After spending the afternoon digging through old posts here, I realized two things: travel information changes all the time, and my travel preferences also change over time.
In the spirit of being truthful and updated, here’s a loving guide for first timers to the Philippines, originally written for foreign friends who need an overview of places to visit in the country. This is not an extensive guide (there is Google for that), but a curated one to help you cut through the noise and jump start your travel research.
(Updated as of August 2015)
My Travel Style
I am a big fan of immersing in a new place, and taking it in with as little introduction as possible. I am careful about over-planning and preempting experiences, and prefer to get surprises as opposed to following a strict itinerary when traveling. This is my own definition of slow travel. Accommodations-wise, my general rule of thumb is value for money. If a place calls for luxurious rooms to get an authentic, raw experience, I will definitely consider it. The idea is fair value exchange. Tourism thrives and is helpful to the community it supports when it is done properly, and part of this is ensuring that the gains–whether economic, psychological, spiritual–are distributed among all stakeholders (visitors, businesses, guides, locals, government).
MY TOP PICKS:
Palawan is huge, so best to ask yourself what kind of trip you want to have. Are you the laze-on-the-beach kind person or do you like packing your day with activities? Hotel-wise, do you like being pampered or are you okay to rough it? There are 3 main places to visit in Palawan: Puerto Princesa, El Nido, Coron. If time is limited and you can only visit one among the three, go for El Nido. It is, by far, the most spectacular place I have visited in the country. And the best travel experience I’ve had in the Philippines is, hands down, the Tao Expedition, a 5-day boating adventure through the remote islands in between El Nido and Coron. Not for everyone, but it’s a great example of community tourism that works.
The capital. Has the most city vibe among the three places. There are private island resorts a short drive or boat ride away from the city, like Dos Palmas (supposedly has great marine life!). Beaches here are typical white sand, with some mangroves. Flights from Manila cost anywhere from 30usd (non-peak and booked ahead of time during sales) to 250usd (peak season).
Crown jewel of the Philippines. Beautiful limestone cliffs. Remote town — has no ATMs. Direct flight from Manila is 300usd. Land travel from Puerto Princesa is 6hours each way. Hotels can vary from 22usd to 500usd a night. El Nido Resorts
Town is bigger than El Nido. Also has cliffs and islands but best known for diving. Direct flights also range from 22usd (sale) to 250usd. Also has island resorts: Two Seasons Resorts Coron
Boracay is the most popular beach here. The whole 4-kilometer strip of fine white, powdery sand (that never gets too hot for bare feet!) on the famous White Beach is riddled with hotels — some small and cozy, others are chains. Some people don’t like the crowds here but it’s relative. There are still pockets of quiet that make the place charming and enjoyable. Hotels on White Beach: Seawind Boracay (this is where I usually stay) If you want to splurge: Discovery Shores Boracay Asya Premier Boracay In its own cove: Shangri-la Boracay Resort
- Tagaytay (easy day trip from Manila) — most popular viewing point for Taal Volcano, known as the world’s smallest volcano
- Walk this Way by Carlos Celdran — walking tours in Intramuros (historic downtown Manila)
- Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar (if you like Hispanic-Filipino architecture)
- Villa Escudero — have lunch literally amidst waterfalls
- The Farm, Batangas