“Let’s go for a beach vacay” K suggested. Maldives? Srilanka? Thailand again? The Philippines is hidden gem in South Asia. Bright blue beaches, perfect white sands, secret lagoons and hidden islands!
There is so much to do in the Philippines! We were lost for choice between wanting to zillion things. So much to do. So little time!
We had 10 days in the Philippines. We did a little bit of island hopping, some city slicking in Manila, whale shark swimming and exploring a few lagoons and lakes.
We landed in Manila on a nice sunny afternoon. Like any big city, Manila has wide roads, Ubers, malls and a nice downtown. We checked into go hotels by two pm. It was neat, clean and just what you’d want from a place where you’re staying just for one night! Our room was on the 12th floor facing the busy highway! Perfect way to start a holiday!
We then grabbed some food, red velvet magnum (I KNOW!) and left for our one evening in Manila!
We hung around the Manila Bay area watching a beautiful sunset along the sea. The air was vibrant with upbeat music, street food, and a Ferris-wheel. We hopped onto a 30 minute ‘Sunset Cruise’ from where we saw a gorgeous display of fireworks on the mainland. Overseeing the Bay is the sprawling “Mall of Asia” where we did some fun shopping before calling it a night. The next morning, we had an early morning flight to Coron! Our first island!
We took a Sky Jet Flight from Manila to Busuanga (Coron’s airport) We all love small flights, small airports and gorgeous landings. The Coron airport is tiny and looks like a family room. (NOT KIDDING) There are no conveyor belt platforms for baggage collection. Instead, you have the airport staff placing luggage on an elevated platform. Nice and rustic.
The resort we stayed in Coron was 25 minutes by taxi and 30 minutes by boat. The resort folks had arranged for our airport pickup which made matters so much easier. The ‘El Rio Y Mar’ is a beautiful and secluded private resort built with some great attention to detail. Right from their welcome song, till we bid goodbye it was special. The cottage was clean and classy. Our stay was so comfortable!
We swam in the infinity pool, flew a kite, snorkelled on the house reef and went kayaking in the calm resort waters during sunset. We then grabbed drinks from their jetty bar and worked up a nice appetite for dinner! The resort folks arranged for a beach candle light dinner for the guests and the food was amazing.
A special mention for their in-house music trio who went about performing a personalised set of songs to our choice every night!After listening to a flawless rendition of “Hey Jude”, we hit the jetty bar to stare at the star studded night sky.
Day 3: A Whole Day Island Trip!
All island tours/trips were coordinated by the resort and priced depending upon the number of people who signed up. Luckily for us, we were 8 in all (reducing costs quite substantially!). We were up early and left from El Rio Y Mar soon after breakfast. Our guide Randy explained the geography and the 5 places we were going to see. One of our favourite days of the holiday!
1) Siete Picados: A beautiful dive location. This was K’s first and finest snorkelling experience! The water was blue and the colorful corals were breathtaking. We were momentarily spooked upon seeing a ‘banded sea krait’ hiding between corals which is a venomous water snake and commonly seen in the Philippines.
2) Maquinit Hot Springs: After a great snorkelling, we reached the hot springs. Soaked ourself in the warm waters of the hot spring. It felt so therapeutic.
3) Kayangan Lake: This lake is the 2nd clearest lake in Asia! Kayangan Lake is surrounded by limestone mountains. Getting there involves a short trek of 15 minutes but it is bloody worth it! This secluded lake was empty when we got there and we got to swim in this turquoise blue lake for ourself (6 of us from the resort, us and our guide Randy)! We swam and snorkelled to our heart’s content before breaking for lunch. Such a breathtaking experience.
El Rio Y Mar had arranged for the best picnic lunch of fruits, fried rice and some juice!
4) Barracuda Lake: This was our first stop after lunch. This very deep lake still has 2 big barracudas. The water here was a shade of DEEP blue and no snorkelling/swimming was allowed without a life-jacket but our guide Randy had his share of fun nonetheless!
5) Twin Lagoon: Our last stop was at the ‘Twin Lagoon’. Only during a low tide, the second lagoon is accessible. Usually, during a high tide, access to the second lagoon is cut off due to the rising water levels. This lagoon had clear white sands and varying levels of depth.
