I am sat on the ledge of a boat. Below, my toes brush along a million shades of blue. To my right, dramatic cliffs cut the coastline in a never ending love affair with the sea. I look to the left, and the sun is kissing the horizon one last time before it’s swallowed whole by the moon. Ahead, a first glimpse of our soon-to- be favorite place on the planet, Palawan.
But let’s step back for a second. I didn’t just miraculously end up on said boat on my way to paradise. Nay, it took three plane rides, many-a- car transfer, and a couple of boats before getting to this one. And while the trials and tribulations of being utterly fabulous in the Philippines are practically non-existent, it never hurts to get some insight into what to expect. So let’s start from the beginning, landing in Manila.
Day 1: One night in Manila.
You’ve probably sought vacations in The Philippines for pure and simple beach time. To be fair, the article is ‘a guide to island hopping.’ And yes, you’re right, you should be going to The Philippines for the pristine beaches. Just don’t miss out on Manila while you’re at it.
The often overlooked capital city is a treasure trove of untapped cultural discoveries and over-the-top luxuries. Spend one day and night here to get a taste for city life. You’ll be staying at Raffles Makati, where you’ll get your first taste of the famously first-class Filipino hospitality.
In your short stint in Manila, you should find yourself lost between a simultaneous mix of song and joke on a tour of the historic walled area of Intramuros with the infamous Carlos. Carlos is a pretty popular guy, so make sure to book in advance here. You’ll laugh, you’ll cry, it will most certainly be better than Cats. Your next stop will be a casual browse through Manila’s Museum of Contemporary Art and Design, where you’ll uncover local culture through the eye’s of emerging local artists. Finish the night with Filipino-style omakase at Mecha Uma. Expect to somehow fall in love with fried pigeon and all things adobo.
Day 2: A day trip to Volcano Island.
Before heading off to total island bliss visit Tagaytay, the Lake Como of Manila (of sorts), where the capital’s billionaire’s brush shoulders amidst rolling hills and lakeside views. You’ll only need a day here, and the thing to see is most certainly Taal Volcano. Essentially, it’s a volcano within a lake, within a larger volcano, protected by another lake. Casual, I know. Once in Tagaytay, you will hop on a 30-minute boat ride across calm lake waters before reaching the humble village on the shores of Volcano Island. Here, you can either trek by foot or by donkey up 311m to reach the top. This may seem daunting, but trust us, it is most certainly worth it. Even for the likes.
How to get there: Book your transfer to Tagatay, an hour drive south of Manila, a boat charter to Taal Volcano, and a guide right here or by phone at +639063318782.
Day 3: El Nido Resorts, Lagen Island.
Well hello there, paradise. Remember that moment on the ledge of a boat as the sun was going down? We’re back there. You’ve officially made it to Palawan, an archipelago of 1,780 islands and one of the most beautiful places on earth, undebatably.
Your first stop will be El Nido Resorts, Lagen Island, a secluded stay nestled between a lush four-hectare forest and a calm, shallow lagoon. The island serves as a sanctuary to a variety of endemic species, with whom you’ll be enjoying your stay. Make sure to take full advantage of the spa, the dense island hikes, and the crystal-clear, calm waters of which your private villa sits atop.
Oh, just look at you, all smitten and pampered after a day of total relaxation at Lagen. Top it off with a sunset piña colada by the infinity pool, only to wake up to a private morning fishing trip, where you’ll (hopefully) catch your very own tuna. Before you ask, yes, it will be cut fresh right in front of you and eaten like sashimi.
How to get there: An hour-long flight with AirSWIFT from Manila to El Nido. Make sure to reserve your boat transfer from El Nido to Lagen Resort with the hotel at least two days in advance here: +63 (917) 843 7819.
Day 4: El Nido Resorts, Miniloc Island.
From one paradise to the next, find yourself at Lagen’s sister hotel, Miniloc Island. Here, your stay will be spent swimming with 1.5-meter jack fish and schools of colorful sea creatures right outside your doorstep at Miniloc’s house reef. Because of course they have a house reef.
Having this luxurious place to lay your head and call home base will be more than ideal, since it is also a gateway to explore the popular attractions around Bacuit Bay, such as the Big and Small Lagoons, as well as uncovering local beaches. Make sure to book a Water Cottage, essentially your own private house built on stilts, above the ocean, and right beside Miniloc’s dramatic limestone cliff.
How to get there: Have the concierge at Lagen Island Resort arrange a boat transfer here +63 2902 5980.
Day 6: A day in Boracay.
The moment you step onto Boracay, an anything-can- happen allure seems to carry you like the warm breeze off of the ocean. Powder-like white sand, scattered sailboats off the shore, and beautiful beach bums from all corners of the world come here to escape. You’ve had your time to relax and adventure, now let this wild at heart island lead you on a more spontaneous part of your stay.
Drop your stuff off at Balinghai Beach Resort, a secluded hotel off the tourist path with a private beach and luxurious amenities. Be sure to spend some time soaking in the views before heading to the island’s main attraction, White Beach. Start with a mango smoothie at Jonah’s Fruit Shake; Snack Bar, and get whisked away by the seemingly limitless amount of bars, beach bods, and vendors on the 5-kilometer white sand beach. Whether you’re into snorkeling, cliff jumping, or rock climbing, you can find your adventure here. Add sunset drinks at the boho-chic Wahine Beach Bar and an authentic Filipino dinner (did someone say bistek?) at Subo to your Boracay musts.
Day 5: A short stop in Cebu.
Cure a Boracay hangover with a relaxing night at the Shangri-La in Cebu. A quick stopover here includes sun-soaked swims in the clear turquoise waters of their private Matacan beach, and detoxing in the hydrotherapy oasis that is Chi, The Spa. Most importantly, however, will be the lechón you’ll have for dinner at the hotel’s Buko Bar. This whole spit- roasted pig is centric to local cuisine, and is simply delicious.
Day 7: Whale Sharks in Oslob.
Take your boujee self on an enviable adventure underwater to swim with the largest fish in the sea, the whale shark. You’ll have to wake up at the crack of dawn, and you still probably won’t be the only one out there, but it’s a bucket list item you simply can’t miss. These friendly floaters can size up to 13-meters long, and fortunately for most sea-dwellers—and us!—their favorite meal is plankton.
The perk of booking a private tour with the Shangri-La is that you won’t have to wait in crowded lines once you reach the boat dock in Oslob. That, and the guides seem to be expert underwater photographers. Expect many-a- whale shark selfie to be taken. There is simply no better way to top off a fantastical trip than with this inimitable adventure.
How to get there: A 3-hour drive from the Shangri-La to Oslob can be arranged with the hotel by telephone: (63 32) 231 0288 or email: email@example.com.