With more than 7,000 islands, an endless supply of coconuts, and the best friend chicken I’ve ever had, it’s hard to choose exactly where to go and what to do in the Philippines on a time crunch. I honestly believe you can spend a month there and barely scratch the surface.
During my Christmas vacation from work, while teaching in Korea, I spent a very short two weeks in the most incredible place I’ve ever been: Cebu. Without any planning, I hopped on a plane and hoped for the best. Thankfully I had booked a hostel for the night I arrived (at 3 am), but every adventure beyond that point was pure luck.
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My Route While Backpacking The Philippines
By the time I left Cebu airport it was about 4 am and I was desperate for a taxi. TIP: Taxis are about $10 to get to your hostel (depending on the distance), but the price is a total scam. You can get a non-affiliated joe-blow to give you a ride for .80 USD. The kicker is with the $10 you are paying for safety. Those are actual taxis, whereas the cheap ones are just men with cars. If it is during the day and you’re with friends, consider the more affordable option, but if you’re alone and it’s 4 am, DO NOT BE CHEAP! Looking back, I was an idiot.
The first night I stayed at The Stopover Hostel, which about a 7-minute drive from the airport. The hostel was clean with easy check-in. That’s honestly all I needed, and I recommend staying there if you’re looking for a place to get some rest.
TIP: I highly recommend using Hostel World if you don’t already. It saved me a great deal of money and suggested the dopest hostels. You need to book in advance though. I made the mistake of booking the day-of and ended up sleeping next to a rooster, while my new friends had a pig roast and slept with AC.
When I woke up a few hours later, again, with no plan, I met the only other person in the shared room; an attractive shirtless Brit. Thankfully he was an absolute saint and invited me to tag along to his next location, thus changing the entirety of my trip.
The Brit planned to go to Moalboal, so we asked the gentlemen at the front desk to call us a cab and then headed off to the bus station. Once there, we fought through the crowd to the ticket booth and took about 20 minutes triple checking that we were in line for the right bus. Unfortunately, there were swarms of people rushing from one end of the building to the other, so finding the right bus was necessary and challenging. What we didn’t realize at the time was that it was a holiday weekend, so thousands of people were traveling throughout the country to see relatives.
TIP: Don’t visit during the holidays. Because of this holiday, the typical 4-hour bus ride took us 7.5 hours. Again, don’t visit during the holidays. When we arrived in Moalboal, I made the mistake of not going to the ATM immediately, thus running out of money because the city experienced a shortage of cash a few days later. TIP: Have cash on hand and go to the ATM when arriving at a new location.
In Moalboal I divided my five days between two hostels. I feel bad mentioning the bad one with the rooster (Le Village Hostel), so I’ll highlight the nice one. Chief Mau was about $9 and worth every penny, plus some! They have aircon and non-aircon rooms to choose from and lockers to keep your valuables safe while you’re out and about. The common area is filled with numerous fun seating options, complimentary water, wifi, and food options that the owner and his wife whip up. The weekend I was there they had an elaborate pig roast for anyone interested in joining. Aside from being a blast, this created a great atmosphere for solo travelers to meet others and join groups of previously established friends. Chief Mau is on a strip full of hostels, so if there aren’t any rooms available there, check out a few closer to the water. The backpackers there seemed to love their locations; I’m just a bit biased.
You MUST go Canyoneering at Kawasan Falls. The front desk at the previously mentioned hostel will hook you up with a deal, so check there instead of online. It was, hands down, the most incredible experience I had in Cebu. Before you say no, check out this video from a random person online Kawasan Falls, Cebu.
Moalboal is also a great place to rent a scooter ($5 entire day) and explore the scenery. I recommend renting a snorkel, so you have a fun way to cool off when the scooter ride becomes too much. Ask a local about the sea turtles. They’ll give you (confusing) directions about a specific spot where they hang out, and it is GREAT! You walk right in the water, swim about 20 yards out, and BOOM! Big ol’ turtle!
