Philippines Itinerary – 3 Weeks: Plan Now! Go Later!

by May 28, 2020Itinerary, Philippines

(c) Alexey Pelikh – adobe.stock.com

The beautiful island-nation of the Philippines has so many incredible destinations that it can be hard deciding which ones to include in a 3-week itinerary. A further conundrum is that the country is organized into island groups (Luzon, Palawan, Central Visayas, etc.), and these island groups are far away from each other, making it time and money consuming to get to. Your best bet is to plan your Philippines itinerary around just one island group instead of hopping from one group to another. In this Philippines itinerary of 3 weeks, I’ve focused on exploring the waterfalls, beaches, and wildlife of the Central Visayas, which includes the island of Cebu and its surrounding islands of Bohol, Pamilacan, Malapascua, Kalanggaman, Apo, and Siquijor.

For the smoothest travels, PLEASE follow the order of this Philippines itinerary: Manila – Malapascua – Moalboal – Siquijor – Bohol. DON’T go in the opposite direction and do Manila-Bohol-Siquijor-Moalboal-Malapascua. The reason is that it’s easier to get from Moalboal to Siqujior than from Siquijor to Moalboal. The ferry from Siquijor lands in Lilo-an AFTER the last bus leaves for Moalboal. You’ll get stuck taking an expensive taxi.

You can click on the photos below to be taken to very detailed individual itineraries for each destination (I haven’t completed the Moalboal itinerary). For a full itinerary of 3 weeks in the Philippines just scroll down the page.

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Philippine Itinerary 3 Weeks – Cebu and its surrounding islands

Located in the Central Visayas region of the Philippines, Cebu is one of the most developed provinces in the country. Cebu is both the name of the main island and the largest city in the province. There are an additional 167 smaller islands surrounding it.

Cebu (pronounced Seeboo) comes from the local dialect, Cebuano, and means “trade.”

Historically, Cebu is one of the most important provinces in the Philippines. It was here where Ferdinand Magellan landed and where he died. Cebu is also where the Spaniards constructed their first settlement in the Philippines after defeating the local ruler (a Malay-Tamil ruling family). The Spaniards then renamed the island “The Town of the Most Holy Name” (thank goodness it didn’t stick).

The city of Cebu has the grand nickname, “the Queen City of the South,” but it doesn’t offer much to see for the international tourist, so I haven’t dedicated any time in this Philippines itinerary to the city.

WHY YOU SHOULD VISIT CEBU and its surrounding islands

Wildlife: On this Philippines itinerary, you’ll have plenty of chances to see wildlife including thresher sharks, tarsier primates, dolphins, and sea turtles in their natural habitat.

Beaches and sandbars: You’ll see some incredible white sand beaches next to turquoise blue water that is so clear you’ll swear you’re in your bathtub and not the ocean. Some of these beaches are so undeveloped that it’ll be just you and maybe a handful of people to share them with. No big resorts and no one pestering you to buy something.

Camping out on your very own island: In this Philippines itinerary, you can camp out in a tent or in your hammock on a tiny island without any hotels or resorts around you.

Friendly people: The Visayas isn’t as touristy as Boracay or El Nido, so the people are friendlier and more eager to talk to you. You’ll have more opportunities to meet locals and thus get to know the culture better.

Waterfalls: Cebu has the best waterfalls in the Philippines. You can swim in the pools at the base of the falls as well.

Diving and snorkeling: Some of the best diving and snorkeling are found in this area of the Philippines

Inexpensive: Accommodations and food are less expensive here than in Boracay and Palawan.

Laidback atmosphere: These islands are more laidback than Palawan and Boracay. It’s great if you’re not into partying.

hawksbill turtle

3 important tips for ANY Philippines itinerary

Before I give you the nuts and bolts for this itinerary, here are three tips for planning any trip to the Philippines.

Tip #1: Fly into Manila and fly out as soon as you can. To put it nicely, Manila isn’t the world’s prettiest city to visit. It’s polluted, difficult to travel around, and unless you get your kicks out of visiting malls, there’s just not much to see.

