Earlier this year we published a basic guide for visiting the Philippines, which we felt is a great starting point for people who just begun to plan their trip. Since then, we’ve received many questions about the country, mostly from couples who consider taking their honeymoon in the Philippines.
The Philippines is a wonderful place, steadily growing in popularity as a romantic destination. Beautiful white sand beaches, private island resorts and a wide variety of attractions and activities all provide the perfect setting for couples. The best thing is, everything is cheap! Well, at least compared to other popular honeymoon spots around the world.
With over 7000 islands to choose from, planning your honeymoon is no easy task. On top of that, you can never be really sure what you’re actually going to get – sometimes an all inclusive resort turns out to be a tiny swimming pool and a dull breakfast buffet with nothing more than rice and eggs. That is why we decided to create this guide, to try and answer the most common questions we get.
1. Popular tourist spots or remote islands?
Generally speaking, picking one of the popular islands is a much safer bet. Afterall, the last thing you’d want on your honeymoon is any unpleasant surprises. Famous islands such as Boracay, Palawan or Bohol have much more accommodation options and much more developed tourism industry overall. It means you are more likely to get what you expect, and standards of service are high.
That doesn’t mean you should avoid going off the beaten path altogether, just be aware it requires meticulous planning. Islands such as Siargao or Camiguin are stunning and perfect for romance. In fact, one could argue they are a better choice as they provide a much more private experience and the scenery is just as beautiful. These islands offer a wide variety of activities – such as surfing, diving, hiking and more, so there’s no chance you’ll find yourself feeling bored there.
The solution is to probably do a mix of both, and plan your route accordingly. When you visit the smaller islands, leave your itinerary less packed, since delays are frequent for both ferries and flights. Make sure you read about each island in advance and come well prepared, especially when it comes to choosing where to sleep.
2. Skip Manila and head straight to the islands?
The answer is quite simple – you should spend at least 1-2 nights in the city. You can do it either the start or end of your trip, whatever works better with your overall travel plan. We know you’ve been dreaming of a romantic beach getaway and delaying it to spend some time in the city might seem strange – but trust us it’s worth it.
Manila may seem off-putting at first, and it clearly won’t strike you as a couples friendly destination. It is, however, one of the most interesting and unique cities in the world, and the perfect place to get a sense of Filipino history and culture. You can easily spend a whole day just touring the old city of Intramuros and Binondo – the oldest Chinatown in the world. Then, head over to one of the nice restaurants by the bay, and have a candlelit gourmet dinner.
3. Resorts on the main island or private island?
Most of you will be going to Palawan and Boracay, where one of the major decisions is whether to stay at the main area, where most hotels are located and is packed with tourists, or book a private island resort. Putting budget considerations aside, there are a few questions you must ask yourself before making your final decision.
Resorts on smaller nearby islands, or even ones located 20 minutes drive from town center are obviously much more quiet, and generally standards of service are higher. They can arrange any tour you’d like, and make sure you are transferred back and forth, but it will be more difficult to do. From our experience, if you book an all-inclusive 5 star resort, you tend to spend most of your days there, and avoid the hassle of going out on tours.
So, if you want a pampering luxury vacation, booking a private resort might be a good choice. On the other hand, if you want to mix with the locals, meet other tourists or go out on countless adventures, sticking to the mainland is better. One thing to consider is whether you’ll be visiting the smaller islands or not. If you are going to Camiguin or Siargao for example, you’ll get plenty of private beaches, peace and quiet – so it might be better to try out a different experience at the tourist hotspots.
4. Use a travel agent or not?
Travelling to the Philippines isn’t easy, just like any other 3rd world country. Many things can go wrong – delays are frequent, weather is fickle, and hotels ads online are often misleading. It is useful to have someone you can rely on, at least for advice if nothing else. Since you are hoping to have a luxurious holiday, it might be a good idea to spend a little extra and get these worries off your mind.
