Philippines, an Underwater Paradise

On a crisp September morning in 2019, when the leaves were just about to turn into their glorious shades of yellow here in California, I was looking for flight tickets to places to spend the Thanksgiving break. As expected, the prices were twice/thrice of what they would normally be. I came across the Philippines and was surprised to see that the tickets were very reasonably priced. Bear in mind, I haven’t heard of a single soul I know/follow on any social media network visit this country. Out of curiosity, I looked up places to see in Philippines and I was bombarded with images of stunning lagoons and white sand beaches. And all this at a fraction of what you would pay in any of the Western countries! Needless to say, I checked the Visa requirements and booked the tickets instantly! And oh man that country made me fall in love with Southeast Asia, with it’s extremely warm and welcoming people and AMAZING VEGETARIAN FOOD (Yeah you read that right!). Without further ado, let’s move on to the important details

Visa requirements:

Please check the current Visa requirements before planning your trip, but this is what it was when I traveled in Nov 2019:

  • If you have an H1B fork visa from the US, you can stay in the country for upto 14 days Visa free
  • If you have an Indian passport, you can stay upto 14 days Visa free
  • If you have a Canadian Visa, you can stay upto 14 days Visa free

I satisfied all the three criteria, so they stamped my Canadian visitor visa during the entry

Planning for the trip:

One thing that would require your time and effort is the planning part of things. Because Phillipines is an archipelago of 7000 odd islands, there are too many beautiful places to see and things to do but you can’t just rent a car and drive around. You need to take a combination of buses/flights/ferry to get to the different islands. So be ready to allocate enough time to do this and I promise you it’ll all be worth it in the end 🙂

My Itinerary:

Now onto the exciting part! 🙂 I wanted to visit Cebu and Palawan during this trip. Since there are no direct flights to Cebu, we took an International flight from SFO->Manila and then transferred to a domestic flight from Manila-> Cebu. One thing to note is the immigration line is a joke in Manila airport. There were literally hundreds of people packed in no particular order whatsoever to get to the immigration officers. We had no idea that we need to take a shuttle AFTER we are done with immigration to get to the domestic airport to catch our next flight. Thankfully some locals helped us navigate the swarm of people and get to our connection on time. So make sure your Manila -> Cebu flight has latest 3-4 hour layover to account for this.

Day 1&2 – Cebu

Day 3&4 – Coron, Palawan

Day 5,6&7 – El Nido, Palawan

Day 8 – Coron, Palawan

Cebu:

Cebu is one of the bigger and more commercial islands in the Philippines. We wanted to do the Kawasan Falls Canyoneering so that was our main reason to visit Cebu. We booked the full day tour with http://highlandadventuresph.com/packages/. It was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve EVER had! We were assigned a tour guide who basically took 10000 pictures of us in every single part of the canyon and made the whole experience soo much fun. You have an option of hiking to the base of the canyon or zip-lining there directly. We spent the whole day navigating the beautiful turquoise waters of the canyon and jumping off not-too-high cliffs and having the best time. They make you piping hot lunch when you reach the base of the falls and THAT my friends is the most authentic lunch-with-a-view! And all this for $75 per person! Isn’t it too good to be true? Well, welcome to the Philippines 😀

We stayed at Moalboal, which was also famous for its Sardine run and sea turtles. So before the canyoneering trip, we went on a snorkeling trip by the shore and spotted 3-4 HUGE sea turtles and thousands of sardines so gracefully forming those abstract patterns under the shocking blue waters! All we needed to do was stop by one of the seaside stores and grab a life vest (We had gotten our own snorkeling gear) and walk into the ocean. Again, one of the most amazing things I had ever witnessed and something you shouldn’t miss! (You’re gonna read this a lot in this blog post :P)

We stayed in this amazing Airbnb in Moalboal – https://www.tripadvisor.com/Hotel_Review-s1-g663539-d13326787-Reviews-Teobas_Homestay-Moalboal_Cebu_Island_Visayas.html which was by the ocean, so we could hang out by the shore/snorkel here as well in the mornings/late evenings. We spotted tonnes of star fishes just by the pier!

