Philippines – An unspoilt Paradise
The Philippines had never been a place I had even thought of visiting, until I saw so many families on Instagram travelling there.I found myself becoming a bit obsessed with finding out more about these beautiful islands. Being from Perth, Bali is our second home but we decided to have a break and try somewhere completely new for our next trip - and we decided the Philippines it was. It's hard to narrow it down to a few islands as there are over 7000 of them, but we chose 3 main places based on reviews from others, aswell as what would suit us best as a family. We flew from Perth to the Philippines return on AirAsia which cost around $4000 AUD for 5 of us (we could have got it cheaper had we have waited for a sale) and we had one night layover in Kuala Lumpur. The flight time was 5 hours to Kuala Lumpur, then around 4 to Cebu. So a tad more travelling than we are used to with Bali, but absolutely worth the extra flight time and money!
For the ferries I recommend OceanJet, they were fantastic and a great price. We used these from Cebu to Bohol, Bohol to Siquijor Island, and we would have used the ferry from Siquijor to Dumagete had their not have been a typhoon looming and cancelled ferries. We also flew Cebu Pacific from Dumagete to Cebu (quick 40min flight) and were really happy with their service and price. You can read a review on Cebu Pacific here from Mumpacktravel.
Here's a run down on each place we visited and our top tips for visiting what my kids call PARADISE !
HEALTH & SAFETY
Travelling with a young family, their health and safety is paramount, and we always make sure we research where we are going extensively. Obviously travelling to third world countries there are certain diseases that are prevalent but with good hygiene and using things like mosquito sprays, you can hopefully keep any of the nasties away. Philippines has cases of Zika and Dengue fever throughout, however the threat of malaria has a very low risk. See the below map for where Malaria is present. None of us became ill at all, my biggest tip for all of Asia is to pick your restaurants carefully, sanitize your hands a million times a day, and only drink bottled water (aswell as when brushing your teeth). We always take probiotics when we travel regardless of where we are going, to keep our stomach as healthy as possible. Our daughter has a serious peanut allergy, and we had a card made up in Filipino and laminated stating her allergy, which can literally be a lifesaver.
There were current warnings for some areas of the Philippines before we left - mainly involving threats of kidnapping tourists. We liased with our hotels beforehand to ensure they had appropriate security measures in place, and we even received letters from the local police department outlining the threats and how they are dealing with it. We felt totally safe in all places we went and never had any issues. The best way to keep up to date with security threats is on Smartraveller , and we use this site religiously when planning our holidays.
For visits less than 30 days there are no visas required - anything longer will require a visa.
Some facts about the Philippines
😎 Philippines is the only country in the world whose flag is hoisted upside down when the country is at war.
😎 The nations name comes from King Phillip II in Spain
😎 The Philippines is the second largest archipelago in the world and is made up of 7,107 islands located in the South China Sea, Philippine Sea, Sulu Sea, Celebes Sea, and the Luzon Strait
😎 The dry, hot season runs from March to May and the wet, typhoon season from June to October. November to February is generally cool with fair weather
😎 Over 80% of Filipinos are Roman Catholics
😎 The Philippines is the worlds largest exporter of coconuts and papaya
We flew from Perth to Cebu with AirAsia, and chose this spot as we wanted to go swimming with the whale sharks. This has always been a HUGE bucketlist for me. What I didn't realise was the whale sharks where a 3 hour drive from Cebu, down in Oslob (actually 3 hours there and 5 hours back due to heavy traffic) but it was worth the long journey.
My first impression of Cebu and Mactcan Island was a little different to what I expected...Being a regular to Bali I think I had pictured something similar, with bars, markets and restaurants lining the beach and resorts dotted around the island. It couldn't have been more the opposite. It was so quiet, and whilst very beautiful, the poverty was a huge smack in the face for me as the streets were lined with tin shack housing. The kerbs however were beautifully decorated all the way from the airport to the hotel with bright colourful patterns which really makes a really nice welcome. Most of the stalls along the roadside were local fruit and vege stands aswell as sare shops (little convenience stalls for the locals).
WHERE WE STAYED
First stop, we stayed at the Plantation Bay Resort & Spa in Mactan Island (around a 40min drive from Cebu City) which was one of the most amazing resorts we have stayed at. I have written a full review on this property you can read here. This hotel has everything from man made salt water lagoons with kayaks and paddle boards, jumping rocks and waterslides, private beach with marine sanctuary and so much more. It is based on a colonial design and surrounded by pools and lagoons. There really was no need to leave the resort besides to go and swim with the whale sharks! Another great property in Mactan recommended by Mumpacktravel is the Shangrila, and you can read her review here.
