Thailand or the Philippines
For years, we have analyzed South African’s travel trends, and Thailand has always come up on top. It is the number one destination, chosen by those planning their honeymoons or those looking for an epic cost effective beach destination.
With the influx of tourism, Thailand has since lost its outward charm, so we are scanning the world looking for the next best destination, taking into account everything you adore about Thailand.
Since we have found a more Rand friendly and breathtaking alternative for your honeymoon. The Philippines could be the epic honeymoon destination you have been looking for.
When compared to Thailand, the Philippines ranked in way cheaper according to budget my trip.
On average in Thailand, the daily recommended budget index comes in at R966 (at the time of publishing) per person per night. The Philippines comes in at R700. Similarly, hotels in Thailand start at R448 per night, whereby in the Philippines you can pick up a pretty neat spot for R252 per night. A great alternative for stretching your already tight budget.
Despite its affordable prices, the Philippines offer exactly the same experiences as Thailand – ridiculously friendly people, beautiful beaches, tropical rain forests, waterfalls, wildlife, big cities filled with culture and atmosphere. Except, it is much more pristine. We know, that this off the radar country will exceed your expectations. Let us introduce you to this paradise. Here are our top 5 picks for 2019.
1. El Nido
You will probably already be familiar with El Nido, just by the number of breathtaking images you see on Instagram. This is one of the more famous islands of the Philippines and is a favourite for those looking to honeymoon. In fact, National Geographic has cited this as one of the best destinations in the world. It doesn’t come as a surprise. El Nido offers breathtaking nature views, pristine turquoise waters, out-worldly coral reefs, natural springs, waterfalls, secluded islets and coves, jungles and white powdering beaches.
A paradisaical place like El Nido is bound to stir up the romance within you. To up the romance factor, electricity only works for part of the day in some places so essentially it is a tech-free retreat. Enjoy the natural beauty and getting to know your partner a little better!
The luxury eco-resorts in El Nido has some very romantic offerings. Here are a few of the favourites.
Matinloc Resort is tucked away in the ultimate paradise and offers amazing exotic surroundings and a private white sand beach. Similarly, Cadlao Resort is the ultimate tropical heaven and relaxation oasis that offers the best views of in Bacuit Bay.
Wedged in a secluded cove and surrounded by limestone cliffs, El Nido Resort Miniloc Island is one of the most romantic hotels in El Nido. The Cliffside Cottages and the El Nido Cove Resort ranks high up there too.
There are 45 stupendous islands and islets waiting for you to explore it. Hidden Beach is exactly that. Secluded among limestone cliffs that can only be reached through a small crack between the rocks. Pangulasian Island is one of the most romantic places. Indulge yourself in heavenly massages or celebrate your romance by candlelight with a dinner on the beach. Since the island is privately owned, it’s exclusive.
Similarly, Bacuit Bay’s has a Secret Lagoon Beach. It’s mysterious and offers paradise-like scenery. Its hidden cove features turquoise waters and limestone cliffs where formed from ancient collapsed caves that transformed into lagoons. Its the perfect place for touring by either a boat or a kayak.
Duli Beach, from November to March each year turns in a surfers’ paradise, while Las Cabanas Beach turns into the party strip as sunset falls. Locals festively gather around lively bars and restaurants, watching the colours of the sky changing from deep blue to soft hues of orange and pink.
Four different tour offerings can be found around the island. Tour A, B, C, and D, each one of them taking you to a different area of the Bacuit archipelago. Whilst tour A and C are the most popular, the others also allow for the discovery of sumptuous lagoons, islets, and white sandy beaches. Here are a few of the highlights:
Tour A highlights
Secret Lagoon, Big and Small Lagoon and Seven Commandos beach. This one is a special one as it was named after the seven Japanese commanders abandoned on this beach during the second world war.
