The Philippines: 10 Day Island Hopping Adventure
White knuckled, I released my grip and took a deep breath as the flight attendant cooly announced that we had reached our final cruising altitude. Relaxing into my seat, I loosened my seat belt, and turned my attention to the inflight entertainment. Apparently in the clear, something still didn’t feel quite right. Like a sudden patch of turbulence, it hit me - I had no idea what I was doing. I had no plan for when I landed in the Philippines - no itinerary, no accommodations, no transportation. Nothing.
Having missed our connecting flight out of South Korea, it was just past 3am when we finally arrived in Cebu. The airport was quiet as Quin and I disembarked the plane. After peeling off layers of clothing on the humidity enveloped tarmac, I turned my attention back to more pressing matters. Two flights and eighteen hours later, we still had no idea what we were doing.
Absent a plan, we plopped down in chairs outside the baggage claim, comforted by the next best thing, wifi. Comparing Instagram collections, Pinterest Boards, and random screen shots we pieced together a loose itinerary. The good news... finally we had a plan. The bad news, it entailed spending the rest of the night in the airport.
Our itinerary was created in the middle of the night, in an airport, after 19 hours of traveling. That being said, I wouldn't have changed a thing with the amount of time we had! Of course, more time would have been ideal - it always is. But life happens, and you have to do your best with the cards your dealt. And that’s exactly what we did!
By the time the sun rose we were boarding a flight to Coron. The decision to fly to Coron put us right where we wanted to be, and likely saved us days of overland travel time. We spent three days on Coron exploring the surrounding islands, lagoons, and beaches. From Coron we took the “Fast Ferry”* to El Nido, for a very similar experience. After two days we took the fast ferry back to Coron, and then hopped on our return flight to Cebu. We rented a car in Cebu City,** and headed south to the town of Moalboal, our home base for the rest of the trip.
* There's no such thing as fast travel in the Philippines. We quickly learned not to trust the time estimates on google maps, and to anticipate delays everywhere. This was particularly true for road travel.
** While renting a car afforded us flexibility and probably saved quite a bit of time, I wouldn’t recommend it unless you have experience driving in Asia. Driving in the Philippines was stressful at best and dangerous at worst. We survived unscathed, but at the end of the day I’m not sure the pros outweighed the cons.
The Fun Stuff: Top Destinations
1. TWIN LAGOON, CORON ISLAND
What can I say, these twins definitely aren’t identical, but they're both blessed with good genes! Twin Lagoons are a major tourist destination, and for good reason. Surrounded by towering cliffs, and filled with crystal clear water, the lagoons are a must see. You won't be alone. Large tour groups come and go all day, but if you stick around for long enough you can find a little piece of paradise for yourself.
2. BANOL BEACH, CORON ISLAND
Banol Beach was everything I'd imagined the Philippines would be. Bright, turquoise waters lapping over an idylic silicon white sandy beach below towering cliffs. And if that weren’t picturesque enough, the cliffs are scattered with old fisherman’s huts, which have the effect of transporting you to a different - simpler - place and time. It’s a popular stop on many of the tours that leave from Coron, so try to go early to beat the crowds.
3. EL NIDO, PALAWAN
In the town of El Nido you will be bombarded by tour companies all offering the same handful of tours to different beaches and islands. To be precise, there are generally four options - imaginatively named Option A, B, C, and D. Because Quin and I knew where we wanted to go, and that we would need our boat to be flexible to insure that we got the photos we wanted, we skipped the organized tour circus, and went directly to the source. Down at the harbor we were able to find a captain who was willing to take us where we wanted to go, when we wanted to go, for approximately the same amount that we would have paid for a group tour. Once out on the water, we were able to simply point out islands that interested us. That being said, if you are looking to meet other like minded travelers, the tours can be a great option!
4. KAWASAN, CEBU
Kawasan Canyoneering is super touristy, very crowded, and a ton of fun! We all want to get off the beaten path, especially when we travel half way around the world hoping to find something somewhat undiscovered. Kawasan is no longer an hidden gem, but it's a gem nontheless. For 2-3 hours we were able to float, climb, and explore the deep canyon walls flowing with Gatorade blue water - as long as we had life jackets on! And as if that wasn’t good enough, the tours all end at Kawasan waterfall. Despite the the bamboo rafts and crowds just out of frame, the falls are beautiful!
5. BINALAYAN HIDDEN WATERFALLS, CEBU
Hidden in the middle of the jungle, Banalyan Waterfalls is a cliff divers dream. A guide is required for the short walk to the waterfall. When I visited there were many individuals ready and willing to fill that role at the trialhead. It’s a beautiful waterfall, with three distinct cascading streams and ledges of varying heights for the those willing to take the plunge.
6. INAMBAKAN WATERFALLS
Of all the waterfalls we visited, Inambakan might have been my favorite. Lesser known than many of the other popular waterfalls on Cebu, we had the entire place to ourself! It was also one of the only places that didn’t require a guide - although a couple of caretakers watched over us. Inambukan features bright, aqua-colored water and a familiar bamboo raft set up similar to others encountered on our trip. Enjoying its beauty without a rotating parade of tour groups made the experience extra special.
Photos created in collaboration with Quin Schrock.