On the way back we spent three nights at the Crimson Resort & Spa which was a beautiful resort with the friendliest staff we encountered in the Philippines. Unfortunately it rained constantly for the whole 3 days so we really didn't utilize much of the resort pools or beach, and spent most of our time sitting in the kids club with the kids. I would love to go back and review the property properly next time, but from what we experienced it was a beautiful resort with again, a marine sanctuary and lots of fish to feed.
THINGS TO DO IN CEBU
We really only stayed in Cebu so we could swim with the whale sharks, and really didn't leave the hotel otherwise but there are some great museums and basilicas, and of course the famous Kawasan Falls (which we didn't make it to) and island hopping.
Now that we have done everything we wanted to in Cebu we probably wouldn't go back there again but it was a great spot to visit for our first time.
Bohol is situated in the Central Visayas Region in the Philippines and is famously known for the chocolate hills and its amazing coral reefs. We took the ferry from Cebu to Bohol on Oceanjet Ferries which took around 1.5-2hours, and the tickets cost around $55 for us 5 in tourist class.
WHERE WE STAYED
We stayed at the Henann Resort which is a fairly new 5 star resort on Alona Beach. It’s a beautiful big property with plenty of pools, bars and restaurants, and great for kids and families. We stayed in a superior room which had 2 x double beds and did us 5 just fine. It wasn't cheap, around $230 a night but great facilities and being beachfront, a fantastic atmosphere! Food and drinks, especially beer and cocktails were really cheap, and the pool bar has happy hour from 5.30pm until 7pm - BONUS !
Things to do in Bohol
We took a trip in a traditional Banca over to Balicagsan Island which took around 40 minutes from Alona Beach and cost around $50 return for the day. We found a local boat operator on the beach and off we went. Once on the island you pay for activities depending on whether you want to find turtles, or visit fish sanctuaries. We did both which cost around $60 for the guides aswell and we managed to see a few big and small turtles. The sealife here was incredible – so many fish it was like being in an aquarium! Even better when the guides feed them while your snorkelling – we were suddenly surrounded by fish. There was one small restaurant on the island which we didn’t eat at so I can't vouch for the quality but I defnitley recommend visiting this Island ! We got caught in a hail storm on the way back and got absolutely soaked but was still a fantastic day!
There were plenty of other islands to visit and I heard later that Virgin Island is great, but we ran out of time to do anymore day trips.
Chocolate Hills Tour
We organised a day trip through a local family run tour operator who took us on the chocolate hills tour. This included stops at the Butterfly Farm, Mag-Aso Falls, tarsier monkeys, chocolate hills viewing area, hanging bridge, largest python ( I do not recommend this “zoo” which included a beautiful leopard cat in a concrete cage…just awful) and the Loboc River cruise.
The chocolate hills are so worth the drive (around 1 hour 20 mins from Alona Beach) – the photos don’t do it justice. There are around 1700 hills in Bohol and in the summer they turn a chocolate brown hence the name. They were still quite green when we went and just beautiful! For those wanting some adventure you can ride an ATV through the hills or visit the adventure park where you can zipline down the mountain. The zipline was under maintenance when we were there, what a shame as I TOTALLY would have done it (yes being sarcastic). It's quite a trek up to the viewing platform, around 200 steps but definitely worth it !
This was my favourite part of the day – a river cruise on the floating restaurant. It cost around $40 for the 5 of us and included a buffet lunch and drinks. The buffet had seafood, rice, satays, salad and fruit and was delicious! The cruise takes you down the Loboc River, past local kids swinging off ropes into the river and to platforms where local children perform a little song and dance. Loboc is home to the Childrens Choir and the kids performance was just gorgeous. The music they play while cruising is fantastic and adds to the atmposphere. The river has the most striking green water fringed with palm trees, and the banks are dotted with thatched bungalows that house some of the locals. I Highly recommend this tour- all up it took around 1 hour and made for some beautiful family photos.
The Tarsier Monkeys are tiny nocturnal monkeys with big beady eyes, and the ability to turn their heads 180 degrees.They are found in the southeastern part of the archipelago, particularly on the islands of Bohol, Samar, Leyte and Mindanao. You have to remain extremely quiet while wandering through to spot the monkeys – they are known to get stressed with loud noises and will often commit suicide by banging their heads against something. The ones we saw were all tucked under palm leaves sleeping with their eyes open which was a little freaky.
The hanging bridge is a nice little tourist spot consisting of two suspended bridges made from bamboo over the river. You can walk down one bridge and back again and get a lovely typical tourist shot 🙂
Alona Beach stretches 1.5kms on Panglao Island and is a very busy tourist area - It is filled to the brink with backpackers & holidaymakers sunbathing and drinking beers at the local beach bars. The beach here is beautiful, we managed to get some amazing sunrise and sunset photos - especially first thing when the locals start preparing their boats in the sunrise.
