Travellers wait for their turn on the rope swing at Cambugahay Falls Itinerary

PHILIPPINES ITINERARY: 3 WEEKS OF SUN, SAND, AND SEA

A Philippines itinerary in just 3 weeks? It seems impossible. Even with 3 weeks, you’ll only see a fraction of what this surprisingly large archipelago has to offer. But what a 3-week trip it will be.

Plan your trip carefully and you’re in for a treat. And to some extent, you’ll need to plan it – the Philippines is made up of more than 7,000 islands, and traveling between them requires some thought. But more on that later.

Pulangbato falls and boulders around the water
Pulangbato Falls aren’t even the most impressive falls in Valencia

From picture-perfect beaches to thrilling rope swings, from backpacker parties to challenging mountain hikes, and from incredible underwater experiences to surfing paradise, we have a 3 weeks Philippines itinerary for you.

As well as telling you what not to miss, we’re going to tell you what to avoid. There’s a reason we didn’t go to Boracay or Oslob, and we’ll explain why.

When Should You Visit the Philippines?

Be careful when you plan your trip to the Philippines. The weather is unpredictable at best, but you probably don’t want to be visiting in July, August, or September. These are the wettest months for the whole country, and if there’s going to be a powerful typhoon, it’s going to be in these months.

Otherwise, the dry season runs from December through to April. We recommend visiting between December and February when temperatures are at their most bearable. March and April can get extremely hot, with temperatures regularly in the high 30s.

That being said, we still saw an awful lot of rain in our two months (January and February) in the Philippines. Sometimes, you’re just unlucky.

It’s also worth noting that the Philippines is a passionately Catholic country. Easter and Christmas are extremely busy and expensive times to travel.

Is the Philippines Budget-Friendly?

On paper, the Philippines is a budget-friendly place to visit. If you’re holidaying, you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the low cost of accommodation, tours, food, beer, and scuba diving.

However, the Philippines is still a very poor country. Many homes operate without simple commodities like refrigeration, and wi-fi is far from a given. Outside of Manila and Cebu, infrastructure is generally lacking.

Boats float on blue water near white sand
Apo Island, as well as being spoiled with sea life, is also beautiful

This means that the biggest expense during your time in the Philippines is likely to be travel itself. Flights and ferries quickly add up, and they can quickly add up to a significant sum.

So yes, relatively speaking, the Philippines is a budget-friendly place to visit. But if you’re coming from super-cheap destinations like Vietnam or Indonesia, then you’ll find the cost of accommodation and travel quite a bit higher here.

Expect to pay at least $12 for a hostel dorm, and similar for the shortest ferry journeys. If you stay for 3 weeks and travel between half a dozen islands, these factors significantly increase your travel expenses, along with your flights.

And, since you’ll almost always be on a small island, many of the goods you buy will have been imported. That comes at a cost.

How Do You Get Between So Many Islands?

We’ve already hinted at the lack of infrastructure – it doesn’t help when everything’s on an island! Ferries are your friend in the Philippines. Try to only hop on official ferries – there are still some unofficial bankas in operation, and we can say from experience that they are rough. Motion-sickness pills are a must.

Otherwise, outside of Luzon, you’ll benefit from internal flights with Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific, and even Air Asia. Manila, Cebu City, Bohol, Siargao, Dumaguete, and Davao City are all well linked with flights.

Two dogs sleep on the beach in the Philippines
Beach vibes and furry friends

A Quick Summary: 3 Weeks Philippines Itinerary

As we’ve already mentioned, there are more than 7,000 Filipino islands. When it comes to your trip, you’re going to have to choose just a few to focus on. How on earth are you supposed to do that?!

Well, first of all, give yourself as much time as possible. Secondly, use our itineraries to help!
The most popular islands are the easiest ones to get to: that goes without saying. There’s a reason they’re all so popular, and you certainly won’t regret visiting.

Palawan, Moalboal, Bohol – they’re all seriously attractive destinations for travellers. But don’t look down your nose at these busy islands. There are still quiet beaches and waterfalls that you can have all to yourself, with the bonus of the backpacker buzz and smoothie bowls with your single-origin coffee. It’s not all bad.

A tent on white sand with waves rolling in the background
We spent a night camping on Atilon Beach – maybe our favourite night on Busuanga

That being said, in our second 3 weeks Philippines itinerary, we’ve put together a collection of destinations that we think offer a little more than the usual backpacker circuit.

The golden rule in travel is that the harder it is to get to, the more likely it is to be worth your time and money. The Philippines is no different.

A girl swings from a hammock with blue sea in the background
We pretty much found paradise on Busuanga Island

You might even consider going seriously off the grid. The Batanes, Cuyo Island, and the Caramoan Islands are all incredible places with few other visitors. They’re places we can’t wait to visit next time round.

