Backpacking Philippines: 3 Week Itinerary

This summer I spent three weeks in the Philippines. Going into the trip, I had a basic idea of where I wanted to go, and what I wanted to see. However, I didn't book any domestic flights between islands ahead of time. Plans change quickly on the road, and I wanted to be able to adapt to them.

That's one of my favorite things about backpacking - discovering new places, food, and people you never would have come across if you'd stuck to a strict "checklist."

So please, if you're planning a trip to the Philippines, just use my itinerary as a basis to help you get started. Make yours unique and leave some gaps in it in case things change (because they almost always do)! :)  

Read more: 12 Things You Need to Experience in the Philippines

Week 1

Manila --> Banaue --> Batad --> Sagada --> Manila

Banaue and Batad were my first stops when I backpacked the Philippines

Banaue and Batad were my first stops when I backpacked the Philippines

Day 1: Arrived in Manila late in the evening and took a taxi to OMP hostel. Crashed as soon as my head hit the pillow

Day 2: Walked around Makati, exchanged some money, and set up a new SIM card for my phone. Caught the 10 PM night bus to Banaue from the Ohayami Bus Terminal

Day 3: Pulled into Banaue around 7 AM. Luckily, I slept pretty well on the bus, but it sounds like I was the only one haha. Checked into Randy's Brookside Inn and then explored the town by foot. Made the hike up to the viewpoint and back

Day 4: Day-trip to Batad! Rode on top of a Jeepney and hung on with my feet while I tried to pictures. Then I toured the rice terraces and hiked to Tappiya Falls

Day 5: Left for Sagada from Banaue (if you get carsick easily, hang in there :p). Checked into Sagada Guesthouse and visited the hanging coffins

Day 6: Did the cave connection tour and lived to tell about it! Then took a well-needed shower afterwards and bought a cup of the legendary cat poop coffee (Coffee Alamid). Hopped on a Coda Lines bus bound for Manila

Day 7: Arrived in Manila around 3 AM and slept on the couch at OMP hostel for a few hours. Left on a 9 AM tour for Taal Volcano and wished I'd slept a little more...


What went well:

My day-trip to Batad, and the cave connection in Sagada were the highlights of week 1 by far! Originally, I'd planned to skip Batad, but I'm so thankful I didn't. The rice terraces were even better than the ones in Banaue, and the hike down to the falls made for a nice break from the heat.

The cave connection in Sagada is for the thrill seekers. Three hours of squeezing between tight crevices, scaling slippery walls, wading in icy waters, and crawling through bat shit below the beady eyes of the furry creatures themselves. Prepare to come out of the cave filthy and bruised, yet smiling. :) I loved it!

What I wish I'd done differently:

Taal Volcano turned out to be a major tourist trap and a waste of a day. This was one of the only places in the Philippines where I was constantly being solicited to buy things or give people money. Looking back, I wished I'd stayed in Sagada an extra day and relaxed a bit.


Week 2

Manila --> Cebu --> Bohol --> Puerto Princessa --> El Nido

Make sure to fit El Nido into your Philippines itinerary!

Make sure to fit El Nido into your Philippines itinerary!

Day 8: Caught a taxi to the airport in Manila, flew to Cebu, took a taxi to the ferry terminal, rode ferry to Tagbilaran City in Bohol, and finally grabbed a tricycle ride to Bohol Coco Farm on Panglao Island (longest day everrr)

Day 9: No plans, just grabbed a towel and some sunscreen and headed to the nearest beach (15 minute walk from the Bohol Coco Farm). Swam in the ocean, played cards, and drank the best watermelon smoothie of my life

Day 10: Rented scooters! A group of five of us rode 120 km, passing through Loboc and visiting the tarsier sanctuary on the way to the Chocolate Hills. Ended up getting lost on the way home and asked a good ten people if they knew where our hostel was haha

Day 11: Said goodbye to my new friends and made the journey back to Cebu airport. Caught a flight to Puerto Princessa and booked a night at Sheebang Hostel

