Philippines

A world map with the Philippines highlighted

Traveling in the Philippines 

The Philippines was the 4th stop on our 2017 Asia trip. We flew out of Taipei, Taiwan, directly into Cebu City, The Philippines. From there we went to Moalboal and Oslob before taking a boat to Bohol. We spent a couple of nights in Bohol and then took a flight to Boracay. After Boracay we flew to Palawan to go to El Nido, Sabang, and Puerto Princessa. Finally, we flew out of Manila to Jakarta, Indonesia. We spent a total of 3 weeks in the Philippines. It was by far the cheapest place to travel I have ever been. English is spoken by most and is the official written language as well. People are helpful and hospitable to travelers and they are excited that you are visiting. Despite being made up of thousands of islands, it is super easy to get around. It may take you several taxis, a bus, a boat, and an airplane, but getting from one island to another in a day is easy and reasonably efficient. In the time that we spent there, we never once felt unsafe, despite warnings from the media and our own government about traveling there.

A panoramic image of Boracay.


The Cost of Travel in The Philippines

Philippine money

  • Currency: The Philippine Peso
  • Exchange rate: $1 US Dollar = $50 pesos (2017)
  • Credit Cards: It is more common in the bigger cities. Bigger grocery stores accept Visa and Mastercard as do some chain restaurants and franchises. However, places you would expect to be able to use them like convenience stores, fast food restaurants, AND AIRPORTS do not.
  • ATMs: ATM’s are very common around the Philippines. There are a lot of small branches of various banks that have them, in addition to many pharmacies and convenience stores having them inside. HOWEVER, every ATM I attempted to get money out of had a limit of 10,000 Ph per transaction. That means you can only take out $180 usd at a time. So you get stuck with a good amount of ATM fees from the machines and probably your bank too.
  • Travel & Transport
    • A 24 hr scooter rental: 250-500 Ph
    • Ferry from Bohol to Cebu City: 450 Ph
    • Tricycle taxi: 25-50 Ph/km but it always depends on your driver and a number of traffic factors
  • Accommodations 
    • Airbnb: 750 Ph
    • Guesthouse: 500 ph
    • “Resort”: 900-2000 Ph
  • Activities 
    • Cave swimming in Bohol: 125 Ph
    • Chocolate Hills entrance fee: 50 Ph
    • Taiser Conservation Sanctuary Entrance: 60 Ph
    • El Nido island hopping Tour A: 1000 Ph/person
    • El Nido island hopping Tour C: 1100 Ph/Person
    • Sabang Underground River Tour: Ticket = 725 Ph and boat ride = 185 Ph
  • Food and Drink 
    • A can or bottle of San Miguel: 50 Ph
    • Chicken and Rice with a Coke: 30-50 Ph
    • Breakfast: 100 ph

For a complete breakdown of our spending and budget while traveling in the Philippines, check out my blog post The Cost of Travel in the Philippines



Tips for Traveling in The Philippines

  • Always ask your taxi, moto, or tricycle driver the cost to take you to your destination before you get in.
  • Break your big bills when you can. Most ATM’s only give you 1000 note bills and they are hard to break without spending most of it.
  • ATM’s only dispense 10,000 pesos per transaction, which is about $200 usd.
  • Globe is the better SIM card rather than Smart. You can buy a tourist SIM that lasts the duration of your trip in whatever airport you arrive in and reload it with minutes that can be used for data anywhere in the country.
  • Everything is negotiable. There is what they call a “skin tax” in the Philippines, which is basically just foreigners getting charged more for everything. Try to just look around you and see what the locals are paying for things to keep yourself from getting ripped off.

Things to do in The Philippines

  • Tours in El Nido are a must if you are on the island of Palawan. You can’t do any of the things they take you to on your own and for the price you pay, it is definitely worth it. You are gone all day long, seeing 4-5 different beaches, islands, lagoons, and coral reefs. They also include a HUGE lunch of endless fresh seafood. We went on Tours A and C while we were there, which were rumored to be the best.
  • Sabang Underground River is a UNESCO world heritage site and is considered to be the longest underground navigable river in the world. The tour last about 2 hours and a large portion of the cost goes towards conservation efforts.
  • The Chocolate Hills and Tarsier sanctuary are such an important piece of what the Philippines has to offer, they are both featured on the 200 Peso banknote. You can rent a scooter in Bohol or Panglao and easily make it to both activities in an afternoon. The entrance for both is less than a dollar and the experience is truly unforgettable.
  • Swimming with the whale sharks in Oslob. Over the years this activity has become more and more popular among tourists and because of that the area has grown just to accommodate them all. It is controversial in some circles because the sharks migration patterns are likely disrupted because the no longer have to travel to get food. Not going there isn’t going to stop them from doing it though and your absence just makes room for some other shitty tourist on the boat so you really might as well just go. It’s really cool.
  • Boracay is frequently named one of the top beaches in world. The crystal clear waters and long stretching white sand beach truly make it a little piece of paradise. If you go during the week instead of the weekend or even better if you go during the off season during week, you will find it to be relatively empty during the day. It is a very popular tourist destination so it is built up quite a bit, but the beach is still beautiful!


