Our 1 week Philippines trip was amazing. It was also a lot of fun because there is no end to the amazing things one can do there. This is one country I think which caters to all kinds of travellers – backpackers, couples, families, elderly. Whether you are a relaxed traveller or adventurous; you love wild life and nature or beach; Philippines has something for everyone. And we have seen only a tiny part of the beautiful country which comprises of more than 7000+ islands. We went to south Philippines – 2 days in Cebu, 5 days in Bohol (3 days in Loboc and 2 in Panglao) in September end.
Best time to visit Philippines
Philippines falls in the tropical zone so the weather is hot and humid throughout the year. What makes a difference in the visit is the rainfall. The months between November to May are the dry months; and are therefore considered peak months. However, February to May are extremely hot. Peak months are also the most expensive months; and its a good idea to consider the ones on the border. Philippines falls in the tropical storms belt and experiences cyclones almost every year. South Philippines is slightly shielded from the cyclones, so if you are travelling to Cebu and adjoining areas, even Sep-Oct are good.
Philippines Visa for Indians
Tourist visa for Philippines need to be applied either in person at one of their consulates in Delhi, Mumbai, Chennai or Kolkata or can be done through travel agents.
However, if you hold a valid visa (used or unused) for any of the following countries; you are granted visa free entry in Philippines:
- Singapore multi-entry visa or permanent residence
- United Kingdom
We had a 20 hr transit in Singapore. Though we did not necessarily need visa for transit,we decided to take Singapore visa instead of getting a Philippines Visa. You can read more about how to apply for a Singapore tourist visa in my post here. We have some friends in Singapore who have Singapore PR and it was easier for us to apply online through them.
Philippines visa fee for single-entry tourist visa for Indians: Rs.3160 (latest as on Nov 2018) and it takes 8-10 working days for you to get the visa.
If you are applying through a travel agent, the fee would vary depending on the agent’s charges.
For multiple entry visa and visa more than 21 day, one needs to apply in person at one of the embassies. Check these documents for details:
Note that the rates mentioned in the document are outdated. The current visa fee is Rs.3160, as on Nov 2018.
Philippines embassies in India:
Embassy of The Philippines
50-N,Nyaya Marg, Chankyapuri,
New Delhi -110021
Tel : (11) 2410 1120 / 2688 8838 / 2688 9091 / 2611 0152
Fax : (11) 2687 6401
Office Timings : 0900 to 1700 (Monday to Friday)
Visa Timing : 0900 to 1030 (Monday to Friday)
Collection Timing : 1030 to 1100 (Monday to Friday)
Philippine Honorary Consulate General in Kolkata, India
37 Shakespeare Sarani 2nd Floor
Phone: (+91) (33) 2280-2546
Philippine Honorary Consulate General in Mumbai, India
159, 1st Floor, Industry House
Phone: (+91) 22-2202 4792
Philippine Honorary Consulate General in Chennai, India
Address: Little Mount, Kotturpuram, Chennai, Tamil Nadu 600032
Phone: 044 2235 4063
Philippine peso (PHP) is the currency in Philippines. Its conversion to some major currencies (as on Nov 2018) are:
1 USD ~ 52.5 php
1 EURO ~ 60 php
1 SGD ~ 38.5 php
1 THB ~ 1.6 php
The best way to carry currency is by loading USD in a prepaid forex card, because USD gets the best rate. You can withdraw Peso at ATMs at the airport or outside. Depending on the bank you withdraw from, ATM charges may vary. However, I would really recommend carrying some USD / Euro or THB with you. Our forex card declined transaction in the some of the ATMs outside Mactan Cebu airport. Also, there are no ATMs in Loboc, so if you are headed there; withdraw/ exchange money in advance.
Currency conversion is available at airports, though the rates are really bad. Money exchangers are available throughout Cebu, Tagbilaran, Loboc and Panglao. If you are in Cebu / Panglao; check these money exchangers for the best rates:
- Mactan Cebu ferry terminal 1 (which is used by fast ferries to go to Bohol). However, this money changer is available only once you get your ferry ticket and check-in.