Tip #2: The Philippines experiences more natural disasters (typhoons and volcanic eruptions) than any other country on earth. These disasters can easily cause flights to be canceled and ferries to be suspended. Give yourself a cushion of at least a day before flying out of the Philippines so that you don’t miss your flight home. I had my flight canceled due to a volcanic eruption.

Tip #3: Flights within the Philippines fill up quickly and rise in price significantly the closer you get to departure. Book your flights from Manila to Cebu and back to Manila far in advance. When you book your flights, add checked luggage as well. It’ll be cheaper to buy it online than at the airport. And Philippines airlines are sticklers about charging for extra weight.

PRO TIP: No one likes to think about insurance, but accidents do happen. I highly recommend getting World Nomads. This is what I've used for short-term travel. When  I quit my job to travel around the world, I switched to Safety Wings. They're very affordable (less than US$100 a month depending on age) especially for those of us who are over 40 years old. They now cover COVID19.

Philippines Itinerary Budget

I spent between $25 and $60 a day when traveling in Cebu. I stayed in hostels and took public transportation, but I also went on as many tours as I could. I took tricycles and taxis, but I could have saved more if I had taken jeepneys or buses instead.

Finding ATMs in Cebu

I had no problems finding an ATM in the Philippines. The only time there was no ATM for me was on the islands of Pamilacan and Kalanggaman. But there were ATMs in Bohol, Moalboal, Malapascua, and Siquijor.

Internet Access in Cebu

I wish I could say that internet access won’t be a problem for you on Cebu and its surrounding islands. But it probably will be. The Philippines has pretty much the worst internet infrastructure in Southeast Asia. I’m not even sure they have 3G. And WiFi in hostels and hotels is usually only available in the lobby or reception area. Not in your room!

When you arrive in Manila, you can buy a SIM card at the airport. There are two companies: Globe and Smart. Each sells about 10 or 12 GB of data for around 1,000 pesos (US$20). It’s good for a month. I used less than 3 GB of my data in the first month I was in the Philippines.

Which is better, Globe or Smart? I got Globe, but Smart had a better deal at the time. I didn’t check well enough because I had read on a Tripadvisor forum that they always have the same rates. They don’t. It’s easy to check because the two companies usually have their booths next to each other at the airport. If they don’t, just walk a few meters and you’ll find the other one.

People say that Globe works well on some islands, while Smart works better on others. If you see Globe signs everywhere, then probably Globe works better in that location. I noticed that Smart signs were everywhere in El Nido, and I had trouble using my Globe SIM card there. On Cebu, I noticed Globe signs everywhere and my Globe plan worked better in this area of the Philippines than on Palawan.

Traveling Solo in Cebu

Overall, as a solo female traveler, I felt safe and comfortable traveling around Cebu and its surrounding islands. The only annoyance was constantly being asked where my husband was and why I was alone.

You’ll find the islands also have lots of tours that you can join to visit the other attractions like island-hopping tours, canyoneering at Kawasan Falls, and kayaking down mangrove-lined rivers at night. If you want to arrange your own private tour, it can be tricky because you’ll need to get a group of other travelers together to make the tour affordable. If you’re shy like me, this can be hard to do.

You can read more about my experience in my Solo Travel Guide to the Philippines here.

PRO TIP: Don't travel anywhere without bringing these essential items with you to keep you safe and secure:

Combination lock - The one thing you MUST bring with you to Asia if you're planning on staying in hostels is a combination lock. Hostels provide lockers and you provide the lock.

Money belt - Even though these are not the most comfortable things to wear, a money belt is essential. I've tried both these traditional travel belts and ones that runners use.

RFID Blocking Sleeves - Another great item to use is an RFID sleeve for your credit and debit cards and passport so that thieves can't scan your credit and debit cards and passport.

Anti-Theft Messenger Bags -  Anti-theft messenger bags are great because they're made of a material that is difficult for thieves to slash. They've got lots of pockets as well and a way to lock the zippers.

Privacy Screen Protectors - Privacy screen protectors prevent people from seeing what's on your screen while working cafes, hostels, or co-working spaces. You can buy one for any type of laptop.

