Philippines vast number of islands makes it a breathtaking and very diverse destination. Travelling between islands is however time consuming and with a little more than 2 weeks on your hands, choices have to be made. The choice was made for Cebu & Bohol as these two islands are close from one-another. This Philippines itinerary packs 2 weeks of diving, kayaking, lazying on the beach and even canyonning !
It is important to choose the right season as each island doesn’t necessarily have the same climate and Philippines is also plagued by typhons.
Three main international airports are in Philippines: Manila, Clarke and Cebu.
Cebu island is home to world-class diving, comfortable accommodations and is a very easy hub to travel to. Bohol on the other hands has some pocket of hotels, is less travelled the further away you get from Tangbilaran (where the ferry harbour is located). It is home to the tarsier; chocolate hills and has some wonderful beaches as well.
The two islands are close together and it is easy to travel between them with the fast ferry making the two a perfect combination.
PHILIPPINES ITINERARY SUMMARY
This Philippines itinerary starts in Mactan island where the Cebu international airport is located. It’s also home to some very nice diving spots and before jumping into travelling, a few days rest & relaxing by a pool & diving is a must. Plus, Mactan is definitely nicer than Cebu city!
From Mactan, a night transit in Cebu city or an early morning start is recommended to catch the ferry from Cebu harbor to Tangbilaran on Bohol: plan for a ferry around 8 am. By 10 am, you should be in Tangbilaran, check in your accommodation and arrange with your hotel a day rental scooter to visit Panglao island. Start with the Hinagdanan cave and continue onwards to have a late lunch on Alona Beach on Panglao island. Take a quick dip (or not). If you are doing the mangrove and firefly tour with kayakasia - it’s time to go back and rest a bit before your pick up mid-afternoon. If not, enjoy the beach and head back later in the afternoon. You could still have booked a firefly kayaking tour for the same evening (which I highly recommend).
On this first day, arrange with your hotel to keep the same motorcycle for the duration of your stay in Bohol.
The next day is a driving day, with lots of stops - start early to be first at the tarsier sanctuary. Continue on to the Chocolate hills, climb the stairs to enjoy the view-points- buy a fresh coconut or a local ice-cream at the parking lot to relax a bit - continue to Anda and your relaxed days at a pristine and sooo less touristy beach.
Within your few days in Anda, take half a day to swim into the cave pools that are within the area and another good half day drive up to the mysterious Lamanoc island.
On the way back to Tangbilaran - break the journey by stopping in Loboc river for a night - in the same afternoon, you can swim in the river, take a lunch boat or try paddleboard/kayaking. The next morning, sleep as you like and drive to Tangbilaran, stop to see the Baclayon church on the way. Bring your motorcycle back and take the ferry back to Cebu city. Spend the night in Cebu city.
The next morning, get up early - take a taxi to the northern bus station of Cebu to take a bus to Maya. This will take about 4 hours. The Ceres bus will drop you at the pier to catch a boat to Malapascua island - famous for the thresher sharks and pristine underwater world. This will be a long day and by 2/3 pm you should be at your destination. The next days are spend diving, swimming and enjoying island life.
Once you have had your fill, it’s time for another long day of transport. Backtrack from Malapascua to Cebu city with the bus, grab a taxi to reach the southern bus terminal and hop on a bus to Moalboal. This will be another 3h of journey. Once in Molboal, grab a tricycle to your accommodation & rest for the evening. The next days can be filled up with diving and/or snorkeling the huge sardine run right in front of the city’s shore. You can also enjoy Kawasan waterfalls or do some canyoning.
All good things must come to an end. And once you are ready to go, plan for a day of travel back to Cebu. If you flight is late the same night - you can go direct to the airport. Otherwise plan an extra night in Cebu City or Mactan island.
Let's dive into the details, day by day, of this Philippines itinerary. I will share budgets, tips and first hand experience of the companies we used.
