The Philippines: Travel Guide & A 2 Week Itinerary

The Philippines has been at the top of my bucket list for so many years now that I was nervous it wouldn’t live up to my high expectations. Thankfully, it totally surpassed them. We chose to spend our time in this beautiful country exploring the province of Palawan, with a focus on the destinations of Coron, El Nido and Port Barton. These gorgeous regions are known for rugged mountains plunging straight into turquoise blue waters, pristine lagoons, remote islands and white sand beaches. It is honestly heaven. If I was asked to imagine paradise, these landscapes are what would come to mind!

Planning a trip to the Philippines can be overwhelming, with so many areas to explore and lots of practical logistics to organise to get there and get around. I hope that this Philippines travel guide can help remove any stress and make booking your dream trip much more simple!

The Practicalities

Getting There: There are direct flights from London to Manila with Philippines Airlines. To reach Coron from Manila you will need to change terminals and take a domestic flight. Beware of taxi scams when you move between terminals, they are very common. Book a taxi with Gett or go for a metered cab.

Getting Around: The Philippines is made up of thousands of islands and to get between many of them, you will need to take internal flights. They are super cheap, but it is worth factoring in island time when booking them – as public transport, flights and services in general are notoriously slow and often delayed over there. To avoid any issues with buses or taxis, we booked a few private transfers through Travel Palawan and had a great experience with them.

When To Visit: The dry season is typically November to April, with peak tourist traffic coming between December to March. We visited in mid April and had perfect weather with fewer crowds.

How Long To Stay: There is SO much to see and do in the Philippines, you could literally spend months there. I would recommend visiting for an absolute minimum of 10 days, to justify the travel needed to get to the remote islands.

Price: The Philippines is a very affordable destination and a haven of budget backpackers. Meals, accommodation and transportation are on the lower end of the price spectrum, and you can fairly easily explore on a shoestring.

Top Travel Tips

  • Cash is king. Many places do not accept card and the ATMs on the islands can charge you a small fortune for withdrawing money, so bring as much cash as you can.
  • Pack these essentials. Dry bags, for boat tours and adventures. Water booties, to protect against anemones. Mosquito repellent, to reduce how much you’re bitten. A rash vest, as there can be a few jellyfish. Portable phone chargers, for when you are staying in remote beach camps. LOTS of suncream, as they charge an absolute fortune for it out there (I’m talking £14 for 100ml of the stuff!).
  • Dietary requirements can be hard to cater for. Especially in more remote areas, so if you’re veggie be sure to bring some high protein snacks with you. If you do the boat expedition, I would take a few cans of chickpeas and ask them to cook them for you.

One thing to note: I have to admit, something that surprised me about our trip was the crowds we encountered. At times they were overwhelming and detracted slightly from the feeling of being immersed in nature. I am not complaining at all, as I understand that everyone deserves the right to experience beautiful places. However, I did want to let you know that you most likely won’t be alone at many (or any) of the beautiful destinations in this guide. That being said, if you get up early and use my insider tips in this guide – you have a much higher chance of experiencing some solitude. 

14-Day Palawan Itinerary Overview

  • Day 1: Arrival in Manila & travel to Coron
  • Day 2: Coron
  • Day 3: Coron
  • Day 4: Coron to El Nido Expedition
  • Day 5: Coron to El Nido Expedition
  • Day 6: Coron to El Nido Expedition
  • Day 7: Coron to El Nido Expedition
  • Day 8: El Nido
  • Day 9: El Nido
  • Day 10: El Nido to Port Barton
  • Day 11: Port Barton
  • Day 12: Port Barton
  • Day 13: Travel back to Manila & home

This itinerary allows for two full days in Coron, El Nido and Port Barton. Depending on which area appeals most to you, I recommend allocating the 14th day to that location.

The Itinerary In Depth:

Day 1-3: Coron

Coron is one of the most well known destinations in the Philippines, renowned for epic ship wrecks, towering limestone mountains and turquoise blue lagoons. It has got a laid back feel, and it’s the perfect place to start your travels around the Philippines as it gives you a real taste for what the country has to offer. 

