This week's Travel Review was originally posted by blogger Gwen Lane on her lifestyle blog, The LA Girl.
If you’re looking for your next travel destination, consider the beautiful islands of the Philippines! There’s quite a few places to visit in this country, having over 7,000 islands. I can’t say enough about the gorgeous views, hospitable people, and an array of cultures in this archipelago.
I’ve been to the Philippines many times when I was a kid, that’s where my family is originally from. Most of the time we would visit family in Manila and I never got to visit any of the islands that has made the Philippines so popular! I would usually go for family obligations and never went for a vacation and to really enjoy it, so I was thrilled when Mango Tours asked me to go on an influencer trip with them to the Philippines.
Mango Tours is a travel agency based out of San Francisco. If you need help planning your trip, they can arrange it all for you! They organized our 10-day trip for our group of bloggers, vloggers, photographers, journalists and social media influencers, so you’re in good hands. Planning Out Your Trip to the Philippines
So first let’s go over the details that would be helpful in planning your trip. If you have specific travel dates in mind, you can use that to figure out how many places you have time to go to. Or if you don’t have to stress out on time, then you can choose the spots you’ll be going to first and calculate how many days you’d like to spend at each place.
Since it is a country with different islands, you’ll have to plan out travel because some places are harder to get to and may involve flying back to Manila, the capital before taking another flight out. Some places are easier to travel to by ferry or boat, so it really takes some planning to save time and money.
For our trip with Mango Tours, we did a 10-day trip that consisted of flying to Manila then directly to Puerto Princesa, Palawan. We stayed there for two days then flew back to Manila and took another flight to Tagbilaran in Bohol. From Bohol, we took a ferry to Cebu. In Cebu, we stayed one night and had to get up early the next morning for a 3-hour bus ride to get to the whale sharks. From there, the next day we flew back to Manila and took another flight to Boracay. We had about 2.5 days there until we went back to Manila and spent one more night there. About 1/3 of the trip was traveling between islands, so consider that when you’re planning out which islands to visit.
How to Get There
Philippine Airlines is the only airline that offers direct flights to the Philippines. Flights range from 12-15 hours, so I highly suggest flying business class. It was such a wonderful experience to have so much leg room that you can sleep horizontally! It was like having your own bed in the airplane.
The chairs were so comfortable and the best thing about it was the food! They offered a delicious menu with all sorts of amazing snacks, fruit and lots of choices for drinks. They also give you slippers and a toiletry kit complete with a toothbrush/toothpaste, lotion, lip balm, socks and a sleep mask. The service was excellent and with all the great food, movies, and the leg room, the flight was definitely enjoyable and felt a lot shorter. Where to Stay in the Philippines
Astoria Palawan – This cool, casual hotel was a great place to stay when you’re visiting Puerto Princesa for the Underground River. The rooms are clean and spacious with its main restaurant facing an infinity pool that sits at the edge of a private, white sand beach.
Eskaya Resort – This paradise located in Bohol is such a beautiful spot to stay! When you’re visiting the Loboc River and the Chocolate Hills, you should definitely rent a villa at this amazing resort. Their infinity pool looks out to a white sand beach and don’t forget to get a massage at the spa!
Crimson Resort and Spa – If you’re looking for a place to stay when you’re about to go swimming with the whale sharks, the Crimson Resort is the place to be. I had one of the best meals ever at their restaurant, Azure Beach Club, where our group feasted on delicious food. The Rock Bar is a great place to grab a drink before or after dinner.
Astoria Boracay – Headed to one of the best beaches in the world, Boracay? Then book a stay over at Astoria which is located in Station 1, in the middle of all the action. You’ll be able to walk everywhere – to the clubs, restaurants, and activities from here.
The Manila Hotel – This historical hotel has been around since 1912 and you can feel the glamour and elegance once you step into its beautiful lobby. The rooms are adorned with traditional Filipino furnishings and look out to Manila Bay or Rizal Park. Don’t miss out on the amazing breakfast buffet!
Where to Eat in Manila
Kabila Restaurant at Ayala Museum – This is one of my favorite places to go whenever I’m in the Philippines. They have traditional Filipino dishes, but also experiments and puts a new spin on local favorites.
