With travel becoming more ubiquitous due to the advent of affordable and more regular flights to increasingly exotic and faraway locations, there are plenty of places to choose from for that next long-haul getaway. One country, however, that is still surprisingly undiscovered is the Philippines. It has a strong place in my heart for many personal reasons, and with direct flights now whisking you away from London to Manila in 12 hours or so, it is even easier to explore any of it’s 7,200 islands. This may sound a little daunting, so I’ve put together my ultimate week long guide to exploring two of it’s most famous islands; Boracay and Palawan.
Famous for it’s endless and colourless sands, White Beach is frequently voted as one of the top beaches in the world in various guides. It’s not hard to see why; the sand is actually as white as it is in those glossy travel brochures, lined with palm trees on one side and crystal clear waters on the other. Shallow shores make for an effortless swim, with those seeking adventure finding plenty to do in the deeper seas.
Boracay can easily be conquered in three days, and I highly recommend staying at a hotel off the coastline for a more relaxed experience. Mandala Spa and Resort is a favourite of ours and, although it’s a five-minute walk to the sea, it is the perfect retreat from the increasingly large crowds that seem to occupy White Beach. If you’ve just flown from the UK, day one can be spent within the confines of the spa, eating some healthy freshly-prepared meals in between sampling some of the best treatments you’ll ever have in your life. The Romantic Mandala Spa Journey still ranks up there as the best massage experience I have ever had; once in 2015 and then twice more recently in 2018. Three years apart but that same feeling afterwards.
For the remaining two days, it’s a great idea to split your time between land and sea. The Station 1 and Station 2 sections are heaving, so head south of Station 3 and spend a day in the sun. You can usually grab a lounger under the promise of buying a few drinks, so hit up some of the beachfront bars as early as you can. For lunch, the Treehouse Bar at Station 3 serves up plenty of local delicacies with excellent views out to sea. As the evening draws in, soak up the atmosphere and watch the local kids try and earn a peso or two with some very impressive sand sculpting. Sunsets from the beach are some of the best in the world, and even better with a cocktail in hand (rum punch always being a favourite).
For the third and final day, you can choose from the numerous tours that depart Station 2 almost hourly and sail to the nearby islands. With snorkelling, diving and cliff jumping included in almost all of them, there is plenty to do at sea. They usually depart before 9am and return before 4pm, giving you plenty of time to get back in time for that all important sunset.
Palawan is a huge island and it’s very easy to gravitate towards the northernmost point of El Nido as soon as you arrive on it’s green pastures. While you can grab a cheaper flight to Puerto Princessa in the south, the eight-hour transfer north means it is often better to spend a bit more of your money and a bit less of your time getting from A to B. Air Swift fly from Manila to El Nido Town a few times a day and give you an excellent platform to explore the north. Be warned though; El Nido has become a lot more popular over the past few years.
If you have a few days on the island and don’t mind driving south for a few hours then Tay Tay Bay offers a quieter alternative to the north. Owned by El Nido Resorts, Apulit Island Resort is a great option if you are after still waters with beautiful sunset views. Newly renovated, the Water Cottages sit over rocky shallows inhabited by an array of baby sharks and beautiful reef fish. Inside, the cottages are finished to a very high standard, with your own private balcony offering seclusion by the sea. If you have a couple of days here, you can split your time between a day on the water (snorkelling is included in the price) and a day on the island.
Tay Tay Bay offers some of the best snorkelling and diving in the Philippines; walls of vivid reef life drop down into the ocean as far as the eye can see, and on the surface the water is almost mirrored, reminiscent more of a pond than the ocean. You can easily spend a day just on the water, visit a few of the nearby islands. For day two, there is plenty to do on Apulit itself. The beautiful infinity pool offers a great place to sunbathe, and the beach profits from sunshine for most of the day. Just be sure to dip your toes in the sea and have a little play with the baby reef sharks. They won’t bite, honest.
For your final two days in Palawan (and the Philippines), I would still recommend heading north to El Nido. The area has certainly become more popular, and populated, over the past few years but there are still some magical moments to be found here. Why not try a stay on Miniloc Island Resort; a slightly rustic cousin to Apulit Island. Also owned by El Nido Resorts, it is less than an hour by boat from the airport and is a great base from which to explore the various islands and lagoons in El Nido. The Big and Small Lagoons are certainly worth checking out; if you feel fit enough then it’s definitely worth an early morning kayak there to avoid the inevitable midday crowds.
For your final day in the Philippines, I would recommend jumping on the island hopping tour from Miniloc Island, which departs from the pier just before 9am. Touring Cudugnon Cave, Snake Island and Entalula Beach Club, it is the perfect way to explore El Nido. Lunch at the beach club gives you plenty of time to explore the island, and you can try and spot some of the indigenous birdlife that lives in the towering palm trees. Snake Island is also a wonder in itself; you can walk on water (a shallow sandbar) from the island to mainland Palwan, stopping for a coconut at the bar that seemingly floats in the middle of the sea. Just be sure to get back in time for an evening massage over the water; the perfect way to wind down after a busy week in this beautiful tropical paradise.