person in the world but because there’s just so much I want other people to see back home.
I have to consider that not all travelers are alike and some would rather lay on the beach all day while others would climb a mountain for many days. Not all travelers also have the same budget and since the Philippines has a lot of islands, there will be a lot of flying involved to go from island to island. Boats and ferries are available and can be cheaper than flying but there is also the time factor that we have to think about. No one wants to spend half of their time traveling from one point to another!
So here I have made four itineraries that I hope can make things easier for those who are planning to visit the Philippines for 3 weeks. You don’t have to follow everything because I just want to give you some ideas on masterminding your trip.
‘The Most Wanted’
This itinerary is about going to the top must-see spots of the country, the places where you would most likely to meet a lot of other travelers and the roads that are most well traveled. To get cheap flights, keep an eye out on promo sales by budget airlines that are usually advertised months before the date of travel.
Week One. Spend your first night in Manila and explore the city on your first two days. Explore Intramuros, an old Spanish fortress, on a horse drawn carriage and see a lot of historical old buildings and houses that were of Spanish influence before heading to Binondo, the world’s first Chinatown. Indulge yourself with as much seafood as you can eat at Seafood Dampa or try out all sorts of Filipino street food! Hop in on an overnight bus to Banaue to see the ‘Eight Wonder of the World’, the Banaue Rice Terraces. Give yourself two days to explore Banaue and Batad. Don’t miss out on Sagada for a much cooler mountain air and pines trees that will make you forget you’re in South East Asia. On your 6th day, get a morning bus to Baguio (bah-gee-yoh) City, the ‘Summer Capital’ of the country, and see some of it’s sights. Head back down to Manila to catch a flight to Coron, Palawan the day after.
Week Two. There are numerous island hopping tours that you can choose from in Coron and if you especially love diving, it’s wreck diving is one of the best in the world. Continue going down south by getting on a boat to El Nido, an also popular destination for beach and sun lovers. It’s lime stone cliffs and stunning backdrops will make you love this little piece of paradise.
Try to enjoy a pretty bumpy ride down to Palawan’s capital, Puerto Princesa and take on an adventure by doing the boat tour through the Underground River, considered the world’s longest underground river. There are also day tours of Honday Bay for more island tours and beautiful beaches. From Puerto Princesa you can take a flight to Cebu.
Week Three. Eat, shop and drink in Cebu City, the nation’s second largest city and on the 3rd Sunday of January, the city gets especially busy for it’s famous Sinulog Festival. Take a quick day trip to Bohol for it’s Chocolate Hills and Tarsier Sanctuary. Finish your trip by flying to Boracay, the country’s number 1 tourist destination, and spend a few days relaxing on it’s pearly white beaches or getting active with it’s countless water sports. It also has a busy nightlife and so end your trip with a party before setting off for your flight back to Manila.
‘The Sun, Sea and Fish!’
This is for the people who have got nothing else in mind but to go swimming and spend every minute on a beach. The Philippines is also a great choice for divers as it has some of the best diving spots in the world. With 7, 100 islands to choose from, this country is definitely great for island hopping!
- El Nido, Palawan
Week One. Spend you first night in Manila but leave early in the morning for a direct bus to Batangas pier and take a ferry to Puerto Galera, a good alternative to Boracay and loved by divers for it’s excellent scuba diving. You can get your diving certificate here or you can also choose to enjoy it’s beaches, waterfalls and decent night life instead. Head back to Manila after and take a flight to Coron, Palawan. Diving around WWII shipwrecks underwater will give you an incredible experience and also enjoy swimming in the crystal-clear lakes.
Week Two. Start your second week by taking a boat to El Nido. It’s deserted islands, gorgeous white beaches and amazing lagoons will make you fall in love with the it. Catch a bus or a van to Puerto Princesa after two or three days and head straight to the airport to fly to Cebu. From the south terminal of Cebu City, get on a bus to Moalboal. It’s beaches are nice and snorkeling, scuba diving and also free diving are among the top things to do in Moalboal. Kawasan Falls is a must visit if you aren’t sick yet of swimming. Alternatively, you can instead head up to Malapscua Island for a more extreme diving where thresher sharks and manta rays are among your attractions.
Week Three. Take a bus back to Cebu and a boat to Bohol, which also offers awesome diving opportunities for already diving experts but training courses are also available for many. Spend a couple of days to do island hopping or simply relax on the beautiful Alona Beach on the island of Panglao. Head back to Cebu for your flight to Boracay, your last but not the least destination. It’s beaches are voted one of the best in the world!
‘Hikers and Trekker’s Choice’
For those looking for an escape from the heat and bustling cities, the Philippines offer a number of cool and relaxing mountain retreats. The Cordillera region of Luzon up north of the country will not just bring you closer to nature but also to some of the most beautiful and serene scenery, amazing waterfalls, mountain tribes and remote villages, hidden to many people and the outside world (something like that). Volcanoes are also some of the top picks to explore.
- Banaue Rice Terraces
Week One.If you arrive early in Manila you can do a warm-up hike up the world’s smallest active volcano in Tagaytay, the Taal Volcano, just over an hour or two away from the capital. Spend the next day trekking Mt. Batulao in Batangas, an easy but also a rewarding climb for both experienced and non-experienced mountaineers. When back in Manila, take an overnight bus to Banaue to see the Rice Terraces and then head off the day after to Batad, a small village that has, to many people, the best and most stunning amphi-theater like rice terraces. Trekking in Batad is an awesome experience and spending a night in this quite village, inaccessible by road, is unforgettable.
