Culture, wildlife, and beaches. We wanted to sample a little bit of everything from the Philippines, but we only had two weeks. Ultimately we did end up putting together an itinerary which was able to deliver on all three of these criteria. While we did travel at a fairly consistent pace, I don’t feel like we rushed through anything. We were able to experience the best of each place we visited, without lingering any longer than necessary. While this itinerary may not work for everyone, and you may want to tweak it a bit (more on that later), it will help lay a good foundation for a sample visit to the Philippines.
We wanted to start our trip at full speed, and gradually get slower and slower until our last few days were spent lazing on a beach. We wanted to start the trip with high energy, and end it with rest and relaxation. We also wanted to experience three different regions, with three different focuses; culture, nature and wildlife, and beautiful beaches. We researched and debated lots of different locations (and there are LOTS of different places where you can get those specific things in the Philippines) but in the end we settled on; Banaue, Batad and Sagada for culture, Bohol for nature and wildlife, and Borocay for beaches.
Day 1 – Arrive in Manila and overnight bus to Banaue
We arrived in the early evening in Manila from a non stop flight from Sydney. We only had two weeks and we didn’t want to waste any time, so we went straight from the airport to the bus station where the Banaue bus departs from. I had booked our tickets online and in advance so our places were guaranteed. There are a few different bus companies which will take you to Banaue, and most go overnight. Ours was no exception. Taking an overnight bus probably sounds like the worst thing to do after an 8 hour flight, but probably the travel exhaustion helped us sleep better in what would otherwise have been less than ideal conditions.
Day 2 – Batad
Our bus arrived in Banaue around 5 AM and we disembarked, had some breakfast, and tried to figure out how to get to Batad. We ended up hoping in a Jeepney which took us to the end of the road, and then we hiked for about 20 – 30 minutes down to Batad (there are no roads into Batad). The experience of just being in such a picturesque little village was enough for us, and we spent the day just enjoying the view and exploring the town perched on steep hills and rice terraces.
Day 3 – Batad
Day 3 was for a little more in depth exploration. The brother of the woman who ran our guest house acted as my guide and took me around the rice terraces and on a short hike to a local waterfall. The constant up and down and navigation around the steep rice terraces was exhausting, but definitely worthwhile.
Day 4 – Depart Batad, Jeepney to Sagada
Leaving Batad meant a 30 minute hike up a hill with all our luggage, then a jeepney ride back to Banaue, and then a minivan ride to Sagada. It took all morning but the views of the rice terraces in the region were amazing. The town of Sagada is home to the hanging coffins and several cave systems. We didn’t explore any caves, but we did check out the hanging coffins on the following day.
Day 5 – Sagada and overnight bus to Manila
We had all day to explore Sagada before our bus departed, but there was really only one thing was wanted to do – the hanging coffins. You can read more about them here. The overnight bus got us back to Manila at around 2 AM, but luckily our hotel allowed (very) early check in for a small additional fee.
Day 6 – Manila
There is tons to do in Manila, but you will have more time if you follow this itinerary on the way home, so pick a few things and start exploring.
Day 7 and 8 – Bohol
We spent three nights in Bohol; one in Altona Beach, another in Loboc, and the last night in Tagbilaron. We thought it would take two days to explore the island thoroughly by car, but it turned out that we ended up seeing everything we wanted in one day. Our original plan was to hire our own car and explore, but that idea was actually more expensive than just hiring a driver so we did that instead. In one day we were able to visit the chocolate hills, go on ATV’s, eat lunch on a boat cruise along the Loboc river, visit the butterfly house and the tarsiers as well as stop at a few other scenic spots.
If you wanted to save time I would recommend booking two nights in Tagbilaron, spending a day exploring the island, and then departing the following day.
Day 9 – Travel to Borocay
There is no simple way to get from Bohol to Borocay. It was either fly back to Manila, wait ages in the airport and then fly to the closest airport to Borocay or take the ferry from Tagbilaron to Cebu and then fly from there. We chose the later option since backtracking to Manila just seemed silly. We didn’t get any time to explore Cebu but the airport was really nice. Once we arrived at the Borocay airport we still needed to take a bus, a ferry, and another bus to get to our hotel. We had booked this in advance and I am glad we did, as it was a long and tiring travel day.
Day 10, 11, 12 – Borocay
We spent three full days in Borocay. Some people absolutely live for beach holidays, but I can really take them or leave them. Three days was plenty for me, and I really wasn’t the biggest fan of Borocay anyway as you will see in this recent post. I think if I were to do the Philippines again I would chose a beach location which was a little quieter and calmer, and hopefully a bit more authentic.
Day 13 – Travel to Manila
Getting back to Manila was another set us bus, ferry, bus, plane and it was even more painful than the last time as I had gotten gastro from some food I had eaten on Borocay. But we made it and I survived.
Day 14 – Manila
This is your chance to spend some extra days in the capitol.
Day 15 – Depart
So what would I do differently next time? Well next time I would probably streamline my time on Bohol, and visit a different beach location – maybe Palawan. I would also try to either spend some more time in Manila (I didn’t end up seeing everything I would have liked to), or spending more time in the highlands area of Sagada and Banaue.