Cebu City

An image from a rooftop of a neighborhood in Cebu City, the Philippines Simply put, there is not a whole lot to do in Cebu City. However, it is a central hub for taking flights and ferry’s elsewhere around the Philippines, so you will undoubtedly end up there at one point or another. If you do, you might as well stay a night or two and see what the Philippine’s 2nd largest city has going on. We flew into Cebu City from Taiwan and ended up back there two more times just because it is a cheap airport to fly out of. If you do decide do spend a day or two there, there is a gigantic outdoor market area that’s great to walk around. There is also the old fortress by the docks to check out if you are in the area. There is some extreme poverty on display in parts of the city that I think is important to understand seeing that you are going to spend most of your time in the Philippines in what most people would consider beach paradise.


Moalboal

An image of a backpacker walking on a sandbar in Moalboal, the Philippines

Moalboal was our first big stop on our Philippines trip. We took a bus from Cebu City and then asked a trike where we got off in Moalboal to take us to the cheapest place he knew of. We stayed in the Vivian’s Nipa Huts just a short distance from white sand beach but there was good snorkeling right outide where we stayed too. White Sand Beach is mostly populated by resorts that hog most of the beach front, but there are still a few spots to put a towel down and hangout for the day. There is also really good snorkeling right off the shore on White Sand Beach. Most people are staying at the dive shop resorts to go on dives though. We rented a scooter while we were there for 3 days and were able to drive back and forth from our cheap room to the nicer resort beaches. It was a great first taste of what the beaches in the Philippines were going to be like.


Oslob

A whale shark with its mouth open in the water in Oslob, the Philippines

The big attraction in Oslob is obviously the whale sharks. I guess it’s controversial in some circles because they feed the sharks which disrupts their migration patterns. They aren’t going to stop doing it though just because you boycott it, so you might as well go check it out. It was a really cool experience getting to swim with them and worth every penny. I would recommend staying on the outskirts of Oslob rather than by the whale shark area. Oslob is also home to the Tumalog waterfalls, which are a fantastic set of waterfalls with a huge damned off area to swim in the fresh mountain water. We met some great people while hanging out in Oslob and even without the activities there, I would probably call it one of my favorite areas.


Bohol

An image of the Chocolate Hills in Bohol, the Philippines

Bohol is a great place with a lot of unique activities in the Philippines. We stayed on Panglao island to give us access to some of the beaches close by. If you stay on Panglao you can visit Alona Beach, White Beach, Bikini Beach, and several others. They are all very close together and it is nice to stay away from the Alona Beach resorts but come hangout on the beach for the day. We rented a scooter for 3 days and on just one of the days we were able to ride to see the tarsier sanctuary and the Chocolate Hills and still have time to hangout on the beach all afternoon when we got back. Bohol is definitely worth the trip if not for the Chocolate Hills and tarsiers alone. The nice beaches are an added bonus. Don’t be ashamed if you like it in the Bohol.


Boracay

An image of the beach in Boracay, the Philippines.

Boracay is continually ranked as one of the top beach destinations in the world. The crystal clear waters on long stretches of palm-lined, white sand beaches, make it a must see for any trip to the Philppines. We spent 4 days in Boracay. I can see how it would be packed in the high season, but while we were there, it wasn’t terribly overcrowded. We stayed in station three at Isla Bonita Inn for $15/ night and it was directly on the beach. There are lots of resorts and lots of tourists but still plenty of room to find some seclusion, especially if you walk past station one and onto the beaches on the other side of the rocks. There are obviously a lot of rip off restaurants and scammy tourist attractions. We were content just to drink beers and eat fruit on one of the nicest beaches in the world. For more on Boracay, check out my blog post, Where to Stay in Boracay.


El Nido

An image of blue water in a lagoon in El Nido, the Philippines.The island of Palawan is where you will encounter the most backpackers in the Philippines. That is because it has some of the coolest activities. We arrived in Puerto Princessa and took a van to El Nido where we stayed in the Mina Beach Cottages on Coron Beach for $8/night. Most people base themselves out of El Nido to go on the many island hopping and lagoon tours that are offered by different agencies. We spent 3 days in El Nido and during that time we went on two different tours and rented a scooter for a day in between to visit Nacpan and Lio Beach. We went on Tour A and Tour C and they were both well worth the money. They take you to 5 different really cools spots including great snorkeling spots, private beaches, and beautiful blue water lagoons. Nacpan beach is also a really cool unspoiled beach that you can ride to by scooter from El Nido in about 45 minutes. El Nido is packed with great activities and they are all super budget friendly.


Sabang

An image of a canoe coming out of a cave. Sabang is the town closest to the world famous underground river. The town itself is small and quiet and therefor pretty pleasant to stay in. It is the type of place that only has electricity for certain hours of the day and there are only a couple of restaurants and guesthouses in town alongside one gigantic Sheridan Resort for the Koreans. The river tour is really cool and you should make sure and book it yourself at the station by the docs and not through another agency. It is way cheaper this way. The tour lasts about 2 hours and is the coolest cave I have ever been in. If you stay for more than just the tour the beach in Sabang is actually pretty nice. There are some strong currents but plenty of people still swim and the locals are friendly. There are some other nearby hikes to do as well as some cool tide pools on the rocks.