Exchange Rate: USD 1.00 to 45.00 Philippine Peso (PHP)
Standards in the Philippines in general were higher than many other countries we’ve visited so far. All of our hotels were clean, comfortable and had working amenities (except for wifi, which was a struggle all over the Philippines):
Manila (6 nights) – Our first night in Manila was at the Paco Park Hotel (USD 30.33 / night). Since our flight arrived early in the morning at 5am, we were really tired, so we also paid the early check in fee of USD 11.19 – it was worth every cent! Paco Park Hotel was nice and we had a comfortable room. We spent the remainder five nights at our friend’s house in Manila (thanks Jannelyn!).
Boracay (4 nights) – Our flight into Kalibo (1h30min away from Boracay) arrived late at night and we decided to stay in Kalibo for the first night, at the Ati-Atihan Festival Hostel (USD 26.76 / night). The hotel was well located and good enough for an overnight stay. The next morning, we transferred to Kalibo and found a room at Isla Kitesurfing Guesthouse (USD 20.20 / night) at Bulabog Beach in Boracay. The place was close enough to the infamous White Beach, but far enough to have a quiet environment at night. Overall, it was a decent choice.
Cebu (4 nights) – We split our stay in Cebu in two parts. During the first part, we stayed at the Palazzo Pensionne (USD 26.94 / night with breakfast) for 3 nights. The hotel could have been better located, but it had clean and comfortable AC rooms. For the second part, we stayed at the Dynasty Tourist Inn (USD 22.45 / night), which was better located, next to the Robinson’s Fuente Mall.
Tagbilaran (5 nights) – We had a major plan change when we decided to skip Malapascua and Panglao Islands, hence we ended up staying in Tagbilaran for longer than planned. For the first two nights, we stayed at the Tr3ats Guesthouse (USD 21.33 / night). It was a modern guesthouse, though a bit out of the way. Unfortunately, they were fully booked for the third night and we were forced to change to the Darunday Manor (USD 22.45 / night), which was better located and had superior rooms.
Puerto Princesa (2 nights) – We stayed two nights at the Islands Stay Inn (USD 26.94 / night) in Puerto Princesa, at the beginning and the end of our visit to Palawan. The hotel was brand new and right next to the airport. It was also the only hotel that we stayed in that had dependably working wifi. The room had no windows, but was clean and comfortable, very backpacker-style.
El Nido (8 nights) – Our first night in El Nido was at the Balay Paragua Hotel (USD 26.94 / night). The room was fine and had the amenities we needed; however, strolling through the streets of El Nido, we found a better (more spacious and modern) room at Villa del Vincejos (USD 26.94 / night), where we ended up staying for the rest of our seven nights.
Money Saving Tips
- We found that most hotels in the Philippines weren’t that open to bargaining and we almost always ended up paying the rates they had advertised online (even during low season). Cities in the Philippines are also fairly big and not that pedestrian friendly. So unless you really want to check the room before committing to it, you should save yourself the trouble and just book a room online before hand.
- One potential point of negotiation is breakfast. Rooms usually come with breakfast (tapsilog or continental), but for those days where you don’t need breakfast or know you won’t get up for breakfast, you can get a discount on your room rate!
Food & Drinks
Filipino food was delicious with a lot of variety from main dishes to desserts. We went crazy trying all sorts of dishes, which pumped our food expenses up to an average of USD 10.13 per person per meal. We don’t regret a single bite, however, and only wish we could have enjoyed the local specialties more, or take some with us. I know I wouldn’t mind having lechon on a regular basis.
Money Saving Tips
- A lot of restaurants offer a combo meal option, with different dishes and inclusive of drinks. They are a great deal and you should make use of them!
- The cheapest way to drink is, of course, to buy alcohol from a grocery store or mart rather than ordering from a bar. Especially on the beach, there’s no one stopping you from picking up your own drinks and enjoying them by the water.
Since the Philippines has over 7000 islands, our main method of transportation in between them was flying (it was cheaper and faster than ferries).
Flights – Budget airlines such as AirAsia and Cebu Pacific offered incredibly cheap flights within the Philippines. For example, one way from Manila to Kalibo with AirAsia was only USD 21.64 per person, with one checked baggage! In total, we spent USD 202 per person for four legs, including terminal fees that had to be paid separately.
This cost also included one leg from Manila to Puerto Princesa that we didn’t fly, since Cebu Pacific offered a full refund on our ticket from Cebu to Legazpi after the flight being delayed by only 1 hour. We used that refund to change our ticket from Cebu to Puerto Princesa instead, skipping Legazpi, Donsol and an overnight bus ride to Manila, where we would then fly to Puerto Princesa.
Boat – We used ferries to transfer from Kalibo to Boracay (Van + Ferry was USD 15 per person round trip) and for a round trip journey from Cebu to Tagbilaran (USD 18.30 per person). The ferries were decent, but the terminals lacked infrastructure to accommodate all passengers in a comfortable way – they didn’t have nearly as many seats as needed and the AC units didn’t do much.
Taxis – We used a few taxis during our stay in the Philippines, most of them in Cebu. Even though we didn’t have a problem with the taxis in Cebu (all of them made use of a proper meter), we did have a problem with our taxi from the airport to our hotel in Manila.
The taxi driver turned on the meter and we noticed that was something weird when instead of showing the fare, it was displaying something else. Upon questioning, the cab driver seemed dodgy and when we arrived at our destination, he pressed a few buttons and the meter displayed a steep USD 12.50 fare. We knew that that was way off the USD 5.40 fare that should be the right one. We refused to pay and started an argument. The driver dropped the fare to USD 11.20, and then to USD 6.70. We didn’t agree and we ended up paying USD 4.45, which was less than he would have made, had he been honest to start with.
