We are now back in frigid temps of Minnesota. But more than a month ago, and for 2 solid weeks, we were thawing in and enjoying the tropical weather in the sunny archipelago that is the Philippines.
It was truly the trip of a lifetime, and we wanted to share it with you. We were pumped too that a number of brands wanted to hitch with us on the trip, so we had some cool gear that came from Wildhorn Outfitters, Aleader and Hull&Stern, as well as some yummy snacks from GoMacro, Barnana, Ayoba-yo and Wholeme.
From Minnesota, we first flew to LAX. Then from LAX, we flew over 13 hours to Shanghai, had to wait out a long layover, before finally landing in Manila. Shortly after landing, we hopped on a local flight that would bring us to the fine white sands of the world-famous Boracay Island.
Located in the province of Aklan, Boracay is undoubtedly a Philippine gem - what with its clear turquoise waters and 2.5 miles of powdery white sand beach. In the last few years, it has been named one of the best islands in the world by international travel magazines Travel + Leisure and Condé Nast Traveller. Millions of tourists visit every year, and after experiencing it for ourselves, it’s easy to see why.
What to do in Boracay:
3. Food trip and bar hop: There’s no shortage of food options in Boracay, especially along Station 2 where the bulk of restaurants and bars are. At night, most restaurants offer buffets at a reasonable price so you can really eat to your heart’s content. Sign up for the Boracay Pubcrawl for a fun and social way to meet new people while also sampling the alcohol on offer.
After 3 days in Boracay, we flew to another popular island south of Manila called Cebu. It was the tail-end of a popular festival called Sinulog when we arrived in Cebu, but we managed to witness the final presentation of the festival winners. Sinulog means ‘celebration’, and it is an annual festival of energetic street dancing, powerful music and colorful elaborate costumes. It is a Philippine-style mardis gras, and it began as a native tradition that got mixed with religious icons upon the introduction of Christianity by Spain to the islands in the 1500s.
By itself, Cebu could have filled our 2-weeks with sights to see and things to do, as the island is surrounded by beautiful beaches, and by countless islands with pristine waters. But since we had limited time and just wanted a taste of the best of Cebu, here is…
What we did in Cebu:
3. Swim with the Whalesharks: One of the highlights of our Cebu trip was being able to swim with whalesharks, or what is locally known as butanding. These are not actually sharks but gentle giant fishes that are the size of buses that feed on krill. They frequent all over the Philippines, but appear more consistently in the town of Oslob, Cebu.
4. Canyoneering and Cliff jumping: For adrenaline junkies like us, canyoneering and cliff jumping in Badian, Cebu up to Kawasan Falls was truly one for the books! The whole thing took 4 hours (but didn’t feel like it) and we hiked up mountains, crossed crystal clear waters, and hurled ourselves off cliffs and waterfalls onto cool rivers and natural pools. It is a thrill-seeker’s heaven!
Bohol island is just an hour and 45 minute ferry ride away from Cebu, so we took advantage of its proximity and did a day tour of it. It’s an island that is also famous for its beaches like Cebu, and also for being the site of a unique geological formation playfully called the Chocolate Hills.
Here’s what’s to see in Bohol:
2. Chocolate Hills: Like we mentioned, this is the #1 attraction that draws people to Bohol – to see the so-called Chocolate Hills. These are limestone cliffs that have through time been smoothly carved to look like chocolate kisses. The reference to chocolate is more apt during the dry months when the grass covering the hills turn brown, but for most of the year, the hills are green yet still no less a sight to behold. There is a viewing deck you can go to to see the expanse of the chocolate hills. But if you’re ready to get dirty, there are ATV tours being offered that will allow you to motor around and get a close-up of the chocolate hills. We highly recommend this!
3. Baclayon Church: All around Bohol are centuries-old Spanish era churches that are remarkable not just for their age, but also because of the materials they were built with. Baclayon Church for example is well-known because it was built with corals. Bohol being an island, corals provided plenty of free building materials for this church. Unfortunately, in 2013, a strong earthquake shook the island and destroyed the beloved church. Thankfully, 5 years since, the church has been completely rebuilt.
4. Loboc River Cruise: This is a must-do! The Loboc River Cruise is an hour-long cruise along Bohol’s Loboc river. While on the cruise, a sumptuous buffet meal will be served and the meals can be enjoyed with onboard live music, as well as the serene views along the river.
