Have a few weeks to spare and are looking for a warm place to travel to? Here’s how to travel in the Philippines and have the time of your life! My fiancé and I loaded up our beachwear and made our way for the first time to the beautiful country of the Philippines with its compliment of 7,000 islands. For two weeks we explored Palawan, Philippines and could not believe the beauty of the water, the respect for nature, and the hospitality of the Filipino locals. If you’re planning a trip and are looking for suggestions on what things cost, how to get around, what sites to see, where to stay and what mistakes to avoid, I’ve got you covered!
Prior to Departure
Before jetting off to the airport, we took out roughly $500 USD for the trip.
- Book your hotels and tours
We booked all of our tours were booked through the hotels (who organized permits, guides, transportation, meals etc.).
TIP: If you plan on traveling to the Philippines, I recommend picking up Lonely Planet: The Philippines travel book. Usually libraries carry them for free, or if you have Amazon Prime, you can download them to your Kindle App for free as well. I recommend the latter if possible, especially if you have an iPad. It helps having a copy of it handy when you’re traveling around without Wifi and don’t want to carry around a book.
Day 1: The Flight
Depending where you’re traveling from, you may be in for a long flight! We flew from:
NYC –> Vancouver, BC –> Manila, Philippines –> Puerto Princesa, Palawan Island Philippines
Whew! 26 hours of flying but we finally made it!
Life saver = noise canceling headphones and a partially filled airplane. We intentionally booked our flight to be a red-eye so we could sleep for most of the journey. With the help of Benadryl, Melatonin, and empty rows across from us so we could sprawl out and sleep, so the traveling wasn’t as painful as we were expecting.
Tip: To prevent blood clots on long trips like these, I highly recommend wearing compression stockings and making an effort to stand and walk the aisle every few hours to stimulate blood flow. While sitting, actively pump your feet up and down and squeeze your calves.
Day 2: Arrival to Puerto Princesa, Palawan Philippines
Once we arrived in the airport, we traded in $250 USD for Philippino Pesos.
- The conversion rate is 50 P per USD.
We packed light and only took a carry-on. Here’s what I ended up packing:
- T shirts: 4
- Shorts: 1
- Sun dresses: 3
- Long maxi dress: 1
- Sweaters: 2
- Pants: 3 (dark jean, white jean, and mint colored capri)
- Bathing suits: 3 sets
- Accessories: hat, sunglasses, jewelry
- Misc: 2 sets of workout clothes, 1 Tide detergent pack, portable steamer
- Shoes: 2 sets of sandals (1 black, 1 brown), 1 set of healed sandals, 1 pair of water shoes, 1 pair of sneakers, 1 pair of casual sneakers
What I wish I brought:
- Additional: 2 bathing suits, shorts x1, workout outfit x1, printed T shirts, Tide detergent pack, travel-sized saline solution
- Less: sweater, capri, casual sneakers
Traveling around Puerto Princesa was super easy. They have a ton of “tricycles” saturating the streets, which are basically a motorized bike with a covered side cart to sit in.
Negotiate a price up front, but you can usually get around pretty well between 20-40 P (<$1).
We stayed at the Best Western IvyWall
in downtown Puerto Princesa. Overall, we were really pleased with our stay. The hotel offered a gym, outdoor lap pool, and a delicious buffet breakfast with Filipino / International cuisine.
Sahand and I couldn’t get over how pleasant and hospitable the Filipinos were. We carpooled with a group to see a FireFly Tour
and were pleasantly surprised by how helpful and excited they were about teaching us the Philippine culture. The one thing they emphasized was eating food with your hands. Sahand and I wanted to fit in, so when we settled onto our dinner boat during our FireFly Tour, Sahand went hand first boldly against a chunk of crab. In hindsight….not the best idea. […Sahand walked away with an impalement and a sleepless night trying to dig out a crab horn under his nail bed. We’ll give the crab the victory on that one :)]
The FireFly tour was a gentle touch to our night. As we slowly glided through the river, batches of fireflies ignited around us. Not only was the weather comfortably warm for being late at night, but the sky looked like someone had knocked over a jar of silver glitter.
Cool idea- download a star-gazing app. Someone from our group had held their phone up against the sky and traced out all of the constellations.
The tour cost us ~ 2,100 P for 2 people ($42) and included transportation to the pier, the boat ride, guide, and dinner for 2.
