Where do I start? I am sitting behind my laptop now writing a post about my visit to the Philippines. It’s hard to find words to describe how this country makes me feel. When I wrote my post‘Visit the Philippines: 10 reasons why this should be your next destination’ forthe planet D, I could have come up with at least 50 reasons why you should visit the Philippines. I just fell in love with this country!
Why this article?
There seems to be a lot of negativity about the Philippines. Theft, scamming, kidnapping and terrorism are often things that are associated with the Philippines. Of all the tourists visiting South East Asia, only a small fraction of them visit the Philippines. In my personal opinion there is too much negativity about the Philippines. The country is amazing. It has:
- The biggest diversity in landscape in the whole of South East Asia
- The most beautiful beaches
- The best diving
- The friendliest people
I am writing this article to convince people to visit the Philippines and also share my positive experiences I had in this country.
It is time to get a positive sound out there and give an impulse to tourism in the Philippines. I hope my article will contribute to this and more people will visit the Philippines!
What do people think about the Philippines?
In 2011 Flipnomad asked 7 travel bloggers about why tourists are hesitant to visit the Philippines. From this questionnaire you can extract three main reasons:
- The Philippines is dangerous. There is a lot of crime, bombings and kidnappings.
- The Philippines is hard to reach. It’s a bit of the beaten track and it is hard to travel around.
- The government doesn’t do enough to promote the Philippines as a tourist destination.
In 2012 Richard Ehrlich wrote an article about the Philippines ‘Philippines tourism, a tough sell?’. He states:
As a tourist destination, the Philippines is loaded with the attractions travelers dream of: lots of sun, gorgeous beaches, world-class scenery, adventure opportunities, friendly outgoing locals, fascinating history and lots of little-roamed territory. Yet for all its advantages, the nation of more than 7,000 islands has a big problem attracting travelers.
And this is true. The Philippines doesn’t get as many visitors as other countries in South East Asia. In the article, Richard addresses the same problems as the three mentioned by travel bloggers on Flipnomad. But in his article he (and the Philippines tourism board) talks about the biggest problem, which is ‘Awareness’.
People are not aware that the Philippines is indeed a great tourist destination. I visited the Philippines and I had such a great time. The people are amazingly friendly, the beaches are world class, the diving is superb and the natural diversity is stunning. Of course, you have to be a bit cautious, but not more than in other countries.
The Philippines is very big and not every part of it is dangerous. I didn’t travel to Mindanao because it’s known to be dangerous because of kidnappings and terrorism. But that’s only a small part of this amazing country and it doesn’t represent the rest of it. Just use your common sense when you visit the philippines, like you would in other countries.
It is time to get a positive sound out there!
A lot of travelers who visit the Philippines have a great experience. For example:
When I visited the Philippines I met a lot of foreign travelers. And they were all having a great time.
A jeepny on Bohol -Visit the Philippines
The start of my adventure in the Philippines
I did an interview for Philippinebeaches. The title was: “An unexpected jump to the Philippines with Bastiaan Blikman”. And unexpected it was! I wasn’t very aware of the Philippines as a tourist destination. I was in Kota Kinabalu (Borneo) contemplating about my next destination. I went online to look for some airfares when an offer popped up to fly to the Philippines. I did some reading about the Philippines in the Lonely Planetand I got really excited and decided to visit the Philippines. I booked my ticket and via Manila, I flew to Puerto Princessa, the capital of the island Palawan.
It became a decision I never regretted.
Let me take you on a journey to discover my 3-week trip in the Philippines!
Palawan, my first experience on my visit in the Philippines
To make a long story short: Palawan is an undiscovered gem! It is as simple as that. It is untouched, unspoiled and is blessed with a great natural beauty. If you visit the Philippines, visit Palawan. An absolute highlight is El Nido. A little town surrounded by limestone karst cliffs and numerous inhabited islands with white sandy beaches.
