25 days in the Philippines
After 10 days in peaceful Raja Ampat, we decided to keep pursuing cool diving spots but this time in a more hectic, and currently controversial country: the Philippines.
El Nido - 5 days
Our first stop was El Nido, where we met up with 3 friends from back home. Famous for its thousands of paradisical islands, this little town is very set up for tourism with plenty of hotels, hostels and western restaurants.
- Go island hopping with a local. Avoid organised tours where the destinations are already decided and the boats are super crowded. By going with a local, you can have your own boat and visit the more remote islands
- Go diving
- Go dancing at the Reggae bar, loud music, cheap cocktails and a lot of young people!
If you’re going to the Philippines, you’ll definitely hear that you have to go to Oslob, in Cebu island, to swim with the whalesharks. However, we were very hesitant in going because of all the criticism about the unnatural handling of the sharks: the only reason why you can find them year round is because the locals feed them to attract tourists. Luckily for us, on one of our dives in El Nido, we had an unexpected, and scary (!!) encounter with a lone whaleshark right above us! Not only was it an incredible sight, it was also a sign for us not to go to Oslob and feed an industry which disrupts the environment.
Coron - 5 days
Our next stop was Coron. We got there by speedboat which we highly advise. The ride is very shaky so we can only imagine how difficult for the stomach the slow boat can be.
Also famous for the island hopping, Coron is much less crowded and is home for the Japanese shipwrecks from WWII.
- Climb the 750 steps up Tapias Mount and watch a great sunset over the islands
- Enjoy an oven-made Italian pizza at Altrove if you need a break from rice and seafood
- Take a swim in the hot springs at nightime. This natural pool can reach very high temperatures and can give your body the rest it needs after all the excitment of a “long, hard day”
Shipwreck diving was, by far, the best thing we did in Coron. It was also on of the best dives of our lifes. Unlike the other dives, where we saw hundreds of different fish, in this one we didn’t see many. However, we did get to explore the inside of a boat that has been in the deep ocean for more than half a century, which is a crazy experience! You feel like you’re in a movie or a National Geographic documentary exploring what used to be the kitchen or the bedrooms and imagining the lives of the Japanese soldiers during the war.
The visibility wasn’t great and swimming in dark, tiny holes with torches was scary but it was also the biggest adrenaline rush we ever felt whilst diving.
Malapascua - 3 days
Malapascua is a tiny island on the North of Cebu, with no cars and only sand roads. People usually go there to see the thresher sharks, which have very long tails and are very hard to spot anywhere else. There are very high chances that you will see them here and the fact that the island is super remote and very different from the others make it worth visiting.
- Stay at … or just enjoy a nice vegetarian dinner there - the food is great and there’s a terrace with a nice view for the sunset
- Find a diving center that takes you to Gato Island. Not all of them go but the trip is worth it because of all the sharks you might end up seeing!
One of the dives we did in Gato Island is probably another one that we will never forget. It started like any other dive until we went inside a 30-meter long tunel where the only thing you saw was what you pointed your torch at. Right towards the end of the tunel, by chance, we pointed our lights to two black tip sharks resting just a meter away from us. For those who don’t know, black tips are generally harmless, but they’re also the most deadly sharks in the world. Of course, like most people, we only found this out after the dive.
Bohol - 5 days
If you have time, Bohol is a mandatory stop in the Philippines, especially if you need a break from the beach. Although you will never be able to escape them, here there are a lot more things to do.
- The best thing we did in Bohol was renting a bike for 3 days and exploring all the good spots around the island. It’s nicer than going on organized tours and a lot cheaper. Here’s what we did:
- Tarsier Sanctuary - the tiny primates the size of your hand with huge eyes and heads that twist 360º
- Ziplining in Loboc - they are over 400 meters long and, for those less comfortable with heights, lets just say they are very high up and offer an amazing view from the mountains
- Hanging bridge in Sevilla - although not that impressive, it’s a nice little break from the scooter ride
- Anda Beach - the opposite side from Panglao, known to be the most beautiful and deserted beach of the island
- Chocolate hills - perfect hills in the center of the island, green or brown depending on the season, that no one can explain their formation
- Antequera for the Camugao waterfall - not easy to find, we were lucky to find a local to help us get there
- Maribojoc - night boatride to see the fireflies in the river
You should know that Panglao is a very touristic place and like all of these spots for foreigners, every local will try to sell you things and tours and rides and anything else they can get their hands on. This is not something we are particularly fond of, on the contrary, we usually try to avoid it. However, after months of travelling in Asia and a bit too many fried rices and fried eggs, it was in Panglao that we found a restaurant that blew us away: a french bakery called Gavroche that had the best chocolate rolls we’ve ever had. Homecooked to perfection all we can say is merci!
Apo Island - 3 days
Another island with a great diving reputation, it is also very remote with working electricity only a few hours a day. Unfortunately, when we were there, the weather wasn’t great neither was our health so half of the time was spent sick in bed.
We did manage to discover a bit of the island, which is really tiny.
- Discover the “hidden” beach. You have to pay an hourly fee to stay there but the beach is beautiful and quiet
- The people we met told us the diving was very good to see turtles and for the strong currents
Careful with the boat ride from Malatapay to Apo, it’s quite rough and you will very likely get soaked!
Moalboal - 3 days
On the huge island of Cebu, Moalboal is a small, quiet town a few hours away from Cebu City. We wanted to go there to enjoy the last few peaceful days before the madness of Cebu City and Manila.
- go snorkeling with thousands of sardines. You can also go diving as we did, but because they can be found on the surface, snorkelling is probably more fun!
- Rent a scooter and drive to the Kawasan waterfalls, where you can spend the day canyoning
The best thing about traveling is discovering new cultures and the different traditons of each country. In the Philippines, we discovered that cockfighting is legal and brings all the men together every Sunday to the town’s cockpit arena. We couldn’t help ourselves to go check out one of these famous fights. The arena was filled with hundreds of excited, tipsy men, waving their money and yelling out their bets. The cocks, with little knives attached to their feet, are held in front of each other by their owners, provoking them and getting them ready to fight. Once they’re released, the fight doesn’t last more than a minute and ends when the strongest rooster kills the other.
This is quite grotesque to watch and it would very likely never be allowed back home but at the same time it was interesting to see how this event brings the whole town together every week in a fun and friendly environment.
Manila/Cebu City - 2 days
We stayed one night in each city but there’s not much we can say because we only stayed there as a layover for the following stops. All we can say is that, in both cities, traffic is insane so always count on a lot of time to move anywhere.