With more than 7000 islands to choose from, the Philippines are a dream destination for many people, myself included. The country offers some of the most beautiful beaches in the world and spectacular diving opportunities.
Furthermore, there are ancient rice terraces to be explored, lovely little villages, and the famous Chocolate Hills. Altogether, our 3 week Philippines itinerary included several of the most beautiful places we visited during our 5 month trip around the world.
This post contains affiliate links.
Please read my disclosure policy for more information.
The perfect 3 week Philippines itinerary
Which islands to visit in the Philippines?
I did a lot of research before my trip to the Philippines. Why? Because it seemed impossible to choose which of the many beautiful islands we should visit. Every Philippines picture I found was more beautiful than the last one.
I spent several weeks researching gorgeous islands. My preferred source of information were blogs of people living in the Philippines for a year or longer. Because if these experts, who had traveled to more than 20 islands, recommended a specific one, that island secured itself a spot on my shortlist.
Research and recommendations combined led to my personal ‘Most Beautiful Islands In The Philippines Top 3‘ which formed the basis of my trip itinerary. We visited Luzon, Palawan, and Bohol and they were each spectacular in their own way.
Map of my three week trip around the Philippines
In the map of the Philippines you can find the itinerary we followed during our 3 weeks in the Philippines. I’ve also included our Philippines accommodation and all the highlights we visited on Luzon, Palawan, and Bohol.
If you want to know more about the costs of our Philippines travel itinerary, be sure to check out my Philippines budget post.
Philippines 3 week itinerary
- Day 1: from Manila to Banaue
- Day 2-4: hiking in Banaue
- Day 5: from Banaue to Palawan
- Day 6: Puerto Princesa to El Nido
- Day 7-12: El Nido
- Day 13: from El Nido to Puerto Princesa
- Day 14: from Palawan to Cebu
- Day 15: from Cebu to Bohol
- Day 16: Loboc (Bohol)
- Day 17-18: Panglao (Bohol)
- Day 19: Tagbilaran (Bohol)
- Day 20: from Bohol to Manila
Important things to know when traveling to the Philippines
The official languages of the Philippines are Tagalog and English (the Philippines were under American rule for quite a while).
That being said, because the Philippines consists of so many different islands there are over 180 different languages and dialects!
The currency of the Philippines is the Philippine peso. When we traveled the Philippines the exchange rate was approximately 50php for €1 and 45php for $1. On this website you can find the current exchange rates.
While you can travel to the Philippines year-round, the best time to go is during the dry season which runs from December until April.
We visited during February, which was perfect as it wasn’t too hot yet (March and April usually are).
Day-to-day Philippines itinerary 3 weeks
Day 1: how to get from Manila to Banaue (by night bus)
We arrived at Manila airport in the afternoon and since we planned on continuing to the rice terraces of Banaue and Batad the same day, we did not have time to explore the city.
I personally didn’t feel 100% safe in Manila, therefore, we took a cab straight from the airport to the Ohayami bus terminal where the bus to Banaue would depart at 10 pm.
After buying a ticket we left our bags at the bus terminal and walked around to get something to eat and waited until it was time for the night bus to leave.
Must have attributes on the bus:
- Warm clothes because of the freezing air-conditioning (like a warm hoodie or down jacket)
- Earplugs and eye mask
- Patience and being ok with not sleeping much that night since you are sitting straight up and the road is very bumpy. But hey, that’s travel;-)
The drive to Banaue took about nine hours and we stopped three times along the way. Two of the stops were at a rest station that had a public toilet, one of the stops was in the middle of nowhere with no facilities around.
We arrived early in the morning at Banaue bus station, where everybody got off the bus and was shuffled into jeepneys. Our jeepney took us to Uyami’s Green View Restaurant where we had breakfast and arranged our tour.
There were many people selling tours walking around the restaurant so for us, not arranging a hiking tour beforehand worked out fine. We teamed up with four French travelers to arrange a good group deal and after packing everything we needed into our day pack we were off for a three-day hike through the famous rice terraces of Banaue, Cambulo, and Batad!
Day 2 – 4: Hiking in Banaue!