Rather than getting back on board our bus to the hotel, we decided to linger on the BayWalk
, which is a strip of food huts and entertainment along the water. It’s a local hot spot for those in Puerto Princesa. That night in particular, they were hosting what looked like a Talent Show and had teen doing dancing and singing performances. They even had local camera crews video-taping. It was fun joining in on something that felt very genuine to the town.
Day 3: Puerto Princesa exploration
The following morning, we took a long stroll down the main street of Puerto Princesa. Tours are their real money maker, so we didn’t have a lot of luck finding cute souvenir or gift shops. With the help of TripAdvisor and Yelp, we landed 2 cozy spots for coffee and dinner:
Coffee lovers, rejoice! This place was so cozy and delicious! I ordered an oreo frappuccino
We also ordered the traditional “Halo Halo”drink (“halo” = to mix thoroughly) consisting of:
- Shaved ice
- Evaporated milk
- Scoop of “uba” (purple yam ice cream)
- Corn”Nata de coco” (coconut gelatin)
- “Pinipig” (pounded dried rice- it sort of resembled Rice Crispy’s)
- And some other mysterious ingredients!
- Pretty much all seafood
- Leave your shoes at the door 🙂
Entrees are about 300P each ($6)
Day 4: Off to Sabang
After spending a few short days in Puerto Princesa, we headed off to our next location: Sabang.
We arranged for the Lexxus Shuttle
to pick us up at our hotel and to drop us off near our next hotel 2 hours away.
The cost was 300P each ($12 for the both of us). With that said, be prepared to be sitting in a full van with all of your major luggage strapped to the roof.
In hindsight, we would have headed for the front seats where there was better legroom, more space, and better views.
The ride overall wasn’t too bad…
However, if you have vertigo or are a conservative driver, here’s your forewarning! The roads are very windy, and the drivers are anything but defensive!
With that said, we all got to our final destinations safe and sound and for cheap :).
Where we stayed:
Full disclosure, we would have preferred the Sheridan Resort– a short walking distance away.
The facilities at our resort were nice and authentic and we had a great room overlooking the beach, however, our bed was horribly uncomfortable, and the A/C unit was directly over us, blowing frigid, strong air on us all night. It was hard to strike a comfortable temperature balance at night, and we sadly lost a lot of sleep during our stay there.
What We Did
Before dinner at the hotel, we took a very laid back Mangrove River Tour
. After walking about 10 minutes to the river, we loaded onto a small paddle boat and drifted down a lazy river lined by Mangrove trees. We caught glimpses of an Endangered lizard species and a few snakes curled up in trees above us. The cruise was extremely relaxing as we coasted through the smooth, glassy water.
Bring bug spray!!
Treat Yourself to a Massage(s)
One thing I forgot to mention…..! MASSAGES! We stayed at our hotel for massages, which were slightly more expensive than the local ones.
Even still…. we ended up paying 500-700P for an hour long massage (<$20)
We couldn’t help but get massages every day :). If you walked a few steps past our resort, there were multiple massage booths offering hour long massages for $9.
Day 5: Underground River Tour
The following morning, we woke up early to head out for one of the 7 Wonders of the World: The Underground River.
I actually wasn’t feeling too well this morning after fighting gastritis all night, but took a few Meclizine tablets before heading to the transport boats.
Medications to consider bringing:
- Zofran, reglan, or compazine (anti-nausea medications)
- Better yet, you can also get a Scopolamine Patch to put behind your ear that lasts for a few days if you tend to get nauseous easily
- Stool softeners
Interesting tip: one of the Filipino’s we met swore by lemon water before traveling to a new destination. She says it helps to regulate your stomach acid before experimenting with you foods.
Back to the Underground River Tour…
We were blown away. You were given audio sets so there is complete silence as you float through the underground river and look up at the stalagmites and stalactites around you. There were also hundreds, if not thousands, of bats flying above you (we kept our helmets on tight!). One of the most breathtaking parts of the tour was gliding into the “cathedral” room of the cave. The ceiling expanded above us like a magnificant cathedral ceiling. The most interesting fact I learned on the tour was that every YEAR, calcium deposits on the limestone from rainwater accumulate 0.13mm (less than a strand of hair). The magnitude of that comment leaves you in awe when you see the wonder of the cave surrounding you.
This tour is a MUST!
The cost of our Undergound River trip through the hotel was about 5,200 P ($104 total for 2 people). Our boat transportation, permits, audio tour, tour guide, and lunches were provided.
Organize this with your hotel at least a day before you plan on the excursion to they can organize your permits. There are recommendations to go to the City Coliseum in Puerto Princesa with your IDs to pick up your own permits in advance, but this is totally unnecessary. The hotels organize everything for you.
