I can’t think of many more relaxing places in the world to write a blog post than from a hammock on an island in the Philippines.
We loved One Life Adventure’s 12-day tour of Sri Lanka Pre-COVID so it was a no-brainer for us to book onto their 10-day tour of the Philippines. To read about our time in Sri Lanka, follow this link.
Getting to the capital, Manila (where the tour started on the same day we arrived) was a pain due to us having a 12-hour layover in Kuala Lumpur after spending four nights in Langkawi.
We intended on ‘roughing it’ in KL International Airport overnight, but in the end made the sensible decision to book into a cheap hotel.
On the first night, we met everyone at the rooftop bar for welcome drinks with views of the Manila skyline.
Day Two – Flying to Puerto Princesa & visiting Iwahig Prison
Manila isn’t the safest of cities, so it was no surprise we got a one-hour domestic flight in the early hours to Puerto Princesa – a coastal city on Palawan Island – voted as being one of the most beautiful island groups in the world.
When we landed at 08:00 AM, it was a quick turnaround because the first thing on the itinerary today was a visit to the open-air Iwahig Prison and Penal Farm. This wasn’t the high security prison you come to expect in the U.K.
Instead, prisoners who had been on their best behaviour were allowed to free roam around the grounds and perform work on the farmland.
Our tour guide, Stu explained that there were three risk categories ranging from low to high and that those inmates who were deemed reliable enough could be allowed more responsibilities.
After having a look around the grounds, a selection of the inmates performed several dance routines for us. They could all really move, especially one of the officers.
They rehearsed for up to five hours a day and had to go through a tough selection process, almost like a version of ‘Prisoner’s Got Talent’. They tried getting us up on our feet at the end for a boogie but I was quite happy sitting this one out!
From what I could make out from my time as a Court Reporter, the laws in the Philippines are much stricter than our court system. The inmates who we spoke to were all mostly serving 20+ years for cannabis offences, but there was one who had committed murder.
The rest of the day was for us to enjoy at our own leisure. We stocked up on snacks, bought stationary and a football with Grady and Tiana for our upcoming school visit in a few days and then caught up on some much-needed sleep.
Day Three – UNESCO World Heritage Puerto Princesa Underground River & Port Barton
I made the decision to get up at 03:00 AM again to watch England play out a 0-0 bore draw vs USA, which really wasn’t worth it. The time differences for the World Cup are not ideal but nothing will stop me from watching our matches.
After getting just a few hours sleep, we left our hotel at 07:00 AM and headed for Cabayugan where we got a boat shuttle over to the UNESCO World Heritage and New 7 Wonders of Nature Puerto Princesa Underground River.
A local guide meandered us through five miles of rivers and caves in a canoe while an audio transcription played detailing about the history, stalactites and stalagmites in the cave. You had to use your imagination for a lot of them!
Next, we headed to Port Barton – a secluded island escape which is part of the San Vincente area of Palawan.
This is a lesser-known region off the beaten track which tourists often miss. We were welcomed in style by the locals when we arrived. It didn’t take us long to be running into the sea with a rum and coke in hand.
Here is a good time to explain about the brilliant work that One Life Adventures do. Unlike other smaller tour operators, the company’s ethos is centred around positively impacting businesses used on the tour and giving something back to the local communities.
It’s one of the main reasons why we enjoy their tours so much.
Day Four – Island hopping (2 days, 1 night)
The main reason that pulls tourists into Port Barton is the island hopping experience here. The islands surrounding the area are far less touristic than other parts of Palawan.
We spent the first day snorkelling at several amazing spots in the turquoise water.
Lunch was freshly BBQ’d fish, which wasn’t to my liking, but I was more than happy to start writing this blog post from the first of many hammocks.
Tonight, we sat around the campfire exchanging stories whilst stargazing at the amazing night sky. It’s not everyday you drift off to sleep in a tent on a private island while listening to the waves.
Day Five – More island hopping!
