Philippines – Sun, Sand & Sea!

Philippines is a country in South East Asia which is known for its multitude of islands and beautiful beaches. Because it is geographically a bit far from India, it isn’t very popular with Indian tourists. It mostly attracts tourists from Korea, Japan and even the US. But it is home to some of the best beaches in the world and that, along with a fairly lower cost of living makes it a worthy destination.

It was on our bucket list for some time, but we never expected to knock this off from the list anytime soon, until an unexpected opportunity came up which made it happen for us. We did a 10 day tour of the country in early April 2023 and had a great time.

Here are a few important things to consider before you plan your travel and maybe points around which some decisions have to be made:

Where to go

You fly to the capital city of Manila and then have to take local flights to island destinations of your choice. The popular islands to visit are Palawan, Bohol, Coron & Boracay. Internal flights are usually expensive for the distance they fly and you will not have direct connectivity between these islands most times. Boracay is much more popular (more hippy) and more touristy compared to Palawan. We chose to explore Palawan as we felt it had a good mix of things which interested us. There isn’t much to do in Manila as a tourist except for a ton of Malls for a shopping crazy citizens. So the best thing to do would be to reserve a day or two at max at the end of your trip to shop around Manila before heading back to your home country.

When to Visit

Best time to visit Philippines would be from November to March/April. When we went there in early April, it was already getting a bit hot. It has only 2 types of weather essentially – either it is sunny and hot, or raining cats and dogs. There is no way to avoid the heat, even during the best of the weathers. Bring loads of sun screen lotions with you.


Indians with an active US visa (used or unused) can travel to Philippines without needing additional visa for max of 14 days stay. If you don’t have a US visa, you need to get one from India (single entry – Rs. 4000 /multiple entry – Rs. 8000).


Since we were travelling with a kid, we were searching for self catering stays (with kitchen) and choices weren’t plentiful on the islands. Availability gets better in Manila though. Even the ones available usually don’t come with a lot of reviews on Airbnb and Its better to reserve early for better choices.

Places we stayed in:

Puerto Princesa – Munting Paraiso – It was a good resort with a swimming pool, free unlimited bottled water supply and a fully equipped kitchen(in certain type of rooms). Would definitely recommend this.
El Nido – Hidden of Cailan Inn – We were pleasantly surprised with this BnB. It is modern and clean with a fully equipped kitchen. Though it is a bit far the town centre, they do provide a free tuktuk ride to/from the centre. Highly recommended!
Manila – City Garden Suites – Would not recommend this. The room and the bathroom felt a bit aged and the service was not too great either.

This is the itinerary we followed –

Day 1: Reach Manila by afternoon and connect to a domestic flight to Puerto Princesa. Stay in Puerto Princesa.
Day 2: Explore the city of Puerto Princesa – shopping at Robinson’s, MCA market and Pasalubong centre etc.In the evening, head to the Baywalk for a nice sunset. Stay in Puerto Princesa.
Day 3: Full day tour of the Honda Bay.
Day 4: Transfer to El Nido by mini van. In the evening, head to the Vanilla beach for the best sunset on the island. Stay in El Nido.
Day 5: Full Day island hopping tour. Stay in El Nido.
Day 6: Wander around the El Nido town for some shopping and a relaxed lunch (you can also spend the afternoon getting a massage 🙂 ). In the evening, head to one of the lounge bars along Corong Corong for sunset. Stay in El Nido.
Day 7: Spend the entire day in Nacpan beach. Stay in El Nido.
Day 8: Fly to Manila directly from El Nido (only Air Swift services this sector). In the evening, visit one of the many malls in Manila for some arcade games and dinner. Stay in Manila.
Day 9: Head to Divisoria market in the morning for some bargain shopping. In the evening, head to SM Mall of Asia. Stay in Manila.
Day 10: Fly back home from Manila.

Puerto Princesa

Palawan is one of the biggest islands in Philippines that tourists can explore. Since we flew in from Manila to Puerto Princesa late evening, we basically had 2 full days to spend around Puerto Princesa before heading to El Nido. In an ideal case, you should be spending one of those days exploring the world renowned “Underground river” and other on the Honda Bay tour as day trips from Princesa. Since we were travelling with a small kid, we were worried she might get scared when exploring the underground rivers and the darkness that comes with it, and so, we decided to play it safe and spent the 1st day exploring the city itself. It has a handful of shopping malls like Robinson’s which has a decent number of shops. The beaches around Puerto Princesa themselves are nothing to write home about and best avoided. In the evening, we had a stroll around the harbor, also known as the Baywalk. On the hindsight, Puerto Princesa offered best prices on all of the things that one could shop on the streets of Philippines.

