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  • Writer's pictureGiulia M.

Travelling through the spectacular Philippines: such an unforgettable adventure


Snake Island, Palawan

I'm back, after months of absence, with a (modestly) incredible article which, already a couple of days after returning, many people have asked for - is this the time to admit that someone else besides my family actually reads these articles?

Today I'll tell you about my latest trip, a sort of dream come true, the Philippines!

This country had been on my list for years: the year before Cov*d, together with other friends, we had even booked, only to see our planes canceled after a few months; that was followed by a period of total closure of the Philippines, with no possibility of access for tourism until about a year ago.


  • Palawan: Darocotan Island, El Nido, Nacpan Beach, Tour A and B, Las Cabañas

  • Busuanga Island and Coron: Rock Island Eres Bella, Coron Town, Ultimate Tour and Escapade Tour


As always, at the end of the article (or by clicking here ) you will find the map with all the places visited during this trip!


Introduction and useful information

Enough chatter, let's start with the useful information. Before going into details, I have summarised everything about the planning and booking phase of flights, internal travel, accommodation, activities and more. I try to answer common questions to help you plan similar trips. I hope these answers are helpful if you are considering a similar adventure.


Trip and itinerary planning

Many people have asked me how we organised our unforgettable trip to the Philippines, the answer is... we planned everything ourselves!

We took the time to plan a detailed itinerary, deciding which islands to visit, what activities to do and how much time to spend in each place. A key consideration was the availability of domestic flights and the fear of possible cancellations. To mitigate this risk, we have chosen to focus on two main islands, Palawan and Busuanga (Coron) . This decision allowed us to use them as bases to explore the surrounding areas, minimising the risk of unexpected events due to flight changes. If we had more time, we would definitely have added Bohol and/or Boracay to the destination list, but we preferred more stability in our itinerary.

Since our trip was completely self-managed, we were able to adapt the program according to our preferences, without being tied to a pre-established itinerary.


Booking your flight to the Philippines

One of the first and crucial stages of the organisation was the purchase of the international flight. By monitoring rates for weeks, we managed to find an incredible deal! About 10 months before departure, we booked a flight from Milan to Manila with a stopover in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. This advance planning allowed us to save significantly, spending only €600 for the return plane ticket (which for a trip like this is a really affordable price).


Domestic flight planning

As already mentioned, the concern of finding ourselves with canceled flights guided our attention in planning internal transfers first. I suggest starting to shape your itinerary based on local flight availability. We carefully explored options from companies like AirSwift and Cebu Airlines, looking for cost-effective solutions to maximise your time between the islands. Although we had heard about frequent cancellations, our experience with these companies was very positive. An important tip: book domestic flights as soon as possible, because with such small planes, seats fill up quickly.


Accommodation booking

Since our goal was mainly to have a fairly relaxing holiday, we planned the trip by alternating lighter days with intense days of tours and adventures. As a result, we have carefully chosen accommodation to ensure we have comfort and tranquility on relaxing days (mainly small resorts on fairly remote islands) and, at the same time, strategic locations to maximise the experience during busier days. We booked all the accommodations either on Booking or AirBnB.


Preparing for the trip: things to know before leaving

Before leaving, it was essential to prepare adequately. We paid attention to a few important things:

  • Vaccines and health: Although there are no mandatory vaccines, we have decided to take extra precautions. After consulting our doctors, we opted for the Hepatitis A vaccine (which some of us already had), the typhoid vaccine (which must be repeated every few years), and the Meningitis vaccination (useful not only in the Philippines , but also in Italy). However, we chose not to take Malaria prophylaxis, given that both northern Palawan and Coron are not at high risk, but this is a choice to be carefully evaluated with your doctors.

  • Mosquito Protection: Related to the previous point, we know that mosquitoes are an integral part of the Philippines package, so we made sure to have a super effective mosquito spray (Deet >50%). We fought against the flying beasts like heroes (maybe me a little less than the others, given that I still came back with more than 20 bites all over my legs)!

