The Philippines stole my breath away.
A year ago this month, I set off for the Philippines with only a general idea of the route I wanted to take around the country. The trip had been a spur-of-the-moment decision (as most of my trips are), so I wasn't entirely sure what I was going to see or experience.
Within a day of getting outside of Manilla, I knew this was going to be a trip of a lifetime.
I was high up in the mountains of the Ifugao province, surrounded by lush, green rice terraces and the most breathtaking layer of fog I'd ever seen. This was the beginning of my three week adventure and already I couldn't believe my eyes.
In the coming weeks, I'd not only see more of these beautiful rice terraces, but also climb through a massive cave system, ride a scooter to the chocolate hills, and watch the sun go down in Port Barton.
Through writing this post, I hope to not only inspire you to visit the Philippines, but also help you plan the best trip possible. Take a look below at the 12 Things You Need to Experience in the Philippines.
Admiring the viewpoints of Banaue
Banaue is a peaceful, mountain town in the Ifugao region of the Philippines. For me, it was the first stop on my 3-week backpacking trip of the country, and one of the most beautiful.
Winding up the hillside, is a trail which takes you past various viewpoints of the rice terraces. During my visit, I was surprised by how many dogs I passed on the way to top, and probably took equal pictures of them as I did of the rice terraces.
The viewpoints were truly worth seeing though, and I'm glad I didn't skip any. The changing elevation and turns in the road made each of them unique.
Exploring the rice terraces of Batad
When I was first planning my route around the Philippines, it didn't include Batad. I'd thought between Banaue and Sagada I'd experience enough rice terraces, and that Batad wouldn't offer anything new.
Boy was I wrong.
Batad was an absolute dream. The moment the village came into view I stopped and stared, amazed by the size of the valley and the steepness of the rice terraces. I couldn't believe such a place was hidden out in the middle of nowhere and that I'd almost decided not to come.
No regrets when it comes to this adventure.
Hiking to Tappiya Falls
If you're a waterfall junkie like myself, you can't miss Tappiya Falls. It sits hidden from view in a valley behind Batad, and offers a relaxing place to swim and pass the day away.
To get there, make your way to the Batad rice terraces, and ask a local to show you the way to the falls. From there, you'll find yourself climbing up and down the steep hillside of the village, until finally the Tappiya Falls appears out of nowhere.
Then it's just you, a few other guides and travelers, and what feels like the most refreshing pool of water you've ever stepped foot in (the hike will get you nice and sweaty).
Island hopping in El Nido
In El Nido, it's all about the island tours. Tens of boats like the ones you see pictured here, pick up tourists in town and shuttle them around nearby islands and lagoons for the day.
Normally, you wouldn't see a drop of fog, but I went during the rainy season and had some bad luck weather wise. Nonetheless, it was a beautiful tour and offered countless opportunities to snorkel and lie on the beach.
Lunch is an absolute feast too on these tours. Our guides served us a huge, freshly caught fish, rice, fruit, and various vegetable dishes.
Already experienced an El Nido island tour? Check out my post: What to do in El Nido Besides Island Tours
Catching the surf at Duli Beach
For a surfing newbie like myself, Duli Beach was a comfortable place to start learning. The waves were gentle and the beach was remote, making it easier to focus on technique and not whether or not I was going to crash into someone.
It also made for a nice day trip out of El Nido. Rent a scooter, pack some snacks, and have one of the locals point you in the right direction.
To read more about Duli Beach, check out my post: Where to Surf in El Nido, Palawan
Riding in a Filipino sidecar
No matter what country you're visiting, it's always an experience testing out the local transportation.
In the Philippines, one of the cheapest ways to get around is in one of these sidecars. While not as big and spacious as a cab, there's room on top and in your lap for luggage, and space on both sides of the car for a rider.
If you have 3 people in your group and are feeling extra adventurous, don't be afraid to ask the driver if one of you can sit on the back of the motorcycle. One of the girls I had met did this and had a blast!
Interested in other ways to save money on your trip? Check out my post: Cost of Backpacking the Philippines for money-saving tips.
Sunset watching in Port Barton
While sunset watching is worth doing ANYWHERE in the Philippines, Port Barton offered an especially nice backdrop. Fewer tourists visit Port Barton, and the ones who do seem content in keeping the area quiet and peaceful.
During my couple of nights here, my friend and I had the beach all to ourselves besides a couple of young Filipina girls. It was the perfect place to unwind after El Nido and be completely plan-less.
Relaxing under the palm trees on Panglao Island
After traveling between islands on the Philippines, you may find yourself needing a beach day.
For me, that day came after making my way to Panglao Island, a small piece of land off the coast of Bohol. To get there from Manilla, I took a plane to Cebu, a ferry to Bohol, and a ride in a sidecar to Panglao. It took me a whole day of travel and left me exhausted the next morning.
If you decide to visit Bohol to see the Chocolate Hills, you may find yourself in a similar situation. Panglao has one of the best hostels to stay at (Bohol Coco Farm), and some beautiful palm trees to relax under.
No shame in taking a day off there!
Riding a scooter to the Chocolate Hills
The Chocolate Hills in Bohol are an easy day trip from anywhere on the island. Instead of joining a standard tour though, rent a scooter from a local rental shop and head out there on your own.
I did this with a couple of German girls I met and it turned out to be one of the best days of my trip. Instead of being stuck to a schedule, we had the freedom to stop, eat and take pictures whenever we wanted.
My only advice is to get an early start. This way you'll have plenty of time to check out the other interesting spots along the way (I highly recommend the Tarsier Conservatory if you like small furry animals).
Discovering the Hanging Coffins of Sagada
It's not every day you see coffins hanging from side of a cliff. For many people in Sagada though, this is a sacred tradition. A common belief of those buried here and their families is that a hanging coffin is better protected from the rain and animals. Also, that it allows for an easier passage to heaven.
When I decided to check out the coffins for myself, I wasn't expecting to feel as strange as I did once I got there. The guide showing us the way asked to take our picture but it felt wrong. The hanging coffins are a burial site after all and a very holy place for many locals.
Nevertheless, it was still very interesting to learn about the tradition and get to know some of the history of the town.
Risking your life on a Sagada cave tour
To be fair, no one has ever died on a Sagada cave tour. However, if you're afraid of heights, slippery slopes, or tight spaces, BRACE YOURSELF. This cave tour is not a walk in the park. To explain it plainly, there was one point where my guide said, "don't let go of the rope or you'll die."
That being said, as long as you pay attention to your surroundings and follow the guide's directions, it'll be one of the best experiences you'll have in the Philippines for sure.
TIP: Don't wear your favorite, white college shirt like I did... It'll come out brown on the other side of the cave.
Snorkeling in Turtle Bay
If you're hoping to swim with sea turtles, make a point to stop by Port Barton. Similar to El Nido, they offer a variety of island hopping tours.
To see turtles, ask to join a tour that'll be stopping by Turtle Bay. Here you'll have a chance to hop right in the water near the turtles.
If you tread water long enough, you'll eventually get to see one of them swim to the surface to get air.
Check out my Instagram page to see a picture of the turtle I saw!
What are you looking forward to in the philippines?
Let me know in the comments below!