Philippines Budget Backpacking Guide

Over 7000 islands make up the beautiful archipelago of the Philippines. As you fly into the Philippines look out the window & take in the natural beauty of this island hopping paradise!

It’s something out of a postcard with perfect blue waters, white sand beaches & coral reefs. The Philippines has something for everyone; with beautiful nature, epic surf spots like Cloud 9, kite boarding, scuba diving & snorkeling. The Filipino landscape is vast with lush jungles, rice terraces, mountains & volcano’s just aching for you to explore.

It’s one of the few places in the world, where you can swim along side the largest species of fish in the world, the Whale Shark! It was without a doubt the pinnacle of our Philippines backpacking honeymoon.

About the Philippines

The Filipino people are just incredible; they’re some of the most warm and welcoming humans in the world. The Philippines differs quite a bit from the other destinations in South East Asia, as they have a big western influence. Most people speak English quite well, which definitely helps circumnavigating the vast array of islands, scattered around this breathtaking archipelago!

It has a unique cultural mix with western & Spanish influence, due to Spain & America’s colonization of the Philippines. The local language Tagalog, has many words very similar to Spanish. Although you don’t need to learn Tagalog, it’s defiantly good to know a few basics, as it helps gain local respect.

The public transport you use when backpacking the Philippines is wicked! The local buses are known as Jeepneys, which are old U.S military jeeps left over from World War 2. They’re pimped out with stickers, bright painted artwork & blare techno music, even at 6 o’clock in the morning.

The tourist crowd in the Philippines isn’t has hectic as nearby hotspots like Bali & Phuket. The Philippines isn’t the cheapest SEA country to backpack around as, there are over 7,000 islands & require a few internal flights. However it’s so worth the extra money & there’s definitely ways to travel the Philippines on a budget! We loved the Philippines so much, that we decided to get married here & begin our endless backpacking honeymoon in pure paradise.

Philippines Visa Information

Majority of nationalities are able to obtain a free 30day visa upon arrival. It’s great if it suits your travel time frame, but we wished that we had longer in the Philippines. We were so busy planning our wedding that we didn’t realize that you needed an external flight or proof of leaving the Philippines & never decided exactly where & when we were flying out of. That totally backfired trying to leave Sydney airport. We had 10 minuets to quickly book a flight out of the Philippines & rushed into purchasing the cheapest ticket, which totally screwed up our travel plans.

If you plan to stay longer than a month, definitely look into getting a 59-day tourist visa. You can obtain this by mail from your consulate or directly from the embassy. If you don’t have time to organize this in advance, you can also extend your visa waiver from the immigration office in the Philippines. (http://www.immigration.gov.ph/faqs/extensionofstay) Check out VisaHQ for more specific visa information related to your nationality.

Arriving into the Philippines

It’s utterly breathtaking flying into the Philippines! There’s a bunch of new budget airlines flying international into the Philippines like Cebu Pacific & Air Asia. There’s constantly sales running & enabling you to snag a cheap international flight.

We flew with Cebu Pacific Air, along with majority of our 65 wedding guests, who scored flights from Sydney to Manila for only $150USD! For our internal & departing flight we typically used Skyscanner to find the cheapest deal. However we always book our cheap flight directly from the airline to avoid the Skyscanner booking fee.

If you’re flying into the Phillippines, chances are you’ll arrive in Manila. Even most internal flights stop via Manila, which is probably the worst place in the Philippines. Check out our guide with tips on how to make the most out of your Manila layover!

Where we went Backpacking the Philippines

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Backpacking Manila

The loud, dirty, busy, hustle & bustle of Manila, definitely doesn’t give off the best impression of the Philippines. It’s an eye opener to say the least & it’s kinda sad to see the inequality gap between the poor & rich.

The city is freaking huge & peak hour traffic is bloody crazy, especially from 5pm-10pm. Our friend from Manila had a football game at 12 in the morning, so that all the players don’t have to deal with the hectic traffic.

Makati is by far the best part of Manila, filled with backpacker bars & wicked street food like El Chupacabra’s mexcian taqueria. Z hostel is great to party at & has an awesome rooftop bar with an incredible view of Manila.