El Nido is the gateway to the Bacuit Archipelago. Two of the best things to do when you get there are:
A limestone cliff around El Nido
The island hopping is one of the best things you can do. You can discover deserted white beaches, go on an overnight camping trip or just put on your snorkel gear and discover the underwater world. It was definitely one my best trips in South East Asia.
The underwater world is amazing. I dived 5 times around El Nido and it was some of the best I’ve seen in South East Asia. There were so many fish surrounding me that sometimes I didn’t know where to look. El Nido kept me lingering for quite a while. It’s a hard place to leave. I used up a big chunk of my 3-week visa there. It is a bumpy 6-hour bus ride from Puerto Princessa, but it’s well worth it.
From limestone cliffs to hills that look like chocolate
After visiting El Nido, I took an airplane to Cebu city. From Cebu I traveled to the island of Bohol. Bohol is very popular because of two things:
I stayed on the island of Panglao. This island has a beautiful beach and it is a good base from where you can discover Bohol.
The Chocolate Hills
In my article “Visit the Philippines: 10 reasons why this should be your next destination” I mentioned the Chocolate Hills as one of the 10 reasons to visit the Philippines. And they deserve a visit! It is such a strange landscape. Unlike anything I’ve seen before.
The Chocolate Hillsare a very unique and weird landscape on the Island of Bohol in the Philippines. Scattered throughout the landscape are at least 1.250 hills. The hills are 30 to 50 meters high and covered in green grass. In the dry season the grass on the hills turns brown which makes them look like they are made of chocolate. (source wikipedia)
The Chocolate Hills are one of Bohol’s most famous tourist attractions. Source wikipedia The Chocolate Hills are a short drive from the island of Panglao and it is great to combine it witha trip to the Tarsier Sanctuary.Getting there is also very interesting, because you will see some beautiful churches and you can try some delicious food from the local markets along the way. When you arrive at the hills you can take the stairs up to a little plateau. From this plateau the view at the Chocolate Hills is very, very impressive.
I traveled in Asia for 11 months and this is by far the strangest and most unique landscape I have ever seen.
The chocolate hills on Bohol – Visit the Philippines
There are a lot of legends among stories about the creations of the Chocolate Hills! One of the locals told me the following legend:
Thousands of years ago there was a giant. When walking around on Bohol he met another giant. After meeting they had an argument and started fighting. The reason is not very clear, but some say it might have been a girl. This fight resulted in days of throwing rocks, mud and sand. After a few days they became tired and decided to stop fighting. They even became friends and left the big mess they made behind. The legend says this was the start of the Chocolate Hills on the island of Bohol in the Philippines!
But this is not the only legend! There are more. If you talk to locals on Bohol you might hear the following legend about the creation of the Chocolate Hills.
The legend of Arogo and Aloya
Arogo was a very powerful and youthful giant who fell in love with a human girl named Aloya. They were living together and they were very happy. But one day Aloya got sick and she died. Arogo became so sad that he cried for days and days. His dried up giant tears became the Chocolate Hills!
The legend of Kid Giants
Another legend tells about young giants playing and making figures with soil. For this they used the half of a giant coconut. The legend says they left without cleaning up the figures they made and they turned into the Chocolate Hills!
The Tarsier Sanctuary
It’s really easy to combine a visit to Chocolate Hills with a visit to the Tarsier Sanctuary. The Tarsier is one of the smallest primates in the world! If you visit the Philippines it’s almost a mandatory visit.
Interesting thought: Some say Steven Spielberg used the Tarsier as inspiration for his movie E.T.!
Tarsiers used to inhabit rainforests all over the world, but now they can only be found in the Philippines, Borneo and Indonesia. The Philippines Tarsier Foundation runs the Sanctuary. They have acquired a piece of land to create this Sanctuary. They also run a Tarsier Development and Research Center. In this center they have a small amount of Tarsiers that can be visited by public.
Useful tip: never visit the Tarsiers that are caged! They often die of stress and are illegally replaced!
The Tarsier is a lovely animal. They look really cute, harmless and fragile. I am a big primate lover and looking into these little animals’ eyes was heartwarming. Definitely a reason to visit the Philippines!
