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20 days in Philippines: what to do.

Are you planning to visit Philippines but you do not know where exactly to go or what to do?  

I am going to share my trip around this beautiful Asian Country composed of more than 7500 islands. 

Chinatown in Manila
Chinatown in Manila -- PH Beatrice Da Frè


The arcipelago is hot and humid all year round. Generally, the seasons are divided between Dry (December to March) with coolest temperatures and little rain, and Wet (June and September) with unbearable hot and loads of rain. 

However, I visited the country in late May and I encountered just two days of slight rain in Manila, so it really depends about the location and season.


Everyone arriving from a European country, the Americas (but Cuba), Oceania, South East Asia and Southern Africa can travel in Philippines for 30 days without a visa. 

But keep in mind that to leave the country you must pay a travel tax that can go from 400 (residents) to 2700PHP (foreigners). I did not know that, and I spent all the cash I had before reaching the controls. Luckily the person in front of me offered to pay my quote, otherwise I would have lost my flight!


The first thing you want to settle once landed in the Philippines is a fast and reliable phone provider. At the moment, there are two leading operators: Smart and Globe. The debate which one is better is a never ending story. I have been told that Globe has an overall better coverage, especially in Palawan and Boracay, where Smart is weaker. Whereas Smart roaming seems to be more efficient and fast. I decided to go with Globe and I never had any problems. You can browse their website or compare their offers at the airports, right after the controls and luggages collection. I paid 500 PHP (8,3 Euro) for 20 GB, unlimited texts and calls in the country, for 15 days. There are available offer also for 7 and 30 days. 

You must take in consideration that CASH IS KING in Philippines, therefore make sure you have always cash available. Just in few places cards are accepted and mostly in luxury ones.


Personally, as Italian there was not any mandatory vaccines for the country. However I browsed the health situation and decided to take pills for Malaria (it was suggested for the north Luzon mainly).

Generally, Philippines are a safe country to travel. Personally, I travelled with my girlfriend and she felt safe all throughout the trip with the exception of some of Manila’s neighborhoods during night time, the bus station at Quezon city is an example. 

We have been warned by many locals about general scams, but we did not experienced any. 


PLANE: The best and most efficient way of moving around Philippines is by plane. However it is also the most expensive. There are four major companies: Cebu Pacific, Air Asia, Philippines Airlines and Skyjet. I took three flights, all of them with Cebu Pacific since it was the cheapest option for my movements. However, the flights have been delayed by more than one hour each time, and the last one made me miss the connection towards Singapore. During the first 6-hour flight Melbourne-Manila, there has not been any serving of water or hot beverages, and to buy food and drinks was required the cash payment in PHP.

I had a good experience overall with Air Asia but I did not flew with them in Philippines. 

JEEPNEYS: To move inside the cities the fastest and cheapest way is through Jeepneys, a very peculiar and local transport. Jeepneys originate from the US colonial period when, after the devastation of the world war II, all the taxis where mostly destroyed. The need of replacement vehicles led to the use of US military jeeps. 

Nowadays these legendary vehicles follow pre-fixed routes at a fixed price, generally very low. Passengers can jump on and off a Jeepney whenever and wherever they want. 

Jeepney in Banaue
Jeepney in Banaue

TUK-TUK: Another famous transport is the legendary Tuk-Tuk, which is a bit more expensive.

GRAB: If you are a fan of Uber, there is an asian version (which I used also in Thailand) called Grab. It works basically like Uber, you just download the app, register and enter the payment option. Once you need a ride you can call it through the app. Fares are relatively low but it is a way more expensive than Jeepneys. Although more private and relaxed.

BUS: To move inter-city the bus is a cheap and reliable option. However most of the time drivers are reckless. The journey Manila - Sagada has been a nightmare, I truly felt unsafe and worried about my life. 

Did you know? Philippines are generally very lazy in terms of walking, they would rather take a jeepney, tuk-tuk, grab etc... instead of walking 100 meters!


First of all you have to know that Philippines is a really curious example of how different colonialism can impact a nation. In fact, although it is located in South-East-Asia, it has a lot in common with the west side of the world as Spain and USA were their main colonizer and influencers.