- Money exchanger near Henann hotel on Alona beach.
Things to take care when getting money exchanged in Philippines:
- Check the money in front of the money exchanger to ensure you get the correct amount. Fleecing is very common in Philippines and since the numbers are large, its easy to get cheated.
- Be careful about locals who walk up to you and offer exchange at a better rate. Its possible they take you to a dark corner and rob you. While Philippines is safe in general, there are instances of tourists getting looted.
- Bigger notes get better rates than smaller. Some of the money exchangers give lesser rates for USD 1, 10. So if you find someone offering the same rate for all notes, get your smaller notes exchanged first.
Connectivity in Philippines
Getting a local SIM in Philippines is very cheap and makes life much easier. Many locals still use feature phones and Whatsapp, though not unheard of; is not that common. Getting around and communicating with tour agents/ hotels etc becomes much easier if you have a local SIM.
You can buy SIM cards at the airport, in shopping malls / phone shops or from street vendors. They are available easily and the plans are standard. Globe and SMART are the 2 providers which have best reach in Philippines. We took a Globe SIM card for 500 PHP which included 3 GB data and around 30 mins of local calls. Its best to get your SIM activated in front of the vendor; in case their arises an issue.
Getting around Philippines
Local travel in Philippines is not very expensive. There are local buses, taxi, jeepney, tricycles (or trikes) and bikes that can be rented.
White taxis are preferred in cities than yellow taxis. White taxis run on meter and there is no haggling involved.
Jeepneys are like open vans; very popular and economical for large groups.
Tricycles (also called trikes) are good for short trips for a max of 3 adults. They are quite slow and cause a lot of pollution.
We took full day taxi in Loboc when we visited the Chocolate hills and Chocolate hills adventure park (CHAP). We also took a taxi from Cebu to Kawasan falls for our day trip. Both the trips costed us ~3500 pesos each.
Motorbike rentals are available at most of the tourist locations in Philippines. While they say international driving licence is required, our host at Unk’s house, Panglao and hotel in Loboc confirmed that Indian licence works in small places. However, helmet is compulsory for both the rider and pillion and follow the rule if you do not want to be in any trouble. Driving is on the right side of the road, but its easy to get used to! Motorbike rentals cost anywhere between 350 peso to 500 peso per day, depending on where you get it from.
Itinerary for a week in Philippines
We travelled to the South Philippines and our itinerary was:
Day 1: Land in Cebu and proceed to Bohol by ferry
Day 2 and 3: Bohol
Day 4 and 5: Panglao
Day 6: Proceed to Cebu by ferry, half day in Cebu
Day 7: Day trip to Kawasan falls
Day 8: Flight back to India via Singapore
Accommodation/ Hotels in Philippines
Travel ticket bookings
Hyd – Singapore – Cebu – Singapore – Hyd: Scoot Air flight. We booked the ticket sometime in July end. Fares were slightly lower till a week before; but we were not decided by then 🙁
We had 20 hr layover in Singapore and we decided to explore the new exhibits at Art Science Museum. You can read my review of the permanent exhibits at Art Science Museum in this post.
Cebu – Tagbilaran – Cebu: Ocean jet fast ferry both ways.
How to go from Cebu to Bohol
There are 2 ways to go from Cebu to Bohol: By seaplane or by ferry.
Seaplane from Cebu to Bohol: Air Juan operates seaplane from Cebu to Bohol (Tagbilaran airport). You can see the latest schedule and fares on http://www.airjuan.com/schedule-and-fares.php
Ferry from Cebu to Bohol: This is the easiest and most common mode of transportation for locals and tourists alike. There are 2 types of ferries – regular slow ferries which take 5-6 hrs and the fast ferries which take 2 hrs. Fast ferry is what tourists prefer. There are 2 of them: Oceanjet and Supercat.
Oceanjet: They have 3 class of tickets – Open air, Tourist and Business class. Business class is the most expensive one, has more comfortable seats than the other two and is relatively empty. Both business and tourist class are air-conditioned and have TV. However, we found that travelling in open air class was quite comfortable in Sep. We took tourist class from Cebu to Bohol but took the open air class during our return. There was gentle breeze and it was quite enjoyable. There is no difference in the outside view for any of the classes.