It’s definitely a big city & we aren’t really into this kinda thing, so we’d recommend to geting in and out as fast as possible. Unfortunately you can’t avoid Manila, so check out our guide on how not to hate manila!

Backpacking Boracay

We fell in love with Boracay when we first arrived back in 2015. I mean who wouldn’t once seeing the crystal clear, turquoise, white powdered sand beaches? After watching the sunset over White Beach we realized that was it, we’re getting married here!

Getting to Boracay

You will probably be flying into either one of the smallest runways in the world at Caticlan, or Kalibo which is 1.5 hours from Caticlan. At Caticlan pier jump on a small ferry for 200p across to Boracay island!

If you are flying into Caticlan we’d recommend not bothering with transfer from the airport to the ferry. It will cost about 400p each, or you can just walk the kilometer or so in 5-10 minutes to the ferry terminal!

Once on Boracay your best option is to grab a trike that will cost about 100p to get to your accommodation, which is most likely on the famous White Beach! Boracay has become quite commercialized, with lots of fancy resorts for holiday goers making it a bit more pricey, but you can definitely still find cheap backpacker friendly places!

Where to go in Boracay

Station 1 is the high-end area with all the big resorts side by side. Station 2 is the busiest area with bars & happy hour everywhere! If its after 10am I guarantee you will find a bar somewhere with happy hour. If you continue down to station 3, you’ll find some of the cheapest bars on the island like Kurt & Mags who do 45p cocktails & 35p beers.

One place you have to visit for a few drinks over sunset is Spider House Bar! It’s by far the best place on the island to watch the sunset, jump off into the water from the bar, play some pool & enjoy the amazing rum mango shakes! The place is incredible, it’s built into the rocks around the cliff point using bamboo.

Simply, Boracay is that island where you just want to sit back, relax & remember how beautiful this world really is… Sitting on the beach, enjoying a few Red Horse Beers or Caiprinhas with the sand between your toes as you watch the sunset, is one of our favourite travel memories.

What to do in Boracay??

One thing you have to do while you’re on Boracay is visit Ariels Point! It’s a little expensive (2,500p per person) but it’s also all you can drink & eat… And when we say all you can eat and drink, we mean it. There’s a never-ending supply of rum and coke! You get to go cliff jumping, kayaking, paddle boarding and snorkelling all in the one place. The view from the cliff is incredible, the water is crystal clear & you can see ocean for days. This was the highlight of our trip for sure! We went with 20 of our best mates & had a wicked time. A few injuries, a few naked people, but we all managed to make it back alive! One piece of advice, don’t try & dive off the 15m jump, our wedding photographer busted his eardrum 2 days prior to our wedding!

There’s plenty of water actives on Boracay like Jet skiing, paddle boarding, wind surfing, parasailing, fly fishing & banana boat ride. You know the typical touristy things. We did an amazing sunset sail trip down from Station. It was super cheap, like 1,200p for our boat of 10 people. Don’t book through someone on the beach, find the captain of the vessel and organize it yourself otherwise they’ll charge you more for commission. If you’re more into the adventurous side of things, grab a quad bike tour around the island, you will hit some incredible viewpoints overlooking the whole island in cool fashion!

Backpacking Palawan

Known as “the last ecological frontier of the Philippines”, Palawan Island has been named the most beautiful, tropical island in the world numerous times. This is one of those places where photos don’t do it justice!

Palawan is home to UNESCO World Heritage Site & newest “7th Natural Wonder of the World, the Puerto Princesa Underground River. It’s got exotic wildlife above & below the sea, WW2 wrecks waiting to be dived, quaint little fishing villages scattered along the coast, while jungles & mountains rule the central areas! Somehow this tropical paradise is not overrun by tourism and not inundated with backpackers.

How to get to Palawan

We flew out from Caticlan after our wedding in Boracay, via Manila (as pretty much all flights seem to) landing in Puerto Princessa. It’s the capital of Palawan & used as a gateway to explore the beautiful island of Palawan.