Philippines is the second most-populous Asian country with English as an official language. And, together with East Timor, is the only with Catholicism being main religion. 

Moreover, Filipino seems to be more Latino than Asian speaking about emotions and passion about life. Family is strongly important.

Did you know? Divorce in Philippines is prohibited as it is a strongly Catholic country.


Its location might let you think that the food is prevalently Asiatic, although while travelling across this country I had delicious and never-heard-before dishes (for instance Bulalò: a beef shanks and marrow bones soup), I encountered serious problems while asking for vegetarian or, even worse, vegan options. Famous food are also Sisig (minced pork ears and jowl seasoned with calamansi and onions), Pancit Palabok (noodle dish with shrimp sauce, pork and chicharon) Taho (sweet dessert made with silked tofu, tapioca pearls and brown sugar syrup), Torta Talong (smashed eggs with fried eggplant), Banana Ketchup.

Pancit Palabok in Manila
Pancit Palabok in Manila -- PH Beatrice Da Frè

Did you know?

No knives! 

Plus, Filipinos do not like the full set of cutlery… you will initially struggle to eat without knives, but after a while it will make sense. Since steaks are hard to find spoons and forks is the most efficient couple. 

Banana ketchup: worth a try

Among the other peculiar facts mostly derived by colonizers, I must insert the Banana-Ketchup Spaghetti from Jollibee: a very famous local fast food.

However, even though the service and the food try to imitate McDonald’s, it is still quite expensive for an average Filipino family.

Banana Ketchup Spaghetti at Jollibee
Banana Ketchup Spaghetti at Jollibee

For a kid, there is nothing better than a birthday party in this restaurant. This is very rooted and very common tradition and probably that’s why all the Filipino grow up loving this fast food chain.

I end up trying the banana ketchup Spaghetti, I must say they were not as bad as I though, actually I finished the plate. 

And if you were wondering, Banana Ketchup has been created by a Filipino food scientist who wanted to be Philippines more self-sufficient on their food production. She noticed the huge amount of tomatoes being imported for making Ketchup, and created a variant with an ingredient the country was full of: Bananas! So make sure you give it a try! maybe at Jollibee. 


Although 20 days are a wide spread of time for a vacation, for Philippines they are not enough. I tried to condense my itinerary in the most efficient and cheap way. 

Therefore I did not visited famous location such as Boracay, Cebu and Coròn. Anyway I will give you an idea of all the options available.

Philippines 15 days itinerary
Philippines 20 days itinerary


My trip started in Metro Manila, the capital and the biggest city. The political, economical, social and cultural centre of Philippines is also the most polluted and traffic congested. Metro Manila is a collection of many cities, where Manila is one of them.  

Metro Manila district
Metro Manila district

I stayed in the city for two nights at Abraham Hostel. The place was clean, with nice staff and in Makati, therefore close to the city centre. I explored the latter with a guided tour offered by the hostel. Normally I do not like joining guided tours because I want my freedom to do what I feel like and just stroll randomly around the city. 

On the other hand I must admit the tour was remarkable. The guides took me around Manila food markets, churches and places chosen by locals. 

Abraham hostel tours in Manila
Abraham hostel tour in Manila -- PH Beatrice Da frè

Meanwhile they gave me a lot of historical, geographical, cultural and social knowledges. 

The itinerary included:

  • a ferry on Pasig river from Makati to Quiapo market. -A stroll around Chinatown and street food tasting

  • a jeepney ride towards intramuros and a bike ride inside it. 

  • a sky tower view of the city.

I would sincerely not recommend more than 2 nights in Manila. The city is definitely too hot, chaotic and polluted and there is so much more to see. 

TAGAYTAY (2 days)

The third day I took a bus from the South city bus terminal towards Tagaytay, in Cavite. The journey took 3 hours and went very smooth. The ride was 100 PHP (1.60 Euro).

I went to Tagaytay mostly because I have been told that it is the spot loved by filipinos as a gateway from Manila during the weekend. 

The city has a fresher and cleaner air and the view from the city is incredible. Taal volcano emerge in the middle of a lake (called as well Taal) surrounded by a mountain range where the city lays.