PERSONAL GENERAL OBSERVATIONS
General absence of touts. We were surprise at the lack of aggression when arriving in the bus stations or coming down from a boat. The usual taxi would call but without the same level of insistence as experienced in other countries. It was very pleasant.
Philippinos were overall helpful & warm. In the bus stations, it’s quite organized and well done that you can find easily your way around maybe by just asking a friendly local once.
We didn’t get any culinary epiphany in Philippines, the food was either too sweet, too fried or just not tasty. No surprises there that our food budget exploded because we just couldn’t eat local food at some point and went for proper restaurants instead.
Grab app works very well in Cebu city area (and in Philippines in general) and it’s so convenient to get where you want to go without haggling with a taxi! install it and link it to your credit card for a smooth and easy cashless experience.
Do not underestimate how difficult it can be to transit in Manilla airport from one terminal to the other. Also mind that most flights in Philippines are delayed min. 20mins to 1h30 regularly. Ensure that if you are only taking low cost, to plan 5 hours to transit to catch any critical flight you may have or an overnight next to the airport.
Leverage the international flights directly to Cebu airport on Mactan island to by-pass Manilla airport altogether. A transit in Singapore or Kuala lumpur is much more pleasant & less risky. You could even check out “The Jewel” in Singapore airport if transit time permits it!?
Not fond of buying a traveller Simcard ? I rarely do myself. Wifi is available in most hotels and I found that to book hotels & tours in Philippines, a quick call made wonders and using skype credit to call on landlines or mobile is just cheaper and convenient. Then just pre-download offline maps for the driving on your phone.
Oslob whale sharks - we refuse to visit attractions where those animals are fed - also from the real photos not the "instagramable" chosen moments, the cheer number of tours going makes it doubtful that it would make for a memorable experience. Oslob is highly advertised in every hotel and guesthouses.
If you have refillable bottles, there are loads of small filtered water dispensers to refill them for PHP 5 or less along the way and into tiny shops.
CUTTING THIS PHILIPPINES ITINERARY SHORTER?
If you are not a diver, it’s easy to cut the few days in Mactan as well as shorten Malapascua island.
You could as well remove one day in Molboal if you do not want to do Canyoning.
If you do not wish to hike all the way up Malapascua island, there are beautiful beaches and resorts along the southern tip of Cebu that would involve less transport.
Note that a private taxi would cut all transport time by a LOT - but it’s also 200+ times more expensive than the public bus. (PHP 100 with the bus for 3H, and PHP 2,500 by private car in 1H30 for a Cebu-Molboal for example).
DAY 1: ARRIVAL FROM YOUR INTERNATIONAL FLIGHT
That first day is pretty much used to arrive in your accommodation and get located, recover from your jetlag, buy your supplies and get money sorted. We recommend staying in Mactan island where there is a strip of beach - although do not get your hopes up on this one unless you decide to stay in one of the fancier hotels with private (cleaned ) seafront.
We arrived in the middle of the night so we had pre-booked with the hotel our (expensive) pick up and the night before to guarantee we could check-in immediately. Cebu airport is quite small and the taxi stand was not staffed leaving you at the mercy of the touts when we passed next to it, so we are glad we did.
DAY 2 &3: Diving in Mactan
For divers, we would recommend Scotty adventure diving within the Shangri-La Mactan hotel (they arrange pick-up). For non-divers, you can organize island tour for a day and probably could shorten your stay in Mactan of one day as there isn’t much else to do but dive or/and rest there.
Mind that between dives you come back to the Shangri-la and therefore, if you do 3 dives, you must have lunch within the hotel.. The beachclub restaurant remains affordable.
On the third day, check-out of the hotel and bring your belongings with you at the dive center.
In the evening of the third day, take a shower there and book a Grab car through the app (not the shangri-la hotel taxi as it’s bloody expensive!) to get to your hotel in Cebu for the night. Get dinner in Cebu city.
We used the same hotel in Cebu during this night and the last one on our way back from Bohol, because they confirmed that they could keep our diving equipment and big luggage in a secured proper, concierge managed, storage room. This way we could spend our time in Bohol with a small backpack only.