Backpacking Puerto Princesa

It is no surprise that the main attraction here is the Puerto Princesa Underground River! We did some extensive online research before arriving in Palawan and were told that you HAD to book at least 3 days in advance to do the Underground River. Well we can tell you now that it’s all bullshit…

Where to go in Puerto Princesa

Don’t go through the online companies, they trick you into thinking that it’s the only option and over charge you. They claim that they have to go to Sabang to get a permit before they can confirm your trip, but in reality they do it when you’re there on the day. Book through your hostel, it’s your easiest and cheapest option. Sheebang Hostel offers the tour including transfers and a buffet lunch for only 1500p opposed to 1950p online

Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park

Make sure you get an early tour, so you’re not waiting around for up to 2 hours. Luckily we only had to wait like 15minutes, however some of our friends weren’t as lucky and waited well over an hour. The boat trip from Sabang to the national park is incredible, the water is crystal clear and you pass many stunning rock formations.

The beach at the national park is amazing and surrounded by limestone-jagged cliffs, try to get a quick snap when you arrive before there’s millions of other tourists there. If you can, get the front seat of the cave tour boat. You have a headset that gives you an auditory explanation throughout the tour, which is super useful and informative.

Access to the river is at the mouth of the cave and is framed by ancient trees growing right to the waters edge. The Underground River travels 8.2km deep underground, through the surrounding mountains that you see on your drive into Sabang. The river opens up into several massive underground cave, with the most intricate limestone stalactites & stalagmites we’ve ever encountered. One large chamber known as the ‘Cathedral’ is over 60m high and has many cool formations inside like the incredible angel formation mounted on the wall.

At 1.5km inside you hit the twilight zone, where there’s tons of bats and other creatures who have never ever been exposed to sunlight. The biodiversity inside the Underground River dates back 1000’s of years & has many species that have evolved over the years. We shone our torch on a crab, which had the thinnest transparent shell, you could literally see the inside of its body. The photo’s don’t do it justice at all, you need to see it in its full natural state to grasp how incredible the Puerto Princesa Underground River truly is! Jenolan Caves in the Blue Mountains back in Australia ain’t got nothing on this!

Puerto Princesa Night Market

If you’re heading anywhere near the public bus terminal and have even half an hour free, then you definitely need to check out the night markets! They have literally anything and everything imaginable from clothes to shoes, fresh seafood and meats, even some delicious street food. We found the meat section pretty overwhelming… but we’ll give the Filipino’s one thing, they’re really economical and don’t waste any part of the animal.

Just the whole vibe of the market was cool, everyone is so intrigued as to why you’re here and is excited when you’re keen to try their street food. Just make sure you know what you’re ordering, there’s a lot of weird meat… After seeing the meat section I was pretty keen to have something vegetarian. It looked like they had some wicked grilled capsicum on the BBQ, so I asked if it was and the lady said yes. Unfortunately I didn’t see her son laughing hysterically behind her and opted to get my delicious roast capsicum. Turns out it wasn’t capsicum… it was in fact pig skin! Anyway if I were you, just stick to the fish balls and fried lumpia’s (spring rolls).

Iwahig Prision & Penal Farm

Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm, is a wicked off the beaten path experience, located about 45 minutes from the city. You can literally go to the prison & chat with the inmates who are in jail.

The trike ride was 800p for a round trip (Try to round up a few more backpackers and split the cost).  Or do as we did and just rent a motor bike to cruise there on your own!

Make sure you’re fully covered up, so no revealing clothing, your legs & shoulders need to be covered. It’s free to get into the Prison, but you should bring along a gift e.g. cigarettes. You might want to pass on cigarettes or gift to the group of dancing inmates upon arrival to share among themselves, instead of the other prisoners. Read more about visiting Iwahig Prison here.

Backpacking Port Barton

If you’re looking to go off the beaten path, Port Barton is the place to go. When we say off the beaten path, it’s literally off an unfinished dirt road that has construction going on still building it. We’re not going to lie, the drive there is kind of scary. The roads/dirt roads are so bumpy, they don’t slow down even around corners and literally go about 80km the whole way.

If you’re scared of heights, make sure you don’t look over the edge of cliffs, especially around the road construction areas. There are no barriers and the cliff drops off to a valley around 30m or more below. Besides the lack of roadside safety, the drive is incredible! It goes through some of the most untouched and underdeveloped parts of Palawan.

