Traveling around Philippines on a shoestring budget

Katherine Visconti
If you are looking for travel ideas in the Philippines, search no further

MANILA, Philippines – This archipelago has over 7,100 islands but how do you explore the best without burning a hole through your pocket?

On Saturday, March 10, Asia Society Philippine Foundation Inc. brought together 3 of the Philippines’ most popular travel bloggers to share their tricks and tips. 

Anton Diaz of Our Awesome Planet, Nina Fuentes of www.justwandering.org and Ivan Henares of Ivan About Town told an audience of around 50 teenagers and 20-somethings at the Exciting Travels on a Shoestring Budget Session at Asian Institute of Management the following:

1. Plan, research and read up

Nina Fuentes recommended staying alert to the latest deals from lowcost carriers (like Tiger Airways, Jetstar and AirAsia) by subscribing to their email alerts.

Ivan Henares suggested the list of UNESCO World Heritage sites as a good place to start. He said the choices “showcase the best of nature and culture.”

Meanwhile Anton Diaz was a fan of planning in advance but having multiple trips brewing in different stages.  

2. Travel off-peak

As Diaz explained sometimes the best deal can be found outside of the peak tourist season. Though he acknowledged that a festival is a festival and shouldn’t be missed, regardless of the crowds. 

3. Stay in local inns, homes or hotels owned and personally managed by local families

Nina Fuentes even suggested trying couch surfing via www.couchsurfing.org. Though she acknowledged that staying on a stranger’s couch sounds scary she explained that there is a feedback mechanism for evaluating hosts on the site. She tried the experience twice but admitted she would probably stick to hostels in the future.

4. Pack snacks

Henares suggested buying food at the supermarket to cut the cost of meals.  

5. Book accomodations early

Roomorama and Agoda were among Henares’ favorite sites for good deals on rooms.

6. Take evening buses or trains to save on accommodations

Fuentes copped to sleeping in the airport given the erratic departure times of some budget carriers. Meanwhile Henares thought taking a bus was an ideal way to save money that would have otherwise been spent on a hotel. 

7. Save up

Diaz suggested setting up a system for saving money. He advised collecting money with friends to make saving more fun. “If you set aside P500 each month, in two years you’ll get P12,000.”

“Try to save but don’t be stingy,” counseled Henares. “Put a splurge line in the budget so if something good comes up you can spend without feeling guilty.”

8. If you have a group of 5 or more, consider taking a road trip

Diaz recommended traveling with friends because it is not only cost-effective but fun. Fuentes is more of a solo traveller but said she is not opposed to joining tour groups for worthwhile packages, explaining that combining activities on your own can sometimes be more expensive. 

9. Insist on local food

The travelers all recognized that local delights are a memorable marker of most trips. Diaz explained that traveling is a good chance to try food that you can’t find in your hometown.  

10. Document it

Not surprisingly, the bloggers all suggested blogging your travels. Not only is blogging free but as Diaz pointed out, if you enter a photo contest it could yield great rewards and possibly more funds for traveling. 

Each had their own advice for travel blogging.

“I write my blog the way I want to read my blog, I write very causally, I write as if I’m talking to a friend so it feels like we’re the same and we relate better,” said Fuentes.

Diaz explained that there were 3 types of audiences which bloggers should address.

He said visual people like lots of pictures. “Photo essays appeal to 80% of people.” He said auditory people will be the ones to comment on your blog and they want to have a discussion so you better reply.

He said, “Kinestetics want to get there the next day so you have to help them,” by giving details about budget and transportation.

Henares said he tries to keep his blog positive. “Rather than putting negative stuff and destinations, I just don’t show them in my blog.”

In the end the beauty of planning your own trip is choosing what advice to take and charting your own course. 

As the wonderful travel writer Pico Iyer puts it, “We travel, initially, to lose ourselves; and we travel, next, to find ourselves.”

Now, where to go?

Must sees

They shared some of the best places to visit in the country. 

#1 Batanes

The 3 travel bloggers agreed that if they could only recommend 1 place to visit in the Philippines, Batanes would be it.

The collection of islands at the northern most tip of the Philippines has been described as the Scotland of the Philippines. Batanes is praised for its mystic remoteness, verdent hills and a dramatic coast line beaten back by rough winds and rougher waves.

DRAMATIC COASTLINE. The view from the charming boutique hotel Fundacion Pacita Batanes Nature Lodge. Photo courtesy of Anton Diaz and www.ourawesomeplanet.com.

The remotness of the islands helped preserve local culture according to Diaz. “This is the only place where you can experience true Filipino Hospitality and experience the true Bayanihan spirit.” 

KEEPING THE OLD WAYS. Fishing is still a major source of livelihood in Batanes. Photo courtesy of Anton Diaz and www.ourawesomeplanet.com.

Since only one airline flies to Basco, Batanes Island, the bloggers say tickets can cost well over P10,000 roundtrip. But the trio say massively discounted airfares are offered at the country’s annual Travel Tour Expo in February and Philippine Travel Mart in September.