Oceanjet website: http://www.oceanjet.net/
Oceanjet fast ferry schedule and rates: http://www.oceanjet.net/fare-schedule/cebu-tagbilaran
Our flight reached Cebu at 10:30 am. We withdrew little peso from one of the ATMs outside the airport and took a local SIM card first.
We reached Tagbilaran seaport at around 2:30 pm and took a taxi from ferry terminal to the Loboc river resort. Taxis in Bohol do not go by meter so check with your resort in advance how much you should be paying to the taxi. They tend to quote higher than the actual fare and you need to bargain.
Loboc river resort is around 45 mins drive from the ferry terminal.Its a beautiful property surrounded by nature and located along the Loboc river. After our check-in, we decided to take the free resort tour at 4:30 pm and the firefly tour at 7 pm. While the resort tour was disappointing, firefly tour made up for all the disappointment. Hundreds of glowing fireflies were mesmerising. I will highly recommend this tour for anyone visiting Bohol. Make sure you have clear sky though! You can read more about our activities at Loboc river resort in this blog post.
Day 2 and 3: We hired a tricycle through Loboc river resort to go to Tarsier sanctuary and do a bit of local sight-seeing on the 2nd day. On the 3rd day, we took a cab and went to Chocolate hills, Sagbayan peak and Chocolate hills adventure park.
Things to do near Loboc
Tarsier Sanctuary: This sanctuary in Corella is run by Philippine Tarsier Foundation. While there are few other tarsier sanctuaries, this one is the best and most appreciated one for its work.
Tarsiers are the smallest primate species in the world. An adult tarsier measures about 8.5 cm to 16 cm and a baby tarsier is the size of our thumb. They have tail which is almost twice as as their body. It helps the tarsier maintain balance when jumping from tree to tree. They can jump around 5 m. They are wild animals and commit suicide if kept in captivity!!
There are around 100 tarsiers in the sanctuary; but most of the days only 5 – 6 can be spotted. Guides at tarsier sanctuary go around in the morning spotting the tarsiers. Since they are nocturnal animals, they tend to stay in the same tree throughout the day. Every visitor is assigned a guide and taken around a part of the sanctuary. We found the sanctuary very interesting and tarsiers very cute. You can read more about them on the Wiki page https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Philippine_tarsier.
Chocolate Hills: The chocolate hills spread over 50 sq.km in Bohol is the most famous attraction for a very good reason. It consists of around 1776 hills of almost the same size covered in green grass. The grass turns brown like chocolate in the dry season; hence the name Chocolate hills.
There are 2 view points for chocolate hills – chocolate hills complex; which has been around for a long time and is closer to Loboc (around 35 kms). The other one which gives a closer look of the hills is Sagbayan peak, which was built recently and is around 50 kms from Loboc (and 26 kms from chocolate hills complex). You can see many chocolate hills next to the road if you go to Sagbayan peak.
We went to both of them and if you have time only for one of the view points, take a decision based on these points:
- If you want to combine the trip with chocolate hills adventure park (CHAP), chocolate hills complex would be a better choice.
- If you want to have an adventure and get closer to the hills on an ATV, chocolate hills should be your go-to place.
- If you have elderly on wheelchairs with you, prefer chocolate hills complex. It has ramp (though steep) till the top.
- If you have elderly who can walk but can’t climb up almost 200 steep steps, go to Sagbayan peak. While it has steps, they are easy steps.
- If you have young kids and you do not plan to go to CHAP (minimum age at CHAP is 6 yrs), Sagbayan peak would be better because they have a huge kids playarea. It not only has the regular slides, swing etc; but also a make-believe kids town with castle and shop and bakeries etc. They also have a small butterfly dome.
Chocolate hills complex entrance fee: 50 pesos per person
Sagbayan peak entrance fee: 50 pesos per head
Butterfly dome at Sagbayan peak: 10 pesos per head
Restaurants and other amenities are available at both the viewing points.
