So you want to backpack around the Philippines, but you only have three weeks to spare. No problem – welcome to the 3-week Philippines Itinerary!
Late April this year, after my three-month stay in Australia, I met my best friend Claire in the Philippines! It was something that was earmarked in our calendar for over six months, but there was so much going on in our lives it was a case of ‘if it works out, it works out’. But as April drew closer, and we started looking at the islands, sh*t became real and we booked our flights!
I think the main thing we hadn’t taken in to account was just how difficult it could be to plan a trip around the Philippines. We were so used to backpacking around the Thai islands (ie. hopping on a ferry at the last minute, or just going with the flow on what islands we ended up in!) we were a bit shocked by just how much research and planning we needed to do to organise The Philippines trip. We even had a spreadsheet to organise all our dates, accommodation and flights!
Of course, if you don’t have a time limit (you can get a 30-day tourist visa on arrival in the Philippines), shuffling around is fine. But we wanted to travel a little off the beaten track and decided to visit three islands in the three weeks in the Philippines; Siquijor, Siargao and Palawan.
When you look on the map, the route we took wasn’t the most logical, but I promise you, it was the only way we could get our flights to work. If you’re planning a three-week trip to the Philippines, this might be useful as a guide but please, please check your flight connections before booking any accommodation! We found no rhyme or reason to the flight schedules, but once we had locked in our flight path, everything else was simple!
I’m working on some guides for each destination so there’ll be more details on everything from where we stayed, where we ate, what we got up to and many more tips for backpacking the Philippines!
But until then, here’s my 3-week Philippines itinerary!
Day 1: Arrive in Manila
Manila wasn’t high on our priority list when we were planning the trip, so I opted to arrive late and leave for the islands early the next morning…it was all about maximising the time spent of the islands for us!
I’d heard horror stories about Manila airport, but I found it fine. Sure, it’s a little rough around the edges and definitely more basic to say Dubai or Sydney, but it functions! Unless you’re doing a transfer between terminals… more on that later!
I arrived just before midnight and arranged an airport pick up with my hostel, Lub d. I can’t recommend this hostel enough – the lovely Francesca of Live Jet Brunette recommend it to me, and I can’t thank her enough! It’s a brand new co-working space and hostel in the Makati area of the city, about 30-minutes’ drive if there’s no traffic (like at 4am the following morning) or about an hour if there is (which is 90% of the time!). But Lub d staff are lovely, the dorms are amazing, the showers are the most luxurious I’ve ever seen in a hostel and I was actually a bit sad I had leave them. But I did, at 4am the following morning to catch my flight to Dumaguete!
Day 2: Fly to Dumaguete and take the ferry to Siquijor
If you follow me on Instagram, you might have seen my stories about being adopted by this amazing Filipino family that looked after me all the way from Manila to Siquijor! I met this family at the boarding gates in Manila, and we shared a taxi to Dumaguete port, and got me a taxi to my accommodation in Siquijor! But if you’re not lucky enough to have your own local escorts literally hold your hand every step of the way, here’s how to get to the magical island of Siquijor from Manila…
I took the 6.25am Cebu Pacific flight from Manila to Dumaguete, which landed in the city at about 9am. From here, you can take a taxi, or tricycle to Dumaguete port, about 20 minutes away. There are lots of taxis waiting outside the tiny airport, and while I shared the ride with my lovely airport family, it’s easy to catch a ride.
At the port, there are fast and slow ferry options leaving about every hour. Depending on what time you get there, you can buy a ticket for the next available ferry. I went with GL Shipping Lines and bought my ticket from their little office at the port, but there’s also Ocean Jets (the fastest option) and Aleson lines.
TIP: Make sure you have small notes to pay for your taxis and your ferry. Most cash machines give out 1,000 peso notes, but getting change is tricky. Try break a few 1,000P notes at the airport and save the smaller 100 and 200P notes for the port fee and taxis.
Day 3 – 5: Siquijor
The highlight: Visiting the healer in San Antonio and driving our moped around the island
Aw Siquijor, what a magical little island you are! Locals say the island is mysterious because of its reputation of witchcraft, but we fell in love straight away! There’s a whole guide coming up on Siquijor but you can spend your three days here driving to Salagdoong beach, the 100-year-old Balete tree, eat and listen to live music at Monkey Business, or visit the healer in San Antonio.
Day 6: Ferry back to Dumaguete
We took one of the later ferries back to Dumaguete so we really only had an evening in the city. It looked like a pretty buzzing town, kind of reminded us of Thailand again. We had dinner at Hayahay, which is a really cool tree-house style restaurant and stayed at the Flying Fish hostel which was brilliant.
Day 7: Fly to Siargao
Another really early start as we made our way to Siargao. This day was pretty much a travel-day write-off as we spent most of it in Cebu airport.
The flight with Cebu Pacific left Dumaguete at 6.05am, but had a 7-hour layover in Cebu airport before our flight to Siargao. Thankfully, there’s a Starbucks with decent wifi in the airport before security and a massage place after security which helped spend an hour! But apart from the long wait, everything went really smoothly and we arrived in Siargao at about 5pm.