Week Two. Make your way back to Banaue early the next day to catch a mini-van or a jeepney to Bontoc. Discover Maligcong Rice Terraces, another stunning attraction, on a day trip from Bontoc. Visit Bontoc Museum before taking a jeepney to Sagada and for a thrill-seeking ride, sit on the roof top of the jeepney and enjoy the views! Sagada can occupy you for days with it’s sights, waterfalls, caving, rock climbing and various trekking paths. It can get very cold at night so keep yourself warm. Spend two or three days before leaving in the morning for Baguio and spend at least a night there or you can go straight to Kabayan, a small village known for it’s mummy burial sites and the country’s third highest peak, Mt. Pulag.
Week Three.Make your way down south and climb up Mt. Pinatubo, which had it’s major eruption in 1991 and now has become a tourist and trekker’s attraction. Before heading back to Manila, stop over for a few days in Subic that has a lot of trekking activites such as forest hikes guided by the Aetas, a group of indigenous people and have lived in the country for centuries, and join their survival skills activities, camping in the jungle and hiking Mt. Cinco Picos. Reward yourself a relaxing time on the beaches of Subic before you finish your trip and do some shopping in Manila!
‘There’s no need for flights’
There are many ferry and boat connections available for traveling around the country but keep in mind that these may take up a lot of time. Luzon, the biggest island, already has a lot of sights and activities to offer for travelers and even 3 weeks is not enough to experience all of them. This itinerary is also useful to travelers who have didn’t have much time to plan or book flights around the country.
Week One. Explore Manila for 2-3 days but also take a day trip to Tagaytay, to see the world’s smallest active volcano. Save some time by taking an overnight bus to Banaue from the capital and spend days exploring it’s Rice Terraces. A day trip to Batad is available but I strongly recommend to spend a night there to give yourself more time to trek it’s amphi-theater like terraces and enjoy it’s towering waterfalls. This place will truly amaze you with it’s stunning views.
Week Two. Head next to Sagada by jeepney or a minivan from Banaue passing through Bontoc. A laid-back remote town that has now become extremely popular to foreigners, Sagada is known for it’s unusual hanging coffins, caving activities, waterfalls, and tons of mountain adventures. Next on the intinerary is Baguio City, the Summer Capital of the Philippines, where you can shop for local crafts, visit the Tam-Awan Village to learn more about indigenous people’s way of living, and many more sights to enjoy. After a night or two in Baguio, head early further north to Vigan by bus, a 16th Century town that is deemed a UNESCO World Heritage site. Explore the main sites by foot or a horse-drawn carriage. Head back down to Manila by taking an overnight bus. From Manila, take a day trip to the historical island of Corregidor, just a ferry ride away from the city. You can spend the night there so not to miss the ghost tours or come back to the city for some night-life activities instead.
Week Three. Take a boat to Coron in Palawan from Manila. It has a lot of diving and snorkeling activities to offer, islands with white sand beaches, lakes and deep sea fishing. After Coron, take a boat to El Nido, still known as the Philippine’s last frontier for it’s unspoiled beauty and amazing white beaches, a perfect place for paradise seekers. Head down by land to Puerto Princesa, and if you have time to spare, visit the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park for it’s 8.2 kilometre Underground River tour. Head back to Manila by ferry.
Or you can skip Palawan or head to Boracay instead. There are a few companies that operate ferries to Boracay from Manila and the journey will take some time but will save you a night’s accommodation. It may just be a small island but it’s without a doubt the top island destination in the country. There are several stunning white beaches to choose from, tons of water sports that will keep you busy (and fit), lots of shops and restaurants to suit your needs and the night life is pretty good too. Party and enjoy before you leave the country or relax and enjoy a massage on the beach!
Keep in mind that you are required an onward plane ticket out of the country before you arrive. You will be asked for the ticket at the airport you are flying from so book a flight before you go. The wet season is from June to October, but be aware of typhoons coming around at the end of the year too. The driest and probably the best time to go is from January to May, when it’s mostly dry, and these months promise a lot of sunshine. When taking ferries, keep updated on the weather news as you don’t want cancellations to delay your trip.
The summer holidays for the locals are the from end of March to May which means the top destinations are packed with local tourists so book in advance or find an alternative route. A piece of paradise to yourself isn’t hard to find in country of seven thousand islands.
It is generally safe in the Philippines but it is always best to be aware of people around you and always keep an eye out on your belongings. Don’t stress yourself out too much or it will ruin your trip! Pharmacies are not hard to find in the country and the medicines are all written in English.
It is still generally cheap in the Philippines though really cheap accommodations can be hard to find, food, alcohol and local transport are still very affordable. Fast food restaurants all over the country have meals that costs only over a US$1 with a small drink. And everything else gets so much cheaper the further you get away from the city and the tourist areas.
- It’s more fun in the Philippines!
And last but not the least, always remember to smile and the Filipinos will always smile back. The locals are some of the friendliest and happiest in the world! There are tons more to see and if you have more time to spare, do not limit yourself to just 3 weeks in this amazing country.
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