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Top 5 Christmas destinations on a budget

Tanya Lim
Here’s a list of affordable places to visit for the Christmas-New Year break

MANILA, Philippines – I love to travel. I also love Christmas. The perfect Christmas gift is always a nice vacation with family and friends. Since we also have to give dozens of godchildren gifts, we sometimes lack the funds to travel to expensive places. So here’s a list of the more affordable places to visit for the long Christmas to New Year break.

New Seven Wonders of Nature Christmas break: Puerto Princesa, Palawan 

SOAK UP THE SUN. Honda Bay offers a tranquil seascape. All photos by Tanya Lim

What better way to spend Christmas than to visit one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature? The Underground River of Puerto Princesa in Palawan shares the honor with Korea’s Jeju Island; the South America’s Amazon; Vietnam’s Halong Bay; Brazil’s Iguazu Falls; Indonesia’s Komodo and South Africa’s Table Island. The Puerto Princesa Underground River is part of an intricate ecosystem that connects the mountain to the sea. It snakes through a cave and connects directly to the West Philippine Seas. It is a truly breathtaking experience. 

*The Underground River Express costs P 1,000 per person with a minimum of 4 people per trip. An Air-conditioned Shuttle Van from the City to Sabang costs P 3,500 (8 passengers,) plus the Park Ferry Service from the Sabang to Underground River P700 (6 passengers).

After a day at the Puerto Princesa Underground River, enjoy a much-needed break exploring Honda Bay which consists of several islets that include Cowrie & Bat – I’ve seen the thousands of fruit bats that fly out of their cave during sunset to feed, hence the islet’s name. Other Islets include Canon, Pandan, Starfish, Lu-Li, Señorita, Arreceffi Island and Meara Marina. They all have distinctive experiences from where their names are derived. 

*The Honda Bay Tour costs include Boat rental averages at P 700 per trip and entrance fees cost P 25 per island and for Dos Palmas P 500.

You can book cheap flights in advance via Cebu Pacific Air to Puerto Princesa. Hotels like The Legend Palawan offer a 3 nights/ 4 days package at an average of P 7,999 and The PADS Palawan offers 4 days at P 6,999. 

Weekend warrior: Laiya, Batangas 

QUICK GETAWAY. Only a few hours from the Metro, Laiya is your nearby paradise.

Do you have only a few days off this season? Only an hour and a half away from Manila, Laiya, Batangas, is your best bet this Christmas. Laiya in San Juan is known for its long expanse of fine sand and lush tropical greens. Laiya is a quick getaway for those weary from the Manila traffic and pollution. Enjoy grilled seafood, fresh air and the beach. There are so many resorts that cater to your specific budget. 

For big families or even companies that wish to celebrate out of town, try Klub Keluarga Resort, their beachfront is amazing and villas very quaint. Rooms are P4,000 for 4 people and entrance fee includes all buffet meals at P 1,200/day. Other affordable resorts are Sigayan Bay Beach Resort and Kabayan Beach Resort (formerly known as Laplaya Beach Resort); they average P 4,000 per room per night. The more you are, the cheaper the cost. If you have more money saved try Acuatico Beach Resort or Laiya Coco Grove; their rates range from P 6,000 per room per night and above. 

Chill kind of Christmas: Davao 

MAJESTIC VIEW. Spending a day at the Pearl Farm can give you that much needed getaway.

Davao – home of the legendary Philippine Eagle, the majestic Mount Apo and the sweetest Pomelo found in the Philippines. My recent trip to Davao was filled with relaxing memories of chilling with my family. Take a trip around the city, book a climb to Mt. Apo and unwind in Davao’s Pearl Farm Beach Resort, and visit the white sandy beach of Malipano Island.  

Mount Apo is the highest peak in the Philippines and called the grandfather of Philippine mountains. It takes 2 days to reach the summit and about 3-4 days round trip. The mountain offers diverse flora and fauna species unique to this ecosystem. Surely the Mount Apo climb is an adventure for your bucket list.

*Mount Apo package for 3 or more people will cost P 5,000 per person and only includes Trek Guide.  

The Pearl Farm Beach Resort is a 45-minute boat ride from Davao City. The Huts on stilts concept is such a great idea and sets the chill vibe of the vacation. At P 6,900 per room per night, it is pretty affordable for a nice beach and good accommodation. Then try swimming to the Malipano Island across Pearl Farm Beach resort – great way to exercise and burn calories. If you’re too lazy to swim, Pearl Farm offers boat rides every hour. 

A gastronomic Christmas: Bacolod  

One of my favorite cities is Bacolod – the City of Smiles. Aside from the people being very friendly and sweet, they have the best restaurants that bring value to your peso. Consider Bacolod a destination purely for gastronomic delight. Going to Bacolod, I make sure my baggage is empty and my jeans are loose because for sure when I get back, my luggage is bursting at the seams and so are my jeans.  

First on your itinerary is Manokan Country, the home of the Bacolod Chicken Inasal. This is where Chicken Inasal, charcoal grilled chicken, originated from and at only an average of P100 per meal, still the best bang for your buck. Try eating Chicken Inasal with steaming hot rice doused with Chicken Oil and spicy vinegar – absolutely perfect. For dessert, visit Calea. A must-try is their White Chocolate Cheesecake and Imported Chocolate Cake. I also usually take home Pecan Pie for my family. Other amazing restaurants to visit include Aboy’s Restaurant and their Grilled Blue Marlin, 21 Restaurant and their original Batchoy (Fatty Beef Noodle Soup) and of course Pendy’s and their Napoleones.  

There are a lot of affordable hotels to choose from. I’ve stayed at L’Fisher Hotel, recent 2013 Certificate of excellence Winner from Trip Advisor and 2009 Best Frist Class Hotel from the Department of Tourism. Their rates start at P 3,500/night. 

Extreme adventure Christmas: Legazpi & Donsol, Bicol

MAJESTIC MAYON. With her perfect shape, the view can be breathtaking.

Looking for exciting adventures this Christmas? Why not swim with the whale sharks in Donsol? Or go on an ATV adventure to the foot of the beautiful Mount Mayon? All these exciting adventures are available in Bicol. 

The Whale Shark Adventure in Donsol is a wonderful experience. As soon as you hit the water, you paddle furiously to catch up to the gentle giants. I remember how close we were to the whale sharks that I could even see their eyeballs staring at me. They were big as buses and gentle as feathers, I felt they were being careful not to hit us while they were swimming.  

*The Whale Shark Adventure Package is P3,500 (maximum of 7 people) and includes the Boat, the fees and the guide. You can also rent equipment there. 

The ATV Mount Mayon Adventure in Legazpi City takes you on an exciting ride over the Lava Bed of the still very active volcano. The ride is very bumpy with the rough terrain that can literally throw you off your seat. Be ready to get muddy and wet. 

*The ATV Lava Adventure Tour costs P 1,800 per person. 

How to get to Donsol? Book cheap flights via Cebu Pacific Air to Legazpi and look for hotels that offer these Adventure Packages. Hotel Venezia and Hotel St. Ellis offer affordable packages for the Donsol Whale shark adventure and also the Mount Mayon ATV Lava Adventure, which include transportation and accommodation too. –

The Philippines is a country filled with colorful culture and breathtaking scenery. It is no surprise then that many tourists are attracted to the country’s extensive array of resorts and affordable hotels. If you want to save up on your trip to the Philippines, click here.