How to Travel the Philippines

If you are planning to travel the Philippines, especially if it is for the first time, you may have a number of questions and chances are you are trying to answer as many of them as possible by looking for them online, through blogs and different social media channels like Facebook, Pinterest or Instagram.

There are more than 7000 islands and tourism has increased considerably over the last decade.  Compared to many of its neighboring countries in Southeast Asia, many of the popular tourist destinations have only become as busy as they are over the last decade.  As you, most likely, have already seen online, most people tend to end up visiting Palawan (Coron, El Nido, Port Barton), Boracay, Bohol (Panglao Island), Siquijor, Siargao and Camiguin, and trying to design an itinerary to see as much as possible can be one tedious task.

When planning a trip around the Philippines, it is important to be aware of the fact that getting from one place to another, may require time and also careful planning.

How long will you travel the Philippines for?

Whether you are a local, planning a long weekend getaway, or a foreigner, on vacation, one should take into account that time is key.  Some islands are much bigger than others and the fact that your preferred destination may be small, may not mean that you can cover everything in just a couple of days.  While most map apps will calculate travel times (by road) based on average speeds of 100 km/h or 60 m/h, traveling 100km in the Philippines may take 2 to 3 hours or more.

Where to start and where to end?

Another important thing to have in mind is that at the time of writing, the Philippines has 3 international airports (Ninoy Aquino International airport, a.k.a. N.A.I.A. in Manila, Clark International Airport, formerly known as the Diosdado Macapagal International Airport, and Mactan–Cebu International Airport).  There are international airports on the way in both Panglao Island, Bohol and in Siargao and other airports like Kalibo and Iloilo offer very limited international flight connections.

Most foreign tourists will start  to travel the Philippines arriving in either Manila or Cebu, and will exit the country from those airports too, so planning your itinerary will very likely include, at least one night at one or both of these cities.

What to see in the Philippines?

This is usually where the confusion starts.  It is hard to feel that after having made up your mind to fly to the Philippines, one may be missing out on those places that look so amazing on Instagram.  But at the same time, one may want to visit a less well known place with less tourism and therefore, much less information to help one plan accordingly.  Who do you trust?  Be brave, a little research will show you that there are plenty of options and it is hard to not find a beautiful place which is yet to become the next big thing.

How to travel the Philippines?

As much as flights may be the fastest way to get from point A to Point B, many itineraries in the Philippines, may require you to take a flight to Manila or Cebu and then fly to the next destination.  Sometimes, traveling by road is the best option, not to mention you will be able to see more in less time.

Be realistic about time and geographical location.  If you have x amount of days and you really want to see a particular place, start with that one place and design your trip around it.  The islands in the Philippines are generally well connected by ferries and roro (roll on roll off ferries) and it is usually not hard to design a good loop that will take you to and from one or both international airports. Check out our map of the different ports in the Philippines.

Is it dangerous to travel in the Philippines?

Don’t be afraid.  The media tends to focus on a number of issues that may affect a country, but that does not mean that the whole country is a dangerous place and you should not go.  News is news and T.V. stations need to sell commercials and unfortunately, the worst stuff is usually what keeps the audience stuck to that screen.  Check out Youtube, and read travel blogs and you will see that the reality is very different.  Many foreigners live in and travel the Philippines all the time, and they live normal lives.  Remember that just because there was a terrorist attack in Paris, London or Las Vegas, it does not mean that it happens all the time.  Anything can happen, anywhere, any time.

What’s the weather like in the Philippines?

The weather is unpredictable.  You can look at statistics, you can read about seasons, you can learn about climate zones… but still, no one can control nature and sometimes it rains.  Rainy season does not mean it rains every day, dry season does not mean it does not rain.  The Philippines has a number of climate zones, some say 4, some say up to 6, but usually the weather is dictated by the Northeast Monsoon (Amihan), or the Southwest Monsoon (Habagat).  Most information will say that Amihan, from November/December till May/June, is the dry season, but this is mainly around the Mimaropa, Eastern Visayas, Central Visayas and The western half of Luzon and Mindanao.  The Eastern coast of the Philippines sees less rain during the Habagat season (May/June to November/December).