  • Probiotics and Nutrition: A wise move to fully enjoy the local cuisine without unpleasant surprises is to prepare with cycles of lactic ferments. It's worth noting that of all the countries we visited, especially Coron, the Philippines was the one where we struggled the most with food. I highly recommend always checking restaurant reviews to make sure there is no history of food poisoning.

  • Visa Situation: We didn't want to risk any nasty surprises upon arrival, so we double-checked the need for visas and filled out the online E-Form. Making sure we had all the necessary documents, we set off calmly.

  • Travel Insurance: A very important addition that cannot be missed is travel insurance. For us, it was a clear choice with HeyMondo. This insurance offered us complete coverage in case of medical emergencies, flight delays, and much more. Never forget to insure before leaving!

  • Buying e-SIM: If you want to make your life easier with an e-SIM, we bought it on HolaFly. It was super convenient and ensured smooth connectivity throughout the trip, even in fairly remote places.

  • Leakproof Bag and Rubber Sandals: With all the water activities planned, we made sure we had a leakproof bag to protect our precious devices. And, obviously, our faithful rubber sandals (my favorite Teva) could not be missing to face beaches, rocks and so on and so forth. You can also buy similar bags locally, but having everything ready gave us a nice advantage in terms of convenience.


Total cost of the trip

Now, let's move on to the most popular question: how much did this unforgettable trip cost? We estimated a total cost of around €3,000, covering flights to Manila, internal flights, accommodation (we chose solutions that cost on average around €30 per night per person), food (15-20 € per day), insurance, e- sim, tours and other activities (yoga, kayak,...) and internal transport (taxi, tuk-tuk). We tried to manage ourselves as best we could, so that we could fully enjoy the Philippines, without giving up too much comfort.



Our incredible itinerary

Palawan: Darocotan Island, El Nido, Nacpan Beach, Tour A and B, Las Caba ñas

Darocotan Island

Attracted by all the fascinating stories and wonderful videos seen online, we chose Palawan as the first main destination of our trip. We chose to spend three days on the island of Darocotan, and then moved to El Nido, a location that served as a base for us to explore the surroundings through the very famous island-hopping tours .



As already mentioned, we decided, before venturing among the various islands around Palawan, to spend a few days relaxing in the Dryft Camp Darocotan Island, an eco-friendly refuge without internet connection (perfect for completely unplugging). We stayed in cozy wooden houses shaped like pumpkins (but there is also a tent option), enjoying a private beach and the soothing sounds of the sea.



To make you understand the beauty of this place, I also leave you a video made from our accommodation. The restaurant delighted us with delicious food, from breakfast to dinner, and we participated in various activities such as meditation, yoga, animal flow and snorkeling, exploring the seabed and a wreck not far from the beach.


El Nido

We then moved to the town of El Nido, staying at J Boutique Hotel, a hostel without infamy or praise but very clean, with friendly staff and, above all, with a strategic location. We used these four days to go on two excursions, to visit some places in the surrounding area and to experience the culture of the place a bit.



Not far from our hotel, there was access to the Canopy Walk, a nature walk suspended between the foliage of the majestic forests of El Nido, which we absolutely didn't want to miss. We arrived at the panoramic point, crossing bridges and walkways suspended between the treetops. As well as providing spectacular views of the bay and surrounding islands, this elevated walk brought us closer to the wild, unspoiled beauty of El Nido. An enthralling little excursion that allowed us to embrace the magnificence of nature from a completely new perspective. PS: not suitable for those who suffer from vertigo!


Las Cabanas Beach

If you want to see a beautiful sunset, Las Cabanas beach, in El Nido, offers an unforgettable spectacle as the sun goes down.



I highly recommend heading to the right end of the beach to fully enjoy the view. There, you can prevent the towering rocks from blocking the sun, creating the perfect backdrop for a breathtaking sunset. Las Cabanas thus becomes the ideal place for those seeking the magic of the colours of the sky that mix with the sea horizon during this magical moment of the day.


