Backpacking itinerary for one week in Palawan, The Philippines (from $15 per day).
Planning a trip to The Philippines can be overwhelming. With over 7,000 islands, it’s hard to know where to start!
When my boyfriend, Max, and I decided to go, we did a lot of research to find the best places to visit in The Philippines on a budget. The prices for accommodation and eating out can be economical. However, as with most island travels, transportation may take time to coordinate and be costly.
So if you are looking to save money and time on your vacation, here are my recommendations for:
- Best places to visit in The Philippines on a budget
- Finding cheap tickets to The Philippines
- Palawan itinerary 7 days
- My budget for one week in Palawan.
Best places to visit in The Philippines on a budget
The islands of The Philippines are rightfully famous for their white sand beaches, vivid reefs, and friendly Filipino locals. This archipelago attracts over six million tourists per year ranging from backpackers to luxury vacationers and everything in between. The downside of this tourism is the impact it has had on certain areas like Boracay Island which was closed for six months to be cleaned up and let the flora regenerate.
For this reason, we chose to visit Palawan which is referred to as “the last frontier” by locals. This island has not been overdeveloped and still provides many budget-friendly options. Below are some of the top places to visit in Palawan depending on your trip length.
Philippines itinerary 2 weeks or more
If you have two weeks in The Philippines, I would recommend going to Coron Island (five nights), El Nido (three nights), Port Barton for (four nights), then Puerto Princess (two nights). If you have longer, you could travel to the south of Palawan or visit another bigger island-like Cebu.
Philippines itinerary 1 week
For one week, I would spend it all in Palawan either visiting Coron Island and El Nido or Port Barton and Puerto Princesa. If you try to stay in more than two destinations you will lose too much in transit. Max and I chose to spend three days in Puerto Princesa and four in Port Barton as it was the most economical and simple option in terms of transport. In hindsight, we could have spent less time in Puerto Princesa and more in the secluded and magical Port Barton.
Finding cheap tickets to The Philippines
Unlike mainland Asia, backpacking The Philippines can be more expensive because of the travel between islands. First, you will need to find a flight to the capital of Manila and then arrange your onward journey. For our main flight, Max and I used Skyscanner and saved money by booking one flight from Bangkok, Thailand to Manila on AirAsia. Then we found a different flight on Scoot Airlines from Manila to Brisbane, Australia with a fun layover in Singapore.
I would have loved to take the overnight ferry from Manila to Coron Island but they only run on certain days. 12GO Travel has a ferry service from Manila to Coron leaving Friday, with the return service on Sunday. It also goes to Puerto Princesa.
We ended up booking flights return flights from Manila to Puerto Princesa through Cebu Airlines, which I do not recommend. The boarding process was extremely delayed and unorganized. Then when Max got his checked bag back, it was covered in honey. After much arguing, the staff reluctantly helped him clean it off but offered no compensation to another woman whose backpack was permanently damaged.
Palawan itinerary 7 days
Day 1-2: Puerto Princesa
Where to stay: Le Mon Pension if you don’t need wifi (500 PHP per night for a private room and bathroom)
Where to eat: Look for local cantinas (small restaurants or on the street) that have different dishes in pots.
After our flight arrived in Puerto Princesa, Max and I walked from the airport to our hostel in true backpacker style. However, it was really hot so if you aren’t as cheap as us – you can hire a tricycle to take you and your luggage. The Filipino tricycles are motorbikes that have a carriage attached to it and are cheap taxis to get around the city.
There isn’t a ton of things to do in Puerto Princesa City itself but in the evenings you can go to Bay Walk Park. Here many locals come to take a stroll or go for a ride on a bicycle. There are also restaurants and bars but I found them not as cheap as other local options. Don’t have too high expectations of Bay Walk Park, just think of it is a place to stretch your legs and relax before starting your Palawan adventure.
For our full first day in Palawan, we rented a scooter from our hostel. It was hard to decide what to do, as many people go island hopping in Honda Bay or take a boat ride in the underground river. Both of these require tours or would be difficult to do yourself. So we decided to save our money by visiting the lesser known Nagtabon Beach and it was really spectacular!
I highly recommend spending at least one day here and if you don’t drive, you could try hiring a tricycle or booking a tour. There is a beach bar run by a friendly Croatian guy. You can buy a drink and some snacks, sitting at a table in the shade while admiring the astounding beauty of Nagtabon. The water is clear, clean, and not too cold. Try to stay for sunset if you can.
Day 3: Travel from Puerto Princesa to Port Barton
To take the minivan from Puerto Princesa to Port Barton (one way), you shouldn’t pay any more than 350 PHP per person, including the pick up from your hotel. Originally we asked at Travelite but they quoted us a much higher price, so we drove to the bus station on the scooter that we rented to buy the tickets directly there.
The pickup time is a guide only. At first, the driver arrived at our hotel much earlier than expected but as we weren’t ready, he said he would come back. Then he took over an hour. Basically, they drive around the center picking everyone up, so the actual three hours it should take to travel from Puerto Princesa to Port Barton will end up taking half a day.
Day 4-5: Port Baron
Where to stay: El Busero Inn (600 PHP per night for a private room with a fan for two people)
Where to eat: El Busero for breakfast, Gayacan for lunch or dinner (but be prepared to wait), margaritas at Villa Margaritas.
Upon arrival in Port Barton, Max and I walked around asking for the price at each guesthouse. We found El Busero which is right on the beachfront, with a restaurant and balcony overlooking the water. The rooms are very basic and maybe a little sandy (I took it upon myself to sweep our room and doorway) but are a great price at 600 PHP per night (around $11 USD).
