How to Spend 20 Days in the Philippines
There are many ways to spend 20 days in the Philippines, but nearly all of them include beaches and water of some amount. The Philippines offer many things, from its three largest cities of Manila, Cebu City (on Cebu), and Davao (Mindanao), to white sand beaches and 80F oceans creating a snorkeling paradise.
So, you have worked all year and now have 20 days to vacation. You have chosen the Philippines, but where do you go since the country has thousands of islands? If you are trying the get the most out of your 20 days, you might try my itinerary.
Go Cebu, Mindanao, Palawan
Cebu, Mindanao, and Palawan islands offers a diverse taste of this country that can be covered in 20 days. These islands offer some of the best adventures, from great zip lines, lakes, waterfalls, island hopping, snorkeling and beaches.
My adventure started by flying to Manila from San Francisco (a 10-15 hr flight), then to Davao on Mindanao (1 hr). Upon arriving at Hotel Galleria, day 1 was one of sleeping for the most part.
Day 2: Rent car from Avis for $60\day for several days. Drove through crazy traffic Filipino style ( as a bully, you cannot yield to others) to Eden Park outside of the city. Eden Adventure Park is a must! This is a beautiful area with ziplines and the sky bicycle (you ride a bike on a zipline!). There is hiking and various animals to see in cages. The butterfly house is incredible because as soon as you walk in, swarms land on you. For around $25 (1000 peso) you also get the best buffet, all you can eat, lunch with great views of the city far away. The park also doubles as a hotel, so you can book a room there. The ziplines are a main attraction and cost around 500 peso per person. After several hours, drove to General Santos, a smaller city 2-3 hours away. Spend the night at the fantastic Garden Haven.
Day 3-4: Drove to Lake Sebu and spent the night at Punta Isle. While the lake is scenic and tranquil, getting there was a two hour drive on mostly good roads including a rare four land highway! The only reason to go there was for the awesome ziplines over the stunning waterfalls! The road to the zipline was another adventure-very bad-OMG. The zipline is one of the longest and fastest in the country. It is worth the 550 peso as you fly over the jungle canyon and look down. Then, a rush as you brake like a jet landing. You can also walk down 755 steps to the base of the waterfall for more stunning views and back up for a solid cardio workout! The hotel is overrated and over priced, but there are no many choices here. While the lake is scenic, there is nothing to do there. There is no trail around the lake, no beach for swimming.
Drove back to Gen San and spent another night at Garden Haven. The night was warm and just relaxed near the pool. Finding this hotel is a challenge as it is on the outskirts and located on a narrow dirt road.
Day 5: Drove back to Davao for one last night at the Galleria. The hotel is generally OK, depending on the room you get. Decent WIFI and pool. The buffet breakfast was decent. It is in the city proper so one can walk around to People’s Park. Driving there is a nightmare with so many tricycles and Jeepneys, but as long as you bully your way through cautiously, not bad. Flew to Cebu International airport on Mactan Island. Caught a flight to Puerto Princessa on Palawan.
Day 6-8: Palawan offers some of the most beautiful places to visit in the Philippines. There are three reasons you must go: El Nido, Underground River, Honda Bay island hopping. Our hotel was Hanbee’s, away from the city. Another decent place to stay for only $25. If you go to El Nido for its stunning beaches and snorkeling, you need to take a 5-6 hour trip on a two lane road first. You should be there at least five days. Since we lacked time, we went to the Underground River and its zipline across the bay, and Honda bay island hopping. Both tours cost around 1500 peso pp, so if you do both, it is 3000 ($75) a person. The Underground River takes you across the island to Sabang, about 2-hours. Once there, you catch a boat to the entrance. Again, stunning landscapes about. The tour itself is okay- you ride in a small boat for 45 min. looking at bats sleeping and rock formations. Once done, you must ask about the zipline with your guide. You will be dropped off for the zipline (550 peso each). This zipline is much slower than at Lake Sebu and is shorter. Still, as you cross the bay, it is captivating. After that, the tour takes you for a buffet lunch in town and all you can eat, then the drive back for another 2-hour ride. It is an all day event. Honda Bay island hopping is a must and also an all day event. It begins at 0800 as you board a small boat to cross the ocean to 3-5 small spectacular beaches. You spend at least one hour at each one, doing what you want to do- sunning or snorkeling. Wear water shoes because of the coral bottom. Lots of fish and coral to view. The tour provides you lunch. The whole day is serene and one of beauty as you explore one island after another. Once done, you are taken back to your hotel. The city of Puerto Princessa has little to offer a tourist, however. You go there for three reasons.