We saw people bathing and washing their clothes in the river, farmers riding water buffalo and animals roaming around. Generally they tie up the older animals to a stake in the ground and let their young roam free as they wouldn’t run away from their mother. My favourite part of the drive was seeing 3x Goats who’ve chewed through the rope and were running at full steam down the road, not long after you see about 6 goat kids chasing after their parents. Doon enough you see where they broke through and a very angry owner wondering where their goats went.

About Port Barton

There is a very limited supply of electricity to Port Barton, its prone to black outs and power is usually on from 5pm till about 1am. There is no ATM or bank here, so be sure to get cash out before you arrive. Try not to hurt yourself, as they have no hospital or doctors here either. This really is off the beaten track, so don’t be expecting 5 star resorts. Many hotels have generators; if you’re willing to pay a little bit extra you can have wifi & hot showers all day long.

Port Barton is a little untouched slice of paradise. If you’re looking to relax by the beach and read a book, then you’ve come to the right place (weather permitting). It’s a very simple town, with dirt roads, no trikes or taxis, so to get around you have to walk. The beach here is far nicer than El Nido and usually has blue clear water.

We arrived just after a couple of days of heavy rain, so because the rainwater drains into the ocean it wasn’t the clearest blue. You can do very similar actives to El Nido but for like half the price. Kind of wished we had known that earlier and weren’t strapped for time in Palawan.

Port Barton

Island Hopping is the main attraction here as its only 700p opposed to 1000p and upwards in El Nido. We decided to give it a miss as we did it in El Nido, but friends at the hostel did and raved on about it. The price includes lunch and snorkelling, but be wary of them attempting to make you pay an environmental fee on some of the islands as it’s already included in your ticket.

The other must see attraction is Pamuayan Waterfall. Most people decide to rent a motorbike for the day and check it out (400p). We decided to walk there, the trek starts next to Green View, just follow the signs and its super easy to find. The walk there was amazing, you’re surrounded by nothing but nature, animals and little huts on the side of the road. The walk takes about 1.5hrs, so we decided to pay 100p to get a lift back to town to beat the rain. The waterfall is amazing, especially on a stinking hot day. You can climb up the side of the waterfall and jump off, just be careful because the rocks are super slippery!

How to get to Port Barton

We got here from Puerto Princessa & left via mini van to El Nido, costing us 500p each. If you want to travel by sea, there’s a boat to/from Sabang and also to/from El Nido, it’s heaps quicker than driving but it’s a littler more pricey.

Backpacking El Nido

El Nido is a magnificent, hidden little beach town, surrounded by cliffs and gorges. The sunsets behind the cliffs are incredible, the whole sky lights up pink and it soon fades to darkness. The beach is nice-ish, I mean it has potential if it wasn’t for the million boats docked on the shore preventing you from swimming in most places. Regardless, the view from the beach is incredible, it has a beautiful outlook over the ocean & limestone rocks elevating from the water as well as the many islands in the distance.

About El Nido

Before you head to El Nido remember to visit an ATM. There’s only 1 ATM in town & it runs out of cash on a regular basis, we found out the hard way. We paid in full for our island hopping tour and had just enough money to have breakfast before we set off. As we were about to board the boat, they decided to surprise us with an additional 200p fee each, for the environment permit or something… So we’re sitting on the sand with our tour paid for, no money on us at all, the ATM machine was empty and we somehow had to come up with 400p to pay the environmental permit we had no idea about.

A friend we made at the hostel was able to spot us some cash & save the day. We literally took his last 400p and he was now out of money too. Luckily the ATM got restocked while we were on our island hopping tour and we were able to pay him back on the day. Afterwards we found that you can go to the service station, but they charge a 6% fee on whatever cash you want back.

How to get to El Nido

El Nido is one of the most popular tourist destinations on Palawan, so there’s an abundance of buses and mini vans heading there. If you’re coming from Puerto Princessa like us you can grab a Roro bus for 350p from the bus terminal.

When you arrive in El Nido there’s a bunch of trikes waiting at the Bus Terminal to take you into town for 50p. If you want the cheaper option, walk out of the terminal leading you to the main road and hail a trike for only 15p. Or you can turn right at the main road and walk into town if you’re keen, its free and the walk is only 15min.

