This guest post is written by Pierce. Julian met him in Dublin during his postgrad and spent some nights talking about past travel adventures and upcoming plans. After being in Dublin for one year Pierce moved to Brazil for a while and is now living in China, exploring Asia. In this post he shares his impressions of one week backpacking Philippines.
An archipelago of a country consisting of over 7,000 tropical islands in South-East Asia, the Philippines is a must-see destination for any self-respecting backpacker. Flying from Shanghai, I decided to take the advice of many of my Philippino friends and bypass Manilla, electing to fly directly to Puerto Princessa on Palawan Island, which the New York Times’ recently declared as world’s most desirable island to travel to.
(Important note: for those planning trips to a travel destination via Manilla, know that terminals 3 and 4 of the airport are about a 20-minute cab ride away, could be even longer due to the insane traffic the city is known for.)
As the largest city on the Island, Puerto Princessa is the cheapest destination on Palawan to fly into from Manilla. Although it offers some decent restaurants and hotels, there isn’t much to do in the city itself, and the nearest beaches are not impressive; at least judging by Phillipino standards. If you do find yourself there, I’d recommend relaxing at Silica beach which is about a ten-minute tricycle ride from the airport. However, if you find yourself there for a few days, its much wiser to take the day-trips to go island hopping at Honda Bay, about 45 minutes south-east or to check out the world’s largest navigable subterranean river.
World’s largest Subterranean River
While the underground river itself was one of the more unique places I have ever visited, keep in mind that it is part of a guided tour that took up almost the entire day. The actual time spent navigating the cave was about 45 minutes, while the rest of the time was consumed transporting by a van and two boats, and waiting in the lines through the relatively inefficient process. The cave itself is quite spectacular for its wildlife, unique rock formations, and sheer size. Although it is pitch dark, the tour guide has a flashlight exposing the thousands of bats hanging on the weird shaped stalactites that constitute the cave’s interior.
When travelling to Palawan, a backpacker’s ultimate goal is to get to El Nido, a small city in the north of the island. The city itself is a small backpackers’ sanctuary, comprised of dirty narrow streets filled with hostels, bars and restaurants. The area is enclosed by a beach overlooking a vibrant bay littered with endless jagged, mushroom-shaped rock formations on one side, and a 500-meter cliff on the other.
The first thing I would recommend upon your arrival to El Nido is to rent a motorbike. For only 500 Philippino pesos per day (10 US$) you can explore the entire north part of the island. The closest beach is Las Cabanas which is probably the best place in the area to catch the sunset. While the beach has a couple hole-in-wall bars, it is largely undeveloped and a great introduction the area.
Things to do while backpacking Philippines
Snorkeling, island-hopping, kayaking, hiking, mountain-biking, diving, rock-climbing, and motor biking are all available options at El Nido.
Although the island-hopping is a tour-guided experience it is a must-do. Essentially you join other adventurous backpackers on a boat that tours around the countless islands, caves, enclaves, and other insane natural phenomena in the area. It requires the whole day but provides a delicious Phillipino-style lunch that you enjoy on the boat floating on a beautiful shade of turquoise water in a cove surrounded by volcanic rock formations that are accentuated by other-worldly tropical vegetation.
Kayaking is another great option as there are so many nearby islands, all of which contain uninhabited beaches you can temporarily claim for yourself. Just make sure you bring snorkeling gear as colorful and diverse coral reefs are abundant along the shores.
The next must-see is Nacpan beach. About a 45-minute motorbike ride north of the town-center, much of which is through dirt roads, you will encounter a seven kilometer stretch of an entirely undeveloped white sand beach that meets the sky-blue transparent water you’ve traveled so far to see. I have never been to another place that so perfectly matches my romanticized conceptualization of a remote, tropical beach. We spent the day motor biking through the white sands to all accessible parts of the massive beach, stand-up paddling to nearby islands, climbing to the top of the “mountains” to catch some spectacular views, and relaxing in the shade on hammocks set up by locals for anyone’s enjoyment.
It was so spectacular that we gladly returned the following day, this time stopping off to hike to a waterfall that is roughly at the midway point between the town and beach.
Philippines as a must-stop destination
All that I’ve written so far is focused on just one of the 7,000 islands that make up the Philippines. If I had more time I would have gladly explored the other famous destinations such as Boracay or Cebu but still was more than satisfied with my brief stay on Palawan. Whether is the pristine beaches, abundant wildlife, biodiversity, friendly locals, or extraordinary natural beauty, any true backpacker must pass through the Philippines at some point during their short lives.