DAY 4: TRAVEL TO BOHOL - CAVE & KAYAKING
From Cebu city, walk (or take a taxi ) to Pier 1, where you can board the ferry to Bohol, Tagbilaran. Try to catch the 8 am ferry. It takes about 1h30 minutes to get from Cebu to Tagbilaran and overall the ferry leaves on time.
You can either purchase the tickets online (we did so with Ocean Jet Ferry ) or buy at the counter. There is a check-in process, where they take your booking confirmation and print your boarding passes. Then you go through a basis security screening - you get your bag back and find yourself in a well-organized waiting room. They will call in English the name of the company and destination when it’s time. Boarding starts at least 15 to 20 min before departure.
Don’t book the return ticket as the last day will be driving back and it’s better to keep the flexibility of buying whichever ferry leaves first on the return journey. The cost of a one-way ticket was PHP 500 per person + PHP 40 for the online booking fee. There is a jetty fee of PHP 25 per person which is not included in your ferry ticket and that you pay upon entering the terminal.
Most guesthouse within Tangbilaran city will organize a free pick up from the harbour, if you call them the day before with your ferry information. Ours did. Tagbilaran is very small and Panglao island is connected via a bridge, in 30min you can be anywhere within the vicinity.
By 10am you should be in your hotel, checked-in. Give a quick call to Kayakasia to confirm the pick-up time in the afternoon. Arrange with the reception to rent a motorcycle for the day or half-day (depends on your negotiation skills) so that you can visit the Hindangan cave pool. A motorcycle in good working condition and relatively new costs PHP 500/day.
From Tangbilaran to Hinagdanan cave, there is 25min motorcycle, parking is PHP 5 and entrance fee is PHP 50 per person. Walk down the spiralling narrow staircase into the cave, there is a small concrete path that leads to where people swim. It didn’t look so inviting to us and in 5min you have seen it all.
Once out of the cave, drive further north for another 20min until you reach Alona Beach - it’s a backpacker strip where all the diving centers and lots of Korean restaurants are. Pick one along the beach and order a late lunch. The beach is beautiful but at that time looked a little crowded with boats and we didn’t feel like swimming. Alona beach area is the traditional island backpacker den, where you can find your usual services and tourist-oriented activities.
Keep an eye on your watch, as the mangrove and firefly kayaking tour pick-up from Tagbilaran is at 3pm and you will need a good 45min to drive all the way back from the extremity of Panglao island. And you definitely don’t want to miss it!
One of the highlights of our trip - the mangrove about 1h north of Tangbilaran is dense, healthy and the guides of kayakasia know their stuff. You are in for (albeit a little exhausting) treat into different arms of the river and narrow waterways. They will let you come back into the starting point for a snack and some rest - then as the sun set slowly - you will kayak up-river to where the fireflies are. Up until today it’s the best spot for firefly that we have witnessed, just like Christmas! They shine so bright and there are a few colonies along the river bank. It is an amazing sight to see!
Diner was included in this tour at the end of the firefly watching session. They will bring you back to the hotel in the evening and that concludes a busy day!
|Hinagdanan Cave||9.625311, 123.800920|
|Alona Beach||9.547292, 123.768225|
DAY 5: THE ROAD TO ANDA
You should have pre-arranged the day before the motorcycle rental, so as to leave the guesthouse around 8am to arrive in the Tarsier Sanctuary by 8h30 - it’s barely 15min from Tangbilaran. Officially the sanctuary opens by 9am but we were not the first ones and we were welcomed and could visit anyway. By 9am sharp/9h15 the tours start to arrive and it gets busy fast. The tarsiers are in a small garden with well-trodden paths and the guide will point them to you - expect to see 4-5 tarsiers on their branch quite close. There is also a small museum with some basic information on tarsier. This visit lasts no longer than 30 min and it cost PHP 60 per pax.