Bohol, a beautiful place to go to when you visit the Philippines
A day to the Chocolate Hills combined with a visit to the Tarsier Sanctuary is a must do when you go to Bohol. You can visit them on a daytrip when you are on the island of Panglao (which has beautiful beaches and good diving!) On the trip you can visit some beautiful churches, local markets and you will meet a lot of friendly local people!
Useful tip: if you don’t have your own transport the best thing to do is get a few people together and hire a van for a day. This way you can split your costs and you’ve got the opportunity to stop everywhere you want to!
Malapascua: the tropical island I have always dreamt of
A beach so white that is hurts your eyes. The most crystal clear water I have ever seen. Amazing, friendly & genuine locals. Superb diving. This island is the island of my dreams. In China I met a traveler who told me about Malapascua. He described it as a tropical paradise. I kept it in the back of my mind. When I decided to visit the Philippines, I also suddenly remembered Malapascua. This was a good chance to find out if my fellow traveler was speaking the truth.
The journey to Malapascua
From Bohol I made my way to Cebu City. From there I took a bus to the little harbor from where the boats to Malapascua leave. In other countries, busses are full of foreigners traveling around. When you visit the Philippines you will travel with locals. And I must admit that the seats are a little bit small for a 194 cm tall Dutch guy. I cramped myself into one of the seats and my backpack went on top of the bus.
The journey to the harbor town close to Malapascua took about 5 hours and looking out of the window I saw lush green jungle and little towns with kids who couldn’t stop waving when they saw me. The boat ride from the harbor town only took about 20 minutes and after settling down in a nice little guesthouse it was time to discover the island.
The sunset on Malapascua – Visit the Philippines
Malapascua and the local people
Malapascua itself is quite small and only 2,5 km long and 1 km wide. You can walk around it in about one hour (if you don’t snooze under a palm tree and watch the white sandy beaches and blue ocean). In the middle of the island is a small village. Most of the people live here. The people are amazingly friendly and when you walk trough the village they will all invite you into their houses and offer you food or a drink.
Useful tip: You will get invited to sing karaoke! If you visit the Philippines you’d better work on your karaoke skills!
The kids on the island are really amazing and so friendly. They are very playful and are more than happy to show you how to collect sea cucumbers. I spend hours on the beach playing with the local kids.
For some useful tips about Malapascua you can readthis article on The Pinay Solo Backpacker!
Me & friendly local kids on the beach -Visit the Philippines
The Thresher sharks
Big sharks with a giant tail! Sounds scary, doesn’t it? The Thresher sharks were one of the main reasons of my visit to Malapascua and the Philippines!
Thresher sharks are known for their long tail. Their tail can be as long as their body size. The Thresher Shark can grow up to a length of 5 meters.
The dive site is calledMonad Shoal and it’s the only place in the world where you can see Thresher sharks before sunrise. The Shoal is a 1,5 km long rock stump on the edge of a 200 meter drop. The Shoal is used as a cleaning station for fish. On Malapascua I did two dives. The first one was a dive with very bad visibility so we didn’t see any Thresher Sharks. I was so disappointed! I had to try again.
The next day we got up at 4 in the morning, hopped on the boat and jumped into the water around 5. We went down to a depth of 30 metres and waited for the Thresher sharks. I was so excited! Suddenly we spotted one coming up from the depths. It was one the most amazing creatures I’ve ever seen! But I saw more than one. Suddenly we were surrounded by 6 Thresher sharks coming as close as 2/3 meters. It was truly amazing to be so close to nature and really feel one with the life in the ocean. It was definitely my number one dive so far.
Kids on the island of Malapascua show their catch -Visit the Philippines
Boracay: one of the world’s premier beach destinations
The last few days of my trip I spent in Boracay. Boracay is a world class beach destination and about an hour flight from Cebu. After my adventures on Palawan, Bohol and Malapascua this was the perfect place to have a short beach holiday. The beach is very, very white. The water is crystal clear. In the daytime it is perfect to spend your time on the beach and enjoy the tropical environment.
