A 4 Week Backpacking Itinerary for the Philippines

Coron Island Hopping
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The Philippines is becoming a popular destination for backpackers and for good reason. It’s home to stunning white sand beaches with crystal-clear water, epic sunsets and some of the best snorkelling opportunities in the world. In the post below, I’ve shared my four week itinerary for the Philippines.

Despite its growing popularity with backpackers, the Philippines is still less visited than other Southeast Asian backpacking destinations such as Thailand or Vietnam. The Philippines was my favourite country I visited in Southeast Asia. It felt less travelled and more of an adventure.

Being a little less traveled, planning your trip to the Philippines takes a bit of research. The country doesn’t have the same tourist infrastructure as other destinations, such as Thailand. It can sometimes be difficult to get around, and you often need to book flights and ferries well in advance.

Sunset in Siquijor
Sunset in Siquijor

The Philippines was probably the country I spent the most time researching ahead of my backpacking trip. Between narrowing down where to go and how to get from place to place, it really took some time. It’s absolutely worth it though. The Philippines is one of my favourite countries I’ve ever been to. For a full guide, check out my backpacking guide to the Philippines.

I’ve shared my four-week itinerary for the Philippines below. This is the route I followed during my trip to the Philippines. It’s based on flying into Cebu at the start of your trip, but the route can obviously be tweaked. I’ve suggested time to spend in each spot, you can add or minus a day here or there depending on what you want to do.

Here we go…

When to visit the Philippines?

The best time of year to visit is between December and April. I went in January and the late rainy season was still lingering, but by the second week, most of the rain stopped.

Be careful visiting outside of these times. The seas can get very rough, and often, boats are cancelled or unsafe. The Philippines is also prone to typhoons which can harm the infrastructure. In 2021, the country was hit by a giant typhoon causing major damage.

The peak season does draw in the crowds, but in my experience, it’s still way less crowded than the likes of Thailand.

How long to spend in the Philippines?

This post shares a four-week itinerary for backpacking around the Philippines. This is the perfect amount of time to spend here and allows you to explore several destinations without rushing through. The Philippines is a big place and there will be some long travel days, so you don’t want to move on too quickly.

For UK citizens (and most others), you can only stay for a maximum of 30 days. There are ways to extend your visa once in the country if you do want to stay longer.

In all honesty, I think it’s impossible to fit everything into four weeks. There are many places I wish I could have visited. I’m sure I will return one day to see more of this country.

How to get around the Philippines?

Getting around the Philippines requires a little bit of research and flexibility. I’ve spoken more about how to get around the Philippines in my backpacking guide.

Generally, you’ll either need to fly or catch a ferry between islands. Once you’re in your destination, the best way to get around will be by tricycle, taxi or hiring a scooter.

I’ve explained how to get between each destination in my 4 week Philippines itinerary below.

Whenever booking transport in the Philippines, I use 12Go Asia.

Is the Philippines safe for solo female travellers?

The Philippines is a great destination for solo female travellers. I met plenty of other solo travellers on the trip. While the country is still developing its tourist infrastructure, it’s easy enough to get around. There are also plenty of hostels available which make it easier to meet people.

While the Philippines has some of the friendliest locals I’ve ever met, travelling can carry a degree of risk whereever you are. It’s also worth noting that Manila and Cebu do have a high crime rate. In all honesty, there’s not much to see in either of these cities so stay there for as little time as possible.

My four week backpacking itinerary for the Philippines

Without further ado, here is my four-week backpacking route around the Philippines.

Stop One: Cebu City

How long to stay in Cebu: 1 night

The City of Cebu is a major island in the Cebu province. Most international flights will either land here or in Manila. You don’t want to stay long here, there isn’t much to do and it’s not the nicest of cities. In fact, if your flight lands early I’d suggest jumping straight to the next spot.

