For us backpacker and budget travelers, the Philippines is not the cheapest country in Southeast Asia. Manila is the stepping stone to many travelers of the great adventures waiting ahead in this country. For most tourists it’s a necessary stop on the way. Also, the living costs in the city are higher, and temptations (for spending money that is) are many.
Something we noticed about a lot of tourists we met in the Philippines, is that they almost always said they hated Manila. Sure, it’s a chaotic place, overcrowded, noisy, polluted, ugly some will say, but it can be a lot of fun. The prices of Manila were a major issue for many people too, so we wanted to create a guide for future budget travelers, on how to enjoy this crazy city without spending much money (because you’re most likely to spend some time there anyway).
Manila on a Budget:
Save Money on Accommodation in Manila
Finding a cheap hostel in Manila is not the problem, but finding a decent one to sleep in is going to be difficult, and the same goes for cheap hotels. When we travel it’s safe to say that around 50% of the usual daily budget (exclude special activities: diving, bungee, etc.) goes for accommodation. Well, even if you’re staying in a cheap place, it’s still your home away from home.
In Manila, most have the worst experiences when it comes to budget accommodation. It’s just that the backpacker scene has only recently started to develop in the country. Up until recently it was harder to find decent cheap accommodation and only now that it’s getting better. Check these places out for your nights in the city.
Our Private Room at Tambayan Capsule Hostel, Manila
What else can we say about Tambayan – the Tagalog word for “hanging out”? This is the place we stayed in Manila, and we loved every second of it. Moreover, we had some of the best meals we had in the Philippines. This place is also closer to Intramuros if you plan to spend some time there, and to the mall if you need some break from the heat. Go to our full review for more details about the hostel we fell in love with.
This super modern hostel is among the best you’ll stay in the Philippines. It’s very clean, spacious, comfortable, and most of all FUN! The owners know how to make young people enjoy their stay. Beside of the café that sells great local food, there is the roof deck, where every night there is a party: house, techno, hip hop. Each night is different, but there is always a good crowd.
Z has mixed dorms, female dorms and private rooms. The prices start at 17 USD, and goes up to 52 USD for the private room. This hostel is not the cheapest, but for Manila it’s still cheap. Plus, even the dormitory beds are very big, with lights and electrical outlets. There is a small kitchen, but you probably won’t use it as the area around the hostel is abundant with restaurants and street food.
5660 Don Pedro St. Brgy. Poblacion, Makati City, Philippines 1210
This one is located in Malate, the original backpacker area of Metro Manila. The beds may not be as spacious as the beds in Z Hostel, but this a very cool place none the less with its own pluses. Well if you like pink that is (we loved it, everything is painted pink, the bedsheets are pink, the lights are pink). Pink Manila Hostel is located in a safe residential neighborhood 20 minute walk from both the historical district of Manila (Intramuros) and Green Belt in Makati, a nightlife district with many clubs and bars.
It is very cheap too! Only 9-12 USD and 32 USD for a twin room (bunk beds). For that price you also get a large common area, a rooftop swimming pool, and free breakfast. On top of that, most of the nights there is something going on, like pool parties and movie night. That’s quite a deal for the price, and the pool is a big bonus, as you will find it very relieving on the hot humid evenings of Manila.
2551 Don Pedro St. Cor. Bautista St. Malate, Manila 1004
Try to strike a good deal on a hotel or look for an Airbnb
You can travel on a budget and still care a great deal about you privacy. Also, in some parts of town that are not used to budget travelers it becomes difficult to find a proper place to sleep. All of the cheap hostels you’ll find are going to be of very low level, dirty, boring, etc. In those case you better find a good deal on a hotel in Manila.
Airbnb is also on the rise in Manila, in all parts of the Metro. Staying in Taguig on a budget for instance can become difficult if you’re looking for a cheap hostel (part of Metro Manila that is rapidly becoming very popular). Nonetheless, many residents of Manila purchased apartments for investment in many of the new high-rises which are constantly being built in the city. With no one to occupy them, the owners started to rent them in Airbnb. The prices are usually cheaper than hotels, and you get to stay in a nice new apartment.
Where to eat great food in Manila on a budget?
Pork Adobo – (Slow Cooked Braised Soy Vinegar Pork Belly Pot at Tambayan Gastrobar)
We already posted about delicious Filipino food, so you can get an idea of what does the local food looks like. Here we will tell you about a few places where you can find great food – filipino and international, for a very good price.
There is a great Chinese food scene in the Philippines, but the best Chinese food in the country is found in Binondo, the oldest China town in the world. It is close to Malate and it makes perfect sense to go there after a visit in the historical district. Keep in mind that it’s a hectic part of town, so listen to our advice on where you should eat.
Masuki Mami House
This small restaurant still make egg noodles in house. They serve the noodles in hot broth, for almost 100 years already. Side dishes are siopao and siomai, steamed Chinese buns and dumplings. Altogether you’ll end up paying around 4 USD for a meal there.
931 Benavidez St, Binondo, Manila
Dong Bei Dumplings
This small shop sells a variety of steamed and fried dumplings, and fried Chinese pancake. It all comes with chili oil, soy sauce and spicy vinegar on the side. The servings which are good for one are 2.5 USD each. But you can easily eat two servings just by yourself.
642 Yuchengo Street, Binondo, Manila
New Po Heng
Lumpia is a perfect snack if you don’t feel full yet. It is a fresh Chinese style spring roll (not fried), filled with cabbage, carrot, seaweed, tofu, lettuce coriander and peanuts wrapped in a spring roll wrapper, and served with a sweet sauce on the side. It will only cost you 1 USD. Just be sure you won’t miss this small canteen as it is tiny small.
531 Quintin Paredes St, Binondo, Manila
Sincerity Café & Restaurant
Their Chinese style fried chicken has made a name for itself, and yet remained very cheap too, 3 USD for half, and 4USD for a whole chicken. The other hose specialties are Kikiam with brown sauce (pork and shrimp sausage, 1 USD), and oyster pancake (4-5 USD).
497 Yuchengco street, Binondo, Manila
Don’t worry, because once you’ll get out of Manila you get so many options to eat Filipino food, as it is the staple of the islands and provinces, and for certain is the cheaper option. That being said, some of the best Filipino restaurants are in Manila, and some of them are really cheap too.