We spent day 2-4 of our Philippines 3 weeks itinerary hiking through the rice terraces, which was absolutely amazing! I had never seen anything like it before in my life, and we were very lucky with the weather and our fun group.
You read all the nitty-gritty details of our Banaue and Batad rice terrace hike here.
Important: there is no ATM in Banaue (or Cambulo or Batad). Make sure you bring enough cash to pay for all your expenses during your time in the rice terraces!
The bus from Banaue to Manila left at 7 pm and was pretty much the same as the way there. We arrived at the Ohayami bus terminal in the middle of the night (around 4 am) and took a cab to the airport.
How to get to Puerto Princesa from Manila? You have to take a flight. As Palawan is another island the only way to get there is by plane. Actually, that’s not entirely true: there is a ferry as well, which runs once a week and takes 11 hours.
Flights, however, are plentiful and cheap and take just over an hour.
If you are willing to spend (a lot) more, there are direct flights from Manila to El Nido. Air Swift is the only company offering direct flights, prices are usually between 7000-9000php per person. Whereas we paid 2239php for a flight from Manila to Puerto Princiessa for the two of us!
Pro: it saves you a lot of time
Con: it will cost you a lot of money
Where to stay in Puerto Princesa: Tia Mers Guesthouse
I booked Tia Mers Guesthouse just a few hours before we arrived on Palawan. As such, the very friendly hostel owner did not see my booking until late, which is why we did not get a complimentary pick-up from the airport.
After apologizing extensively for ‘failing’ to pick us up (not a problem at all, there are plenty of tuk-tuks which will take you to the hotel for 100php and probably even less if you are better at bargaining than I am), the owner gave us an upgrade to a huge, comfy and clean room with air conditioning.
We paid €11,50 (575php) for one night and breakfast was included. Click here for the latest prices.
From Puerto Princesa the journey to El Nido, my long-awaited tropical paradise continued. With Roro bus…
Oh Roro bus, we could have been such good friends… I had done research and to say my expectations were high would be an understatement.
The bus would be air-conditioned!
It was not…
The bus would be modern!
It was most definitely not…
The bus would leave on time!
It was three hours late…
The bus would take five hours!
It took eight hours to get to El Nido… (not including the three hours of waiting)
The bus wouldn’t stop to pick up people along the way!
It stopped everywhere. And I mean everywhere. Be it a bunch of school children that rode along for a couple of kilometers, a shop owner that needed a 50kg bag of rice delivered in the next town, an old lady going who knows where. Hence the eight hours.
No, Roro bus was not what I expected it to be:-). And yet it’s one of my fondest travel memories. Because who cares that it was not what I expected. And that I was six hours late. Late for what? I didn’t have to be anywhere.
In that moment I learned that to travel is to go with the flow. And to enjoy these little moments instead of getting upset or annoyed.
These moments will be among your fondest memories once you’re back in your ‘normal’ life.
Where people get really upset if you are three hours late, heck, they get annoyed if you’re five minutes late. Anyway, enough rambling, back to our Philippines three week itinerary.
Day 7-12: El Nido
El Nido is one of the most beautiful places in the Philippines and we thoroughly enjoyed our time here.
Getting around El Nido is very easy, there are tuk-tuks everywhere, and the center is tiny so you can walk almost anywhere. We did tour A and C, a PADI course, and most of all: we relaxed and enjoyed the stunning surroundings!
Also read my complete guide to El Nido
Where to stay in El Nido
Our stay in El Nido was great, but unfortunately, I cannot find the guesthouse we stayed at online. Below you can find a map with my attempt to draw the location of the guesthouse.
The thing is, the guesthouse had not officially opened yet, it didn’t have a name or sign indicating that it was a guesthouse at all. We just happened to bump into it, after a disappointing round trough El Nido.
All accommodation was fully booked because of the Chinese New Year, something we had not taken into account when planning our travel itinerary to the Philippines.
A little desperate we asked the friendly old lady sitting in her garden if this was a guesthouse and even though she said ‘Not open yet’, she showed us a small room with private bathroom and air conditioning and said we could stay there if we wanted.
And so we did. For €16 (800php a night), not including breakfast and with terrible Wi-Fi. Nevertheless, we were very happy we had found something and because it felt more like a homestay than a hotel.
