Ultimate Philippine adventure loop
Summer is almost over but if you still have plenty of time to spare and you do not wish to spend them in the city watching re-runs of Lonely Planet travel series on cable, you can try this 20-day challenge around the most exotic islands in the Philippines and be the star of your own Lonely Planet adventures.
This is now doable as most of the islands you can visit are now connected. You just need to know where to go and how to get there. All you need to is to pack light, get out of your comfort zone and go. No airline booking is necessary but you have to check boat schedules as most of them leave very early in the morning or late afternoons.
This trip is designed so that you can get in and out of terminals as quickly as possible so it is essential that you pack light and bring all your stuff in one water-proofed bag. Many of the backpackers nowadays are switching to dry bags with back straps. For this 20-day adventure trip, I highly recommend that you get a 20-liter dry bag. This is quite convenient as most of the adventures listed here require island hopping.
It is also important that the pieces of clothing that you bring are kept to the minimum. Subscribe to the three-set rule: one set you wear, one set you keep dry and another set you wash as soon as you reach your stopovers. Bring shirts, shorts and underwear that are easy to wash and dry. Throw in a pair of pants, a light jacket, some extra board shorts and rash guard, and you are ready to go.
These days, you need not bring your heavy digital single-lens reflex camera or DLSR as there are alternatives like GoPros, mirror-less cameras and even smart phones. Don’t forget to bring powerbanks so you can always charge when your batteries go low.
Day 1-3: Coron
It is an adventure travelers’ paradise. It has so many white sand beaches, stunning lagoons and colorful corals.
The quickest way to reach Coron is to take the 2GO ferry from Manila that arrives after 14 hours. An alternative is to take a bus from Manila to Batangas port, then a ferry to Abra de Ilog, then a local bus to San Jose and finally a boat to Coron.
In Coron, there are many lodgings near the market for P500 a night for a fan room with shared bathroom. For dining, the barbecue stalls are quite popular for backpackers.
Spend day one exploring the inland attractions like Maquinit Hot Spring and Mount Tapyas. For day two, go island hopping to Kayangan and Barracuda Lakes, Siete Pecados and visit secret beaches.
Day 4-6: El Nido
This town offers some of the most breath-taking limestone cliffs and exciting island hopping adventures.
There are big outrigger boats that travel between Coron and El Nido daily, taking eight hours. In El Nido, there are several homestays that offer lodging with free breakfast for P600 per person. All tourists in El Nido are required to pay an environmental fee of P200.
Island hopping tours in El Nido are arranged per set. Each set includes tour to four to five islands and buffet lunch. Set A is the most popular as it takes guests to Big Lagoon, Small Lagoon, Secret Lagoon, Shimuzu Island and 7 Commando Beach.
Day 7-9: Puerto Princesa City
It has the famous Saint Paul’s Subterranean River Park, and is considered as the cleanest and greenest city in the Philippines.
From El Nido, there are vans that go direct to Sabang, taking five hours. Upon arriving in Sabang, go to the Visitor’s Center to get a pass to the Underground River.
From Sabang, take a van or a jeepney to Puerto Princesa City. There are many inexpensive hotels near the airport and the pier. Rent a tricycle and spend one day visiting the city’s other attractions like the Crocodile Farm, the Iwahig Penal Colony and the Mitra Farm.
Day 10-13: Cuyo
This is the remotest island in the loop but it offers exciting visits to ancient forts and completely desert beaches.
There are ferry boats that leave Puerto Princesa three to four times weekly for Cuyo Island, taking between 10 to 12 hours. In Cuyo town, there are several lodging places in front of the port that offers basic accommodations for P500 a night.
Cuyo is the Philippine kitesurfing capital. The Capusan beach of Cuyo town is good for kite surfing because of the deep water between the pier and the natural sand bar, but for those who wish to combine windsurfing with kite boarding, the ultimate choice is Anino Retreat at Victoria. In between kite surfing, visit Cuyo’s fort built in 1680. It has 10-meter high and two-meters thick walls.
Day 14-16: Gigantes Islands
These Islas offer picturesque remote islands in deep blue azure waters and the freshest scallops.
From Cuyo, take the ferry that goes to Iloilo. The trip takes 10 hours. Upon arriving in Iloilo port, take a jeepney to the bus terminal and hop on a bus going to Estancia. The boat for Gigantes leaves at 2 p.m., taking two hours. In Gigantes, there are several resorts that offer dormitory-type lodging for P200 to P300 per person.
As the island hopping boats in Gigantes are quite expensive, you resort will be able to arrange that you join other groups and split the cost for boat rental. Visit the popular “selfie” island of Cabugao, the sand bar of Bantingue and the powdery white sand beaches of Antonio before they are developed into high-end resorts.
Day 17-20: Boracay
No island in the world can beat Boracay in the quality of sands, in the beauty of the sunsets and in the many fun-filled activities that the island can offer.
From Gigantes, take a return boat to Estancia, then take jeepney to Roxas City, then a bus to Caticlan. From Caticlan, visit the Tourist Center, pay the necessary fees, and then finally hop on the boat to island paradise.
Most backpackers stay in Stations 2 and 3 and eat at the talipapa (wet or fish market). But after spending two weeks doing island hopping, treat yourself and check in at some of the good resorts in Station 1. You deserve it after making it this far.
Return to Manila via 2GO ferry that sails to Batangas port, and from there a bus to Manila. After that, you can finally hang out your 20-liter dry bag and make it ready for the next island hopping adventures.