Day 1: Manila

Most travelers begin their Philippines itineraries in Manila mainly because it’s got the cheapest airfares. You can also arrive in Cebu, and if you can find a cheap flight for Cebu, then I suggest skipping this step and flying directly into Cebu.

Getting from the airport to your hotel: The best way to get from the airport to your hotel is by taking a yellow taxi. My taxi cost me 485 pesos (US$10). You can read more about the transportation methods from the airport to your hotel in my First-Timers’ Guide to Getting Around Manila post.

Manila skyline at sunset

Day 1 is always sort of a throwaway day for me as a traveler. I’m usually jetlagged and getting used to the heat. Regardless of your arrival time, getting around Manila is time-consuming, so you could lose a whole day just by hopping in a taxi. Traffic is so bad that sometimes it takes 30 minutes to go one kilometer.

Poblacion Walking Tour: If you have time, one useful and inexpensive activity to do on your first night in the Philippines is a bar and restaurant hopping tour with Z Hostel in Makati. The tour will introduce you to the culture and history of Manila and to some great bars and restaurants. You can check out my Manila itinerary poston more details regarding this not-to-miss tour.

Filipino breakfast of honey barbecued fried chicken, rice, tomatoes and a green sauce

Where to eat in Manila: I’m not crazy about Filipino food like I am about Thai, Japanese, or Vietnamese food. But the one thing that Filipino food has that those cuisines don’t have is a kick-ass breakfast. And you can eat it at any time of day. Kanto Freestyle (Google Maps) is a restaurant in Makati that serves breakfast (both Filipino and western breakfasts) 24 hours a day.

Where to stay in Manila: The best area in Manila to stay in is Makati. It’s safe and it’s filled with lots of bars and restaurants. The downside is that it’s got terrible traffic jams and it’s far from the tourist sites in the city. The next best area to stay in is around the old part of the city near Intramuros. This area isn’t as safe and is a bit sleazy, but it’s easier to get to the tourist attractions.

Budget: Lub d’ Philippines Makati (AGODA | BOOKING.COM) is a good budget option with comfy and clean dorm rooms and stylish private rooms.

Midrange: City Garden Hotel Makati (AGODA | BOOKING.COM) is a decent mid-range option in Makati.  

Upper-range: I’M Hotel (AGODA | BOOKING.COM) is a more upscale hotel located in Makati.

DAY 2: TRAVELING TO MALAPASCUA

Getting from Manila to Cebu: Remember rule #1? Fly in and then fly out as quickly as you can. So, the morning of day 2 of your Philippines itinerary should be spent on a plane ride to Cebu. I suggest getting the earliest flight you can—at least no later than 7:00 am. You’ll thank me for this early flight time later when you arrive in Cebu with enough time to catch the last ferry for Malapascua (5:00 pm in March 2020).

Not to mention that you’ll realize that leaving for the airport at 4:00 am or 5:00 am takes 25 to 30 minutes while getting to the airport at 7:00 or 1:00 pm or 3:00 pm or 7:00 pm will take you well over one hour, possibly even two hours.

Most importantly, Manila has four terminals. Most domestic flights leave from Terminal 4. Double-check your booking.

You can read about how to get to the airport in my Getting Around Manila Guide for First-Timers

passengers getting off a boat on the island of Malapascua, Philippines

Getting from Cebu Airport to Malapascua: This part is a little tricky because when you arrive in Cebu, you’ll need to get a short taxi ride to Cebu North Bus Station, then hop on a bus or a van to the new port in Maya (3-5 hours), and finally take a boat to Malapascua.

You can also take a bus for 50 pesos (US$1) from the airport to SM City Cebu Mall. My understanding is that the bus stops at the North Bus Station or you need to take another bus to the North Bus Station. The mall and station aren’t too far apart. I haven’t tried this way before.

You can arrange a private transfer beforehand as well.

You can read in detail how to get from Cebu to Malapascua in my Malapascua itinerary post.

The above photo is the boat I took from Maya to Malapascua.

The whole trip should take you all morning and afternoon.