There are four things that you need to know about staying in Port Barton. The first is that WiFi doesn’t exist. Apparently, they are doing a major upgrade so even the more expensive hotel bars don’t have it. I tried purchasing a SIM card with data for 105 PHP but it stopped working after I managed to email one client. Second, electricity is scarce. At El Busero, they only turn on the power between 6-12pm. This is the time when you charge all your accessories but if you want to download any movies to watch – make sure you do it before arriving.
Third, your accommodation may not have hot water. Finally and most importantly, there are no banks or ATMs. Please make sure you take enough cash – you can use my travel budget as a guide and then add 10-20% (depending on what activities you want to do) just to be safe. After all, this is a small port town on a Filipino island where you’ve come to escape. So I say, just go with it and enjoy the unique experience.
On the first full day in Port Barton, Max and I decided to walk to White Beach. You can take a tour but going on foot will save you money and provide a memorable experience. Along the way, you can enjoy the coastline and see two other beaches. To begin, go left along the Port Barton beach, cross the small inlet of water, and then cut through the long grass near a local home. On the other side, you will find the trail.
The walk is around 45-60 minutes and can easily be done in flip-flops. Don’t be mistaken by stopping at coconut beach, easily recognizable by its coconut trees and woman collecting entrance fees at the gate. It may look inviting but you can’t swim in this water due to the coral. Pass by until reaching the next beach which will be White Sand. Here there is an official and unofficial entrance because they try to charge a fee to use the beach. In reality, the public in The Philippines has access to all beaches and is not required to pay so don’t feel guilty about not going through the main entrance. It is a tourist scam.
One of the most popular activities in Port Barton is island hopping. Although there are island hopping tours all over Palawan and The Philippines, this is one of the cheapest places you can find it. We paid 720 PHP (around $13 USD) per person for a full day on the boat with snorkeling and lunch on a breathtakingly beautiful island. You would find it difficult to negotiate a cheaper price than this as most operators charge the same but if you have a group, you could easily hire a boat for yourself. Our guide also provided coffee but make sure you take plenty of water.
There are standard tour packages named “Tour A”, “Tour B”, etc up until “Tour E”. Many of the islands are privately owned and charge an additional cost to stop there so even if your tour operate promises you that you will stop at four or five islands, don’t be surprised if you actually on stop onto one and then have a to pay a little extra for it. If you plan and book in advance, there are also overnight camping tours on German Island. More than anything, the island-hopping tours are for snorkeling and will give you an opportunity to see the brilliant sea life under the surface. Just please don’t be like the one guy we saw chasing a turtle – and keep a respectful distance.
For the evenings in Port Barton, Palawan, I highly recommend Villa Marguerita for 50 PHP margaritas ($0.90 USD). Pull up a barstool and look out at the water, or snuggle under the cabana with your lover, and watch the sunset over this wondrous place.
If you have longer than a few days and get tired of relaxing on the beach or island hopping, there are two waterfalls you can walk to. The first is Bigaho Falls which is small but close, and the second, Papawyan Falls, is about a 45-minute walk. Just a local which direction to go.
Day 6: Travel from Port Barton to Puerto Princesa
The minivan from Port Barton to the Puerto Princesa bus station should cost no more than 300 PHP per person (not including hotel drop off). There are many different companies with different departure times, we chose to leave in the afternoon so we could enjoy the day.
Unfortunately, when we tried to buy the tickets the day before, the woman at the bus station quoted a high price and refused to budge. Rather than continuing arguing, Max just went back at a later time when someone else was working. The minivan ride itself was very fast, especially at the speed our driver was going. Then once we arrived at the bus station in Puerto Princesa, we had to pay 100 PHP for a tricycle to take us to the hotel. If you do the same, prepare to haggle with the tricycle drivers and don’t be afraid to walk away (the first quote we had was over 300 PHP).
Day 7: Puerto Princesa
On our final day in Puerto Princesa, we decided to go back to Nagtabon Beach. The best way to end our Palawan itinerary.
My budget for one week in Palawan
All costs are quoted in the local currency (Philippine Piso). See below for the average daily spend for two people including currency conversion to USD and AUD. I always try to find and negotiate the best prices to share with my readers. If you know of a better deal, tell me about it in the comments below.
Accommodation: Max and I searched for the best deals for private rooms. The wifi only worked well at Travelite.
- Puerto Princesa: Private room with a fan for two people in a guest house (458 PHP for a shared bathroom and 500 PHP for a private bathroom per night, for four nights). See prices at Le Mon Pension, and Audi’s Place or look for other accommodation options in Puerto Princessa City.
- Port Barton: Private room with a fan for two people in a beachfront guest house (600 PHP per night for three nights). You can book El Busero on arrival or look for other accommodation options in Port Barton.
Food: All the places we stayed in Puerto Princesa offered free water refills and hot water to make coffee. In Port Barton, we had to pay 10 PHP for a water refill at El Busero. Breakfast was not included but you could purchase at Le Mon Pension. We mostly ate street food and at local restaurants. (339 PHP average per person, per day on food and drink).
Activities: Tourist tax for entering Port Barton (50 PHP per person), island hopping boat tour (720 PHP per person).
Transport: Scooter rental from Travelite (600 PHP per day), petrol for the scooter (88 PHP), minivan to Port Barton with hotel pick up from Le Mon Pension Hotel, Puerto Princesa (350 PHP per person), minivan to Puerto Princessa from Port Barton (300 PHP per person), tricycle from Puerto Princesa bus station to Travelite (100 PHP), scooter rental from Audi’s Hotel (600 PHP per day), petrol for the scooter (80 PHP).
Average daily spend: 812 PHP per day each ($21 AUD / $15 USD as of 12 September 2018).
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