The Aristocrat Restaurant
This place has been operating since 1936, when Lola Asiang converted her ground floor into a restaurant. They grew ever since and now the huge main branch is in Roxas Boulevard, feeding people proudly 24/7. They sell many of the Filipino classics like sisig, adobo, kare-kare and more. This is one of the best Filipino meals you’ll have, and though the average price for a dish is 7 USD for a dish, the size is really good for two, or two dishes can easily feed three people. They have many locations in town, so check out the Aristocrat website for more information.
Dampa – fresh seafood in the wet markets
Seaside Dampa Macapagal is a fresh sea food market in Pasay city, sandwiched between Malate, Taguig, and Makati. It is a bit far off, but you should only go there in a group of 4 or more anyways, so a taxi/Grab/Uber is not going to cost so much each (only if you care about the budget, read on in order to understand). The system is like so: you buy the seafood, which is very cheap, in the stalls of the market; after that you take it to one of the restaurants around the market and they cook it for you the way you want for a fee.
Because most of the time you’ll buy more than you can actually eat, and that the cooking fee (“paluto” in Tagalog) is about the same for a small and large quantity, it makes sense to come with a small group. In any case you will not find seafood fresher than that. All of the restaurants are good and charge about the same price, but Hong Kong Master Cook Restaurant is supposed to be the best. Most of the restaurants are of Chinese or Filipino style. And another tip, haggle down the price!
Expect to pay 9-11 USD per person in a group of four (including cooking, sides and drinks).
Diosdado Macapagal Blvd, Pasay, Metro Manila
Quan Yin Chay
The name and location (Binondo) indicates that this is a Chinese restaurant. Quan Yin Chay actually offers both Chinese and Filipino dishes, but with one twist. The Taoist owner cook all vegetarian food (also without onion and garlic btw). It is a small cafeteria style eatery with delicious, fresh and healthy food, which is also very cheap. This is one of the few restaurant to serve vegetarian Filipino food, so if you are vegetarian (or just feel like it) give this place a try.
739 Ongpin St (at Salazar St), Binondo, Manila
This is the local name for grilled chicken that the Philippines is very proud of. Well it’s really delicious, and can be found almost everywhere in Manila, and even more so in the provinces. The famous ones are: Andoks, Baliwag, Sr. Pedro, Mang Inasal, and Chooks to Go. It cost less than 5 USD for a whole chicken, which is divine (both pricewise and taste wise).
I won’t point you to any specific restaurants here. I will just say that Manila boasts with many international cuisines. To most parts those tend to be a little pricier, but you will also find any American fast food chain you can think of, as well as some higher quality ones (Chili’s, TGI Fridays, Outback Steakhouse…). You can also find Vietnamese, Korean, Japanese, Italian and many other cuisines easily.
The only thing we are going to recommend on comes from a need that we found in many people including ourselves (mainly San). The craving for meet when traveling in Southeast Asia is something that many people feel after a while. Well in many of the restaurants described in this paragraph you will find a decent steak or burger, but If you want a cheap 100% beef quality burger, go to Brothers Burger. They sell good quality burgers for 5-8 USD, and have many restaurants scattered around Metro Manila. This is your go to burger joint if you need you fix of red meat.
Things to do in Manila on a Budget
Now that we got your accommodation and food covered, you will want to do some stuff beside sleeping and eating, in order to make you time in Manila enjoyable. Manila can also be a playground for the rich, but there are so many free and budget thing to do that are lots of fun. In this section we will tell you about some of our favorites.
Visit Rizal Park and Intramuros – the historical district of Manila
This part of town is a walled city the Spanish built upon arrival to the Philippines. They built it in methods they brought with them from Spain. It has a citadel inside called Fort Santiago and Manila Cathedral one of the oldest in Asia. Walking around Intramuros is FREE! After spending the time there (and there is much to see) you can go to Rizal Park (also free), and/or to Binondo for lunch.
Rizal Park, also called Luneta, was the execution ground of the national hero Jose Rizal, killed by the Spanish in 1896, that brought to the outbreak of the Philippines Revolution. It was name after him, and now it’s a very picturesque park with monuments for national heroes, that stretches all the way to Manila Bay. It’s an excellent spot for a stroll.
Art in Island 3D Museum
10 USD will take you all the way into a world of dreams and illusions (8 USD if you have a student card. This place is where that 3D painting are drawn directly on the floor and walls, and it will challenge your perception of depth and balance so be warned. The place is quite recent and all the picture were drawn by 18 Korean master artists.
Escape the heat in MOA (Mall of Asia)
Mall of Asia is the 4th largest in the Philippines and the 11th largest in the world, but it’s probably the nicest one in the country. It will be a good chance for you to buy some goods and souvenirs, or just go window shopping. You can watch a movie or believe it or not, ice skating! In a tropical country.
Drinking out and Nightlife in Manila
Going out in Manila is not so expensive, and a part of being a good backpacker is going out to drink every once in a while. Alcohol is dirt cheap in the Philippines, also in the majority of the bars. A beer in a normal bar will cost you around 1-1.5 USD, so little money can take you a long way. Going to clubs and parties more expensive than that, but also affordable (15 USD will get you in most places with a complimentary drink or two usually). Best areas to go out to are BGC in Taguig, and Green belt in Makati. Eastwood in Quezon City is a bit far off but has numerous bars and restaurants open 24/7.
Now, do you want to get out of Manila ASAP?
It isn’t the nicest city, we can say that for certain, but there is some kind of magic in its controlled chaos. There is really a lot for you do see and do, and it doesn’t even have to cost you that much, and as we said before, you are most likely to spend some time in Manila whether you like it or not. In that case, make the most out of it and ENJOY!
Filipino Food: 11 Delicious Things to Eat in the Philippines
Ah, Filipino food… before we entered this beautiful country, we were warned by many that we may not enjoy the food here. To be honest, we didn’t have the best experience in the beginning but we definitely had some memorable eating experiences as we tried more things.
This is one of our rare food related posts because we suck at food photography. When the food finally arrives in front of us, we always jump on it witghout even remembering to click photos. If food photography interests you, you may want to check out post with recommendations of the best cameras for clicking good food photos.