CHAP: Chocolate hills adventure park, also called CHAP is close to the chocolate hill complex. It is an eco-friendly adventure park with more than 30 activities; some of them very unique to the place. Some of them like bike zip-line and surf zip-line are not for the faint hearted though! There are some adventures for the kids too; and my husband & our 7 yr old had a great time. I am not much into adventures; so I was their official photographer 🙂 The minimum age for kid’s activities in CHAP is 6 yrs. You can see all the activities available at CHAP on http://chocolatehillsadventurepark.com/attractions.php
CHAP entrance fee: 60 pesos per person
Rates of activities: http://chocolatehillsadventurepark.com/package-rates.php
Recommended: Recommended if you like thrilling adventures
ATV Guided tours at chocolate hills
There are some operators offering guided ATV tours near chocolate hills complex. You can find them on the road side just before you start the climb to the complex parking (the complex is located on one of the hills). Their are buggies for couples and ATV for adults and kids. Our 7 yr old did his first ATV ride and was thrilled with the experience. This ride lets you get close to the chocolate hills and the guide can click pictures for you.
ATV Guided tour, Carmen pricing: 1000 peso each for a 1 hr ride and 500 peso for 30 mins; but we saw some tourists bargaining and getting it at 900 peso/hr too!
Recommended: Recommended if you like adventure
Watch fireflies in the night: Watching hundreds of fireflies in the night along with thousands of stars in the sky was one of the most memorable experiences of our Philippines trip. I recommend doing this on a clear night. We did it with Loboc river resort but there are other resort like Firefly and fox resort which offer this activity. You can combine this with Stand-up paddle ride (SUP).
Price for firefly watching: Depends on the operator. We paid 1200 pesos for a private banca.
Water bike adventure: If you are done with stand-up paddle ride, kayak rides, CHAP and are still keen on more adventure; try the water bike ride on the Loboc river. The Bohol Water Bike Adventure is located very close to the Loboc tourism complex at the loboc river bank. The bike ride costs 300 pesos per person and they even click some pictures and a video in their camera. We paid 700 pesos for a family ride and 200 pesos for the pictures / video(2 bicycles and kiddo seat in between).
Water bike ride:300 pesos per person
Recommended: Recommended if you have time.
Bilar man-made forest: This is a 2 km stretch of mahogany trees on the way to Chocolate hills from Loboc. They were planted almost 50 years back during a reforestation project. The forest has jungle trails that you can hike on. We just passed through it and stopped for clicking pictures. The forest is however a bio-diversity dead zone because there are no birds or insects in the forest. It seems mahagony trees are not a native of Philippines and the native organisms like insects and birds of the area cannot thrive in this forest.
Day 4 and 5:
We moved to Unk’s guest house in Panglao on Day 4 for 2 nights. We hired a motorbike on the first day and did local sightseeing. On the 2nd day we went for Dolphin watching & Balicasag island tour.
Things to do in Panglao
Balicasag island snorkelling tour: Balicasag island is around 45 mins by banca boat from Alona beach in Panglao. The day tour consists of dolphin watching, snorkelling at Balicasag island to see the fishes and turtles, virgin island and church island.
Dolphin watching depends on your luck because these are wild dolphins. However, if you reach early (start by 6 – 6:15 am); there is a very good chance of encountering the dolphins. We unfortunately missed this because we got delayed.
Snorkelling on Balicasag island: One of the most amazing things about Balicasag island is the reef; that they also call fish sanctuary. You do not even need to go deep into the sea to see the beautiful marine life. The reef starts right at the beach; which is in a way sad too because the boats dock right on top of the corals. You can wear life jacket and snorkel. A few meters away from the fish sanctuary is the turtle sanctuary where you can see sea turtles while snorkelling. The whole experience is fantastic. One does not even need to know swimming to do this activity. This was our kid’s first snorkelling and he was mesmerised by the number of colourful fishes. We had wanted to do SCUBA diving too; but only certified SCUBA divers can dive at Balicasag.
