No BS Travel Guide to the Philippines

Kayangan Lake Island Hopping in Coron

The Philippines consists of about 7641 islands, give or take the few that are purchased by other countries and individuals every once in a while. It is an amazing country with so much to see, do, and eat. Their specialty though are activities which you can do on, in, and under water. This country is the ultimate water park and there is so much more to do here than the well-known island hopping and overly hyped Kawasan Falls tours. The over saturation of large group tours makes a no BS travel guide to the Philippines essential because the last thing you want to do is get caught up in the overcrowded spots and activities. 

Atwayan Beach Coron Palawan
Taraw peak hike in El Nido
Temple of Leah, Cebu
Simala Shrine, Cebu

When to Travel

Because of the Philippines’s topography, the weather is not consistent across the country. While mainland is driest in December, areas like Moalboal might still be in rainy season and is driest in April. Though New Year’s remains the best time to travel, if you’re heading to a more off beaten path or some of the smaller islands, you should plan your trip around the best time to visit those particular ones.

Plan EVERYTHING well ahead of time because there are many hurdles when it comes to securing the accommodations, transportation and activities you want. Unlike some other East Asian countries, securing tours and booking activities ahead of time is more complicated in the Philippines. You will often have to confirm details directly (through phone or email) with tour and activity providers, as well as pay them directly through Paypal or other means.

Activities, tours, and transportation are constantly changing in the Philippines as they continue to adapt to their growing tourism industry. It’s easier to find out about these changes through the Trip Advisor forums, which tend to be more up to date than general websites and blogs.

Habibi Restaurant and Shisha Cafe in El Nido
White beach, Moalboal
Sunset at Las Cabanas beach

Where to Go

Which island you should go to depends on what kind of activities you want to do. To enjoy your activities, as well as interact with locals, its best to book your tours through local providers. The bright side this is that you can enjoy a much more exclusive, though slightly more expensive, experience. The most popular destinations are known for their island hopping tours, amazing wildlife encounters, and adventure activities. Based on my own research and experience, here is a very brief breakdown of what the most popular destinations have to offer:

Coron –  Cheaper island hopping tours and better marine life in comparison to El Nido. Great for snorkeling and diving. Unique wildlife activities such as the Dugong tour. Decent beaches on the mainland. To learn about my 5 favourite activities in Coron, read this post

El Nido – More expensive island hopping tours. Great bars, beaches, and sunsets.  You can enjoy many adventure activities here like ATVing, hiking, paragliding, wind surfing etc. 

Puerto Princessa – The under water river tour is it’s main draw, but it is known to be extremely crowded.

Cebu – Great food, culture, and architecture in a more city environment. 

Moalboal –  The best location for underwater activities such as snorkeling and diving. It’s also home to some great beaches, and the world famous Kawasan Falls and Sardine Run.

Bohol – This island is for the explorer. It offers unique adventures such as visiting the elusive tarsiers, joining a firefly river cruise, and seeing the unique Chocolate hills. 

Where to Stay

The most important thing to note when deciding where to stay is: stay where you want to play. For my trip, I decided to stay central to where I’d be doing most of my activities, in Coron this was Coron Town, El Nido Town Proper in El Nido, and Moalboal instead of Cebu for the scuba diving and canyoneering tours. The three hours wasted in travelling from Cebu to Moalboal for tours can be three hours used to sleep or explore. If you want to make the most of your time in the Philippines, this is something to keep in mind.

With that in mind, these were the budget hotels I stayed at and absolutely loved:

Haisa Apartments (Coron) – They aren’t kidding with the name. You really do get a whole apartment for a really affordable price. We had what we needed and enjoyed our stay. The staff was also really sweet and the breakfast they cooked for us every morning was so good! It was also walking distance from downtown which was really nice because food, entertainment and the tours were easily accessible.

Inngo Tourist Inn (El Nido) – The best price for the location as far as I was able to find. The staff were friendly and though small, the rooms had everything we needed. It was just a five minute walk from El Nido Town though and nothing beat that. Quick access to bars, food, and massages!

Beyond Island (Moalboal) – Our favorite hotel by far! The room and washroom were spacious and the people who run the place are so lovely! The hotel was close to the beach, near all the dive shops and restaurants, and they had open access to board games at all times. Not to mention, the owner is actually an international chess champion who loves to challenge and defeat his guests. 