Tour B highlights
This one offers magnificent natural sites. You can explore the dream beaches of both Pangalusian and Pinagbuyutan Island. Snake Island, named not for its snakes, but for its physical appearance, when viewed from above, resembles that of a snake. This is one of the only tours where you can explore caves. The Cadugnon cave on Pinasil Island and the Cathedral Cave are unique in that they are only illuminated by a ray of sunlight coming from the top of the cave.
Tour C highlights
Tour C takes you to Dilumacad Island and Helicopter Island. The island of Matinloc is also included and famous for its secret beach only accessible by sea as well as its beautiful starfish beach. The waters of Kulasa Beach are amazingly clear.
Tour D highlights
Tour D takes you on a paradisaical journey through Paradise Beach, located on the island of Entalula, Ipil Beach, and the beautiful lagoon found on Cadlao Island, the largest of the archipelago. There are a few beautiful beaches included too. Like Nat Nat and Bukal.
Diving and snorkelling
Diving in El Nido is unique, seeing it has some marine mammals and turtles that are endemic to Palawan. These include dugongs; the animal believed to have given birth to the legend of mermaids, and Irrawaddy dolphins.
What’s more, it has an abundance of fish. Its marine reserve, covering 360 square kilometres is home to 800 species of fish and hundreds of different kinds of coral. Moray eels, yellow-tailed barracudas, fusiliers, sea turtles, seahorses and the Golden Spadefish is a few of what you can expect to see.
Don’t worry too much if you are not a diver. Several diving centres based in El Nido offer first diving experiences, fun dives, and PADI courses. Dive sites to keep your eye out for are Nat Nat, North Rock, South Miniloc and the “tunnel”, located 12 metres deep, near Dilumacad Island. If you like to be challenged, you will love crossing this 40-metre long tunnel with light only coming from a few ceiling holes.
Siquijor, located in the Central Visayas, is unspoiled filled with ridiculously friendly and hospitable locals, relatively few tourists and has a super chilled out vibe. It is one of the more quieter islands, with little to do after 9 pm. The beach resorts here, like to keep the serenity of the place which guests love to experience.
Just because it is quiet, doesn’t mean that the adventures grind to a halt. It has all the quintessential elements of an island paradise: calm turquoise seas, isolated white-sand beaches, towering palm trees swaying in a gentle breeze and brilliant orange and fuchsia sunsets.
De-bunking the myths
Previously Siquijor was a name synonymous with witchcraft, voodoo dolls and potion making for its mystic traditions that once existed. It shrouded in legends of mythical creatures and sorcerers who cast spells. You will hear stories about people who came to the island and never returned. These myths may be true, but we returned to South Africa soon after visiting, unharmed, unscathed.
Ironically, it’s the reputation and potential for mystique that draws many tourists to Mystique Island!
Traditional healers, known locally as “mananambals” can be found around the island but hard to come by. Your best bet is to start your search in San Antonio, as some claim that, that area is saturated with them.
But these days Siquijor’s most popular healing practice involves a cocktail and a deck chair at any number of its laid-back and wonderfully affordable beach resorts.
Cambugahay Falls is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in the country. It is not just special for its three-tiers, but instead for its natural aquamarine colour. You will be left in awe it’s just as magical as Siquijor itself.
The fresh water comes from mountain springs and gently cascades over caves and light brown rocks, forming three lagoons.
The 400-year-old Balete Tree, once a spot for sacred rituals is so enchanting. For some unknown reason, a natural spring flows through the tree, of which man created a pool capturing the water as it falls. Inside, you will find loads of fish, waiting eagerly to eat the dead skin cells off your feet.
The Spaniards who first discovered Siquijor in 1565, referred to it as the island of fire. Not for its volcanic activity but, rather for the eerie glow of the swarms of fireflies that grace the molave trees in the evenings.
Siquijor has no shortage of pristine beaches.
Paliton beach is arguably one of the best on Siquijor. The line of coconut palms found along the beach, as well as its white sands, attribute to its beauty, giving you that true island feeling.