DAYS 3 – 5: MALAPASCUA + Kalanggaman Islands

I’m super excited about this next stop on this Philippines itinerary—Malapascua and Kalanggmanan Here you’ll have the opportunity to dive with thresher sharks. But even if you don’t dive, there’s some great snorkeling you can do around the island and some beautiful beaches you can chill out on.

What’s more is that you can visit one of the most beautiful islands in the world: Kalanggaman Island. Do you see the photo below? THAT’S Kalanggaman Island. That long sandbar really exists! And you can’t see it in the picture below but there’s not just one sandbar, there’s actually two on the island. No one lives on the island.

Kalanggaman Island from Above - The Philippines

Recently, it’s become very popular with local and foreign tourists, so it can get crowded on the island. I was there in March 2020 and because of the virus, there were few tourists.

You have two options: you can do a day tour of the island or you can stay overnight on the island. If you stay overnight, you’ll get to enjoy the island without the hordes of tourists.

BUT staying overnight means sleeping in a tent or in a wooden tent-like structure.

I suggest staying overnight. You can find out how to do it in my Malapascua Itinerary post.

North Beach in Malapascua

Here is my day-to-day itinerary for Malapascua. You can also read a more detailed and thorough itinerary in my Malapascua Guide.

Day 3: Visit Kalanggaman Island + stay overnight

Day 4: Kalanggaman Island + return to Malapascua

Day 5: Snorkeling or Diving in the morning + hit North Beach in the afternoon OR just spend the whole day at the beach

Where to stay in stay in Malapascua:

Budget:  I stayed at the Malapascua Budget Inn (BOOKING.COM) near Bounty BeachA better option is Neverland (AGODA | BOOKING.COMnear the fabulous Langob Beach (North Beach).

Mid-range: Malapascua Garden Resort (AGODA | BOOKING.COM) is a good mid-range option. Very conveniently located with better reviews than most hotels on the island.

Upper-range: Tepanee Island Resort (AGODA | BOOKING.COM): Tepanee has gotten great reviews on booking sites. Great views and conveniently located with a nice private beach.

PRO TIP: Here's a list of essential items to pack for all of your island-hopping tours while in the Philippines:

  • Dry bag - You're going to get wet while in the boat and your things will get wet if you don't have a dry bag. Leave your backpack at your hotel.
  • Waterproof bag or pouch for your cell phone especially for your visit to such places as the Big Lagoon and the Secret Lagoon in El Nido.
  • Water shoes - It's important to have a pair because sometimes you'll need to be walking on rocks to get to your destination. You'll thank me later for bringing them.
  • Sunscreen - Make sure to put it on 30 minutes before being in the sun and/or water. Banana Boat worked the best for me. You can buy it in the Philippines, too, but it's pricey (500 - 700 pesos depending on the store--shop around!)
  • Mask and snorkel - OPTIONAL - Most tour companies provide you with a mask and snorkel, but if you want to bring your own, I highly recommend the full face mask and snorkel. It's ideal for those who aren't confident swimmers.

DAY 6: TRAVELING TO MOALBOAL

Today you’re going to travel all the way from the northern tip of Cebu island to the southern part of the island. The southern part is famous for having the most beautiful waterfalls in all of the Philippines. That is definitely saying something since the Philippines is overflowing with waterfalls.

Getting from Malapascua to Moalboal: To do this trip in a day, you’ll need to wake up super early. You need to take a boat from Malapascua to Maya port (30 to 45 minutes). Then take a bus or van to the North Bus Station in Cebu (4.5 hours). Next, take a taxi to the South Bus Station (150 pesos) where you’ll grab a bus going to Moalboal (3 hours). Finally, you’ll need to take a 15-minute tricycle ride to the tourist area of Panagsama Beach (100-150 pesos). No one actually stays in Moalboal.

Alternatively, you can take a private car from Maya port to Cebu or all the way to Moalboal. 

You can get all the details here in my Malapascua Itinerary post.