Nacpan Beach

A stop not far from El Nido and not to be missed is Nacpan Beach, a beach with golden sand (more similar to our western ones), long and well equipped, which reminded me of Falasarna in Crete. The crystal clear water and the breathtaking view welcomed us into a corner of paradise. However, disappointment arrived at the table with food that was inedible to say the least. We recommend bringing your own lunch or exploring the area to find a "lido" with a more appealing restaurant. We paid €20 for an umbrella and deckchair, while the tuk-tuk (or tri-cicle, as they call it) trip from El Nido cost us more or less €25 return, for about 45 minutes. An unforgettable experience despite some culinary inconveniences.



Tour A and Tour B

And here we are at the key days, those in which we explored the surroundings of El Nido and Palawan through boat tours. We booked both tours through the Boutique Art Café in El Nido (which makes delicious banana bread!), paying around €50 per person for a private tour; this allowed us to manage the various stages and, above all, the timing.



Starting from the port of El Nido, we immersed ourselves in Tour A, an unmissable option for exploring the famous Big Lagoon. Here, access requires renting kayaks from the boat, ensuring a unique experience. The other gems included in Tour A, such as 7 Commandos Beach, Secret Lagoon and some snorkeling spots, enchanted us with their crystal clear waters and enchanting sceneries.



Tour B, however, exceeded expectations, offering a less crowded but equally spectacular prospect. During this adventure, we were captured by the wonderful Snake Island , to which were added the splendid Entalula beach, two interesting caves, Codugnon Cave (on whose island you can stop for lunch) and Cathedral Cave , along with other incredible places where to snorkel.



Just to make you understand the beauty of Snake Island I'll put a video below, because I swear the photos don't do it justice.



After these experiences, we highly recommend opting for Tour B (too underrated!) and, if you wish to discover further paradises, adding Tour C for its pristine beaches (we were told that this is also worth it). To make your visit to the Big Lagoon even more special, we suggest booking a separate trip when crowds are smaller. The combination of these adventures will make your trip to El Nido a truly memorable experience.


  🍛   Where to eat and drink in El Nido

Hama - ☕️ Breakfast ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Best breakfast and coffee in town, I won't add anything other than I recommend trying their pancakes. SPAZIALI! 🚀


Boutique Art Cafè - ☕️ Breakfast or snack / 🍺 Aperitif ⭐⭐⭐⭐

As already mentioned, we booked our tours through this place, where we had good breakfasts, excellent snacks (banana bread TOP!) and, above all, nice aperitifs - the location is very beautiful, directly on the sea!


Ver De - 🌱 Plant Based ⭐⭐⭐⭐

A very good plant based restaurant, with many different choices (including several desserts), with a decidedly elegant atmosphere compared to other restaurants in the city. Prices slightly above the El Nido average, but compared to Italian prices, still very accessible.


Rice8Spice - 🌱 Vegetarian friendly ⭐⭐⭐⭐

A small restaurant with just three tables outside, but with Chinese dishes that we liked a lot and, above all, with really competitive prices (we spent €6 for dinner including drinks!).


Oppa - 🌱 Vegetarian / Vegan friendly ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐+

Let's end on a high note with this absolutely nonsense place - by far the best vegetarian ramen I've ever tried, perfect taste, super friendly staff. Never seen something like this (among other things it has 5 stars on Google with 400+ reviews, there must be a reason!). YOU CAN'T MISS IT!!!


Busuanga Island and Coron: Rock Island Eres Bella, Coron Town, Ultimate Tour and Escapade Tour

Rock Island Eres Bella

As soon as we arrived on the island of Busuanga we immediately headed (through the service organised by the accommodation) towards a small village with only 12 places, on a private island called Rock Island Eres Bella . The biggest surprise was discovering that, since there were no other guests, we would have the entire island to ourselves, along with the attentive and friendly staff. Given the small size of the island, there were not many possible activities (relaxing massages, kayaking and snorkeling), but the simplicity of the place made it possible to fully enjoy breathtaking sunrises and sunsets, immerse yourself in good books and abandon yourself to relaxation. Surprisingly, the island chef delighted us with extraordinarily delicious dishes: fresh vegetables, delicious fish and space sauces. The chef proved to be incredibly helpful: one evening he even prepared us the best pasta aglio e olio we have ever tasted (I swear!!!). And what about his pancakes for breakfast? 🤤



