I absolutely fell head over heels for the Philippines. The gorgeous turquoise waters, some of the best beaches in the world and one of the friendliest cultures I’ve ever come across. My two weeks in the Philippines was an experience that I will never forget and although it isn’t always a country that people immediately think about visiting in Southeast Asia, you should definitely reconsider. And to make the decision easier, I’ve put together this sample two week itinerary to help with your planning. Enjoy!
Day One: Manila
Manila is the capital of the Philippines and is the most densely populated city in the world. It is located on the eastern shores of the Manila Bay and is one of the best harbors in the country. Before heading to the Philippines I was basically told that if you can avoid Manila while visiting then that’s ideal. To be honest, Manila wasn’t that exciting of a city and I most definitely didn’t fall in love with it. It’s hard to find budget accommodations that are clean and don’t have cockroaches and the traffic is unbearable there. Like I’m pretty sure traffic moved faster in India where they had no rules of the road. Since the traffic is so bad it made it hard to do anything with limited time. However, spending a bit of time here is important and you’ll likely fly into the international airport in Manila to start your trip anyway. Here are some things you can do:
- Old Manila Walks: Join this company for one of their unique walks of different parts of historic Manila. They host everything from an art walk to a food tour of Chinatown.
- Bambike Ecotours: Educational ecotourism activities done on a bamboo bike that are handmade! Tours range from art tours to a tour of Intramuros, the historic walled area.
- Intramuros: The historic walled area located within the modern city of Manila.
- Chinatown: Visit the world’s first Chinatown also known as Binondo, founded in 1594.
- True Manila: A charity helping support homeless children and families living in poverty in Manila. True Manila hosts informal visits to Manila’s slums where you’ll have the chance to give back and see how people really live in Manila. Contact them via their Facebook page to arrange a time to volunteer!
- Quiapo Church & Market: Especially on Friday this area is busy with vendors, fortune tellers, and more.
Manila is literally filled with hundreds of things to do. If you’re into shopping they have massive malls here. If you want to try some karaoke, Filipinos love their karaoke. Everything you can imagine you can likely find in this busy city. Here’s a bigger list of more ideas of what to do.
Day Two-Four: El Nido
Leave the busy city of Manila as you’ll come back to it at the end of your trip, and head to the beautiful tropical oasis of El Nido located on Palawan island. El Nido is famous for its white sand beaches, coral reefs and gorgeous towering cliffs. You can fly directly to El Nido on Air Swift to save time but you’ll pay a little bit more for your flight, or you can fly to the main airport on the island in Puerto Princesa which will then require you to take a bus to El Nido. The bus will take 6-9 hours and cost around 380-380 PHP, alternatively you can rent a van which will take 5-6 hours and cost between 500-700 PHP. It’s really up to you and whether you’re prioritizing time or money.
El Nido has over 50 beaches to visit, many lagoons to explore, and is known for scuba diving and island hopping. El Nido was also named by CN Traveler as having some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. However, tourism didn’t really start to this area until the recent years so the small, laid back town is trying to keep up. So head there before it is completely overrun by tourists like the popular island Boracay.
I put together a full two day itinerary for El Nido here but here are some ideas of what you can do:
- Island Hopping Tours: Lots of kiosks set up throughout the town offering the same packages but the most popular are A and C. Do both if you can. Opt to pay a bit more to have a kayak with you to explore the lagoons a bit better!
- Nagkalit-kalit Falls: These beautiful falls are hidden in the jungle and you’ll need to hire a guide from their side of the road kiosk to visit. Be prepared to hike and get wet!
- Twin Beaches: Nacpan and Calitang Beach are known as the Twin Beaches and are absolutely stunning. They’re known as the most beautiful in the world and although the access road is horrendous, it’s worth the trek.
- Beach hop: Other beaches to explore include Las Cabanas, Duli Beach, Dagal Dagal Beach, Palabayan Beach.
- Surfing: El Nido is a great spot to hit some waves or learn to surf.
- Hike the Taraw Peak: Note that you should hire a guide for this as it isn’t an easy hike and is dangerous!
Good eating spots in town include:
Day Five-Eight: Bohol
Probably one of my favourite destinations in the Philippines, Bohol is an island made famous by the Chocolate Hills but has so much more to offer. The Chocolate Hills actually do not produce any chocolate despite their name. This grassy series of hills get their name because during dry season (February-March) they turn from green to a roasted brown. The reason for the formation of these hills hasn’t really been confirmed. A theory is that they formed overtime due to rainwater, erosion and an uplift of coral deposits. The local story is that they were formed from the tears of a heartbroken giant. The mystery of how and why they were formed is what makes them so intriguing. A trip here takes about an hour by local bus from Loboc to Carmen. However, other popular options is to hire a driver or rent a motorbike. The roads are lazy and quiet around this part of the Philippines so motorbikes aren’t as intimidating as they’d be in city centres.
