A country with more than 7,000 islands might sound a little overwhelming, but don’t worry – if you can spare 2 or 3 weeks, this is a perfect amount of time to explore the gorgeous islands of the Philippines. Even if you can only spare 1 week, this guide will help you decide which island is for you.
From the amazingly kind and friendly people, to the stunning islands and the jungle interiors, the Philippines is one of my favourite countries I have ever been to. It’s safe, fun and beautiful, in fact, the Philippines is complete paradise.
But how do you decide which islands to go to? And how long to spend on each island in the Philippines? How do you get between the islands?
Having been to the Philippines a couple of times now, each time for around 3 weeks, I feel I’m fairly well versed in planning an itinerary in the Philippines.
This post aims to answer all of the above questions as well as give a detailed suggested itinerary for 2 or 2 weeks travelling in the picture-perfect Philippines.
I hope you’ll find it useful in planning your adventures in this amazing country!
When to go to the Philippines?
This is quite an important factor when planning a visit to the Philippines. Different island groups receive quite different weather throughout the year. Overall though, the majority of the country receives its rainy season (and often typhoons too) during the June to November period.
However, I know groups of people who have gone in November and experienced glorious weather the entire time, and others who have survived typhoons in the same set of weeks in different years. January through to April, for the most part, and for the islands I’m including in this suggested itinerary below, is the best time to visit the Philippines.
Which Philippines islands to go to and how long to spend in each?
There are more than 7,000 islands in the Philippines, of which more than 2,000 are uninhabited. Whilst this makes for island paradise, it can be a bit of a logistical nightmare. Fortunately, travel companies in the Philippines are making it easier and easier to island-hop. New flight routes between the islands and charter ferry routes are opening up new locations to visit throughout the Philippines. Previously, visitors used to have to fly to Manila and on to their next destination meaning they’d lose full days to travelling between islands.
I’ve written a full and detailed guide on everything you need to know about travelling in the Philippines here. Read this and you’ll be as prepared as you can be before travelling to this wonderful island country.
A Suggested 3 week Itinerary for the Philippines
It’s most likely this will be where your international flight will land, although it’s worth noting that there are an increasing number of flights starting to land in Cebu now.
Manila is the capital of the Philippines, located on the huge island mass of Luzon. It is the world’s most densely populated city, with more than 70,000 people per sq km. It’s an intense city, and it’s frenetic centre is missed out by many travellers. Most people fly in and out of Manila, but having spent almost a week here, I really think it is worth a visit.
Whilst it lacks the temples and traditions of other South East Asian cities, it is still the beating heart of the Philippines and for this alone, it should be included on any itinerary in the Philippines.
I’ve written a much longer guide to Manila here, but in summary, its must see attractions include the beautiful walled city of Intramuros. Founded by the Spanish in 1571 as the centre of its conquest of the Philippines, Intramuros served as the seat of its government and political power through the Spanish Colonial Period.
Manila Bay is at the heart of the city and one of its greatest natural resources, responsible for a huge amount of its economic power. Here, you will also find vast shopping malls – some of the largest in South East Asia, as well as the Manila marina.
Navigating Manila can be quite tricky as its public transport system, although extensive, is complicated and not geared towards tourists. That being said, car sharing services such as Uber and Grab, are making the city far easier and safer to explore.
However, don’t miss the chance to grab a ride in a typical jeepney, which is a converted World War 2 truck, often painted in bright and garish colours!
Manila is a city that has a lot of hidden gems, and hard to find corners, many of which are best seen from the comfort of an organised tour. Here are some brilliant day tours for Manila:
Manila also makes a fantastic base from which to explore other attractions on the island of Luzon, such as the stunning Taal volcano and the Pagsanjan Falls. It is also the starting point for journeys to North Luzon where you can find the famous Banaue rice terraces.
If you’re interesting in just seeing the main attractions within Manila, I’d recommend staying for two days, perhaps at the start or the end of the trip. If you’d like to do some of the day trips from Manila to nearby attractions, I’d recommend staying in the city for 4 or 5 days.
