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Posted on 5 Oct 2023 | 2 comments

We hadn’t planned to go to the Philippines, but after spending a few days in Kuala Lumpur and Singapore, it was time to decide on our next destination. Guy and Cheryl were going to be in Manila for a few days and that was a good enough reason to buy a ticket and catch up with them. We still had the same issue of trying to avoid the monsoon and were hoping to get lucky again with the weather.

Jon, Jude, Cheryl and Guy enjoying a quick dip in the hotel pool

Our first few days were mostly lucky (apart from the occasional tropical downpour) and we were tempted to explore a bit more on some of the islands as Manila is ginormous and the traffic issues mean you can’t use it as a base for day trips (they would take too long). We opted for a flight to Puerto Princessa on Palawan, one of the larger islands. Research told us there was an underground river, that the island is a biodiversity hotpot and has stunning beaches and scenery.

We rented a car and zoomed to the location of the underground river. It was stunning, but it was so busy that the whole experience felt like a manmade attraction in a theme park. It took away the shine of the beautiful surroundings. We drove further north to El Nido, recommended by several of our friends for its stunning scenery and amazing beaches. They were right, it was a feast for the eyes. But when we booked a cruise to explore the surrounding islands and beaches we were absolutely horrified. This was even worse than the underground river, and we were in the low season! None of its natural beauty could persuade us to stay any longer and we hightailed it to the middle of the island. Jon had read about Port Barton and as we had a car and nothing booked, we drove over.

the underground river – stunning place with too many people and boats

on tour A from El Nido, again the location is stunning but the sheer number of people and boats doing the same lap is horrifying

Jon and Jude after some snorkeling near Palawan, unfortunately much of the reef around here is dead

Jon and Jude on the boat close to Palawan

this is just a snippet of what the beach looks like when you explore the area around El Nido on a tour, it was even busier than it looks….

when driving in the Philippines lanes can just end, or are added randomly

Bliss. Port Barton was where the natural beauty was not overshadowed by hordes of people. It was relatively quiet (by no means were we the only ones here either!), and we were finally enjoying the Philippines. Our guesthouse was empty apart from us and the caretaker made delicious meals, some of the best we had in the Philippines. We imagined this was how El Nido and other more popular areas must have looked before the tourism industry boomed.

Port Barton, we enjoyed our time here

going for a quick run in Port Barton

Bec made us delicious meals in Port Barton, including homemade fresh lime juice made from the limes in the garden

Jon was very happy to find two useful guide books in Port Barton

Jon ready to go in the sidecar, they are awesome but can be very loud

We relaxed in Port Barton for a week before it was time to do some more exploring. The Philippines consist of 7,641 islands, about 2,000 inhabited, and another 5,000 or so with nobody living on it and with no name, and we had only been to two of them… Time to do another island hop. We went to Bohol, a short flight away and luckily you can fly there direct from Palawan. We rented a scooter and explored the sights. We loved learning about tarsiers at the small sanctuary. We were one of the first to arrive so we were lucky to see one of the tarsiers jump from branch to branch as he was nervous about the wind and was trying to find a good spot to sleep. They are nocturnal so you normally don’t see them moving around as they sleep during the day. They are tiny and look incredibly cute with their huge eyes.

Jude with a view of the chocolate hills on Bohol

a cute tarsier (carlito syrichta), still awake but getting comfortable to sleep the day

We weren’t quite sure what to make of the popularity of the manmade forest…. People risk their lives sitting in the middle of the road to get their Instagram picture, but other (primary, not manmade) forests are ignored and not worthy of a picture? Very confusing and we just didn’t get it.

Jon hanging out at the hanging bridge, another tourist attraction we didn’t really understand….

We island-hopped again, this time by ferry, and found ourselves on Cebu, another island. Here we donned some snorkeling masks to check out the sardines and turtles right off the beach. It was pretty cool to see, but we were happy we went very early in the morning as it very quickly becomes a zoo with guides pulling tourists along on floaties and freediving down to capture the best footage of their cargo.

Jon diving down towards the clouds of sardines on Cebu

Jude did two dives in Cebu and was lucky with her local dive master buddy Amel who turned out to be an excellent spotter. He found several nudibranchs, crabs, turtles, tiny shrimp, a frogfish and even an ornate ghost pipefish. A red one, magnificent. First one ever.

Jude on the way out to the first dive on Cebu

On the way back to the airport on Cebu we decided to create our own little adventure, using only the jeepney to get us, including our luggage, there. A jeepney is the name for the colourful, local buses in the Philippines. They are awesome. We managed to get pretty close, using three different jeepneys with the assistance of very helpful and friendly locals to determine which jeepney we had to take next to get us one step closer to the airport. We loved it, they thought we were mad.

Jon in front of one of the jeepneys we used

Jude inside one of the jeepneys, what you can’t see is our luggage piled in towards the front

The local food we tried was excellent, but in the little tiny places where all the locals go for their lunches and dinners it was hard to get food suitable for a vegetarian (even though Jude eats fish). From the street food bibingka was probably our favourite. Very hot work for the ladies making them with their ovens on wheels, impressive.

buying freshly made bibingka, straight form the oven on wheels, delicious

The Philippines are stunning and well worth a visit, but we wished we had done our homework before going. This is a place where you need to do some digging to find the places not yet overrun by tourists, as even in the low season when we were there it felt crazily busy in a lot of places. But, the people are super friendly, you can find great food here, great scenery and beaches and no doubt some world-class diving as well as bird watching (you probably just need to get out there a bit further away from the tourist trails….).

Jon waiting for his kebabs from the grill, not all mini restaurants had food for Jude

lots and lots of scooters

when it rains in Manila it comes out of the sky in buckets and the drainage can’t cope

on the way to the airport in Manila we nearly didn’t make our flight as the entire tunnel to get to the airport was flooded

Jude feels very tall in the Philippines


  1. Hey luitjes, weer mooie belevenissen en schitterende foto’s!
    Geniet ervan en hou ons op de hoogte van jullie trips hè.
    Groetjes uit Alblasserdam.

    • dankjulliewel 🙂 blijven we doen, geen probleem! dikke knuffel Jx

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