Hi there! We are Valerie and Mik – a Belgian travel couple behind the award winning blog suitcasestories.be. Welcome to our Philippines travel guide.
Both of us grew up in small villages close to each other in the Antwerp region of Belgium. We met each other when we were 16 years old, fell in love and have been together ever since. Love at first sight really does exist! Now almost 15 years later, we are engaged and will get married next year.
At the start of our relationship, we discovered that we were both crazy about travel and exploring new places. In 2009, we took our first trip to the Dominican Republic and a year later went backpacking in Thailand.
Back then Valerie was working for Brussels Airlines where we got bitten by the travel bug even harder. Many trips later, we started talking and dreaming about travelling the world for a longer period of time.
We were both focused on our careers at that stage. Valerie was working as a Social Media Manager for a travel organization and Mik as a Production Manager for a chocolate factory. We were renting an apartment with our cat Filou, bought land and started saving so we could build our own house.
Whilst designing our first ideas with the architect, we suddenly realized that we needed to decide whether we wanted to live the life we always wanted. It was a decision between chasing our biggest dreams to travel, be happy and free or continue living our 9-5 life and build our new home.
Well, it didn’t take long before we turned all our plans upside down and made the big decision to quit our jobs, sell everything and leave our comfortable lives behind to follow our dreams. We booked a one-way ticket to Namibia and left home on October 22, 2018. To where and until when?
We really have no idea. We hope to travel as long as we can and wherever our dreams take us. One of those dream destinations was the Philippines. Let us tell you about our experiences in this Philippines travel guide.
Inspiration to Visit the Beautiful Philippines
Traveling to the Philippines was always very high on our bucket list. Every time we looked for inspiration for a new destination and entered the word “paradise” on Pinterest, the Philippines showed up again and again.
Our first time going to the Philippines, we hopped from island to island with a backpack for four weeks and oh my! We fell in love with this country instantly. Crystal clear waters, tropical islands, remote beaches, relaxed vibes and the friendliest local people – do we need to say more?
We’ve visited the Philippines three times now and would love to go again. Every time we traveled to the Philippines, we went for a little less than 30 days so that we could travel without applying for a visa in advance.
Our third trip to the Philippines also included a diving experience in Coron and an unforgettable island expedition to the remote islands of Balabac.
Why Siargao Island is our Favourite Place
We have so many favorite places in the Philippines that it’s hard to choose just one. If we had to choose we would go with Siargao. The island has everything: a relaxed surfers vibe, beautiful beaches, unspoilt nature, healthy vegan food, lovely people and amazing islands to visit nearby.
Philippines Travel Guide: Best Places to Visit
With over 7000 islands to choose from, you can imagine there are so many amazing islands to explore and even more beautiful beaches to visit. As we often get asked, here are our top 10 places for this Philippines travel guide:
1. Nacpan Beach in El Nido, Palawan
Nacpan Beach in El Nido is a long stretch of sandy beach with cozy beach bars and beautiful sunsets. The road to Nacpan Beach is adventurous so the moment you arrive it feels like you’ve found a hidden gem.
2. Las Cabanas Beach in El Nido, Palawan
Las Cabanas Beach in El Nido, Palawan is another amazing spot to watch the sunset and relax all day at the beautiful beach. Set yourself up at the beach, grab a rum and coke, soak up the sun and swim in the warm waters.
3. Coron Island aka “The Blue Lagoon”
Coron is located in northern Palawan as part of the Calamian Islands and has the most stunning lagoons, remote islands and amazing wreck diving. Many people call Coron “paradise on earth” and it’s easy to see why.
4. Malapascua Island off the North Coast of Cebu
Malapascua is situated off the north coast of Cebu and is not always included in a Philippines travel guide which we find surprising as it’s amazing. If diving with thresher sharks is on your bucket list then this is the island for you. Above all, it has the softest white-sand beaches in the world!
5. Siargao Island: Our Favourite Island
Siargao is our favourite island. It has the most relaxed atmosphere – a paradise for vegans, surf addicts and beach bums. Driving with a scooter along the palm-tree roads gives you the ultimate feeling of freedom.
