Happiness & Travel 🙂
Finally getting around to writing about my Philippines trip four months later! If you don’t want to read all of this – one piece of advice to take – GO TO THE PHILIPPINES.
Lately, it seemed like every secluded beach, blue lagoon, jungle waterfall, and paradise on instagram was coming from the Philippines. Colors so gorgeous they simply could not be real. I had to see this for myself.
I was living in Sydney at the time but moving back to the U.S. in three months when my work contract ended. This was my chance to take a mini vacay and live out my jungle princess dreams in a place that can only be described as never never land. Without much thought, my return flight to Manila was booked on everyone’s favorite budget airline, Air Asia ($400 return – do you blame me?!).
A moment of panic set in after booking as I had not done any research on the Philippines. All I really knew were the sexy insty pics and bits and pieces from the news suggesting the Philippines as a ‘high-risk’ travel destination. It was February at the time and my trip was booked for April, so I had a few months to do my research and that’s what I did. Travel blogs, travel books and the well traveled were all further inspected and interviewed over the next few months.
My trip was booked. I would fly Sydney to Manila to Cebu City on my first day. I would stay the night in Cebu City for a night and head down South to Boljoon bright and early the next morning where I would explore for several days. From there I would head back to Cebu City and fly to El Nido where I would spend the second half of my trip.
Arriving in Manila I was a bit weary as I had not heard the best things, but I wasn’t leaving the airport, so all good. I had the best laugh when I arrived at Manila airport because there was police officer with two ‘drug dogs’. The first dog was a little tiny Chihuahua that looked like he was brought in from a back ally the day before. The second dog was a big chocolate lab that looked to be about 12 years old and was sleeping so peacefully he could have been dead. I did see him move his head and yawn when the officer tried to make him stand, so no worries he wasn’t dead, just lazy 🙂
Okay – so I am going to let the pictures do most of the talking, but here is the day by day, excluding my first day of travel 🙂
My driver, Clint, picked me up from my hostel in Cebu City and would drive me down South to Boljoon and we would stop in Dalaguete to hike Osmeña Peak – the highest point in Cebu. We arrived in Dalaguete and it was raining and cloudy all day so the view from the top was not what it could be, but the villagers I met were wonderful and the pink rainboots made it completely worth it! And Clint was fabulous, my first friend in the Philippines 🙂
DAY 2 – THE BEST DAY OF MY LIFE
Many would say I overbooked on this day, but I didn’t have much time and in the end it was simply the best day of my life – besides the sorest bum anyone has ever had from riding on the back of a motorbike for 10 hours. I booked my day trip through AJ’s Place, which I would definitely recommend! It is a bit pricier than others, but as a solo female traveller I had my own personal tour guide, felt extremely safe and got to do EVERYTHING I wanted to do and more <3
I wasn’t very impressed with the whale shark experience here and I would NOT recommend Oslob for this activity! It was way overcrowded with tourists and even though the whales are free to come and go whenever they want, they won’t leave because they are constantly getting fed. It didn’t really feel like I was seeing whale sharks ‘in the wild’ and something about it just didn’t feel right unfortunately. If you want to do the whale sharks in the Philippines – go to Donsol for a more authentic experience 🙂
Completely covered in fish food, I had a shower at AJ’s place, had some lunch (fed half to the cute beach pups) and then hopped on the back of the motorbike to Tumalog Falls. Wow. Not only was I lucky enough to be the only tourist here, but I had literally stepped into the Lion King Hakuna Matata scene where Simba, Timon and Puma are walking through the jungle across a log through a waterfall. Honestly, did they film here? 😉
SAMBOAN, CEBU – ANGUID FALLS – AKA MAGICAL FAIRY TIKER BELL PETER PAN LAND
Completely in awe from Tumalog Falls, I hopped back on my driver’s motorbike and we headed to the town of Samboan. When we arrived at the small town, there were two tiny baby goats running around and ready to be cuddled. At that point alone I was ready to move in 🙂 I was then given two tour guides that were going to take me through the 10 levels of Anguid Falls. These waterfalls have not be recognized yet as a tourist attraction in the Philippines so the tour guides do not get paid by the government. Make sure you tip your guides – and yes you will need two guides! They will ask you if you want to go all the way up to level 10 – YES DO IT. Level 10 is a natural infinity pool in the middle of the rainforest, simply stunning.
This was the place I had seen on instagram so many times so I was SO excited to go here – although, I wasn’t sure anything could top Anguid Falls. My driver dropped me off by the road at the top of a dirt road. I followed the dirt road back through the greenery and the bluest stream running alongside the path next to me. The further back in the woods I walked, the bluer the water. And then there it was – just like all the pictures I had seen, but bluer, and more tourists unfortunately. I arrived later in the day – I think the key is to arrive early to avoid all picnic goers.
MALABUYOC HOT SPRINGS
The perfect ending to chasing waterfalls all day – al natural hot springs. My camera had finally died at this point so I don’t have any photos, but I must admit just being horizontal in some hot springs and not taking any photos was perfect. The springs are REALLY hot so be careful! I was in shock at how so many locals were sitting comfortably in some of the pools where I could not even manage more than my big toe.