Such a busy day! We started off by going to more snorkelling spots and then to a sandbar where beach dogs greeted us. They were all so friendly and loved being cuddled.
After lunch on another different tropical island, we headed to a local primary school. The children welcomed us with open arms with huge beaming smiles on their faces and performed a few dance routines in their assembly hall before showing us around.
Interacting with the kids was a special memory for me.
Continuing the action-packed day, next we trekked to Bigaho Falls on yet another island. It was so refreshing given the uncomfortable 30°C+ heat.
To end the day, we had a brief stop at Starfish Island – another sandbar in the middle of the ocean.
Finding Western food had been hard to come by so far, but I had my first proper evening meal tonight in Port Barton at CocoRico Hostel. You’re always going to struggle if you don’t like fish, noodles or rice in Asia, but we don’t let that get in the way of our travels.
Later, we had our first big night out partying at CocoRico and at a nearby reggae bar.
Day Six – El Nido bound!
Everyone was nursing a horrible hangover so it was a good job we had a lie in until 11:00 AM and a long four hour drive ahead of us to El Nido – one of the most popular places to visit in the Philippines.
Stu took us on a short walking tour so we could get our bearings and in the evening we eat at a Greek restaurant overlooking the bay.
Day Seven – Cultural Day
Today we immersed ourselves in unique Filipino culture with guides Mark and Shenny on their Philippines Experience.
To begin with, we learnt about the flora and fauna that grows in the jungle on a short hike and then took part in group activities ranging from cooking, climbing coconut trees, coconut shaving, palm tree leaf weaving, dancing and traditional stick fighting.
I particularly enjoyed learning some popular moves from stick fighting – the national sport of the Philippines and watching everyone try and climb a coconut tree. Emily did so well to make it to the top!
The coconut shaving, dancing and in particular eating what we had cooked wasn’t really for me.
Next, we ziplined 750m between two islands over the ocean to the stunning Las Cabanas Beach where we chilled out before watching the most incredible sunset.
When you picture the Philippines, this is what you think of.
Tonight, we hit the El Nido strip.
Day Eight – Island hopping again!
The Philippines is an archipelago made up of over 7,500 islands, 2000 of which are inhabited, so it was no surprise that more island hopping was on the itinerary from El Nido today.
We stocked up on alcohol before boarding the boat, went to a few snorkelling spots and then checked out Entalula Island and Snake Island.
I asked the question if snakes were actually inhabited on the island, but it was just a large sandbar.
In the afternoon, after day drinking all day, we lounged on Papaya Beach, climbed into Cadugnon Cave and then snorkelled in Cathedral Cave.
For the second night running, we hit the alcohol hard and partied until 03:00 AM.
Day Nine – Canopy Walk
Not for the first time, I wasn’t feeling the freshest on our penultimate day but I still got up to do the short canopy walk up to Taraw Cliffs overlooking El Nido to get the best view of the bay and Cadlao Island.
Later, Em went for a massage whilst I went back to bed and then in the afternoon, we decided to get a Tricycle back to Las Cabanas Beach with Grady & Tiana, who by now we had formed an extra special friendship with.
Day 10 – The end of another unforgettable tour
With a tear in my eye, we said our goodbyes in the morning at breakfast and then all went our separate ways. I’m an emotional person, so leaving people you’ve made incredible memories that will last a lifetime with is always tough.
Continuing our travels, our next point of call is Japan where we’ll be starting One Life Adventure’s 14-day tour through Tokyo, Osaka, Hiroshima, Koyasan and the magical island of Miyajima!
As always, if you’d like to keep up-to-date with our adventure, you can either enter your email at the bottom of this article to receive instant notifications every time I post a new blog; click the Follow ‘Al’ Around The World link, or drop me a follow on Twitter at @AlecW95 or on Instagram at @AlecW95 or @alatw95.
Alternatively, you can follow Emily on her travelling TikTok account at @emstraveladventure.
Thanks for reading, until the next time…