From the tarsier sanctuary, start the 1-hour long ride to the Chocolate hills from the inland route (we will take the ocean front route on the way back). Stop along the way whenever you feel your butt needs it & purchase water / drinks at the road side small shops. We needed to fill the tank during this day (we had the same motorcycle from the day before)
Once at the chocolate hills viewpoints, climb up the stairs and enjoy the view, the entrance is PHP 50 per person and there should be a parking fee but the lady collecting didn’t see us. (Yay!) There are around the chocolate hills a lot of activities and you could choose to spend a part of the afternoon riding an ATV or hiking in the hills before continuing onwards. If no activity is planned this will bring you towards 10:30 / 11 am. We chose to drive directly to the resort in Anda to rest the end of the day - and eat a late lunch there. In the covered area next to the parking lot you can purchase local ice-creams, coconut water and other drinks. We took a long break seating there in the shades and filled ourselves to tackle the longest drive to Anda.
The last leg of the journey took us about 1h30 and we did some stops for soft drinks on the way. The road wasn’t a superb one and overall, we just sped up to our destination. There is a conservation fee for tourist while arriving in Anda to pay PHP 10 per pax - it’s a small cabana on the left side, they will stop you.
By 1h30pm we were at our resort, at the terrace of the restaurant ordering lunch. The afternoon was spend sleeping, reading books and enjoying the private beach.
COVER YOURSELF ! The sun is high and hot, and long hours on the motorcycle are merciless. Bring long sleeves, sunglasses and cover yourselves with sunscreen at every stop. Every inch that we didn’t do so was burned by the end of the day.
|Philippines Tarsier Sanctuary||9.690826, 123.952690|
|Chocolate Hills Complex & Parking||9.798974, 124.167322|
DAY 6 & 7: CHILLING IN ANDA
Just rest in Anda, most sights are clearly marked with brown signboards & don’t take more than 5min motorcycle driving. You can just decide what you want to do in the morning, swim in a cave pool at the hottest hours of the day (since most are shaded) or drive along the road and chose a beach to enjoy, all are white sandy beaches with turquoise waters. Expect to pay about PHP 25 per person to access a pool cave - some had a small cabana to change. Very very basic.
Pick half a day to visit Lamanok island, it’s about 20min drive following the coast north. On the right side you will see an empty cabana with some signs saying tours of Lamanok island here... Stop there! It’s the entrance, it’s empty and looks a little un-invinting but you should walk down the stairs and you will end up at the mangrove level down the cliff. From there follow the long beautiful bamboo walkway inside the mangrove that ends in a wooden jetty where the local fishermen have organized a system to carry visitors to Lamanok island. The price is PHP 300 per person. Once on the island, there is a local guide who shows you around and explains the different caves, grottos and superstitions around this place. It doesn’t look like an island because it’s hidden inside the mangrove. It’s a good half day activity, very interesting.
|Stairs to Lamanoc island pier||9.798514, 124.590458|
DAY 8: ANDA TO LOBOC RIVER
It will take about 2hours drive to get to Loboc. Start your journey mid-morning to arrive around lunch time in Loboc. The road along the ocean is very scenic and it’s a beautiful ride.
You can arrange in advance a lunch on a river boat - we didn’t but we saw them cruise on the river. They would be able to inform you of where their departure point is - we saw some departing from Loey.
Check in your accommodation and find yourself a restaurant either in loboc town or in the Loboc river resort (for more western fares). Spend the rest of the afternoon swimming in the river, rent a kayak or a paddle board and fool around.
In the evening, paddleboard & motorboat firefly tour are also possible in Loboc - your accommodation should be able to arrange these activities for you. Expect about PHP 500 per person for such tour.