Completely exhausted from chasing waterfalls – today was a chill day one hundred percent dedicated to getting that tropical paradise glow. I stayed at Noordzee Hostel in Boljoon – complete with hammocks, cabanas, a bar and a swimming pool strategically placed right on the beach. The best thing about traveling alone is that you are forced to meet new people, which is exactly what I did on this day. I met some of the coolest chicks from all over the world who were just as keen to drink buckets of beer and soak up the South Cebu sun.
Upon sundown, all that could be heard was the charming voices of locals carrying the tune to Don’t Stop Believing and other overdone karaoke songs. There is a ‘bar’ next door to Noordzee where the locals have a karaoke machine, which is definielty not underappreciated. I put bar in parenthesis because it is actually a little wooden shack where they don’t serve drinks by the glass, but whiskey by the bottle and beer by the jug. The girls and I sang and drank with the locals for a few hours before wandering back next door for a semi-early night.
Travel day! Being a bit more comfortable with my surroundings, I decided to take the local bus back to Cebu City instead of hiring a private driver (so much cheaper!). The bus is quite nice with good air conditioning, but don’t expect to get a row to yourself and try and remember to bring some snacks & water– they only serve pork rinds! For the duration of the 4-hour bus ride I had two different Filipino babies on my lap (they were the cutest ever though!) and their older cousin sleeping on my shoulder.
We finally arrived at the bus station in Cebu City where I shared a cab to McDonalds and then the airport with two Aussie gents I met on the bus. Because I didn’t have the most time in the Philippines, I took Air Swift airline direct to El Nido (opposed to flying to Puerta Princesa which is a 4-6 hours van ride to El Nido). Air Swift is amazing! Cutest little plane and friendliest, most adorable staff.
Arriving in El Nido, it was love at first site! The plane landed on this little dirt landing strip. A hippie van decked out with peace signs & palm trees picked us up and drove us to a tiki hut called El Nido Airport. Local women dressed in beautiful yellow gowns greet you with a Filipino song as you approach the tiki hut and security scanner x-raying your bags is a physical person ha ha! CUTEST AIRPORT EVER!!!
A lovely Dutch girl, Michelle, and I then shared a very questionable trike ride to our hostel – Outpost Beach Hostel. Outpost is owned by several guys from California and I thoroughly enjoyed my stay here. They do a great job of getting everyone to interact. Located at the most prime place to watch a sunset, everyone is given a free shot to toast with every day at sundown.
DAYS 5 & 6
El Nido is know for it’s island tours and this is an absolute must when you visit. There are 4 tours – A,B,C & D – creative, hey? On day 5, I did tour A&B and day 6 C&D which I booked through my hostel. If you have ever been to Phi Phi Islands in Thailand, El Nido island tours are pretty much Maya Bay & Phi Leh Lagoon on steroids, but I’ll let the pictures do the talking! The food on the boat was amazing and super fresh! They caught the fish just a few hours before and handle every part of the meal with so much love <3 <3 <3 Upon telling the cook my nickname ‘babe’ I was even surprised with a custom salad.
I honestly don’t have a favorite island tour – they were all incredibly beautiful and you simply can’t go wrong. Surely you will visit the Big Lagoon, the Small Lagoon and the Secret Beach during your tours. If possible – try andget to all these locations early to beat the crowds for that perfect insty shot. Oh yes, and don’t forget to buy a coconut with rum from the El Nido ‘7-11’. At the Big and Small lagoon there are local vendors who pull up to your boat and will sell you a fresh coconut – spiked with rum if you want 😉
My last day in the Philippines was spent at Nacpan Beach. Some of the guys staying at my hostel were heading there as well so I hopped on the back of a scooter and thoroughly enjoyed the 45 minute ride through the beautiful landscape of the island. We passed through palm tree forests, tiny little villages with tiny little island pups and farmland where ox were hauling goods from one village to another. It was BREATHTAKING.
Nacpan Beach is everything you want in a picture perfect, post card ready wonderland. White sands, crystal clear water, coconuts for sale, fresh seafood and the cutest little local kids taking full advantage of the blissful paradise they get to call home. I spent this beach how one would spend any beach day – sunning, swimming, reading, eating and appreciating every second of beauty my senses were experiencing.
The long journey back to Manila. My flight didn’t leave from Manila until midnight that night so ideally I would have stayed another day in El Nido, but Air Swift has one flight to Manila a day which left quite early. Knowing this, I took the cheaper route and took the 4 hour van ride to Puerta Princesa where I would fly to Manila. Nothing too exciting to share here. The van ride isn’t the most comfortable – packed full, one lane windy road and the driver’s strange taste in music. Of course I met some awesome people riding with, but the trek was nothing much to brag about!
Spending only nine days in the Philippines at first didn’t seem worth it, but it definitely was – granted the flight from Sydney was only 8 hours & $400.00
I am putting the Philippines back on my bucket list because there is so much I didn’t get to see and I HAVE to go back. If you are planning a trip, definitely do your research and make sure you register your travels with your country’s embassy. In the 9 days I was there, I received two emails from the US embassy raising caution & areas to avoid, which did give me some sort of reassurance that I was being looked after.
These are just the highlights from my trip – I know I didn’t go into much about the food, nightlife, budget etc., but if you have any specific questions, just comment below. Happy travels gypsy sisters 🙂