One thing you could do is to use agents only to book hotels, tours and domestic flights. Taking care of international flights yourself might actually help you save money, and the agency will also charge you less for the package. Make sure it’s a reputable Philippines travel agency first, and ask them to explain their cancellation policy clearly, as well as explain how they can help you if something goes wrong with your travel plan.
5. Flights or bus/ferry?
Again, this is pretty straightforward – there’s absolutely no reason not to fly. You’ll probably won’t have too much time to spend, so try to make traveling as efficient as possible. The only alternative is by skipping Boracay and Palawan and visiting Cebu and Bohol instead – these are very close to one another and the ferry service is cheap and reliable.
Boracay and Palawan are both standalone destinations, and getting there by ferry is ridiculous – it will take 20 hours or more. There are regular daily flights from Manila and Cebu City, and they don’t cost much if you book in advance. There’s also a weekly flight every Tuesday from Boracay to Palawan, operated by SouthEast Asian Airlines – so consider booking it and planning your schedule accordingly. Otherwise you’ll have to take a layover at either Manila or Cebu.
6. What are the best things to do?
With so many different places to visit, the sky’s the limit – you can do pretty much anything you like somewhere in the Philippines. When planning your trip, ask yourself what are the fun things you would enjoy doing together as a couple, then try to find the best islands that fit your desires.
Popular destinations are more diverse, but typically don’t excel at any given activity, while smaller islands usually specialize in a single attraction.
Diving, surfing, hiking, culture and arts are available at most islands you’d visit. Diving in the Philippines is especially recommended, as it’s located inside the Coral triangle and boasts the most diverse marine ecosystem anywhere in the world. You can book island hopping tours everywhere, so if diving is too scary, you can always settle for snorkeling, swimming and kayaking instead. World class nightlife is only found in Manila and Boracay, with other locations ranging between mellow to non-existent.
7. Group or private tours?
We realize many of you would prefer to have some privacy, or enjoy personal service of the highest standards. The problem is, many times you’ll be promised a private guided tour only to find out you are actually joined by many other tourists. You’ll basically pay more for no reason, and it might also spoil your mood and make it harder to enjoy what could otherwise be an exciting day.
If you really want a private guide, it’s better to book it in advance through a travel agency or a reputable tour operator. Avoid booking the tour through the touts who stand outside your resort or at the beach, they will rip you off. Keep in mind many tours are unavailable privately, the Puerto Princesa Underground River for example is fully booked a month in advance during high season.
8. What does “all inclusive” really mean?
If you book 5 star resorts in popular tourist destinations, you can expect all your requests will be catered for. Private island resorts take care of everything, and you won’t need to leave the island even once. When we stayed at Boracay we slept at the Shangri-La Boracay and had a wonderful time, they really went the extra mile to make us feel like kings.
It gets a bit trickier when you get to the smaller islands. It’s probably better to adjust your expectations to avoid disappointment, and avoid paying too much for mediocre service. If you insist on booking an all inclusive vacation package, you should either use a local travel agency or call the hotel yourself to make sure what is included exactly.
9. How long should i stay there?
A classic honeymoon vacation includes Manila, Boracay and Palawan and can be done in 10 days. That doesn’t mean you can’t stay longer – it’s easy to spend a whole week just in Palawan for example. From our experience, the ideal length for a holiday in the Philippines is 3 to 4 weeks, but we realize that might be difficult for many people.
10. How much would everything cost?
It really depends on your definition of luxury, and how much you are willing to pay to enjoy the highest standards. Palawan’s private island resorts can cost 700-800$ per night, while rooms at Boracay’s Shangri-la go for as low as 200$. In any case, it’s far cheaper than other popular honeymoon destinations such as the Maldives for example.
Living costs and tours fees are quite trivial, even if you spoil yourself. It shouldn’t be more than 50$ a day per person on average. The only exception is Manila, where the sky’s the limit and how much you can spend. All in all, two weeks in the Philippines should set you back around 5000 USD. The amount can be greatly reduced if you lower your standards, but for this much you’ll get a true VIP experience.