Crisp on 28th – This amazing Filipino-fusion restaurant surprised me with their variety of options for every dietary restriction. The chef prepared an incredible meal here for our last night in Manila.
What to Do in the Philippines
Intramuros – While in Manila, go see the oldest part of the city. The oldest church in the country is located here as well as the defensive wall that was built during the Spanish colonization to protect it from invaders. The city was damaged during World War II and only 5% of the original structures and 40% of the wall.
Puerto Princesa Underground River – This subterranean river is over 5 miles long and is accessible by boat. It’s basically a long, huge cave with enormous stalactites and stalagmites. There’s lots and lots of bats in there, so you may want to keep your mouth closed during the entire ride.
SUP at the Loboc River – This is a must-do when you’re visiting Bohol! You’ll get to cruise down this river in a boat then go stand up paddle boarding to or from the waterfalls. It’s not a huge waterfall, but it’s fun to go down the river. There’s also a few swings you can use to jump into the river! Chocolate Hills – There are over a thousand almost uniformly shaped hills in the island of Bohol. The chocolate hills is a popular tourist destination due to the extraordinary landscape. In the rainy season, they’re usually green. In the dry season, they turn brown and that’s how they got their name.
See the tarsiers – In Bohol, you can see the smallest primates called the tarsiers. They’re nocturnal so they’re usually sleeping during the day. They have really huge eyes and can turn their heads a full 180-degrees. They’re pretty cute but look very annoyed when woken up during the day. Shhh!!!
Swim with whale sharks – In a town called Oslob on the island of Cebu, you’ll have to chance to swim with the whale sharks. You’ll be taken out on a boat to where the sharks are being fed and you’ll have the opportunity to see and swim alongside them. The rule is not to touch them!
*Note: There has been some controversy on this as some believe that the whale sharks are being harmed by making them a tourist attraction. Though they are not captured or kept enclosed, they are naturally migratory creatures. But since they are being fed by the locals, they have been sticking around. With what they’re being fed, they are not getting the nutritional value they need and also some are concerned that people are touching them and they may be getting harmed from all the boat activity. On the other side of this argument, the people of Oslob have been benefiting economically from the influx of tourists. Our tour guide even said that if the sharks do choose to leave, the town would be devastated. *
Kawasan Falls – It’s a short,enjoyable walk to these beautiful waterfalls and it can get pretty crowded. There’s restaurants right by the waterfalls, so you can buy food there instead of bringing it with you. Once there, you can go on a raft to go directly beneath and behind the waterfall. I highly recommend experiencing this and getting a “massage.”
Go island-hopping – In Boracay, you can go on a sailboat to the other islands. There’s quite a few islands to go to, but the one I went to was Magic Island. It’s a tiny island where you can jump off anywhere from 10-30 feet cliffs.
Tips for Traveling to the Philippines
Exchange rate – You’re at an extreme advantage if you’re coming from the United States, Europe or Australia. The exchange rate hovers around 50 pesos to 1 USD.
Rainy season – Like most of Southeast Asia, there is a rainy season. It’s best to travel to the Philippines from February to June. February was perfect as it’s just before the summer starts and there are less tourists. It does rain intermittently but it usually stops rather quickly.
Don’t drink the water – Unless you’re at established hotels and restaurants, ask for bottled water. Some of the drinking water may not be filtered causing you to get sick. You wouldn’t want to get sick for two weeks, it’s miserable!
Use bug spray – It is a tropical destination so there will be bugs. I was very consistent about applying bug spray and only came home with a few bites. It’s also dangerous due to dengue fever that the mosquitos carry, so beware.
As a third world country, you’ll often see poverty in the streets. You will see people living in terrible conditions and even children selling candy in the middle of the highways. There is a huge disparity from the rich and the poor.
This made me feel two things, saddened by the conditions in my country and also extreme gratitude for my life. Every time I visit the Philippines and especially on this trip, I can’t help but feel happy but also humbled.
Not everyone gets to have the opportunities and privileges that we do here, especially in Los Angeles.
I’ve decided that I must find a way to give back and help people in the Philippines. I’m not sure how I’m going to do it yet and I have a few ideas, but I do know that it will be part of my life’s work and mission.