No plane reservations? No problem. Planning for a summer vacation for your family or friends need not require going through the trouble of booking a flight for a group of people and making advanced reservations for hotels. All you need to do is just decide to go, pack your bags and go to a bus station, and the next day you can be in Boracay or Busuanga or even Apo Reef.
All one has to have is an adventurous spirit and the right information on how to go your dream destination. You also need to get out of your comfort zone and be willing to go back to basic, as most of the information given on this article requires traveling the old-fashioned way by buses, boats and bikes.
Destination Apo Reef-Pandan
Alternative ways to get there. Bus Direct: Dimple Star Bus leaves Cubao at 6 p.m. and makes a land-sea-land trip daily, arriving in Sablayan the next day. One can also take a bus to Batangas Port (two hours), ferry to Abra de Ilog (three hours), and bus or van to Sablayan (three hours).
What to do. Apo Reef is the world’s second largest contiguous coral reef system. It is a nature’s paradise under water and above water. People come to Apo Reef to dive, snorkel and swim, and enjoy its natural wonders. It has a large mangrove forest and a lagoon. Pandan Island and the waters surrounding it is another sanctuary for sea and land-based creatures. The resident giant sea turtles are always ready to welcome visitors.
Backpacking Tips. Boats going to Apo Reef are quite expensive so it is best to share the cost with other travelers. Bring all provisions for camping overnight on the island, including tents, sleeping bags and meals. There is no electricity on the island so bring flashlights and power-banks. Pandan Island can be visited as a side trip to Apo Reef. Tasty but inexpensive meals are available at the public market.
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Alternative ways to get there. Boat Direct: 2GO has twice weekly direct boat rides from Manila port to Coron, taking 14 hours of travel. Another way is to take a bus to Batangas port (two hours), then ferry to Abra de Ilog (two hours) and San Jose (four to five hours). There is also a Dimple Star bus that makes an overnight trip to San Jose. In San Jose, there are regular boats that leave early in the morning for Coron, taking six to eight hours of travel.
What to do. Coron is an adventure travelers’ paradise. It has so many white sand beaches, stunning lagoons and colorful corals. People go island hopping to visit the breath-taking Kayangan Lake and do snorkeling in Siete Pecados. Divers come to Coron to check the wrecks of about dozen Japanese warships sank during the Second World War. No visit to Coron is complete without checking the friendly giraffes and zebras of Calauit.
Backpacking Tips. There are plenty of affordable lodgings around Poblacion starting from only P500 per night. For dining, do what most of the locals do: enjoy the barbecue fares at the ihaw-ihaw shops.
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Alternative ways to get there. Bus direct: Take a Ceres Bus in Cubao that leaves 6 p.m.; it arrives in Caticlan the next day at 6 a.m. via land-sea-land-sea transfer. Take a bus to Batangas Port; from there take a 2GO Ferry that sails at 9 p.m. and arrives at Caticlan next day at 6 a.m. Another alternative is to take a bus to Batangas Port (two hours), a ferry to Calapan (two hours), a UV Express to either Roxas or Bulalacao (three hours) and finally, a ferry to Caticlan (three to four hours).
What to do. Boracay is probably the Philippines’ best beach destination. It is known for its powdery white sand, crystal clear waters and breath-taking sunsets. It is also a place to party, chill-out and hang out with friends. It is a place to see the sights and to be seen. People prepare months in advance to get a perfect Boracay summer body.
Backpacking Tips. Accommodations in Boracay need not be expensive. Decent fan rooms in Station 3 go for less than P500 per day. Big groups can find air-conditioned rooms for four to six people at the interior roads of Stations 2 and 3 for less than P2,000 per day. For dining, the best place for filling but inexpensive meals is the talipapa (mini market). One can also try the chicken meals at Andoks and Mang Inasal. Those on a tight budget can buy bread at Julie’s Bakeshop.
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Alternative ways to get there. Bus Direct: Dimple Star runs four times daily trip from Cubao, taking 10 to 12 hours for the land-sea-land transport. Another way to go is to take a bus to Batangas port (two hours), then ferry to Calapan (two hours), and bus or van to Bulalacao (three hours).
What to do. Bulalacao offers island-hopping adventures similar to El Nido minus the crowd. It has 13 remote and mostly uninhabited islands waiting to be explored. Target Island has a lovely cove and secret lake. Sibalat has a small hill on a middle that affords a 360-view of the island. Aslom has a kilometer-long white sand bar.
Backpacking Tips. Enjoy island hopping by doing three to four islands a day. Boats can be arranged at Sitio Aplaya. Boat rental ranges from P2,000 to P4,000 per day depending on the number of islands to be visited. Be sure to bring plenty of water and food as most of the islands have no provisions.
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Alternative way to go there. Actually, there’s none. The only way to go there is to take a bus to Batangas port (two hours), then ferry to Calapan (two hours) and then a van to Pinamalayan (one hour) and catch the once a week boat to Banton that takes four hours to reach the island.
What to do. Banton is a paradise waiting to be discovered. The island was formed from an ancient volcanic eruption. It has plenty of completely deserted white sand beaches. One can also dive around its crystal clear waters to see it live coral teeming with colorful fishes.
Backpacking Tips. Although there are very basic accommodations available in Poblacion, the best way to stay on the island is by camping at one of its many secluded beaches. Since there are no four-wheel transportation on the island, and the only way to go around is by renting a motorbike.