Ten days is nowhere near long enough to see what the Philippines has to offer. I have to start this post with that disclaimer and to admit that after just a few days we were wishing we’d decided to stay and explore for at least a month!
We decided that we had time to spend a day in Manila, as we wanted to see at least some of the capital, and two islands. Initially we’d considered just one island but agreed in the end that we wanted to try and experience a few different places.
Islands we considered visiting on our ten days in the Philippines included:
- Borocay – safe, accessible and famous as a party spot, very popular
- Palawan – known for stunning beaches, diving and the underwater river
- Siquijor – smaller and less touristy, beautiful waterfalls and beaches
- Cebu – famous for whale shark swimming and snorkelong / dive sites, very popular
- Bohol – another popular one that’s known for the beaches of Panglao and some amazing countryside & wildlife
We decided on Bohol firstly for a combination of beach time and also to see the wildlife and famous landscapes like the Chocolate Hills. Our second choice was Cebu where we skipped the whale sharks mainly due to some issues around responsible tourism, and made our way to Malapascua in the north for snorkelling and remote beaches. We felt both islands were safe from travel warnings, tourist friendly as we were a little nervous about the security situation, and offered a good mix of activities and scenery.
Another important issue was accessibility as we had such limited time on our hands. Cebu and Bohol are very easy to get to and from by ferry and plane.
How Much Does It Cost To Travel In The Philippines?
I guess it depends on several things and I’m sure that some islands are cheaper and others more expensive than those we visited. For Manila, Cebu and Bohol our experience overall was…
Accommodation was very expensive for relatively poor standards comparative to the rest of South East Asia and especially nearby countries like Malaysia & Indonesia. We found this ate up a disproportionate amount of our ten days in the Philippines.
We stayed in hostel dorms again for the first time in a while in Alona Beach (Bohol) where we still paid just under £10 each per night. Malapascua was the worst value for money with a fan only private room in a very basic guesthouse costing £25 per night – increasing to nearer £35 with air con. It doesn’t sound like a lot but we paid £32 per night for pretty much luxury accommodation in Ubud a week later. Manila was about what you’d expect for a capital city at around £25 for a private room in what turned out to be a really decent hostel.
Travel itself is reasonable although it’s often easier to fly than negotiate long ferries which can bump the prices up. Flights from Manila to islands like Palawan, Cebu & Bohol are pretty cheap, especially if you can be organised enough to book in advance. Ferries again aren’t unreasonable – the two hour journey between Cebu and Bohol cost us around £10 each.
Good savings can be made on food in most places if you’re happy to avoid the higher end and more touristy restaurants. We paid an average of £3 – £5 for a good meal, often barbecue chicken or pork with rice, salad and ice tea. Drinks are very cheap, San Miguel is the beer of choice in most places and normally costs about £1 for a bottle. Cocktails are often on happy hour for about £3 for two. For us, we made good savings on food and drink, helping to keep our ten days in the Philippines much more affordable.
What Are The Best Budget Things To Do In The Philippines?
If you’re on a really tight budget the best things to do for cheap in the Philippines are to enjoy the country’s amazing beaches, take a wander round some of the cities to see the architectural highlights and probably hire a bike to explore the islands by yourself and visit the many waterfalls etc.
We were pretty broke and spent plenty of time on the beach as well as shelling out for some of the cheaper tours we wanted to do. Sadly we got to do no snorkelling or diving like we’d intended as the costs were just way out of our budget at the time. As an example the cheapest snorkel trip we could find in Malapascua was going to be over £20 each including park fees which shows how poor we were! Obviously compared to many places this isn’t too expensive.
Our 10 Day Philippines Itinerary
Onto the itinerary…
Day 1 & 2: Manila
Day one of our Philippines itinerary was lazy. We arrived into Manila late afternoon and headed to our hostel in Makati where we planned out our route for the next day and did some admin. We drank far too much beer and got an early night after a minor earthquake rocked the city!