Day 13: how to get from El Nido to Puerto Princesa (by minivan)
One ride on the Roro bus was enough for the return trip from El Nido to Puerto Princesa so we took a minivan. The minivan departed on time, then stopped 5km later and waited for an hour for no apparent reason.
It turned out we had to pick up another passenger, a Philippine woman who looked like she had just showered and done her hair and make-up while we were sweating in the minivan waiting for her. Nevermind…
Along the way, more people were picked up, at one moment there were 15 people in the van while it was actually fit for about 10. It came to the point where the driver was sharing his seat with another passenger! Nevertheless, just six hours later we arrived safely at Palawan Village Hotel.
Where to stay in Puerto Princesa: Palawan Village Hotel
Unfortunately, Tia Mers was fully booked on the day we came back to Puerto Princesa after a weeklong stay in El Nido so I booked a room at Palawan Village Hotel instead.
We had a good stay, the staff was friendly and let us store our bags behind the reception desk after check-out so we did not have to carry everything around while exploring Puerto Princesa.
The included breakfast was ok but nothing special, the free Wi-Fi was very slow and only available in the lobby. But the room was clean and the bed was good.
Close to the airport, but you need a tuk-tuk to get to the city center of PP. We paid €14 (700php) for one night including breakfast. Click here for the latest prices.
Day 14: how to get from Palawan to Cebu
After a morning of sightseeing in Puerto Princesa we took a tuk-tuk to the airport for our flight to our next destination: Cebu.
At tiny Puerto Princesa Airport we discovered the existence of a terminal fee, which doesn’t actually buy you anything but is something you need to pay before being allowed into the terminal. A clever invention to make you pay more money (a mere 150php per person, but still).
Another fun flight with Cebu Pacific brought us to Mactan-Cebu International Airport. Mind you, as soon as you step out of the terminal, the usual taxi touts will try to sell you an expensive ride to the city center.
Official taxi: instead of hopping into the first available taxi, just cross the street, take a right and walk to the official taxi stand. Here an airport employee will direct you to a taxi and hand you a piece of paper with the number of the taxi you are getting into and phone number of airport taxi service.
If something happens, they will know which cab you were in and you know which number to call to report the problem.
During rush hour it can take up to an hour to travel from the airport to the city center.
Where to stay in Cebu city: Skypark Pensionne
I did not actually mean to go to Cebu city, but we ended up there one night because flying from Palawan to Cebu and crossing by boat to Bohol on the same day proved a bit too ambitious. We stayed at Skypark Pensionne. The shower was good and the bed as well.
Nothing special, but definitely fine for a night. We paid €16,50 (825php) for a night, no breakfast included (but a small and ridiculously cheap bakery next door). Click here for the latest prices.
Day 15: how to get from Cebu to Bohol (by boat)
Thinking back about this day, it still amazes me how everything worked out so perfect. We hadn’t booked anything; the only plan was to get to Bohol that day. After a short walk to Cebu pier, we found a seat on a boat from Weesam Express where we ended up sitting next to a friendly Philippine gentleman.
We started talking about all sorts of things and found out he lived on Bohol. When we mentioning that we were planning to go to Loboc he broke into a wide smile and proudly declared that he lived there. And immediately offered us a ride!
So instead of trying to get from Tubigon to Loboc by bus or tuk-tuk or taxi or a combination of these; we got out of the boat, followed the friendly gentlemen to a white jeep with a driver, got in and arrived in Loboc within an hour after stepping off the boat! Lucky us!
Where to stay in Loboc: Fox & Firefly Cottages
Two of my favorite accommodations during our trip in the Philippines were on Bohol. I had not booked anything so the day we arrived in Loboc I had no clue where to go.
I remembered reading something about Nipa huts so we asked for directions and started walking there. It was far! And it was… depressing. The pictures on Agoda must have been taken more than 10 years ago because it looked nothing like it.
Fortunately, we had passed another accommodation on the way to Nipa huts, so we decided to try our luck there. I am so glad we did! The Fox & Firefly Cottages was one of the nicest and prettiest places we stayed during our five-month trip.
