This is a summary (with some details) of all our travel expenses for the 55 nights / 56 days we spent in the Philippines during October / November / December 2019. You should keep in mind that if one travels at a slower pace it's easier to save as especially transportation can eat into your budget quickly. Particularly transport in the Philippines can add up quickly. That said, we found that if one can contain accommodation costs and avoid upscale (western) restaurants, the Philippines is a fairly affordable destination.
Travelling full-time changes the way one travels and it becomes less of a quest to tick off the 'popular' sights than it becomes a way of experiencing your surrounds in a slower, relaxed fashion. Many further cost savings are indeed possible, but one should also not completely deprive oneself of uniquely local experiences that ultimately add value to your visit to a foreign country. However, more often than not, the events, encounters and connections with people that stand out, are those that you do not foresee or could even have planned for. Like most things in life, a balance between being frugal and making use of opportunities should be sought.
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(Note that the following spending does not include flights to and from the Philippines, but does include local flights within the Philippines.)
We stayed in 13 different accommodations over the 55 nights spent in the Philippines. We had a few functional 1 or 2-night stays (Sabang, Cebu City, Manila) while spending about 5 to 7 nights in most other locations. We managed three 1-week long AirBnB stays which, although they did not offer great cost-saving, did allow us to be able to make our own breakfasts during this time and also reduce our transportation costs compared to if we had moved on every few days. Interestingly, we also booked most of our shorter stays through AirBnB and the remainder of our bookings through Agoda and one or two via Booking.com.
For most of it, we did not find accommodation in the Philippines to be particularly good value nor cheap! Our average nightly cost came to $30 and although this is not necessarily expensive, the choice and quality of accommodation were not great compared to other Southeast Asian countries. We found that wanting an en-suite bathroom limited our choices dramatically as there are plenty of budget style accommodations available with shared bathroom facilities. If you are willing to spend in the region of $40-$60 per night, you may also find that you get much better value compared to most Western, European or American standards. It seems to be the $20-$30 ‘budget-but-comfortable’ range which is a little more tricky to find. Perhaps the proximity to the end of year holidays also influenced the price?
Coron Town, Palawan 5 nights - CTJJ Guest House
The apartment is one of 4 such rooms on the second floor of the building. The apartment itself was spacious enough with a dining table, 3 chairs and a very basic kitchenette (fridge, rice steamer and sink). The bathroom had a wet room style shower with very dated and worn fittings (no toilet seat or seat cover). Location was right within Coron Town and less than a 10-minute walk to where the Island Hopping Boats depart from. It was well located to explore the town, find local food and even climb Mount Tapyas. The area had the usual Filipino neighbourhood noises and was neither quiet not excessively noisy. Our booking included a basic breakfast which was brought to our room daily.
El Nido, Palawan 4 nights - Rodriguez Lodge
(AirBnB Double En-suite Room)
The room is on the second floor of the building with a lovely view of the cliff mountains (except that they were busy constructing a steel staircase right outside our room!). The room itself was clean and spacious enough. The bathroom has a wet room style shower. Location was right within El Nido Town and less than a 10-minute walk to where the Island Hopping Boats depart from. It was well located to explore the town. The area had the usual Filipino neighbourhood noises and was neither quiet nor excessively noisy. Our booking included a very basic breakfast which was brought to us daily.
San Vicente, Palawan 6 nights - Peace and Love Resort
(Agoda Double En-suite Room with Balcony and Sea View)
The room is one of only two rooms which have this wonderful sea view. The room itself was lovely, spacious and well decorated. There was a seating area with a coffee table inside and a lounger, table and two chairs on the balcony. The bathroom had a separate shower. There is a lovely swimming pool (also with sea view) and a restaurant on the premises, which was very convenient. Location was at the edge of San Vincente Town and about a 10-minute walk to where the Island Hopping Boats depart from. It was well located for us as it offered a great view, was fairly peaceful and was still within walking distance of the town, to be able to get breakfast and local food. Long Beach is within about 1km walking distance. This was one of the nicest places that we stayed in during our two-month stay in the Philippines and at $31.60 per night, with a sea view, balcony and swimming pool, we thought it was pretty good value for money.
Sabang, Palawan 1 nights - Dayunan Sabang Tourist Inn
This was a very functional stay and although the property is ideally located if you want to visit the Underground River, they were the least welcoming and it was the worst reception that we received in our two months spent in the Philippines. The room was on the second floor with a small balcony and located just across from the Underground River National Park Office on the Pier. The en-suite bathroom had a separate shower. There are eateries nearby as the town is very small.
Puerto Princesa, Palawan 3 nights - Purple Fountain Inn
Lovely spacious en-suite double room, with an extra single bed and a couch. Nice clean bathroom with separate shower. Most rooms have an outside table and chairs which were nice to relax and enjoy the atmosphere of the Purple Fountain Courtyard. What really made this place special, was their hospitality. They are situated very close to the airport which was convenient for us, but you will have to take a tricycle if you want to reach any of the sights within the city. The area was a relaxed local neighbourhood and there were a few Carinderias eateries as well as western restaurant options along the road. They also have their own restaurant for convenience.