DAYS 7 – 8: MOALBOAL: SARDINES + WATERFALLS

Why did you spend a whole day on not one but two uncomfortable buses traveling from the northern tip of Cebu to the southern part of the island?  In Moalboal, you’ll have the chance to have one of the most unforgettable experiences of your life: watching a wall of a thousand sardines swim right in front of you. 

sardine run in Moalboal

What makes this experience even more awesome is that you don’t even need to go diving or join a tour to see the sardines either. You can swim out to the sardine run from the beach. You can also see turtles swimming around as well. I didn’t see any but other people did.

The waterfalls are numerous here. You can get to Kawasan Falls (three tiers of waterfalls with pools of milky blue water) easily by public transportation. It’s really popular and lots of people go canyoneering there. There are tons of other waterfalls, but you need your own wheels to get there or you need to hire a guide and driver to take you.

aerial view of Kawasan Falls in the Philippines itinerary

Here’s an overview of what to do on days 7 and 8 of your Philippines itinerary:

Day 7: Snorkeling or diving to see the sardines and turtles off of Panagsama Beach

Day 8: Kawasan Falls

Kawasan Falls near Moalboal on Philippines Itinerary

Where to eat in Moalboal: I had some of the best food in the Philippines in Moalboal. I really hope these two establishments are still open when you get there:

Crazy Bears sold the best burger and chicken burger in the whole Philippines at a very reasonable price.

Ven’z Kitchen: The other place I recommend is Ven’z Kitchen. They serve really delicious Filipino food.

Shaka Cafe: You’ll find these health food cafes selling smoothie bowls all over the Philippines. They’re healthy and delicious. Eating these every once in a while is affordable but doing it every day can add up.

Cafe Cebuano:  The food is pricey and not much to write home about, though. So why go? Go to Cafe Cebuano for the view of Panagsama Beach at sunset.

Where to stay in Moalboal: Most people stay near Panagsama Beach, which is about 15 minutes by tricycle from Moalboal.

Budget: I stayed at Crazy Bears Hostel.(AGODA | BOOKING.COM) I wasn’t as crazy about this place as most other travelers are. But they’ve got great breakfasts and the place is new, so it’s cleaner than most hostels.

Midrange: Pescadores Seaview Suites (AGODA | BOOKING.COM) is a good place to stay for a decent price.

DAY 9: TRAVELING TO SIQUIJOR

Two full days in Moalboal are probably enough. The next stop on your Philippines itinerary is Siquijor. This island is a great place to slow down.

Getting to Siquijor: Take a bus to Bato to Lilo-An (2 hours), which is on the southern tip of Cebu. Then take a ferry to Siquijor island (3 hours). There is just one ferry a day. Check out my Siquijor Itinerary post for all the details.

Alternatively, you can take a ferry from Lilo-an to Dumaguete (30 minutes), take a tricycle to another port,  and then take another ferry to Siquijor (20 minutes).  There are several ferries a day.

DAYS 10 – 13: SIQUJIOR + APO ISLANDS

Siqujior is a small island off the southern coast of Cebu. It’s known for its beautiful beaches with picture-perfect sunsets, placid waters, and reefs for snorkeling and its waterfalls with pools of water where you can swim around in. 

Siquijor has well-maintained roads with little traffic, so you can easily rent a scooter and drive around the island. There is an easy-to-follow ring road that encircles the island where you can find most of the major attractions.

If you don’t drive a scooter, you can hire a guide who will drive the scooter while you ride on the back (500 pesos for guide and 300 for scooter). They’ll take you to some hard-to-find places/off-the-beaten-path places like secret beaches.

You can read a detailed itinerary for the island on my Siquijor Itinerary post. Here you’ll find EVERYTHING you need to know for having a blast in Siquijor.

waterfall on island of Siquijor. Philippines

Here’s my suggested day-by-day itinerary for Siquijor. Please see my comprehensive Siquijor Itinerary for details. 

Day 10: Visit the attractions along the outer ring road: Balete Tree, Lagaan Falls, Lazi Church and Convent, Cambugahay Falls, Monkey Beach, cliff jumping at Salagdoong Beach, Palliton Beach for sunset.