#2 Danao Adventure Park in Bohol 

This huge nature park in the Central Visayas caters to those seeking an adrenaline rush, offering the highest and longest zipline in the Philippines called the “Sui-Slide,” rock climbing, river trekking and the only canyon swing in the country. 

Imagine becoming a human pendulum, swinging back and fourth over a deep green canyon. That is exactly what blogger Ivan Henares did on 1 trip as shown on his YouTube channel, http://www.youtube.com/ivanhenares. 

#3 Whale Sharks in Donsol, Sorsogon

Donsol is often called the “Whale Shark Capital of the World.”

Whale sharks are the largest living fish in the world but there is no need to cue the menacing music of Jaws. These slow-moving filter feeders are friendly so tourists can safely swim beside them. 

SWIMMING WITH THE FISHES. Given the high concentration of whale sharks in Donsol, wildlife enthusiasts will find themselves in an underwater heaven. Photo courtesy of Anton Diaz and www.ourawesomeplanet.com.

#4 Tapiya Falls in Batad, Banaue

Banaue is famous for its ancient rice terraces, cut into the mountains of Ifugao in the northern Philippines.

A hike through Batad’s terraces leads to the scenic Tapiya falls. The water is cold, powerful and refreshing. Diaz advises wearing aqua socks or sandals because of the rocky bottom. Still the plunge is worthwhile.

PRICELESS PLUNGE. Diaz calls the swimming in the falls one of the Philippines' priceless experiences. Photo courtesy of Anton Diaz and www.ourawesomeplanet.com.

#5 Boracay island

Of course no worthwhile travel blogger could fail to recommend Boracay, voted the 4th best island in the world in American magazine Travel + Leisure’s 2011 World’s Best Awards.

The powdery white sand, clear waters and party atmosphere make the island one of the country’s most visited.


#6 Kayaking in Big Lagoon, El Nido

According to local legend, the scenic shores in El Nido helped inspire novelist Alex Garland when he was writing The Beach.

El Nido is known for its clean untouched waters, which host an abundance of sealife, making it an ideal diving locale. The pristine sands have long attracted honeymooners.

PRISTINE. El Nido clear waters host a wide variety of activities, including scuba diving, paddle boating and kayaking. Photo of Big Lagoon, Miniloc Island courtesy of Anton Diaz and www.ourawesomeplanet.com.

#7 Five waterfall challenges in Mapawa Nature Park, Cagayan de Oro

Mapawa Nature Park shows off the natural wonders of the Southern Philippines with its awesome waterfalls and magnificient.

Visitors can relax or enjoy fast paced adventures, including horseback riding, river trekking, biking.

The most daring travelers can try the 5 waterfall challenges, which starts with a natural side down the 1st waterfall, escalates to a 30 foot jump down the 4th and finally forces the visitor to rappel down more than 60 feet from the 5th waterfall.

ADRENALINE RUSH. Photo courtesy of Anton Diaz and www.ourawesomeplanet.com.

#8 Puerto Princessa Subterranean River National Park, Palawan

Beneath spectacular linestone cliffs runs an underground river that pours into the sea. The natural wonder is considered so precious it was named a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. 

Guides lead rafts of visitors through the complex cave systems, telling stories that bring to life the unique rock formations in the dark passages. 

AN UNDERGROUND WONDER. The river is unique in that it flows underground for nearly its entire length. It is reputed to be one of the longest underground rivers in the world. Photo courtesy of Anton Diaz and www.ourawesomeplanet.com.

#9 White Water Rafting in Chico River, Kalinga

The landlocked northern province is covered with steep slopes, flat plains, hot springs, waterfalls and rushing rivers above and underground.

Chico River is often called the “River of Life” by Kalinga locals. Diaz said he feels like he is entering Jurasic Park itself when he comes upon the river. He explained that the roiling white waters give tourists the real feel of danger.

ROILING RIVER. The best time for thrill seekers to visit is October according to Diaz. Photo courtesy of Anton Diaz and www.ourawesomeplanet.com.

#10 Claude Tayag’s 5-way Lechon in Pampanga 

Of course the best reason to go to Pampanga is to “eat, eat, eat and eat,” said traveler Ivan Henares.

When famous American chef and TV personality Anthony Bourdain toured the world to find the best in culinary delights, he made a stop in Pampanga. He devoured Claude Tayag’s famous 5-way Lechon.

LET ME COUNT THE WAYS TO DELICIOUS. In his blog Diaz says some visitors request to eat the pig's tongue and eyes to make the meal more exciting. Photo courtesy of Anton Diaz and www.ourawesomeplanet.com.

The Philippines’ famous roasted pig is dished up as pritchon (fried pieces of pork served like Peking Duck), strips of crunchy skin, sinigang na lechon (stew with a slightly sour tinge), barbecue ribs, and as inasadong lechon pata. – Rappler.com

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Thinking about going on a road trip? Plan well and be sure to check out our coupons for the best hotel deals.