We enjoyed speaking Dutch with the owner as well as relaxing in the hammocks on the veranda. The little cottage was so cute and the food and homemade bread were delicious (breakfast is not included). There was an outdoor shower (don’t worry, you can lock the door;-) which was very clean and a cool experience!
I totally recommend staying here, we were sorry to leave after one night already. We paid €28 (1400php) for the cottage, so it was a bit pricier than our other accommodations, but you have to ‘splurge’ every once in a while;-). Click here for the latest prices.
Day 16: sightseeing on a scooter
The next morning we decided to go sightseeing and rented a scooter to check out some of the many things to do on Bohol.
We drove from the Fox & Firefly Cottages to Carmen (the Chocolate Hills) and back. The sites below above are all located along this road, you can’t miss them! Check the map for more information.
Exploring the area on a scooter was a great experience and while all the stops were interesting, what I loved most was seeing how people lived in the little villages we passed.
In the picture below you can see a beautiful handpainted bus stop sign, with all households of the village carefully mapped out. So much work and care have gone into creating this piece of art!
The Tarsier Sanctuary & Conservation Area
These weird monkeys are among of the smallest of their kind and look like they came straight out of a comic book. Their eyes look way too big for their skull (did you know that their eyes are larger than their brain!) and they have tiny claw-like hands.
What I liked about the sanctuary is that there is one or more caretakers for each Tarsier, urging every approaching visitor to be very silent and not to take photos with a flash.
When stressed out, Tarsiers have a tendency to commit suicide… It’s true, read it on Wiki. Curious little creatures!
Butterfly Conservation Center
Before reaching the Chocolate Hills we passed the Butterflies Conservation Center. For both the Tarsier Sanctuary as well as the Butterfly Sanctuary I’m not sure how I feel about visiting them.
I mean, if I were a butterfly I probably wouldn’t enjoy being put on someone’s nose 100 times a day. And with the Tarsiers so sensitive to stress, being constantly gawked at by tourists (including myself) cannot be good for them.
But… these sanctuaries do provide local people with jobs and an income. And allows for a Tarsier Sanctuary to exist at all, which sadly is very much needed since they are an endangered species. So I am a bit torn about these attractions.
The Chocolate Hills
These crazy hills are a real mystery, read some of the best legends about them. There are hundreds of them, stretching as far as the eye can see.
How to get from Loboc to Panglao (Bohol)
Our streak of transportation luck continued our entire week on Bohol. The next day, after a fun sightseeing tour on a scooter, we walked from our cute cottage to the main road and within 5 minutes a bus passed.
We learned from our bus trip from Puerto Princesa to El Nido that there are no such things as bus stops in the Philippines so we put up our hand and sure enough: the bus stopped! We got in, bought a ticket to Tagbilaran and arrived 30 minutes later.
At Tagbilaran bus terminal we ask a jeepney driver how to get to our hotel on Panglao and after showing him the address he quickly points us to the right jeepney.
Do not ask the tuk-tuk drivers, they will tell you it’s not possible to get to Panglao by jeepney. Or that you’ll have to wait very long for a jeepney to depart. Or that the jeepney ride will take a very long time. Whatever they think gets you in their tuk-tuk.
The jeepney filled up quickly and just when we thought there was no way more people could be crammed in, the driver produced three tiny wooden benches which he put in the middle path of the jeepney and suddenly there were six more seats available.
With around 20 people in the jeepney and 5 hanging off the back, we took off. The picture was complete when a rooster I didn’t even know was on board because he was hidden in a large aluminum can crowed. Thinking back about it brings a huge smile to my face, it was so much fun…
You cannot really see anything from inside a jeepney, particularly not if it’s completely filled with people and the only thing you see is friendly smiling faces from locals who are wondering what the heck these crazy tourists are doing in a local jeepney. Anyway, after a ride via who knows where the jeepney stopped and the driver declared that we had arrived at our destination.
Looking around and not seeing anything that even remotely resembled a hotel, we worried for a brief moment that the driver might not have entirely understood us correctly.
We decided to walk towards the ocean anyway because on the hotel pictures we had seen rooms with an ocean view. And sure enough, after just 10 minutes of walking, we arrived at Royal Paradise Guesthouse. Thank you mister jeepney driver!