If you’re more active and have more money, use day one to explore Makati – the business district of Manila and home of plenty of shopping malls, bars and restaurants. It’s considered widely to be one of the safer areas for tourists to stay in Manila – particularly on a first time visit.
Day two was far more active. We got up early and took an uber into Binondo to meet our guides from Tralulu tours for our Manila street food experience. This was amazing and gave us a safe way not only to try some delicious food but also to see Manila’s famous Chinatown and explore its highlights. Would definitely recommend a half day food tour of this area on any day trip to Manila.
Our ten day Philippines itinerary continued with a couple of hours spent exploring some other districts in Manila – notably the Intramuros area which is the historic heart of the city. Our full guide on how to spend a day in Manila is also live and available to read.
Day 3 – 6 Bohol & Panglao Islands
For the next section of our ten days in the Philippines we were based in Bohol province. We got up early and caught our midday flight to Bohol – arriving at around 1pm. A quick transfer by taxi (pre arranged with hostel) took us to our accommodation at Moon Fools Hostel. This was a great spot for meeting other travellers and was basic but in a good location with a friendly team to help with tours etc. Pretty much everyone heads to Alona Beach so unless you’re looking for somewhere off the beaten track this is the best base.
We spent a couple of days enjoying the beach and the many local restaurants. From about 5pm every day the barbecues are lit and the whole place smells amazing – grills are the most popular food here and great value for money. There are also loads of bars with super cheap beer and great cocktails to enjoy.
Activities wise we spent a full day on the Bohol Countryside Tour, which you’ll see advertised everywhere. This should cost no more than PHP400 and includes sights like the Loboc River, Baclayon Church, Chocolate Hills and Tarsier Sanctuary among other stop offs. You’re basically just driven from place to place in a small van and can choose to pay for entry to the attractions or not as you go along. We also spent an evening doing a firefly river cruise which was pretty expensive for what it was – PHP500 for about fifteen minutes – but the fireflies were amazing and we hadn’t seen them before so it was worth it for us!
Day 7 – 10 Malapascua & Cebu Islands
We wanted to visit Malapascua island as we felt that other than snorkelling with whale sharks, which we didn’t want to do, Cebu didn’t have too much for us. We felt Malapascua would offer some beautiful beaches where we could relax for a few days on a tiny and more remote island. It was a good choice for us as as despite the very tedious (but straightforward) 5 hour bus journey and short ferry trip to get there, it was an awesome place to relax and enjoy the beach.
It really is a tiny island – just a 1k wide by 2k long and 90% of the people there were there to dive. If we had another day or two we may have taken our open water and given it a go ourselves but as it was the beaches were enough for us. There are a bunch of good restaurants along Bounty Beach and we just had three days of eating, drinking, working and sunbathing. Lots of fellow travellers and a laid back and friendly place to stay.
To get to Malapascua from Cebu – get a bus from Cebu North Bus Station to Maya. It’s well signposted but the bus station is pretty sketchy so keep an eye on your stuff. Buses leave around every half an hour but be prepared for a crazy number of stops. You could do the journey by car in 3 hours so you have an extra 2 hours to sit through if you bus it. You then need to buy a ferry ticket from the port – loads of warnings online about horrible touts but we experienced none of this and just bought our ticket and hopped on for the twenty minute journey to the island.
After our three nights relaxing in Malapascua our ten days in the Philippines was coming to an end so we made our way by bus and boat back to sunny Cebu – where we stayed a night in Lapu Lapu city near to the airport ready for our onward flight to Bali.
All in all, we loved our time exploring the Philippines and whilst it was nowhere near enough time to do the country justice, spending time in Bohol, Malapascua and Manila was a pretty good ten day itinerary. We had plenty of time to relax, enjoyed some beautiful beaches and saw tons of wildlife which was exactly what we were hoping for! Getting to explore Manila and take in a food tour and some of the city’s history and culture was an added bonus.