You’re looking for a destination that allays your thirst for adventure and offers a jaw-dropping underwater world as well as breathtaking beaches but isn’t too touristic yet? In this case, I’d book a ticket to the Philippines. The Philippines offers all of the above and more. But before I give too much away, let’s start from the very beginning.
After two weeks in Japan, I was ready to stock up on vitamin sea; you could also do that in Japan, but I’ve seen so many amazing pictures of the lagoons and beaches in the Philippines that I added it to my bucket list. After doing some research, I’d selected three islands that I wanted to explore and see with my own eyes: Palawan, Cebu and Bohol.
I arrived in Manila after midnight. Since my connecting flight to El Nido was only eleven hours later, I’d decided to get a hotel room close to the airport in order to get at least a few hours of sleep. My exhaustion was probably the major reason why I fell for yet another scam. The security guard at the exit door of the terminal asked me if I needed a taxi. Since it was late and I’d been told that taxis would be fairly cheap in the Philippines, I said yes and he brought me to a guy and his car. I remember thinking, “what an attentive security guard!”. The guy asked for a fix price and immediate payment. It seemed like a lot of money, but since I’d just arrived, I had not really an idea yet about the currency. Also, I just wanted to go to bed. Well, once I was in the car, I started calculating and I instantly knew that they’d ripped me off. The receptionist at the hotel confirmed my doubts. I’d paid 1’200 Pesos for a distance that normally costs 120 Pesos. I learned that some of the security guards work with the taxi drivers in guiding the passengers to the taxi stand. Yet, instead of using the meter, the taxi drivers ask for a ridiculous amount of money (for Filipino standards), which the taxi driver and the security guard later on share. It was another really stupid mistake of mine and another lesson learnt.
After a short stay in Manila, I flew to El Nido by Air Swift. If you want to get a cheaper flight, you can hop on an Air Asia plane to Puerto Princesa and then take a bus from there (about 5 hours). El Nido has the most charming airport I’ve ever seen and I immediately knew that I would like this place. I took a tricycle (motorbikes with a side car) to the hostel, which was a totally new experience for me as I’ve only used tuktuks so far. I stayed at the Spin Designer Hostel and it was amazing: Great people, delicious breakfast (especially the pancakes) and central location. Within a short walk, I found myself at the beach.
As the receptionist had told me that there would be a thunderstorm during the day, I stayed in El Nido on the first day, relaxed at the beach and went to the gym – probably the quirkiest and oldest gym on the planet, but it fulfilled its purpose. For the second and third day, I booked island hopping trips to secret lagoons, private beaches and other gems. On the first island hopping tour (Tour A), we covered the Big Lagoon, Small Lagoon, Secret Lagoon, Shimizu Island and 7 Commando Beach. The scenery on the whole trip was just breathtaking. I’ve never seen water as clear as on this day! It left me absolutely speechless.
On the second island hopping tour (Tour C), we covered Helicopter Island, Matinloc Shrine, Secret Beach, Star Beach and Hidden Beach. It was another amazing day and I just couldn’t get enough of the water and the amazing scenery. Swimming in this crystal clear water was simply priceless! On the first tour, I met a really lovely couple, Egehan and Jacqui, and we explored the amazing underwater world together. It was magical! Unfortunately, we all got really bad sunburns. We did put sunscreen on every once in a while, but when you’re constantly in the water, it’s so hard to avoid a sunburn. After the second tour, I started feeling really weird. I thought it’s because I got again too much sun and thus didn’t really worry too much. However, after dinner, I felt even worse. I went straight to bed but woke up soon after, feeling really sick. I had the most terrible night, throwing up again and again. I didn’t sleep at all. Fortunately, I had really sweet dorm mates who took care of me. I was a mess the next day and didn’t have any strength to do anything else than lying in bed all day. Jacqui, who was already in Coron at that time, texted me in the morning, asking if I was fine. I told her about my night and she said they’d had exactly the same experience. At that point, it was clear that we’d gotten food poisoning. It must either have been caused by the food on the boat trip or the food we had that night as we had enjoyed dinner together. Well, there was nothing we could do but stay in bed and drink lots of Gatorade. My biggest worry was that I wouldn’t be able to fly out to Cebu the following day. Fortunately, I started to gradually feel better and so I was able to take my flight as planned.
The flight from El Nido to Cebu was the most beautiful flight I’ve ever experienced. The views were absolutely breathtaking. Simply amazing! Since I was still feeling weak, I decided to take it easy that day. I stayed at the 1521 Hostel, a really cool place with great staff!