Our personal experience & opinion: Many comments on the internet rave at Loboc and its untouched river banks. Maybe we were not in the right place - but if you have visited the Kinabatangan river in Borneo, the Tanam Negara in Malaysia or the Temberong national park of Brunei or Khao Sok in Thailand. The Loboc river is not wild at all and will disappoint you. If it’s your first tropical river experience it’s a fairly easy one. We much preferred the mangrove tour from Tagbilaran. Similarly, the firefly colonies of Tagbilaran were healthier and much better than the ones in Loboc.
If we had to re-do it, we would have skipped Loboc and stayed one day more in Anda.
|Loboc village center||9.636607, 124.030712|
DAY 9 BACK TO CEBU
Let’s aim to get the Ferry back to Cebu from Tangbilaran no later than 4pm.
You could squeeze in this morning another swim, a long sleep or any half day activities that you like. It will take no more than 1hour to be back to Tangbilaran. If you wish to take a ferry back around 4pm, check out your accommodation at lunch, have lunch in Loboc and drive slowly back.
It’s barely 30min drive to visit the Baclayon church on the way, and the church is by the road side facing the sea. There is a small museum that was closed when we arrived but if memory serves me right it costs PHP 50 per person to see it. You can still enter the church which is made of ocean rocks and is beautifully decorated.
This won’t take you more than 30min (and even less if you don’t visit the museum).
Drive the last 20min to Tagbilaran city and bring back your motorcycle to your first accommodation. Finally grab a tricycle to the harbor (maximum PHP 50 for 2) and purchase a ticket to the earliest ferry available. You will also have to pay a terminal fee of PHP 20 per person that is not included in your ferry ticket.
Once in Cebu city - make your way to your accommodation for the night, rest - get your grocery shopping / cash management done & don’t forget to pick up your heavy luggage from the concierge.
|Baclayon church||9.622381, 123.911782|
DAY 10: FROM CEBU TO MALAPASCUA ISLAND
This will be a long transport day and the ferry boats in Maya to Malapascua start to dwindle after 3pm. Therefore, it is wise to start the bus journey as early as possible so that you can arrive at mid-day in Malapascua island.
Rise early and take a taxi or grab (it costs us PHP 147 with Grab) to the Northern Bus Terminal - we arrived there at 7h30 am and got a very comfortable yellow Ceres aircon bus at 8am for PHP 230 per person. At the bus station the buses leaves on time and park always at the same lane, the destination is written on the bus. The entire journey takes about 4 hours. The bus stopped once for a quick pee break.
Ceres buses leave you at a new jetty where there is a small aircon waiting room where you can wait that there are enough people to board on of the boat. It quite well organized at this point. The cost per person is PHP 100 per person. It will take about 1 hour to arrive in the island – you can use a porter service for PHP 50. By 2pm we were ordering a late lunch at our dive resort and relaxing.
DAY 11 to 13: DIVING IN MALAPASCUA
What to say… Thresher sharks! Do this (very early dive) as many times as you want – seeing them with their elegant tail swinging is awe inspiring!
Don’t ditch the night dives too, there were among the best I have seen in my life, with loads of rare stuff like the blue ring octopus and all the oddly shaped critters.
DAY 14: THE LONG BUS DAY TO MOLBOAL
Crossing the whole island from the tip to almost the end is not so complex and with the Ceres aircon bus, can be quite a comfortable and cheap ride. Nevertheless, it’s a whole day ordeal.