Simplicity is the key in Filipino food and we love how they put vinegar and soy sauce to a good use. Not just local delicacies but its interesting how they put their own spin to international food. So get ready to salivate and check out these 11 delicious things that we ate the Philippines which will make you want to try Filipino food:
01 | Pork Adobo
Best Filipino Food – Pork Adobo – (Slow Cooked Braised Soy Vinegar Pork Belly Pot at Tambayan Gastrobar)
A lot of travel guides for Philippines mentioned that Pork Adobo is the most popular dish in the Philippines so of course we had to try. San and I hated it at almost every restaurant because it was too oily and chewy. However, we were lucky that we got to experience this famous Filipino delicacy in Manila’s Tambayan Gastrobar.
We were invited for a meal and boy, we were impressed! Pork Adobo is their specialty and it’s called Slow Cooked Braised Soy Vinegar Pork Belly Pot in the menu. And what’s inside this pot? Juicy pork meat that was so tender that it melted in our mouths. As the name suggests, this pork was slow cooked in a pot with dark sauce and one full garlic. The result – succulent meat with gentle flavor in every layer. This meal was so good that we went back next day for lunch. This was the best thing that we ate in the Philippines.
02 | Cheese and Melon Ice cream
Cheese and melon ice cream at Alona Beach
San has a weakness for ice creams and he orders one almost everywhere. He got this cone of cheese and melon ice cream when we were chilling on Alona beach. Much to his annoyance, I asked for one bite but I never returned his cone back. It was SOOO EFFING good! I never knew that cheese could taste so good as a desert ingredient.
Oh and about San, well, he got himself a new one. We went back every day for this same ice cream while we were in Bohol.
03 | Simple village meal in Bohol
Simple Filipino Food in Bohol – all this costed us less than 200 pesos
Perhaps our first “real” Filipino lunch, San and I couldn’t get over the variety. This roadside restaurant which was far from all tourist hubs in Bohol had a massive selection of curries, seafood and meats. We wanted to order almost everything here. The pink thing that you see in this picture was made from shrimp paste. The plate on its left contains squids. The plate next to fish is of fried eggplant. The steamed fish was only flavored with a little salt and vinegar. Simple and delicious flavors.
04 | BBQ – Everywhere
Filipino Food: Roadside Barbecued Meat in the Philippines
Filipinos surely know how to barbecue their meats! It’s funny how San and I had formed an aversion to meat for a few months before visiting the Philippines but we ate meat for every meal here. No matter which part of the Philippines we went, there was always a place (or a few) where we could find someone barbecuing meat on sticks. We even found it on our boat from Coron to Puerto Princesa. Pork, Chicken and some unrecognizable organs – whatever I ate was delicious. The best part – the sauces!
05 | Sting ray
Shredded Sting Ray
This was our most delicious meal in Coron. This did not look like sting ray and could have been any other fish but we trust the restaurant staff. The sting ray was shredded and made in a curry way with a little bit of coconut and a hint of garlic with green chilies. It tasted heavenly with rice
06 | Halo Halo
Filipino Food: Halo-halo dessert
Haluhalo or Halo-halo is perhaps the most famous Filipino dessert and is the perfect answer to a stressful day. This dessert is made by mixing everything delicious they can find around them – ice cream, milk, condensed milk, sweet beans, fruits, jelly fruit, cornflakes, etc. One distinct flavor that overpowered the Halo Halo I ate was of Ube. Ube is a local fruit and is also called purple yam. Its purple in color and the flavor is heavenly. This was at Tambayan Gastrobar of Manila.
07 | Seaweed Salad
Filipino Food – Seaweed Salad
To be honest, this was more interesting than delicious. We have eaten seaweed before but it was nothing like this. These little globes that you see, were full of some sort of gooey liquid. Kinda like gel. We ate this in a restaurant in Coron city.
08 | Clams in Cebu city
Filipino Food – Clam soup in Cebu city
Bored of eating roadside food, San and I decided to visit a restaurant in Cebu city and we were definitely not disappointed. We ordered a big bowl of garlic clams and had a very good time eating it with salad and roasted pork belly.
09 | Pulled Pork Burger
Pulled Pork Burger in the Philippines
Did I ever mention that Filipinos definitely know how to cook their meats? Well, their forte is Pork and if you love burgers, Philippines is the perfect place to indulge. This pulled pork burger was at Tambayan Gastrobar in Manila. Yes, the same restaurant where we ate Pork Adobo and Halo Halo. You definitely need to eat here. You must be thinking that pulled pork burger is not Filipino food so why is this included in the post? Well, because they put their own touches and made it special!
10 | Calamansi (in salads, juices and rums)
Filipino Calamansi – Tanduay Rum with coke and Calamansi
Calamansi is a lemon like fruit which is available in the Philippines. Its darker and smaller than a typical lemon and the taste is a tad different. While in Palawan, I was hooked and I started my mornings with calamansi juice with honey.
11 | El Nido Salad
El Nido Salad – what’s not to love about this?
Who wouldn’t love a salad which looked like that? This adorable plate of salad was prepared for us by our boat staff in El Nido in just a few minutes.
BONUS: Drinking in the Philippines
What do you do when you fill your stomach with so much food? You wash it with some good beer or rum! Yes we really enjoyed drinking in the Philippines and we recommend the below three:
12 & 13 | San Miguel Pale Pilsen beer and Red Horse beer
San Miguel is the perfect drink for a sunny beach day. Red horse is Philippines’ local brew and is stronger than San Miguel. I love how both these beers come in extra-large bottles. Look how happy San looks! He’s in paradise!
14 | Tanduay Rhum (rum)
Tanduay is also the local brew and is the perfect drink if you want something stronger than beer. On our first night here, we went to a Karaoke bar in Bohol where I got this free because of ladies night! This rum reminded us of Old Monk of India and we carried a bottle along in our backpacks wherever we went. It tastes the best with coke and calimansi. If you think we put on a little weight after eating a lot of delicious Filipino food, you gotta check out our Instagram feed and let us know! If you have visited or you live in the Philippines and you love Filipino food, I’d love to hear what your favorite is. Let me know in the comments.
El Nido or Coron? Or both? If you’re thinking of heading to Palawan for a quick trip and are not sure where to go or what to miss, this post will help you make some decisions. Moreover, this post will also act as an excellent guide if you’re visiting both these destinations in Palawan and are looking for information about how to reach, places to stay, eating options, costs, beaches, attractions, party and more!