Once arrived at the bus stop I started walking towards the hotel I booked the night before: Red Doors Plus The Ridge. the hotel was not a five start one and definitely not the best I have ever stayed in. Anyway, the staff was really gentle (even though there was not a kitchen they gave us cutlery and plates for eating there) and the terrace facing the garden is a plus. 

Taal volcano in Taal lake from the boat
Taal volcano in Taal lake from the boat

Things I did in Tagaytay:

  • jumped on a Tuk Tuk and went down to the lake, hired a boat to sail across it to reach the volcano: I wouldn't recommended, it costed a lot of money and I could not even jump off the boat on the volcano. 

  • People’s Park in the sky: nice spot to get great view of the lake. the place is reachable by car but you must walks 10 minutes to reach the top of the mountain. Good spot to try the famous Taho dessert.

  • Leslie’s Restaurant: Best restaurant in town. If you want to try a real Filipino cuisine this is your place. Although is expensive (compared to the standard local prices), the portions are extreme and the view pays the price of the meal alone. Make sure you try Bulalò (and ask for the free refill of stock).

SAGADA (4 days)

Once back from Tagaytay, I moved with a bus towards the Mountain Region because I wanted Sagada and Banaue to be part of my itinerary. To reach Sagada from Manila I took a 10-hour-long night bus booked through 12go.Asia.  The journey has been bad but not terrible as the return one. Freezing air conditioning and no room for legs were not as bad alone. During the way back the driver were passing cars with no visibility at all while speeding at more than 90 km/h. The bus was filled with more passengers than the maximum, there were people sitting on the aisle.  

Sagada is definitely the best city I have visited in Philippines. Sitting in a sunny valley and surrounded by beautiful mountains it made me almost forgot the odyssey to reach it. 

I stayed there 3 nights and slept at Isabelo’s Inn, the place was really clean, spacious, cheap and central. I highly recommend it.

Since I was leaving at 5 am the following day to reach the oldest tattoo artist in the world, I asked the staff to serve breakfast 2 hours before then scheduled and they were so kind to prepare it for me. 

The same day I went to the information centre to know more about the tours run in the town surroundings. The more appealing ones were: Hanging coffins, Sunrise in Marlboro Hills and Bomod-ok falls. For each destination is mandatory to hire a guide, in order to sustain the local economy. (the cheapest one was around 15 euro). 

On my first day I joined the Hanging Coffins tour. Igorot (Sagada people), have been practicing peculiar burials for more than 1500 years. The belief behind this ritual is that the higher the dead were located, the greater chance of their soul was to reach a higher nature in the afterlife.

The tour takes just 1 hour and there is also the possibility add the visit of a chocolate farm nearby.

Hanging Coffins in Sagada -- PH Beatrice Da Fre

The second day I decided to follow some friends that were going to visit the oldest tattoo artist in the world: Apo Whang-Od. Her village, Buscalan, is located 3-hours drive from Sagada.

I end up being tattood by her for the price of 5 Euro. However, there are no fixed tour and you have to get there by yourself or with a hired van. If you want to know more about this experience take a look at the guide

Apo Whang-Od tattoing
Apo Whang-Od tattoing - PH Beatrice Da frè

The third day I went in the morning to see the sunrise from the Marlboro Hills (the experience was nice, but did not worth the price of the tour: almost 50 Euro). 

In the afternoon I hitchhiked to reach Bomod-ok falls and hired a guide (5 Euro) there (the alternative was hiring a van to reach the place and prices were crazy). Bomod-ok falls were really beautiful and the trekking to reach them crossed stunning rice terraces. 

Sagada's rice terraces
Sagada's rice terraces -- PH Beatrice Da Frè
Bomod-Ok falls
Bomod-Ok falls -- PH Beatrice Da Frè

BANAUE (3 days)

The fourth day I hitchhiked from Sagada to Banaue. However, there are jeepneys that connect the two cities or private vans. Banaue is famous for the rice terraces.

I spent 2 nights at Querencia Hotel which was not as good as the one in Sagada but was the cheapest option. I would not recommend it, although the staff was kind and the food good. 