The entire staff were exceptional, entertaining us with evening karaoke sessions and organising dinner on the beach, lit up with so many lights, it looked like something out of a movie. All at quite affordable prices: around €40 per night per person for accommodation and less than €100 per person for food and drinks (two days with breakfast, lunch, dinner and snacks included!). If you are looking for a place to relax and enjoy tranquility, Rock Island is the perfect choice. However, keep in mind that beyond two days you may start to feel a slight monotony.


Coron Town Proper

And here we are in the city of Coron . Honestly, we can't call it the most fascinating place we've ever visited. The impact with Coron was quite intense, especially considering that it seemed a little less "livable" than El Nido and also less organised/touristy (and that's not a compliment!). It took us hours to get used to the idea and we had to do extensive research to find places to eat without jeopardising our gut health.

On the second day, however, we started to see the positive side of it. It must be said that Coron was a strategic base for us to explore two exciting boat excursions, which I'll tell you about a little further down, as we didn't have scooters available. However, if you intend to rent vehicles to get around, it could be advantageous to look for nicer accommodation, slightly outside of Coron. This way, you can only go to town to eat and take part in boat excursions.

Below, I will list some places where we ate without experiencing any health problems (I'll start by saying that there isn't even one restaurant that deserves four or five stars).


But let's now move on to the two tours we decided to do in Coron: the Ultimate and the Escapade Tour. After reading negative reviews on various tour operators, we chose Millenial Island TravelMate for both trips, and the decision turned out to be a winning one. The guides and crew were exceptional, even letting us decide the route (for example, in the Ultimate Tour we skipped two stops because we wanted to visit some places more calmly and we left very early to see the Twin Lagoon without crowding). The food provided on the excursions was of surprising quality, with vegetarian options catered for. In short, if you are looking for a positive experience in Coron, Millenial Island TravelMate is the recommended choice.



Can I say it? Ah I say it... El Nido town >> Coron Town Proper BUT for excursions, tours in Coron >> tours in El Nido . Maybe it was because we always had the sun, maybe it was because there were fewer people, but we liked them a lot more.

We started our Ultimate Tour by exploring the picturesque Twin Lagoon via kayak (not exactly cheap, costing 1,000 pesos per kayak, but in our opinion it was absolutely worth it).

Afterwards, we relaxed on CYC Beach , where, along with some crazy colours, you can also admire some beautiful mangroves.

Then we dived into the Coral Garden and saw lots of corals and colourful fish.

Lunch break on a stilt house (well, apparently when they are hungry they stop on stilts in the middle of lagoons with crystal clear waters, in Bologna when you feel hungry you stop to have a slice of pizza under the Two Towers - I don't see any differences!) near the Green Lagoon, also explored by kayak.

We ended the day with the majestic Kayangan Lake , a lake of 70% fresh water and 30% salt water, where swimming was very pleasant. In short, a complete experience with kayaking, beaches, lunch and breathtaking scenery! 🚣‍♂️🌊🍽️



Short video of the Twin Lagoon to give you an idea of the pure madness of these places, completely senseless and disarmingly beautiful!


Second boat tour in Coron bay, the Escapade tour, just to end on a high note. We started the day relaxing on Daitaytayan Island , immersed in incredible waters that seemed like a dream (almost like the Maldives, but definitely more fascinating and less monotonous). We took advantage of the moment to snorkel, exploring beautiful corals and admiring brightly coloured fish. As a good lover of nature and rules (♎️), I also had to call out a disrespectful guy who was standing beautifully on the coral, I was very angry!

After this adventure, we headed to Coco Island for lunch. Even if they say it's just for eating (and it's super equipped in fact), the island itself is beautiful, with crystal clear waters and crazy colours.