Another must-do while in Bohol is the Tarsier Sanctuary, not to be mixed up with the Loboc Tarsier Sanctuary which you’ll pass on your way to the Chocolate Hills. The Loboc Tarsier Sanctuary is not an actual sanctuary and is not a humane way of seeing this cute, little creature. Instead, head to Loboc (depending on where you’re staying) and catch a local bus to the sanctuary in Corella. The bus ride will be around 40 minutes from Loboc, and again is the cheapest option for getting around in the area.
On top of these two highlights, there is actually so much to do in Bohol that will keep every type of traveler happy. Some other options are:
- Water sports: Kayaking, paddle boarding, surfing, etc. Kayaking and paddle boarding can be incredibly relaxing on the Loboc River in particular.
- Mahogany forest: A man-made forest that stretches 2km and is densely populated with mahogany trees.
- Hike: There are a few different hikes you can do around Loboc but you’re best to ask your hotel/hostel and they can help you find a local guide!
- Loboc Church: The second oldest church in Bohol built in 1602.
- Baclayon Church: Heavily damaged in the 2013 earthquake but still worth a visit.
- Beaches: Of course there are beautiful beaches here like any other island in the Philippines. Take some time to soak it in.
You can read my two day itinerary for Bohol here to give you some more details and inspiration, however, although you can do Bohol in two days, I’d strongly recommend you stay longer. There is way more to do here than some of the other islands.
If you’re looking for a unique and beautiful/peaceful accommodation near Loboc, stay at Nuts Huts! Read my review here.
Day Eight-Eleven: Banaue & Batad
The next few days will be quite the journey but completely worth it. You can’t go to the Philippines without heading north to the rice terraces. So from Bohol, find your way back to Manila (flights are quick and inexpensive). Once you arrive in Manila your next mode of transportation won’t be that fun but embrace it any way. Head to the bus station in Manila for an overnight bus to Banaue. Here are my tips to make it more enjoyable, but basically the only other way to get to this area is by renting/hiring a car which can get incredibly expensive. Plus, it’s not the easiest of drives to do on your own. However, once you arrive in Banaue it’ll have all been worth it as this was one of my favourite parts of the Philippines.
The main thing to do in Banaue is hike. If you aren’t someone who likes to be active, you may find this place sort of boring as you can only see so much of the terraces by car. When you check into your guesthouse (the most common accommodations here), chat with the receptionist or owner to arrange a guide for the days you are there. I stayed at Banaue Homestay and it was fantastic. Beatrice (the owner) made us feel so at home and it was such a great stay. She arranged for us to have the same guide for the days we were there which was great and gave us the opportunity to really get to know one of the local guides. She also recommended what treks and things we should do based off how long we were there. I ended up doing the following:
Day one: Hike Banaue rice terraces, a shorter and easier hike when you’re running on hardly any sleep!
Day two: Hike Batad rice terraces, a long, difficult hike but totally worth it!
Day three: Ha Pao rice terraces and hot spring, however, you can also do Sagada which is much further away but I think more worth it.
You can read my ultimate guide to the rice terraces here that’ll give you all the information you need.
Day Twelve-Thirteen: Manila or Tagaytay
Since you didn’t have much time to really get to know Manila at the start of your trip, I’ve left a few days at the end for you to explore. You can opt to do any of the activities I mentioned at the top of this post or you can opt to venture out of Manila to Tagaytay or Taal Volcano, but keep in mind the crazy traffic in Manila can slow you down quite a bit.
Tagaytay is located on route to Taal Volcano which can make for a great multi-day adventure if Manila isn’t of interest to you. It’s about a 1.5 hour drive (keep in mind this is without traffic) from Manila. There are lots of cute places to stop on route like the church that holds the bamboo organ, the jeepney factory, you can have an amazing meal at Bag of Beans or stop for a spa treatment at Sonya’s Garden. Then of course, once you reach Tagaytay head to trek the Taal Volcano and enjoy the beautiful Taal Lake. You can zipline, visit an amusement park, visit unique museums like the puzzle museum or more. Here’s a great list to plan your trip!
There you have it, two weeks in the Philippines. Enjoy and share your favourite things in this beautiful country in the comments!