Day 11: Apo Island Tour where you can dive or snorkel with sea turtles

Day 12: Visit the attractions in the interior of the island: Kamp Aninipot, Secret Lagoon, Visiting a shaman, Cantabon Caves, and Mount Bandilaan

Day 13: Spend the day relaxing on the beach, doing some snorkeling and enjoying the fabulous sunsets. 

Palliton Beach

 Where to stay in Siquijor:

Budget: I stayed at Tagbalayon Lodging House (BOOKING.COM), a hostel directly across from Tubod Beach and Coco Grove Beach and Dive Resort in San Juan. Perfect location!

Mid-range: Tropical Fun Ta Sea Rentals (AGODA | BOOKING.COM) is a mid-range place right on the beach in San Juan. Rooms have sea views. It’s got good reviews on Booking.com.

Luxury:  Coco Grove Beach Resort (AGODA) – This place is famous and often booked weeks in advance. Book early. It’s right on the beach in San Juan.

DAY 14: TRAVELING TO BOHOL

On day 14 of your Philippines itinerary, you’ll be traveling to the island of Bohol. It’s a bit more challenging to get around in because it’s a lot larger than Siquijor and Moalboal.

There’s one boat per day going to Bohol. The boat leaves at 12:30 and arrives at 2:00 pm. The ferry is large and comfortable with both indoor and outdoor seating. Check my Siqujior post and Bohol post for info on how and where to buy tickets.

Once you land in Bohol, you’ll either take a taxi, tricycle, or a bus to your accommodations. Most people stay on Panglao Island, which is connected to Bohol by bridges. Here you’ll find some nice beaches, bars, restaurants, and tour operators and diving businesses.

PRO TIP: Download these apps onto your phone for your trip to any country in Asia. They will make your life so much easier!

  • Grab: - Grab is the ride-sharing service that people use in Southeast Asia. It's a must-have for getting around Manila, Hanoi, Singapore etc. It's not so necessary on the smaller islands.
  • Klook - Klook is a tour-booking website used by lots of travelers in Asia. You're more likely to book with an honest tour company through Klook than through anyone else.
  • WhatsApp: What's App is the best service to use for getting in touch with other travelers, tour guides, and businesses in the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, etc.
  • Booking.com: I think Booking.com is the best website to use for booking accommodations in Asia.
  • MAPS.ME & Google Maps: I have both of these apps on my phone. Sometimes MAPS.ME works better than Google Maps and vice versa. Make sure to download your maps to your phone before you start your adventure so you can view them offline. If you switch SIM cards, you might lose your downloaded maps.

Days 15 – 18: Bohol + Pamilacan

Your last destination on your Philippines itinerary is going to give you a chance to see something other than beaches and waterfalls. Bohol is where you can see the famous Chocolate Hills (the image at the top of this page) and the tarsier primates up close and in the wild. Bohol also gives you a chance to do some trekking in the jungle, kayak through mangroves, or paddleboard down a jungle-clad river. Don’t worry! Bohol also has some spectacular beaches and islands for snorkeling and diving.

tarsier monkey clinging to a branch on a tree

Here’s my suggested itinerary for your stay in Bohol. You can also check out my comprehensive travel guide to Bohol with details about all of Bohol’s activities.

Day 15: Countryside Tour – Visit to the tarsier sanctuary, Chocolate Hills, twin hanging bridges, Loboc, and Baclayon church

Day 16: Beach Day + Kayaking and fireflies watching through mangroves

Day 17: Island Hopping tour to Balicasag Island

Day 18: Waterfall Hopping tour or beach day

PRO TIP: Bohol is a big island, making it difficult to get around. If you don’t drive a motorcycle or scooter, the best thing for you to do is join a tour. I’ve been on some of these tours:

a beach at dusk on Pamilacan Island

Alternative Bohol Itinerary:

Day 15: Countryside Tour – Visit to the tarsier sanctuary, Chocolate Hills, twin hanging bridges, Loboc, and Baclayon church

Day 16: Take a boat to Pamilacan (see above photo) and stay overnight + snorkel or dive around the Coral Gardens off of the coast of Pamilacan

Day 17: Either go out to see the dolphins have their breakfast of tuna or swim with sea turtles (both only occur in the morning) + return in the afternoon to Bohol or stay another night and return to Bohol on day 18.