We didn't think we could overcome the beauty of the area up until then, but instead... the day ended with another beach out of the ordinary: Malapascua . This corner of paradise has nothing to envy of the most famous beaches in the world, with crystal clear waters that have captured our hearts.



Although Malapascua was an incredible experience, personally, the magic of Daitaytayan took my personal first place among all the beaches seen during the holiday (perhaps second only to Snake Island, if we consider it a beach) 🥹




  🍛   Where to eat and drink in Coron

Sunburn Rooftop - 🌅 Sunset aperitif ⭐⭐⭐

From the outside you wouldn't give it a cent, being an ugly 90s hotel. To get to the rooftop you have to climb a lot of stairs (I'll already prepare you), but the view from the top I must say is really beautiful, perfect for a beautiful sunset. In this place I recommend you drink beers, the cocktails are not very good but, at least, we didn't have any problems with ice 🧊 so if you wanted to try it should be safe.


Castizo - Spanish restaurant ⭐⭐⭐

One evening out of desperation we went to this Spanish restaurant which, despite having 4.7 stars on Google, was not there. he was enthusiastic. probably if it were in Europe or, even worse, in Spain, it wouldn't even have 3. But the patatas bravas were good, the beer was fresh and, one way or another, we got full.


Bappa Burgers - 🌱 Vegan ⭐⭐⭐

I really liked this vegan burger stand; to my friends a little less, especially those who had gotten spicy burgers. My advice, therefore, is to take slightly spicy sandwiches.


Al Fresco - 🌱 Vegan/Vegetarian friendly ⭐⭐⭐

Let's say the best among those tried, with several vegan and vegetarian options, even if the competition wasn't that high. Pleasant atmosphere and, here too, our stomachs were fine.



Some more advice

Finally, I leave you with some other somewhat scattered suggestions (and I'll summarise some of them that were already given before in an unstructured way) that helped me both before and during the trip.


Before departure:

  • Visa situation: there is no need for a visa for visits of up to 30 days but you must fill out the E-Form (updated in March 2023), all the information can be found here: https://www.viaggiaresicuri.it/find -country/country/PHL

  • Find out about the recommended vaccines (there are no mandatory ones) a few months beforehand. For example, I (re)got the Typhus vaccine and had already had the Hepatitis A vaccine in the past. Find out more from your GP

  • One thing that I always find very useful when I travel to Asian countries is to do a cycle of lactic ferments in the month before departure, it can help a lot in case of various problems 💩

  • I also advise you to purchase an E-Sim before the trip, to be activated as soon as you land. This will allow you not to purchase a physical SIM to insert into your phone, but to do everything online without having problems (check that your phone is among the list of enabled ones). I bought mine here and it turned out great

  • I already told you but with these things it is never enough - the Philippines is among the countries at risk of mosquito-borne diseases (malaria and dengue). So equip yourself with long-sleeved shirts and light trousers to wear at dawn and dusk and remember to bring tropical anti-mosquito spray with you (the one with a high concentration of DEET, such as Jungle DEET 50%)


During the trip:

  • Before all the tours, I recommend that you speak carefully to the guides who are on the boat with you and explain to them the tour you want to take. I'm not always on point and sometimes it's difficult to make myself understood!

  • Remember NOT TO DRINK water unless it is sealed or purified, this also means paying attention to the ice used in the various cocktails and being careful when brushing your teeth

  • Avoid eating unpeeled fruit and raw vegetables (I know, it's difficult with all that fruit exposed on the street, but think about the possible consequences 💩)

  • ALWAYS check restaurant reviews on Google: look at all the reviews, order them from lowest to highest and read if there have been cases of Food Poisoning 🤢


And here is the map with all the places visited, including the places seen on the various tours and the restaurants. I hope it helps you :)



Thanks: last, but certainly not least, I must (but I really must) thank Robi, Ross, Angelica and Sabri for always having so much patience with me and for not sending me to hell; thanks also for the splendid photos, vvb but at least for a year no more tropical places where mosquitoes 🦟 killed me! 💜


XX,


Giulia

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