Where and what is Palawan all about?
Palawan in the Philippines has been declared as the Most Beautiful Island in the World by Condé Nast Traveler for many years in the row. It’s not a single island but is a group of many islands of different shapes and sizes.
If you follow us on Instagram, you must be knowing that San and I spent a few weeks in the Philippines and a majority of our time in Palawan. We visited both El Nido and Coron but spent only one day in Puerto Princesa.
However, before we visited Palawan, we were trying to figure out if we should only visit one of these two destinations – El Nido or Coron. We didn’t find adequate comparison online on several factors, so here’s something I wrote to help you pick El Nido or Coron, depending on what you want out of your Palawan experience.
El Nido vs Coron
01) Ease of Reaching Coron and El Nido
How to reach Coron
You can reach Coron by a direct flight to Busuanga airport which is only 30-45 minutes away from Coron town. Philippine Airlines runs daily flights from Manila and Cebu to Busuanga. Alternatively, you can also reach Coron from El Nido by a ferry that takes roughly 7 hours. This ferry that runs between Coron and El Nido is a little shaky and reminded me of Thailand’s Lomprayah. You can also check more details about the journey from El Nido to Coron here.
If you want to save money, you can also travel to Coron from Manila by 2Go Travel, a “mega ferry”. This boat is one of the best Coron to El Nido ferry option and less like a ferry and more like a cruise vessel with sleeping berths in an air conditioned area, lobby, restaurant, bar and deck. If you’re looking to go from Coron to El Nido, then don’t consider this ferry because it goes in the opposite direction. Fastcraft is the best Coron to El Nido ferry.
How to reach El Nido
There were no direct flights to El Nido until recently. As of 2016, AirSwift runs direct flights from Manila and Cebu to El Nido. However, these flights are expensive. Alternatively, you can also fly to Puerto Princesa, which is serviced by budget carriers such as Air Asia. From Puerto Princesa, El Nido is 5-6 hours away by a van and will cost you around 1000 – 700 pesos per person. El Nido to Coron ferry is usually priced between 1100 to 1700 pesos.
We paid ₱ 700 because we were 7 people that met at the airport and decided to book a van together but we had heard of people that paid ₱ 1000 pesos per person too. You can also take a bus between Puerto Princesa and El Nido but these buses take more than 7 hours because they stop often.
The time that I visited the Philippines, I had to open multiple websites to find the perfect way to travel to El Nido and Coron. No you don’t need to do it, you can just find boat, train and bus in a single place – Bookaway. It takes away the hassle of opening multiple tabs for each method of transportation and comparing separately. How awesome is that!
Winner: Coron Both (Coron had this edge over El Nido till early 2016)
Upon reaching Coron, we found many places with affordable rooms starting from ₱ 500 pesosper night for a double room with fan and internet. We stayed at Coron Guapos which was just a three-month old property in Coron town at the time of our visit and was well managed. This place is right next to the more popular Marley’s guest house. We also booked our tour from our hotel and had the experience to remember. You can also try Coron Backpacker Guesthouse, which is a little older than Coron Guapos.
It was difficult finding budget rooms in El Nido, so we decided to book two hostel beds instead. The most affordable place was Our Melting Pot Hostel which cost us ₱ 450 pesos per bed and was full but we were lucky to get two bunk beds. You can click here to read the latest reviews of this hostel on TripAdvisor. We highly recommend this hostel and their tours. Even though this hostel is a typical party hostel, their dormitory area was always quiet and our sleep was never disturbed.
After spending a few days in Bohol’s Panglao island, we found the food in El Nido to be expensive, even the street food! We smiled with relief upon reaching Coron town because we found a variety of affordable eating options. The food in Coron was much cheaper as compared to that in El Nido, even the street food. We recommend Levine’s restaurant for their all day breakfast.
Another thing that I want to mention is that literally everyone in our group got sick in El Nido because of the food. It didn’t just happen with our group but many other groups that I know of. In fact, this post about things to know before visiting El Nido mentions this too!
02.3) Cost of Tours in Coron vs El Nido
Our Tour in El Nido, Palawan
The tours in Coron started from as low as ₱ 650 pesos per person but the tours in El Nido were for ₱ 1200 pesos per person. While in El Nido, we did tour A and tour C where the cost to use a kayak during our tours was ₱ 100 pesos per person for 30 minutes. Coron also has a tour called “the ultimate Coron tour” with an unlimited use of Kayak. This is the most expensive tour in Coron and costs ₱ 1400 pesos per person. But we were able to negotiate a price of ₱ 1000 per person by making our own custom tour which was like “the ultimate Coron tour” but minus one attraction.
02.4) Overall costs
The cost of moving around on a tricycle was lower in Coron. Even scooter rental prices were lower in Coron than El Nido. This could be because the demand was higher in El Nido due to more visitors.
Tip: Both El Nido and Coron are getting a little expensive as compared to the other Philippines’ islands. If you’re traveling on a limited budgent, then check out smaller and less visited ones like Siquijor or Siargao.
03) Viewpoints in Coron + El Nido
Viewpoints in Coron
Coron Viewpoint on the way to Kayangan lake – One of the most photographed part of Palawan
If you’re a sucker for viewpoints and don’t shy away from making an effort to climb for hours just for a bird’s eye view, you’re going to love Coron. Coron has three main viewpoints.
The first is Mt. Tapyas in the main Coron town which you will see from a distance. The second is the spot as shown in the above picture on the way to Kayangan Lake as you climb on top of the rocks that surround the lake. The second one is the one that’s usually featured in every travel article and webpage about Coron. The third as shown in the below picture one can be seen on the road to Busuanga town from Coron town and there’s no need to climb anything to view it.
I don’t have a picture of Mt. Tapyas because we climbed on top of it in the middle of the night after getting a kick of energy from Tanduay rum. Moreover, it is in the middle of Coron town and super famous – you can’t miss it.
Viewpoint on Coron – Busuanga road
Viewpoints in El Nido
San at Matinloc Shrine Viewpoint on Matinloc Shrine Island, El Nido, Palawan
The only viewpoint we found in El Nido was on Matinloc Shrine island. The climb is of little effort but is on pointed rocks. The view is spectacular.