The beach has plenty of bars, restaurants (with SHOCKING service I might add) little dive resorts and tour operators. It's fantastic for swimming (although full of sea urchins so wear booties if you plan on wading out) and we spotted plenty of starfish in the shallows. The kids loved wandering up and down collecting shells while we had a drink at happy hour (5.30 - 7 at the pool bar at the Henann Resort, which is situated right on the beach). My only complaint about the beach would be the staff and the service like I mentioned earlier...you literally had to chase someone down to get so much as a beer let alone a meal, and it was always very slow to arrive with very unfriendly staff. Being a frequent Bali traveller where they go out of their way to bring you menus and drinks, I found this really disappointing.
This place is a must visit for anyone in Bohol. A gorgeous little organic restaurant, hotel, bar and snorkelling spot. We had lunch here which was 2 pizzas, chips, and drinks which cost $25AUD! They also bring out a plate of snacks before your meal arrives including mango dips with cassavia chips, and apricot bread complimentary which was amazing. Down the wooden steps it leads to an open deck overlooking the water with cushions and daybeds, and you can jump straight in from here and head off snorkelling. (Again sea urchins so beware...what is it with Philippines and sea urchins?!)
There is also accommodation here which comes in packages of full board meals and tours, and a day spa which looks incredible. The ice cream is to die for and has some very interesting flavours including avocado and salted honey!
Defnitley put this place on your list if your visiting and stay for some lunch and ice cream
Dao, Dauis Panglao Island, Bohol, Philippines
Mag – Aso Falls
Mag -Aso Falls was a beautiful spot and defnitley a place I recommend visiting in Bohol. There is quite a few steep steps down to the waterfall but it is well worth the trek up at the end. The water was a little cool, but the kids had tons of fun jumping off the waterfall! There were also a lot of mozzies and bugs around so take plenty of mosquito spray.
Hinagdanan Cave is a small grotto with stalactites and stalagmites and a beautiful pure lake. The cave was accidentally discovered by a farmer; while clearing his land he found 2 holes and curious, he dropped a stone and heard a splash. He built a ladder “hagdan” and was able to access the cave and find its hidden beauty, thus the origin of the name Hinagdanan. The highlight for the kids was swimming in the lake, where the water was around 25 degrees and had little fish. They both said it was the coolest thing they had ever done!
It's around 100 pesos for adults to swim but free for the kids. The cave has natural light through holes and cracks ( and the guides use these to take some great optical illusion pics!) and is also home to lots of swallows. It's a beautiful spot for a visit and very easy to access, just a few steps down into the cave so suitable for all fitness levels.
Man Made Forest
Stretching up to two kilometers, the dense man made forest is made up of red and white mahogany trees and is located along the border of Loboc and Bilar towns. The Bilar man-made forest, which started in 1947, was part of a bigger reforestation project that was created in response to the alarming deforestation in the Loboc watershed. This was caused by the destructive slash and burn farming system called kaingin, which was done by the locals who sought refuge in the forested area during World War II. It makes for an interesting, yet in some way, chilling drive and some gorgeous photos.
Bohol was one of our favourite places - from the turtles and sealife, to the striking green rivers and amazing beaches - there is SO much to do here and something for everyone. It's defnitley a place we plan on visiting again with the kids !
Siqijour Island is a tiny island off Dumaguete in the Philippines. To some Filipinos, the island is a mysterious island shrouded by witchcraft and healers and some are hesitant in travelling here for that reason. But to most it's a beautiful, safe island with incredible waterfalls, fringed with palm trees and amazing sealife. According to the locals I spoke to, it’s a very friendly and low crime island where everyone knows each other (I even asked how the postman knows where to find them with no letterboxes - his reply was no need as the postman knows everyone on the island). The streets aren’t buzzing with restaurants, shops and cafes – mainly local sare sare stalls (neighbourhood stores), traditional housing and street dogs. We caught the ferry here from Bohol on Oceanjet via dumaguete which took around 3 hours all up.
The island only takes around 3 hrs to drive around and has many beautiful attractions along the way. We did our tour in one day as we wanted to spend most of the time relaxing and snorkelling at the resort, so we chose to visit the Cambughay Falls, Enchanted Balete Tree and fish spa, Salagdoong Beach Resort and the lookout.
WHERE WE STAYED:
We stayed at the beautiful Coco Grove Beach Resort, which to date is still my favourite place in the world. Never have I felt so relaxed and happy at a resort - it really is a hidden paradise. As luck would have it we almost got stranded here (typhoon looming = cancelled ferries) , and had we not had connecting flights to catch I would have been more than happy to stay there, get a job and never come home! I have a full review which you can read here.
