Food-loving families, get set for an island-hopping culinary adventure like no other. The islands’ eclectic, zingy cuisine is currently being spoken of in reverential tones among foodie movers and shakers–Bizarre Foods presenter has been citing it as the next big foodie trend for years, and others are starting to cotton on. But while Zimmerman famously chowed down on all manner of gag-worthy grubs during his televised trip around the island, families on a foodie trip to the Philippines can rest safe in the knowledge that there’s much more to local dishes than the bird embryos of foodie legend.
A nation made up of over 7,000 impossibly scenic islands, visitors will find enormous variations in the style and substance of dishes as they travel around the Philippines, but one constant theme is the warm welcome extended to families–the local culture firmly embraces family dining, and children will be enthusiastically catered for, rather than stiffly tolerated, at the overwhelming majority of restaurants and cafes.
A relatively safe place for family travel, the Philippines offers such family-pleasing treats as endless soft sandy beaches, plentiful snorkeling opportunities, colorful theme parks, bright and beautiful flora and fauna, and an endless supply of delicious fresh fruits and vegetables (Parents may be interested to know that many of these are whizzed up into delicious and dangerously affordable cocktails).
The nature of the terrain means that a family trip to the Philippines will involved a fair bit of air travel, and visitors should brace themselves for a few bumpy prop plane rides, but puddle-jumping plane rides are neither expensive nor difficult to arrange. Follow our 30-day itinerary for a month-long break that will linger long in the memory as well as on the taste buds.
Tip: The December-April dry season is the best time of year for family travel to the Philippines. Visitors should note, however, that rates soar and rooms get booked up fast around the Christmas and Easter holidays.
Day 1-2 Manila
The busy, bustling capital of the Philippines, Manila is the starting point for adventures on the archipelago. With a skyline dominated by high rise malls and apartment blocks, the noisy, chaotic city sprawls across Luzon, the largest island on the archipelago. It’s no peaceful island paradise, and families will find more enticing adventures elsewhere. However, it’s worth taking a day or so to explore the Spanish-accented historic center, and to try some kid-pleasing treats from the many sidewalk stands (often manned by kids and their parents). For the equivalent of less than a dollar a pop, you can try all manner of weird and wonderful delights. Dodge the Balut, and the chicken feet and intestines on a stick (unless you’re feeling brave), and head for the banana-q (skewered banana covered in sugar and deep fried) or icecream stands. KwekKwek (quial eggs in a bright orange batter) is a good bet for a quick protein fix. You’ll find street stands on literally every corner, but there’s currently a bit of a buzz about those on the Kapitolyo food strip, in Pasig.
Tip: Watch kids’ eyes light up at the sight of Halo Halo – this legendary Manila street snack is a hot (well, actually cool…) mess of purple yam ice cream and shaved ice, topped with any number of sweet treats such as jelly beans, coconut, condensed milk, fresh or jellied fruit, and sometimes sago (tapioca balls). No two Halo Halo stands are alike, and families can have great fun hunting out their favorite. On average, you can expect to pay a little over $0.50 for a Halo Halo on the street.
Day 3-8 Boracay
After a couple of days in the city, it’s time to relax on the beach. And beaches don’t get much better than those of Boracay, so plan to stay at least five days here. There are no direct flights, so plan to fly to either Caticlan (the closest option) or Kalibo (60 km farther from the port but served by cheaper flights), followed by a taxi to the jetty port at Caticlan and a 20-minute boat ride across to Boracay. Expect to pay upwards of around $40 for a one-way trip.
Once on the island, get set for a few days of swimming, snorkeling and surf lessons, while tucking into super-fresh seafood at restaurants where you can dine with your feet (sometimes literally) in the sea. Mangoes, bananas and other kid-pleasing fruits grow in abundance here, and crop up in many street snacks (and are also used to make amazing cocktails at the many many Happy Hours… Juice shacks abound, and picky kids looking for something more familiar will find international fare such as tacos and pasta at Boracay’s modern Food Market at Station 2, where you’ll pay around $2-3 for a plate of food. The fish and seafood market at D’Talipapa, is a feast for the eyes, too, and kids will enjoy goggling at things even if they don’t want to eat them.