Where to Stay: My ultimate recommendation for Coron is to stay in the Paolyn Houseboats if you can. These incredible eco, off-the-grid floating houseboats are the only accommodation which is actually next to Coron itself and not on the neighbouring island. The owners have a special relationship with the tribespeople of Coron, employing many of their community members. As a result the guests of the hotel get special perks. You can kayak to the famous Twin Lagoon at sunrise and are able to access the other sights and beaches earlier than anyone else via boat, meaning you can experience them without the crowds. What a treat! Not to mention, the rooms themselves are incredible with in-room dining on a private terrace and top-notch service from the friendly team.

If Paolyn Houseboats are out of your budget, then my top recommendations on the neighbouring island are Two Seasons Hotel for sunset views, Sunlight Resort for a great location and The Funny Lion for a lively atmosphere.

What To See & Do In Coron:

  • Boat tours. The most popular activity to do in Coron is take one of the famous boat tours to the nearby sights. If you chat to a local tour company, they will have a selection of pre-designed itineraries which cover the most popular spots. Don’t miss Kayangan Lake, Barracuda Lake and Twin Lagoon. Vivian beach, Banul beach and Atwayan beaches are beautiful spots, Siete Pecados and Lusong Coral Garden are renowned snorkelling locations and our personal favourite was Smith beach for sunset. 
  • Rent a motorbike and explore the area around Coron Town. Check out Cabo beach, Concepcion Falls and Manquinit Hot springs.
  • Hike Mount Tapyas for sunset. There are almost 750 steps to navigate, which can be rather sweaty in the Filipino heat. But, it’s totally worth it for the stunning views from the summit. I recommend exploring the hill trails around the area too, as it is beautiful up there. A more challenging and longer hiker is Mount Dalara, which is well worth climbing if you want more of a workout!
  • Eat well. Check out the Italian food at Altrove, tapas at Hermanos and vegetarian food at Brujita, three of the best restaurants in Coron. If you want beautiful sunset views, then head for cocktails on the rooftop of Hop Hostel.
  • Go scuba diving. Coron is known for wreck diving with plenty of epic ones from World War Two, so if that is your cup of tea then give it a go!

Day 4-7: Coron to El Nido Expedition

If there is one thing I recommend you do when you come to the Philippines, this is it. A 4-day, 3-night boat expedition with Big Dream Boat Man from Coron to El Nido. In my opinion, it is the best way to experience The Philippines. 

You and up to 18 travellers board a boat and set sail to explore the remote islands of Palawan. Every evening you sleep on a different beach at a secluded camp, enjoying sunset views, bonfires and good conversation. Each morning you wake up in an off-the-grid hut completely immersed in nature. You tuck into a freshly prepared breakfast, hop on the boat and spend the day stopping off at the most beautiful coastal locations. From isolated sandbanks and turquoise blue lagoons to coral reefs and deserted islands, it is literally paradise. 

You will be having fresh coconuts on the beach, connecting with local communities, watching beautiful sunsets and meeting friendly dogs every day. My idea of heaven! If you want to get away from the crowds, travel at a slower pace and really embrace island life then you NEED to add this to your itinerary

The best bit is that BDBM trips are pretty good value for money! The price (around £450) includes all your meals, three nights of accommodation, unlimited drinks (including alcohol), all activities, snorkelling gear, and entrance fees. The only additional cost is a tip for the crew, who are absolutely incredible!

Just a heads up, you will be “roughing it” a little during the expedition but its a truly authentic and immersive experience. The beach camps are basic but comfortable. You will usually be in a small hut with a mattress on the floor, a sheet, pillow, fan and mosquito net. There isn’t hot water, wifi or aircon, and electricity can be limited. Lean into it and embrace island life!

Day 8-10: El Nido

El Nido is perhaps the most famous destination in the Philippines and for good reason, it is absolutely stunning. We actually only spent one day in El Nido and I have to admit, I regretted it slightly as we didn’t get to do all the activities we wanted. That’s why, in the recommended itinerary, I have included 2 full days here. Then, you can squeeze in as much as possible!

Where to stay: Fish Eye The Rooms. Locations don’t get much better than this. It’s right in the heart of El Nido town but still manages to be peaceful and away from the hustle and bustle of the streets. If you want to get away from the town, I recommend Karuna El Nido Villas, Nacpan Beach Glamping and El Nido Resorts Miniloc.