Typhoon season is said to take place during the Habagat season or the northern hemisphere summer months, however, it is not unusual to see the last typhoons hit the east coast and travel across the islands during the months of November and December.  Unfortunately, typhoons in the Philippines usually affect the poorer parts of the Philippines and more often than not, being in a concrete structure will keep you safe from the strong winds and rain.  Again, dont let weather conditions be a deterrent and stop you from traveling to the Philippines, and know that by taking the same precautions you would take anywhere else, you should be fine and able to enjoy yourself regardless of what happens.  Do check out our video on Cloud 9 in Siargao, recorded during tropical storm Urduja in December 2017.

Sakay & Co specialises in designing itineraries around the Philippines, contact us and tell us how long you want to travel and what you would like to see and we will make sure you travel the Philippines the best possible way.

Siquijor

The tiny island of Siquijor, named Isla de Fuego (Island of Fire) by the Spanish when they first arrived on the island in the sixteenth century, has maintained an air of mystery. To this day some Filipinos believe it to be the center of witchcraft in the Philippines. The name Isla de Fuego came from the fiery light emitted by the swarms of fireflies that can still be found in the island to this day. Going around Siquijor you will find a peaceful place, full of friendly locals with big smiles on their faces, beautiful beaches, waterfalls, architecture, as well as seventy-two kilometers of paved coastal roads that make riding easy and pleasurable.

What to do in Siquijor?

Beaches in Siquijor

Take advantage of the cemented circumferential road and ride around the island and check out the island’s beaches.  Paliton beach is still fairly undeveloped and quiet and has fine white sand and coconut trees perfect for sunbathing, swimming, reading a book and a great instagram post. Whatever you decide to do, stick around and watch the sunset from the beach. It is still blessed with very few visitors, no vendors, and if you are lucky no tricycle drivers waiting for their passengers while blasting really loud music.

Cambugahay waterfalls is a three-tiered waterfalls and a swimming hole with clear water. Important to know that rain the night before or the same day usually turns the water brown as all the silt in the bottom is stirred up. Swings from which you can throw yourself from, have been placed around the falls to add an element of fun to the whole experience. Other less known falls are Lugnason and Lagaan which can be an option if it gets too crowded in Cambugahay.

Salagdoong beach is another popular destination among beach lovers.  Buy some food at a local market and cook it in the bbq pits available in the area.  Salagdoong beach also counts with a slide and a couple of spots from which you can dive if you are not scared of heights.  On the downside, if you are looking for peace and quiet, this may not be the ideal location as you may find yourself in the middle of a bit of a karaoke session blasting music which will be heard loud and clear from the beach.

If you are looking for peace and quiet, a beach and the friendliest service in miles, head down to Villa Marmarine.  This cozy beach resort is built right next to a beautiful white sand beach, fairly near the port of Lucena and away from the crowds.

Lazi beach is perhaps the most remote of all, don’t expect white sand, or sand at all as it is mainly rocks and crushed coral.  Lazi beach is another alternative for great sunsets and no people, just remember to bring river shoes as getting in the water can become a painful experience.

Other sights in Siquijor

If you fancy the outdoors but have had enough beaches, you can make your way to the famous Balete tree and have fish do your pedicure, or head down to Capilay Spring Park, a cold natural fresh water park, that is free to the public.  This may be the perfect place to wash away all the salt after a day at the beach.

Finally, go see one of the oldest churches on the island the San Isidro Labrador Parish Church or commonly called Lazi Church. It’s a neoclassical church built from sea stones with wood flooring, it also has 2 pulpits and a striking blue ceiling.

Where to stay in Siquijor

If you are looking to stay inn the area of San Juan, and budget is not much of an issue, U Story Guesthouse and Coco Grove Beach Resort are 2 great options. Both might fall on the pricier end but definitely offer more than just a place to rest your head after a full day of activities. Coco Grove has a private beach front with white sand, only accessible to guests (you cant swim in it if you are just eating at the restaurant), a good restaurant, and although its entrance is along the main road everything else is tucked away and offers a quiet haven. They also have a dive centre and is the only resort on the island which offers day trips (for both scuba divers and snorkelers) to Apo Island off the coast of Dumaguete. U Story  Guesthouse on the other hand is so eye catching. It doesn’t have the white sand beach but it does provide access to the sea via some steps that lead down into the clear water below that you can just jump right into and start swimming. It also has an amazing restaurant with a pretty cozy hangout area with big pillows on the floor and relaxing yellow lighting. They also have tables set-up among the trees placed at a distance from each other that give a feeling of spaciousness and privacy. Relatively close to the Siquijor Pier ant the port of Larena, is Villa Marmarine which offers both fan and A.C. rooms with a sea view and each room has their own dedicated router and internet access too! Add to this, a truly pristine and beautiful fine white sand beach with no one else around and a restaurant that offers delicious Japanese food and other dishes.

