With 7,641 islands, you could spend years exploring the Philippines! But if you’ve only got 30 days, how do you make sure you’re seeing the best bits of this incredible country? Well look no further, this 30 day backpacking itinerary is all you need to plan your trip!
Famed for it’s clear blue waters, incredible island hopping and stunning stretches of sand, the Philippines should be on every backpacker’s bucket list! Every island has its own defining features – be it ancient rice terraces, turquoise waterfalls or white sandy beaches, there’s something new to see at every turn. Whether you are searching for chilled out bliss or an adventurous trip, this bunch of tropical islands will be exactly what you are looking for!
Lying on the eastern edge of Asia, the Philippines is still a relatively undiscovered patch of paradise, and it’s easy to find yourself in a deserted bay or with an amazing waterfall all to yourself! We’ve all seen the pictures of the impossibly blue water or the unreal limestone karst mountains – and the great thing is, they’re even more beautiful in real life!
Have we persuaded you to go yet? Well read on for our 30 day Philippines itinerary!
Day 1: Start in Manila or Cebu City
Both Cebu City and Manila, the Philippines’ capital, are great gateways for exploring the islands of the Philippines.
If you want to explore the north of the country, for example the Banaue Rice Terraces or Albay’s Volcano, then Manila is the best place to start. Flights to Cebu tend to be slightly more expensive than flying into Manila, and some stop over in the capital on their way down to Cebu City’s airport. If you’re already in Asia, then flights to Manila are cheapest from Taiwan, Vietnam or the Sabah region of Malaysian Borneo.
If you’re short on time and want to get straight into exploring the islands, the flying to Cebu City is your best bet, as this will save a couple of days and another flight from Manila down south. Cebu island is in the heart of the Philippines and is a great place to start your trip if you don’t mind skipping the north.
Don’t forget, if time is the issue, you can always extend your visa! Click here for more information on visas for the Philippines. Wherever you decide to begin your journey, check out our destination guides for Manila and Cebu for where to stay, what to do and loads more!
Day 2: Fly to Siargao Island
Have we mentioned that the Philippines is made up of a lot of islands?! They are one of the best reasons for visiting, but inevitably this does mean that there’s bound to be a few flights involved when you are travelling around!
Budget Tip: If you want to save a bit of cash, don’t mind some long travel days/nights and have got time on your hands, then there are many well established ferry routes between islands around the Philippines.
Filipino cities have interesting architecture and some yummy street food, but the islands are where the real adventures are to be had! With this in mind, on day 2 hop on a plane to the island of Siargao!
Once you’re there, hail a tricycle to the main backpacker hub of General Luna, where you’ll find plenty of Bali hostel vibes, yummy food, buzzing bars and one of the most famous surf spots in the Philippines!
Day 3-4: Siargao
Being on the eastern side of the country, the coastline of Siargao is open to the elements and, as a result, the surf here is some of the best around! Whether you’re a beginner or a pro, grab a board and hit the waves from Cloud 9 beach, or venture further around the island to find surf spots for all levels.
Siargao is one of those places where hopping on a motorbike and driving as far as you can is one of the most rewarding ways to see the island! Explore the palm tree lined roads (probably the most coconut palms you’ll ever see in one place!), stopping off at beaches, palm tree swings and rock pools along the way. For more ideas on what to do in Siargao, check out our Siargao guide. You can search for accommodation in Siargao here.
Day 5: Travel Day – Siargao to Cebu City
After a few days of smoothie bowls and chilled surf vibes, catch a flight from Siargao’s tiny airport over to Cebu City.
This journey can also be done by taking two ferries (one overnight) via Surigao City – for ferry schedules visit the Cokaliong Shipping Lines website. Travelling by water is definitely the cheaper option, but for an altogether more comfortable and pleasant journey – take the flight; you’ll thank us later!
Spend the evening exploring Cebu City’s street food scene and maybe even trying your hand at the Filipino’s favourite pastime – Karaoke! You can search here to find accommodation in Cebu City.
Day 6: Travel Day – Cebu City to Malapascua Island
Another travel day we know, but we recommend not to linger in the city when there’s so many incredible places to see! You aren’t missing out though – Cebu City is also the hub of the island, and there’ll be plenty more time to see the sights as you’ll be passing through a few more times on your trip.
Begin early on day 6 by journeying to Cebu’s North Bus Terminal and catching a bus up to Malapascua Island. The journey is only supposed to take around 4 hours, but it can be more like 8 on a bus, so give yourself plenty of time!
