Are you looking for an opportunity to travel responsibly and give back to the local communities when you travel? Do you want to discover the history of an area all whilst leaving the smallest impact on the environment?
During our time in Tulum, a small townin the Yucatan Peninsula on the Caribbean Coastline of Mexico, we wanted to explore the great ancient Mayan ruins, trek through the lush green jungle, swim in the incredible Cenotes that make up part of the largest underground river system in the world, connect with and support the local Mayan communities. We were able to do this all whilst leaving very little environmental impact and help contribute to local Mayan businesses.
We did this by going on an Eco – Tour. The company that we used is called Mexico Kan Tours– their main goal is to introduce sustainable tourism to tourists visiting the Yucatan Peninsula whilst ensuring you have an incredibly enriching and fun experience. This is something that is so important to us as long term travellers. We want to have as little impact on the environment but still visit incredible tourist destinations. We want to have the opportunity to help local communities instead of putting dollars in the pockets of international businesses.
Mayan Inland Expedition
So on our first day in Tulum – we embarked on the Mayan Inland Expedition. All I can say is that we were simply blown away by how incredible this tour was. Phil and I are harsh critics when it comes to tours and hotels so when we finished this tour feeling overwhelmed with gratitude, we knew we had made a fantastic decision doing this tour.
To give you an idea of what we found so fantastic here are a few features of what we think it takes to make a successful sustainable tour.
Small Group Sizes
These tours are designed to take only small groups (of around 12 people maximum) so your impact on the environment is minimal. We travelled in an air conditioned minivan to our destinations. Not only does this provide a better impact on the environment but you also have a much more personal experience on the tour. There were only 8 of us on our tour and it was amazing being able to get to know everyone on a personal level whilst also being able to hear what our guide Luigi had to say.
Snacks and Beverages provided – in zero waste containers
When we first stepped on board the minivan Luigi, our guide offered us the most delicious homemade flapjacks. Made by a local German family using their secret family recipe, offered in a reusable container. No plastic or waste in sight. They also had bananas for us and stainless steel water bottles for each of us to carry. These were refillable from a giant insulated water container located on the minivan. Every little sustainable detail was thought of.
Supporting local businesses
The entire trip is designed to help support local Mayan communities. We visited some fantastic communities and families in the areas, something that most large generic travel companies would not give you the opportunity to do on such a personal level.
Luigi our guide had an incredible wealth of knowledge, but not only that he was so enthusiastic about the concept of sustainable tourism and creating such a fantastic experience for us on the tour.
By offering you the opportunity to travel in smaller groups it is easier to visit places that are not necessarily on the main tourist route. A majority of the tour we did not see other tourists at all, including the time spent at the local family run Cenote which we had all to ourselves.
The Ancient Coba Ruins
The Full day tour started at 8am where we were picked up at our hotel. We travelled first 44km Northwest of Tulum to the ancient ruins of Coba. We had the opportunity to cycle through the jungle uncovering the ruins and local residents including the wild Tarantulas. Luigi our guide regaled us with stories of the Mayan communities who lived here AD 600-900. The city of Coba became famous for being the largest network of stone causeways in the Mayan world. One of the main attractions of visiting Coba is that it is one of the few places where you are allowed to climb up the largest Pyramid. The views at the top are incredible, if you are brave enough to climb.
After visiting Coba we drove to the Mayan community of Punta Laguna. They provide eco-tourism activities aimed to help preserve their forest and culture. Here we were greeted with a traditional blessing before being led through the dense jungle. The main attraction here being the wild spider monkeys, our local guide here was particularly talented at spotting them for us. We also had the opportunity to zipline across the lagoon which was great fun, especially after Luigi told us there were alligators in the lagoon below. We then got in a canoe and paddled across the lagoon – always keeping an eye out for those underwater reptiles.
By this point we had worked up an appetite and visited the nearby village of Nuevo Durango. We stop at a local families house that served us a delicious Mayan meal and allowed us to help make tortillas for it. The house is located in beautiful gardens and is the location for an endangered species project where they are helping reintroduce injured animals back into the wild. By visiting these families and their businesses we are helping support them with our tourism dollars instead of giving it to companies who won’t pass it on.
Family run Cenote
To finish off the tour we visited a family run cenote and ended up having it all to ourselves which was so magical. For those that were brave enough they jumped in, and for those like myself who are afraid of heights there were stairs down inside. The water is so blue and clear, it was the perfect way to refresh after a jam packed day.