Where to eat in Siquijor

Part of where to eat is already discussed above, and although walk-ins are accepted in all of them, it might be best to call ahead and make a reservation especially at U Story Guesthouse as they get full during dinner. Another place with great ambiance and scrumptious food is Baha Bar which offers vegetarian options and all their products are locally sourced.  Their kinilaw (a Filipino take on ceviche) is delicious. If you are also looking for a nice place to have some sunset drinks or have a few after dinner, just 500 meters down the road from Baha Bar is Republika with a few tables and chairs, hammock, and a swing for people to sit on in a very laid back garden setting. It’s also right next to the beach so you can hear the crashing of the waves on the shore.

Siquijor is easily accessible from the ports of Tagbilaran in Bohol, Liloan in Santander (Cebu) and Dumaguete.

 

Southern Leyte : Padre Burgos

The Philippines has over 7000 islands. The most popular ones being Palawan, Boracay, Bohol, Siquijor and Siargao. If you are planning your trip to the Philippines, chances are, most of your destinations are in some of the islands mentioned. On the other hand, the islands of Samar and Leyte (excluding western Mindanao), are among the less traveled in the country. Leyte still shows the damage caused by typhoon Hayan (Yolanda) in places like Tacloban and the East coast.  Having visited almost all the islands in the country, Leyte deserves a lot more attention than it gets.  Padre Burgos, in southern Leyte, is not only a great place for scuba diving but also an ideal place to learn about and swim with whale sharks in a non intrusive, eco friendly way. There is more than enough information on the internet to know why you should not go to Oslob to swim with whale sharks. Going there and paying to swim with these beautiful creatures is highly discouraged, among other reasons, because the fish are fed, touched and abused by the thousands of tourists that jump in the water with them every month (about 1000 per day). The interaction with these animals in southern Leyte is, on the other hand, conducted by scientists volunteering for Lamave, the largest independent non-stock, non- government organization dedicated to the conservation of marine megafauna and the marine environment in the Philippines. Their volunteers will not only guide you through the interaction but will also answer all the questions you may have about whale sharks and what they have learned through years of study, research and observation.

A ride through the less densely populated Southern Leyte is an amazing way to appreciate and admire the islands nature.  The scenery is stunning — with beautiful coastal roads that run through Burgos, Sogod, Liloan, San Ricardo, Bato and Maasin, and twisting roads that cross the mountainous areas as well as the breathtaking views from Agas-Agas bridge (the tallest in the Philippines).  If you like winding roads and an easy joy ride with very little traffic, then Leyte is one of those places to put on your list.

Sogod Bay Scuba Resort is a nice, clean and cozy resort, the staff is extremely helpful and friendly, the beach front is clean and beautiful with crushed corals and the food is simple but very tasty. Don’t forget to try their homemade apple pie! They also organize scuba diving to the best dive sites in the area as well as tours to swim with the whale sharks. Remember the whale shark season goes from December to May.

Padre Burgos is easily accessible by road. It takes around 3 and a half hours from Tacloban.  It is also close to the ports of Bato, to and from which you can travel between Cebu or Ubay (Bohol), the port of Maasin, the port of Liloan, from which you can take the Fastcat ferry to Lipata (Surigao City), and the port of San Ricardo, from which you can take the Montenegro Shipping Lines ferry to the Macapagal terminal, also in Surigao City.

Santa Ana (Cagayan)

Santa Ana is located in the north-easternmost point of Luzon and is the home of the Cagayan Special Economic Zone.  This little known gem of the north counts with deserted white sand beaches, waterfalls, wind and kite surfing and is also one of the best places for game fishing in the Philippines.

Santa Ana (and the north of Luzon in general) is perfect if you want to avoid the crowds and see something outside your regular Palawan, Bohol, Boracay tourist destinations.  Although, as a much less travelled destination, you should expect a much less developed infrastructure.  Resorts, hotels and restaurants may not be as fancy as in other places in the Philippines.  Overpriced camping, and simple very affordable hostels catered to local barkadas are the most abundant lodging options, and the fancier resorts in our experience, may be a disappointment as they are for those looking to blow their cash at the casino, and care little about service standards, not to mention the food.