Stop Two: Moalboal – watch the sardine run and jump through waterfalls

How long to spend in Moalboal: 3 nights
How to get to Moalboal: get the bus from Cebu South Bus Station. You can’t book online in advance. Just turn up at the bus station and say you want a ticket to Moalboal. It takes around 4 hours. The bus is very comfortable. It costs $4 USD.

Moalboal is a small town south of Cebu. It’s famous for its sardine run and canyoneering. It’s very lively and is a popular spot for backpackers.

Things to do in Moalboal

  • Swim with sardines and turtles right off the beach. This is one of the reasons the area is so famous. Swimming to the sardine run is free, but you can hire snorkels and GoPros on the beachfront. You’ll need to swim out about 100m. Swimming with the sardines was so much fun. There were literally thousands of them. We also saw a turtle on the way back in. It’s an absolute must-do in this area.
  • Canyoneering at Kawasan Falls is another popular activity here and many backpackers say it’s a highlight of their Philippines trip. You can book this through your accommodation or there are plenty of tour operators on the main street.
  • Take a boat trip to Pescador Island and go snorkelling.
  • Hike Osmeña Peak, the highest point in Cebu.

Other tips for Moalboal

  • I loved the food at Hungry Monkeys.
  • I suggest staying at OhLaLa Hostel or Chief Mau. OhLaLa is very small but clean and friendly. Chief Mau is definitely the main backpacking hub.
  • The area is popular for swimming with whale sharks. The tour operators feed and interact with the fish. It’s very unethical and unsustainable and should be avoided. If you’d like to swim with whale sharks, look at going to Southern Leyte or Malapascua.

Stop Three: Bohol – Chocolate Hills and Tarsiers

How long to spend in Bohol: 3 or 4 nights
How to get to Bohol: Depending on the day of the week you travel, you can either get the bus from Moalboal to Oslob and catch a direct ferry from there or catch the bus back to Cebu and then get a ferry.

Next up on your trip is Bohol. It’s a popular island and a short ferry ride from Cebu. Bohol had been somewhere I wanted to visit for years, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit disappointed. To be fair, this is where I had food poisoning (for the second time). I also had a bad experience after our day tour included stops at unethical animal centres.

Chocolate Hills in Bohol
Chocolate Hills in Bohol

If you want to have the opportunity to see a Tarsier or the famous Chocolate Hills, Bohol is worth a visit. If you’re not too bothered, perhaps consider skipping straight ahead to Siquijor and replacing Bohol with another destination such as Siargao. You can catch a flight there from Cebu.

Things to do in Bohol

  • Visit the Chocolate Hills and admire this unique landscape.
  • Do an ATV Tour through the Chocolate Hills.
  • Go and see Tarsiers, tiny and rare primates. Many “sanctuaries” are cruel zoos that do not keep the animals in good condition.  I’d recommend visiting the Tarsier sanctuary in Corella to ensure it’s done as ethically as possible.
  • Visit the ‘Manmade Forest’.
  • Take a river cruise down the Loboc River and enjoy an all-you-can-eat buffet.
  • Go kayaking at night and see fireflies.
  • Take an island hopping trip which includes dolphin watching, snorkelling at Balicasag Island (we saw turtles) and a visit to Virgin Beach.
  • Hire a motorbike and explore the area of Panglao and its hidden spots.

Other tips for Bohol

  • I’d highly recommend waiting till you arrive in Bohol to book any tour you want to do. You’ll get a much better deal than booking online in advance.
  • Stay in Panglao. Alona Beach is the main travellers hub here. We stayed in Panglao, about a ten-minute tricycle ride from Alona Beach.
  • You can book a ‘Countryside Day Tour’ which includes the Chocolate Hills, Tarsiers, River Cruise and Manmade Forest. Instruct your tour guide to take you to the ethical Tarsier sanctuary in Corella. Ours also included a ‘python viewing’ stop. I naively hadn’t researched in advance, and it was some of the worst animal cruelty I have ever seen. Make sure to request not to stop here.