The first day in Banaue I visited through a guided tour its rice terraces and the following one I hitchhiked towards Batad to see the UNESCO awarded terraces. I highly recommended as it was really impressive ad evocative. 

Peasant working on Banaue rice terraces
Peasant working on Banaue rice terraces -- PH Beatrice Da Frè
UNESCO Batad rice terraces
UNESCO Batad rice terraces -- PH Beatrice Da Frè

The journey to come back to Manila with the bus, as previously mentioned, was a nightmare, so I will skip it and hope you will not take the same bus. 

I spent 1 more day in Manila before taking a flight to Puerto Princesa, Palawan. 


I spent the first night in Puerto Princesa at RedDoorz Duke and Duchess Inn which I highly recommend. It was super clean, cheap and had a friendly staff. Since the following day I was heading north they kindly stored my luggage (for free) for the entire length of my stay in Palawan. I took it back the last day before my flight. 

SABANG (3 days)

The following day I hitchhiked towards Sabang (1.5 hours north of Puerto Princesa) where the Subterranean river is located. It is recognized as one of the 7 new wonders of the world. It encompasses probably the most impressive cave system ever discovered. The cave reaches 8.2 km lenght, and presents chambers with a surprising width of 120 meters and height of 60 meters. There national park is accessible only through a guided tour leaving from the port of Sabang every day. It is better to be there at 8 am, when the park opens, in order to get inside before a lot of tourists gathers. The tour cost (boat + entrance) roughly 50 Euro but if you reach the amount of 8 people joining the single boat, the price of the sail is shared (I waited there and asked the tourist if I could have joined their boat). However, there is no need of booking. 

Subterranean river entrance
Subterranean River entrance

I spent in Sabang 2 nights at Cafe Sabang Guest House. The place was rudimental, with the options of shared rooms. With no windows and surrounded by forest, the problem were mosquitoes. Sabang itself worth a visit, the beach is really Maldivian and the forest tropical. There were more tourist attractions as mangrove walks, cable way and forest tour.

Sabang sea
Sabang sea

From Sabang I moved with a hired Van (17 Euro) towards El Nido. The ride was 5 hours long but there were no other options. In El Nido there is an airport but flights were really expensive. 

EL NIDO (5 days)

I planned to spend in El Nido 4 nights at Just Inn. Nice place, really friendly staff and delicious breakfast. 

The first day I just strolled around the city centre and I got informed about the island hopping tours El Nido is famous for. However, a big problem I encountered was that in all the information centre there were no clear instructions about the different tours.

Apparently, I could have chosen among tour A,B,C or D (it is not an example, the tour are really called like that) without knowing what I was booking. After 30 minutes hopping from one information centre to another one, I summed up all the scarse suggestions received to chose tour A, apparently the best option. 

The tours were differentiating each other from the islands they were hopping in. 

I paid 60 Euro for a full-day around El Nido arcipelago. The lunch, included, (chicken, fish and vegetables) was prepared during the sailing by chopping meat and raw vegetables in the same chopping board. As a matter of fact, I got really sick after 3 days (vomiting, diarrhea, temperature, ecc…). I did not connected the sickness to the lunch until after 2 weeks I read an article in where the government of El Nido banned the prepared-on-board lunch during the famous island hopping tours due to gastroenteritis cases reported by tourists. 

The third and fourth day spent in El Nido I rented a scooter from the hotel I was staying in and I travelled the north of the peninsula to unravel the least known beaches. I recommend Lio, Nacpan, Duli and Diapela. 

El Nido's arcipelago
El Nido's arcipelago

Back to Puerto Princesa with a van taken from the El Nido bus station (make sure you be there before 10 am), I slept in the same place as the first night (RedDoorz Duke and Duchess Inn) and collected my luggage. The day after the flight (with Cebu Pacific) to Manila was delayed. As a consequence I lost the following flight towards Singapore. 


Due to my short permanence in the country I just visited the central and the north part. However, I have already planned an itinerary for when I will come back. I am happy to share it with you. The itineray is composed by Coròn Island (reachable from El Nido), Cebu, Bohol, Siargao (planes) and Mayon volcano (reachable from Manila).


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