San Juan, where most of the beach resorts can be found, boasts long stretches of white sand. Romantic dinners are a favourite here, amidst the fiery sunset that encapsulates the nearby islands of Negros and Apo.
Take your relationship to the next level at Salagdoong Beach, by jumping hand in hand off an 11 m high cliff into the calm touriqous seas. The resort charges a small fee to enter, apart of which goes to helping local charities, specifically the Red Cross.
Diving and snorkelling
The white sandy beaches are just the beginning of a tropical paradise. Underwater is just as grand. The reefs around the island have been declared as a marine reserve in 1978, in an effort to protect is vibrant hard and soft corals, sea turtles, eels, lionfish and other sea life.
Just like its neighbour island, El Nido, Coron’s natural wonders will make you defy logic. You can swim through underwater mountains, visit hidden lagoons, snorkel over otherworldly reefs filled to the brim with shipwrecks and lounge on baby powder sand beaches.
Coron has 50 minor islets in the Philippines’ Calamian archipelago, many of which remain uninhabited. They just waiting for you to explore it.
For the best-unprecedented views of Coron Bay and the islands that surround it, hike up Mt. Tapyas. The hike up the 700 plus stairs will make you rack up a sweat, but the views from up there at sunset make it all worth it.
Want to get romantic? Banana Island offers tons of romance nooks to cuddle up with your sweetheart.
Cosy next to each other in an isolated bungalow hovering over the water without another soul in sight; have your boo gently push you on the swing hanging from an old tree as your feet dangle into the water, or snorkel hand-in-hand and find little treasures for each other in the reefs.
Bulog Island is famed for its picture postcard beaches, flaunting powdery white sands contrasting against the beautiful ombre shades of blue of its waters.
Diving & Shipwrecks
Go out and find your Nemo, or Dory, or whatever tickles your fancy. You are sure to appreciate Corons underwater. Beneath the calm waters, the feeling is like walking on another planet. You will be amazed at the visibility. Some parts you can see as far as 80 feet (approx. 24 metres).
Along the coast, massive ships have found their final resting place which has stimulated the growth and development of amazing reefs. Skeleton Reef cost is something to see. It is home to a few of WWII Japanese shipwrecks. Some of them you can dry snorkel or free dive to see them.
The beaches in Coron aren’t the only thing to get you excited. The Lakes are something else. Specifically, Kayangan Lake for a number of reasons. Firstly, it’s incredibly photogenic with its limestone cliffs that surround the crater lake.
Secondly, it is unbelievably clear. In fact, it is the clearest lake in all of Asia. Thirdly, it is a heliocline, which means that the layers of water vary between salt and fresh water, giving a weightless feeling while swimming through it. Water temperatures also vary. In some parts, temperatures rise up to 40 degrees Celsius.
Whilst there isn’t a massive amount of marine life, the view of its rock formations is its biggest treasure. The water is so clear you don’t even need a snorkel to view its moonscape. The edges are jagged and its quite fun to grab hold of and move yourself along.
The Awuyuk Kayangan Cave is super cool too. To get to it you have to swim through a narrow entrance.
Soaking up a sweat in 40 degrees Celsius hot springs might sound a bit insane in this tropical climate. But, in the evenings when the sunset gives way to the twinkling stars and the moon, that’s when the magic all happens. The Maquinit springs, set in a mangrove forest with a small nearby beach, is one of the very few saltwater springs in the world.
4. Port Barton
The undeveloped muddy dirt road on the way into Port Barton only just hints at the rawness of this comparatively unspoiled beachside village. But don’t let that put you off though. The fact that it is still under the tourist radar is what adds to the charm of this secret paradise.
Locals live simply, even so, that electricity is a scarcity. In some parts of the village, you will only be able to access power from 6 pm to 12 am. Internet speeds are limited too. Don’t panic. A break from technology is what we need every so often. It adds to its peacefulness and super relaxed environment.