04) Beaches in Coron or El Nido
Beaches in Coron
Banana island, Coron, Palawan – Pic by Juvelle Pua
When in Coron, the beaches can’t be accessed by just walking. The nearest beach is there is Cabo beach which is 30 minutes away from Coron town. Unlike other beaches of Coron, there’s no need to take a boat to reach Cabo beach.
Other noteworthy beaches are Banol beach and the beaches on Banana island. We visited Banol beach just by chance while we were snorkeling around the skeleton wreck which is right next to it.
Beaches in El Nido
Hidden Beach, El Nido, Palawan
El Nido has more beaches than Coron. Just like Coron, the best beaches only be accessed by a boat or a long scooter ride. But El Nido wins points over Coron here because the main beach is just walking distance away from the main town area.
El Nido’s main beach kind of reminded me of Railay’s beaches with limestone formations but was five times more crowded! Our recommendation – seven commandos beach, Talisay island beach, hidden beach and Matinloc Shrine beach. There is also Pandan beach, which is one of the best beaches in the Philippines. Oh and El Nido fans will hate me for saying this but I found Bohol‘s beaches to be much better than El Nido’s.
Winner: El Nido
By the way, if you’re looking for some of the most beautiful beaches in the Philippines, check out this post about Coast Boracay.
05) Snorkeling & Scuba Diving in Coron vs El Nido
Snorkeling and Diving in Coron
Shipwreck Diving and Snorkeling – Skeleton Wreck in Coron, Palawan
Colorful Corals and Clams in Siete Pecados marine park, Coron, Palawan
Nemo – a clownfish family in Siete Pecados marine park in Coron, Palawan
Snorkeling in Coron was perhaps the best snorkeling experience of my life. I saw the most colorful corals in Coral Garden – it was like an underwater rainbow! I had tears of happiness in my eyes while snorkeling in Siete Pecados marine park because I had never seen such beauty.
We saw some of the most colorful fishes or many sizes here and also a Clownfish (Nemo) family. Our friend who was snorkeling with us saw a sea turtle here. Moreover, Coron has eleven Japanese shipwrecks that you can explore if you love diving. We weren’t able to dive because we ran out of money, but we snorkeled around the skeleton ship wreck. The water around was clear and the visibility was unbelievable.
Snorkeling and Diving in El Nido
The underwater life in El Nido pales in comparison as compared to Coron. No doubt we saw a lot of marine life but it was definitely not as colorful as Coron, especially the corals. Plus, El Nido doesn’t have any shipwrecks around unlike Coron.
06) Lakes and Waterfalls
Waterfalls and Lakes of Coron
They say it’s the cleanest Lake of Asia – Kayangan Lake, Coron, Palawan
Coron boasts of 11 lakes out of which Barracuda Lake and Kayangan Lake are the most famous ones. They say Kayangan Lake is the cleanest lake in Asia but I don’t know if that’s true. However, I do know that I have never seen water as clear as this where I could see the bottom of the lake. The water in this lake is 70% fresh and 30% salty. Swimming in this lake is an experience I will not forget in my lifetime.
Concepcion Falls, Busuanga, Palawan
On one of the days in Coron, we rented a scooter and drove to Busuanga town and visited Concepcion Falls. We spent a relaxed day swimming and chilling in a natural pool around this waterfall.
This pool also had a school of doctor fish, which is the same fish they use in a foot spa. But don’t be afraid, they don’t bite you anywhere except a little peck on the toes. Moreover, Coron also has Maquinit Hot Spring with a natural hot water pool but we didn’t go there because it was too hot.
Waterfalls and Lakes of El Nido
El Nido doesn’t have lakes but we got to hear of Nagkalit-kalit Waterfall, the only one waterfall here. It is on the way to Nacpan beach. Again, with 11 lakes in Coron, El Nido can’t win on this point.
07) The Best Lagoons in Palawan – Coron vs El Nido
Lagoons of Coron
Twin Lagoons of Coron, Palawan
The twin lagoons in Coron are perhaps the most famous ones. The water here is 70% salty and 30% fresh and these two lagoons are separated by a rock. The best part? Swimming through a hole in the rock to reach the inner lagoon here. The water clarity in the outer lagoon was much better than any of the lagoons in El Nido. There are more lagoons such as the green lagoon, sunset lagoon, and hidden lagoon.
Lagoons of El Nido
Secret Lagoon in El Nido, Palawan
El Nido boasts of many different lagoons out of which a few are open for public. We visited the small lagoon, the big lagoon, the hidden lagoon, the secret lagoon – all were beautiful. Some of the lagoons also had a little beach attached. Seriously, El Nido wins hands down if you compare the lagoons.
Winner: El Nido
08) Town Area
Coron Town is technically on Busuanga island, not Coron island. Confusing, no? The town area is bigger and more spread out as compared to El Nido with more budget friendly eating and staying options in comparison. El Nido town is a smaller and cramped if you compare it to Coron town. There is now a new ATM as well here but it was not working while I was there.
09) Which one is more crowded?
Crowded main beach of El Nido, Palawan
With an easier access due to a cheaper direct flight, you’d think that Coron would be more crowded? Wrong! El Nido was definitely more crowded as compared to Coron.
It was sad to see El Nido’s main beach which must have been beautiful a few years back but was completely destroyed due to an unbelievable amount of people and boats. We met many people in El Nido who were not even considering heading to Coron but everyone we met in Coron had been to El Nido or was heading there next. Even all the main attractions were crowded due to too many tours.
Loser: El Nido
10) Places to Drink and Party in Coron and El Nido
Obra Natural Rasta Cafe in Coron, Palawan
Although our main motive to visit Palawan was not to party but we couldn’t help ourselves from enjoying a few nice evenings. After all, we had made a few friends on the road! For a low-key party evening, I recommend Coron’s offbeat Rasta bar – Obra Natural Art & Coffee. This place is next to Coron School of Fisheries.
It’s not your “typical” party place with loud music but is a small café with a seating space for barely 15 people. We loved it so much that we ended up visiting it every evening. We couldn’t get enough of listening to live didgeridoo (didjeridu) and djembe music. If you end up going there, say our hello to the owner – Rodney. Alternatively, you can also check out the No Name Bar which is in the main Coron town for a louder party.
