An extended trip to the Philippines is never going to be your traditional family vacation. The topography–islands, islands, islands as far as the eye can see–means that any itinerary will involve a different type of planning than most family trips. Those who get their head around the logistics of family nature breaks in the Philippines will be richly rewarded for their efforts, though: As well as gorgeous beaches and uninhabited islands, the archipelago offers everything from mysterious mountain towns to some of the most spectacular beaches on the planet.
There’s a lot to pack in, but our 30-day itinerary for a nature-packed trip to the Philippines with kids allows plenty of time for R&R as well as action-packed adventures, and can be adapted to suit everybody from toddlers to teens.
Day 1-5 Cebu and surrounds
Many international visitors heading to the Philippines with kids fly straight to the capital, Manila. It’s not the best place to touch down though, and here’s why: Manila’s a traffic-choked, noisy and cramped city, and can be too much too soon for younger family members. For a gentler introduction to the Filipino pace of life, fly into Cebu, and use it as a base for exploring the islands. With some good value places to stay, eat and drink, it’s worth spending a day or so in the Philippines’ laid-back second city (it’s also the oldest, and as such has plenty of historic attractions), but the real draws for nature-loving families in Cebu lie outside the city proper, in the coral reefs and white sand beaches of nearby Mactan and Oslob (whale watching is an option here, but does raise a few ethical issues and families may want to think twice before signing up).
here is our favorite, family feindly hotel in cebu.
?Boxout: Surfing in Siargao
The Philippines rarely gets a mention as a top surfing destination, but the island of Siargao, some 400km from Cebu (one daily flight, with Cebu Pacific prices from around $100 pp if booked in advance) is beginning to make headlines for its world class waves. There are lessons for everybody from experienced surfers to absolute beginners, and what kid wouldn’t want to return from their break to the Philippines boasting that they’ve learned to ride the waves? If you want to see some stellar surfers at play in this still under-the-radar destination (for now) this is your chance.
Day 7-12 Bohol
Boats leave Cebu’s port for the gorgeous island of Bohol, and it’s well worth setting up camp here (possibly literally–should you feel like sleeping under the stars, there are some good family campsites here as well as guest houses and hotels) for at least five or six days in order to make the most of the magnificent natural attractions. Landing at Tagbilaran, the island’s colorful capital, you’ll be well placed for treks through the Chocolate Hills (maybe pre-warn younger kids that these perfectly-round humps are named for their brown hue, and are not actually edible hills!) and boat trips (or kayaking) along the Abatan River, as well as zip-lining through the jungle canopy and other high-energy kid-pleasing pursuits.
? Box Out: Tiny Tarsiers: No nature-based family trip to Bohol is complete without checking out the teeny Tarsier monkeys at the dedicated sanctuary here (Tarsier Sanctuary Rd, Corella). These titchy, tree-inhabiting primates are endemic to the Philippines, Indonesia and Malaysia, and for a few dollars entry visitors can watch them napping in their natural habitat (they’re nocturnal animals, so don’t expect to catch them up and about).
Day 13-16 Boracay
You’ll need to head back to Cebu for the next leg of your trip, up to the northern islands around Boracay. Inexpensive flights (from around $40 pp) leave Cebu for Boracay’s airport at Caticlan and the journey takes less than an hour. Once here, families can check out the famous (and aptly-named) White Beach, try windsurfing or kite surfing at the Bulabog Beach, or goggle at colorful sea creatures on a snorkeling (or scuba diving, there are several PADI schools here) adventure around the coral reefs.
Day 17-22 El Nido, Palawan
While there’s plenty to do on Boracay it’s a little too popular with partiers for some families’ tastes, so nature-loving families are likely to appreciate the more under-the-radar vibe at El Nido.
As of 2017 there are direct 45-minute flights between Boracay and Palawan islands, and while El Nido town itself is a little underwhelming, there is enormous joy to be had in exploring the 40-plus small islands that surround it. Here are pristine dive spots, mangrove rivers, caverns and caves, and an awful lot more elbow room on the picture-perfect beaches than you’ll find at more celebrated spots.
? Box out: A Giant Adventure Playground
The island of Palawan has been the subject of something of a buzz in the international travel press of late, but El Nido remains largely off the beaten tourist trail. It’s unspoilt beaches are like a giant adventure playground for kids, and prices are still among the cheapest in the area. From a base at Coron Coron or Orange Pearl beach (interconnected and dazzlingly beautiful strands) visitors can take to the waters on paddle board or kayak, or for more leisurely days, jump aboard a beach hopping cruise. Backed by enormous rocky mountains and with monkey-filled jungle spilling right down to the town it’s a wild adventure that will linger long in the memory.
Day 23-25: Manilla
Ok, after some serious chilling on the beaches, families in the Philippines should be ready for the sensory assault that is Manilla. There are direct flights to the capital from El Nido, with AirSwift making the 70-minute journey (prices from $100 pp) around five times per day.
This smog-filled city isn’t the ideal spot for families looking to explore wild nature, so spend just a day or two exploring the scenic Old Town, with a side trip to the wonderful volcanic hot springs Hidden Valley Springs Resort. The naturally heated pools sit amid tropical jungle, and are an easy day trip from Manila (around one hour’s drive) at idden Valley Springs Resort. Take in the natural beauty and lush vegetation of this tropical region. Explore the resort’s massive crater, believed to have been formed by a violent volcanic upheaval thousands of years ago. Take a refreshing dip in one of the naturally heated, volcanic water pools. Visitors can stay overnight at the resort, or head back to the big city.
Day 26-30 North of Manilla
North of the capital, Luzon Island (the Philippines’ largest) the big city gives way to pristine nature, and families can board overnight buses up to the beautiful Mountain Province of Benguet, where treks through centuries’ old rice terraces at Banaue offer magnificent views and the freshest of fresh air, as well as the impressive Tapia Falls where the mighty rush of water feeds into freshwater pools that make for incredibly refreshing dips – bring your swimwear.. Sagada, a beautiful mountain town, is a kid-pleaser thanks to its famous hanging coffins, creepy caves, natural swimming pools and the chance to mingle with the Igarot tribes people that inhabit the region.
? Boxout: The Hanging Coffins of Sagada
For some 2,000 years, the Igarot people have been burying their dead in coffins that are tied or nailed to the sides of cliffs. The bodies are placed in the foetal position, wrapped in blankets and carried in a procession to the burial place, resulting in an unusual tourist attraction that will thrill kids with a taste for the macabre.
Day 30-Manila, and home
Take another overnight bus back to Manila, where you might want to overnight, take a direct flight home, or take a connection back to the starting point at Cebu.
Here is another route for families going to the Philippines.