Where to stay in Manila
Manila has a wealth of comfortable and luxury hotels at very affordable prices, which cater to a large number of business travellers. However, and considering Manila receives far fewer travellers than other islands, it also has some excellent hostels.
I’ve stayed in several different hotels and hostels in Manila, including the epic H2O hotel. Where else can you stay in a hotel as cool as this!
Other options include:
For those on a budget – Z Hostel
For those looking for somewhere comfortable but affordable – Red Planet Manila Bay Hotel
Or for something a little luxurious: Raffles Makati
You can search for other hotels in Manila hotels here
A logical next island to visit would be Boracay. This stunning island paradise has had its fair share of bad press in recent years, but the Philippines’ president Duterte closed the island off for several months in 2018. The main purpose of this was to allow the land to recover from years of poorly managed over-tourism and to work on the islands’ infrastructure. It was met with some criticism but actually I think it was a really wise move for a more sustainable future for the island of Boracay.
In terms of accessibility, it is probably the easiest island to get to from Manila or other islands such as Cebu.
Several airlines serve Boracay, including AirAsia, Cebu Pacific and Philippine Air, all of which offer flights into Caticlan and Kalibo. Caticlan is much closer to the centre of Boracay and is much easier than Kalibo.
Boracay is also known as a kitesurfing mecca. I’ve done a course with a local company and wrote about my experience here. If you’re coming to learn as a beginner, you’ll need at least three days for the course so you might need around 5 days to a week in total in Boracay. Otherwise, I’d suggest at least 4 nights in Boracay to simply soak up the atmosphere, visit the beaches and chill out. I’ve put a detailed guide to Boracay together, which you can read here.
GetYourGuide offers several day trips and excursions around Boracay, which can you check out below. You can also arrange your kiteboarding classes in advance through GetYourGuide.
Where to stay in Boracay
There are a huge number of hotels and guesthouses to stay in in Boracay. From luxury resorts to small treehouse style guesthouses, there’s something for every budget. You can check rates for all of Boracay’s accommodation on booking.com.
The main area of White Beach is broken up into Station 1, 2 and 3. Station 2 is the loudest and rowdiest, Station 3 is more family friendly, and Station 1 a bit quieter and more relaxed.
The Shangri-La Boracay Resort and Spa, located a few minutes drive away from White Beach is probably the most well-known luxury hotel in Boracay. Check for rates here.
Boracay is home to plenty of gorgeous boutique hotels, here are some great suggestions:
This huge island is home to much more than the bustling Cebu City. It’s also home to some of Boracay’s most iconic attractions and natural wonders.
The are plenty of flights into Cebu City from Manila, Boracay and a growing number of other destinations within the Philippines. You can even fly into Cebu direct from Singapore and Dubai now too.
One of most popular attractions in Cebu is the Instagram-famous Kawasan Falls, where you can go canyoneering and can easily enjoy a whole day exploring this beautiful waterfalls. You can read my detailed guide here on getting to this part of the island by public transport.
The journey to Kawasan Falls also passes by Oslob, home to a whale shark population and offering the very popular activity of swimming with the whale sharks. It is a personal decision as to whether this is a must-do experience or not, and I’ve put together a detailed post here so you can make up your own mind on this.
1 or 2 nights are generally enough in see the attractions in this part of Cebu Island.
However, other areas to visit on Cebu include the town of Malapascua, where a popular activity is to dive with the resident Thresher sharks. Another excellent place to dive on Cebu is at Moalboal where you can swim amongst the sardines in their incredible formations.
You can also hike to Osmeña Peak and spend time camping amongst the stunning scenery. The summit is at approximately 3280ft, and as the highest point on the island of Cebu, it offers an amazing viewpoint over the entire Vizcaya Islands.
You could easily spend a week or longer exploring Cebu if you hop between all of these places. Even Cebu City is worth a visit for its Chinese-Spanish fusion and excellent street food.