Stop Four: Siquijor – witchcraft and waterfalls

How long to spend in Siquijor: 3 or 4 nights
How to get to Siquijor: From Bohol, you can catch a direct ferry that takes two hours. If you’re skipping Bohol, check 12Go Asia to see other options from Cebu. The ferry schedule in the Philippines is ever-changing so it’s best to check there for the latest information.

Welcome to Siquijor. This mystical island is an absolute must on any backpacking trip. It’s a lot less visited than some spots and feels much more local. It gives you a great insight into Filipino life.

The island is known for its witchcraft and mystical energy, with many Filipinos being scared to visit there. I have to say, when I arrived and I was riding in the back of a tricycle, the island certainly gave me an eerie feeling, but this made it more fun to explore.

It’s a great place if you want to get off the beaten track and explore on your own terms. It’s the perfect spot to hire a motorbike and see what you find. If you’re looking to party, this isn’t the spot but it’s an absolute must-do.

Things to do in Siquijor

  • Visit the famous Cambugahay Falls, go for a swim and have a ride on the swing. It cost me 50PHP when I went, about $1 USD.
  • Go waterfall hopping to other spots including Lugnason Falls and Kawasan Falls.
  • Watch the sunset at Sunset Beach. It’s a very small beach but has a great view. There are local vendors selling refreshments there too.
  • Go snorkelling at Tubod Beach. You can hire a snorkel on the beach and swim off the shore. It’s great snorkelling considering you can walk right off the beach.
  • Hire a motorbike and explore on your own terms. It’s a good place to drive if you’re a bit nervous, there’s not much traffic and the roads are well-maintained. The island is so full of hidden spots to explore.
  • There are various island-hopping tours available which you can book through your accommodation.
  • The island is also famous for cliff jumping. All the spots were closed when I visited but they are flagged on Google Maps if you want to try them when you visit.

Other tips for Siquijor

  • The beauty of this island is its laid-back vibe. Don’t go in with too many plans and slowly discover this lovely spot.
  • There aren’t a whole bunch of food or bar choices here. I loved the Thai Station restaurant.
  • If you want a quieter sunset spot, try Baha Bar. I grabbed a drink and headed to their private beach. There’s no guarantee but when I was there, we had the whole place to ourselves.

Stop Five: Back to Cebu City

Travel options onwards from Siquijor are limited, so catch the ferry back to Cebu and head to the airport ready for the next destination.

Stop Six: Coron – island hopping and marine life

How long to spend in Coron: 2-3 nights (if you’re planning to do the island hopping between Coron and El Nido, you won’t need to spend too long here).
How to get to Coron: Coron has an airport with daily flights from Cebu and Manila. You can also get the boat from El Nido if you’re travelling the opposite way.

Next on your route is the gorgeous island of Coron. This island is located in Palawan which is one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen. When you see postcards of the Philippines, think of Palawan.

Most of the activities you want to do here will be on the water, with a variety of island hopping opportunities available as well as world-class scuba diving.

Things to do in Coron

  • Island hopping is Coron’s main draw. The area surrounding this island is almost too good to be true. It’s amazing. You have different tours available to you – I went for the ‘Super Ultimate’ tour which included spots at all the main attractions such as Twin Lagoon and Kayangan Lake.
  • Climb Mount Tapyas steps for sunset. There are a lot of steps here but it’s a lovely spot to watch the sunset.
  • Visit the hot springs if you can cope with the heat.
  • Go scuba diving or get your PADI qualification.

Other tips for Coron

  • The main hub for Coron is Coron Town. This is where most of the accommodation options are and where the boat trips run from.
  • I stayed in Hop Hostel which is one of the nicest hostels I have ever stayed in. It has everything you need and they provide a free dinner each evening.
  • The other main hostel is Outpost. This is a little more of a party hostel.
  • There’s not really a beach in the town, so don’t go expecting to lay around on the beach all day. That’s why you need to go island hopping.

