Asia,  Philippines

Three Week Philippines Itinerary

With three weeks in the Philippines following this itinerary, you can visit the most perfect remote islands, learn about the country’s fascinating and complicated history, and visit adorable little tarsiers in their native habitat. (What’s a tarsier, you say? I’m glad you asked.) Is three weeks enough time to do everything in the Philippines? Heck no! But it’s enough to appreciate its highlights in-depth, if you plan it right. That said, with 7641 islands, it’s a tricky country to travel around. Don’t worry though – my comprehensive three week Philippines itinerary has got you covered!

Here’s what you’ll find in this complete guide to three weeks in the Philippines.

Day-by-day Three Week Philippines Itinerary

Tim and I spent a little under a month hopping around the Philippine islands. Below is the three week Philippines itinerary we used and some major tips to help you get the most value for your money and avoid big crowds!

By the way, if you have fewer than three weeks to spend in the Philippines, this itinerary can be split into chunks. With two weeks, I recommend El Nido, Coron, and Bohol. With one week, I recommend El Nido and then sailing to Coron with Tao Philippines.

If you have more time (lucky you!), and are up for a bit of journey, add on an adventure to the north to visit the World Heritage-listed rice terraces. I recommend at least 3 additional days to add the rice terraces to this itinerary from Manila. 

Days 1-3 in the Philippines: Manila and Around

A lot of people skip Manila. It’s a densely populated mess of a city that is admittedly far away from the beaches and islands the Philippines are most famous for. Don’t skip Manila, though! It’s the best place to get a feel for what life is like for Filipinos today, plus there is no better city for understanding the nation’s history.

How to Get to Manila

Manila is probably the easiest place to get to in the whole country. It’s served by the major international Manila Airport, and you can get flights there from basically anywhere in the world.

Where to Stay in Manila

Manila is a BIG city, so figuring out where to stay can be daunting. Here are my recommendations, based on whether you want a touristy experience, or a local experience.

Touristy Experience – Intramuros

For the best access to all of the main tourist sites in Manila, Intramuros is the place to be. Literally “inside walls”, this is the historic colonial district of Manila. 

Local Experience – Pasay

Pasay is a nice, “normal” neighborhood near a major Manila university. There are plenty of decent local food options. This is the area we stayed in, and we enjoyed it. That said, it is quite far away from the main attractions of the city. 

We decided to book 3 nights at an Airbnb that had great reviews and was only $20 per night. If you haven’t checked out Airbnb yet, you really should. Tim and I use them so often that Airbnb is what we check first before even looking for hotels. They are typically affordable, comfortable, loaded with amenities like a full kitchen and laundry machine, and give you a direct line of communication with a local (your host) for tips and insider information. If you sign up using this link, you’ll get $40 towards your first trip, and I’ll get $20 in travel credit once you travel.

Best Things to do in Manila

  • Explore the old walled city of Intramuros and the world’s oldest China Town. Don’t miss Fort Santiago, where you can learn about the nation’s greatest hero, José Rizal. Additionally, pop into UNESCO-listed San Agustin church to check out the unique baroque architecture.

Spanish colonial architecture in Intramuros Manila Philippines
Spanish colonial architecture in Intramuros
  • Take a day trip to Mount Pinatubo. This was my favorite activity from Manila, even though it’s admittedly quite far away from the city itself. Mount Pinatubo is a dormant volcano whose eruption left a massive crater. Now, rain water has filled this crater, creating a beautiful lake. It’s an early start (like 3am early), but the whole day is a fun adventure!

Crater Lake of Mount Pinatubo Philippines
Crater lake of Mount Pinatubo
  • Stroll along the 2km Manila Baywalk. This activity is best right before sunset, where you can enjoy the views over the water, grab a cocktail, and check out street performances.

Days 4-8 in the Philippines: El Nido

El Nido is just downright lovable. This small fishing village has become a haven for expats, backpackers, and luxury seekers alike. With dozens of islands to explore nearby and just as many beach bars serving up happy hour cocktails, it’s easy to see why. This is home base for that Philippine island getaway you probably had in mind when you started searching for an itinerary for your trip.

How to get to El Nido

It’s worth saying upfront that El Nido is not super easy to get to. You first must fly from Manila to Puerto Princesa ($47 per person on Cebu Pacific Airlines) and then take a shuttle from there to El Nido ($11 per person booked through El Nido Paradise for a shared bus transfer). Expect the drive to take 6 hours and to be uncomfortable.

Where to stay in El Nido

You have many options when it comes to accommodation in El Nido. Though you can choose to stay on a private island instead, I recommend staying in or near El Nido town to get the full experience. Plus, this itinerary includes plenty of time for sleeping on remote islands in a few days. I like to think this way you get the best of both worlds. You’re welcome.