Rather than researching every single island and itinerary, we’ve done the hard work and put together the perfect 3 weeks Philippines itinerary for you. Whether you want to join the crowds or get off the grid, one of these 2 itineraries is sure to help you get that trip started.

Starting in Cebu: the Popular 3 Weeks Philippines Itinerary

When you touch down in the Philippines, you’ll land in either much-maligned Manila or skip-it-Cebu City (how’s our alliteration?). Without sounding harsh, get out as quickly as you can.

For this itinerary, we’re going to assume that you’re beginning from Cebu City. It’s much closer to some of the best destinations in the Philippines, and Cebu Island itself has heaps of awesome attractions.

We don’t recommend visiting Oslob. And, if you have time after these 4 days, then you won’t regret visiting either Bantayan Island or nearby Malapascua.

Cebu Island (Days 1-4)

Cebu City is grey, dirty, huge, and frankly, dire. Get on a bus to Moalboal where you can get over your jetlag in style and get ready for an adventure.

The most obvious attraction in Moalboal is the sardine run. This is one of the more unique attractions in the Philippines since it’s completely D.I.Y! Get to Panagsama Beach, swim around 30 metres offshore, and take it all in.

A girl snorkels close to the sardine run in Moalboal
Moalboal’s famous sardine run

Rent your snorkel equipment (a couple hundred pesos), or, if you’re not a confident swimmer, sign up for a boat tour. Thankfully, experiencing the sardine run is sustainable and ethical – unlike other underwater Cebu attractions.

Moalboal is also a fantastic scuba diving location. It’s got loads to offer and it’s a great place to base yourself while you explore the best of Cebu.

You’ve already seen pictures of the ludicrously blue water at Kawasan Falls – even if you don’t know it yet. The half-day trip canyoneering here ($25) is one of the most popular activities in all of the Philippines.

Kawasan falls and blue water beneath
Two hours of canyoning through blue waters like this

But there are lesser-visited waterfalls worth your time as well. Rent a scooter and check them out, along with hiking Osmena Peak. As always, Jackson Groves has written an incredible guide to the best waterfalls in the area, including Inambakan Falls, Cancalanog Falls, Cambais Falls, and more.

Oslob (Day 0)

We can’t tell you what to do and what not to do. We’re just some travel bloggers on the internet. But before you visit Oslob, do your research. We’ve chosen not to include it in our 3 weeks Philippines itinerary for a few important reasons.

This is the most famous place in the Philippines for “swimming with whale sharks.” From what we’ve heard (from those that actually did it), it’s rotten.

Crowds of people on boats prepare to dive with whale sharks
Good luck getting your selfie © @JackBoardCNA

You’ll be in the water with hundreds of other travellers, countless boats, and young whale sharks that are fed by the local fishermen. Imagine all of the worst of Instagram under water.

Marine conservationists are extremely concerned about the effect of feeding the whales, acknowledging that it has a long-term impact. Breeding patterns, migratory habits, and eating habits are all believed to be affected.

You can swim with the whale sharks in Donsol, but it’s not exactly perfect there either. The best place to dive with the whale sharks is Leyte since it’s completely ethical and sustainable.

If you really can’t imagine your trip without that shameless selfie, then go ahead. But please, please, please, ask around, do your research, and make sure that you’re taking the trip with a company that follows the rules and helps you keep your distance.

Whale sharks approach the water
The whale sharks are incredible animals, but they need to be protected

If everybody stopped visiting Oslob, several local businesses would collapse. And we don’t want that either. But ethical practice and stricter rules would make it a more sustainable model.

Siquijor (Days 5-7)

On a more pleasant note, the spooky island of Siquijor awaits! We loved Siquijor so much that we’ve written a dedicated itinerary just for the island itself. Beautiful beaches, exhilarating rope swings, and all sorts of sorcery await.

A man somersaults through the air at Cambugahay Falls
Arrive at Cambugahay Falls early, before everybody else does

Your ferry from Liloan will arrive into Siquijor Pier. If this is your first boat journey in the Philippines, then stock up on motion-sickness pills before you jump aboard. That $1 is the best $1 you’ll spend this year.

Base yourself out of San Juan, where you’ll have smoothie bowls, excellent coffee, and great food nearby. You couldn’t be closer to awesome beaches like Paliton Beach, scooter rental is easy, and who knows what to expect in wild in C-Zars every Friday night.

A couple rope swing into blue water, one of them let go too early
No mercy

You can’t miss Cambugahay Falls, Lugnason Falls will have your hairs on edge, and it’s just such a gorgeous island to travel around. Find out everything you need to know with our Siquijor Itinerary.

