The Philippines is known for places like Boracay, Bohol and of course, Palawan. However, the country has some other amazing places off the beaten path if you want to venture out and find them. As someone who has been about everywhere (besides Batanes), I want to give you seven places you might think of trying where you are not just a walking ATM card.
I have purposefully focused on small towns in the Philippines. There are many hidden gems in places like Manila, Cebu and Iloilo. However, some of these best places are in small town with a few thousand people in them. If you dare venture out to them, you can choose your own adventure.
It is also worth stating that going to any of these will require some planning because some of them have very slow internet and if you are a nomad, it is very hard to actually get much done with slower than dailup access. I say this up front so you can know anything past a few days could be a serious challenge. In a few of these places, electricity can even be a problem. (Welcome to the Philippines!)
Romblon has three major islands and I struggled to not include Carobao Island in the list but I have to say that Sibuyan Island has to take the prize. What little most people know about the island is because of the mining. However, the waterfalls, beaches, and local culture is amazing. It is worth the trip for sure.
If you want to go to Sibuyan Island, you will have to take the ferry from Bantagas City that is overnight with a short stop in Romblon. There is Montegro Shipping that goes to Magdiwang which is the main port. The other ferry goes to the other side of the island to Cajidiocan. There is not much in the way of hostels so expect to pay $10 or less per month and there is only local restaurants as well.
On the “backside” of Panay (Iloilo City) is Antique. One of the town there is called Tibabo and it is quite the hidden gem. It has some pretty cool stuff that is mostly just explored by Filipinos. It has an awesome waterfall, a fish spa, kawa baths, a few small things here and there.
Getting there from Boracay is quite easy. You just walk out of the port and there is a yellow bus called Ceres Liner that is going to say either Antique or San Jose on it. You get on it and wait for them to leave. It should be about $2.25 for the fare. Places to stay are between $6-$10 a night.
Of course, I will include Cuyo in the island. It is one of my favorite places to go. I really enjoy the place and I think it is an amazing getaway for a weekend. Recently, it has become quite popular with kitesurfers. I found it by having a stopover going to Puerto Princesa from Iloilo on the ferry.
Getting there is pretty much about a 12 hour ferry ride overnight. You can come from Iloilo City, Puerto Princesa, Coron or even Manila. They have recently got Air Juan serving the airport at very high prices. I always stay at Nicky’s Pension house for $5.50 a night. Food is somewhat limited.
High up in the mountains between Sagada and Banuane is the capital (and own town to speak of) in the mountains beside Baguio. It is not that big but it is the main vein for almost all of the mountain people in the northern Philippines. It has some great rice terraces that have not been over commericalized and a pretty interesting museum ran by the nuns at the Catholic Church.
Getting to Boctoc is mainly either from Baguio City or from Kalinga. There is also a new bus company going from Manila as well. Expect to pay between $2-5 dollars depending which location you are from coming. There are a few small hotels in town that are all under $10 and most of them have kitchens so you can make your own meals.
While known mainly for the Enchanted River that in Hinatuan, it is more than just a tourist trap a few miles outside. It is true that this a sleepy coastal town but there is quite a bit to do here and it can be very relaxing to put it mildly. (However, I got seriously sick there.)
If you are coming Northern Mindanao, there is a Cere Liner that stops in Hinatuan from Butuan. It is a few hours on the bus. As far as places to stay, there is a few options. I believe the one I found was also a restaurant and it come about $6 a night. Most of your food options are small “mom and pops” eateries but that is what make it truly Filipino!
Going just south of Manila about an hour is Taal, Batangas. It is a small town that the old Spanish Ancestry homes are still standing and have been made up for tours. It is a preserved cultureal icon for the Philippines. It also had a pretty large Catholic church at the center of all activity.
In order to get there, you will need to just get a bus from Taft Ave in Manila. I used the Jam Liner. It let me out at the road leading into down and I walked the 500 meters. I found food to be reasonably priced and I did not stay the night but I think $15 a night would be doable there.
Port Barton, Palawan
Back to Palawan, I want to end this list with Port Barton, a village community that is often forgotten in the hype of the Underground River and El Nido. However. we all know that with hype comes tourism prices. Port Barton lacks both of these making it a hidden gem for the traveler.
You can take a jeepney up from Puerto Princesa for about $6 or take the Cherry Lines bus to the turn off (more comfortable). After that, you will need to wait for the jeepney or hire a motorbike for the last dozen miles. Another option that I have done is take the bus to San Vincente, Palawan (Port Barton is technically part of the town) then take a local boat across the bay. Food is limited but very cheap and finding a place to stay will be less than $10 a night.
What about Makati or Manila?
I know some people will point out that all seven of these locations were remote rural places and I did not suggestion Makati. The fact is that everyone that comes through the Philippines ends up in Makati City for a night to have some Filipino barbecue and try out the Makati hostels. I did not feel a need to suggest them. I personally recommend staying at Hilik Hostel that is directly across the street from A-venue night market.
I hope you get out to at least a few of these places next time you are in the Philippines.