The reason why most people go to Cebu is because of the whale sharks close to Oslob, a town in the South of Cebu. Now, let’s talk about why I decided NOT to swim with the popular whale sharks. To be honest, it does sound like a really cool thing to do, which is also the reason why most of the tourists travelling to the Philippines assemble there. I talked to several people who had been swimming with the whale sharks and all of them said that it was an awesome experience. Yet, if you consider the ecological aspect, you soon recognise how harmful it is for the animals and the natural environment. The people I talked to confirmed this. When I asked them why they still went, they laughed it away and said that it was too cool to be missed. I’d like to consider myself as a traveler who is conscious of her social and ecological environment and a person that is respectful of people as well as animals. Exactly for this reason, I decided NOT to support the machinery of the tourist agencies who bring hundreds of people to Oslob every day and let them swim in a way too small area with the whale sharks. I believe everyone who says that it was an unforgettable experience, but I am not one of these people who enjoy something on the cost of animals. And frankly speaking, nobody should! The lives of the local people and animals should always be first priority! I’ve seen so many disrespectful tourists on my trip so far and this makes me really angry. Tourism is only acceptable if it’s sustainable. I live up to that credo and so should every tourist.
Originally, my plan was to do two day trips during my three-day stay in Mactan. First of all, I intended to go to the East coast of Cebu to do some canyoning at the Kawasan Falls and second of all, I wanted to go to Bohol and see the Chocolate Hills. On my first night in Mactan, I met Albert, a Canadian guy. It turned out that he also planned to go canyoning at the Kawasan Falls the next day and so we decided to embark on this adventure together. We left the hostel the next day around 6am and started our journey to the falls. It was a pretty bumpy and long ride, but it was so worth it! We had the best time! Canyoning is soooo much fun and should definitely not be missed, especially in this amazing place in the Philippines! The Kawasan Falls themselves are nice, but it was a bit of a disappointment after three hours of adventurous canyoning!
As aforementioned, I’d planned to go to Bohol the next day to see the Chocolate Hills. However, the day after canyoning, I felt sick again and thus had to stay in bed again. I think I’d pushed it a bit too much so shortly after the food poisoning and should have stayed in bed another day in the first place. I still had some spare days left before my flight back to Manila. Originally, I wanted to spend them on Malapascua Island, but since I really wanted to see the Chocolate Hills, I decided to spend these days instead on the island of Panglao, south of Bohol. So after three nights in Mactan, I packed my bags for Bohol, which is only a three-hour ferry ride away from Cebu City. The ferry ride was pretty convenient and smooth and the three days in Panglao / Bohol were simply amazing. On my second day, I hired a driver, Alfredo, who drove me around Bohol with his motorbike. He took me to the Chocolate Hills, the Tarsier Sanctuary (cuteness overload), the bamboo suspension bridge in Sevilla and the Eco Adventure Park for some zip lining.
The zip line was my personal highlight. As you might have noticed, I love adrenaline. So, flying high over Loboc River and looking out over miles of pure nature was absolutely priceless. I enjoyed lunch on one of the boats that go up and down the Loboc River. It was pouring down on and off that day as it was the beginning of raining season, but I had so much fun that I really didn’t mind the rain too much.
After three days in Panglao, I went back to Mactan and stayed another night at the 1521 Hostel as I had an early flight the next morning and it was so convenient to get to the airport from the hostel. I had another day in Manila before my flight to Bangkok. I used the remaining time in the Philippines mainly to relax. I treated myself and got manicure and pedicure for as little as 4$. A real bargain!
To sum it up, I really had an amazing time in the Philippines, despite the food poisoning. The Philippines has absolutely everything the adventure heart desires: Hiking, canyoning, mountain biking, scuba diving, zip-lining, and so on and so forth. Nothing’s impossible! And I was so happy to get so many adrenaline kicks! Even though I was warned by many people that the Philippines would be a dangerous place, especially for a female solo traveler, I didn’t encounter any problems at all. I’m sure there are areas that one should avoid, but if one is conscious of that, one really shouldn’t be worried about safety. All the people I met were extremely friendly and helpful. So don’t miss out on the beauty of the Philippines just because there is some crime in certain parts of the country!
Thanks for the hospitality, Filipinos! I do hope to be back one day!
Accommodation: Go Hotels Manila (not recommended), Z Hostel (not recommended)
Accommodation: Spin Designer Hostel
Sights: Island Hopping Tours (Tour A & C), Nacpan Beach, Las Cabanas Beach for sunset, Las Cabanas Beach Zipline
Accommodation: 1521 Hostel
Sights: Kawasan Falls (4-hour bus ride)
BOHOL (PANGLAO )
Accommodation: Moon Fools Hostel
Sights: Chocolate Hills, Tarsier Sanctuary, bamboo suspension bridge in Sevilla and the Eco Adventure Park for zip lining