For the second part of my travel tips for the Philippines I just want to let you know about some of the trips you can take if have a long weekend or a little longer to spare.
I firstly want to start by talking about my favourite place in the Philippines. It’s not that close to Tacloban City where you will be staying if you do choose to visit the Philippines and it isn’t feasible for a weekend trip or even a long weekend but if you have a week to spare and are trying to decide where’s best to spend it then Palawan should definitely be near the top of your list for must see destinations.
The main attraction of Palawan is situated on it’s northern tip. This is the stunning Bacuit Archipelago just off the coast of the charming little town of El Nido. Everything about this place is amazing, the town itself is described by the Lonely Planet as nothing special but I disagree. It is a small town but I think it’s full of character and charm. If you’re after a wild night life that goes on until sunrise then this certainly isn’t the place but there’s plenty of enough choice of laid back bars and restaurants to keep you entertained. One place you should definitely try is the Alternative restaurant; get there early to make sure you can sit in one of pods (I’m not really sure what word to use to describe the “pod”, it’s basically a small sunken seating area that is attached to the side of the restaurant and juts out over the ocean), which are perfect for couples but seat around 3 people.
The town isn’t the reason that people travel here however, it’s the beautiful archipelago just off the coast of El Nido that draw tourists to the area and you are likely to spend the majority of your time island hopping. This cluster of small islands with jagged limestone cliffs, white sand beaches and crystal clear blue waters are truly spectacular. There are plenty of tour operators in the town that offer tours of the islands so arranging things once you get there won’t be a problem. There are 4 main tours called Tour A,B,C and D. These all travel to different areas, I’ve done A-C and they’re all worth doing. If you’re travelling individually or in a small group then joining one of these tours is roughly around PHP750 (just over £10). If are in a bigger group then it can be cheaper to privately hire a boat, this way you can choose which islands you would like to go to as well.
Getting to El Nido does take a bit of time but is certainly worth it. You can fly directly to El Nido from Manila through Seair or ITI but this is expensive and Seair have a very bad track record of cancelling flights last minute (they cancelled my return via flight via text message 48 hours before I was due to fly). If you’ve got about a week to spare I would suggest a much better option is flying to Puerto Princessa as flights are much cheaper and more frequent. From Puerto Princessa, El Nido is about a 5 hour van ride through some really beautiful rural scenery. I would suggest spending a night in Sabang first though, this is about an hour north of Puerto Princessa and is the home of one of the world’s longest underground rivers. Although this does get pretty packed with tourists it’s amazing and you feel like you going on a real adventure when you enter the cave in your little boat.
Once you’re at the end of your stay in El Nido, you’re choices for getting back are: travelling back to Puerto Pricessa via van/bus or boat (this is a bit more expensive and takes longer) and then flying back to Manila or Cebu from there, or arranging an unreliable, more expensive flight from El Nido to Manila. There is another option which is one I wish I’d known about when I travelled to Palawan: to catch a ferry to Coron (Busuanga) which takes about 6 hours, spend a few days here and then fly back to Manila. Flights are much cheaper from Coron to Manila than from El Nido to Manila and Coron is another beautiful destination. Unfortunately I haven’t been there myself but I’ve seen pictures from people who have and it looks amazing!
So Palawan is one of the trips you can make possibly at the end of your placement if you have a bit of extra time to travel. If you only have 3 or 4 days to spare there's still plenty of fantastic options for you. I've listed a few below as these are the places I have been to but there's so much more. The Philippines has so many stunning destinations that will take your breath away so if you plan on doing some travelling as well as volunteering then I would highly suggest doing your research before you arrive to see what you like the sound of.
Below are some of the trips that I have done from Tacloban on long weekends.
Long weekend trips:
There are loads of fantastic options for long weekends away from Tacloban. The most popular long weekend trip away with volunteers is the island of Bohol and it’s easy to see why. It has the stunning white sand beaches but it also has other points of interest including the Chocolate Hills (famous within the Philippines!), floating restaurants on the Lombok river, and opportunities to see the rare Tasiers, commonly known as the “worlds smallest monkey”, they are in fact no relation to a monkey at all. They are extremely cute though!