Tip: The bus you’re looking to catch actually goes to Maya Port, which is where you can catch a “banca” boat over to Malapascua. These buses run all day, but if you want to avoid paying more for a private boat over to the island (when the public boat is only 100 pesos), then make sure you catch a bus before 11.00am…the earlier the better!
Tip #2: To make things even more complicated, there are two ports in Maya: the old port and the new port! These go to different places on Malapascua, and even though it’s small, this could mean a bit of a walk to your accommodation. If you want to know where you’re going to be dropped, just ask the captain. For more info on how to get from Cebu City to Malapascua, click here.
Even though this journey sounds like it might be a bit of a hassle, it really is worth it! Malapascua is an amazing little island, and you’ll get to spend the next few days seeing exactly why!
Day 7-8: Malapascua Island
Once you’ve reached the tiny island of Malapascua, it’s time to start exploring! It might be small, but there’s plenty to do.
The island is most well known for it’s incredible diving, as it’s one of the best places to see Thresher Sharks! If you’re a diver, this is a must do as it’s an amazing opportunity to get up close to these fascinating creatures and watch them chilling in the deep!
If diving isn’t your thing, then get stuck into snorkelling the reefs around the island, wandering along the sandy paths and discovering the beaches and lighthouse…there’s even an abandoned resort if you can find it! If you want a slice of paradise, take a day trip to Kalanggaman Island: an idyllic sand bar slap bang in the middle of the ocean.
Spend the evenings sipping Filipino rum at the dive shop bars or listening to the nightly jam sessions at Villa Sandra (where the veggie food is a must try!). Check out our in-depth guide to Malapascua and search for accommodation here!
Day 9: Travel Day: Malapascua Island – Cebu City
If you can tear yourself away from the island life on Malapascua, then on day 9 head south back to Cebu City. Spend the night here before catching the ferry to island number 4 the next day (or if you’ve made it with enough time to spare, plan to catch the ferry on Day 9 to save some time!).
Day 10: Cebu City to Bohol
From Pier 1 at the Cebu Port Authority, hop on a ferry over to Bohol. The route you’re looking for is ‘Cebu City to Tagbilaran City’ and this can be booked online before you travel or from the ticket desks at the port – but bear in mind that there might be queues! The journey takes around 2 hours, and once you’ve arrived and settled in, you can spend the rest of the day exploring!
You can either stay in the city (cheap but not the nicest) or head over the bridge to Pangalao Island, where you’ll find most of the tourist accommodation – from hostels to beachside resorts. Search here to find accommodation in Bohol.
Day 11-12: Bohol
Bohol is a big island and there’s so much to explore! Hiring a motorbike is a good way to get around, however it’s a long drive on a bike to some of the sights, so expect a numb bum if this is how you’re planning to see the island!
Tip: Is you’re in a group, it may be worth hiring a car or joining a tour to see the island sights. Not only is this is much more comfortable but it may work out cheaper than getting a bike.
Spend your days on Bohol seeing the iconic Chocolate Hills, beach or island hopping around Pangalao or catching up with the cutest primates at the Tarsier Sanctuary. However, whilst these are all great things to see, it’s not until you get off the beaten track that Bohol’s character really starts to shine through!
The waterfalls on this island are arguably some of the best in the Philippines! Ok, so the roads to get to them are far from the best…and yes, there’s usually quite a few steps to get down to them…but if you make it, you’ll be rewarded with stunning falls, amazing swimming spots and you might even get the place to yourselves if you’re lucky! For a list of Bohol’s waterfall must-see’s, check out our destination guide!
Day 13: Bohol – Siquijor
After you’ve had your fill of beaches and chocolate hills, make the short 1.5 hour ferry hop over to the island of Siquijor. Known for it’s witch doctors and healers, some Filipinos are wary of visiting this particular island as it’s said to be cursed! However, it’s definitely worth the visit and it should not be missed!
San Juan to the south of Siquijor is the backpacker hub and sunset side of the island, with plenty of accommodation to choose from and beaches to relax on! Find more places to stay on Siquijor here.
Day 14-15: Siquijor
Being smaller than Bohol, Siquijor is much easier to get around by bike – however, we recommend sticking to the coastal road, as the track through the middle of the island may look like a shortcut but it’s not somewhere you’d want to get a puncture!