Coron Town, Palawan
Fresh juice in El Nido town
Moalboal town, Cebu
Sardine Run scuba dive Moalbal
Mount Typyas Coron Town, Palawan

How to Get Around (between islands)

Be prepared for delays, cancellations, and random service disruptions. This is just the way of life on the islands. Domestic flight providers in the Philippines can really vary in the quality of their customer service and flight experience. Be aware of terms and conditions for flight and ferry providers and search up reviews. I read a lot of things about a particular ferry service between islands and avoided it because they’d scam customers with bogus baggage fees. Flight baggage requirements should be followed and if you think you’ll be over, you should prebook baggage. Otherwise you may be charged per kilo that is over the limit at the airport. This can come out to the same price as the flight and YES they do make you pay these fees.

How to get Around (Within Islands)

Depending on your trip, you can choose between tricycles, vans, hotel provided transportation, and tour provided transportation. The following are your best friends when it comes to travelling within the island of the Philippines:

BF #1 – TA forums are unbeatable when it comes to checking the up-to-date rates for tricycles and vans to and from destinations. 

BF #2 – El Nido Art Boutique!!! For travel to, from, and in El Nido through air, water, or land. They do it all, and if they don’t, they know someone who does.

BF #3 – Local transport providers through Facebook. Just type in location + mode of transport (ex. Coron + private boat tour) and send messages to anyone who fits the parameters. This is the most efficient way to compare local tour rates ahead of time. If you want to read about how I did this to secure the most amazing island hopping tour in Coron, read.

BF #4 – Your accommodations! Hotels either have in-house offers or provide them through other local providers. The best part about this is that they value your business and will try their best to meet your  needs.

Moalboal Town, Cebu
El Nido Town
Atwayan Beach Coron Palawan

Visa Requirements

Those with Western and European passports don’t require a visa for a stay in the Philippines as long as it doesn’t exceed thirty days. The passport also has to have more than 6 months of validity left at the time of entry. Lastly, travelers have to show proof of a return journey to the country of origin or to the next country. To check your eligibility and country requirements, visit


The Philippines was the first country for which I got travel insurance. This was mainly due to their reputation for transportation cancellations and disruptions. The other reason which I got it for, and would recommend it for others, is because of the nature of activities in the Philippines. If your trip consists of island hopping, snorkelling or diving, and interaction with wildlife, insurance is a must. 

Portable Wifi/Data SIM

Globe and Smart are the largest Data SIM providers in the Philippines and there’s really no point in taking a risk with smaller companies. Both companies provide prices which are competitive and reasonable. They also have special deals online and it’s best to screenshot them so that you can ask for exactly what you want, since these may not be offered at the kiosks. You can pick up the SIM easily if you’re landing in major airports like NAIA. The  kiosks are easily accessible from Arrivals and they’re open twenty-four hours a day. 

Now, for the battle of the SIMs? We decided to once again get one of each since we were traveling as a pair. Overall Globe provided better and faster coverage in the major tourist areas but the Smart SIM did sometimes have service when Globe didn’t. These times were rare and far in between so it makes most sense for everyone in your travel group to get the Globe SIM and have one poor soul get the Smart SIM just in case.

Las Cabanas Beach Zipline
Taraw peak hike in El Nido
No BS Travel Guide to the Philippines - A Hassan.- travel guide to the philippines

What to Eat

Food options in the Philippines are abundant but just like in other East Asian countries which have had a tourism boom, many of these places tend to be very touristy. There’s nothing wrong with these since they offer great food at slightly higher prices, but take the time to visit some local joints so that you can try some authentic cuisine at crazy cheap prices. Also, whenever possible on small tours, ask providers if it would be possible to shop at local markets and have them cook for you. Many providers were surprisingly willing to do this. Not only is it a great way to reduce tour costs but the food was amazing every time!  

Habibi Restaurant and Shisha Cafe in El Nido
Mayim Beach Bar in Moalboal Town
The French Coffee Shop in Moalboal town
Island Brasserie Coron
Epic Island Cafe Coron


Travelling in the Philippines felt safe during all parts of my trip. Even during private tours, I often left thousands of dollars’ worth of photography gear on boats when I’d go diving and never had any issues. Though people should always be aware and alert during travel, I think most issues can be avoided through some research. If you choose accommodations and tours with good reviews, the chances of something going wrong lessens. Outside of this, I found locals to be really helpful and friendly during travel and even walking through small towns in the dead of the night was perfectly fine.

Currency Exchange

We found the best exchange rates to be at Manila airport and did all our exchange there in a lump sum. The best exchange provider there, found through online reviews, was BDO.

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