While in El Nido, you can visit many beach bars on the main beach for a fun evening. Our Melting Pot hostel in El Nido was a party hostel where we ended up playing beer pong for a few hours.
Winner: Tie between Coron and El Nido
11) The atmosphere and vibes
Call us hippies but vibes are important for us. We found the atmosphere in Coron to be more relaxed and laid back as compared to El Nido. Maybe it was because El Nido was a little too crowded for our liking.
Arriving in Coron from El Nido was a refreshing change because it felt that everyone was there to scam us in El Nido and charge extra for every small thing. Moreover, I had read warnings on the internet to be careful about food in El Nido because a lot of people reported suffering from food poisoning.
Keeping this in mind, we were careful about what we ate but shockingly San suffered from an upset stomach. Strangely, every friend that we made in El Nido had a bad case of diarrhea and food poisoning and one of them even spent an entire night in the hospital. Upon reaching Coron, everyone in our hotel told us that they suffered from an upset stomach while they were in El Nido. Luckily I was the only one who did not. Maybe it’s because of my Indian stomach or the fact I wore a hat in the sun but I’ll never know the truth.
Coron or El Nido – Our choice?
We spent more time in El Nido than Coron, but we rate Coron much higher than El Nido.
Where should YOU go in Palawan? El Nido or Coron?
If you have enough time then we highly recommend you visit both. However if you’re heading to Palawan for a quick trip and can visit only one destination, I will try to make things easy for you. If you like having an easy access to the beaches and don’t mind crowds, then El Nido is where you should go. However, if you want to scuba dive or just snorkel around to see underwater beauty, then Coron is your place.
Panglao Island is a tiny island attached to the south-west tip of the main island of Bohol in the Philippines. It is very close to Cebu island as well.
We wanted white sand, blue water, beautiful nature and loads of peace. A little research suggested that the Philippines was the place for it all. Boracay or El Nido? These are the two main destinations we heard about when we booked our tickets to visit the Philippines. The more we read about Boracay, the more we did not want to visit.
A deeper research suggested we pay Bohol a visit for its famous chocolate hills, tarsier sanctuary and Loboc river. But where to stay in Bohol? We were looking for a place that was not crowded and where it was possible to explore on a scooter. With a little luck, we found a place called Panglao Island.
Panglao Island, Bohol – watch our travel video
If you’re lazy like us, we urge you to watch this video that we have made with a lot of love. This is our second travel video and you’re gonna LOVE the underwater footage that we made using our brand new GoPro Hero 4 (Black). Oh and if you’re wondering how come we didn’t lose our GoPro in the sea is because we have this awesome Go Pro outdoor kit which has a yellow float-able stick that prevents the camera from sinking, even if you’re clumsy like us!
SPOILER: this video has a cute little tarsier, a banded eel that’s pretending to be a snake (Belcher’s sea snake) and more!
Why we love Panglao Island, Bohol
Panglao was our first destination when we visited the Philippines in February and March 2016 and towards the end of the trip we realized it was the best out of all. Here’s why:
01 | Affordable rooms, food, scooter – this of course tops our list because we’re budget travelers. When compared to the other destinations we visited, Panglao island was cheaper in every aspect. It’s easy to find many places to eat where only locals visit unlike many other places that we visited in the Philippines.
Simple Filipino Food in Panglao Island – everything here costed us less than 200 pesos
02 | Not yet crowded (unlike Palawan / Boracay / Cebu, etc) – The only crowded place on this island is Alona beach and even that’s not as crowded as El Nido’s or Boracay’s main beaches.
03 | Stunning beaches and a few of them were empty! – Panglao Island’s beaches are exactly how you see them in travel magazines. They have white sand, blue water and are fringed with trees.
Doljo Beach on Panglao Island, Bohol
04 | Many places to explore on our own without taking tours – The Philippines is a beautiful country and every corner has many natural attractions that are worth a visit. While in Palawan, we had to opt for a few tours to see some attractions because it was extremely expensive to hire our own boat and explore ourselves. However, on Panglao island it was possible for us to visit pretty much whatever we wanted on our own and at our own pace on a rented scooter.
05 | Typical “Island Vibe” – Panglao island has a very laidback and typical “island vibe” that reflects in its slow life. This is exactly what we wanted from our vacation but unfortunately did not feel this way when we were in other destinations.
How to Reach Panglao Island
Fly to Tagbilaran airport and catch a tricycle to Panglao Island for around ₱ 200 – 300 pesos. The ride takes 20 minutes.
Fly to Cebu city, head to Pier 1 and board a ferry for Tagbilaran for ₱ 400 pesos. To save money, you can catch a bus from Cebu city airport to the closest point and then take a taxi to Pier 1. You will notice the bus sign as you exit the airport. Ask the staff at the counter for more details. The ferry will take around 2 hours. Once you reach Tagbilaran pier, you can catch a tricycle to Panglao Island for around ₱ 200 – 300 pesos.
Option 1 makes more sense but usually the airfare to Cebu city is much lower as compared to Tagbilaran, so pick option 2 if you don’t mind a longer journey to save money.
Oh and by the way – we landed in Cebu but did not end up spending any time there but you should if you can. Check out this amazing guide about spending a weekend in Cebu.
Where to stay on Panglao Island:
Alona Beach is the most famous and crowded part of this island because its where most of the people stay. To avoid the crowds, we found an affordable place which was 2.5 KMs ahead of Alona beach – Mabuhay Breeze Resort. This place was exactly what we wanted because it was on the empty part of the road with hardly anything around. We did find a karaoke bar near this place which was just a few steps away. Our first night in the Philippines was spent singing in this Karaoke bar with a few locals and drinking Tanduay rum.
This is Panglao Island, Bohol
We paid around USD 15$ for a charming hut for two (around ₱ 700 pesos). The reception area had a bar, a free water refilling station, charging points, free Wifi and a few adorable cats. There was a large swimming pool after the reception area with huts around it. Alternatively, you can also stay at Panglao Chocolate Hills Resortwhich is 5 KMs before Alona beach and very close to another beautiful beach of this island – White Beach. Other affordable places are Bohol Dreamcatchers Resort, Bohol Coco Farm Hostel, and Dormitels PH Alona Beach.