It is also possible to enjoy activities like sailing, wind surfing, snorkeling, diving and jet skiing. At nighttime Boracay transforms into the perfect place to party a bit. There are a lot of restaurants to eat good food and a lot of bars to get cheap drinks!
Useful tip: go bar hopping during the happy hours and go from one happy hour to the other!
Boracay was a perfect end of my 3-week visit to the Philippines! For a great guide on how to visit Boracay on a budget you can visit the website Justonewayticket.com. Sabrina Iovino wrote a comprehensive guide on how to live in Boracay for only 23 dollars a day!
Is it more fun in the Philippines? Should you visit the Philippines?
I traveled extensively in South East Asia and the Philippines is my favorite country. Why? I’ll tell you why!
- The people are the friendliest I’ve met during my travels
- The nature is breathtaking and incredibly diverse
- The beaches are world class and you will find it hard to find beaches that are whiter
- The diving is superb
Like I said before: I can think of so many reasons why you should visit the Philippines.
If you go I’m sure you won’t regret it! I am looking forward to go back and visit the Philippines again. There is so much more to discover.
I hope that by writing this article I have made you “aware” of the Philippines and the beauty of the country.
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What is your opinion about the Philippines? Did you ever visit the Philippines? Please share your thoughts on this article by leaving a comment down below!
Sunset Over El Nido
We travel for a lot of reasons. For some it can be a short break from reality, an escape from the daily grind. For some its a way to connect with friends and loved ones. But for the chosen few, it can be a way to find ourselves and help us figure out our next move. There are a lot of choices out there, but you want to be different. You don’t like the crowd. You prefer the feeling that you can make your way and just be lost. We may have the place for you.
The province of Palawan in the Philippines has recently been named as one of the most beautiful islands in the world by Conde Nast Travel Magazine for 2014. Rightfully so, this long island stretch in the Philippines is bound to claim its long overdue spotlight and is also being groomed to be the next best thing in Philippine tourism. From the powdery white sand beaches, mesmerizing limestone cliffs, and a nature wonder of an underground river, it is not surprising that tourists and travellers alike are becoming more and more hooked to this tropical paradise.
Palawan is a perfect mix of sun, sand, and sea but far from being a cliche of most travel destinations and just enough to have its own identity. Its an Instagram heaven for those who love taking landscape and nature photos and a personal escape for those who dead tired of destinations with lots of tourists.
I’ve been fortunate enough to travel to this place at least once a year both for business and vacation since I started working. Whenever my foreign counterparts also ask me where to go in the Philippines, I always recommend this island and it never fails to impress. Whether you travel alone, with your special someone or in a group, this island province has something to offer that can be a unique experience in itself.
Below are few of the personal reasons why I think Palawan and its islands will definitely lure you in to travel.
1. The sunsets are just beyond words
Palawan by far has some of the best landscape I’ve seen for sunset watching anywhere else in the world. The sunset over the islands presents different hues that can change everyday from place to place. Being a photo junkie myself, Palawan is an Instagram-worthy place for taking landscape and sunset shots. Whether you are a pro or an aspiring photographer, it is the perfect spot to practice your snapping abilities and be amazed with the possibilities for your perfect frame.
Sunset over Corong Corong El Nido, Palawan
My best bet would be in a secluded part of El Nido where sun-worshippers converge in the afternoon called Corong-Corong. It is a 10min ride from the town proper of El Nido which is a must-see for travellers. To get there, rent a tricycle (another local form of transport) and just say you want to go to “Las Cabanas”–one of the resorts in the area. The driver will normally ask to wait for you to bring you back after. Just know how to haggle for the price. I normally pay PHP 200 (around USD 4.5) for the whole trip. Just a couple minute walk from the road and you are in for a free visual spectacle.