Day 6: Off to El Nido
Transportation gets tricky to El Nido from Sabang. We found the best option was to load onto the Lexxus Shuttle again for a 5 1/2- 6 hour bus ride.
The van costs about $30 for 2 people.This was initially our intention, but we got swooned into taking a private SUV for $100 (for the two of us) after guaranteeing that:
- They could get us there in 4 hours
- Our bags would be safely in the trunk
- We’d have reclining seats
- And we wouldn’t miss our boat ferry to our next hotel
Trust me when I say… money well spent!
Where We Stayed
You need to take a ferry to this resort, so make sure you have a chance to check their departure times! They only had two departure times available (1p and 4p) when we were there.
I must say, hands down, this is the best resort I’ve ever stayed at in my life.
It comes with a price tag….
We paid ~$4-500/nightfor 3 nights, but we also booked around the holidays in winter when prices bumped
However, the resort is WELL WORTH EVERY PENNY.
Day 7: Island hopping
Sahand and I enjoyed an incredible breakfast buffet, a sweaty workout in the hotel gym, a glorious early afternoon soaking up the pool and sun as we floated on stand up paddle boards in front of hotel before starting our private island hopping tour.
For 4 hours, we bounced around to neighboring islands to snorkel above gorgeous blue coral and Finding Nemo fish (while getting attacked by stinging Plankton!! )
Apparently Feb-March is high Plankton and Jellyfish season.If you have long swimwear and plan to do some swimming or snorkeling, I would recommend bringing it with you.
We walked on the finest sand beaches we’ve ever experienced (the sand felt like flour on our feet), and kayaked through serene, isolated lagoons.
The tour itself was 5,000P ($100).
There were also group tours that lasted most of the day, but we enjoyed having the luxury of being spontaneous with our guide.
When islands were saturated with tour groups, we diverted to secret lagoons and more private locations where we could kayak and enjoy them more intimately. When we wanted to stay longer in certain locations, we had the freedom to do so. We appreciated having a tour guide that offered to take some absolutely breathtaking pictures as well!
Nothing beats waking up on your veranda to a sunrise, coffee, and the pristine clear blue water amidst floating water bungalows (well…maybe the excitement of seeing what the breakfast buffet had to offer afterward…!).
The food was delicious, the pool was refreshing, and meeting new people from all over the world was a perk as well.
Having nothing set on our agenda for the day definitely brought my stress level close to zero.
We decided to go hiking in the resort’s backyard to a secret beach.
Again, bring bug spray! Oh and also- make sure you pack a few travel size sunscreen bottles with you. Prices are a little expensive and run about $11-15 for a small bottle. We went through 2 bottles in 4 days between the two of us.
Our next stop was a little bit of a mistake. We left the last few days open on our trip to be flexible with where we wanted to travel.
- Mistake #1 was assuming there was no availability with Lagen to extend our stay
- Mistake #2 was thinking Matinloc Resort was actually the sister island of Lagen Resort (Miniloc) in El Nido
When we arrived at Matinloc, we were sadly disappointed. We are open-minded people and relatively low maintenance, but unfortunately, we dreaded the days we stayed at Matinloc and longed to be back at LIR.
- The staff was poorly managed and unhappy
- The resort was too remote for us and lacked wifi, cable, and any form of staff entertainment
- It was also extremely overpriced for the quality it delivered
At first we didn’t mind hanging by the pool and beach for a day, but by day #2 we were getting antsy to get off the resort and socialize with others.
Unfortunately our reservation was nonrefundable, so we worked on changing our attitudes. There was nothing we could do to change our circumstances other than to find the positive aspects in it. We enjoyed our last few days snorkeling, enjoying food, exploring El Nido town, making (scary?) memories on a return boat ride with a drunken crew and broken boat engine (oy)…and getting to know each other on a deeper level (as a newly engaged couple!)
To keep things happy, we focused on spending quality time with each other.
When all else failed, we whipped out the cards games!
Day 12: Back to Puerto Princesa
By day #12, we were looking forward to making our way back home.
We boarded a private van back to Puerto Princesa (7,000P ~$140 USD)
We stayed at the Best Western at Ivywall again and breathed easy in the comfort of our familiar former hotel.
The following morning, we packed our bags and (sadly) started our long journey back home. We loved how we traveled in the Philippines and had the time of our life. Hopefully you will too! And if you finish traveling to the Philippines and are up for a new trip with a change in climate, check out 11 sensational stops in the Rockies you shouldn’t miss
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