Scuba diving, swinging into waterfalls and watching the sun go down on the beach are all up there with the best things to do whilst on Siquijor. If you’re feeling brave, you could even try the 10 metre cliff jump at Saladoong Beach, or get your feet nibbled by fish in the healing waters of the Century Old Balete Tree! For more ideas on what to do on Siquijor, take a look at our in-depth location guide!
Day 16: Siquijor – Moalboal
Although not a well travelled route (most people travel from Cebu City), it is possible to get from Siquijor to the beachside town of Moalboal. It’s requires a full day and lots of different types of transport, but it’s relatively straight forward and more comfortable than expected! To find out how to get from Siquijor to Moalboal, click here!
Tip: for more frequent ferries and buses, we recommend travelling from Siquijior – Dumaguete – Sibulan – Liloan/Samboan Bus Station – Moalboal. It sounds like a lot of stops, but this journey should only take around 6 hours or less, depending on ferry timings.
It’s also possible to get a ferry direct from Siquijor to Liloan, but it only runs once a day so timings are more restrictive. Search for accommodation in Moalboal here.
Day 17-18: Moalboal
This quaint fishing village has more to it than meets the eye. Whether you snorkel or dive, the Sardine Run is a must see while visiting Moalboal! You can see the huge bait balls made up of billions of fish right off the beach in town – but just make sure you’ve got strong swimming skills as it can be a little choppy out there!
After you’ve seen this natural wonder, why not explore the beaches around Moalboal, or take a trip to one of the most famous waterfalls in the Philippines – Kawasan Falls! You can admire it’s blue-green waters by driving yourself 45 minutes down the road, or join a canyoneering tour from the village for the ultimate adventure!
Tip: If you do decide to drive yourself to Kawasan Falls, make sure you arrive bright and early to avoid the crowds, and don’t forget to keep walking upstream passed the first waterfall!
Day 19: Travel Day – Moalboal to Cebu City to Puerto Princesa
On day 19, it’s time to leave the island of Cebu and head west to Palawan! Catch an early bus from Moalboal to Cebu, and then hop on a plane to Puerto Princesa. Spend the evening in one of the many chilled out reggae bars! You can search for accommodation in Puerto Princesa here.
Day 20: Puerto Princesa
The next day is for exploring Puerto Princesa, and why not start this off with a trip to the Underground River. Like Ha Long Bay in Vietnam, this is one of the New 7 Wonders of the World! A visit to this subterranean spectacle will take you beneath impressive limestone mountains and give you the chance to spot incredible wildlife…you may even glimpse one of the national park’s Komodo Dragons! Whether you choose to visit independently or with an underground river tour – it’s definitely a must-see!
For more water based activities in Puerto Princesa, head over to Honda Bay, where you can island hop or even (ethically) swim with whale sharks! This experience is on many bucket lists whilst travelling in the Philippines, so it’s important to find somewhere where the sharks are encouraged to go about their natural behaviour rather than being fed and touched. Wondering what else there is to do in Puerto Princesa? Click here to find out more!
Day 21: Puerto Princesa – Port Barton
From the main city of Palawan, head north to the sleepy village of Port Barton! New to the Philippines travelling scene, this tiny beachside town is often missed by travellers without them even realising what they’re missing – a big mistake! Not only is this an amazing place to relax, unwind and explore, but it also provides the perfect stop on the way up to the incredibly popular El Nido!
Once you’ve finally made it along the bumpy roads into the town, spend the evening wandering around and eating in one of the many yummy restaurants that Port Barton has to offer.
Tip: There are no cash machines in Port Barton so make sure you have enough money for your stay before travelling here!
Day 22-23: Port Barton
Time to start exploring Port Barton, and the best way to do this is by seeing where your feet take you!
Either take a walk along the beach, or venture further afield to the stunning White Beach or Pamuayan Waterfalls! If you don’t fancy walking, you can hop on a taxi boat or rent a motorbike – but if you decide to do this, be warned! The roads surrounding Port Barton are not for the inexperienced…in fact even the experienced riders will struggle here!
An island hopping trip is a must-do here, especially as it tends to much quieter than in other areas of the Philippines! Island hopping trips can easily be organised from the village beach, where you’ll also find some cosy beach bars and a stretch of white sand to top up your tan.
Day 24: Port Barton – El Nido
After you feel refreshed by the chilled out vibes of Port Barton, take a minibus further north to El Nido.