In Town
Near Town

Island Hopping from El Nido

The main thing to do in El Nido is to explore the nearby islands by boat. The government regulates the routes for the island hopping day trips, so your choices are limited and prices are standard (about $30 USD/person with a buffet lunch included). You can book these tours pretty much anywhere in El Nido town, or in advance online. This makes planning your time delightfully easy.

When it comes to your options, there are four island hopping tours you can choose from, conveniently called A, B, C, and D.

Tours A and C are the most popular. While there is some overlap among them, each offers something slightly different. We ended up doing tour A.

The day we went, the water was really choppy (and so tours the following 3 days were canceled as a result) and we had to swim (with our day bags) into the ocean to get on the boat. Definitely ask about current conditions before you book. I think if you have a day with calmer waters it would be a much better experience.

El Nido Palawan Philippines
Perfect aquamarine waters of El Nido

Days 9-12 in the Philippines: Tao Philippines Sailing Trip to Coron

Set sail from El Nido headed for Coron on a sailing expedition. We booked with Tao Philippines for their small group sizes, exploratory and spontaneous attitude, and private beach camps to stay along the way. We paid $545 per person for the trip, also inclusive of meals and accommodations. This is easily the best thing we did the whole time we were in the Philippines!

How to Arrange a Sailing Trip from El Nido to Coron

You can book this trip online at the Tao Philippines website, or, if your schedule is more flexible, you can visit their office in either El Nido or Coron to book the next available trip.

What to Expect on the Tao Philippines Sailing Trip

This trip isn’t for everyone. My complete guide on what to expect on the Tao Philippines sailing trip tells you everything you need to know. For now, though, you should know that this isn’t a luxury tour. Showers are few, and accommodations are basic huts. It’s more like a camping trip in this way. It’s an amazing experience, however, for those who are up for a little adventure with good people.

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Days 13-16 in the Philippines: Coron

Like in El Nido, the main activities in Coron are centered around island hopping. Though the town isn’t as charming as El Nido (in my opinion), it’s still a great place to spend time, full of decent bars and restaurants catering to the backpacker scene.

How to Get to Coron

If you’re following this three week Philippines itinerary, you’ll be arriving by Tao boat.

If you decided Tao isn’t for you, though, you can get to Coron by flying into Busuanga Airport and taking a taxi about 45 minutes from there to town.

Where to Stay in Coron

The best area to stay is in Coron Town. This is where the hotels and restaurants are concentrated, and where you’ll find tour operators.

High-end: Bacau Bay Resort Coron
Midrange: Corto Del Mar Hotel
Budget: Seahorse Guesthouse (this is where we stayed for its basic but clean dorm accommodations)

Island Hopping From Coron

You can explore the nearby islands on a group boat tour (about 1600-2000 pesos per person), or hire a private boat for 2700 pesos. For either option, just walk through the stalls near the bus terminal (look for signs that say “tourist information center”) and pop into a few of the many tour agencies to compare prices, itineraries, and schedules.

Tip: We opted to hire a private boat from a local operator. Once you include food and entrance fees to the sites you want to visit, it’s only a tad more expensive (about $15 USD) than the group tour, and you get to create your itinerary. Tell the captain to go to the sites in the opposite order of the big group tours and you’ll avoid the crowds!

Our favorite spots were:

  • Twin Lagoon – a lagoon surrounded by tall limestone cliffs, where saltwater and freshwater meet, creating an interesting mix of cold and warm water as well as blurry visibility from the briny mix.
  • Skeleton Wreck – a WWII Japanese shipwreck you can snorkel around – we saw a ton of beautiful colorful fish while we were there!
  • Coral Garden – a snorkeling site with beautiful colorful coral and lots of fish.
  • Kayangan Lake – a stunning lake for swimming and relaxing, with especially great views during the climb up to the lake.
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For custom trips, the tour agency should be able to give you a list with some photos to help you decide your stops.

Days 17-20 in the Philippines: Cebu and Bohol

Bohol is famous for two main things – the Chocolate Hills (no, not made of chocolate) and seeing tarsiers. These are the main reasons to visit this island.

How to Get to Bohol

We took a long way to get to Bohol from Coron. You can fly from Coron (Busuanga Airport) to Cebu on CebGo for about $45 USD/person, and then take the ferry (300 pesos) to Bohol. You could also skip Cebu and fly directly to Tagbilaran on Bohol Island. This is the more efficient option and the one I recommend if you are tight on time.

Where to Stay on Bohol

You have diverse options on the island of  Bohol. You can stay at a luxury resort, stay in the city of Tagbilaran, or even stay in the jungle.

We stayed in the jungle, near a town called Carmen, and this is what I recommend for the change of scenery from the tropical vibes you’ve been immersed in on this Philippines itinerary so far.