Orange skies as the sun sets on Paliton Beach
An incredible sunset from Paliton Beach
Bohol (Days 8-12)

Next up, get the ferry from Siquijor to Tagbilaran Terminal on nearby Bohol. From here, you’ve got two options. Cross the bridge to the central hub of Panglao Island, or explore the rest of what Bohol has to offer.

We brought in the new year with a bunch of friends on Alona Beach. We based ourselves there and rented scooters, visiting the tarsiers, the famous Chocolate Hills, and some great waterfalls along the way. There are also some really cool island-hopping trips, and there’s even scuba diving from Alona Beach.

Check out the day trip in our Bohol Itinerary, and find out how you can see all of these highlights without a guide.

Rounded green hills in Bohol. 3 Weeks Philippines Itinerary
The hills are pretty average, but you can’t visit Bohol without going to see them

When we return to Bohol, we won’t be visiting Panglao again. It’s a really fun place to party, and there’s a great atmosphere, but honestly, Alona Beach isn’t anything to write home about.

Especially not in comparison with Anda, Can-uba Beach, the North Sand Bar, or many of the other outrageous waterfalls Bohol is spoilt with. As always, we have plenty to visit next time. And you will too!

White sand and blue seas of Alona Beach, Bohol
Alona Beach certainly isn’t all bad, but there’s much much better on Bohol

Nonetheless, spend 4 nights exploring Bohol and topping up your tan before things get a bit livelier.

Siargao (Days 13-16)

Now we’re talking! Siargao is the hottest place in the Philippines right now. The secret is well and truly out, and the place is booming.

Blue waters of Siargao
Chill vibes on Siargao

It was off-season when we were in the Philippines, so time your visit carefully.

Siargao is full of palm trees, eerie caves, island hopping tours, pristine sands, sublime snorkelling, and most of all…surf. It’s notorious Cloud 9 made Siargao the surfing capital of the Philippines, and people jet in from all over the world to surf these renowned waves.

It truly is an island for everybody, and we advise you to get there now before it gets even bigger and busier. 3 nights isn’t nearly enough, but there’s still somewhere else to visit on our Philippines 3 week itinerary before you head home.

Palawan (Days 17-21)

And that’ll be Palawan. How could we leave Palawan out of an itinerary that focuses on the most popular places in the Philippines? We even wrote a specific itinerary for Palawan and Coron here.

Thankfully, there are regular flights between Siargao and Puerto Princesa.

A girl walks on a deserted paradise beach

You’re going to want to focus on the top half of Palawan Island itself. Honda Bay and the Underground River give you a reason to stick around in Puerto Princesa, but most people shuttle north.

Port Barton is ideal for those of you that want to sign-off your trip with a good book and some relaxation.

A girl sits on a hammock underneath a palm tree
Grab a fresh coconut and enjoy

There are still plenty of attractions nearby, including island hopping, scuba diving, and waterfalls, but the lazy feel of the place is so contagious that you’ll be equally content in your beachside hammock.

A little further north, El Nido is one of the most famous backpacker hotspots in all of Asia. There are happy hours, happening hostels, coral reefs, arguably the best island-hopping tours in the country, and everything in between.

A wave flows over white sands on Nacpan Beach
Nacpan beach is worth the hype

Nacpan Beach is unbelievably pretty. And there are plenty of equally gorgeous beaches nearby. No matter how many other travellers are visiting, you’ll still have your own slice of peace and quiet. Grab a flight to Cebu or Manila and aim for your next destination.

So that’s our 3 weeks Philippines itinerary that takes you to all of the most popular sights! Of course, skip Bohol to get more time in Siargao, and cut-down your time in Cebu if you like the look of Palawan.

Cut somewhere altogether if you prefer to travel slow. Whatever you do between these famous islands, you’re sure to have a blast.

Looking for something a little more adventurous? Don’t worry, that’s next.

Starting in Manila: the Adventurous 3 Weeks Philippines Itinerary

This time, we’re assuming that you touch down in hectic Manila. If you really want to, then you can entertain yourself for a day in the sprawling capital. We spent our time in Makatai and while it was a cool neighbourhood, we still believe there’s no reason to really hang around in Manila.

That being said, Luzon is perhaps the most overlooked island in the Philippines by backpackers. Scratch its surface before you hit up the smaller, more exotic islands further south.

Luzon (Days 1-5)

The most recognisable tourist attraction on Luzon is the Batad Rice Terraces. This impossible landscape has been labelled ‘the most beautiful rice terrace’ in the world. The unique architecture made it a UNESCO World Heritage Site as well.

A leisurely 3-hour walk allows you to explore a completely different side of the Philippines. Be sure to organise a homestay as well, for a truly authentic Filipino experience. The terraces are flooded in December, green in spring (May), and yellow in summertime (July).