Day 18: Visit White Beach and Dumaluon Beach OR tour the waterfalls

Loboc River
Where to stay in Bohol:

Budget: I stayed at Bohol Coco Farms (US$8) (AGODA | BOOKING.COM). It’s a great place at a great price with a sociable atmosphere.

Midrange: Fox and Firefly Cottages (BOOKING.COM) (around US$50) is a super cool looking and highly reviewed hotel in Loboc.

Luxury: Bohol Beach Club (AGODA | BOOKING.COM – $150 +) is a very highly rated hotel found along Dumaluan Beach, Panglao’s best beach. If I were splurging on accommodations, I’d stay here.

PRO TIP: Make sure to buy sea shoes/water shoes for your trip to the Philippines. The bottom of the ocean is rocky and it’s easy to cut yourself or break your toe or foot while walking in the shallow part of the ocean.

Day 19: Traveling from Bohol to Manila

Getting back to Manila from Bohol requires taking a short ferry ride (2 hours) or a flight to Cebu, then a taxi to the airport (traffic can be horrible in Cebu, so give yourself lots of time), and then a flight back to Manila. There are countless flights between Cebu and Manila leaving nearly every hour.

Alternatively, you can take a bus from the pier in Cebu to SM Cebu City Mall and then another bus to the airport. 

You’ll most likely be arriving at Manila’s Terminal 4, where you can catch a yellow airport taxi just outside the terminal to your hotel. If you’re staying in Makati, it’ll generally take over an hour to get to your hotel. Read my Getting Around Manila Guide for more details. I paid 486 pesos (US$10) for my taxi from the airport to my hotel in Makati.

I don’t recommend flying into Manila and out of Manila on the same day. I’ve seen too many travelers in Southeast Asia miss their flight back home. And like I said at the beginning of this post, the Philippines is notorious for its natural disasters, inconveniently causing delays in flights and ferries.

But if you do a flight out on the same day, you’ll need to take a free shuttle bus to another terminal. The bus is just across the street from the arrival terminal. You can walk to it in a few minutes.

Day 20: Manila

Stay in Manila for one full day to see the city and to give yourself a cushion in case your plane was delayed getting to Manila.

For your last full day on your Philippines itinerary, you can spend it touring the colonial part of Manila and then taking a food tour of Chinatown. You can read more about it in my Manila Itinerary post. Although it’s a 2-day guide to Manila, I suggest doing day 1 on this day. If you’re flying out in the evening of the next day, then you can do the second day of the itinerary.

San Augustin's Church

Manila became the capital of the Philippines under the Spanish colonial government in 1571. Before that, it was Muslim tribes. Back then the city was filled with Spanish colonial-style buildings. The Americans kicked the Spanish out of the Philippines in 1898. Except for a few neoclassical buildings and a golf course in the center of Manila, there a few physical remnants of the American occupation left in the Philippines (not counting the music and language). The Japanese took over during World War, and in order to drive them out, the Americans bombed Manila to smithereens. They destroyed 60 blocks of the city, leaving only two buildings standing in Intramuros.

Plaza Roma in Manila

You can read in more detail about this itinerary in my Manila Itinerary post. Here is a brief overview:

Morning: Tour Intramuros; you can join a tour group or see the sights on your own—make sure to visit St. Augustin’s Church, Casa Manila, and the Manila Cathedral

Afternoon: Go on a walking food tour of Chinatown where you’ll get a chance to eat some delicious food and get a bit of background on the history of the Chinese in the Philippines

You can avoid some of the hassles of getting around Manila, with one of these guided tours: 