Things to do in Bohol and Panglao Island (and around)
01 | Beach bumming: Alona beach, White Beach (Libaong White Beach), Doljo Beach
Even though Alona beach is the most crowded of all, it’s definitely worth a visit because it’s pretty. The best part of this beach is towards the extreme left side as you enter.
Alona Beach of Panglao Island, Bohol
If you want to avoid the crowd, I highly recommend you visit White Beach, which is 5 KMs before Alona beach. Many locals did not know about it (maybe they have a different name for it) but we found it on google maps. It has a few wooden cabins near the beach where you can keep your stuff and head for a swim. It was empty whenever we visited it.
White Beach, Panglao Island, Bohol
We found another beautiful beach on this island just by accident when we lost our way – Doljo Beach. It’s a very large beach with shallow water that was full of pretty little starfishes.
Doljo Beach on Panglao Island, Bohol
There are other beaches such as Bikini beach, Momo beach but are not as nice as the main three.
02 | Hire a scooter and drive around aimlessly
Riding around in our scooter was perhaps the best thing we did while we were here. It was definitely one of our most beautiful drives because the roads were empty and the scenery that surrounded us was spectacular. We saw many villages, beautiful paddy fields, buffaloes chilling in the water, banana plantation, Loboc river, many dense trees that formed a tunnel over the road and a lot of cute Filipino children that were excited to see us and hi-fived us as we rode around them.
03 | Scuba diving and Snorkeling
Head to one of the beaches with your snorkel and you are guaranteed to see a lot of underwater beauty. Look at this banded eel which we saw on Alona beach! (Yes we thought for a while that it’s a Belcher’s sea snake).
Looks like Belcher’s sea snake but its a Banded Eel on Alona Beach
If you swim around Alona beach, the seabed looks like a garden with many sea urchins, starfishes and small fishes. If you want to see more, then do sign up for a dive at a PADI dive shop.
We highly recommend you invest in a good snorkel mask of your own so that you have an option to see the lovely marine life pretty much everywhere. Here are some of the best snorkel masks.
04 | Drive to Carmen to see the famous Chocolate Hills!
Chocolate Hills in Bohol, Philippines
The drive to the famous Chocolate hills from Alona beach area was around 3 hours but it was definitely worth it as you can read in point 2. As you reach Carmen, a town in Bohol that’s famous for these hills, the landscape changes drastically and these hills start popping up on both the sides. After paying a fee of ₱ 50 per person, you can climb on the highest of these chocolate hills for a stunning view. You will notice thousands of these cone shaped symmetrical hills around you that are covered with grass. During the dry season, the grass on these hills turns chocolate brown and these hills resemble Hershey’s kisses, hence the name – Chocolate Hills. As per scientific research, these grassy hills were once coral reefs that erupted from the sea over hundreds of thousands of years ago. Do remember to carry water in your backpack because it’s expensive on the main hill. Please drive around the hills too! The village is beautiful and it’s easy to get lost in the nature here.
05 | Visit Tarsier Sanctuary
When in the Philippines, a visit to a tarsier sanctuary is a must do. Tarsiers are super cute monkey like animals that are unfortunately endangered. These animals are just 8 – 16 cms big, which is usually the size of a grown up’s hand.
These cuties are shy and like to stay in dark areas because exposure to light can damage their big eyes. They are nervous little things that get stressed out when they are touched or if there’s noise around them.
A cute little Tarsier in Bohol
The fee to enter the tarsier sanctuary was ₱ 40 per person we could stay inside for as long as we wanted. This sanctuary is located in Loboc town of Bohol and it takes only 1-2 hours on a scooter from Alona beach. It is on the way to Carmen so it’s possible to visit the Tarsier sanctuary and chocolate hills on the same day.
06 | Dive with a whale shark
San with a whaleshark in Oslob, Cebu
Diving or snorkeling with whale sharks is possible in Oslob (Cebu) but it’s easy to access this area from Panglao Island. We did not want to stay in Oslob because it appeared to be crowded but we rented a boat from Alona beach that took us to Oslob. If you’re heading to there, you can also check out this post about canyoneering in Cebu.
We paid ₱ 700 per person for the round trip boat ride but we found this price after a lot of bargaining. Once in Oslob, we paid ₱ 1000 per person to snorkel for 40 minutes with the whale sharks.
A whale shark in Oslob, Cebu – Look at the size!
We had heard all sorts of horrible things about Oslob but we were pleasantly surprised. Yes, it is crowded and expensive but they don’t let a lot of people in the water at the same time. They also don’t let people wear sunscreen because it harms the whale sharks. We were asked to maintain a distance of a meter from the whale sharks but these overly friendly underwater giants did not want to leave us alone. It was a surreal experience swimming with them. Many people say that the whale shark diving should not be encouraged because they pull these animals out of their natural habitat by luring them with shrimp which causes imbalances in nature.
07 | Hinagdanan cave or Cambagat Cave
It costs ₱ 50 to enter Hinagdanan cave which has many stalactites and a lake at the bottom. It costs extra to swim in the lake. You can skip this attraction if you have seen other bigger caves.
08 | Visit Loboc River
Loboc River, Bohol
Loboc river is a clear water river in Bohol. Many people opt for river cruises but I suggest you just drive around it and find a corner where you can sit next to it. We saw many cute little huts around this river. As we crossed the bridge over it, we could see the bottom of the river because the water was very clear. A few tour operators organize firefly watching tours along this river and there is a floating restaurant on it.
09 | Shell Museum
Nova Shell museum has a massive collection of shells of many different shapes, sizes and colors. All these shells have been collected by Quirino Hora and they form one of the biggest collections in the world. It costs ₱ 50 to enter the museum and it’s open from 8 am to 5 pm. Arrive early because the collection is massive.
10 | Dolphin Watching
We did not do this but this is one of the many things you can do while you’re on Panglao island. These tours leave early morning from Alona beach. Why did we not do this? Because we are not fans of group tours and we have already seen dolphins in their natural habitat in Gokarna, India.
11 | Island Hopping – Virgin Island and Balicasag
You will find many boat operators on Alona beach who will try to sell you a tour to these islands. Virgin island is famous for its beautiful beach and Balicasag Island has its own marine sanctuary. You can skip this if you are planning on visiting Siete Pecados marine park in Coron.
Overall, we felt that our time on Panglao Island was the most fun that we had in the Philippines because of variety of possibilities of things to do in and around this place.