There are phenomenal beaches in Pagupud, bizarre hanging coffins in Sagada, perfect breaks in Zambales and Baler, and scenic hikes around Pinatubo’s volcanic lakes. If you make a little time for Luzon, you certainly won’t be bored.

Negros & Apo Island (Days 6-12)

A direct flight from Manila will get you close to the action in Dumaguete. Spend a couple of days exploring the east coast of underrated Negros – almost nobody else does!

We already wrote all about the best attractions in Dumaguete, Valencia, and Bauin here. Go hiking, visit local markets, soak in natural hot springs, and explore one of our favourite waterfalls in the world: Casaroro Falls.

White water falls down Casaroro Falls
The mighty Casaroro Falls

Head to Apo Island next for the chance to snorkel with more turtles than you’ll believe. We recommend staying overnight and taking advantage of the mesmerising scuba diving – Mario is a living legend. If time’s short though, a day-trip from Bauin still works as well.

Two girls snorkel with a turtle in shallow water. 3 Weeks Philippines Itinerary
Everywhere you look, every breath you take, they’re there

If you can manage the time, then try to squeeze in a trip to Siquijor or even Camiguin Island. Both of these up-and-coming islands promise blue waters, white sands, and brilliant waterfalls.

Palm trees with hammocks on Sugar Beach
Sugar Beach was probably our favourite beach in the whole country

Next up, it’s sublime Sugar Beach! Why is nobody talking about this glorious stretch of sand?

The water’s perfect, the sand couldn’t be cleaner, the accommodation is dirt cheap, and all your worries will disappear in a few relaxing days of banana shakes and beach volleyball.

A couple walk on a beach with green trees in the background
Are we Insta-famous yet?

Then there are the sights near Sipalay too. Perth Resort and Tinagong Dagat can’t be ignored when they’re so close by.

Now you’ve got a long journey of buses and ferries ahead, but we promise it’s worth it.

Tablas, Romblon & Sibuyan (Days 13-17)

Forget insanely busy Boracay. We mean it. The president was so disgusted by the pollution and overflowing sewage when he last visited that he immediately ordered an island-wide clean-up.

It re-opened at the end of 2018 with much of the island still closed off, and businesses still being caught forging licenses to operate. These days, you won’t see water sports or drinking on the beach. And before you get on the ferry, you need to show confirmation of your accommodation. It seems like a very deliberate move to price-out backpackers and make the island more exclusive.

A sun sets over the sea on Binucot Beach. 3 Weeks Philippines Itinerary
This wasn’t even the best sunset we saw

Not to worry. There are even better Boracay’s just across the water!

Friends visited Boracay and regretted it, so we swerved it. Instead, we took refuge in the jaw dropping Tablas and Romblon. And you should too.

A girl stands next to a boat on Binucot Beach
Binucot Beach is gorgeous – and there’s nobody there!

Hire a scooter and explore surprisingly-large Tablas. Freedive into the Blue Hole, and experience sunset on Binucot Beach that will live long in the memory.

You won’t be able to stop yourself snapping pictures of Romblon’s Bon Bon Beach or Tiamban Beach. And if these islands have impressed you so far, just wait until you see Cresta de Gallo and sunrise from Mt. Guiting Guiting (G2) on Sibuyan Island.

Coron (Days 18-21)

Coron isn’t off the beaten path, so to speak…but you’ve enjoyed a little life off the grid so far. Time to hit up No Name Bar’s happy hour and unwind at the end of the trip.

palm trees hang over blue water and white sand
Coron’s Banana Beach

Coron is a sublime island with so many different things to do and see. We wrote all about it in both our Guide to Coron and our Busuanga Road Trip. Island hop from boisterous Coron Town, making sure to visit Siete Picados, Twin Lakes, and Banana Island.

Next, get on your scooter and loop the whole of Busuanga Island! Scuba dive down to intricate WW2 ships in Concepcion, eat the freshest seafood on Ocam Ocam Beach, and paddle next to dugongs in San Jose.

This 3 weeks Philippines itinerary is there to be played with. Tweak it to suit your trip, and get out there exploring.

Book Your Flights and Get Out There!

We’ve spoilt you with two Flipino itineraries! In 3 weeks, you’ll get to see the very best of the Philippines and some of its most incredible sights on any itinerary.

Cut certain islands short, combine them with other islands, or cut them out altogether! It’s your trip, and our itineraries are only the starting point.

Be sure to drop a comment below if you have any suggestions or recommendations based on the places you end up visiting.

Give us a follow on Instagram, and check out our Facebook page too. We really hope our 3 weeks Philippines itinerary helps, and can’t wait to hear all about your trip!

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