If you are planning on coming to Tulum we highly recommend this tour, having the opportunity to connect with the local communities, discover ancient ruins and refresh in tropical cenotes was an experience we will never forget.
Thank you to Mexico Kan Tours for hosting us, our tour was gifted and all opinions are our own. We truly only recommend activities that we absolutely love.
If you have been planning on visiting the Philippines for a while now and have finally come around to researching your trip, you will know the internet is saturated with information on this topic.
That’s why my husband Phil and I have created this up to date 2019 Blog Post to help make planning your trip to the Philippines super easy. This comprehensive guide will breakdown the Must See’s and showcase lesser known picture perfect locations ( find out why we DON’T recommend visiting El Nido), explain the myriad of transport options and share where we recommend eating and sleeping, all whilst sticking to a budget.
So lets get started – bookmark this or pin this for later if you are short on time because this post is full to the brim with every ounce of information you will need for your trip!
The Philippines is a country comprised of over 7000 islands based in South East Asia to the east of Vietnam. Its current population sits around 105 million, a majority are of Malay descent. Due to its close proximity to neighbouring Asian countries, it is a melting pot of different cultures. There are over 120 distinct indigenous Philippine languages although Filipino and English are the most wildly spoken.
Why Visit the Philippines?
Over 7000 tropical islands, white sand beaches, snorkelling, diving and surfing, it has something for everyone. Its locals are friendly and welcoming and the islands are varied so it will reward the adventurers out there.
Bonus points if you are a karaoke enthusiast at home because we are pretty sure the Philippines may be the worlds capital. The filipino people have a fun and happy go lucky attitude and the children love to wave and say ‘Hello’ to everyone.
It’s unique wildlife and crystal clear waters will have you booking your next trip to explore more of its many islands as soon as your trip ends.
Fairly new and up and coming on the travellers hit list the Philippines still has a lowkey local vibe on many of its hidden gems.
Planning your Philippines adventure can be difficult………..there is so much to see!
We guarantee that you will always want more time to visit all the areas and islands that catch your eye so we spent a month travelling through the Philippines and hopefully our highlights will help you when planning your island adventure.
When to visit the Philippines?
The Philippines experiences 3 seasons: The Hot Season being between March and May followed by the Rainy Season from June to November and the Cool Season in December til February.
Peak season for tourists is the hot season between March and May. It is generally avoided during the wet season as the countries islands are located in a typhoon rich area of Asia and experiences between 17-19 typhoons through the wet season. Like many countries in Asia the hot season will be around 30-40 degrees so some travellers will prefer the cooler months.
How Long to stay in the Philippines?
We spent 30 days touring the Philippines and you could spend much longer – there is so much to see and do!
Travellers come to the Philippines for many different types of trips, if you want to travel and explore the country and its islands as we did we would recommend minimum 2 weeks and just choose a few of our highlights.
However if you are coming to experience its world class diving and surfing and perhaps not travelling as much you could do it in less as the main dive islands will have many different dive sights on their doorstep.
Short break getaways generally see visitors located at one of the Philippines hotel and beach resort locations such as the newly developed and rebuilt Boracay.
Take note of how long you are allowed to stay in the Philippines depending on the country you are from. We are from the UK and if we wanted to stay longer than 30 days we would needed to have applied for a visa in advance. Check with your local embassy on the visa requirements for your country first.
When you ARRIVE in the Philippines – TOP TIPS
Local Currency in the Philippines
When you arrive in the Philippines make sure you have enough local currency in cash. The currency is Philippines Peso (PHP) and is accepted everywhere. Some of the remote islands do not have working cash machines, even Puerto Princesa Airports cash machines were not working when we arrived. The cash machines can be unreliable and many travellers were struggling to get any cash for their taxis. This is especially important in Palawan if this is your first port of call as many travellers want to head straight to El Nido. If you do not have enough cash before you arrive in El Nido for the duration of your time in Palawan, you are going to struggle to pay for your trip. We recommend calculating the cost of your entire trip in Palawan and ensuring you have enough cash to cover this.
Local Sim Cards in the Philippines
Make sure you have a Local SIM card, we got ours when we transited in Manila Airport. We found that the wifi on your phone was not as bad as many people make it out to be. We opted for the Globe Travellers sim with 8GB of data valid for 30 days. It was around 1000PHP for the data and the sim card.
Health Tips for the Philippines
Food Poisoning is a problem in the Philippines for a lot of people, always read reviews on Trip Advisor for the restaurants that you want to visit. Especially if you are travelling to undeveloped areas.