Starting around 8 am to get to the jetty for the boat at a little before 9 am is a good idea. We arrange a motorcycle to carry us and the luggage there for us for PHP 100 per person. This part is probably the only “relatively” unpleasant moment of our trip. The boatmen on the island are not as well organized as the mainland and therefore will try to make you pay more – it started with us seeing none but another tourist at the pier and the boatman asking for more because we weren’t enough of us ( they leave when at least 12-15 people are gathered). We agreed as in all honestly it looked like it was true. Error! They made us board the boat first, collected the payment (normal price is PHP 100, we agreed to pay PHP 200 per person) then suddenly out of nowhere another boat came and offloaded at least 20 philippinos ! I really didn’t see any of them at all at the pier. Morality – stand your ground and wait. We complained then (heavily and confrontationally) and got PHP 100 back – the remaining PHP 100 was for “luggage”. They also ask the tourist to pay a small boat to bring you to the bigger one, PHP 20 per pax and PHP 20 per bag…
Then it’s the collection of fees and small handovers here and there along this particularly expensive return boat trip. Another PHP 40 for someone to help us out of the boat upon arrival (but let’s face it our luggage were HUGE! with the diving gear and all). The boat doesn’t bring you to the new port, it brings you to an old jetty closer to the village where of course the tricycle and motorcycles wait for you. There was an old rusty (no aircon) bus leaving from there at 11am. We wanted the aircon bus, so we found a motorcycle to bring us to the Ceres bus stop for PHP 20 per person. With our heavy luggage on our lap off we went. The air-con Ceres bus left about 10:30 from the same point as where they dropped us off. Price was the same, PHP 230 per person.
A few hours later, we arrived in Cebu city northern terminal, called up a Grab car just outside the terminal for the South Terminal for PHP 200. Barely 20min later we were looking for our bus to Molboal (PHP 127) and by just following the well-done signage at the station, we hopped in a non-aircon bus that departed almost immediately. How to survive a non-aircon bus? Open the windows, cover your arms to not burn if under the sun and drinks loads of water. After a while you don’t feel the heat (and the sweat) anymore and it’s bearable.
About 3 hours on our journey onwards, it’s about 4pm and we arrived sweaty and smelly to our destination. Haggling with the tricycle was quite fun and for PHP 150, we were driven to Pescadores Hotel.
In the evening, we walked the stretch of Molboal, we were in very low season, the place was quite empty but at high season it must be packed. The facilities suggest as much with loads of restaurants, bars and diving centers. There is but 1 ATM in this part inside the Eden hotel, unfortunately it was out of cash and so were we! We used what we had left to get a motorcycle to drive Alexis to town and back. Not far from the Eden hotel and at the end of the road that goes along the shore, is where there are the seafood cheap barbecue food stalls for some freshly caught fares.
DAY 15: CANYONING
Around Molboal there are plenty of nice falls and rivers to refresh yourself and enjoy even (alone) time there! (at least during low season). The community of canyoning guide is professional and does mind safety first. We did this activity with Planet Action Adventure and did the Tison Falls Canyoning trip. The hike up the mountain to the start of the trail IS challenging if you are not fit (like me) but possible albeit slowly. The trip down rappelling and jumping was fantastic. It costed us PHP 6,000.
DAY 16: MOLBOAL DIVING
Molboal is famous for the huge sardine run that is like, 2 m away from the shore and to snorkel it, you really don’t need any tour. Just get close to savedra diving resort, there is a way in the front shore ther, watch were the Chinese group tours are swimming and aim for the same spots. The sardine run is huge, once you have spotted it you can swim along and find your own spot.
Diving it was impressive – easy and if you go slowly you really feel totally surrounded! Amazing! We also did a night dive along the sardine run wall, and even though it’s so close to the shore, at night we saw colorful Arlequin shrimps as well as loads of decorated crabs and shrimps in the crevasse, it was worth it.
DAY 17: BACK TO CEBU
Our flight was early the next day, so we had to go back to Cebu. But we did it slowly – a long sleep in the morning, a dip in the pool and after lunch. We got a tricycle for PHP 200 to a roadside bus stop where people waited and hopped into the first bus that stopped by a mere 10min later. Late afternoon we arrived at our base hotel in Cebu (the same one every time). We had time to walk around the mall and did some snack/souvenir shopping for our colleagues. We loaded up on those dried super sweet philippino mango! We enjoyed the rooftop pool again and slept early.
DAY 18: ALL GOOD THINGS COME TO AN END
Time to get to the airport and bid Philippines good bye! What an amazing holiday and such exceptional diving. We will be back to explore Palawan next! keep in mind that there was still a departure tax – keep some cash for it or you can also pay it by card.