Fall in love with the Philippines on this 12-day tour, from bustling Manila to glittering coasts and rugged mountains. Begin with a bang in the capital, then change the pace in cruisy San Juan. Learn to surf (or show off pre-existing skills), then leave the beach behind for the mountains of Sagada, where you will discover the hanging coffins attached to the cliff face by the Igorot people. Whether youre climbing to dizzying heights on cascading rice terraces or drinking rice wine while watching the sunset in El Nido, every moment here is one for the books.
Day 1 Manila
Welcome to Manila! Your tour begins with a 6 pm welcome meeting at your central hostel in the Makati City. When the formalities out of the way, head to a nearby restaurant for an included dinner with your fellow travellers. Let your local leader take the reins when it comes to ordering, then feast on a selection of regional dishes served family style. Once youve lined your stomach, venture out to popular nightlife district Poblacion. Once regarded as a fairly seedy area, Poblacion has undergone a makeover in recent years and emerged as a hub for bars, art and eclectic dining.
Day 2 San Juan (La Union)
Rise and shine for a very early check out a private transfer to the bus terminal. Board a local bus to San Juan, a suburb in coastal La Union (approximately 67 hours). A book or a few podcasts will help the time pass quicker, as will the promise of sinking your feet into the sand and kicking back on the beach once you get there. Arrive in the afternoon and take some free time to soak up the beachside vibes. Later, you can choose to grab a dinner with the gang at one of your leaders favourite local spots or make your own plans.
Day 3 San Juan (La Union)
Theres nothing scheduled until dinner, so you can decide whether youd like to embrace the laid-back life on the beach or head out on an optional adventure to nearby Luna. This optional morning excursion includes a visit to the Miraculous Shrine of Our Lady of Namacpacan, a 19th-century icon of the Virgin Mary which several local miracles have been attributed to. Youll also visit a centuries-old Spanish watchtower, enjoy a tasting of bibingka and tupig (local rice cakes) and finish with a stroll through an open-air art gallery on the beach. If you decide to partake in this optional excursion, return to San Juan in the afternoon with plenty of time to relax on the beach before sundown. Enjoy a barbecue on the beachfront with your fellow travellers for dinner tonight.
Day 4 Sagada
From the beach to the mountains! Load into a private minivan for the approximate 5-hour drive to Sagada. Time spent on the road isnt so bad when the scenery is this beautiful (and the company is so great), but its a good idea to have a book or podcast ready just in case you need them. There will be plenty of stops for photo ops and bathroom breaks along the way. Arrive at your accommodation for the next two nights and settle in. In the afternoon visit a pottery centre to learn some local techniques and get your hands dirty after the demo. Its harder than it looks. Let your leader show you a nice local eatery or pick your own place for dinner. Later, why not grab a few beers with the crew. Just keep in mind most places in this sleepy mountain town shut pretty early.
Day 5 Sagada
If youve heard anything about Sagada before, it was probably about the hanging coffins that decorate the mountains. Today youll see them for yourself and learn about the ancient burial practice the area is famous for, which involves stringing up wooden coffins on cliff faces. Continue to a weaving shop and stop to eat a well-deserved lunch. Once youve refuelled, make tracks for a waterfall and chill out for bit. Whatever time is left today is yours to do whatever you want (well, within reason). Have you developed a taste for bugnay (wild berry wine) yet? Maybe grab a few glasses with your fellow travellers tonight
Day 6 Banaue
Rise, shine and watch the sunrise over evergreen hillside. Any residual grumpiness about being up so early is sure to evaporate when you watch the mist give way to the light. Pack your stuff, eat some breakfast and then drive to Bontoc Museum. This sweet little centre is part gallery and part recreated village, giving insight into the daily lives of the Igorot people before colonisation. Next, check out the Banaue Rice Terraces. From a distance they almost look like grass covered pyramids, and its amazing to know they were made mainly by hand over 2000 years ago. Spend some time considering just how badass the ancient engineering is, then continue to your lodging where youve got free time until dinner. Your meal tonight is based around heirloom rice ancient rice varieties that have been preserved throughout the ages. Chow down on history!
Day 7 Banaue
Do some centring exercises, because this morning youll be hiking some very narrow rice terraces in Batad. Take a 1-hour transfer to the Batad Rice Terraces, then trek around this man-made amphitheatre. Your leader will school you on the intricacies of growing rice, then you can choose to visit the Tappiya Waterfall or relax and shake off any leftover dizziness from the hike. Munch on regional fare in a local restaurant for lunch, then head back to town for some free time. Tonight youve got a really tough decision to make: dinner with your leader at a place they recommend, or trying your luck solo. Choose wisely. There will also be an opportunity to pay a little extra for a rice wine tasting.
Day 8 Manila
Dusk; Birds of Prey; After Lambana what are these? All great books (well, one is a graphic novel) by Filipino authors. Why are we mentioning them? Because youve got a 10-hour drive ahead, which is a great opportunity to crack one open. If you get carsick, or just hate reading, you can always sit back and admire the countryside views, listen to a podcast or catch some Zs. Youll stop in a local restaurant for lunch en route, arriving in Manila in the late afternoon. Check in to your accommodation, then head out for an optional dinner with your leader and travel mates.
Day 9 El Nido
Check out of your accommodation and catch a direct flight to El Nido (AKA paradise), which should take under 2 hours. Enjoy a day thats as clear as the waters in El Nidos reefs to do whatever the heck youd like. An island-hopping adventure is included tomorrow, so today you might just want to relax. Maybe walk or hire a bike and ride to Las Cabanas beach. Keep in mind it will take over an hour if you want to go on foot, so pack water and shield yourself from the sun! For dinner its hard to go wrong with seafood, so maybe ask your leader for a restaurant recommendation.
Day 10 El Nido
This morning head out on a full day of snorkelling and island hopping. Witness jagged limestone islands, rocky coves, virgin rainforest and white sandy beaches. The snorkelling is just as spectacular, revealing beautiful coral and many different species of fish. After an included lunch, venture to the areas spectacularly clear lagoons. Your evening is then free to do as you wish.
Day 11 El Nido
Soak up El Nido however you want during a free day. If you feel like some more adventure you can pay to hire a kayak from El Nido town or book a boat out to one of the lagoons. If you want to see a picture-perfect beach, consider optional trip to Nacpan Beach where white sand and palm trees frame the blue water. Chat to your leader about organising transport to the beach (or for help booking other activities). Keen to immerse yourself in local life? Hiring a bike to pedal around town is a good option.
Day 12 El Nido
Your tour comes to an end this morning, but that doesnt mean your adventure has to. El Nido is captivating, and plenty of travellers decide to extend their time here.