We spent the second full day in Puerto Princesa exploring the Honda Bay and went on a island hopping tour. We booked the excursion on Klook and the tour was well organized with around 12 people on a boat. We explored 3 islands on this itinerary – Starfish Island, Luli Island and Cowrie Island. Cowrie island was by far the best island on this route. On the whole, it was a fairly laid back experience for any island hopping tour and we enjoyed it a lot.

One thing to note about island hopping tours all over Philippines is that you almost always need a good pair of water shoes to protect your feet during snorkeling. Most people come prepared with snorkeling gears, but the necessity of water shoes caught us by surprise and we had to buy them at a higher price there. Its best to get one from home if you can, your regular crocs works just fine as well.

El Nido

After 3 nights in Puerto Princesa, we travelled to El Nido in the north of the island on a shared AC minivan. It’s about 5 hours of journey with a stop in between for food. You could book a private transfer as well but we found the shared transfer to be fairly comfortable and perfectly acceptable. Just be mindful of carrying too many large luggages on the minibus as they charge extra for them. The road to El Nido from Puerto Princessa was fairly smooth, but extremely windy. Make sure to take your motion sickness medicines in advance if you are prone to them.

Our first impression of the El Nido town was that it was much smaller than we thought. There was only 1 big supermarket called “Prince” which was busy most times. Most of the town thrived on tourists who are mostly interested in island hopping tours starting from the town’s pier. We reached El Nido in the afternoon and after a quick nap, visited one of the beaches in town called the Vanilla beach for sunset.

The next day, we spent the whole day one of the Island hopping tours – Tour A. There are mainly 4 tours on offer – A, B, C & D covering different islands and lagoons. You can no longer mix and match islands of your choice to create custom itinerary of your own. You have to pick one from the list, including a couple of preset mix and match options. Tours are also available as private tours, but is quite pricey.

The tour A started with a stop at one of the beaches on the main island itself (not reachable by road) called the “Seven Commandos beach”. It has a fairly small stretch of sand but an awesome one indeed.

We then went to Shimizu Island where we had lunch. Later we proceeded to visit the large lagoon where we rented the kayaks to explore the shallow lagoons. There was a stop in the middle of the sea for snorkeling before heading to our last stop – the “Secret lagoon”.

Overall, we had a blast on this tour, but it consumed the whole day and with the sun beating down menacingly, it was a bit hectic. You can google around for more information on the exact tours on offer. Most people tend to chose 2 of the 4 tours during their stay in El Nido. But we decided to stop at 1 since it would have been too hectic for the kid to be doing back to back island hopping tours.

The next day was planned to be leisurely and so, we started late, and explored the shops in the town in the morning. Unlike in some of the South East Asian countries, bargaining isn’t a thing on the streets of Philippines and so, don’t expect much discounts beyond the customary 10 to 20%. We found the T-shirts we bought from Philippines to be much more comfy and of higher quality compared to their South East Asian peers. You will also find lots of Massage parlors in El Nido offering full body massages for as cheap as 400 Pesos. We did try out one in the afternoon. We went to Corong Corong beach for sunset where we spent the evening in one of the beach side restaurants/cafes enjoying some of the happy hour offers.

The final full day in El Nido we spent visiting the most beautiful and raved beach, the Nacpan beach. We rented couple of sun beds for 400 Pesos for the entire day and lazed around for most part of the day. The beach is very long and beautiful and even with lots of people around, it never felt crowded.

The day we were supposed to fly back to Manila was quite eventful. It was our daughter’s birthday- she was turning 3! Yay! :). We decided to make it special and memorable for her by taking her to one of the beaches near our stay and made her cut the cake there. We then had to hurry back to our B&B, clean up and head to airport to catch the flight to Manila.


On reaching Manila, we took a metered taxi from airport to our hotel in Ermita. The check in process was extremely slow and we had to wait for almost an hour before we could get our room. In the meantime, we ordered lunch through the Grab app and was able to save time and money through it. By 5, we headed out to explore one of the malls nearby – the Robinsons. We took Kaira to a big toy store where she ran merry, running around the store adding everything she liked to the cart and finally sending a hefty bill ourside. They also had a kids gaming area, which had multiple arcade games, rides etc., which was very similar to what you would find in Indian malls. She had a blast playing games there. Finally, we went to dine at an Indian restaurant called Mantra. Even though it was very well rated, for Indian standards, the food quality fell short of our expectation.