What to do in El Nido

Island Hopping

You have to do an Island Hopping tour! They have 4 different tours you can choose from, but A and C are definitely the best as they take you to the most beautiful places. Prices vary depending on the tour… You can get tour A for 1000p or tour C for 1200p. You have to pay a one off environmental fee on top of the cost of the tour, its 200p for the permit and is valid to use unlimited times for 21 days.

We did island hopping tour A and it was freaking amazing! They take you to Secret Lagoon where you have to climb through a tiny whole to get inside and you can only get inside when the tide is low. There are 5 stops in total on your tour & all are absolutely breathtaking. The water is crystal clear and the snorkelling here is incredible. We saw clown fish, lionfish, parrotfish, tons of different tropical fish, starfish and even a turtle! Lunch is included and the crew literally spends all day cooking the fresh seafood, chicken and veggies on the boat over coals as you’re island hopping. By the end of the tour everyone is friends and we were very blessed to meet some awesome people from all over the globe on our tour.

Island Camping

If you want to camp on a secluded island wit no power & an unlimited supply of local rum, then this is for you. The tour includes a little bit of island hopping, dinner and breakfast, plus free soft drink and rum. It’s wicked if you round up a big group of people together and just camp with all your mates on a secluded island. Half the hostel went all together as a big group and all loved it. The price is pretty comparable to Island Hopping, only 1500p per person and it includes food, drinks and your camping gear, plus you save on a night’s accommodation.

Scuba Diving & Snorkeling

We came to El Nido with the intentions of Scuba Diving, but after snorkelling on our Island Hopping tour we felt it wasn’t necessary. We talked to a couple of dive shops and instructors who pretty much said that we’d see the same kind of thing as we did snorkelling. Apparently the water is really shallow around El Nido and it’s surrounding islands, so you can get away with not diving if you’re doing it on the cheap like us. Further North in Coron is the main diving spot for ship wrecks, so if you’re on a budget maybe save diving for there, unfortunately we ran out of time so missed out, but that’s just one of many reasons to get back to the Philippines.

Beaches & Look Outs

There are a few cool lookouts and beaches in the areas surrounding El Nido. You can rent a motorbike for 500p a day and check it out for yourself. Just ask the hostel or other backpackers for the hot spots & be sure to have Maps.Me or Triposo downloaded!

Backpacking Coron

Coron is famous for it’s wreck diving, with 10 somewhat well preserved World War II shipwrecks surrounded by coal reefs. The views from Coron are amazing, however it lacks the beach. You can sit back & relax with a beer overlooking the ocean but can’t go for a dip in the sea.

About Coron

Coron is way more budget friendly, in comparison to El Nido. You can snag a double room for about 400p a night & grab a bite to eat from 60p. Island hopping is nearly half the price in Coron compared to El Nido, with tours starting from 600p.

The coral reefs here are just incredible! Both the snorkelling & diving is absolutely amazing. The karst limestone formations is what makes Coron, Ha Long Bay has nothing this place!

How to get to Coron

To get to Coron from El Nido, take the ferry for 1,300-1,700p. You have the option of a fast ferry (3-4 hrs) or a slow ferry (6 hours). You also have the option to fly either into Manila or Puerto Princesa.

Backpacking Legazpi

Legazpi’s main drive of tourists is typicaly due to the Whale Sharks in Donsol. It’s the closest major city and airport, therefore it has many backpackers passing through…

About Legazpi

When you step foot off the plane in Legazpi, you will be overwhelmed by the incredible presence of Mt Mayon. The active volcano dominating the landscape, with Legazpi situated right at the foothills of this giant 2462m mountain. Mt Mayon is dubbed the world’s most perfect volcano & there is no doubt that it’s one of the most picture perfect volcanos that we’ve ever encountered!

Whilst you’re here in Legazpi you may as well check out the city, its quite cute and quaint once you get away from the main streets. Climbing to the peak of Mt Mayon only possible with a 2 day exspensive expedition with a tour company. We’ve climbed a few volcanos in the past, like Pacaya in Guatemala where we cooked marshmallows at the summit in the fumaroles; and Cerro Negro in Guatemala where we volcano boarded down from the top. We weren’t that infatuated with climbing Mt Mayon, so being graced by its presence was more than enough for us.