Virgin Island and Church island: Church island and virgin islands are very close to each other and are 20 mins by boat from Balicasag. If you do not drink; I will recommend going to Church island instead of virgin island. Both have the same white sand; and church island is much less visited and cleaner. It has a local church and has various depictions from the bible. We found it more beautiful than the virgin island. There are hundreds of starfishes/ sea cucumbers/ sea urchins around the church island.
Food at Balicasag/ Virgin island: There are shacks on both Balicasag and virgin islands,there is no shack on church island. However, there is not much for vegetarians on the islands. If you are vegetarian, carry cup noodles / ready to eat snacks and bars, fruits to manage your trip. Some of the private tours also include lunch. The food available at the island is priced high; though not atrocious. You can also take raw food from Panglao market and have it cooked on the island for a small price.
Price for a full boat to Balicasag Island: 2500 pesos (can be more depending on the resort/ operator)
Inclusions in this price: Dolphin watching, island hopping Balicasag and Virgin islands
Price for snorkelling gear, entrance fee and small boat charges: 450 peso per person
Beaches in Panglao
Panglao has some of the best beaches in Philippines. The sand is white, water is crystal clear and the beaches are clean. 3 of the famous beaches in Panglao are:
Alona beach:This is not the best beach; but is most popular because this is were activities happen. The beach is close to resorts, has many shacks and massage parlours and boasts of a good nightlife with parties etc. If you are looking for shared boats to go to Balicasag, this is the place to be.
Doljo beach: One of the relatively quiet beach; Doljo beach in west Panglao has white sand and calm waters. Bellevue resort; a 5-star hotel is located on Doljo beach.
Damaluan beach: Damaluan beach with its clean white sand is located in east Panglao and is one of the longest and quietest beach. There are a few resorts on this beach also.
Bohol in the sky: This is a company that organises aerial tours in Bohol in a 4 seater Cessna 172. We did the 30 mins Panglao tour and views were breathtaking. The pilot was professional and fun to tour with. This was again a first time experience for us and a bonus for our kiddo was that he got to be the co-pilot and sit in the cockpit. They have 2 tours – Panglao and Chocolate hills. Panglao tour is the more preferred one because of the scenic islands. They also do custom tours.The rates are affordable compared to such tours in other countries and I will surely recommend it.
Bohol in the Sky facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/boholinthesky/
Details available on: https://www.boholbeefarm.com/packages/#bohol-in-the-sky-aerial-tour.
Office: Bohol Bee farm, Dauis, Bohol, Philippines
Phone No: +63 929 281 6464
Recommended: Yes; if it fits your budget.
Rates (insert table)
Bohol Bee farm: Bohol Bee farm located in Dauis is a resort cum restaurant around 9 kms from Alona beach. They have their restaurant Buzz cafe located at many places in Bohol and Cebu. The farm in Dauis has a bee farm, herb and vegetable garden, a handicraft area and a production area. Its a nice space to spend a few hours. They also offer a 20 min farm tour through the day till 4 pm (which in my opinion can be improved a lot). The restaurant offers mouth watering food with fabulous view of the ocean. You can combine this tour with a meal at Buzz cafe and spend rewarding couple of hours getting to know about their work.
Farm tour fee: 30 peso per person
Recommended: Recommended for the cafe view and food.
Hinagdanan cave: Located in north-west Panglao is a small natural limestone cave of large stalactites and stalagmites.The cave itself is not very big and the underground lake is what makes it popular. Visitors are allowed to swim in the cave; though the water is very deep and cold. Wearing life jacket is mandatory for the tourists. Though swimming inside the cave was a “different” experience in itself; we could not see anything inside because it was very dark. The cave is lit by lights but they do not penetrate the waters in the lake.
Hinagdanan cave entrance fee: 50 pesos
Fee for swimming inside Hinagdanan cave: 75 pesos
Recommended: Not really. I will recommend visiting this cave if you have enough time or are around the area, but it can be given a miss otherwise.
Day 6 & 7: Cebu and Kawasan Falls. I will blog about it shortly 🙂
Tips for first time visitors to Philippines:
- There is an airport fee of 850 PHP per person when you leave Philippines that needs to be paid at the airport. This can be paid either in cash or through Visa card.