Look at those starfishes!!

Coron:

Palawan is one of the most picturesque islands in the Philippines and we had to see it! We took a domestic flight from Cebu to Coron and the views from the flight were outstanding! Every few mins, we would spot an island in the middle of the ocean with so many different shades of blue on it’s shoreline! The city itself is very small and cute, with so many great places to eat, hike and tour. The first evening, we hiked Mt.Tapyas which was a great workout with outstanding views of the city and it’s teeny tiny islands out in the Coron Bay. The sunset was magical from up above! The next morning, we geared up all ready for our first boat tour here which covered Barracuda Lake, Twin Lagoon, Banol Beach and Kayangan Lake. The stunning turquoise waters of the lagoons coupled with the whitest sands in the beaches made for a surreal scenery which I couldn’t get enough of! We spent the entire tour swimming to lagoons and discovering small caves along the coastline. This is the tour we did – Coron Tour A

Snorkeling in the coral gardens of Coron was one of the highlights of my trip! Coron has some of the most vibrant corals that are still alive in the world! Man and those fishes, name a color and you would find them in the order of hundreds!! We visited the Lusong Coral gardens are Siete Pecados and before you go there, one piece of advice – after this trip, every other snorkeling trip which is not in SE Asia will underwhelm you 😀 It was the harsh reality I had to face after snorkeling in multiple Caribbean and Hawaiian islands. There is just no comparison, so hence the warning!

El Nido:

We took the fast ferry from Coron to El Nido While Coron is known for it’s amazing underwater life and beautiful lagoons, El Nido is known for its beaches! To experience it first hand, we stayed at the Mad Monkey hostel on Nacpan beach. I’m generally a stickler for cleanliness and staying in a hostel was my biggest pet peeve, but this one exceeded my expectations and made for an amazing stay! It’s situated right on this beautiful wide beach with calm waters, perfect for lounging. We did a beach hopping tour with the hostel and visited some stunning white sand beaches on this island complete with the idyllic beach BBQ under the coconut trees. This is the tour we did : El Nido Tour B

Before heading back, we heard about this FireFly watching tour from some folks at the hostel and decided to give it a shot. We were picked up from our hostel and taken to a floating restaurant for dinner. There was this band of really old Filipino men performing songs at each table based on their requests. When they got to ours, I asked them if they could sing Ed Sheeran’s “Perfect”, and omg, it was the cutest thing you guys!!! I was so so moved and it was the most heart warming experience! After dinner, we got onto smaller motor boats to go checkout the fireflies. What I did not know was the water in the mangrove forest was full of bioluminescent planktons!!! Say what! Like I literally felt like I was in some Disney movie, for real! It was a no moon day, so at one point, we could see millions of stars on the sky, hundreds of fireflies on the trees and the water was glowing blue with the planktons. This was easily one of those rare moments in the my life where it seemed like an out-of-body experience. The amount of beauty in that one moment was just indescribable and I was so overwhelmed with happiness and gratitude to be able to witness this! This was easily the highlight of our whole trip and it literally happened on our last day there 🙂

We took a ferry back to Coron and stayed at a Riverhouse this time. We went fishing with a local fisherman and caught a dozen of (good-looking) fish which the restaurant actually cooked and gave us for dinner haha! We said our goodbyes to this amazing country and flew back home after we swore we would be back, if not for the amazing beaches and lagoons and underwater life, atleast for the $10 massage that we got every single day we were there 😀

P.S. I visited Philippines in 2019, almost 3.5 years ago! While I was going through the pictures, I was instantly transported to the place and time and the memories of this trip were so fresh, I was amazed! (I can’t even remember what I ate for dinner a couple days ago :|) This just goes to prove the magic of core memories, which for me is the best part of traveling!

Thanks for stopping by!!

Until next time,

Mal

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