At the time of visiting the Philippines, I’ve now been to more than 60 countries all around the world; and I can still say this for sure …
The Philippines is by far the most beautiful place I have ever seen.
Nor does it have mountains and glaciers like South America.
But what our 4 week trip to the Philippines did have was the most stunning waters and coral reefs I have ever seen.
The water is so clear that you can clearly see corals and fish below even from a distance.
And from above, you can see how the water gets deeper and the shades of blue gradually evolve.
So, if you're looking for picture perfect oceans and the ideal place to swim and snorkel, then The Philippines is the place to be.
And here is the ideal 4 week Philippines itinerary that you can copy for having an amazing time, just like we did!
The majority of international flights will see you arrive in either Manila or Cebu.
For us, it just so happened that flights to Manila were cheapest, and it is well situated for your first proper stop (Coron).
Just as a heads up, Manila is a place you want to get out of as quickly as possible.
It is mostly just a large overpopulated urban city filled with noise and smoke.
I’m sure there are nice places further north, but for us, Manila was simply a place to spend the night before we caught an internal flight the next day.
As our first stop after Manila, it’s fair to say Coron is entirely different to Manila.
Sure, the main town area near the docks is a bit overcrowded and a little smelly, but this is because they can’t keep up with all of the tourists coming!
Seriously, there is a real shortage of decent, affordable accommodation in Coron, as tourists are coming quicker than they can build.
But nonetheless, you simply have to visit Coron!
We truly fell in love with the crystal blue waters in the bay and the wonderful snorkelling spots located all around Coron Island.
However, by far the best reason to visit Coron is to stay at Paolyn Houseboats.
This is a small houseboat located out in a sheltered bay next to Coron Island, and is literally paradise!
I won’t divulge too much here as I could talk all day about how much I loved our time here.
Instead, you should read the full post I did on Paolyn Houseboats in Coron.
After falling in love with Coron, El Nido had a lot to live up to!
In many ways, it’s a similar place to visit as the best thing to do here is to go out on guided tour packages around the various inlets and islands nearby.
But don’t worry, El Nido and Coron are each unique and both well worth a visit.
That being said, we did find that some of the most popular spots in El Nido are far less well preserved than in Coron and as a result the corals have died off and you have to swim further out to get the same snorkelling experiences.
What’s nice about El Nido’s more developed tourist industry is there’s a wider choice of hotels, hostels, cafes and restaurants in town.
Every night you can find a new bar or restaurant on the beachfront and watch the beautiful sunset.
Port Barton is the newest and most up and coming tourist spot in Palawan.
Well, put it this way, they only got 24 hour electricity at the end of 2018!
When we visited in early 2019, they still had no ATMs and there is a limited choice of accommodation (but there are tonnes being built all throughout town).
What’s great about Port Barton is that you can still visit and find scenic day trips and not too many tourists crowding the beaches.
This will probably change in the coming years, but for now it is certainly worth a visit on anyone’s Philippines travel itinerary.
Here, once again the best thing to do is go on a guided day trip out to spots where you can snorkel and, best of all, swim with turtles!
Also, the main beach is so scenic and the perfect place to have cheap drinks and enjoy the sunset.
Next on our Philippines itinerary was Puerto Princesa, but as a head’s up, I don’t really rate this stop very highly.
We decided to stop here for two nights before flying to Siargao, and in the end I was a little let down.
We hired a motorbike for two day sand went far and wide discovering the best sights in the area; however, there is nothing to write home about.
So, instead of spending time here, I would recommend using that valuable time in the Philippines to discover more of the other wonderful locations.
If you’re stuck for time and want to experience a bit of everything in the Philippines, then I’d say Siargao is the place to go.
This wonderful island houses everything you could possibly want to find in the Philippines; including some of the world’s best surf locations, waterfalls, day trips to mangroves, cheap booze, places to party, incredible beaches, day trips to nearby islands and stunning reefs to snorkel over.
Looking back, it’s no surprise that Siargao is where we chose to spend the longest amount of time, as you really do need at least 4 full days to really soak up what’s on offer.
On that note, I strongly suggest you check out the 4 day Siargao itinerary post that Cazzy puts together.
It honestly is the perfect way to squeeze in everything and make the most of your time there.
Bohol is perhaps my second favorite island, only just coming up short of Siargao.
Once again, there is so much to see and do here, that it is perfectly suited to families, couples and backpackers alike.
I think we saw the most diverse array of travellers here and in the main tourist area in the south west, you will find plenty of hotels, resorts and hostels to choose from.
However, I would advise that you escape this tourist zone if you want to experience what Bohol truly has to offer.
The main tours that run from 6am till 12pm are now far too crowded and it’s really hard to enjoy any part of the beaches and sand bar that you visit.
Instead, as you head inland and towards the eastern coast you will uncover waterfalls, beaches and even cave pools that very few tourists go to.
Once again, I really do want to big up the post I put together for spending 3 days in Bohol as it’s the perfect way to squeeze everything in.