6. Balabac, The Last Paradise of the Philippines
Balabac is known as the “Last Paradise of the Philippines”. Balabac has the best remote islands located at the southernmost tip of Palawan. You can only get here by doing a multi-day expedition which is so cool. An off the beaten path island paradise with the most stunning turquoise waters.
7. The Volcanic and Beautiful Camiguin
Camiguin is a volcanic island province of the Philippines with lots of adventurous things to do like chasing waterfalls, hiking volcanoes, diving, snorkeling or relaxing in hot springs. It’s a truly underrated paradise that is not always found in your typical Philippines travel guide.
8. Salagdoong Beach in Siquijor
This is a lovely beach with the most stunning turquoise waters to go snorkelling and rock platforms to do some cliff-jumping. Salagdoong is a 30-minute drive from Cambugahay Falls and an hour from Paliton Beach.
9. The Municipality of Moalboal in Cebu Province
Moalboal is a seaside town where you can snorkel with massive schools of sardines. A super cool experience to add to your bucket list! And if you’re lucky you can spot some whale sharks and lots of turtles too.
10. White Beach in Boracay
We were at Boracay’s White Beach the first time we visited the Philippines and couldn’t believe our eyes. The beaches of Boracay were so white and soft. The island reopened in 2018 after being closed for 6 months to clean up the beaches and coral reefs. We can’t wait to visit this paradise again!
Favourite Memory from our Philippines Travel
We have so many beautiful memories from our trips to the Philippines but the expedition to Balabac has to be one of our ultimate memories! The islands of Balabac have always been avoided by tourists due to piracy and kidnapping but have been ‘declared safe’ for several years now.
To get to Balabac, we had to drive for more than 6 hours in a freezing tight minivan and needed to wait in an abandoned harbor for a couple of hours until a traditional Philippine boat picked us up. And after 3 hours of sailing along raw paradise, we arrived at a beautiful secluded island.
There were no more than 10 people living here and no ATM’s, shops or cell phone signals. We slept in a tent for 4 days, ate local food, used a bucket flush toilet, got bitten by sand flies and conquered a tropical sea storm – but we never felt so connected to the planet as we did then.
We chilled on the most stunning white-powdery beaches, visited mind-blowing islands and swam in the bluest waters. The expedition to Balabac was unforgettable and we highly recommend it to everyone! Balabac is definitely one of the key take-away places for this Philippines travel guide.
Philippines Travel Guide: Amazing Local People
Filipinos are definitely one of the main reasons why we fell in love with this country. The people are so generous, welcoming and will go the extra mile for you and treat you like a real VIP. Wherever you go, you’ll see the friendliest faces, biggest smiles and children waving at you.
When you’re going to the Philippines, just talk with the locals and wave back, they’ll love it so much! Sleeping in a family-owned guest house is also a great way to immerse yourself in the local Filipino culture.
Philippines Travel Guide: Incredible Food Scene
When it comes to food, there are so many different options and influences from all over the world. It has a meat and fish-loving reputation, but as vegans we found it easy to find delicious food wherever we went.
For example in El Nido, Port Barton and Siargao, vegan food is booming! From tasty buddha bowls, vegan pizzas to the best smoothies and plant based ice cream – you won’t get disappointed. For local vegan dishes, we’d recommend the ‘pancit bihon’ and local vegetable curries. So good!
What you Need to Know Before you Go
The Philippines is a huge archipelago and has so many different islands to explore. So our best advice would be to plan your trip in advance. Read a Philippines travel guide or two and do some proper planning.
Especially if you have limited time. Book your domestic flights before you leave, check for boat schedules if you plan to hop from one island to another and count extra days for unforeseen delays (bus and boat schedules are unreliable) or for places where you don’t want to leave.
Another tip is to have at least 3-4 weeks to travel through the Philippines. The moment you start planning your trip, you’ll notice there are so many amazing islands to see and you’ll realize 2 weeks is not enough time.
Distances are quite far and can take a lot of time. For example, to get from El Nido to Puerto Princesa takes you more than 6 hours of traveling by bus.
We hope you liked our Philippines travel guide. It has been an absolute pleasure to share our experiences and memories with all of you. We can’t wait to hear your own travel plans and if there’s anything you’d like to know more about, please connect with us on Instagram @suitcasestories.be.