What to see & do in El Nido:

  • Take a boat tour. This is by far the most popular activity in El Nido. There are four main predesigned tours available: tour A, B, C and D. It is widely accepted that tours A and C are the best in terms of scenery! However, if you book a private tour then you can decide exactly which stops you want to go to. The most scenic spots (in my opinion) are Big Lagoon, Cadlao Lagoon, Snake Island, Entalula Beach and Pingabuyutan Island. You can book these tours in advance but to be honest, most people just book through their hotel or a tour operator in town. If you’re looking for a private or custom boat tour, I recommend using The Couch El Nido.
  • Eat delicious food. We had some of our best meals in El Nido! My top recommendations are Blackbird Coffee for brunch (the french toast is epic) and then Big Bad Thai, Altrove, DRYFT and OPPA for lunch or dinner. The rooftop bar at Cuna hotel is great for scenic sunset drinks. 
  • Get a massage. They are so affordable (around £10 for an hour) and there’s such an abundance of parlours that it’s a crime to not have one! Our favourite was at Oriental Spa.
  • Explore the nearby beaches. There are plenty near El Nido, so you can either rent a moped or hop in a super affordable tricycle. Las Cabanas is a stunning spot and has a zip line you can take from one island to another, epic!! Nacpan is my favourite beach in the Philippines (big statement!!!) and totally 100% worth visiting for the day. Marimegmeg Beach is the perfect spot for sunset.
  • Go kayaking. You can hop straight on the water from El Nido town and paddle around the bay and nearby islands. It is a good workout and allows you to enjoy the scenery at your own pace.
  • Hike Taraw Peak at sunrise. If you’re a confident hiker and comfortable scrambling, then do not miss this!  It was one of the highlights of our trip!! It is a short and seriously steep hike up to a view point over Bacuit Bay for sunrise. The views are absolutely mind blowing and utterly beautiful. But, I have to warn you that the route up and down is challenging. There are three near vertical walls you need to ascend and descend. Wearing a helmet and gloves to protect yourself from the sharp rocks. Going with a guide is essential, I recommend Couch El Nido.
  • Visit a waterfall. There are a few in the area surrounding El Nido such as Nagkalit-Kalit Falls and Bulalacao Falls. These are both quite near to each other so you could combine them in a day trip!

Day 11-13: Port Barton

Port Barton is the perfect place to end your adventure in the Philippines. It is a small, relaxed coastal village in the San Vicente area of Palawan. I would say it’s still somewhat a hidden gem, but word is spreading fast about its beauty and I doubt it will be for much longer! It is super laid back, with only one paved road and slow paced feel. Despite not being as developed as El Nido or Coron, there are still plenty of great hotel and restaurant options, as well as tours and activities to get stuck into.

Where to stay? We stayed at Parrots Hotel and were big fans. It’s affordable, in a prime location and is home to the cutest selection of animals! Our room ticked all the boxes, with aircon, a comfy bed and plenty of hot water in a powerful shower. Another solid accommodation option would be Yumi Villas.

What to see & do in Port Barton:

  • You’ve guessed it… go on an island hopping boat tour! This is the main activity pretty much everywhere in Palawan, and Port Barton is no exception. There are two main tours offered: Tour A and Tour B. They’re both said to be equally beautiful. As always, I recommend booking a private tour if you can. This way you can hand pick your stops and travel at your own pace. Tours can usually be booked through your hotel, or there are plenty of operators in town. We used Joey from Port Barton with Locals and had a great experience.
  • Visit nearby beaches. The most popular is White Beach which you can easily spend a day relaxing at. Other beautiful spots (which are less well known) include Coconut Beach, Naonao Beach, Pemuayan Beach and Penanindigan beach. 
  • Hike to Bigaho Falls & Pamuayan Falls. These short and beautiful hikes take you to small waterfalls which you can swim under. Perfect if you want to immerse yourself in the inland nature. I have to say, they aren’t huge or remarkable but they are worth stopping off at during a day of exploring!
  • Eat yummy food. Our favourite restaurant was definitely The Goofy Cheffe, an unassuming little cafe located one a top floor of a treehouse style building. The dishes are home cooked, wholesome and packed with flavour. Our other favourites were Gorgonzola for pizza, Big Mama for Mexican and Sicily for pasta.
  • Go kayaking. If you want to explore on your own terms and work up a sweat at the same time, why not kayak out of the bay and explore the surrounding area? You will come across lots of peaceful and secluded beaches, you might even get one to yourself.

If you liked this Philippines travel guide, check out my other guides for Asia:

Safe travels,

Zanna x