What to do in Legazpi

Lingnon Hill & Sumlang Lake

Lingñon Hill is the main viewing point of Mt Mayon and is also home to other tourist attractions like zip-lining, if that’s your thing. We made our way via public transport in one of the famous old school, WW2 Jeepney! You will find yourself in many fascinating conversations with the locals about where your from & what you think of the Philippines. Grab one of these bad boys from the main drag in town that says loop 2 on the side. This should only cost you 10p and drops you pretty much at the top of the hill, its right between the city and the Volcano.

Unfortunately for us, as we attempted to master the art of public transport to get to Lingñon Hill with a couple of other backpackers we had met. The Jeepney driver spoke literally no English at all, but kept nodding his head when we asked if the bus went to Lingñon Hill and he gestured us to get on. After a while all the locals got off the bus and it seemed kind of strange that he wasn’t stopping for anyone else, even when they hailed down the bus.

After going down a really narrow side alley, which the bus barely fit through, we were a little worried about where he was taking us. He drops us off at Sumlang Lake at the foothills of Mt Mayon and tries to charge us 500p-100p each. Thankfully we know the price of public transport and gave him 20p each just for his troubles. Even though he dropped us off at the wrong place & it should have only cost 10p.

Sumlang Lake is another cool spot, but we had no idea it existed! I guess everything happens for a reason, without our little detour we would have never have found this wicked lookout & lake.

Eventually, we did end up making it to Lingñon Hill, though It was a little disappointing because of the zipline and electricity wires obstructing the view. However if you walk a little bit down the path to the clearing you will get a better view. Just make sure that you wake up early, if you want to see it without clouds covering. You have a clear view early in the morning and from about 11 the clouds will start rolling in.

We definitely went off the beaten track getting to Sumlang Lake. It was bloody beautiful there & had an incredible view from the foothills of Mt Mayon. We ate fresh cooked food from locals like Pacit Canton and Torons which are amazing sweet banana spring rolls for only 10p each.

We had to walk for about 10 minutes to reach the main road and it was the best walk ever! Literally every house/hut we walked past everyone waved and said hello, the kids came up and gave us high 5’s and the teenagers playing basketball asked us to join them. Everyone was so infatuated with Dylan not wearing shoes, “Where are your sleepers? Why you not have sleepers on?”. When we got to the main road it was super simple to hail down a Jeepney, this dropped us off at the Cathedral in the city centre for only 10p.

How to get to Legazpi

This was our next desination after Coron flying via Manila to Legazpi! Flights are by far the quickest & easiest option, but there are also buses that go from Manila to Legazpi taking about 8 hours.

Backpacking Donsol

Donsol is famous for their unique Whale Shark encounters!  It’s one of the few places in the world where you can actually swim alongside the Whale Sharks in their natural environment. Whale Sharks flock to Donsol due to the high concentration levels of plankton and krill in the water, making it a feeding ground for these beautiful animals.

About Donsol

Whale Shark season typically starts around November and ends in May. We were lucky enough to see Whale Sharks at the back end of May (May 26th), just before the season ended. It was truly a magical experience, swimming along side the biggest fish in the ocean which can be as large as 18m!

We chose to see Whale Sharks here in Donsol over Cebu, as they’re in the wild and in their natural habitat. According to the Filipino locals, there are 2 Whale Sharks that live around Cebu year round and they don’t migrate as humans feed them. We did our research & read why we shouldn’t swim why not to swim with them in Cebu here.

How to get to Donsol

Once you arrive at Legazpi airport avoid getting stitched up with paying for a private transfer, as it’s over priced and not worth the money. Get a trike to the Bus Terminal and tell the driver that you’re heading to Donsol. The trike shouldn’t cost anymore than 50p. When you arrive at the Bus Terminal you’ll see a big sign saying DONSOL. They leave either every hour or until the van is full. If you are in a hurry and are willing to fork out the extra cash to pay for the spare seats, they’ll leave sooner. Typically they fill up very quickly, especially after a flight lands because pretty much every traveller is heading to Donsol.

They pack the people in the van, but don’t worry because it has air con! The drive to Donsol takes about 2 hours and only costs 75p per person. Once you arrive in Donsol city centre, get another trike to your accommodation. It only costs around 20p per person.