Cebu City, Cebu 1 nights - RedDoorz near Cebu Metropolitan
This was a very functional one-night stay as we only arrived in Cebu City very late afternoon and wanted to take the early morning ferry to Bohol. Although the location suited us fine from a practical perspective, this RedDoorz is in a very poor and incredibly dirty neighbourhood and probably not suited to most. The room itself was very compact but did at least have a table and two chairs and a spacious en-suite bathroom.
Anda, Bohol 6 nights - R & S Seaside Unit Accommodation
Lovely spacious studio apartment with balcony and a very vague sea view if you have a good imagination! Lounging area with comfortable couch and coffee table as well as a small dining table and two chairs. Basic kitchenette with fridge, microwave and kettle but no stove-top. Very compact bathroom with separate shower. The apartment is located above a convenience store (you actually walk through the store to get to the apartment! It is within 2 minutes walking distance to the lovely Quinale Beach and also right in the centre of the small town. Despite the non-existent service, we really enjoyed our stay and found the apartment to be very comfortable for our stay.
Alona Beach, Panglao 3 nights - Hotel Renate
This was definitely the best customer-focused service we received over our entire 2-month long stay in the Philippines! The room was spotless, neat and modern with a spacious bathroom and a separate shower. There was a small patio with outside table and two chairs for relaxing and even a rail to hang your wet clothes outside to dry. There was a very small bar fridge (stocked with items to purchase) and a kettle. We received free coffee and tea daily as well as free water refills. The ladies were always very attentive and friendly and the owner even gave me a pack of lozenges when he heard I had a sore throat. The location is just tucked away off the main road which allows it to be a little more peaceful but still within walking distance to eateries, convenience stores, scooter rental and Alona Beach. We would highly recommend this place if you are looking for accommodation in Panglao near Alona Beach, and at just over $30 per night, it was also great value for money.
Siquijor Town, Siquijor 7 nights - Gal’s Guesthouse
(Airbnb 1 Bedroom Apartment)
This lovely and spacious one-bedroom apartment is located just a few minutes scooter ride from Siquijor Town, in the rural neighbourhood area. The bedroom is complete with side tables, bedside lights and full cupboard. The living area has a comfortable couch set with a coffee table as well as a dining table with four chairs. The kitchen is fairly complete with a fridge, single gas stovetop, rice cooker and kettle, but no microwave. There is also an outside patio with table and two chairs for relaxing. Location is great if you have a scooter full time as it’s not in walking distance to anything. If you want to be in walking distance, you should consider the San Juan Area. We rented a scooter from the accommodation at a very good rate for the week.
Dumaguete City, Negros 7 nights - Lovely Cozy
(Airbnb 1 Bedroom Apartment)
This well decorated and comfortable one bedroom apartment is situated right in the heart of Dumaguete City, just opposite Freedom Park. The worst thing about the apartment, however, is the very thin and uncomfortable bed mattress. Possibly ok for 1 or 2 nights, our backs really suffered through the week! The kitchenette was very compact but complete in that is has a fridge, single gas stove-top, microwave and kettle. The bathroom has a separate shower. The location is great for accessing the city, eateries, shops and even Rizal Boulevard, but it is also VERY noisy. There are a rooftop restaurant and bar, but that noise never bothered us, it was the ongoing music coming from various events held at Freedom Park that really drove us crazy and was almost unbearable!
Panagsama Beach, Moalboal 7 nights - Jujus Appartel
(Airbnb Studio Apartment)
The spacious studio apartment located just off the main road leading down to the Moalboal Beach Area. There is a cupboard, clothes hanging rail, small couch and dining table with two chairs. The bathroom has a separate shower. The kitchen is slightly disjointed with the two plate gas cooker in a small back room and the fridge, sink, rice cooker and kettle in the main room. There is no microwave. There is a small outside patio with table and two chairs for relaxing. Unfortunately, when we stayed, they were busy with very noisy and messy construction right outside our room, which made this space completely unusable. If it wasn’t for the ongoing construction, our stay would have been much more pleasant.
Cebu City, Cebu 3 nights - 1BR with Balcony
(Airbnb 1 Bedroom Apartment)
The one-bedroom apartment is in The Persimmon Condominium in the vicinity of the SM City Mall. The apartment itself was spacious with a comfortable corner couch, coffee table, dining table and chairs. The kitchen was fairly well equipped with a full-size fridge, microwave, single induction plate and kettle. The bathroom also had a separate shower. It was nice to have a view out over the city, it was fairly quiet and it was within walking distance to the SM City Mall and some convenience stores. There is an on-site swimming pool too.