If you’re looking for a more relaxed day, Panagsama Beach (closest to the hostels) is home to millions of sardines. Grab a snorkel and jump in the water. No searching necessary. If you haven’t experienced being surrounded by literally millions of sardines, DO IT! It is quite the experience.
The party is at your front door. If the hostel isn’t raging, the bars near the water will be. Follow the music and prepare yourself for the noise. The nightlife in Moalboal is great! It’s a small town, so you run into the same people again and again. This makes it easy to meet fellow travelers and establish friendships.
After five glorious days snorkeling with sea turtles and swimming after sardines, I packed up and moved on to Oslob. As I was waiting at the Moalboal bus station, I tried the ATM and thankfully it had been restocked. TIP keep trying, it could be your only source for miles. The remaining towns on my excursion did not have ATMs. Learn from my mistakes. If you find yourself at the same bus station, I highly recommend grabbing Mc. Donald’s for a greasy American fix, because believe me when I say, the rest of the trip is going to be very “authentic.”
Two and a half hours later, and I had arrived. Like a dummy, I hadn’t pre-ordered a hostel for the night, so finding accommodations were very difficult. By that point the beds had all been reserved, so my only option was a hotel. The downside is that it was a bit on the pricey side (in comparison to a hostel). The upside is that I had a private toilet and a shower!
Oslob is a very popular town for whale shark tours, because of this, it is pretty busy during the evening. I didn’t see any wild bars or clubs, but there was a huge outdoor food feast with countless vendors lining the street. I highly recommend taking a motorbike to the center of town and getting dinner in the area. The fried chicken will change your life. I promise. This is also a fun way to immerse yourself in the local vibe. Get comfortable and make some friends!
As I previously mentioned, whale shark tours are trendy here. If you’re against it, which I understand entirely, skip Oslob. If not, it is worth experiencing (although I wouldn’t do it again). Check out Oslob Whale Sharks for more information.
The remaining time spent in the Philippines I spent in Boljoon. It is a central point for many waterfalls, hikes, markets, and great views. It was extremely tough to find an ATM so do your research and map the ATM locations before traveling. I did end up finding one an hour up the road at a 7/11, so it’s not impossible.
The best hostel I have stayed in was there, and that was also a factor in me choosing to stay for so long. If you find yourself in Boljoon, you MUST stay at Noordzee Hostel. For $7 a night you have access to paddleboards, daybeds, snorkels, a pool, rooftop restaurant, and life of cheap luxury! Don’t believe me? Click the link and look at the pictures. They’re stupid beautiful!
If you ever decide to leave the hostel, there are a few must-see stops in the area. Dayhag falls, and Tumalog falls are a bit of drive, but worth it. Realistically you could visit both falls on the same day if you’re on a time crunch. Both locations have a small entrance fee, but that’s normal. I recommend renting a motorbike for the day (around $5), so you don’t have to rely on finding a tricycle in the middle of nowhere. If you do choose to rent a motorbike, I encourage you to drive for a few hours aimlessly. Look for trails leading up to mountain peaks and make sure you have a full tank of gas (lol).
Depending on the crowd at the hostel, you may or may not find a wild night. I used the downtime to recharge and go hard during the day. At this point, a lot of people will island-hop to Bohol instead of spending so much time in Boljoon, which can leave the hostel a bit quiet on some nights. If you have time to visit Bohol, go! Backpackers rave about it! (and tell me how it is lol)
Cebu Bus Depot
Can you sense the tone getting a bit melancholy? That’s because I’m feeling sad thinking back to getting on a bus back to Cebu. Going to the Philippines was the best trip I’ve taken thus far. Locals are friendly and easy to understand, which makes getting around simple; the cost is low compared to other areas that are equally as beautiful, and the memory of fried chicken keeps me up at night.
If you ever have the chance to see the Philippines, do it! As I mentioned at the beginning, there are over 7,000 islands to explore. How can you say no to that!?