Don’t have time to read all of the details? Check out the video John made!
For about two years John and I were discussing going to the Philippines not only to see his family but also experience the culture and adventure of such an interesting country! So back in January we decided it was time to plan our trip and headed to our travel agent as the first step. We looked online for some flights but had trouble figuring out how to book since some of the websites mentioned needing a travel agent to book and we knew it was a big commitment we didn’t want to mess up!
So we headed to our friends at Liberty Travel and told them all about our trip. Their Flight Center helped us explore our options for flights and we ended up deciding that flying out of JFK in New York would be more cost efficient than out of Philadelphia. This is the case with many flights to Asia since there is just a higher volume of flights coming in and out of JFK. By using our travel agent we managed to save $500+ per ticket!
So by the time August came around our excitement had tripled and we had fully planned out our trip. I’ll be honest, I let John take the reigns on the planning since he is from there and had a lot of suggestions on where to go. We mostly used Instagram to find a few people that had traveled around the areas we would be and used their pictures to do more research about what we wanted to see.
So we left for the Airport on August 19th and boarded our plane around 1am on the 2oth. One thing to know about flying to Asia from the US, it is some serious flight time so flying overnight is actually great if you are able to sleep on a plane. We flew EVA Air and their service was wonderful, they had comfortable chairs, enough leg room (at least for me, John and his mom who are all under 5’6″), great meals (for an airplane) and free beer and wine! I slept most of the 15 hour flight to our layover destination in Taipei, Taiwan. If you can choose your layover, Taipei airport is SO COOL! They have themed waiting lounges and my favorite was Hello Kitty! Also, they had a great food court, some art exhibits, and unique shops. Then we boarded the second leg to Cebu City, Philippines and that was an additional 3 hours. It was definitely tough to preoccupy myself for this long but sleeping really helped. I watched a lot of movies and also brought four books with me on the trip.
So we finally landed and made our way to John’s grandparents house in Minglanilla. This isn’t a touristy area at all but it was full of culture and a great look at everyday life in the Philippines. Filipino people are extremely hospitable and everyone I met was so kind and interested in speaking to me. Let’s just say I stuck out like a sore thumb and it took a while to get used to people staring at me! Meeting John’s extended family was such a great experience and I got to have home cooked Filipino meals!
A few days after our arrival John, John’s Uncle, John’s Mom, and I took a road trip to the southern end of the Island of Cebu. You could take a bus to this area but we luckily had his family member who was willing to take us. First, we headed to Oslob to swim with Whale Sharks! With Oslob Whale Shark Watching, it was about 1,200 PHP (about $26) for 30 minutes. There are many hotels in the area around snorkeling with Whale Sharks and we stayed within walking distance at BCD’s Place. Their room was super affordable (we paid under $40 for a room with 2 twin beds and a queen size bed) and it was clean and just what we needed. One thing that took getting used to was that most places don’t have modern showers so you have to use a bucket and a pail. The water isn’t exactly warm so it wasn’t very relaxing but it did the job. At BCD’s place they also only took cash and you can’t make a reservation online so we had to call them
The next morning we woke up at the crack of dawn for snorkeling with whale sharks (and the longest day of my life). We went through a safety presentation and boarded a boat out to where they feed the whale sharks. Some of the rules are that you cannot wear sun screen and you definitely cannot touch them. When I jumped in the water, I saw how big they really were and freaked out a little and swallowed a huge gulp of salt water- gross! After a little coughing spell and settling my nerves I really ended up loving the experience and cherishing every moment I had alongside these beautiful giant animals. If you do this, definitely make sure you have a great underwater camera because it will be an experience you will want to remember forever!
Around the Oslob Whale Shark watching place there are a few really small restaurants where you can enjoy breakfast right by the water and watch everyone swim with the whale sharks. We chose the French Place right next door and their crepes were delicious! I don’t really think the little restaurants have a website but they are right next to the briefing area.