Corong-Corong has relatively less tourists since not a lot of people know the place which presents a better opportunity to shoot sunset photos with less photobombers. Most of the people here are also foreign backpackers since the resorts in this area are relatively cheaper than in the town proper. I also suggest walking around Corong-Corong to appreciate the place even more. There is also a zipline overhead and you can zip through during sunset from the mainland to an island near the shore and back. I normally go here after my meetings to take shots of the sunset over a nice, cold bottle of beer while engaging in short conversations with other travellers and photographers.
Sunset in Port Barton, Palawan
Another perfect sunset option is in Port Barton. I once captured sunset photos here on a kayak in the middle of the bay. For PHP 50/hr (about USD 1) this is the cheapest kayak rental I’ve seen anywhere. There were not a lot of people around and I almost had the bay to myself. The waters in this bay is so calm and peaceful that one can just paddle away and not notice time. The sunset in this part of Palawan can be very personal and you can just forget everything.
To get to Port Barton, you may take a bus from Puerto Princesa in San Jose Terminal. I have to remind you though that the bus only travels once daily (San Isidro Express at 9am), be prepared to ride along with the locals buying all sorts of produce from the city to take back with them to Port Barton. It can be a bit of a chaos when the bus arrives and you will be amazed at how flexible people can get entering the bus windows just to have a seat. I once stood next to newborn twins who, amidst of the heat and people, were sleeping soundly during the trip that took around 3 hours.
Another option is a twice daily jeepney, one each from Puerto Princesa and from Roxas. If you are coming from El Nido, the jeep from Roxas that leaves around lunch time is your only choice. Otherwise, you can still go to Port Barton via motorcycle ride that takes about an hour. Again, know how to haggle with price for this option and you are off to take that perfect social media-worthy sunset shot.
2. There are relatively less tourists
Compared to other travel destinations, Palawan still is off the radar for most tourists who come in hordes. There are no cruise ships making stopovers yet, no direct international flights and not much annoyingly drunk people barfing around. For those who prefer to soak into the culture of the place and make their own itineraries, Palawan presents itself as a destination with flexible options without sacrificing the relaxed vibe.
Peace & Quiet at Jambalaya Cafe in Port Barton
Most tourist centers like El Nido and Coron can still be quiet at night which makes it appealing for dinner dates by the beach with your special someone. No hard parties here except for Puerto Princesa but even that I still consider tamed compared to Boracay or Manila.
The beach is not at all crowded considering it also boasts of powdery white sand. You can be free to have your alone time by the beach. My alternative suggestion here would be the 14km white sand beach of San Vicente which is 1.5hrs from El Nido. Here you can have the whole beach to your self to bathe in, walk around, or what-have-you.
3. Fresh food and lots of it
Philippine cuisine in general is a hodge-podge of different cultures and Palawan does not disappoint the foodie traveller. Food options for both the gastronomically adventurous and sensitive are widely available in the province. Keep in mind though that there are two distinct flavors in Philippine food: sweet and/or salty. Most of the food options play within these distinct flavors.
Upon arriving, you can have a light rice noodle soup called Chaolong (available in Beef, Pork, or Chicken) in Puerto Princesa which was brought in by Vietnamese refugees during the Vietnam War. The soup is very similar to Pho but was adjusted to suit the local flavors. This is best paired with Garlic Bread which is close to a French Bread topped with fresh Garlic and Cheese.
ChaoLong and Garlic Bread
For those who have adventurous palates, crocodile meat is a delicacy which is best served as a sizzling beer match (Crocodile Sisig) which I normally order in El Nido.
Another cringe-worthy delicacy is the Tamilok or Woodworm which is served over vinegar, sashimi style. This one is captured in mangrove forests and is similar to a long Oyster in appearance. It has a slimy texture and is an acquired taste. I only tried this once but is worth the try, for those who are willing.
For those who love seafood, Palawan is also a perfect place to eat just that. Seafood is everywhere from shrimps, crabs, sea urchins, and tuna. You can practically order fresh seafood anywhere on the island. Most buffet joints also have their own staples in their lunch and dinner offerings which can be a pretty good deal.