So, even though taxis use the meter, it is always a good practice to check if the meters used are accelerated or if he is just driving you around to make more in the end.
Vans – From Puerto Princesa, we took a van to El Nido, since the public buses were not running anymore. The vans had AC and the 5 hour journey was relatively seamless. The round trip journey cost USD 20 per person.
Buses – We used public buses in Bohol to go from Tagbilaran to the Chocolate Hills. A one way ride was only USD 1.50 per person in an AC bus. The ride was seamless and we were dropped off right at the entrance to the viewpoint.
Tricycles – A very popular method of transportation in the Philippines, we were skeptical of using the tricycles at first – not because we were afraid of using it, but because we didn’t think we would both fit in one. The tricycles were nothing more than a tiny sidecar attached to a motorbike and even though we saw up to four or five Filipinos sitting in one, we were way bigger than any of them.
We finally decided to give it a try at some point and were quite surprised that we both fit (kind of crammed, but we did). The fares were low and we never paid more than USD 1 for a short ride.
NOTE: We did not include our flights from the Maldives to the Philippines in our budget summary. The reason being that we will spread the cost of that flight throughout the next group of countries to be visited. Otherwise the Philippines budget would be unfairly high just because we chose to come here first, rather than Malaysia or Indonesia.
Money Saving Tips
- When taking taxis, it is good to know the distance and the fare so you have a rough idea of how much you should be paying. In our case, the airport taxi booth gave us a paper with the official taxi fares. Watch out for accelerated meters and if you suspect there is something wrong, refuse to pay and the driver will soon start dropping the fare. Insist on the fair price and you will pay it.
- Tricycle and van fares are negotiable and you can usually get reductions of up to 30%.
- You can always try asking the front desk of your hotel for a rough idea of how much a taxi ride or a tricycle should cost to your desired destination. Usually they will give you a ballpark estimate, so at least you have a starting point to negotiate.
- Book flights in advance with budget airlines in order to get better prices. Be careful to avoid paying the extra fees they try to force upon you (insurance, seat selection fee, etc). If you are shipping any luggage, it is a good idea to know how much it weighs and buy just enough for it when purchasing the tickets. Rates for checked bags increase sharply after online booking.
The Philippines had numerous activities and entertainment options:
- Fort Santiago (Manila) – Entrance fee USD 1.70 per person
For only USD 1.70 per person, we experienced one of the masterpieces of old Manila, Fort Santiago. We learned first hand about Rizal’s life, incarceration, execution and the aftermath.
- Corregidor Day Tour – USD 60.50 per person
We took a day tour from Manila to Corregidor Island for USD 56 per person with Sun Cruises, which included round trip transfer from the ferry terminal in Manila to the island, guided tour of Corregidor on an open bus and buffet lunch. We also paid an additional USD 4.50 per person for the light and sound show at Malinta Tunnel.
- Fort San Pedro (Cebu) – USD 0.68 per person
The tiny Fort San Pedro was an interesting sight in Cebu and for less than a dollar we learned more about the beginning of the Spanish settlement in the Philippines.
- Chocolate Hills (Bohol) – USD 1.12 per person
The Chocolate Hills are one of the most iconic sights in Bohol and definitely one of the more unique sights in the Philippines. The entrance fee to the view point was USD 1.12 per person – the view from the top is breathtaking.
- Tarsier Sanctuary (Bohol) – USD 1.12 per person
The USD 1.12 fee was a small price to pay to see these funny-looking creatures up close. In the sanctuary, we learned about the habits of the tarsiers and got to see four of them in the wild!
- Environmental Permit (El Nido) – USD 4.50 per person
The town of El Nido charges USD 4.50 for an environmental permit if you decide to leave the town and explore its beautiful islands in the Bacuit Archipelago (which you should!).
- Scuba Diving (El Nido) – USD 22 per dive + USD 11 for camera rental
Diving in El Nido was simply amazing! Not only the marine life was wonderful, but we also had a lot of fun with Tabanka Divers. The dives were also a steal at only USD 22 per tank! This has to be the cheapest in all of SE Asia, even compared to Koh Tao (low season may have had an effect). Renting a waterproof camera cost only USD 11 for all three dives.
- Island Hopping Tour A – USD 18 per person
Besides exploring El Nido underwater, we also cruised through its limestones mountains on an island hopping tour. There were four options, A, B, C and D, each visiting different parts of the archipelago. We ended up picked tour A. We negotiated the price down to USD 18 per person (originally USD 26).
Money Saving Tips
- Up to El Nido, excursion or entrance fees had fixed prices. Our bargaining power came back in the touristy town, where several agents rubbed shoulder to get your business. Don’t take the advertised tour or dive prices in El Nido and negotiate them down.
- For tours in El Nido, we were also told that approaching a travel agent at 8am in the morning (before the boats on day tours leave) can also get you a 50% discount.
We had a few miscellaneous expenses in the Philippines:
- SIM Card with SMART + 1.7GB data – USD 9.00
We got a SIM card with SMART and a data plan for USD 9, valid for 30 days. The 3G was slow and drained our phone battery like no other. Apparently the other providers are not that much better.
We also incurred other smaller miscellaneous expenses (toiletries, laundry, souvenirs, etc) that together summed up to USD 34.
The Philippines lived up to expectations – we gorged on delicious food in Manila and Cebu, enjoyed some of the best beaches in the world in Boracay and El Nido, and explored natural formations and wild animals in Bohol. On top of all of that, we also got to see our friend Jannelyn for a whole week! The Philippines will leave a big hole in our hearts, but we are pretty sure we will be back.