THINGS TO DO IN SIQUIJOR
Cambugahay falls was our favourite place on our whole trip in the Philippines – we could have easily spent a whole day here. The falls are owned by the same Australian owners who own Coco Grove Beach Resort – entrance is free and instead you give tips to the local guides who earn their income by assisting tourists up and down the falls, and guiding you on the best and safest places to jump.
There are around 130 cobble stone style steps down to the falls which are quite steep and can be very muddy and slippery – but well worth the attraction at the bottom! My first thought was how beautiful and blue the water was! There are 3 levels of falls with the bottom being the deepest. The kids were quick to strip off and start swinging from the rope swing, and the guides would help them up if they weren't tall enough and give them a push. The water where you land was chest deep on me with soft sand on the bottom, and the water under the waterfall where we all jumped from was about 12 feet deep. Once they got the guts to jump once they wouldn’t stop! The guides would again help them up the waterfall and hold their hands until they jumped as it was so slippery. We had the most fantastic time here and we tipped the guides extra at the end as they were so great with the kids and took a heap of photos for us.
EHCHANTED BALETE TREE
This tree was over 400 years old and is just beautiful . At the bottom is a natural spring with a fish “spa” – the fish love to nibble at your toes and legs! Defnitley worth a visit on your way to the falls.
SALAGDOONG BEACH RESORT
We had high hopes for this place as it is run by the government and looked amazing in the pictures - It is a spot famous for cliff jumping and it's beach. The cliff jumps were around six metres so I didn’t let the kids even attempt this one! There is a waterslide off the cliff into the water but I'm not sure its still operating, or perhaps the water was just too shallow when we were there. The water looked amazing, but according to the locals the coral and marine life is quite damaged so we didn’t snorkel. The hotel pool also had no water and instead had dirty murky water in the bottom.
The food here wasn’t great, we all made the decision to not eat our burgers and find some food elsewhere. There were lots of stray dogs with visible diseases hanging around which was all too much for my daughter so we decided to leave and continue on with the island tour. It's quite a shame as I think this resort would have been something amazing had it been maintained., but I think it's a popular spot for locals now.
We drove up to a lookout which has a beautiful view over the whole island , aswell as onto neighbouring islands. We decided to have lunch here instead which was really yum – Defnitley worth a visit !
We didn’t end up visiting Apo Island as the boats got cancelled due to bad weather , but the island is around one hour on the boat and is famous for turtles and snorkelling.
These were all the places we visited on the Island as we only had 3 full days and we just wanted to relax and spend time at the resort. The island is just beautiful and has a great little friendly feel, we would defnitley come back again (and spend half our time at the Cambughay Falls!)
Palawan is the largest island in the Philippines, and with half being desert still largely undeveloped. We really kicked ourselves that we didn't include Palawan into our itinerary, but not to worry means we have an excuse to go back! We are planning on visiting Coron at the end of the year, although El Nido, whilst a little bit of a pain to get to, also looks incredible. Palawan has recently been named one of the most beautiful islands in the world and its really easy to see why. There are lakes and lagoons with limestone cliffs to explore, waterfalls, island hopping, coral reefs and so much more.
Evie from Mumpacktravel recently visited Coron and has written some reviews you can read here. Twin lagoons and Kayangan Lake are two of the most popular tourist spots, and are breathtakingly beautiful. Speaking to many travellers in the Philippines, nearly every single person said Palawan was hands down the best spot to visit.
Boracay is a small island famous for white sandy beaches and its party atmosphere - which, having 3 young kids, was the reason we decided not to visit. I haven't spoken to many families who have been to Boracay so I can't really vouch for how kid friendly it is, and we are still deciding whether to go at the end of the year on our trip. Boracay is popular for all things water - Stand up paddle boarding, scuba diving, cliff jumping, parasailing, boating to different beaches - and of course the nightlife. Once the sun goes down the island turns into a large beach club with loud music, lights and cocktails.
How to get to Boracay: From Manila, fly to Kalibo or Caticlan. If Kalibo, take a bus or van at the airport to Caticlan Jetty Port and board the ferry to Boracay. If Caticlan, just take a trike to Caticlan jetty port and follow the same steps.
There is so much I could write on, and so many places to visit in the Philippines but these are the main places people tend to visit, especially those with families. I am so glad we made the decision to try somewhere new as this was easily the most amazing holiday we have been on. A combination of adventure, relaxation and cultural experiences, and it was so nice to see the kids getting out in nature and pushing themselves out of their comfort zones.
I can't recommend visiting the Philippines enough - it will be one place that will blow your mind and forever steal a piece of your heart.