Check out some brilliant day trips around Cebu here:
Beautiful Bohol is so easy to get to from Cebu and therefore makes a straightforward next stop in this suggested itinerary for exploring the Philippines.
You can take a ferry directly from Cebu City to Tagbilaran, which is on the island of Bohol. You can find out more about the ferry services here.
Alternatively, you can travel directly from Oslob, straight to the main beach area of Panglao. You’ll need to ask around a little and it costs a premium, but it’s very much the quickest way between the two.
Bohol has everything on one island. Whilst you can rush around and do almost all of it in one day, it is so much better to explore slowly. In fact, you could easily spend 4 days to a week here. I actually spent 8 days here during my most recent 3 week Philippines trip, and I could have spent longer! I’ve written a guide to all of the top things to do on Bohol island here.
You can arrange tours in advance for your time in Bohol here:
Where to stay on Bohol
Picking one of the beach resorts on the island is a good place to start when deciding where to stay on Bohol.
I loved the amazing Bohol Bee Farm on the Panglao area of the island. You can read all about it here and why I rate it as simply my favourite place in the whole of the Philippines!
Alona Beach is located on the Panglao area of the island. Here you’ll find a huge array of lovely beachside hotels to pick from.
For more affordable hotel options in Panglao:
Palawan and El Nido
Together with Boracay, the stunning island of Palawan is the other most popular place to visit in the Philippines.
Palawan offers unbelievable beaches across the whole island, including in towns such as Port Barton. But it’s El Nido that is Palawan’s real jewel in the crown. The twinkliest blue seas and jagged islands dot the unbelievable Bacuit Bay. one of the most famous spots in the whole country.
Palawan’s main airport to fly into is Puerto Princesa, but more and more flights are going directly to El Nido now on airlines such as Swift Air.
You can also fly into the town of Coron on Busuanga Island and sail to El Nido, which is an amazing way to explore the archipelago. Currently, the main company to do this with is Tao Philippines.
Whilst it is becoming increasingly touristy and built up, El Nido is still really worth a visit for its stunning scenery and for the number of activities you can do. Most of the top things to do in El Nido are based around the water and island hopping is very popular.
This is my essential guide to the area which you might find useful.
Where to stay in El Nido
There’s a huge range of mostly budget accommodation in El Nido. There are definitely less luxury hotels, but that’s sure to change over time.
A real backpackers’ haven, the town of El Nido is still very basic in many ways and its location means improving infrastructure is quite the challenge.
There are however some brilliant hostels to pick from, including:
Three of the very best luxury hotels are all run by the same group, offering idyllic and serene island experiences:
Other islands to consider in a 3 Week Itinerary for the Philippines
Kalanggaman Island – This unbelievably beautiful sandbar in Leyte is becoming a must see attraction in the Philippines.
Siquijor – This mystical island is a little more off the beaten path, but is known for its witchcraft and magic. Many Filipinos are too superstitious to even set foot on the island!
Siargao – This remote island is home to the best surfing in all of the Philippines, together with a chilled island vibe. Some travellers arrive in Siargao and don’t leave for weeks, or even months.
3 Week Itinerary for the Philippines
I hope my Philippines itinerary helps you plan your future trip to this wonderful island nation. If you only have 1 week to spare, I’d recommend picking one place and really enjoying it well. You could easily spend 1 week in Boracay, El Nido or Bohol.
If you have 2 or 3 weeks in the Philippines, I’d add an additional place per week as such. It’s best not to rush around too much and to allow some time for travel connections.
As you might have gathered, I really love the Philippines! The people, the scenery and the atmosphere.
Feel free to drop me a line if you would like any advice or further recommendations!
Last, but not least – here are my top tips for travelling through the Philippines. This is a guide with all of the essential information you could need to safely and successfully explore the Philippines.
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Disclaimer: This visit to the Philippines was entirely paid for by myself and there was no involvement from the tourism board or a hotel. This is an independent guide.