We thought we’d seen quite a bit of the Philippines in the past 6 weeks. Until we found out that there are actually 7107 islands… of which we’ve now visited 5 (Bohol, Cebu, Negros Oriental, Negros Occidental, Panay, Palawan). That puts things in perspective 😉 Even though we have only seen a small portion of this amazing country, I’m very glad we went. The Philippines is a great place to visit with kids and it will remain on our bucket list. There’s so much to see and do!
Map of our trip in the Philippines
Manila: start of our trip
We started our trip in MANILA, where we arrived on Friday November 13th and only stayed for one night. Our first impression wasn’t very favourable, but we later discovered we didn’t stay in the best part of town, so that might have been at least one of the reasons. Then we caught a flight to Tagbilaran on BOHOL.
Alona Beach, first glimpse of the famous Philippine beaches
We stayed in a very nice apartment in Alona Beach, owned by a Dutch guy, for almost a week. We rented a motorbike and discovered a bit more of Bohol, like a very nice waterfall. The beach at Alona wasn’t like any of the picturesque ones you always see of Philippines, but it was nice anyway with really fine sand. The apartment was within easy walking distance of the beach and Jace enjoyed playing in the water. We each did two dives at Balicasag island and one dive each with the owner of the apartment we rented. Unexpectedly food turned out to be quite expensive. Most of the places serve western food and prices for a main course are often 250 pesos (5 euros) or more. There are a lot of things to do on Bohol, but the Chocolate Hills were green instead of brown at the time we were there and we’d already seen Tarsiers up close in Tangkoko NP in North Sulawesi, so we decided to take it easy and in one place for a bit.
Island hopping from Bohol to Cebu
At some point we booked a flight out of Iloilo to go to Puerto Princesa on the 16th of December, so we planned to do some island hopping to get there. We took the ferry from Tagbilaran to CEBU and went on directly to Moalboal. A place that is famous for good diving. There we stayed at Sisters Inn, which funnily enough was again owned by a Dutch guy. We swear we didn’t know upfront! Our first two nights we spend at Sea Turtle House near White Beach, but it was too far away from everything. So we moved to Sisters Inn (read our review of Sisters Inn) in the Panagsama area. The owner and staff were really friendly and we enjoyed our stay there. We rented a motorbike and went to the nearby Kawasan waterfall, which was very busy with local tourists (makes sense on a Sunday) but with beautiful clear turquoise water. We also did a few dives there with Cebu Dive Center. The dives were nice, especially the ones at Pescador island, but not spectacular. Diving wise we’re really getting spoiled. The beach at Panagsama wasn’t anything special, but good enough for one of us to entertain Jace while the other one went diving.
Amazing diving at the Dauin Coast on Negros Oriental
From Moalboal we caught a bus all the way down to the Liloan Port where we took a ferry to Dumaguete on NEGROS ORIENTAL. There we blew away a large chunk of our budget by staying 6 nights at Liquid Dumaguete in Dauin. A very nice dive resort and especially the dives on the Dauin coast are among our best so far. Lots of weird critters! You can also read our full review of Liquid Dumaguete. We also went to the famous Apo Island for a few dives, but apart from a lot of turtles on one of the dives and very healthy corals, we didn’t enjoy them half as much as the dives on the coast. We needed to extend our visas, so decided to move to Dumaguete for a few days. In Moalboal they told us it wasn’t such a nice city, but we actually quite enjoyed it.
Noisy, dirty Philippine cities: Bacolod and Iloilo
From Dunaguete we took a loooong bus trip to Bacolod, all the way to the north of the island in the province of NEGROS OCCIDENTAL. We had only three nights there and since renting a motorbike was quite expensive, we didn’t see much more than a bit of the city center and the mall. Apart from Dumaguete none of the Philippine cities we’ve seen so far really impress us, other than by how busy, noisy and dirty they are. From Bacolod we took another ferry to Iloilo on PANAY island. We only had two nights there, so apart from using the hotel swimming pool, walking around a bit and again visiting the mall, we didn’t really see much. We were happy to leave after our two nights there.
Palawan: world’s best island?
On December 16th we took a flight from Iloilo to Puerto Princesa on the famous PALAWAN island. Palawan was voted no. 1 island in the world by Condé Nast Traveler’s Readers two years in a row. So obviously our expectations were quite high which is never a good thing. We stayed at Citadel Bed and Breakfast, which looked nice with a good swimming pool, but turned out to be quite a bit outside of the city center. We stayed there for 4 nights, visited Robinson’s Mall (which was within walking distance) quite a lot (Jace loved the electric carts and all the noise and lights at the game hall).
Wasting our time at the Underground River
We even tried to to a tour to the famous Underground River, but unfortunately that wasn’t such a success. Because of typhoon Melor, the sea was incredibly rough and access to the river had been prohibited by the coast guard a few days in a row. The day we booked they said we could go, but after 1,5 hours in a minivan which drove the narrow winding roads with incredible speed (causing our little one to loose his breakfast on the back seat) and 1,5 hours wait the verdict was that we couldn’t go after all. A waste of time. If you’re traveling with small children, make sure you check in advance. We could have saved Jace a nightmare ride!
El Nido: a slice of heaven
On the 20th we had another looong ride ahead of us, which we decided to do by minivan. El Nido is only about 270km away from Puerto Princesa, but it takes over 5 hours to get there. The scenery on the way was quite beautiful though. Jace was a bit sick, so he spend most of the trip sleeping or hanging around on our laps. Which was fine by us. After hearing all the stories about beautiful El Nido I was a bit disappointed to be honest. Our accommodation at Just Inn was one of the cheapest we could find online (22 euro, including breakfast). The Philippine owner and his family are very attentive and the place is clean, but Jace was really not enjoying the cold shower. The town is a bit dirty and rundown and although the view from the beach towards all the islands is breathtaking, El Nido beach and nearby Corong Corong beach aren’t very spectacular. And the food is really expensive, much more so then in the other places we’ve visited so far.
After a motorbike trip to Nacpan beach and Duli beach we started to understand the attraction of El Nido a bit better. There’s a big difference between El Nido province and El Nido town. A private island hopping tour the day before we left made it even more clear that El Nido was a place we might visit again, to go diving and definitely to stay at Duli Beach with Dutch couple Elma and Marnix who recently started Duli Beach Resort.
From El Nido we took a minivan back to Puerto Princesa, where we spend the night before taking a flight to Bangkok via Manila on the 28th. We had a great time in Philippines and are quite sure we’ll be back one day, but New Years Eve we’ll be celebrating in one of our favourite cities, Bangkok! Can’t wait for some nice Thai street food!