Day 9-15 Palawan
Just when you thought your family foodie break in the Philippines couldn’t get any more idyllic, you get to Palawan. Often cited among the best beach islands in the world, this ridiculously picturesque spot offers dolphin-watching, safari parks and other kid-pleasing attractions, but the real appeal will be the pristine waters, boat trips and beach adventures. Fly into Puerto Princesa (2 hr 50, flights from around $100 one way) and spend a day or two tucking into tropical fruit and fresh fish and seafood at simple waterfront restaurants (a main meal can be had for less than $5) (most hotels also serve pasta, pizza and other family favorites) before taking the bus to El Nido, where boat tours lead to hidden beaches, each of which is more beautiful than the next. Most trip operators include food-from fresh fruit to full BBQs-and drinkin the price.
Tip: Don’t miss Baker’s Hill in Puerto Princesa. Visitors can cycle (bikes are big in Palawan) up to the top of a hill where, you guessed it, several bakers sell their delicious wares. There’s a mini theme park, playground and strutting peacocks to up the fun factor even more.
Day 16-19: Cebu
It’s a flight of around 70 minutes (from around $60 one way pp) from Puerto Princesa, where waterfalls, tiny islands and excellent diving abound, and families visiting Cebu can find crowd-free beaches where coconut palms and fruit trees frame picture-perfect sands. Try trips to Bantayan or Malapascua islands for a true taste of paradise on your family trip to the Philippines. Cebu City itself has lots of international restaurants, some of which are on the pricey side, but for more authentic eats at better prices, check out local spots such as Kusina Uno, which specialises in giant portions of pochero (spicy, meaty stews with a big hunk of beef and bone marrow), where a $2-3 serving satisfies up to 4 hungry tummies.
? Box out: Not for the faint hearted, Cebu speciality Tuslob Buwa (rough translation ‘dip’ and ‘froth’ sees pork brain, liver, garlic and seasonings and served with rice wrapped in palm leaves. It’s surprisingly tasty, and very cheap at less than $1 a go from most street sellers.
Day 20-24 Bohol
Regular speedy ferries make the crossing from Cebu to similarly gorgeous Bohol, where the jungle-covered hills make a dramatic backdrop to the beaches, and a trip to Bohol with kids offers a chance to zipline through the trees, and marvel at tiny tarsier monkeys at a hugely popular sanctuary. The famous ‘Chocolate Hills’ are named for their brownish color at certain times of year rather than for anything edible, but a visit to the famous Bee Farm in Panglao (actually a separate island, accessible via bridge) should sugar the pill. This working honey farm sells dishes made from local organic fruit and vegetables, and visitors can see the bees doing their magic. The ice-creams, made with unusual tropical fruits and herbs such as malunggay (a medicinal tea leaf) are unforgettable.
Here is a more in-depth article about Bohol
Day 25-20 The Cordilleros
Time to bid the beaches bye bye and head for the mountains and rice terraces of the Cordilleros.Take a flight to Manilla (regular flights with local airlines make the 80-minute flight), then onwards by plane or car to the north of Luzon island. Families with kids in the Cordilleros won’t be doing too much climbing in the spiny peaks, but there are many foodie adventures to be had in this magnificent part of the Philippines. The rice terraces are often cited as the 8th Wonder of the World, and are designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. As one might expect, rice features in various forms, including kiddie-pleasing sweet ones such as Sinuman and Patupat rice cakes. Snails harvested from local creeks are among the more adventurous eats.
? Box out: If you happen to be here during the summer season, you’ll see ant eggs cropping up on the menu. Abuos are the eggs of large red ants, collected by poking holes in their treetop nests. They’re they fried with garlic, tomatoes and onions to make a famous local speciality much loved by the local Igarot tribespeople, and increasingly enjoyed by out of towners too.
Day 30 Back to Manila –
if you have a long wait for a flight, it’s worth checking out the impressive food courts at many shopping malls – and home to start dreaming of all those delicious foods you’ve just eaten.
For recommended family friendly hotels click here.