Stop Seven: Island Hopping from Coron to El Nido

Time taken: 4 days (3 nights)
Recommended company: Big Dream Boat Man

This was my highlight of my trip to the Philippines and is an absolute must-do. The four day tour takes you from Coron to El Nido (or vice versa). You spend your days swimming in the ocean and nights relaxing on remote islands. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime experience and I can’t recommend it enough.

Nacpan Beach
Nacpan Beach

I’ve written a whole guide here on travelling with Big Dream Boat Man. There are slightly cheaper companies such as El Nido Paradise, but they don’t have the same inclusions.

Stop Eight: El Nido – white sand beaches and crystal clear water

How long to spend in El Nido: 3 or 4 nights
How to get to El Nido: Your island hopping tour from Coron will end here. If you’ve opted not to do the tour, you can get the ferry from Coron or a bus from Puerto Princesa Airport.

Arriving in El Nido was a bit of a shock to the system after spending four days at sea travelling around some of the most beautiful and remote islands I have ever seen. El Nido is much busier than other spots on this itinerary, but it’s a cute town nonetheless with lots to offer.

It has some great restaurants and bars to choose from too, and lots of nice shops if you fancy doing a bit of shopping.

Things to do in El Nido

  • Island Hopping is a popular activity here. There are different tours available which your accommodation can explain to you. There are also tour agencies lining the streets trying to sell you a trip. I opted not to do this here as I had just spent four days exploring Palawan (and 5 if you include the Coron day trip).
  • Visit Nacpan Beach for the definition of paradise. It’s one of the nicest beaches I’ve ever seen. You can get a taxi here from the town or choose an island-hopping tour that includes a stop here.
  • For a bit of adventure, try the El Nido Canopy Walk. It takes you across a swing bridge then you climb up some rocks for some great views. It cost me $8 when I did it. I won’t lie, it was slightly terrifying. If you don’t like heights I wouldn’t reccomend this activity.

Other tips for El Nido

  • I stayed in Spin Designer Hostel. It was very clean and nice, but not the most social.
  • Frendz Hostel seemed to be the most popular. Outpost also has a hostel here, but it’s quite far out of town.
  • I struggled to find a good Wi-Fi connection the whole time I was in El Nido.
  • Eat at Gorgonzola and take on their 24-inch pizza – YES, 24-inch. Their menu is entirely vegetarian.

Stop Nine: Port Barton – unspoilt beaches and local life

How long to spend in Port Barton: 3 or 4 nights
How to get to Port Barton: book a shuttle through your accommodation from Coron or Puerto Princesa

Port Barton was my last major stop in the Philippines. I had questioned whether it was worth visiting and wow am I glad we went. Port Barton is beautiful. It’s a small town which doesn’t see anywhere near the number of tourists as others on this list, but it’s growing in popularity.

Sunset in Port Barton

The tiny town has a few restaurants, bars and accommodation options. It feels much more local and authentic than other places I had visited (apart from Siquijor).

There’s not masses to do here, your time here will mainly be spent relaxing on its white sand beaches or swimming in the ocean. Port Barton was one of my favourite spots, be sure to include it on your itinerary. I’ve written a whole guide on visiting Port Barton.

Things to do in Port Barton

  • There is a popular island hopping trip here which takes you to some of the nearby islands. I had a great day with our guide and it was one of the best island hopping tours I did in the Philippines.
  • Explore the local area and walk to Coconut Beach. It’s about a 45-minute walk through the jungle. It’s a stunning beach (and has pigs!)
  • Hire a kayak to explore the local area if you don’t feel like walking. You can hire one from the beachfront for the day­. There are so many hidden beaches and beautiful spots nearby.

Other tips for Port Barton

  • The main hostel is CocoRico. While I was there, they were doing free local drinks at 7 pm for thirty minutes. The food served there was also great. If you’re looking to party, this is the spot.
  • There aren’t many hotels in the area, I’d suggest opting for a homestay for more of a local experience if you don’t want to stay in a hostel. I stayed at Ferranco Tourist Inn and had a lovely stay.