Drink Bottled Water – especially when visiting El Nido. They have an ongoing problem with their water source not being clean. We made sure to brush our teeth with bottled water also, and found many travellers who didn’t were ill.
How to get to the Philippines
The Philippines has 3 main international airports – Manila, Puerto Princesa and Cebu. There are some smaller airports that serve international flights but the ones mentioned above will likely be the most affordable and available.
We opted to fly from Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh) to Puerto Princesa as it landed us on Palawan island which is a great place to begin your Philippines adventure and avoid the big capital of Manila. (Cebu is also a great alternative to avoid Manila)
Getting around the Philippines
There are many transport options available for exploring the Philippines and Island Hopping. We mostly used flights for hopping between major islands and a few ferries for the shorter distances.
Flight prices between islands were reasonable and due to the duration of some ferry trips definitely more comfortable.
Once on your island of choice you are often choosing between tourist minibuses, jeepney’s, local buses, tricycles and taxi’s. During our month long stay in the Philippines we used all of these and some are definitely interesting.
While taxi’s and minibus transfers are the more comfortable options, travel like a local and you can save some Peso’s for a cocktail on your tropical beach paradise of choice.
The Jeepney’s are unmistakable…brightly coloured and painted, loud and often pieced together from 3 different vehicles, these are the local workhorses. These will often link local towns and only leave once they are packed with locals, deliveries and even motorbikes. Air conditioning is not an option here but open sided windows do the trick and you get to experience local life while rumbling around for a fraction of the price of other transport options.
If you have travelled in Asia before you will be familiar with the Filipino Tricycles – also known as Tuk Tuk’s in Thailand and Rickshaws in India, these are the most common way to travel short distances.
The minibus or minivan transfers receive a mixed bag of reviews online but are very common on certain islands and generally not too expensive – one popular trip for these companies is Puerto Princessa on Palawan to Port Barton or El Nido. We chose to pre-book with SBE as they received the best reviews (even these were not too good). Often companies (Recaro in particular get very bad reviews) will over pack the minibuses past legal limits and drivers will drive at crazy speeds so it pays to check a few reviews prior.
For popular ferry routes such as El Nido to Coron we would advise pre-booking your ferry tickets online. These ferries get full quickly and we opted for the popular Montenegro fast ferry which takes between 3-4 hours rather than the 6 hour normal ferry.
TOP TIP: Grab App – this is similar to Uber and has been operating in the Philippines for the last couple of years. Only readily available in main cities such as Cebu and Manila, we loved using this app. You can choose to pay your driver in cash so no credit card is needed and they will give you a price prior to ordering your ride.
For short distances they have a fixed rate which was always cheaper than normal taxi’s and also there is no hassle from the usual Taxi Meter Scams. We used this to get to the airport in Manila from our hotel and it was much cheaper than any airport transfers from hotels in the area.
What to bring to the Philippines
Waterproof Dry Bag – keep your valuables dry and away from sand on those island hopping tours you will surely be enjoying.
Reef Shoes – this is for all those occasions when you need to wade in shallow reef covered water to go snorkelling or climb over rocks on your island hopping trips.
Suncream – this is not readily available for sale as the locals do not wear it. If you are lucky to find it in a store it is extremely expensive. Make sure you bring plenty as you will need to apply it constantly if you plan on being in the water for a majority of your trip. Try and get a reef friendly option when possible.
Waterproof camera case or Go Pro – with so much snorkelling to be had you will want to be able to capture the turtles and tropical fish. Especially if you visit Moalboal to see the Sardine Run – imagine hundreds of thousands of fish!
Snorkel Mask – for said snorkelling above
Bum Bag – keep all your valuables close by on nights out so you don’t need to bring a big bag with you everywhere you go.
First Aid Kit – anything can happen when on holiday – reef cuts, food poisoning, dehydration, insect bites. Make sure you have a go to kit of essentials.
Where to visit in the Philippines?
We have made separate blog posts for each of our favourite destinations – just choose one or all of them below:
**A note on Oslob – yes you can swim with Whale Sharks in Oslob, but should you? This is a top activity in many guide books and on internet guides, however it has come under fire recently from environmental groups and government organisations.
Tourists are led to believe whale sharks live wild in Oslob and the tours there take 100’s of tourists a day to view them in their natural habitat.
The official conservation status for these whale sharks is vulnerable and declining. Naturally these sharks are migratory and mobile – now picture 100’s of tourists in the water swimming and touching these animals which are fed by locals to keep them in the small bay for the purpose of tourism.