We returned to our resort before sunset and greeted with some amazing Margaritas. We dived into the infinity pool watching the sun go down and the stars come out :). These were some beautiful moments worth reliving.
Day 4: We checked out of El Rio Y Mar ( We really didn’t want to) to travel to El Nido. We took the Montenegro line fast ferry to El Nido. What usually takes about 3 and a half hours took us about 5 hours to reach El Nido. It was just like an AC bus and the journey was comfortable as the sea wasn’t too choppy. You don’t get refreshments inside the ferry. We carried chips and protein bars to satisfy our hunger pangs. (!!) We reached El Nido by 5 pm and we were greeted by a light drizzle.
El-Nido is touristy. We saw tourists chill at the famous art cafe, bars and beach cafes. We checked into our small little hotel called the ‘El Nido Beach Hotel’. We walked on the streets to grab some dinner. We ate falafel rolls in a small shop and walked to the art cafe to plan our next two days in El Nido and grab a few cocktails with pizzas. It was quite a tiring day and we couldn’t wait to hit the bed.
Day 5: El- Nido
It was K’s birthday and we checked into a place called the “El Nido Garden Beach Resort”. Wasting no time, we were ready for our adventure of the day: ‘The El Nido Zipline’. We took a tricycle to the Las Cabanas beach which costs roughly around 50 PHP (70 Rs). However, you need to take a short steep trek from the roadside to get to the starting point of the Zip Line. You have a choice of flying ‘the Superman position’ or the ‘sitting position’ in addition to your choice of one-way/two-way routes. We zip-lined from one island to another with a Panoramic view of gorgeous turquoise-blue Las Cabanas beach right below. The experience was exhilarating! Once at the other side, we climbed down the bamboo staircase and walked along the shallow beach with knee deep water to get back to the Las Cabanas beach. Must say ‘K’ was a brave girl!
Las Cabanas beach is heaven. Great food, Hammocks strung between coconut trees and blue beach. Isn’t this a perfect birthday? Spent the day hanging out at the beach, getting tanned as hell, snorkel and drinking coconut water. We then rode in the tricycle to visit the Famous Nacpan beach to see the sunset. It was a good 40 minutes ride from Las Cabanas beach on a rickety three-wheeler which was fun! Nacpan beach is a twin beach. You walk along the nacpan beach on your right and at the end of it, you see another beach to your left. Such a happy surprise!
We got back to our resort by evening and to our surprise found a private dinner table set up with cake! We walked to a beautiful Mediterranean place for dinner. It was a fab birthday!
Day 6: El Nido is an archipelago. We were very excited to see the other islands of El Nido. We took the island tour A from the Art Cafe. We visited the seven commandos beach, Shimizu Island, Small Lagoon, Big Lagoon, Secret Lagoon. Such beautiful scenery and a great experience. We hated the food provided to us that day. It was plain rice and fried brinjal. (We are vegetarians)
Day 7: This was the toughest day of our trip. We made a few decisions which we would change considering how tiring it was. We took a van from El Nido to Puerto Princesa. PP is a good 6 hours and it’s all winding roads. It’s a beautiful drive but if you are prone to motion sickness, you need be prepared. From PP we took a flight to Cebu. Cebu is another province in the Philippines. It was a very smooth flight with Cebu Pacific. Our plan was to travel from Cebu to Oslob where we were going to swim with the whales the next morning. We got stuck in Cebu’s terrible traffic and got delayed to reach Oslob by 4 hours. We reached our resort, Germaroze by 2 am. What a tiring day!
Day 8: We were up at 5.30 am. Our resort was a 10 mins ride on a tricycle from the whale watching the place. It was such a beautiful ride. WE SWAM WITH WHALE SHARKS! It was a beautiful experience! Highly recommend to anyone who visits the Philippines. Read all about it here
After our little adventure, we took an AC bus back to Cebu, waded through all the traffic and reached our hotel Bellavista. It was our last day before we left the Philippines. Why do all good things have to come to an end?
The Philippines has been a great decision and we loved every bit of the place. The tasty food, the amazing people, gorgeous beaches and great marine life.
So will the Philippines be your next check-in?