Island Hopping in the Philippines

We flew into Manila, Philippines on January 8th. Moire arrived very early on the 9th. We booked a very small room for three near the airport. Moire’s flight arrived at about 4 am but she did not make it to the hotel until about 5:30 am. We told her to message us when she arrived but we never received a message. She got someone to call the hotel and they eventually picked her up.

We were not staying in Manilla. We flew on the 9th to Legaspi at 3 pm. It is on the same island as Manila (Luzon) but pretty far away. The flight was about an hour. We were coming this way to try to see whale sharks (in Donsol). There were a few things to see in Legaspi. Firstly, the most prominent thing to see is Mayon Volcano. It is a perfect cone shaped volcano. There are only two perfect cone shaped volcanos in the world, Mayon and Mt. Fuji in Japan.

One day we hired a car and driver to take us to some of the big sights. We went to the Cagsawa Ruins, Lignon Hill, Sumlang Lake and Daraga Church. Actually, we went to Daraga Church twice, once we walked there. We also took a jeepney into town one day and explored the Embarcadero. There was not much too see in town frankly. We struggled a little bit with ordering food because Philippino food is mostly meat and rice. We were not finding many meals with vegetables.

From Legaspi we took a local bus to Donsol (about two hours). It is actually a 15 passenger van that does not leave until all seats are sold. I bought two seats for myself because I was not very comfortable. Tickets were about $2 each. I splurged on the double seat. Then in Donsol, it cost another $3 for a tricycle to our resort.

We stayed at a resort right on the water. It had some damage on the property as a result of the typhoon in December. We came here because you can take a boat out to swim with whale sharks. On the first night, we booked a tour to see fireflies. A tricycle picked us up and drove us about a half hour to the Ogod River. The river is lined with mangroves which are the home to millions of fireflies. The tour is a short boat ride on the river and you stop next to some of the mangrove trees. The fireflies buzz around the trees and you can even catch one or two.

The next morning Nic and I went to get a boat to swim with the whale sharks. Moi stayed behind to enjoy the pool. Unfortunately, nobody had seen any whale sharks in some time. The typhoon had pushed them out further to sea and they had not really returned. There are other places in the Philippines to see them but they feed them and it is a bit of a circus. We were not interested in seeing them this way. Nevertheless, the three hour boat ride was still enjoyable and we did snorkel a little… just no whale sharks.

The next day we returned to Legaspi in the early afternoon. We had gotten to know some of the people at the resort and I organized a private van for about 10 of us. The van picked us up at the resort and dropped us off at different locations in Legaspi. For several of us that was at the airport. We flew from Legaspi to Cebu.

We spent a couple of days seeing the sites in Cebu City. They were getting ready for a big festival called Sinulog. It is a celebration of the Santo Nino and it is always on the 3rd Sunday in January. Cebu is the biggest of all the Sinulog festivals in the Philippines. Some of the sites we saw in Cebu included Fort San Pedro and the Heritage of Cebu Monument. One evening we went to a restaurant to eat lechon which is roasted pork. You order it by the weight but I think we got shafted a little. The meat they had at the next table looked much nicer than ours.

From Cebu we took a ferry to Bohol. In Bohol, we did a tour one day of the island. This included a stop to see the Chocolate Hills, the Man-Made Forest, and a butterfly sanctuary. However, the highlight was seeing tarsiers. They are a small monkey-like animal with huge eyes. They live in the wild but in the wild they are extremely hard to find. We stopped at a sanctuary for them. The other highlight was the lunch on a boat with a river cruise. It was a full buffet which was a better way to try all the different Philippino foods.

We booked a place on the beach in Bohol. It was not a great place but it was a great location. Our room had no hot water and there was no water in the sink. Nevertheless, we suffered through it for three nights. We spent some time hanging out on the beach and some time swimming in the ocean. We found a couple of restaurants close by that were not too bad. Moire and I each got massages that cost about $16 CAD. I could see going back to Bohol but I would want a much better accommodation (sorry Nic).

From Bohol we had to catch a ferry back to Cebu to get to the airport. However, our flight out was on the same day as Sinulog. I booked a car to pick us up at the ferry terminal and take us to the airport. The company told me that they thought we might miss our flight because the roads would be virtually shut down. So, we booked an earlier ferry and arrived in Cebu before the majority of the festivities began. As a result, we arrived very early at the airport.

From Cebu we flew to Puerto Princessa. We were not staying long in PP but the one thing we wanted to do was go to the underground river. It is about 2 hours drive from PP. It was selected as one of the seven new natural wonders of the world. The van picked us up and again we were extremely jammed in. We had requested seats close to the front because both Nic and Moi get motion sick if they sit at the back. There was an Italian man who got very upset with the driver when he and his wife had to share the front seat.

The underground river tour includes a row boat ride into a cave through which a river runs. It is many kilometres long but you get to go into the first couple of kilometres. We also had to choose whether we wanted to go on a river raft ride down a mangrove river or do a zip-line that goes over the ocean and beach. Nic and I chose the zip-line. Moire chose neither and waited on the beach for us. The zip line was pretty cool. However, I got spun around backwards and came in fast to the ending dock. It felt like whiplash a bit.

Nic got video of her ride

After Puerto Princessa, we took a van to El Nido. Our place in El Nido was pretty handy but again quite small. Unfortunately, you cannot swim in the water right in the main El Nido town area. It is a beautiful beach but it has a high coliform count due to the poor sewage systems of many of the homes nearby. In most cases, people sign up to take boat day trips. We booked one called Tour Z which included four stops on the boat, buffet lunch and all you could drink. The guides were really good to Moire. They took her out on a kayak and paddled her around. Nic and I snorkelled where we could and I played volleyball at one stop.

On another day, Nic and I did another tour called Tour C. It was supposed to be the best snorkelling. It was okay but not great. Frankly, the stop locations were so crowded that it was less enjoyable. We had to swim a long way to get into a couple of them and several of us on the boat scraped ourselves on the rocks. There was a long wait to get going which was a bit frustrating. There also wasn’t as much snorkelling as we had hoped. Also, in El Nido, we went to another beach by tricycle. It was quite a nice beach and Nic and Moi went twice.

From El Nido, we took a ferry to Coron. We were having a hard time finding a place for the whole stay in Coron. It was around Chinese New Year so there was not a lot of vacancy. We ended up booking 4 nights at a resort place. It was quite nice with a big pool and spacious room. It was only a few minutes walk to McDonald’s which was good for our ice cream cravings.