Not quite the life the whale sharks are used to – the unregulated practises here have lead to behavioural changes in the sharks who now rely on feeding by the fisherman while associating the tourist boats with food and will probably never venture into the open ocean.
According to studies by independent groups up to 95% of the boats and swimmers here fail to abide by the rules that stop close interaction with the species. As thoughtful travellers we should be aware of these practices and do our best to avoid them or at least until they are properly regulated with the animals wellbeing and sustainability being the priority. There are many travellers who are aware that the practices are not right but might really want to experience it anyway so will put their conscience aside. However there are many other ways to experience the Philippines amazing ocean wildlife in their natural habitat with accredited companies.
**A note on El Nido – we haven’t included El Nido in our must see sights and here’s why. Although it is often included on many lists as a must do and see, we found the opposite, especially after spending time in Port Barton prior. A friend of ours who lives in the Philippines advised us to avoid it and we didn’t listen due to the overwhelming love for it on Instagram and the internet. This is truly a representation of how the internet (Instagram/Pinterest) does not give a truthful outlook on popular destinations.
Tourism has well and truly hit the small town and we found it overly busy, overpriced and chaotic. It would be a good place to party and many people visit for it’s boat trips similar to Port Barton and Coron, however after our idyllic boat trip in Port Barton we were struggling to pay far more for an overpriced trip in El Nido with 3x the amount of people to a boat. I’m sure the boat trips here have many beautiful sights but after speaking to travellers who have done tours in Coron and Port Barton they all preferred those over El Nido.
Instead, ever the adventurers we opted to head for Corong Beach in search of a kayak for hire. From here we paddled around the coast to Lapus Lapus and Papaya Beach which are also on the boat tour routes, but we had these perfect beaches to ourselves after the boats left and only paid 500php total for the day. The views here are beautiful and well worth doing if you are a strong paddler. (make sure you get a kayak that stays afloat- ours was almost underwater the entire time haha)
El Nido’s beach by the town is nothing to write home about and I’m sure not the reason people come to visit. We did like Las Cabanas beach, but there was A LOT of construction underway building a huge shopping centre directly on the beach. Not the most peaceful place listening to cement being drilled all day long. Before long this place will become a tourists nightmare and the reason many came to visit will have disappeared.
If you want to stay in El Nido – make sure you stay in Nacpan Beach. We stayed in El Nido for 4 nights and seriously regretted it. Accommodation books up early so if you do feel the need to visit El Nido, i would only recommend staying 1 or 2 nights maximum in the town. There are certainly some beautiful and photogenic spots here but the quiet, idyllic charade that the internet portrays will leave you a little disappointed if you weren’t expecting it. Check out the Nacpan Blog Post here.
We have listed some accommodation options for places that you may need to transit in between your main destinations.
Casa Arrieta Hostel – 10/10 for value and the accommodation! This was a great find located in Dumaguete town on Negros. Super clean and modern it felt more like a hotel than a hostel. This place is perfect if you need a night to stay somewhere before you catch a ferry to Siquijor.
At check in we were given all the local information we needed along with recommendations and maps to explore the university town of Dumaguete. Also our hosts gave us a slice of Dumeguete’s famous ice cream cake which went down a treat! For dinner or lunch try Lord Byrons Backrib’s just across the street.
Lub d Makati– we were flying out of Manila so had a few days to explore the city. The Lub d in Makati is in a great location – a popular hostel chain, this place had everything with funky decor, modern facilities, spacious rooms and free popcorn!
This felt like luxury after a couple of weeks travelling. The malls and shopping are close by and a large movie lounge and bar area is great for catching up on emails.
We booked it through booking.com for the best price, get 10% back when you book through this link.
If you have been planning on visiting the Philippines for a while now and have finally come around to researching your trip, you will know the internet is saturated with information on this topic.
That’s why my husband Phil and I have created this up to date 2019 Blog Post Extravaganza to help make planning your trip to the Philippines super easy. This comprehensive guide will breakdown the Must See’s in Port Barton but also link to our other Must See’s in the Philippines including Siquijor, Moalboal, Bohol, Nacpan and Coron (notice El Nido is not on that list – click here to find out why). The posts are packed to the brim with everything we learnt on our month long trip and include some super helpful time and money saving tips.
Port Barton is located in Palawan and was our first stop in the Philippines. It is a location that many people we met seemed to not have heard of. Upon landing in Puerto Princesa most travellers rush to get to the far north, to the tourist town of El Nido and bypass Port Barton.