You know those dreamy pictures of turquoise water and little white boats beside jaw dropping limestone karsts? Well chances are these were taken in El Nido – this place has probably been on your bucket list without you even realising! It’s the home of iconic island hopping, white sand beaches and the hub of Palawan’s tourism, and it’s easy to see why.
Day 25-26: El Nido
With so much to do in El Nido, you’ll be spoilt for choice! One of the best things to do in this town (and the Philippines) are the El Nido island hopping tours. Spend a day cruising alongside island paradises, kayaking through lagoons and snorkelling in crystal clear water – it doesn’t get much better than this!
But with tour operators every few feet and 4 tours to choose from, it can become difficult to choose which adventure to go on. Luckily, we’ve done the hard work for you with our tried and tested island hopping trips!
After an epic day of island exploration, rent a motorbike or take a tricycle to El Nido’s jungle waterfalls and beautiful beaches, dive the local reefs or hike up Talaw Cliff for a unrivalled view of the surroundings! Check out our destination guide for everything you need to know about El Nido! Book your accommodation in El Nido here.
Day 27: El Nido – Coron
From El Nido, it’s a short ferry ride to Busuanga Island – where you’ll find the town of Coron!
Tip: If you have more time on your hands, money in your pocket and you want to leave civilisation behind for while, then you could always take an island hopping trip from El Nido to Coron! Read more about it here.
Once you’ve made it to your accommodation, take a wander around the town, book your activities for the next few days or watch one of the late night basketball games in the sqaure!
Day 28-29: Coron
Exploring waterfalls, kayaking and even more island hopping are all amongst the best things to do in Coron, and with everything here being very different to El Nido, don’t write off these activities just yet!
Kayangan Lake and Twin Lagoon are must-sees on any island hopping trip, whilst if you love to snorkel, make sure your tour includes Barracuda Lake! Diving in Coron is also incredible, with multiple wrecks and extraordinary reefs to see!
For something a little different to round off your Philippines adventure, pay a visit to the Maquinit Hot Springs or climb up Mount Tapyas in the centre of town for views of the surrounding archipelago and an up close look at the Coron Hollywood sign!
Day 30: Back to Manila
If you can bear to leave the wonderful Philippines (we wouldn’t blame you for extending your visa!), then you’ll need to head back to Manila on day 30, where you can easily catch an onward flight to your next destination.
Either hop on a flight from Busuanga Airport (about 45 minutes from Coron Town), or you can even take an overnight ferry. The ferry only leaves on Sundays and can take over 12 hours, but it’s cheaper than flying and is an experience within itself! Book your ferry from Coron to Manila here.
Ferry Tip: If you want to get some sleep, book a ticket for Tourist Class or above. The lower classes will see you sleeping in a room with hundreds of beds, noisy people, chickens and lack of air conditioning! Tourist class gives you a bed in a small shared cabin and you will at least be able to catch some shut eye during the long trip!
There you have it – 30 days exploring the best bits of the Philippines! But we’re not done yet…
Have you got more than 30 days to see the Philippines? Well there are SO MANY other places you could visit!
- Albay – The location of Mayon Volcano and the Quitinday Hills.
- Banaue Rice Terraces – Hike the terraces carved into the mountains here, often called the “eighth wonder of the world”.
- Bantayan Island – A laid back island north of Cebu City where you can experience authentic local culture, chill on the beach and learn more about protecting marine environments.
- Boracay – Recently reopened after a big clean up operation, visit Boracay for pristine beaches and parties!
- Caramoan – The next El Nido! With the feel of a castaway island, visit Caramoan for snorkelling and island hopping.
- Donsol and Pintuyan, Southern Leyte – If you want to swim with Whale Sharks, then these are the most ethical places we know of to do this besides Honda Bay! Oslob is a another place that you can swim with them, however practices aren’t as ethical here and you won’t be able to see the sharks behaving naturally. For more information on swimming with whale sharks, click here.
- Pampanga – Located just south of Manila, this is the place to come for authentic local culture, food and even a hot air balloon festival.
- Puerto Galera – Less than 4 hours from Manila – visit for trekking, snorkelling and diving.
- Sagada – Caving, waterfalls and trekking, as well as cultural curiosities – the hanging coffins.
- San Juan, La Union – a great place to surf and take in the local architecture.
If you have any other suggestions for places to visit in the Philippines and why, we’d love to hear from you! Head over to our Facebook Group to tell us where we’ve been missing!