Get ready to be blown away. This is what we tell anyone who is planning a trip to the beautiful and highly underrated Philippines. Pouring over the Lonely Planet and reading every blog possible, the OCD travel planners in us were really not prepared for what was about to hit us. We covered three places – Donsol, Coron in the Palawan and Boracay. From hidden lagoons to pub crawls with strangers, from white pristine beaches to swimming with the whale sharks, this place has something for everyone. Here is a list of our top 10 experiences in the Philippines !
This one tops our list. Hiring our own boat from Coron town in the Palawan, we made our way to the famous Coron Island. In an effort to beat the crowd, we followed our own itinerary and found ourselves alone in this breath taking lagoon. Picture this. Your boat drifts into a beautiful lagoon. Pristine. Quiet. Surrounded by limestone cliffs. Water so clear you can see right through it. The best part ? It doesn’t end here. There is a hole in the cliff!! A hole completely submerged in water during high tide. A hole you can swim through or climb over to get to the other side, where the glorious inner lagoon awaits. Surely this is what time travel would feel like. Rugged limestone cliffs, the most unbelievably clear water and silence that is deafening. It was a day to remember.
Donsol, barely an hour away by flight from Manila, a quiet, sleepy little village, holds an experience of a lifetime within its calm waters. Every year the majestic whale sharks make their way to this coast between December and May to feed, swimming just below the surface, making it one of the most incredible sights ever. We set off early one morning, hoping to be able to swim with at least one of these beauties, and as luck would have it we swam with not one but six of them! The sheer size and grandeur of these gentle giants is enough to leave you awestruck. That feeling of sitting at the edge of a speeding boat flippers dangling in the ocean, ready to jump off when your captain starts shouting ‘go go go’, to end up swimming so close to the whale shark you can almost touch it, is quite the adrenaline rush ! Definitely an experience not be to missed. Put on your snorkelling gear and swim with the whale sharks while in the Philippines.
The ocean is not the only thing calling out to you while in Coron. Head over to Boyet’s Bike Rental, rent a bike from the ever smiling Boyet who greets you with a hand drawn map of the area, and make your way around the island. A terrain like no other we have seen with an almost prehistoric feel to it, you almost expect a dinosaur to peep out at you from the mountains. Ride on concrete, mud and even stone with the wind in your hair and noone in sight. Find hidden waterfalls, pass small towns and even stay overnight at a homestay if you feel adventurous enough.
One of the day trips from Coron is to the islands of Bulog, Banana and Malcapuya. It is almost a 2 hour ride away on a Bangka, a traditional Philippine boat, but the journey itself is absolutely mesmerizing. With soothing music creating quite the mood, each one of us enjoyed this journey in our own way – munching on snacks, sitting at the bow and soaking in the views or capturing everything around us on camera. What greets you at the end of this peaceful journey is a group of islands which you would imagine exist only in a postcard, or photoshop. As the boat drifts closer to these islands, the only question you ask yourself is How? How is this real ? Islands that appear out of nowhere; fine, white powdery sand; gorgeous hues of blues and greens and hammocks to while away the day. It doesn’t get better than this.
Yes. This is exactly what it sounds like. At the port in Coron, before you leave for your daily dose of wonder, your boatman will take you to the local fish and vegetable market. Buy anything your heart desires and your boatman will barbeque it for you. Yes, on your boat. In the middle of the ocean! Do not forget to buy enough seasoning or sauces along with the meat for an incredibly delicious experience of a lifetime.
Imagine a cozy, idyllic resto-bar at the base of a hill, directly overlooking the blue waters of Diniwid Beach. Add some chillstep music in the background, delicious sushi, ice cold mango rum, and you have a wonderful day ahead of you. Carry a book, surf the web on their wifi or jump into the water and swim out to a small raft drifting a little into the ocean. Do not leave before you watch one of the most beautiful sunsets from here. Stay back and watch the vibe change to an upbeat, party atmosphere. If you want a day to relax and unwind, we highly recommend this place.
Boracay, especially after Coron, seems like it contains all the world’s tourists on one beach! It is, however, a beach to fall in love with, despite the crowd. There are very few beaches we have seen which have the energetic nightlife and colourful vibe of White beach while still being absolutely stunning during the day. It instantly reminded us of the vibe at Miami beach. While in Boracay do not miss the Pub Crawl. No. Matter. What. Get ready to meet a whole bunch of strangers, make a lot of friends with people from all over the world, party with the most incredible ‘captains’ at multiple pubs and of course, drink. A lot. I don’t want to explain what we did at the pub crawl. Go experience it. ‘Coz what happens at the pub crawl, stays at the pub crawl !
Probably the most photographed place in Coron, you wonder if Kayangan lake will live up to all the hype. And then it does. We went here first thing in the morning to avoid the big crowds; one of the advantages of hiring your own Bangka. We got to Coron Island, excited to swim in this legendary lake and from the first sight, we were sold! The water here is the clearest we have ever seen, fresh and deep in the most beautiful shades of turquoise and green. Jump in with your flippers and float your way through the lake, soaking in the views of the majestic limestone cliffs towering above you.
Rated as the best place to eat in Donsol, this quaint little restaurant is brought to life by the effervescent Juliette, who opened this restaurant a few years ago after the typhoon destroyed her boats and her means of livelihood. After an amazing day spent snorkelling with the whale sharks and evening spent on a firefly cruise, this meal was like the icing on the cake. The whole premise of the place is simple, wholesome, fresh seafood. Vegetarians beware, there is not much you will get here. The Sashimi was probably the freshest we have ever had, and the pepper prawn, succulent and cooked to perfection. They do a mean pesto pasta as well. Do not miss the Calamansi Tequila and the Mango Daiquiri which were also absolutely fresh and delicious. The energy and enthusiasm of Juliette is really what makes for half the charm of this place. The rest is its fabulous food. A perfect place to unwind and grab an amazing meal at Donsol.
We cannot finish our list of top 10 experiences without talking about the amount we had to travel within Philippines to get from one place to another. And the various modes of transport we used. You name it we have done it. Big planes -Small planes – smaller planes. Bangka-Motor boat-Speed boat. Sholay inspired side car tuk tuk-Mid sized tuk tuk-Large, fancier tuk tuk. Car-Jeep-Van. Cycle-Bike-and foot. To make things stranger all internal flights were via Manila. Every single one of them. The Cinnabon in the departure lounge of Manila airport sure began feeling like home! But in the end, every single minute spent in transit was worth those fabulous destinations. And the memory and experience of all that travel is something we hold onto very fondly!
We had never anticipated what these 12 days would give us. A trip with the most incredible experiences. A trip that would calm us and excite us at the same time. A trip that would make us want to come back. Philippines will truly touch your soul.