Once again, if you are looking to visit one of The Philippines’ most up and coming destinations, then Siquijor is the place for you.
It’s been a hot spot for a number of years now but you can tell there are still far less hotels and resorts here as compared to other islands.
In Siquijor, we spent 3 days discovering, just like elsewhere in the Philippines, hidden waterfalls, beaches, viewpoints and dive spots.
However, one spot still stands out to me as one of the highlights from our entire trip; and that is Cambugahay Falls.
In the last 3 years, Cazzy and I have been to A LOT of waterfalls all across southeast Asia.
However, for me, Cambugahay Falls are by far my favourite.
Because, they are so much fun!
Here, you find that the locals have built giant bungee swings into the falls where you can jump, swing dive and do tricks from, depending on how brave you feel.
I fell in love and ended up going twice.
The final island on our 30 day Philippines itinerary was Cebu.
Cebu is a relatively large island and you need a lot more than just 4 nights if you want to see it all.
As such, we decided to spend the little time we had left in the popular region of Badian.
It is here that you find Kawasan Falls; arguably Cebu’s best waterfalls and a firm contender as some of the best waterfalls anywhere in the Philippines.
Here, you can do guided trekking and waterfalls jumping tours to these and a number of other waterfalls in the area.
Also, up the coast you have the chance to witness another spectacle I was keen to experience … the sardine run.
Just a dozen or so metres off the coast you will discover a giant hoard of hundreds of thousands of sardines.
You simply pay a local guide, grab your GoPro and a snorkel set and head out into the water to swim down and into them.
Don’t worry, they don’t touch you, but it does make for a cool experience and some great photos (just a shame we had a dodgy GoPro with us as our photos turned out terrible! </3).
Our last night was then spent in Cebu City, on the east coast of Cebu Island, as it is from here that we caught our flights back to the UK.
Philippines is a rapidly developing backpacking destination, and it seems like transport systems are improving every year.
For example, when we were in Bohol, they had just recently opened a brand spanking new airport that will probably cause the number of tourists visiting to grow massively.
But for our visit, we had to get a ferry to a part of the island, further away from the main tourist area.
As such, just be aware that for each island, the ways of getting there should hopefully be getting better and better.
For now, your 3 primary modes of transport are ...
This is by far the quickest and easiest way of getting around the Philippines.
We took flights from:
For us, the cheapest airline (usually) was Air Asia and we didn’t have any problems with them.
It’s worth noting that the cost of our flights around the Philippines was by far the biggest expense of our trip.
If you plan on moving quickly and visiting as many islands as possible, then you kind of have to shell out on flights, which will seem comparatively very expensive to how cheap everything else is in the Philippines.
To find the cheapest flights available between all islands in the Philippines, we used Skyscanner.
For many islands, you have no choice but to get a ferry to them as they have no public airports.
Ferry crossings were typically very cheap and were relatively comfortable (though this depends entirely on the weather on the day you sail).
For most ferry crossings, it's possible to pick up cheap tickets from a local ticket office a few days before you depart.
However, do be aware that in peak months boats can fill up quickly and you may not be able to get tickets.
As such, if you know your itinerary around the Philippines, then it could be worth booking tickets online a week or two in advance.
We used 12Go Asia for all of our online ferry bookings.
We had only one issue with them, which was in Coron where their system never mailed our booking to the ferry operator, and we very almost weren’t allowed to board.
If you are going between stops within an island, then it’s possible to pick up some sort of transfer, either designed for locals or tourists.
They were each pretty cheap and the ride was comfy in a standard 12 seater minibus.
You can usually pick up tickets for these in the port town, but again try to book as far in advance as possible.
I honestly really did love our 4 weeks spent discovering all of these amazing places in the Philippines!
But that being said, the whole point of travelling is to discover new places and along the way you will pick up on things you could have done better.
In this case, there are a couple of places I would recommend removing from your Philippines travel itinerary if you only have 3 weeks to explore.
In this case, those places are Puerto Princesca and Cebu.
Sure, we saw some awesome places in Cebu, in particular Kawasan Falls!
However, getting there is a bit more awkward and overall I just didn’t rate the places we visited as highly.
Of course, there are nice spots, but compared to the rest of the itinerary, they don’t stack up!
So, if you shorten this down to a 3 week itinerary, here’s a rough idea of what you’d have left …
You can check out our Philippines Travel Guide for some itinerary suggestions!
When planning your own Philippines itinerary, I recommend first deciding what it is you want to see and do.
As you can tell, you will find incredible snorkelling spots on all islands, as well as the chance to do so much more, like:
Our 1 month Philippines backpacking route gave us the chance to do all of these things as more, as you can tell from the individual location guides we wrote for each one.
However, if you are more inclined to do just a few activities, then feel free to cut out a few islands and spend longer uncovering each one to a greater depth.
I’d love to hear your thoughts on our route and to offer up any suggestions on what you might change.
Similarly, if you have any other questions, then just let me know in the comments below.
For help planning the rest of your trip in the Philippines, here’s some other guides you might find useful: