Itinerary: Island hopping in the Philippines

With more than 7.000 islands the Philippines is ‘Mission Impossible’ if you only have a couple of weeks of vacation. When we started planning our trip we quickly realized that it would be impossible to visit all the islands that we wanted to experience. Here we share how our itinerary ended up.

Written by Mette / Photo by Martin
Translated from Danish

For many years the Philippines has been one of our dream destinations. That’s probably why we were a bit too ambitious as we started planning a three-week trip during Christmas, 2015. Well equipped with guidebooks, travel blogs, and a long e-mail with recommendations from a friend who has lived in the Philippines and worked as a flight captain for several years, we started planning our round trip.

We wanted to start in the north to explore the world-famous rice fields, wander on volcanoes, and visit historic villages. Next we planned to go south to visit the many famous islands and paradise beaches. But how do you know which Philippine Islands to visit when there are no less than 7.107 of them? 


You do not need an abacus to calculate that three weeks and 7.107 islands will never add up. On top of that the somewhat primitive infrastructure would quickly extend even a short trip to several hours. So, what do you do? We promised each other to return someday and skipped the journey to the north. Then we decided to start our trip on the most praised island of them all and improvised the rest of the journey. Here we have described how our route ended up being.

Nacpan Beach_Palawan

#1 – Palawan

Palawan was our first and main destination. You don’t need to google for long before you realize that the most western island of the Philippines is on pretty much all Top 10 lists of the most beautiful Islands in the world. We therefore booked a direct flight from Manila to El Nido, located at the north tip of Palawan. El Nido is the starting point for experiencing the highly praised islands of Bacuit Archipelago. Read more about how to book flight, ferry and transport.

Without getting lost in superlatives, we can with composure report that it really is one of the most beautiful places in the world. We would have liked to extend our stay, but all hotels were booked several weeks in advance when we were there in the middle of the Christmas holidays. Doh! So, be sure to book in good time if you want to visit Palawan in high season. Here we have gathered a couple of tips on where to stay on Palawan.

El Nido town

#2 – Malapascua

We therefore proceeded from El Nido to Cebu. Here we took a single night in Cebu City to experience the Philippines’s second largest city before heading up to the north tip where the tiny island of Malapascua is half an hour’s boat trip from the coast.

Malapascua is especially known for being the place where you can dive with the rare thresher sharks. It’s a great place for combining diving and relaxation with lots of small island atmosphere. If we had had more time, we would also have visited Bohol, Panglao, and the tiny Kalanggaman which is neighboring islands of Cebu.

Malapascua Island

#3 – Bantanyan

Next we booked a local boatman to sail us from Malapascua to Bantayan. The island is located west of Cebu’s northern tip. We were tempted by Lonely Planet’s description of Bantayan “to be considered as Boracay in the 80s”. Boracay is the most famous beach paradise of the Philippines. At least before it was taken over by mass tourism. The southern beaches of Bantayan are stunning, but after experiencing the archipelago of Palawan we must admit that it was hard to get exited.

What we really enjoyed was the local and very peaceful life of Bantayan. The very few tourists make a visit to the island an authentic adventure. We rented a scooter and drove around to visit the small towns, see the fishermen at work, and shop in local markets.

Bantayan Island

#4 – Boracay

Before going to the Philippines we thought a lot of about whether we should visit the most famous tourist attraction of the country: Boracay. The rumor is that the paradise island has drowned in its own success and is flooded by tourists. At the same time the 4 kilometer long beach of the island (White Beach) keeps getting awarded as the most beautiful beach in the world. Visiting the Philippines without seeing White Beach seemed like visiting Paris without seeing the Eiffel Tower.

After Bantayan we therefore made a quick decision and booked a flight from Cebu to Caticlan, located at the northern tip of Boracay’s neighboring island. Here we joined a stream of other tourists going to Boracay. And hallelujah! The first sight of White Beach literally made our jaws drop. Yes, there are many tourists. Yes, it’s a circus. But despite all that Boracay’s famous beach with it’s gin-clear water is one of the most beautiful we have ever seen.

White Sand Beach, Boracay

#5 – Manila

With a full tank of paradise beaches and a few days to spare before departure we flew back to Manila. We had heard nothing especially good about the world’s most populated city, but despite it’s reputation we were curious to experience Manila. And we are really glad we did. In fact, we were sad that we only had two days to explore the city. We could have used much more time.

As a tourist destination Manila is obviously avoided for a reason, but if you have visited other major cities in Asia, you will not feel the big difference. As in all big cities you have to take precaution and act with care. Having said that, Manila is an interesting city that offers many exciting experiences, delicious food, and historic districts worth exploring. 

Next time?

One thing is for sure: We will definitely travel back to the Philippines one day! So if you have any good tips for places not to miss next time we would be very appreciative of your travel tips. Thank you and happy travelling.

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