After that, we piled back in the car and made our way to Tumalog Falls. This water fall is situated in a really serene clearing in the forest and if you go early enough there aren’t too many people there. You can ride on the back of a motorbike down the hill for a small fee but I recommend it because the hill looks like a hike and the motorbike is fun! The guy who drove my motorbike down the hill also took a bunch of a photos for us in front of the falls which was great. This is where I learned you can do panoramic shots on the iPhone vertically (I never knew that)! You can wade into the water and it really makes for some cool pictures! My favorite part was back by where the motorbikes drop you off, there is a pool with those little fish that eat the dead skin off of your feet. It was so unexpected to see these fish in nature and they let you stick your feet in. It tickles a lot but is definitely a fun experience you don’t want to miss!
Next stop: Badian for some canyoneering. This activity was suspended for a little bit while they reevaluated the safety but luckily we caught it at a time where a lot of the canyoneering was open. We used the company Kawasan Canyoneering and paid 800 PHP per person (less than $20 USD). Our tour guides took us right up to the first jump which was 27 feet! I’ll be honest I was really panicking and it didn’t help that there were about 10 other people peering over the edge looking like they were going to pee their pants. Once I saw a few people go I mustered up the courage and made the leap. It was terrifying but it was a high I have never really felt before. The free fall feeling was awesome and it didn’t even hurt to hit the water. We wore a life jacket so I wasn’t took concerned with drowning- LOL. We went on to a rope swing (which I failed miserably at multiple times), a natural slide made by rocks, and two more places to jump from. The highest one was 30 feet and I am not going to lie it was tough to get myself to step off the edge. Once you make it past the first jump there is no going back really so make sure that everyone in your group is down for the adventure. I am one of the biggest scaredy cats, but I always remind myself that all of my best experiences in my life have started with me being really scared so I just suck it up and do it!
The last jump was only 10 feet so I did that three different times because I felt like I could tackle everything. The canyoneering ended at Kawasan Falls, a can’t miss attraction of Cebu. The water is really as blue as the pictures and you can stand on these huge beautiful rafts for a picture! Our tour guide also took us for a ride on one of the rafts under the waterfall and it was really fun but kind of painful!
Our original plan was to stay the night around the Badian area but we realized that we had time to squeeze in the last activity in the area that we had on our list, Osmena Peak. Yes, this is still the same day as whale shark watching. In retrospect, it probably would have been better to stay over night and do Osmena Peak the next day but if you’re looking to squeeze in a trip here without a lot of time, know that it can be done! So we hopped on the back of motorbikes (there were three full grown adults on each bike LOL) and took the one hour ride up to Osmena Peak. To be honest, the ride was LONG and I have never been on a motorbike for that long. When we finally made it to the peak we had to hike for about 15 minutes and it was totally worth it! The hike was relatively easy but if you get winded easily you may have to take it slow. We made it there around sunset which made for beautiful pictures and a nice ending to our day. It’s a little chilly and windy at the top of the mountain so a sweater could really help (and on the motorbike ride home).
After this activity, we made our way back to our home base in Minglanilla and did some touristy things in the area. We headed into Cebu City to see Magellan’s Cross and Basilica Minore de Santo Nino. Magellan discovered the Philippines and planted the original cross which is actually encased by the bigger wooden cross that stands there today. The church is across the street and it was very busy because of a festival going on when we went. As a note: You need to have your shoulders covered and pants that cover your knees in order to go in or you have to wear the scarves they give you which is embarrassing!
We also headed over to Fort San Pedro which is an old military defense structure that dates back to 1738! We didn’t go inside for lack of time but it was really cool to see such an old structure that had so much history. In the entry way there are plaques with a lot of information and you can take a walk around the outside.
After that we headed to Taoist Temple, which was one of my favorite parts of the trip! There are a lot of stairs to climb and it’s another situation where my outfit choice wasn’t appreciated but other than that it had a lot of great photo opportunities and ornate buildings that really made you feel emersed in the culture.
We spent the remaining time of our week socializing with John’s family and their friends. We had a lot of meals at Jollibee (gotta try it if you’re in the Philippines)! If you spend time in a non-touristy area make sure that you also get a chance to eat the local food, walk around, and experience the culture. One of my favorite things to do was go to the bakery around the corner and get one of everything that looked good! We got 7 different pastries for 75 cents total! I was always so surprised about how inexpensive things were there. So although the flight costs a pretty penny, traveling around the Philippines and paying for things like hotels and food is super affordable!
Our second week was spent in El Nido, Palawan and brought lots of adventure (some that was a little more than I was ready for). Keep an eye out for part 2!