Day 12: My best friend arrived! Met Yuting at the airport and caught an afternoon van ride to El Nido (about a six hour trip). Arrived right in the midst of a downpour :p

Day 13: Ate breakfast at Art Cafe, and then rented a scooter and headed out to Nacpan Beach. Ended up spraining my toe in the ocean somehow, but still hobbled my way to Nagkalit-Kaliyah Falls on the way home (anything for a good waterfall)

Day 14: Went on Island Tour A today. Weather was beautiful at first but then turned pretty ugly. The rain stopped for awhile though at Small Lagoon, and we got to snorkel through the "secret tunnel."

Read more: What to do in El Nido Besides Island Tours

What went well: 

I was really surprised at how nice the Bohol Coco Farm turned out to be. The place is stunning at night, and offered a little bit of everything. We could walk to the beach, rent scooters, or swing in the hammocks and look for geckos.

The scooter rides out to the Chocolate Hills and Nacpan beach were also memorable. Renting a scooter gives you freedom that a tour does not, and let's you move at your own pace. You end up paying more attention to the landscape around you too, and find bits of local culture you wouldn't have seen otherwise.

What I wish I'd done differently:

If I had more time I would've liked to explore Cebu and the surrounding islands a bit more. Yuting really wanted to check out the Whale Sharks in Oslob, and I'd heard there were Turtles at Apo Island. However, with our limited time, we decided it would be better just to stick to Palawan and not try to do too much.


Week 3

El Nido --> Port Barton --> Puerto Princessa --> Manila

Port Barton was my final stop in the Philippines, and one of the most relaxing

Port Barton was my final stop in the Philippines, and one of the most relaxing

Day 15: Spent the sunny afternoon napping in a hammock at Las Cabanas beach. Attempted to catch the sunrise at Reupublica Sunset Bar but the clouds rolled in. Finished off the night with freshly caught seafood from a local restaurant down the road.

Day 16: Caught some waves! Made the crazy ride out to Duli Beach where we were able to rent a surfboard. Then we went back to same sunset bar as last night and tried our luck a second time. Still no sunset though :(

Read more: Where to Surf in El Nido, Palawan

Day 17: Hopped on a van heading to Port Barton and booked a room right on the beach at a place called Besaga Cottages. Dinner at Bamboo House, and then a relaxing evening back on the beach

Day 18: Went on another island tour and had a muchhh better experience. Our guide took us snorkeling at Twin Reef and Exotic Island, sea turtle watching by German Island, sea star viewing at Sand Bar, and to Paradise Island for a freshly prepared feast. Back at Besaga Cottages, I kicked Yuting's butt at scrabble and split a delicious Nutella pancake with him.

Day 19: Back to Puerto Princessa where we each got hour-long Swedish massages and treated ourselves to a fancy dinner at a restaurant called KaLui

Day 20: Morning flight back to Manila. Yuting's flight home was today too so we had to say goodbye. I went back to OMP hostel for one more night.

Day 21: 4am shuttle ride to the airport (the only way to beat Manila's traffic haha). Flight at 8am bound for Seattle

Read more: Cost of Backpacking the Philippines

What went well:

I'm really glad Yuting and I decided to leave El Nido early and check out Port Barton. Our island tour there was half the price, and a lot more laid back. We were able to snorkel and relax at our own pace, without being hustled back to the boat.

Getting to surf at Duli Beach was a nice surprise too. We arrived around 10 AM, and had the entire beach to ourselves.

What I wish I'd done differently:

Booking an 8 AM flight was a big mistake haha. It would've saved me a lot of money and energy just leaving the afternoon before with Yuting. If you can, set up your final flight back to Manila so that you can fly directly home or to your next destination afterwards. Otherwise you're stuck sitting in traffic just so you can stay at a hostel one more night.

read more:

Planning a trip to the Philippines?

Let me know in the comments below!