  • Tralulu – it’s a company that connects you with independent local guides. The problem is that their website is insecure. I myself don’t dare visit it, so I’m not even going to post it here. I found them through my hotel, Lub d Philippines, which I highly recommend. It has both dorm rooms and private rooms.
  • Intramuros Bambike Tour – This is a highly rated tour of Intramuros by bamboo bike.
  • Walls of this Content: An Interactive Intramuros Tour – This is through Old Manila Walks. Unfortunately, they only have private tours, so it can get pretty pricey for solo travelers. BUT the tour is supposed to be excellent and from what I hear the main guide has a Ph.D. in Philippine history.
  • The Big Binondo Food Walk – This is another private tour you can take with Old Manila Walks.
  • Old Manila Full Day Tour – This tour is with Fat Girls Day Out. It takes you from the old part of the city to the shopping malls of Manila.
  • Poblacion Walking Tour - You can get this fabulous tour through Z Hostel in Makati - It's a walking tour of the bars, restaurants, galleries, and "Red Light District" of the Poblacion neighborhood of Makati.

Day 21: Departing the Philippines

Finally, you’ve made it. Here is your very last day in the Philippines. The last thing to do in the Philippines is to get yourself to the airport on time.

I suggest using the rideshare service, Grab (just like Uber) to get you there. If you don’t have the app already on your phone, you can have your hotel or hostel contact them for you.

My Grab ride left for the airport at 5:55 am and arrived at around 6:30 am, costing me 286 pesos (US$6). My flight was on a Saturday morning, when traffic was at Manila’s lightest. During the weekday, expect your Grab to take 1 to 2 hours to get to the airport, and also be aware that it sometimes takes Grab 30 to 45 minutes to even pick you up. AND if you’re leaving at rush hour, don’t even count on a Grab being available AT ALL.

Packing for Your Trip to the Philippines

Best Walking Shoes for Asia

These Brook’s Adrenaline GTS 18 shoes are what I've worn all through Asia. I have plantar fasciitis and bunions so I need good stability shoes that come in wide sizes. I probably did over 20,000 steps a day in Asia, and with these shoes, I had no trouble with my feet.

Best Backpack for Asia

I love my Kelty Redwing 40L travel backpack. It opens from both and top and front and can be used as a carryon. I think it also has better support than the Osprey Fairview 40. And it's usually cheaper than the Fairview.

Keeping Your Money Secure


I wear a money belt when I’m out and about. It’s not the most comfortable and sexiest thing to have on. But I’d rather be safe than sorry.

There you have it! I hope this travel guide helps you in planning your trip to the Philippines.

This Philippines itinerary of 3 weeks for Cebu and its surrounding islands is great for any kind of traveler. There are lots to do from diving to snorkeling and from chasing waterfalls to relaxing on the beach. Cebu also offers something that you can’t get on Palawan and that is a chance to see more than just beaches and oceans. You also have the opportunity to visit the Chocolate Hills, kayak down a mangrove-clad river, and tour historical churches and convents. For those who like to see animals in the wild, there are tarsier monkeys, sardines, sharks, and sea turtles.

By the way, if you’re looking for more info on the Philippines, check out my Philippines Travel Guide page.

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6 Comments

  1. What an excellent post. I think we do need to think ahead and plan as I really think travel will be back on all our agendas soon enough. One day I would love to visit Cebu as I have a friend living there.

    Reply
    • Thank you! I hope you have a chance to get to the Philippines. It always helps to have friends in places that you are visiting.

      Reply
  2. Your post reminded me of my time in the Philippines. I can’t wait to go back again and visit some of the places I missed and found in your article 🙂

    Reply
    • Thank you! I’d also love to go back and explore more of the country.

      Reply
  3. OMG! Wow! We have friends who recently purchased a piece of land in the Philippines and can’t wait to make a huge trip out of it!! Thanks for this great itinerary!

    Reply
    • You’re welcome! Your friends are so lucky! I hope you have a chance to visit them.

      Reply

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About the Bamboo Traveler

Julie Krolak

Hi! I’m Julie, the Bamboo Traveler!  This blog is devoted to helping the inquisitive traveler explore Asia’s history and culture. On this site, you’ll find itineraries to help you plan your trip, reviews to help you make more informed decisions, lots of history and cultural information to help make your travels more meaningful, and book recommendations to help you understand a place more deeply.

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