There are no ATMs and you will not be able to use your bank card to pay for dinners. There are no supermarkets, nor are there hospitals.
In addition, don’t go expecting 5-star resorts just yet. Whilst the activities you can do here are very similar to those in El Nido (but for about half the price), the accommodation is basic and restaurant options are limited to small quaint beachside cafes.
Island hopping, lazing about, snorkelling and diving are the main activities here.
If being a beach bum is your thing, then you can either laze around in hammocks attached to coconut trees or sunbath on the pristine white sands of German Island. You will just love the scenery. You can also get up close to the resident turtles known locally as “pawikan”.
Walk along the long undisturbed shores of the privately-owned Paradise Island and Capsalay Island. The sand is powder-like white which feels soft under anyone’s feet. Sip on some fresh buko (coconut) juice while watching local fishermen thread their fishing nets.
Always wanted to see a starfish? You can at Starfish island. More like a sandbar than an island, this space gets completely submerged in the sea during high tide. Starfish cluster in the waters, and often submerge catching some sun on the beach. Almost waiting for you to starfish next to them.
The waters surrounding all of the islands, specifically Twin and Lagoon Reef and Double Island, have unbelievable clarity that will excite you. You can expect to see a rich marine ecosystem and a large variety of fish.
Overnight camping is a romantic and original way to discover Palawan’s islands rugged beauty. It’s a chance for you to go back to basics, and bring out that boy/girl scout in you. You will set up camp for the night on a deserted island, make a fire and grill your own dinner.
5. Puerto Princesa
Puerto Princesa usually is a starting point when wanting to explore the wonderful island of Palawan.
It is considered one of the greenest cities in the Philippines and offers a great balance between laid-back beach vibes and urban city. It has boutique hotels, a vibey nightlife and a trendy food scene.
Here are a few favourite spots.
The underground river is located on the western coast of the island in a protected national park. You would especially love this one for its uniqueness. It is a UNESCO world heritage site, one of the New 7 wonders of nature and the longest navigable underground rivers in the world. More so, its one of the few that outflows directly into the sea.
The river flows directly underneath the St Paul Mountain Range and has, for millions of years, channelled its way through a series of vast chambers and caverns. The cave system stretches for 24km underneath the mountains and the river winds through 8.2km of it.
Here, you can take a 20-minute boat ride, exploring the 20 million-year-old rock formations and gain a better understanding of the complex ecosystem that exists here.
You glide through giant cavernous cathedrals, past mushroom-shaped rocks, in-between candle-like spindles of limestone and into some of the darkest reaches of the underbelly of the cave.
Honda Bay Island Hopping
Just like the other spots on the list, Puerto Princesa has its own fair share of islands to explore. It doesn’t have the kinds of islands with limestone cliffs that Coron and El Nido have, instead it offers a different kind of thrill. The Honda Bay tour is a favourite.
You would seriously love striking up a pose with the symmetrical five-armed orange starfish on Starfish Island. It is known for having the largest population of starfish, which can either be seen on the beach or underwater.
Luli island is the more developed island, nicknamed Sink and Rise because parts of the island disappear during high tide. This is a really great spot if you like to picnic. One section has floating tables so on a hot day, you can submerge yourself in the sea while enjoying your meal.
Cowrie Island is hip and happening. It has several beach-side cabanas, bars and a pavilion. You can even enjoy a massage in a thatched-roof spa hut.
Book your cheap flights to the Philippines. You can fly from South Africa to the main airport in Puerto Princesa. Most of the spots listed above can be reached from here. Coron and Siquijor island can be reached by boat from either of these destinations.
Good news South Africans. You do not need a visa if you are planning a visit under 21 days.
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Have you visited the Philippines recently, what was your favourite island? Share your experiences in the comments below. We’d love to hear from you!
*All information on this blog page was correct at the time of publishing and may change at any time without prior notice. Travelstart will not be held liable for loss or inconvenience resulting from the use of out-dated or incorrectly noted information.