On our last full day in Philippines, we went to Divisoria market. Its a street shopping area close to Chinatown which mostly sells fake clothing, footwear and toys from China. We didn’t realize how big the whole thing was until we started walking from one shop to another. Apart from the shops on the streets (multiple streets), they had multiple dedicated malls, each having about 1000 shops (seriously!). We were totally exhausted running around the shops and came back to hotel for Lunch. In the evening, we went to SM Mall of Asia which had more upscale shops and the usual arcade/fun games for kids. There is nothing much noteworthy to do in Manila, except these shopping malls with their arcade games.

Overall, we came back fairly happy with our vacation. It was good mix of laid back and hectic experiences and we came back with a lots of good memories.

On the hindsight, if I were to recommend an itinerary for someone after the trip, I would say –

Day 1 – Reach Puerto Princessa in the morning (if you can). Explore Princessa (Half day). Stay
Day 2 – Honda Bay tour. Stay in Puerto Princessa
Day 3: Underground River tour. Then head directly to El Nido. Stay in El Nido
Day 4: Island hopping tour – A. Stay in El Nido
Day 5: Visit Nucpan beach in the morning. Explore Vanilla beach in the evening. Stay in El Nido
Day 6: Island hopping tour – B. Stay in El Nido
Day 7: Reach Manila in the morning. Explore Divisoria market and One other mall (SM Mall of Asia). Stay in Manila.
Day 8: Fly back
(You could add an extra day in El Nido, visit Coron as a day trip)


Here is a list of things to keep note of –

  1. Credit card acceptance is very limited everywhere, better in Manila in shopping Malls. Bring cash.
  2. Book most of your activities on Klook if you can. That will get you the best price and help you plan the currency you need for the travel before hand
  3. Best way to use credit card is through Grab app in Manila – for taxis, food ordering etc.
  4. Only 1 place in El Nido accepts card – Arts Cafe. Its an interesting place, do visit.
  5. Don’t drink tap water in Philippines. Buy your water from bigger supermarkets if you can, you will get it in sizes of 5 to 7 Ltrs
  6. Cost of basic staples –
    • Water = ~80 Pesos for 6 Ltrs can
    • Milk products are expensive. Milk = ~100 Pesos for 1 Ltr, Curd – You won’t get anywhere, butter = ~200 Pesos
    • Sunflower/Mustard/Vegetable oil – you will not get in most places. You have to settle for one of Palm oil/Coconut/Olive oil for cooking
    • Others – Bread/Egg etc., follow a big city Indian prices
  7. Indian restaurants – Very few in Manila, 1 in El Nido (Ashoka) & None in Puerto Princessa. Don’t plan your travel based on finding one
  8. You will find decent veg options for good on island hopping tours. Expect fruits (Banana, watermelon, Pineapple), boiled veggies, Boiled Rice most times. Sometimes additional item like Veggie noodles.
  9. They don’t give a lot of discount when shopping on streets. Think of around 10-20% most times. Don’t bargain too much.
  10. Travel throughout was fairly child friendly. No mosquitos, lots of shopping malls with arcade games for kids to enjoy in Manila.
  11. Bring a kid sized life jacket if you can from home for island hopping tours. They mostly keep adult sizes on boats.
  12. Bring loads of sun screen lotions, it can get over quickly with the hot weather.
  13. Taxi and bike rentals –
    • Puerto Princessa –
      • Bike rental = 600 Pesos per day
      • Min fare for trikes = 100 Pesos
      • Puerto Princessa to El Nido transfer on shared minibus = 700 Pesos (They charge extra for additional big luggages)
    • El Nido –
      • Bike rental = 500 Pesos per day
      • Airport transfer on tuktuk = 500 Pesos
    • Manila –
      • Airport transfer = 350 to 400 Pesos
      • Metered taxi for local = Basic fare = 50 Pesos, +per km charge = 15 and charges for time extra
      • Interestingly, there a lots of different options for commute in Manila. They have metered taxi, normal tuk tuk, trikes, various versions of tuk tuk, they also have the long Geepneys. Most of them charge similar prices from one place to another. You could try out different things just for experience.
  14. Since it is a Christian majority country, be careful when travelling during Christian holidays as most shops close for whole day (including money changers)

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