4. Next Level Island Hopping
Island Hopping in Palawan
Honda Bay in Puerto Princesa and El Nido are destinations where you can do the best island hopping trips and have some of the islands for yourself if you’re lucky. Snorkelling gear and lunch are normally included in the boat rentals and have standardized rates. The tours here are at a small crowd of 10-15 which is not bad if you do not want so many people travelling with you.
Island Hopping Trip in Palawan
Tao Philippines also offer a week-long island hopping tour from El Nido to Coron on a medium-sized outrigger boat. They make stops in some isolated islands in between and offers a personalized island hopping tour that is comparable to none. It can be a unique experience if you have time to explore the islands away from the normal touristy spots.
Scott Sporleder of the Matador Network recently made a cool video about this unique island hopping trip. You may check the video below.
5. Nature Trip on Steroids
The province gained international fame recently for its Underground River in Sabang, Puerto Princesa which was named as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature. Its a beautiful river under a limestone cave which is worth experiencing except for those with problems with closed spaces. You may need to secure a local permit before you go.
In Coron, you can also have a piece of the African safari via the Calauit Nature Reserve. Animals from Africa (giraffes, zebras, and elephants to name a few) were donated as gifts in the 70s that can roam freely to graze around the reserve. It is a different kind of zoo and is worth experiencing.
Morning view of the forest in Taytay, Palawan going to Puerto Princesa via Bus.
Likewise, it is not surprising that Palawan is also home to some of the Philippines’ remaining virgin forests. If you are the type who loves nature, you will definitely enjoy your time here. The lush forest vegetation is evident as you make your way to any of your destination. Although it also has its fare share of problems on the side, the local government is making its best efforts to make this heaven on earth sustainable.
6. The Journey is Worth It
There are direct commercial flights to Puerto Princesa, Busuanga (Coron), and El Nido. The last one, though, is more often used for chartered flights and can be expensive. For the budget traveller, going to Puerto Princesa from Manila or Cebu is the cheapest option. Several commercial domestic flights are available daily. If you are coming in from anywhere else outside of the Philippines, you will have to make transfers in Manila airport.
The airport in Puerto Princesa is now undergoing a massive facelift to cater international flights starting with Taipei-Taoyuan in 2015 while a new terminal will be available by 2017. If you have more time, sea travel options are also available from Manila going to Coron and Puerto Princesa and take a day and a half.
From Puerto Princesa, all main destinations like El Nido and the Underground River in Sabang are accessible by land travel via vans, jeepneys, and buses. The average travel time from Puerto Princesa to El Nido takes about 5 hours, 1.5 hours to Sabang and 3 hours to Port Barton. This option presents a perfect opportunity to know other travellers, appreciate the view, and for my case- to sleep. I personally prefer a day trip though in going to El Nido while prefer the earliest trip at 4am to get back to Puerto Princesa for my return flight.
The lone bus stop in Port Barton. Bus leaves and arrives only once a day.
Jumping from one destination to another is a different story. I’ve had a business trip once to Port Barton and have to get to El Nido the next day. This is where I experienced riding on top of a jeepney from Port Barton (there are only two jeepney routes going in and out a day) going to the main road then I took a bus to El Nido. If you are a not a “sensitive” traveller, you’ll be just fine and can easily make your own travel itinerary based on these options.
As a summary, there are not enough words to describe Palawan. I’ve been here a lot of times but there is always that something that makes each trip there unique. Travelling there helped me figure out a lot of things and appreciate the things around me more. Whatever your reason for travelling may be, whoever you may travel with, it sure will leave you spellbound. Fullfilled.
It’s crazy but I’m telling you that Palawan is best experienced than read.
Sunset over Bacuit Bay in El Nido.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
JR is a business developer based in Manila who travels extensively around the Philippines and abroad for work. He considers photography as a hobby and as an escape from the pressures of his job. He is an avid music lover and normally takes long walks with his earphones on while travelling. He life is all about finding happiness in the things we do. For more information on his photos and travels, you may access his Instagram account @jrlomugdang and Twitter.
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