Day 7 – 10: Siargao
Where we stayed: Pesangan Surfcamp
The highlight: The island tour with Kermit Resort
We absolutely loved Siargao! It had everything we could have asked for in a Philippine trip – amazing beaches, a chilled island vibe, pumping nightlife, beautiful island tours and the friendliest locals! And the food! If you haven’t read my post about the best places to eat in Siargao yet, head over there now! You’ll want to stay in Siargao longer just for the amazing food!
TIP: We found it quite hard to find accommodation in Siargao, so once you have your flight booked, put some time into finding a place to stay in Siargao!
Day 11: Fly to El Nido
Oh man, were we sad to leave Siargao. But beautiful Palawan awaited us, so we took on another day of travel to get there. This time, we had a shorter wait in Cebu airport (the staff at Starbucks recognised us!) but we needed to book two different flights. The first, Siargao to Cebu was with Cebu Pacific, and the second, Cebu to El Nido was with Air Swift.
Get yourself a frappe and chill for a few hours because you won’t be able to check-in for your Air Swift flight until 2-hours before your flight (which meant we missed out on an airport massage this time!). But we arrived without any delays, excited for El Nido!
Day 12 – 13: El Nido
Where we stayed: Lugadia Beach Cottages – while this was a pretty sweet location, we wouldn’t stay again.
The highlight: The banana pancakes at Gusto
Unfortunately, we spent a lot of our time in El Nido feeling poorly, so we missed out on an island tour and exploring the town. But we will say the best Nutella and banana pancakes are from Gusto, and there’s an adorable little shop called A Little Corner of Paradise that will want you to blow the budget on pretty clothes!
We also spent a day at Las Cabanas beach that was perfect for chilling out on for the day. Most of the beach-front bars and cafes let you use the sun loungers for free provided you order drinks or food from the bar during the day. And with happy-hour offering 2-4-1 on our favourite Mango Daquiris, we stayed right ‘til sunset!
Day 14 – 15: Nacpan Beach
Where we stayed: Mad Monkey Hostel Nacpan
The highlight: Sunset on the beach with Daiquiris in hand (can you see a pattern forming here?)
We transferred to Nacpan Beach for a couple of nights for even more beach relaxing! While Nacpan is definitely set up for tourists, we still found it really relaxing and had a great chilled-out vibe.
TIP: Definitely do not take up the offer from the tricycle drivers in El Nido to bring you out there, because the road is long and pretty rough. We took a lovely air-conned van transfer for about 600P and it was soooo worth it. We saw some trikes and mopeds really struggle over the bumps in the road and crossing some pretty dodgy looking bridges!
Day 16: Ferry to Coron
Time to leave El Nido and hop on a ferry to Coron! While it’s a pretty easy transfer, it was a little more packed and longer than our last ferry at just under five hours. My sea-sickness tablets made me really sleepy so I ended up napping the whole way, while poor Claire was left alone for the whole journey.
TIP: Ferries leave pretty early in the morning, and while we were staying in Nacpan the night before, we had to pay extra to have our transfer van come to pick us up at 5am!
Day 17 – 19: Coron
Where we stayed: Dayon Hostel
The highlight: The island tour and snorkelling over some of the most colourful reefs I’ve ever seen.
Coron is basically a playground for scuba divers! There are loads of old war shipwrecks around the islands and there are so many tours and scuba diving experiences offered you’ll love it. Sadly, neither Claire or I were 100% fit and healthy again so we missed out on diving, but we did get to go on an island tour!
Unlike El Nido, all the tour vary a little in experiences and prices, but we decided to choose the Coron Island Tour for 1600P which has stops at Kayangan Lake, Twin Lagoon, Beach 91 and Skeleton Wreck and Malwawey Reef. If you’re shopping around, I recommend asking how big the boat is, what time they leave in the morning (the earlier you leave, the fewer boats at each location!) and how long they spend at each spot.
The snorkelling was incredible and possibly some the best I’ve ever seen! I can only imagine how amazing a scuba dive would be…next time Coron, next time!
TIP: If you have a gang of friends, you can rent a boat and driver for the day and decide where to go. We heard it’s cheaper than the tours and better if you’re keen on just snorkelling.
Day 20: Fly to Manila
And just like that, three weeks of backpacking the Philippines came to an end it was time to head home.
If you’re planning on catching your international flight home from Manila on the same day as leaving Coron, I would suggest leaving a lot of time between flights. While every Cebu Pacific flight we took left pretty much on time, we heard transferring between terminals can take up to four hours. Thankfully, mine went pretty smoothly, but I couldn’t risk missing my flight back to Sydney so I gave myself pretty much the whole day. But that did I had a lucky crossover with my other-blogging-half, Sarah!
She was about to start her Philippine adventure, while I was just finishing mine, so I got to hang out at her airport hotel (The Belmont Hotel) rooftop pool for the day and it couldn’t have been a more perfect end to the trip!
If you want any more information on anything in my 3-week Philippines Itinerary or just general tips about planning a trip to the Philippines, drop me a comment below! Or check out my Instagram (@nikkitravelled) for more tips!