Stop Ten: Puerto Princesa – catch your flight to Manila

How long to spend in Puerto Princesa: 1 night
How to get to Puerto Princesa: Catch a shuttle from Port Barton or fly into the airport

Puerto Princesa has an airport which is the main reason it’s included on this itinerary.

There’s not lots to do here, and I wouldn’t suggest spending more than one or two nights here. However, the area is famous for its Underground River. You can book a tour which takes you through the underground system on a small boat. I considered doing this but heard mixed things, so ultimately opted against.

Stop Eleven: Manila – the capital city of the Philippines  

How long to stay in Manila: 2 nights (depending on when your flight is and what you want to do, 1 night may be enough).
How to get to Manila: You will need to fly here.

Welcome to the capital city of the Philippines which is your final stop on your four week backpacking trip through the Philippines. Most people don’t recommend spending too much time here, it can be very busy and there isn’t a lot to do. It’s generally used as a landing/departing spot for most visitors.

If you do find yourself here, here are a few things to do in Manila:

  • Visit the San Agustin Church, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The church was built in the 16th century, and you can go inside for a small fee of 200PHP (£3/$4). There is also a museum next door you can visit.
  • Take a day trip to a volcano. The Pinatubo, Tagaytay and Taal volcanoes can each be visited from the city on separate day tours. Look at Get Your Guide for more info.
  • Head to the shopping malls! Manila is home to some of the biggest shopping malls in Asia. They are huge and even if you don’t want to buy anything, walking around them is a fun experience.

Other spots to consider


This little gem of an island is a surfer’s paradise. Even if you don’t surf, this island is known to be stunning and full of hidden gems. It’s very quickly becoming a backpacking must in the Philippines. You’ll need to fly here from Manila or Cebu. Alternatively, you can make the long ferry journey from Surigao. The weather pattern is slightly different here from other places on the list. November to March tends to be the wettest months. I really wish I had made it here but the weather wasn’t in my favour when we were considering adding it to our itinerary.


This is one of the most touristy islands in the Philippines. In 2018 the island temporarily closed to tourism as it did not have the infrastructure to cope with the number of tourists visiting. If you want luxury resorts, this is the place. Its white sand beaches and crystal waters are the postcard picture for the Philippines. It’s not the most backpacker friendly though and tends to be a little more on the pricier side. You’ll need to fly to Boracay.

Banaue Rice Terraces

For a completely different experience, jump on an overnight coach north of Manila and experience the Banaue Rice Terraces. I really wish I could have visited here, it’s meant to be beautiful. You can do a 2 or 3-day hiking trek through the terraces and stay with locals at night. The best time to visit is April when the rice terraces are at their best following the rain. It will take up a chunk of your itinerary so it means less time on the islands, but it’s a great way to see a different side of the Philippines.

Malapascua Island

This spot could be mistaken for somewhere in the Maldives. It has gorgeous white sand and crystal-clear water. This is a great place to relax and live that quiet island life. It’s also the destination to dive with Thresher sharks. We met people who had done this and they said it was an amazing experience. You can also ethically swim with whale sharks here depending on the time of year. To get here, fly into Cebu and take a coach north to New Maya Port. From there catch a short ferry across to the island.

My thoughts on our itinerary

I was very happy with my trip to the Philippines. It was a great mix of islands and activities and I feel I saw a lot of what the Philippines had to offer.

I have two thoughts (small regrets) though…

One – not going to Siargao. I’ve heard amazing things about this island. I did consider going but there was really bad weather. In hindsight, I wish I had skipped Bohol and gone to Siargao after Siquijor.

Two – the Banaue rice terraces. I’ve wanted to see these for years and if I ever go back to the Philippines, hiking through these is at the top of my list.

Having said that, my four weeks in the Philippines were thoroughly enjoyable. It feels a lot less travelled than the likes of Thailand but I’m sure it won’t stay like that for long.

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A 4 Week Backpacking Itinerary for the Philippines
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