Best Things to Do on Bohol

The best way to see the island is to rent a scooter (less than $15 USD per day, including gas). We rented ours from our Airbnb host, but any hotel should be able to assist as well. If you don’t have experience with scooters, though, take the safe route and hire a driver for the day (about $30). You’ll have less freedom, but you’re less likely to get injured or lost.

Whatever option you choose, these are the main sites and stops I recommend:

  • Chocolate Hills – so called because they look like giant chocolate truffles, the Chocolate Hills were probably formed by ancient coral pushing up underneath the ground over time, but the more fun legend is that they are tears from a giant.
  • Philippines Tarsier Sanctuary – the only place I recommend for seeing tarsiers.
  • Bamboo Hanging Bridge – an interesting and unique bridge in the forest.
  • Mahogany Forest – this manmade forest is beautiful to drive through, and a welcome reprieve from the sun and heat if you are on a scooter!
Chocolate Hills of Bohol Philippines
Chocolate Hills of Bohol

Warning! Animal Tourism in Bohol

Be wary of any tour company offering close encounters with animals.

In Cebu, you’ll see advertisements for swimming with whale sharks. While seeing whale sharks in the wild is amazing, Cebu is not the place to do it for ethical reasons! Tour operators feed the whale sharks to keep them in the area, and this damages the natural way of life for the sharks. Even worse, it habituates the sharks to human contact, making them overly trusting and vulnerable to injury or death from getting too close to boat propellers. There are better, more ethical ways of seeing these great animals in the wild, notably in Western Australia, but also in Mexico and other places in the world.

Secondly, to see tarsiers, I only recommend visiting the Philippines Tarsier Sanctuary. Other places, including the popular Tarsier Conservation Area, have been known to abuse the tarsiers by keeping them in cages, allowing visitors to handle them, and otherwise disrupting their natural lives. The tarsiers at the Philippines Tarsier Sanctuary, however, are wild and left undisturbed by the staff and visitors.

For more tips on the best things to do in Bohol, check out Adventures with Nie Nie’s comprehensive guide to the island!

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Days 20-21 in the Philippines: Back to Manila

Whew that went by fast! It’s already the 20th day of this three week itinerary for the Philippines. Depending on your next destination, you will likely be connecting by plane from Cebu or Tagbilaran to Manila before leaving the country.

Where to Stay Near the Manila Airport

If your flight plans include an overnight in Manila, I recommend staying near the airport.

We stayed the night at the Nichols Airport Hotel for $34 – chosen for its proximity to the airport. It was perfect and surprisingly nice. We were especially delighted by the rooftop views over the city.

General Tips for a Three Week Philippines Itinerary

  • Get out plenty of cash (pesos) when you arrive. Many places don’t have ATMs available for foreign cards.
  • Don’t drink the water or even brush your teeth with it! You will get sick. Even if you heed this warning, you may still get sick.
  • Showers will likely be low water pressure and/or cold.
  • Most toilets will not be what you are used to at home. In general, they will be bucket flush toilets. Instead of a toilet seat, you sit directly on the bowl. When you’re done, use the bucket in the keg of water beside the toilet to dump water into the bowl. Your waste will flush away. Also, throw your toilet paper in the trash can provided, not in the toilet.
  • It takes a while to get around in the Philippines, so if you’re time is short, limit your destinations to one or two key places you want to see.
  • Expect crowds in touristy places, and scarce amenities in non-touristy places.
  • Everyone is very kind, and the scenery is gorgeous! Set your expectations as described above and you’ll have a great time!

Additional Resources

Read my article published by World Nomads about village life in the Philippines.

Check out World Nomads Podcast Episode 16 – Philippines to hear me and others share our experiences and advice for traveling in the Philippines.

Don’t forget to check out my complete guide to island hopping without the crowds with Tao Philippines!

And find out what to expect on a day trip to Mount Pinatubo from Manila.

I’d love to hear what you think of this three week Philippines itinerary. Drop me a comment below or feel free to contact me!

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Hey, I'm Sarah! I'm a Virginia-born girl living in Wisconsin. I'm obsessed with organization, planning, and adventurous travel. I am a cat-person with a love for all dogs, and I can never decide whether I want a sweet or a savory meal for brunch. Most of my travels (and my brunches) are with my best friend/soul mate/husband, Tim.

3 Comments

  • Hanna

    The sailing trip from El Nido to Coron looks great! And I never made it to Bohol, so I’ll be adding that to the list for when I go back to the Philippines. Amazing blog post!

  • Sophie

    Wow this is such an amazing and comprehensive post! I feel like the universe keeps telling me to visit the Philippines so I’m definitely going to take this as another sign!

  • Mayara

    I was in between Thailand and Philippines when I was choosing for my next vacation, as I write you, I’m sitting at the bar of the airport about to board to Thailand haha (how funny) Such a nice guide, definitely saving it for next time because it is high up on my bucket list!

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