Where to stay in Panglao: Royal Paradise Guesthouse
At Panglao, we stayed at Royal Paradise Guesthouse, the other accommodation on Bohol I really liked. The view from our room was fantastic, we could see the ocean from our comfy bed! Everything was clean and the private shower was hot.
The best thing about our stay, however, was the staff, they were so friendly and accommodating! They drove us to Alona beach and picked us up again for 100php a day.
The breakfast was really nice and included in the price. Definitely recommended, but please note that if you want to be able to walk to Alona beach this is not the place for you (it’s an 8km drive). We paid €25 per night (1250php). Click here for the latest prices.
Day 17 and 18: Panglao, Bohol
For two relaxing days, our routine was: get out of bed, look at the gorgeous view from our room, have a delicious breakfast, get on the back of a scooter (me squished between the friendly hotel employee and my husband) and drive to Alona beach. There we would relax all day before being picked up by the scooter again to go back to our hotel.
Alona beach was very pretty, though not as pretty as El Nido with its impressive limestone formations. But the ocean was a beautiful blue, the atmosphere was very laid-back and we ate the best food of our Philippine trip at Oasis Beach resort.
As we already went diving in El Nido, we choose not to do so at Alona Beach. However, there are definitely great diving and snorkeling here!
Day 19: how to get from Panglao to Tagbilaran (Bohol)
A little sad to leave another perfect paradise behind, we left for Tagbilaran. Walking to the corner where we were dropped off on the outward journey we started wondering whether this was actually part of the normal jeepney route or that the friendly driver had made an exception for us.
But before we could worry too much about it our lucky Bohol transportation charm kicked in again and a jeep stopped in front of us asking if we needed a ride.
Sure, that would be great! Dropped off in the center of Tagbilaran within 15 minutes we couldn’t believe our luck! Again! A short tuk-tuk ride later we arrived at our hotel.
Looking for more travel inspiration? Check out my Southeast Asia island guide!
Where not to stay in Tagbilaran
Our final night in the Philippines we stayed at Casa Rey Francis Pension House which was not one of my favorites to say the least. The room smelled terrible, very moldy and damp.
The toilet did not have a seat and the air conditioning was very noisy. All in all definitely not the best stay we had on Bohol. We paid €15 (750php) for a night, the average Agoda rating is 6,1. My advice: find another place to stay!
Day 20: how to get from Bohol to Manila
Our last day in the Philippines… We sure made it count, transportation wise… early in the morning we left our hotel and took a tuk-tuk to Tagbilaran Pier. Here we encountered another example of Philippine bureaucracy/touristocracy.
The day before, we had already bought our tickets so we headed straight for the ferry terminal.
That was a mistake.
We had to get a seat number first. Which they assigned at the ticket office located at the beginning of the pier. Ok, no problem. So we headed to the SuperCat office, got our seat number written on our ticket and walked back to the terminal.
There we had to hand over our large backpacks and pay 100php per bag; they would be put in the luggage room of the boat. Ok, no big deal, just go with it. We then entered the terminal, where, how could we not have seen this coming, a terminal fee was levied.
I have to admit, the Supercat catamaran was way more modern and comfortable than the Weesam boat (which looked more like a submarine) we had taken to Tubigon on our way to Bohol. After just two comfortable hours we arrived at Cebu Pier.
Our big backpacks were right next to the exit, which apparently counted as the luggage room worth 100php a bag. On the plus side, this made getting off the boat quick and easy; we were on our way to the airport in a taxi within minutes.
A word of advice: don’t take the first cab you are offered by the ever present taxi touts. We walked for about 100 meters and found a friendly, non obtrusive taxi driver who drove us to the airport within half an hour (no rush hour this time).
After some waiting we boarded our plane to Manila, from there we left the beautiful Philippines and flew to Hanoi. But not before paying another terminal fee of 1100php a person. Ah well, the Philippines were phenomenal and totally worth the ‘hassle’.
3 weeks Philippines itinerary: in conclusion
Altogether we had a really amazing Philippines trip! The beaches are the best I have ever seen and I loved that every place we visited was so different and beautiful in their own way. I would love to go back and visit more of the 7000 islands…
Planning a trip to the Philippines? Download the itinerary and the hotel information below. Happy travels!
This post was updated in July 2020.