5. The World’s Smallest Primate: Bohol is home to the world’s smallest primate called the tarsier. An endangered species, the Philippine tarsier is a nocturnal animal about the size of a fist. It has big, round, Yoda-like eyes, and they are gentle creatures. Hush! Being nocturnal, they sleep during the day so be careful not to wake them up!
After exploring Cebu and Bohol, we flew to what is considered the Philippines’ Last Frontier – Palawan. We were excited to go to Palawan because we’ve read so much online about it and we couldn’t wait to experience it for ourselves.
We landed in Puerto Princesa City, the administrative capital of Palawan. We were only staying here for a night but we made the most of it.
Things to do in Puerto Princesa:
2. Crocodile Farm and Nature Park: Did you know that the largest crocodile ever recorded was caught in Palawan? Nicknamed ‘Lolong’, it was a saltwater crocodile, and it measured 6.17 m (20 ft 3 in), and weighed 1,075 kg (2,370 lb). Lolong may have already died in 2013, but in the Crocodile Farm and Nature Park there are hundreds of crocodiles that are being bred – not for commercial purposes, but for distribution all over Palawan to continue to grow the local population. In addition to crocodiles, the park boasts of some of endemic and endangered species found only or mostly in Palawan.
3. The Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park: 2 hours from Puerto Princesa is a spectacular natural wonder that is the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park or the Puerto Princesa Underground River. Essentially, it is a vast and long cave with a river that runs through it. When touring this UNESCO World Heritage Site, you will ride a boat exploring the inside of the cave while marveling at the millions of bats hanging by the cave roofs as well as the fascinating rock formations inside. You will be awed by the jaw-dropping huge expanse that is inside the cave. The tour takes an hour to complete, but that is only covering the navigable portions of it. Designated in 2012 as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature, this is a must-visit!
After touring the Underground River, we took a 5-hour van ride north of Puerto Princesa going to El Nido – another part of Palawan that should be in every Palawan visitor’s itinerary. While it was a long ride going there, the travel time is made pleasantly bearable by picturesque sceneries of rice farms, mountains, far-off islands and the long coastline of Palawan.
When in El Nido, here is what you can do:
2. Rent a motorbike: There are tricycles all over that can help you get around, but if you want it DIY, you can rent motorcycles for a day or two. Just look at the map of El Nido and plan your beach-hopping among the many options available along the coast.
3. Go beach-hopping: A favorite spot is Nacpan Beach which is 45 minutes from town, but definitely worth a visit for its lack of crowds and amazing beach. There is also Lio Beach which is a new eco-conscious private resort. There are small shops, restaurants and bars, but it is a mostly quiet and uncrowded spot ideal for relaxing. Then there’s also charming Marimegmeg Beach, which is another white sand beach, where about half the stretch is lined with beach chairs and the other half by sunbathers. There is a nearby Sun Bar where cheap cold local beer could easily be had while waiting for the golden El Nido sun to go down.
3. Island-hopping: Of course, all over Palawan are islands of various sizes and features, and the one around El Nido are no less special. Around town are various tour agencies offering island hopping tours to pre-set options of about 5-6 islands/beaches/wrecks per set. You can never go wrong on any option, but ask the agency what is the most popular. Palawan is busy with tourists year-round, so know that there will be more than a handful of tourists in these popular spots.
4. Boat cruise from El Nido to Coron: We were planning to go to Coron anyway, so instead of going to Coron via public fast-crafts that could take almost an entire day, we decided to take a 3-day boat cruise that would allow us to meander among less-visited islands and beaches from El Nido to Coron, while also enjoying the company of fellow adventurous souls from around the world who sign up for the exclusivity as well as the unique, bare-bones experience.
After 3 days of sun and sea inside the boat cruise, we finally arrived in Coron - the biggest and northernmost island of Palawan. After seeing much of Palawan already, what else is there to see in Coron? Well, plenty!
Choice activities while in Coron:
3. Mt. Tapyas: Catch the sunrise or the sunset atop one of Coron’s most accessible peaks to get a breathtaking view of Coron town and the neighboring islands. It is only a 45-minute hike up from town so it is doable if you are relatively fit. Rest assured, the panoramic view is ample reward for all the trouble of going up there!
That about covers all the fun things we did while exploring the best of the Philippines for the most memorable 2 weeks we’ve ever had on vacation.
Ever since we started working on Bizzy Coffee, we have not had a vacation this long or this far away. We’re so glad we did it as we have since been more inspired to work on new projects for Bizzy Coffee. We found great memorable adventures in the Philippines – we hope you find yours there too!