The Philippines is remarkably beautiful. Landscapes vary from lush and dense greenery; to swaying palm trees, luminous green stacked rice terraces carved into the land, uniquely shaped rock formations, thick jungle that would be more fitting for a Robinson Crusoe novel- filled with a vast amount of noisy and loud animals that are all shapes and sizes, breeds and colours. Rivers flow past towering mountains, bubbling volcanoes and secluded islands. The islands (and the numerous abundance of them) will make any diver and snorkeler continuously busy and over the moon with the vast amount of options and places to choose from and explore the haven of wildlife that is to offer underwater. The Philippines are known for their friendly hospitality, their wide beaming smiles, their Karaoke skills, their strength from natural disasters, their conscientious attitude towards religion, their culture and traditions in relation to their religious festivals, and their beautiful ever changing landscapes.
(NOTE I haven’t included food. This is because, although there are certain dishes that are tasty; like the succulent Chicken Adobo cooked in a tantalizingly tasty tangy sauce, or the Fish Sizig served on a simmering sizzling pot with fresh chili and herbs, or the crispy flavorsome Pork Lechon and tender juicy Tochino, most of the meals here are created with salty fish or different types of barbecued meat, varying in flavor depending on the meat- all served with rice. I have got used to the expansive choice and dishes in India and Malaysia which has served the best meals I have ever tasted in my life).
The Philippines is unlike any other country in Asia I have ever been to. Most countries in Asia have some similarities to its neighbouring country, whether it be the food, traditions, sights or even style of dress. But the Philippines is in a league of its own, its original and unique. Surrounded by miles of clear blue sea, the Philippines has created their own individual identity. The influences of Spanish colonization through Spanish surnames and street names, as well as the as the overwhelming presence of Christianity rather than Hinduism or Buddhism, (like many other places in Asia), and the country’s sport being basketball, one can see the Latin influence within the country, causing parallels between the Philippines and South America. The westernized food chains, supermarkets and other ways of living makes the Philippines more along the style of America rather than Europe.
Although the bustling and manic transport of Jeepneys and Tricycles that inhibit the country- which would definitely not pass health and safety back in the western world, as well as the numerous languages and dialects spoken in the Philippines, further highlights the Asiatic feel of the community. Having the main regions of the country split into the islands of Luzon, The Visayans, Palawan and Mindanao, really affects the way of life for all, how tradition is passed down from generation. The slow and easy attitude of island life, easy and frequent transport on islands (although among islands incredibly difficult for a traveler if time and financial restraints) and the majority of sights similar in many of the islands, makes a visit to the Philippines easy and comfortable. Backpackers that come to the Philippines split into two forms.
The first, spend weeks or even months on one island, taking their time and really getting comfortable with the place and people. They will hire a bike for a week at least, exploring every waterfall, church and cave possible within the area, at the pace they want to. The second type of backpacker makes their trip to the Philippines at a kind of “mini tour”, their own personal highlights of what they want to see and do. Some understand the similarities of each island, and rather than learning the differences of each one over time like traveler number one, they move on to another island, seeing the sight of a certain island for their own wants and desires. For the second type of traveler, (which I am on this trip) I compile a recommended itinerary for you, one that fits to a 2 month schedule, but can easily be chopped and changed depending on your interests, budget and time. Using guidebooks, I have found that their “highlights” change every year, and some even miss out certain places. Here I advise what to see and where because I have been, or I have researched extensively and the entire backpacking community has been and shared their opinions with me, remember I am always honest! Oh and times at each bottom, are kept to a minimum.
1. Fly to Manila, explore the large city and do a day trip to Tay Tay to see the Taal Volcano (its expensive to stay there). Also have a night of Karaoke in Manila- it must be done and is the best place to do it. Time: 2/3 Days
2. Head up to the Cordilleras Mountains. Stay a night in Banaue, then head up to Batag by trekking or bus to see the full extent of the rice terraces, a world heritage sight. After here, pop to Bontoc in hope to see some old tribes and learn about their traditional culture and heritage. Go up to Sagada to chill out in lodges and to check out some caves and other trekking options. Time: 1 Week
3. Go through Manila to Legazipi to see the whale sharks in Donsol in a natural way and if visiting at the right time of year. If brave and wanting a challenge, hike up Mt Mayon, not for the faint hearted. Time: 4/5 Days
4. After, head to Boracay, to sunbathe on perfect white sand, wind surf and party like its your last night on earth. Time: 4/5 Days
5. After Boracay, head to the most perfect island in the Philippines: Palawan. In Coron dive through sunken ships, head to El Nido to kayak and snorkel through a myriad of islands, as well as have a few night caps. Then move to mainland Palawan, relaxing in Port Barton for a while, then on to Puerto Princesa making a base, whilst day tripping to the incredible Sabang and its underwater river, and biking around Palawan exploring its many beaches all to yourself. Time: 2 Weeks
6. Head to Negros, Dumaguete, if you dive- to Apo Island, or want to hike a smaller mountain, Mt Taya. Otherwise miss this stop. Time: 2/3 Days
7. For serious divers, head to Cebu. Here you can check out expensive but beautiful Moal Boal and Malpusca island, only recommended for diving- it is a long journey and there is not much else here to offer. If not a serious diver, or wanting a break from diving, head to Siquijor Island. Most famous for its bewitching past (if you are lucky you might find some traces still), this island is a perfect place and size filled with all that interest backpackers- exploring nice beaches, caves and waterfalls in a friendly and accommodating place. Time: 3/4 Days in each
8. From here head to Taglibaran in Bohol, passing through to Loboc, to see the crazily shaped Chocolate Hills and the Tarsier Sanctuary. Time: 3/4 Days
9. Get a ferry to Camiguin island, a more extreme version of Siquijor Island, with more activities and less tourists. Check how safe it is first, as the reason it is not visited often is because of the political trouble it regularly has because of the region it is in- Mindanao, although I have met people who have ventured there and had no problems. Time: 5 Days
10. Finally catch a ferry to Siargao Island, although a lengthy and complicated journey- it is worth it once reached. The excellent surf, beautiful beaches and mellow vibe competes with heightened mad Boracay (and soon it will be incredibly more popular). You can easily pass a few weeks here- and it is growing in popularity because it seems everyone knows someone who owns a guesthouse here. Time: 10 days
I have made this itinerary to make journeys for the backpacker, easy and affordable through ferries and the odd flight. Traveling around the Philippines can turn out very expensive due to domestic flights (and all of them having to fly via Manila) or arduous if wanting to move from one area of the Philippines to another, for eg. Palawan to Ilioio is a 55 hour ferry journey with one lay over. Try to avoid spending time in cities, the real beauty of the Philippines is in its nature and the city does not do it justice. If wanting to volunteer head to Manila or Tacloban, where most of the NGO’s are based.