What to do in Donsol

Dive with Whale Sharks

We originally came to Donsol to dive the Manta Bowl, where you can apparently see both Manta Rays & Whale Sharks. When we arrived we got chatting to another group of backpackers who said that they saw 3 Whale Sharks just snorkelling in the bay. Another group of backpackers were looking for some friends to join their boat making it really cheap, so we decided to do that instead.

They always warn you that there is no guarantee that you will encounter Whale Sharks, but this was a risk we were willing to take and it was so worth it! Read our guide on how to swim with Whale Sharks for only $25!

We only encountered one Whale Shark during our expedition, which the captain said was around 8m long and we were in the water swimming beside this beautiful fish 6 different occasions over the 3 hours. During peak season people have free dived with up to 15 different Whale Sharks, but we were happy enough even just seeing one.

We would have done both, but since we’re travelling indefinitely we chose to save a couple of bucks. We’ve already seen string rays anyway, I’ve had one stick their barb into my foot whilst surfing in Nicaragua. Free diving with a whale shark was truly amazing and enough of an experience in itself!

Firefly tour

If you get time, try squeeze in a firefly boat tour. You cruise down the river around dusk to see thousands of fireflies dancing in the sky, while the river will glow from the bioluminescent plankton in the water! The tour takes about 1hr on a boat that can take up to 5 people for 1,250p.

Accommodation in the Philippines

The Philippines has a range of different options for accommodation, from dorms to guesthouses, big luxury hotels & simple homestays. Cheap hostels or guesthouses are the way to go when backpacking the Philippines. You can snag a private double room from $7 or a dorm bed from $5. We found it cheaper to stay at guesthouses & cheap hotels, as hostels are more expensive as a couple once you pay for 2 single beds.

Definitely give CouchSurfing a go when backpacking the Philippines. You’ll save a bunch of money sleeping on someone’s couch or in his or her spare room. The locals you meet generally are more than happy to show you around their neck of the woods & show you some cool underground local spots too! It’s the best way to experience and see the area your in and always a good cultural experience!

AirBnB is a wicked alternative to hostels & generally are just as cheap as hotels. You can find some really cool AirBnB places around the Philippines, especially in the beachy areas. We rented a house on Boracay with our best mates after the wedding & it was insane, 360-degree beach views over looking the whole island, with an infinity pool, kitchen & spa. Try AirBnB & click here to get $35 off your first stay!

Where to stay?

ManilaZ Hostel is one of the only places in Manila with a rooftop bar & DJ pumping till the early hours of the morning. In saying that the rooms are down a few levels so the noise won’t affect your sleep! The view from Z bar is incredible, you can pretty much see all of Manila from up there. People are friendly, the music is good (not Justin Bieber on repeat).

BoracayMad Monkey Hostel is a wicked, fun, resort style hostel, just back from White Beach with its own pool! All of the Mad Monkeys in SEAsia are incredible with great facilities, beds and always the best vibes!

Puerto Princessa – We stayed at the Sheebang Hostel and it was bloody wicked. The staff are friendly and chilled, there’s good music on at the bar and the place is packed with like-minded backpackers. We would recommend to book ahead, we didn’t and had to change rooms a couple of times because they didn’t have the vacancy. The dorms start from 300p.

Port Barton – There are a couple of hotels around the area, but no big, fancy resorts, which is what makes Port Barton. If you’re looking for the backpackers option Port Barton Homestay is awesome and only 350p for a room. It is a family run business and ran by a lovely lady, her kids and grandson.

El Nido – The only place to stay in El Nido is at Bamboo Billabong Hostel. I mean there are a couple other places… but if you want the best stay and best value for money, then this place is for you. Bamboo Billabong is pretty much completely made out of bamboo and ‘billabong’ is Aussie term meaning “where the animals go to drink”. It’s name fits perfectly and is ran by a wicked Aussie bloke from the Gold Coast.

It has an awesome vibe, friendly staff and a good social scene. Rick the owner is a dead set legend, he’s the man when it comes to giving advice or helping organise your travels or tours. We were stoked that they even offered double beds in the dorm, as we’ve been snuggling together in a single dorm bed for quite some time.

Coron – Cool Enough BnB was a wicked spot here on Coron. It’s clean, charming & close by to everything you need. You can book your tours directly from the hostel & they have all the travel info you need.