Manila, Manila 2 nights - Cozy and Homey
(Airbnb 1 Bedroom Apartment)
The layout and decor of this apartment are very odd but quaint! The one-bedroom apartment is situated right next to the Magallanes MRT station. This is conveniently also close to a few shops and eateries in the adjacent malls, although these malls are very basic and nothing fancy. The kitchen was fairly well equipped with a full-size fridge, microwave, single induction plate, rice cooker and kettle. The bathroom has a separate shower. The lounge ara has a comfortable couch, coffee table and a fold-out dinner table. The bedroom is extremely small, but has a great view out over the city especially at night!
We generally try to eat like and with the locals. In the Philippines, this is fairly easy if you are in proximity to a town or village. The only downside is that there is not much in terms of variety when it comes to local cuisine, and almost every dish and meal is centred around rice! We quite enjoyed the Filipino-style breakfast of various versions of Silog (rice and egg) and found western breakfast alternatives to be relatively expensive.
Filipino cuisine has developed from the many different cultures that have shaped the Philippines history. It is a wonderful melange of Indian, Chinese, Malay, Spanish, European and American influences. Filipino cooking is distinct in that it is possibly the least spicy of all Southeast Asian cuisines! Instead of spices, Filipino food tends to depend more on garlic, onions and ginger to add flavour to their dishes. You can also find western food very easily available but at a slight price premium.
When we stayed in a place for a week at a time, we prepared our own breakfasts. It was generally easy enough to find eggs, bacon (or an alternative breakfast meat) and leafy green vegetables. This did not work out significantly cheaper in comparison to a cheap local silog breakfast, but we prefer the convenience and also believe it to be slightly more nutritious. Sometimes it was challenging to find fresh vegetables, even in a “supermarket”, the quality was often dubious.
We got the vast majority of our dinners from local Carinderias, where we choose a few portions of meat, a few portions of vegetables and either rice or noodles. The availability of meat or vegetable dishes varied in each area. Rice is ALWAYS easily available! Lechon (slow-grilled whole pork) was one of our favourites and whenever we found that available (usually only over weekends) we would have that with a few portions of vegetables. On average we treated ourselves to a pizza about once a week. There are usually plenty of western restaurants available, but these are significantly more expensive than the local food from a Carinderias.
Bakeries are very prevalent and you cannot pass a street corner in both the small towns and larger cities without a bakery calling out to you to try one of their very tasty treats! We could not help ourselves and ended up eating far too many baked goods which were equally delicious as they were cheap!
Alcohol is not overly expensive (although cocktails always carry a premium price tag). We enjoyed the odd sunset beer in a restaurant but mostly purchased beer as well as Gin & Tonic from the supermarkets to enjoy on our patio or on the beach. We probably ended up having a drink on average every second or third day of our two-month stay in the Philippines.
Without alcohol and treats, and only eating local, you could definitely save a dollar or two a day. However, if you choose to eat western, be prepared to more than double the budget!
Getting around the Philippines can be somewhat challenging! Both in terms of time and money. Not only are there so many islands, which require inter-island transportation, but also on a single island, there is usually no established/formalised public transportation system. And even when there is, getting from A to B will no doubt require you to navigate at least 3 separate legs of transport, very possibly in different modes of transport!
We only visited 9 islands (Busuanga, Palawan, Bohol, Panglao, Siquijor, Negros, Cebu, Mactan, Luzon) over our two months spent in the Philippines and considering how slowly we travelled, most people would easily have a similar total travel expense ($455) spent over a much shorter period of time, making it considerably more expensive once reflected as a daily cost. Even spread out over a 2 month period, our travel costs still came to $9 per day, which is relatively expensive if you compare it to most other Asian (and particularly Southeast Asian) Countries. Travelling between islands takes time and adds cost very quickly.
Flights: We were pleasantly surprised by the efficiency of flights in the Philippines. They have earned a bad reputation when it comes to flights arriving on time and yet we were lucky to have very timeous flights so no complaints there! We took the following three internal flights which are included in our travel expenses:
Manila, Luzon - Coron, Busuanga;
Puerto Princesca, Palawan - Mactan, Cebu;
Mactan, Cebu - Manila, Luzon.
Ferries: The cheapest way to get from one island to the next (provided that they are fairly adjacent) is by ferry. Busier ports will have numerous ferries per day and you can usually just buy your ticket at the ferry port. To be sure of a departure time, book your seat beforehand online with 12goAsia. We took the following five inter-island ferries:
Coron, Busuanga - El Nido, Palawan;
Cebu City, Cebu - Tagbilaran, Bohol;
Tagbilaran, Bohol - Siquijor Island;
Siquijor Island - Dumaguete, Negros;
Dumaguete, Negros - Liloan, Cebu.
Buses: While there are “Ceres Buses” on some of the bigger islands (Cebu, Bohol, Luzon), if you take the open window version like us (which is usually a little cheaper and more regular), then it can be a rather uncomfortable, hot and very bumpy bus ride with lots of stops along the way. There are a few air-conditioned buses which are likely a little more comfortable.
Air-Conditioned Mini-Vans: This is the favoured mode of transport for longer distances, particularly in Palawan. They are however very expensive in comparison to more local transportation and they can also become very full and uncomfortable if you don’t cough up for a private transfer (which is of course much more expensive).