Day 9+: We flew back to Cebu island and stayed there until flying back to SF. This island has so much diversity. We rented a car for a few days from Avis for more adventure! From the Days Hotel near the airport on Mactan, we drove a few hours away from the city. The plan was to hike to Osema Peak, 3000 ft., whale watching and Tumalog Falls in Oslob, drive around the island to Aquinid Falls in Samboan region, go to the awesome white sand beach at Lambug, Kawasan Falls near Badien and back across the island to Cebu City. We did this in three days. Our first night was at Lagnason’s Hotel a few miles outside of Oslob (a very small town). The hotel is great with its large pool and its own beach, right off the two land road. Our first stop was driving to Osmena Peak on the way to Oslob. This took us off the two land road into the mountains outside of Dalaquete to Mantalogon town, about 10 km. Once there, a guide took us to the town hall to sign in and pay 200 peso. We then got on his motorbike for an adventurous ride of a few miles on the most horrible rocky road ever to the base of the peak. We paid a small entrance fee and hike up to the peak. Make sure you have clear days for the spectacular views! You can do all this in around two hours time. Then, drove back down to main road to Oslob area.
In the early AM the next day, we were at the whale watching site outside of Oslob, along with many other tourists! They charge 1000 peso for foreigners and 500 peso for natives, includes snorkeling gear. Within 30 min, we were out in the ocean on small boats swimming with these huge whale sharks being fed. I was within 3 feet of one. It was an OMG moment for sure. Be sure to have an underwater camera for pictures. We did this for 30 min. Then, it was over and we drove to Tumalog Falls within 20 minutes. The road sign tells you where to turn as you head back to Oslob. We arrived, parked and paid small entrance fee and walked down to it. Beautiful, angel-like water falling into a large pool of turquoise water you can swim in. Huge bamboo trees surround it. Must see. Later, that same day, we drove around the south end of the island to see Aquinid Falls, about one hour. The sign is right on the main road so you cannot miss it. Drove in, parked, paid fees. Two guides were assigned: one to lead the way up the five levels and one to take photos. This is a real adventure falls, meaning, you are climbing five levels and are soaking wet by Fall 3. Wear water shoes. This is the most fun of all the waterfalls. Climbing was not that hard with the guide and at various levels you can swim in the pure water. Again, it is so beautiful. The whole adventure takes 1-2 hours.
Once done, we drove to our next hotel, Lambug Homestay with its stunning white sand beach. The place was hard to find as you take the road to Cebu International golf course towards Lambug public beach. It is one lane and turns to rocky. Eventually we found it, but at night, there is no way to locate it, as it is just a very nice house among shacks. The beach is equal to anything on Boracay for sure and in Moalboal, not far away. In some places, it is powder sand lined with coconut trees and 80F water. The sunset as superb. One just wants to lay there meditating on the long wide beach with no one on it!
On the last day, we drove 10 minutes to see Kawasan Falls. The signage is along the road and you cannot miss it. We parked at the church for 50 peso (they wanted 100- no way!) and a guide showed us the wide trail to the falls. It is a 20 min. walk and again simply stunning tropical jungle with HUGE spiders! Once there, you can have a bite to eat or go swim in the pool as the waterfall pours out tons of water. For 300 peso, you can get on a bamboo raft and go under the falls for a drenching. Get there by noon to avoid lots of people and never on a weekend! After an hour or so, we drove back to Cebu city, about 3 hours. On the way back, we learned to not trust Google for directions, as it took us on the most direct route that was at first, a good road, until it turned into a single lane dirt road. By then, it was too late to turn around. Google only knew it was a road and not its actual condition! Thank God the car did not suffer a problem, as we were in remote country.
We spent a few days in Cebu City doing city things without a car. Visited the huge malls, went to race at Kartzone. These go carts are fast and cost 300 peso for eight laps. It is near the Sykes building. We went to a few beaches, which were okay. Then, we took a four hour bus ride from Cebu city to the ferry port for Batanyan island. The trip was more banana trees and coconut trees. The island is often advertised as a Boracay-like copy, with is its beautiful beaches. The ferry is an old military LCT transport and costs 170 peso each. The ride over is a good hour or so. We stayed at Kotla Hotel, which is very nice and popular. The beach is very nice. But the island offers little other than beaches. Santa Fe town is hardly even that with one mini-mart. The island, like Lake Sebu, is a place to do nothing at all but enjoy the serenity of sun, beach and ocean. So, the one-way trip took seven hours from the Days Hotel in Cebu to Kotla on Batanyan.
We returned to Cebu after a few days and that ended our 20 day adventure in the Philippines!