It’s not possible to describe just how incredible the Philippines is: amazing white sand, palm lined beaches that seem to go on forever, the bluest water we’ve ever seen, as well as some of the most breathtaking landscapes we’ve ever witnessed. Despite this, the Philippines remains one of the lesser travelled countries in SE Asia. A big part of the reason for this is that the sheer number of islands can be overwhelming and figuring out how to travel between them isn’t always easy (especially on a budget!). That’s why we wanted to share our tips for travelling the Philippines on a budget, our route, and how we got from place to place.
- Be realistic: We started off saying we were going to visit way more islands than we ended up doing, and quickly ended up cutting some out. Take into account that even if a ferry is only 1-2 hours, you will likely have a long car journey to and from the ferry port either end and have to be at the ferry port a few hours before departure. Sometimes it isn’t worth trying to pack too much in and spending half of your time travelling – you need a little breathing room to relax and take it all in.
- Plan Ahead: We really can’t stress this enough. We decided we wanted to leave our options open, so we had only booked one flight in advance and took a lot of ferries. If you can be organised about where you want to go and book flights early enough for them to be reasonable, this will make your trip a lot easier and minimise your travelling time.
- Look into the weather: You might hear that a certain time of year is perfect to visit the Philippines, but because there are so many islands spread out over a large area they can have very different weather patterns. Before you plan where you want to go it’s worth checking it’s the right season for each island.
We arrived in Manila, which is the main airport in the Philippines so it’s most likely where you’ll be flying into.
Manila > Boracay
To reach Boracay we booked an overnight ferry (online and in advance) from Batangas to Caticlan with 2Go ferries. Batangas ferry port is a few hours bus/drive from Manila airport. We cut it really fine between arriving to the airport and having to be at the ferry port, so ended up spending about 1400php on a taxi. If you can we’d recommend being a little more organized and leaving a reasonable amount of time, as you’ll save a lot of money by taking the bus.
For our ferry tickets, we paid 1118php to get the two beds in a cabin of 6 which we would highly recommend unless you’re on a super tight budget, as we had an AC room with it’s own bathroom, all of the bunk beds had their own curtain which pulled around so we had privacy and the bed was comfy so we got a really good night’s sleep. This worked out way cheaper than flying, as we saved on a night’s accommodation and our tickets also included a dinner. The other option is to go for tourist class which costs 680php and is a bed in a room full of bunks, this post gives you a good idea of how it it.
Once we arrived at the ferry port in Caticlan we had to get a second short boat over to Boracay. You will need to do this regardless of whether you fly or get the ferry, but it’s super cheap and only takes about 10 minutes.
Boracay > Cebu
From Boracay we got the short ferry back to Caticlan and flew from Caticlan airport to Cebu – this is the one flight we booked in advance, so the fare was reasonable. From there we got a taxi to South Bus Terminal (which was really cheap – make sure you get a metered taxi), where we caught a bus down to Moalboal (about 120php each). Thanks to some unfortunate timing, this bus journey was actually really stressful – there was a procession on, effectively blocking off a huge stretch of the road about halfway between Cebu city and Moalboal so the journey took us about 4 hours more than it should have. We were unlucky with this, but Cebu has really bad traffic anyway – so if you are getting this bus be prepared to be on there for longer than google maps will tell you the drive is.
Cebu > Surigao > Siargao
After 4 days in Cebu we started our journey to Siargao. Last minute flights were obviously expensive so we took the budget, and very long route. Before we get into that route, we want to point out that we would really recommend being organised and booking a cheap flight (way in advance) directly to Siargao.
We took the same bus back from Moalboal to Cebu city (again this took a while due to traffic). We then had to get one ferry from Cebu City – Surigao City (on a bigger island near to Siargao), and then a short ferry from Surigao-Siargao (confusingly named – apparently people often book the wrong flights!).
The main ferry was with Cokaliong shipping. Although you can find information about dates, prices and times online, it isn’t possible to book these tickets in advance. You can buy these tickets at the ferry port or at an outlet (we found one in a shopping mall in Cebu City). We actually had a lot of problems getting these as it was the Friday of a bank holiday (more bad timing!) so lots of people from Cebu were heading to Siargao for the weekend, which meant that they were already sold out and we had to queue at the ferry port hoping for cancellations. Luckily, after a lot of uncertainty we managed to get these ‘chance’ tickets. Had it not been a bank holiday we would have been fine buying them at the ticket outlet, but we’d still recommend getting them as early as possible.
Once you arrive at the port in Surigao City you can buy tickets for the next ferry leaving for Siargao, which should only be an hour or so later and takes about 2 hours.
The site we found most useful to plan this route with regard to ferry times etc. is Patrick on the beach.
If at this point you are thinking that this sounds like hassle, it’s not worth going to Siargao… it is definitely worth it! It was our favourite island, you can read our post here which tells you all the reasons why.
Siargao > Cebu > El Nido
After 10 incredible days in Siargao, we did the same journey in reverse to get back to Cebu. It’s worth mentioning that on the way back the ferries don’t line up so well! The ferry leaves Surigao in the evening (ours was at 7pm), but the last ferry from Siargao was at 1pm. We got to Surigao at about 2pm and had a 5 hour wait there, so again, flying would be a lot better if possible!
From Cebu we flew to Puerto Princessa airport where we stayed for one night, and in the morning got a 5 hour minivan to El Nido – this costs 500-600php and pretty much any hotel or guest house in the area can arrange it for you or point you in the right direction. 5 hours sounds like a long journey but the van was comfortable and the views were great, so it flew by. If you don’t want to spend a night in Puerto Princessa you can catch these minivans outside the airport.
If you have a little extra cash or book well in advance, you can skip the 5 hour bus journey by flying directly to El Nido as it has it’s own small and pricey airport.
El Nido > Manila > Out of the Philippines
After an unbelievable week in El Nido (Check out our El Nido guide here!), our next stop from Philippines was Vietnam. We got the 5 hour minivan (same price, and again arranged through our hotel) from El Nido back to Puerto Princessa airport. As pretty much every flight leaving the Philippines seems to depart from Manila we had to stop over there for a few hours on the way to Vietnam.
We hope that this guide has been helpful in helping you plan a trip to the Philippines. The islands we visited have definitely been highlights for our travelling so far and we would really highly recommend visiting them. Please check our other Philippines blogs for guides to the islands we visited, and if you have any questions or need any information please get in touch or leave us a comment!