I took a trip to Philippines back in October 2019. It took me a rather long time to write this blog and I guess I owe my thanks to the quarantine. What finally motivated me to write this article is that I want you, my fellow adventurer, to go at once to this breathtaking country when the situation normalizes post the COVID-19 pandemic.
Philippines is not as touristy as Phuket or Bali. The country is an archipelago comprising more than 7000 islands, which would be a perfect destination if you are looking for a relaxed social distancing from the inevitable uproar of chaos after the quarantine. There is a saying that it would take twenty-one years for one to explore every island of Philippine archipelago. Do not sweat for here I am at your rescue.
This blog post will help you explore the best of these islands, including adventure sports like snorkeling, island boat tours, scuba diving and many more for that much-needed adrenaline rush post quarantine.
So, I’ll just let the cat out of the bag now!
Given my fascination with the beaches and lagoons of Southeast Asia, it proved quite a bit of a dilemma to pick one country. Finally I decided on the serene beaches of southwest Philippines. In retrospect, I couldn’t be happier that I made that choice because I know this country will have me coming back for more.
P.S. You can add Cebu and Boracay to this list if your trip to the Philippines happens to be 7-10 days long.
- Let’s talk Visa:
I flew to Singapore first and from there I went to Manila. The reason for breaking the journey to Singapore was to make my immigration procedures at Manila airport hassle-free. Applying for a Visa directly from Philippines is quite a cumbersome process. However, if you have a Singapore Visa you can fly to Philippines and apply for a tourist Visa that’ll set you up for about 15 days. Besides, this way you get to spend a couple of days in Singapore before flying down to Philippines.
- Day 1: Let’s hit the Beaches
The metro city of Manila will greet you with high-end skyscrapers and overwhelming traffic. Unless you have friends to catch up with in Manila, I’d suggest you to not waste another hour in this urban jungle and straightaway make your journey to the blissful islands. However, on your way back you can treat yourself to a couch surfing experience in Manila, which is exactly what I did.
Now we’ve reached the real difficulty: Which island should you pick to leave behind your footprints? Allow me to show you the map of Philippines and help you with this problem.
The best part lies towards the southwest of Manila which is Palawan – El Nido and Coron Islands.
As I had 4 hours of transit time in hand, I could comfortably board my connecting flight to Puerto Princesa. Upon my landing, I studied the maps a bit to get familiar with the directions to the places in my list. I felt a sudden pounding in my heart having realized I’m standing so far away from home. Palawan isn’t very touristy and it took me a while to find a shuttle van. From there it took about 3 hours to reach El Nido. My hostel was located right at Nacpan Beach. It was pitch dark when I got myself a scooter taxi from El Nido to reach the hostel. I had my apprehensions about taking the offbeat road in that pitch darkness, and there were moments when it felt like I was in a South American country and things could go wrong at any time. However, having been assured that Filipinos are very friendly people provided some consolation and I took the courage to leave right away instead of waiting till the following morning. The moment I checked in at the hostel, the warm welcome that greeted me made me forget that I had been traveling for the last 12 hours. This being a party hostel, I was all set to let the booze kick in and wake up hungover the next morning! Also, I made a reservation for an Island-hopping tour in the morning.
- Day 2: Let’s go Island Hopping
All set to immerse in the blue lagoons, Oh boy! I was all pumped up to dive into the bluest of the blue water and feel the contentment of having made it to this paradise seep through my skin and into my soul. On Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays, Mad Monkey Hostel organizes the Tour M- a combination tour that includes kayaking, snorkeling, and non-stop music. Tour M also features a ‘boodle fight,’ a military-style Filipino dining experience by the beach featuring fresh fish, chicken, pork, salads, rice and fresh fruits. For those who would prefer to explore beaches, sandbars and caves all in one tour, you should know that the M-tour is the best bet. Do make sure to sign up for this tour quite in advance as it’s in very high demand among tourists.
We had a good amount of time to get to know our fellow explorers as we went hopping from one island to the next. If you love swimming, then you’d most obviously treasure snorkeling here at one of the world’s best turtle islands. As the day came to an end and the sun covered the blue water with its orange veil, I was soaking in my gratefulness of having made it to this paradise. With the sun setting behind me and the cool breeze on my skin, I tried to capture the mesmerizing beauty of the moment and all the emotions that came with it into a photograph that I was sure to keep in a very safe place in my heart.
We got back to the hostel and it was time to bond over booze with all the familiar and not-so-familiar faces. The host had organized plenty of drinking games. The night had a hoard of unforgettable memories in store for us.
The Philippine cuisine will have you drooling at first sight. The menu is loaded with a decadent selection of various types of meat. And God help you if you’re a vegetarian for you’ll have to dig quite hard into the menu to find your choice (But please don’t let that discourage you from visiting this paradise!).
Now, let’s talk about the other eye worthy islands if you intend on a longer vacation. Although I haven’t had the chance to make it to all of these islands, I’ve put together a well-researched itinerary for your advantage. Do let me know in the comments if you think it’s worth a shot.
The stunning 8-day itinerary to Manila, Palawan, Boracay, and Cebu
Generally, I’m someone who likes to keep things spontaneous. But with Philippines, I’ve figured spontaneity wouldn’t be the most reliable style to make the most of this archipelago. So here is a well planned itinerary:
Day 01: Arrive at Manila airport early morning and board a flight to Puerto Princesa. Reach Palawan by afternoon and head to El Nido.
Day 02 and 03: Sign up for an island tour (which are classified as A, B or C depending on the hostel/hotel you’re staying in). Have the time of your life exploring the beautiful islands.
Day 04: Board your flight from Caticlan airport to Boracay.
Boracay is a magnificent island in the Philippines! Apart from its white-sand beaches, it is also famous for being one of the world’s top destinations for Instagram worthy pictures and jaw-dropping sunsets! Immerse yourself in this vibrant and lively place. You’ll find a rich assortment of activities that will make this trip a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Don’t forget to get yourself a stunning sunset picture at the beach!
Day 05: Explore and savour the beauty of Boracay.
Day 06 – Check out of your hotel at Boracay and board your flight to Cebu for the next adventure.
The major reason people flock to Cebu is the Kawasan Falls and Oslob (another paradise which shouldn’t be missed at any cost), which is only a few hours’ drive from Cebu city. Oslob is particularly famous for its whale sharks, natively called ‘tuki’. Though it’s shrouded by controversies, swimming with whale sharks in Oslob is a bucket list dream of many adventurers.
Come to think of it, the whale sharks must be enjoying the quarantine. The global lockdown would give them the much needed time away from the hullabaloo of the tourists and have their habitat all to themselves.
Day 07: Explore in and around Cebu.
Day 08: Board your flight back to India (despite your heart telling you not to!).
Hope you loved reading this blog post. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is to make the most of our lives. So, use your quarantine productively and get ready for your amazing vacation at Philippines soon enough. Meanwhile, stay home and stay safe.