I call the Philippines home and have somehow become “immune” to its raw, natural beauty. So it was quite refreshing to have my boyfriend — who lives in landlocked Czech Republic and has never before swum in the sea! — come visit me and let me see the tropical beauty of my islands through his eyes.
I am quite proud to say that after several weeks of research (perusing a very scientific mix of social media and personal testimonies), I came up with a very balanced itinerary that allowed us to see the best of the islands’ beaches as well as its mountains. While these locations can be fitted into one very hectic week, we opted to do it as the Philippines in the summer ought to be enjoyed: slowly and sweetly. We spent an idyllic three weeks discovering the islands’ secrets together. We went from chaotic and cosmopolitan Metro Manila to the crystal clear seas of Coron, Palawan, to the mystical land of Sagada, Mountain Province, and wrapped it all up with a hike to Lake Pinatubo.
Here’s our best experiences, in annoyingly cheesy pictures. But first — an equally cheesy video:
Island-hopping in Coron was definitely one of the highlights. This is Banol Beach, 30 minutes by boat ride from the port of Coron. Crystal clear waters, white sand, different kinds of fish, and even a nearby shipwreck — we didn’t want to leave.
It was his first time to swim in the sea. This is quite unthinkable for a tropical island girl like me, but it was really great to be with someone who was experiencing the sea for the first time. The childlike wonder and appreciation (down to the last “five more minutes” in the sea) made me love the sea so much more.
Not to mention that the seas of Coron are definitely one of the best I have ever swam in.
Look who we found! Within the cool blue waters are the widely diverse, colorful, (and photogenic!) marine residents.
Apart from the most perfect beaches ever, Coron also has several magnificent lakes. This is Barracuda Lake, so-called because of its three barracuda residents (which we, fortunately?, didn’t meet while we were there). It’s quite a curious lake because of the sudden temperature changes — there are patches of very cold water and patches of temperature as high as 38C. It’s also composed of layers of fresh water, salt water, and brackish water. It is best enjoyed just floating around, preferably early morning to avoid the crowds.
Four hours by land trip from Coron is Calauit Island, home of giraffes, zebras, deer, and other animals imported from South Africa in the 1990s. The road is really rough but it was worth it being able to see these gentle giants up close — and even being licked by one!
Sagada, Mountain Province
After the sun and sand, it was time to cool off. On the way to Sagada, I affirmed my long-standing belief that my love language is service. I drove the whole 12-hour drive from Manila to Sagada, Mountain Province, from 3:30 AM to 3:30 PM, and the whole time, my boyfriend slept. Yes, I drove 12 hours next to a snoring, deadweight body who I had to force to stop for breakfast, who wouldn’t stop for lunch, who wouldn’t wake up to see the view from the deadly Halsema highway. He only woke up for one thing, and one thing only: the famous rice terraces.
What followed next were lazy days of food tripping (lemon pie, home-made yoghurt, mountain coffee, battered — YES. NOT BUTTERED. — chicken!) and breathing in the fresh mountain air.
Sagada is an amazing little town and Marlboro Country is one of its secrets. We love to hike and this place was perfect for us. Best to go before the sunrise for a 360-degree-view of the mountains, hills, and rice terraces.
Here we are after braving the sunrise crowd of Kiltepan. We found our own little piece of mountain scenery along the highway, used the hood of the car as a tripod, and took a quick picture to commemorate our waking up at 4:30 AM. Our ingredients for a memorable trip: him + me. Everything else is optional. ♥
Mt. Pinatubo Trek
Mt. Pinatubo is an active volcano in Tarlac, a province northwest of Manila. Its last eruption in 1991 devastated nearby towns and villages. Now open to the adventurous public, it usually starts with an hour-long ride on a jeep through vast lands of volcanic ash, with lots of friendly Aetas along the way.
After the jeep ride, the trek to the foot of the crater begins. We chose the 5-km route going there and took about 90 minutes. It was mostly volcanic rocks and ash, little streams, and the occasional carabao along the way.
Almost there. Up next was the crater but first, a trek through streams and flora that remarkably were able to thrive in such an unforgiving landscape. I am embarrassed to say I must have took more than 20 minutes to get there.
At the end of our trek is this prize: Lake Pinatubo, the summit crater lake of Mt. Pinatubo, formed after the 1991 eruption. It is true: from chaos comes beauty.
READ MORE: Check out my 3-day travel guide to Manila! The country’s dynamic capital is not to be missed!
It was impossible to cover all of the highlights of the Philippines – after all, I’ve been going to the beaches and mountains all over the country since I was 3 months old and so far I haven’t finished even half of them. But I think this was a pretty good introduction and it has surely left him wanting to visit me more often, hopefully.
Have you been to the Philippines? Where should we go next time? Or, are you or a friend planning a trip to the Philippines or to South East Asia? Please don’t hesitate to contact me. I love helping plan trips and can offer tips and suggestions. Also, itinerary guides for all the locations mentioned here are coming soon, so be sure to check back or subscribe to be updated.