 

Legazpi – There is pretty much only one place to stay while you’re here and it’s the Mayon Backpackers Hostel. It’s one of the nicest hostels we’ve come across in the Philippines. It’s 250p a night for a fan dorm room or 350p for a dorm with air-conditioning and they also have private rooms available. It’s got a nice rooftop with a perfect view of Mt Mayon, clean kitchen and facilities, friendly and helpful staff, plus the wifi is pretty darn good!

Donsol – We stayed at the Woodland Beach Resort in a dorm room for 500p each. It was a cool authentic Filipino beach hostel/resort, especially for a small little fishing town. It had a really nice pool and outlook of the beach.

Philippines Backpacking Costs

The Philippines isn’t the cheapest destination of South East Asia but it’s still a cheap backpackers destination! Internal flights & ferries are cheap, but they do slowly add up. It’s an unavoidable cost considering you’re travelling around 7000+ islands. Don’t let the price of getting you around deter you from travelling this beautiful archipelago!

Average room cost: $5.00 – $7.00

Average Meal Cost: $1 – $6.00

Long Distance Coach: $3.00 – $10.00

Attractions: Most are free or donation only, unless it’s a tour

Local Beer: $0.50 – $2.00

Philippines Budget Backpacking Trips

The biggest expenses you face when backpacking the Philippines are food, transport & accommodation. The easiest way to travel the Philippines on a budget is to cut costs there!

We follow the Broke Backpackers book How To Travel the World on just $10 a day! It is possible & we’re proof living proof that you don’t need a bunch of money to see the world, you just need to know how!

Accommodation

We save on accommodation while backpacking the Philippines using Couchsurfing. CouchSurfing is an experience like no other, it’s definitely the best way to see & get to know an area, especially a big city! Not only do you get a free place to sleep, but you will most probably make a new friend who’s more than happy to play tour guide & give you a locals insight of the area. You end up experiencing the town like a local, finding the best, cheapest places and foods around!

Another good way to save on accommodation is backpack by with a hammock or a tent! This way you will always have somewhere to sleep along as you can find a beach or a couple trees! We have had some of the most incredible sleeps and experiences camping on beaches in the Philippines…

Save on a night’s accommodation by taking a sleep bus, ferry or train. If you’re travelling a going long distance don’t waste a perfectly good day, when you can sleep while travelling at night. If we have an early morning flight, we often sleep at the airport, saving us money on both accommodation & transport. Most airports are accommodating towards travellers sleeping at the airport especially the 24-hour airports. One time we were even given a stretcher, pillow, blanket & free food from a beautiful air hostess who felt bad for us sleeping at the airport.

Food

When it comes to food & transport, eat & travel like a local! If a little, dingy restaurant looks like it is packed with locals, chances are its got delicious food at a great price! Enjoy the street eats & random places serving food with tiny plastic chairs on the side of road.

Transport

A local bus will cost so much less than a taxi or tuk tuk & will save you so much money backpacking the Philippines. Ask around for local buses when you’re travelling around or between towns, they’re by far the cheapest option.

If you have confidence, give hitchhiking a go. We have some of the best memories from sitting in the back of a Mexican with the stunning Sea of Cortez on one side and vast dessert sprawled with cactus’ on the other! We have even been shown around the town by a friendly local, who picked us up and took us back his place for dinner a free nights sleep!

Best time to Backpack the Philippines

There is never a bad time to be in the Philippines… But there are definitely better times to backpack the Philippines

Dry Season (November – April)- The warmest time of year, expect little to no rain! Comfortable 30degree days with an added couple of degrees out in the sun on the islands! It can get quite hot and humid with temperatures up to about 36 degrees from March to May.

Wet Season (May – October): A few less backpackers will be out and about avoiding the “wet”… But that’s better for you! It’s definitely wetter than dry season but the rains aren’t constant, expect an hour or so of showers most days but when its not raining it’s a lovely, sunny 25ish degrees for the most part.

Typhoon Season (June – August): If possible avoid travelling during this season due to the more constant rains & storms with a possibility of typhoons around… Flights and ferries tend to be delayed or cancelled more frequently too, thanks to the weather!

 

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