Have you visited Panglao Island and have a few tips of your own to add? Let me know in the comments section!
PS: Drifter Planet contains affiliate links. If you make a purchase through these links, we will earn a little commission at no extra cost to you. These commissions help us reduce the costs of keeping this site active. Thanks for reading!
Tambayan Capsule Hostel, Manila – A Love Affair to Remember!
Goodbye Beaches, Hello Manila!
Our time in the Philippines was about to end when we decided to spend a day in Manila. After many days of island hopping, camping and staying in dirty hostels, San and I needed one day of comfort and good food.
Our few attempts to eat local Filipino food had ended horribly after realizing most of the food was either fried or filled with pork fat. Don’t get me wrong, the Filipino islands do have good food but we didn’t find a lot of variety and had to survive on barbecued meat and rice with soy sauce. Although it was delicious in the beginning, we got really sick of eating the same thing for every meal. We wanted some veggies or curry!
Anyway, tired as hell we got out of our metro at Manila’s Pedro Gil LRT Station and decided to walk to Tambayan Capsule Hostel, our hostel in Manila. It appeared to be an upmarket area with a massive mall called Robinson Place Manila on one side and little dance bars on the other side.
The SURPRISE – and love at first sight with our Tambayan Capsule Hostel
We reached a Victorian looking building with a rooftop restaurant that appeared to be full and buzzing with activity. The sign did say “Tambayan” but we were sure this was not our hostel because it was quite swanky!
Tambayan Capsule Hostel Manila
Ten steps later we realized that it was the same building with a bar, a restaurant, and a hostel – OUR HOSTEL. A chat with an extremely pretty and smiling receptionist confirmed our guesses, Tambayan Capsule Hostel & Bar and Tambayan Gastrobar were different parts of the same establishment.
While the atmosphere outside was filled with sounds of laughter and clinks of glasses, inside was surprisingly calm and peaceful – just like a lobby of a high-end hotel.
The interiors at Tambayan Capsule Hostel, Manila
After having spent many days in simple island rooms and bunk beds we were happy to see a luxurious private room with wall mural and an attached toilet.
The room had everything we needed – a powerful (but silent) air conditioner, a desk, hangers, a flat screen television which we were not going to use and a hair dryer! The bathroom was swanky with gold fittings, hot water, and sufficient toiletries. Just outside our room was a section for tea and coffee and a water station.
Our Private Room at Tambayan Capsule Hostel, Manila
Curious about the capsule beds, we decided to check out the rest of the hostel. True to their description, these were capsule like bunk beds with total privacy because of shutter like blinds that could be pulled down.
Each capsule was super spacious and had its own fan, reading lamp, plug point, and a little mirror. If we had a few more days in Manila, we would have loved to stay in one of the capsules for the experience.
Inside a capsule at Tambayan Capsule Hostel, Manila
The dorm rooms were extremely clean, airy and well lit due to natural light that came entering from big windows. The walls were stark white with subtle wall art and the floor was completely wooden.
The shared toilets were separate for men and women had many spacious stalls inside. There was a little sitting area upstairs with board games that overlooked the restaurant.
The dorm rooms with capsule beds and shared toilet at Tambayan Capsule Hostel, Manila
The Mouthorgasm.. Mmm – the Food at Tambayan Gastrobar
With the thought of skipping local food and grabbing burgers, we entered Tambayan Gastrobar. A smiling staff member, who introduced himself as Chef Charlie recommended we try the house specialty – Slow Cooked Braised Soy Vinegar Pork Belly Pot or simply put – Pork Adobo! Since it was our last night in the Philippines, we decided to give a last try to experience local food and agreed. Best decision ever.
The first thing on our table was a plate of fresh Oriental Salad that San and I were delighted to eat because of fresh veggies. This salad was crunchy because of nuts and a little tangy because of mango and had a generous amount of shrimps.
Oriental Salad at Tambayan Gastrobar Manila
A few minutes later, a ceramic pot followed the salad which filled our noses with an aroma as soon as the cover was removed. What we saw inside made our jaws drop!
This pot had a big chunk of pork meat with dark sauce with fried onions on top and an entire garlic inside that was apparently cooked with the pork in the same sauce. This was our Slow Cooked Braised Soy Vinegar Pork Belly Pot. The base of the curry was soy sauce and it had flavors of vinegar, pepper and of course garlic. The best part? Juicy chunks of pork that were so tender that they melted in our mouths! Mmmm mouthorgasm!
Slow Cooked Braised Soy Vinegar Pork Belly Pot at Tambayan Gastrobar
We finished our meal with Halo-Halo, which was a massive portion of purple dessert that had something called “Ube” with a lot of fresh fruits, sweet beans, ice cream, milk and a lot of goodies. Ube (or purple yam) is a flavor that I only got to eat in the Philippines. It’s delicious!
Pulled Pork burger, Tambayan Burger and Halo-halo at Tambayan Gastrobar, Manila
We ended our evening with a few beers on Tambayan’s roof top bar that overlooked Robinson Mall and a few dance bars. The atmosphere upstairs was lively and gave us our dose of Manila’s hipster night lift.
We came here to stay but they made us fall in love with Filipino food and “WOW”ed us with their hospitality. The food was so delicious that we went back next morning to eat the same thing for our brunch and tried their pulled pork burger which was also made with pork adobo. If you’re heading to Manila, then do stay at Tambayan Capsule Hostel. Seriously, we can’t recommend this place enough! Click here to check deals for a bed or a capsule here in this lovely hostel.
Have you ever slept in a capsule? If yes, do share your experience with us in the comments!
Note: our stay and dinner at Tambayan Capsule Hostel and Tambayan Gastrobar were complimentary but the opinions in this article are honest. We were so impressed with this place that we spent most of our time in Manila in Tambayan. We also went to their bar and ate the same things next day because it was the best meal that we had in the Philippines. Seriously, their Slow Cooked Braised Soy Vinegar Pork Belly Pot was unbelievably good.
A hippie travel writer with flowers in her hair, Sonal Kwatra Paladini should have been born in the 1960s! Bitten by the infamous travel bug, she has an itch to explore resort-free destinations, offbeat islands and small villages. Join her and her husband (Sandro) on their journey as they hop from one music festival to another and explore the beautiful world that they are in love with! Follow them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.