If Island hopping is your thing, then a trip to the Philippines should be top of your bucket list. Surfing, treking, diving or just plain old lazing, there is a lot of variety and smiles along the way. You could spend a lifetime and not even get close to seeing the 7000+ islands that make up the archipelago. In 7 weeks we managed to visit 18, some of which were no more than sandbars in the sea.
After the inevitable trip through the manic metropolis that is Metro Manila. We headed to probably the most hyped island of the lot, Palawan.
If you’ve seen the picture postcard beaches all over the glossy travel magazines, chance’s are those picture’s were taken in Palawan. Even in the Philippines this seems to be the place marketed the most. The days of El Nido being low key are long gone, and I mean LONG GONE!
It was a good place to start though and some of the beaches and islands are stunning. You will, however be sharing them with what feels like at times half of Manilla and thats a lot of people. The twin beaches of Nacpan and Calitang were a great getaway from the crowds of El Nido. Forty-five minutes on a taxicle (tricycle) with just a few low key places to stay, this was our favourite place on the island and gave us the first of many incredible sunsets.
Immediately north of Palawan is Coron. Coron and its surrounding islands are technically still part of Palawan. Whilst still attracting plenty of tourists they are quieter and even more stunning than their big brother. The week or so we spent there would become a highlight of our stay. We played on some of the whitest sand and swam in some of the clearest water of anywhere we have ever travelled to. It’s a beautiful place.
Anyway we left the Robinson Crusoe outfits back in Coron and made some moves to the hills of Northern Luzon and in particular Batad. The main attraction in these parts are the UNESCO rice terraces, Batad’s being spectacular. When we were there, the rice had only just been sown meaning the paddies were full of water. This, when the sun went down brought about fantastic vistas down into the valley. To top it off we stayed in some traditional huts made out of wooden beams over 150yrs old. Ramon was keeping the tradition alive.
A brief stop in Sagada, famous for its hanging coffins, just so happened to coincide with the years biggest festival. No room booking = 2 hours of stress walking around the whole town trying to find a bed! If you need any help on where looks good to stay in Sagada, then make contact, as Steve’s seen EVERY place there is………..On second thoughts, hold that call!
The Highlight of the Sagada stay was Saturday night’s, Miss Sagada competition outside the town hall. This was fun on its own, with lots of prancing around and general disorganisation making it worth a few hours of our time. Also Betty, with perfect timing, invaded the stage, just as the contestants were about to show us why they deserved to fit the role of Miss Sagada. Steve had to jump onto the stage and quickly swift her back into the crowd, much to the amusement of everyone else.
Further South we managed to slow it down on one of the lesser visited islands, Cataduanes. Puraran beach was the main draw here, where it’s Majestic’s surf break is one of the biggest in the country. Outside of surf season, there ain’t a lot going on, which suited us down to the ground. There was however great food and fantastic people. The downside of Cataduanes, is that it gets smashed by the tropical storms. The island is know as ‘The land of the howling winds’. We had wind alright. We also had three solid days and nights of rain, so when we departed for Donsol it wasn’t such a bad thing.
Donsol is the Whale shark capital of the Philippines. You can see the world’s biggest fish elsewhere in the country, however this was sold as being the most environmentally friendly place to swim with them in the water. Well if that is the case then i dread to think what the other places are like. A sign in the ‘interaction centre’ stated that there would be 1 shark, 1 boat. We had 1 shark, 24 boats. 24 boats circling the shark with half the people jumping into the water from the boats, not able to swim. It was carnage to say the least. Steve was lucky, if you can say that. He managed to see the shark and swam with it for 30 seconds before the mass of non-swimmers blocked the route.
Donsol would not be recommended and we will not go back. If you want to see a Whale shark, maybe look elsewhere, but don’t give Donsol your money.
Malapascua was next up. This is located just off the top of Cebu island. It got battered by Typhoon Yolanda in 2013, however it has since drawn in the tourist in droves. Diving is what most people come for and there’s lots of choice. We didn’t dive, however stayed on the beach in a hut, run by one of the many dive companies. If diving’s your thing then go. If not then don’t.
The last island on our journey was the ‘Surf capital’ of the Philippines. Siargao.
Laid back, good weather, great food and even better people. Along with Coron, this was our favourite place of the lot. We split our time between Pacifico in the North and GL (General Luna) in the South.
The thing that really made our time here so great was the people. The locals and the travellers we met. Our first port of call was Bamboo Garden. This was right up our street. A friendly, welcoming atmosphere with a quiet white sand beach straight out the front. The mix of people there made our stay. Mike, Joy, Wes and Charlotte keep doing what your doing.
After reluctantly moving on down to GL, which felt like a city in comparison to Pacifico, we settled for the last few days in the Philippines. We had loved it and also found it hard at times, but the start and end of the trip, will stay with us for a long time. Betty has met so many friends and the locals had been very friendly towards us everywhere we went. If your travelling with a child, and are thinking about the Philippines then do a little bit of planning around the flights/travel arrangements. There’s so much choice, if you do the research it will pay off. We didn’t have a guide book and did little research, but in 7 weeks of travel, there was only a couple of places we wouldn’t go back to.
Take the kids to Coron, and Siargao and chill. They will be some of the most chilled and beautiful islands you will go to, if you know where to go.
- The boat trips in Coron. We did 3, all incredible.
- The ‘Pan’ Breakfast in Manila. Different gravy.
- Pawikan hostel, El Nido. In the midst of overpriced accommodation, Brian’s place is a godsend.
- Leaving Donsol.
- The friends we met along the way. Theres always smiles in the fils!
- The food at Majestics. Thanks Kissy.
- Learning to surf in Pacifico. What a chilled place.
- The different modes of transport! Plane, Bus, Taxi, Bike, Jeepney, Tricycle, Bangka, Ferry, Motorbike and Surfboard!
- “He’s a little bit shy!” (Betty)
- “Whats that mummy?” Over and over again………….
- “Little bit fancy, nice hotel!” (Betty upon seeing the room at the Pan Pacific in Manila. We don’t normally stay in this type of accommodation!)
- “Charlotte’s got nice lips” (Betty to one of the staff at Bamboo)
- “Peso’s daddy, Peso’s!” (Betty)
- “Its half o’clock” (Betty usually upon waking up!)
- “Little Coconut mummy?” (Betty) “Yes please Betty” (Mummy)
A word of warning: Flying in the Philippines can have long delays and changing flights is costly and not so strightforward. So plan ahead or as we were to find out the wallet will take a not so welcome hit. Coron back to Manila was not the cheapest flight we will ever take!
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