We booked a sea-view room at the Avalon Beach Club (also called Party Beach Resort) and were given a room facing the parking lot (no water visible unless it rained).  The food was just not edible.  Internet was (as it is almost everywhere in the Philippines) slower than a dial up connection, and the service… let’s just say there is plenty of room for improvement.  At check out, they were nice enough (after much debating and having to show them on site, what we meant by sea-view) to give us a non sea-view rate, and we also should mention that the beach was beautiful and well maintained.

If you are looking for a place to stay, dont be deceived by appearances, and if you are looking for something to eat… This may be your time to get adventurous and try some of the local eateries! cheap and… Ma sarap!

If you love nature, a little adventure and the sea, Santa Ana is a place you should put high up on your list.  Head over to Palaui island and treck to the Spanish-era Cape Engaño Lighthouse.  Enjoy the beautiful Anguib and Nangaramoan beaches.  Explore the Gotan mangrove forest and waterfalls, Padlas and Lamesa Falls or ride a Takuli and go firefly watching at Brgy. Casagan.

Santa Ana is a good four and a half hour ride from Pagudpud and a three hour ride from the provincial capital (Tuguegarao).

Having mentioned all of the above, if there is something we would like to highlight about Santa Ana and Cagayan, that would have to be the ride itself.  We rode into Santa Ana from Pagudpud and we went to Baler after.  The landscapes tell a visual story that changes constantly.  A 12 hour journey (Santa Ana to Baler) became a visit to natures very own art gallery, offering incredibly beautiful views of the Sierra Madre on one side and the Cordillera Central on the other.  Definitely a must if you are looking for something a little less ordinary.

Pagudpud

Pagudpud lies in the Ilocos Norte province in the northern-most point of the island of Luzon (Philippines).  It Is a popular destination among local tourists and kite surfing enthusiasts.  Its location and generally windy conditions make Pagudpud the ideal place for wind surf and kite surf, having a long season that goes from October to May.  This 4th class municipality of the Ilocos region, also offers some great surfing opportunities and as opposed to most other surfing destinations with seasons defined by the Amihan (neortheast winds) or the Habagat (southwest monsoon), due to the different orientation of its various breaks, it is not strange to encounter a good swell, almost any time of the year.

Pagudpud is, however, not only a haven for water sports lovers.  Just 2 hours to the south (and about an hour and a half north of Vigan), one can find the Paoay sand dunes and Suba beach.  Here, one can ride a 4×4 through the dunes and also have a go at sandboarding for around php2500/hour.

Also in the vicinity of Laoag, the St. Augustine church is a must if you are looking to learn something about the history of the Spanish colonial era.  Built in the early 1700’s, St Augustine church stands as one of the few remaining Baroque structures in the Philippines.

If you are looking to lose yourself hiking and admiring the breathtaking natural sights, Pagudpud counts with a great number of amazing waterfalls (around 18 in Adams alone) and some unforgettable sunsets.

Where to eat in Pagudpud?

Kingfisher is tucked away along the coast in between Saud beach and the Blue Lagoon and not only is an amazing place to stay, but also a great place totaste some of the local delicacies.  Staff is friendly and the place is just gorgeous.  Not to mention it is THE PLACE if you want to throw a kite in the air and be literally blown away by the experience.

The Blue Lagoon is somewhat a little bit of a cocktail of feelings.  The horrible eye sore that is called Hannah’s Beach resort, makes you want to turn around and ride away as fast as one can go.  However, once one turns to the sea and avoids the ridiculous statues of superheroes and Egyptian pharaohs, it is possible to enjoy the beautiful colours of the bay.  Ride up north past Hannah’s and get to Casa Consuelo, where you will be able to enjoy a great, fresh, local meal with very nice views of the sea (and an amazing wifi connection).

For a healthy option, head to Adams for a dining experience around sustainable farming and eco friendly farms.

Pagudpud is the perfect place for those looking for something a little less travelled than your usual destinations in the Philippines, and in addition too the countless activities available in the area, to ride through the famous Patapat viaduct and the grand wind farms in the area, will make your ride, a difficult one to forget.

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