- Do not take out your phone to click pictures in the middle of water bike adventure. I did and mine accidentally slipped in the river:( Looks like its not very uncommon! The river is very deep and though there are a couple of locals who were ready to dive in; the phone will mostly not survive that fall.
- Ensure you get clarity on the rates and timings from the cab drivers before you confirm them. We took the tour for Chocolate hills, CHAP and Sagbayan trip and fixed the cab for 3000 pesos (the usual Chocolate hill and CHAP tour is for 2000 pesos). The driver did not mention anything about the timing. At the end of the tour he mentioned that the tour was supposed to end in 8 hrs and because we extended it by 30 min, we needed to pay for an hour. Know beforehand all constraints before you book any tour/ cab. We learnt our lesson well and were extra cautious with all other tours.
- Check with your hotel/ resort/ homestay if they have tie-ups with operators for Balicasag tour. I am specifically mentioning this tour because you will find most of the Balicasag boat operators fleecing customers at every opportunity (read the reviews of this tour on Tripadvisor and you will know what I mean). Ensure that you ask for an all-inclusive price – dolphin watching, visiting Balicasag island and virgin island. The price should also include life jackets, snorkelling masks, entrance to fish sanctuary, turtle sanctuary, environmental fee.
- Tipping is common in the Philippines culture. Most of the high end restaurants add a 10% service charge to the bill. However, its a good idea to tip the boatmen, tour guides, waiters etc because they are not paid very high. Unless you have had a very bad experience, think of leaving a small tip.
Breakup of our expenses on Philippines trip (for 2 adults and 1 child. Also, food does not include any alcoholic drinks and 2 of us are vegetarians):
|Expenditure Item||Amount (in PHP)||
Amount (in INR)
|Tickets, Visa, Hotels & Cabs|
|Flight (HYD-SIN-CEBU-SIN-HYD) (2 adults and 1 child on SCOOT)||66000|
|Singapore Visa Fee (for 2 adults and 1 child)||4700|
|Travel Insurance (2 adults and 1 child)||2100|
|Loboc River Resort (River view room)||10497|
|Unk’s House (Family room)||5152|
|ABC Hotel (1 bedroom suite)||4414|
|Ferry from Cebu to Bohol (AC tourist class, 2 adults and 1 child)||1500|
|Ferry from Bohol to Cebu (open air, 2 adults and 1 child)||1410|
|Cebu airport to Mactan ferry terminal||350|
|Bohol ferry terminal to Loboc River Resort||600|
|Loboc River Resort to Unk’s house||1000|
|Unk’s House to Tagbilaran seaport, stopover at airport for 1 hr for Bohol in the sky tour||650|
|Taxi from Cebu ferry terminal to ABC Hotel||100|
|Taxi from ABC hotel to Cebu airport||400|
|Airport Fee (2 adults and 1 child @ 850 peso per person)||2550|
|Firefly tour private banca boat||1200|
|Chocolate hills complex, CHAP and Sagbayan peak cab||3350|
|Tricycle for Tarsier Sanctuary & Bohol sightseeing||600|
|Balicasag island tour private boat (charges all inclusive of entrance fee and snorkelling gear)||3850|
|Bohol in the Sky aerial tour (2 adults and 1 child)||7500|
|Kawasan Falls tour cab||3500|
|Activities Entrance Fee|
|Tarsier sactuary ticket||120|
|Bohol Water bike||900|
|Chocolate hill view point ticket||110|
|ATV (2 ATVs for 30 mins)||1000|
|CHAP Activities + Photos||1800|
|Sakbayan Peak tickets||150|
|Bee Farm tour||75|
|Entrance at Ancestral House@Cebu||125|
|Guide at Kawasan Falls||300|
|Sardine run snorkelling at Moalboal||1500|
|Food and Misc|
|Motorbike rental – 1 day in Panglao||500|
|Petrol (~1 liter)||50|
|Local travel in Cebu||210|
|Food, water & misc||9500|
|Total||67963 PHP||72800 INR|
|TOTAL IN INR||Rs.164000|