The most popular place to stay is on Panglao Island which is connected to the mainland by a bridge. Alona beach is where most people choose to stay, it takes around 30 minutes to get here by tricycle. There’s plenty of places to stay here to suit all budgets and there are lots of diving and snorkelling tours available. If you just want to chill out the beach is stunning even if it is slightly small. All in all it’s a gorgeous island and well worth a visit if you have the time.
To get to Bohol you can either fly or catch the ferry to Cebu. Then you need to catch a ferry to Tagbiliran, Bohol’s capital city.
This is a little tricky to get to but it is a little piece of paradise. It’s sometimes called “Baby Boracay” and this name seems quite apt. It’s a smaller and much less touristy version of Boracay – the Philippines number one tourist destination. There isn’t really a huge amount to do aprt from enjoy the pristine white sand beach or go snorkelling or diving tour but if that’s what you’re looking for this is a great place to go!
Getting to and from Malapascua can be a bit of a pain. To get there you’ll need to travel to Cebu City, then take a 5 hour bus journey up to a town called Maya and catch a ferry from there to Malapascua Island (approx 30 minutes). On your return journey to Tacloban, rather than travelling round by Cebu, you have the option to catch a ferry from Maya to a town called San Isidro which is on Leyte (the same island as Tacloban). It’s a bit confusing how to get back to Tacloban from here though as the buses are infrequent and there isn’t really a direct bus. It is possible but I would suggest travelling back down to Cebu to return to Tacloban. It takes slightly longer but it’s much easier, especially if you’re not used to travelling in the Philippines.
Another beautiful island with white sand beaches, bright turquoise waters and good snorkelling and diving opportunities. It’s quite a small island that you can travel around in one day if you hire a motorbike or a tricycle driver! There’s lots of nice beaches around the island and you can also travel to the highest point of the island to get panoramic views of the island. If you do choose to do this, there is a tower you can climb to get the best views. Beware: this is the rustiest thing I have ever seen in my whole entire life, it was crumbling underneath my feet. I did brave it and climb to the top and it was a very nice view once up there, I would advise treading very carefully though!
If you’re a keen diver then Apo Island which is very close to Siquijor is supposed to have very good diving although I haven’t visited myself.
To get to Siquijor you’ll need to travel to Cebu first then you can either catch a fastferry (which goes via Bohol first) or catch a bus to Dumaguete and then catch a ferry to Siquijor from here. The boat is a faster but more slightly more expensive option than catching the bus. Despite that, after catching the bus I would suggest paying the extra and travelling by boat, it’s worth the extra cash and it’s not that much more expensive really!
Donsol is the place to go if you want to swim with whale sharks! If you’re visiting the Philippines during March to the end of May then you’re pretty much guaranteed to see them. I can’t recommend doing this enough, it’s such an amazing experience! They’re sooo huge. I think the biggest I saw whilst I was there was 10 metres long, which may sound a bit scary but it’s not they’re so peaceful and they don’t seem to notice your presence. If you’re not a great swimmer you can ask for a life jacket. All in all it costs around 1000 pesos to arrange a trip including snorkel hire providing you have 6 people in your boat. I travelled to Donsol on my own and found a group of 5 people to share my boat with within around 5 minutes! Everyone has to arrange their trip through the Donsol Tourism Office so it’s usually pretty easy to find people to share your boat with.
You can also do a firefly cruise in the evening. I really enjoyed doing this. I just expected to travel along the river in a boat and watch a few fireflies fly passed. I didn’t realize that the majority the fireflies congregated around one tree. There’s thousands of them! It’s pretty impressive to watch, I’d definitely recommend it.
Getting to Donsol takes around 16 hours by bus/boat. You’ll have to catch the bus upto northern Samar then a boat across to Luzon and a bus to Legazpi. From Legazpi you can catch a bus to Donsol. You can catch the buses from the bus terminal in Tacloban. You’ll probably catch a bus that’s going to Manila, just ask the driver to let you know when you reach Legaspi. Alternatively, you can fly up to Manila and then down to Legazpi.
Again, if you've volunteered in the Philippines before and have any suggestions of other weekend/long weekend trips I'd love to hear from you so post a shout out and let me know your thoughts!