The Philippines. What do you think of? Rice fields? Humidity? Smiling children running barefoot through muddy streets? American kidnappings? Tropical paradise? Poverty? The kindest people you will ever meet? If you said yes to each of the above, congrats! All of them are true! (And don’t be alarmed about the kidnappings.. It’s only happened a few times in the ghetto of Manila. I felt safe the entire time I was in the country) After my trip there, I can honestly say the Philippines might be the most underrated country in the world. When you get out of the bigger cities, like Manila, and venture further into local villages throughout the mountains and dotted along the coast, you seem to find yourself transported into a 3rd world fantasy of sorts. I went on a girls’ trip to the province of Palawan which is an island situated in the western part of the country, closest to Vietnam. We had heard from other friends how absolutely mesmerizing Palawan was, and most notably El Nido, a small beach town located on the northern section of the province.
In fact, Palawan was voted the most beautiful island in the world by Lonely Planet in 2014. My friend, Amy, and I took a 5 hour van ride from the airport that is located in the center of Palawan up to El Nido (this can be eliminated all together by flying directly into El Nido’s small airport, which I recommend to those who are on a time crunch or get car sick easily) and while the long bumpy ride was not a top highlight of the trip, the view along the way most definitely was. Amy and I kept turning excitedly to one another wide eyed with child like enthusiasm at the landscape right outside our window. And the gorgeous vegetation was just the beginning… seeing small bamboo huts lining dirt roads, barefoot children chasing after all sorts of livestock, and families of five or more all piled onto one scooter was an experience in and of itself.
The entire trip Amy and I kept exclaiming, “We have literally been transported to the movie Swiss Family Robinson.” or, “This island IS Peter Pan meets Tarzan!!!” (I suppose Disney has visited Palawan for inspiration). Upon arriving in dreamy El Nido, we were swept away by picture perfect sunsets and the tight knit community which had just enough tourism to keep it alive and well at night, but still so small and local that we felt like we were the only Americans to have discovered this secret gem (you’re welcome btw.. for sharing this special place with you!). If you are looking for a dream vacation that perfectly balances exotic views, the most warm and welcoming people, countless water and boating activities, affordability, and laid back island vibes, then Palawan is the place for you! If you want the financial details of our trip and how to successfully travel to the Philippines for $500, keep reading. Otherwise skip to the end where dozens of pictures capturing crystal clear lagoons and cascading jungles await!
Budget travel to the Philippines (divided PER PERSON, not per couple)
Okay, okay let me preface this by getting a few things out of the way:
1. Obviously I live in Korea where airfare to southeast Asia is cheaper than flying cross country in the states. Like cheaper than flying from AZ to UT! So for my American and European friends- I can’t help you too much there.. or wait, can I? My remedy for this? COME VISIT US! Save your pennies, bite the bullet and buy the ticket to Korea, stay with Josiah and I for free, receive a complimentary tour of Korea courtesy of yours truly, and then, just add on only $500 more to go to one of the most beautiful places in the world (and if you want i’ll even go with you AND be your personal tour guide for that as well!!! I know, I know, i’m so selfless.. ha). TWO FOR ONE DEAL PEOPLE!! Really, this is an investment in your memories and well-being. 😉
2. So I actually spent approximately $590 on a 5 day girls trip to paradise. BUT- had I wanted to spend under $500 and still have an epic holiday, I very well could have. Besides the flights and accommodations, nothing was paid for and I only brought around $300 to last 5 days worth of food, activities, souvenirs, etc. I came home with money left over! My friend and I had no budget or restrictions set (besides NOT spending more than $300 before day 5) and splurged on a few meals and activities even.
Here’s a general breakdown of expenses:
Round trip flights *per person- $249.45 (This could have been about $60 cheaper had we bought tickets a few weeks earlier.. And this total is for 2 separate flights.. combined. It doesn’t get much better than this!)
Accommodations for 4 nights *per person- $150.57 (Again, this could have been cheaper had we not stayed in one of the “nicer” hotels in El Nido- we stayed at Rosanna’s Pension.. But if you are willing to live with out wifi, hot water, and/or air conditioning then you could have REALLY saved your pennies. #hostellife Check out Lonely Planet’s listings and Agodo.com. If you are planning to stay in Puerto Princessa at all- we stayed for 1 night- I HIGHLY recommend Puerto Pension. Not only does it have the coolest hippie-boho vibe, incredible pricing, and free breakfast; but THEE BEST customer service. We loved our stay there!)
2 Island hopping tours *per person- $84.26 (This was for 2 full days, snorkel and fin rental, kayak rental, lunch. Island hopping = Dream life. Seriously I wanted to do every tour available. The guys running the tours are so friendly and easy going and the grilled fish and chicken they made us for lunch was on point! We booked ours through the El Nido Art Cafe and Boutique, which I think is a tiny bit more expensive than the dozens of other companies, but both our tours were on the smaller side- some other boats had up to 20 people!- and they were professional and organized throughout the process.)
Food, souvenirs, transportation, and miscellaneous *per person- $105 (again, had we not gotten mango smoothies every day, desserts, and gone to more hole in the wall places than we did beach front restaurants, then i’m sure this cost would have been lower too!)
Now… for the pictures! PS- cut me some slack, it was my first time using a gopro.. AND a selfie stick.. so ya. Also, I have SO MUCH video footage (TONS of great snorkeling!!), however if I had waited to publish this post until I was finished creating a video, then you might not have seen a post for another 4 months haha.
So we took a 9pm flight from Seoul to Manila… Our next flight wasn’t until 6:30am. We spent 7 hours in the hardest chairs of our lives. Hiiii.
And after a full 24hrs in travel mode we arrived in paradise- tired as hell, smelly, but oh so happy!
Mango smoothies are always a good idea!
Snorkeling time with our new friend Nadine. Also water spots.. and belly rolls.
Lunch. Grilled fish and chicken cooked in a pit right on the beach.
One of the best parts of traveling is meeting new humans. Like these kindred spirits! All of us are from different parts of the world AND we are all transplants- living outside our home countries. Like Shanghai, Korea, London. You know it’s real when we all met up for dinner later that night AND added each other on facebook haha.
Again, I wish I had more pictures of the snorkeling.. You’ll just have to wait for a video to come in 6 months haha
Uke sessions every night! Check out that reflection..
THAT WATER! This is REAL. #nofilter #noedit
Sweet Nadine from the Netherlands. What a dear!
Resting B!tch Face. It’s real. I suffer from it too. But that background tho…
Trying to float on your back AND be cute? difficult to say the least..
The one downside to El Nido? The food.. It wasn’t bad per say.. But if you’re a foodie, you won’t be impressed. However, Puerto Princessa had some AMAZING food. This was one of the best meals of the trip!
So are you ready to come visit yet? 😉 …And if this wasn’t enough for you, don’t worry! We are headed to Bali in a few weeks, so more epic posts to come!
Until then, peace and love y’all!