We were attracted to Port Barton once we heard of its local, undeveloped and laid back beach vibes. We hope it stays this way as it was an excellent way to get started in the Philippines. It’s beautiful, quiet, palm lined beach awaited us and we were not disappointed.
What to do in Port Barton
Coconutz Tours Island Hopping
The number one thing to do in Port Barton is an island hopping boat trip. Through some research we decided to contact Bianca of the highly rated Coconutz tours for our island hopping and snorkelling adventure. There are plenty of tour companies on the beach offering similar tours but we believe this company is an absolute must!
Coco and Bianca took us on a reverse tour of the islands and snorkelling spots (not following the main ‘clockwise’ route with other boats). This meant we had most spots and beaches to ourselves the whole time, a fantastic fresh seafood and chicken bbq lunch was provided. Our highlight was snorkelling with Turtles away from the crowds. Coco and Bianca pride themselves on offering the best tour in Port Barton by offering something that is tailor made – you travel where ever the other boats are not so you get a very special and unique experience.
Another Filipino favourite…Rum was provided which made you feel just like Jack Sparrow sailing the tropical seas. A nice touch which added to the great day out. FYI a bottle of rum in the Philippines is insanely cheap – think a couple of dollars for a litre!
TOP TIP: before arriving we read about boat tour prices and how much to expect to pay. As the Philippines tourism industry is just getting to grips with the increased numbers of travellers sometimes information on these is out of date unless very recent. The tour prices in Port Barton as of March 2019 are now set at 1400php between all companies to help locals and boat tour operators get a fair price and keep competition stable.
Port Barton Beach
One of the reasons that we prefer Port Barton to El Nido is that the beach in the town is beautiful. The chilled sandy lanes that all lead to the beach where you can relax next to beach puppies, grab a chilled beer from one of the beach shacks and shade yourself underneath the palm trees. It is pure paradise and a fantastic place to just unwind. What a welcome to the Philippines!
Where to stay in Port Barton
Hashtag Tourist Inn– this small family run guesthouse had clean private double rooms set up each with their own patio and garden view. A short walk to the beach in Port Barton this was a perfect stop for our visit. The friendly owners were more than happy to organise scooters or tours if needed.
We pre-booked our accommodation at Hashtag Tourist Inn with booking.com to make it easier when we arrived. Port Barton is a small town so we would recommend this to avoid any disappointment when you arrive if it is busy. Get 10% back when you book through this link.
Where to eat in Port Barton
Mabuti– For a great dinner out try here. We ate here a couple of times during our stay in Port Barton and loved the fresh food and chilled vibes. Try the Shakshuka – it’s delicious and big enough to share.
Milano Cafe – If you want fantastic coffee – head here. This place is owned by a super friendly Italian couple who import all of their ingredients. The fresh sandwiches are also delicious.
Gacayan Restaurant – If you are looking for a super cheap place to eat that is no frills and a backpacker hang out then look no further than this joint. The main reason we are mentioning this is because Port Barton is not cheap for food and drink. Coming straight here from Cambodia and Thailand it’s definitely a pricier destination.
Getting to Port Barton
We got here via SBE Minibus from Puerto Princesa Airport (2.5-3 hour journey) which drops you at the towns main transport shack (also where the local Jeepney’s leave from when you depart). From here you can purchase an eco-pass from the small desk which allows you to partake in boat trips. You have to have one of these passes to go on the island hopping tours so make sure you stop to purchase one before rushing off to find your accommodation.
Our SBE experience – we pre booked the SBE bus online for our arrival at Puerto Princesa Airport. To get picked up from the airport it costs a little extra and means that you don’t have to haggle for a tricycle ride to the Bus Depot when you land. All of the minibuses leave from the main Bus Depot so our pick up from the airport was in a car. We are not sure it was supposed to be as we had to email (no one answered the phone) SBE when we arrived as no one was there to collect us. At this point every other company will try and persuade you to travel with them.
Our minibus from Puerto Princesa was not leaving for a couple of hours so SBE offered to drop us off at the local Mall to get some food and relax. After a couple of hours they collected us from outside the mall (for no extra fee). The only downside to this is that you get the last seats on the bus which can be cramped. The main alternative minivan provider is Recaro- we simply did not travel with them based off of their extremely poor reviews.
How long to spend in Port Barton
We stayed for 3 nights in Port Barton but we easily could have stayed longer to unwind in this beautiful place. It was an absolute highlight of our trip to the whole of the Philippines.
Looking to visit more places in the Philippines? Check out our other favourite destination blog posts here: