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Highlands and islands of the Philippines
Defined by smouldering volcanoes, white sandy beaches, and beautiful Spanish-Filipino architecture, the Philippines is a unique travel destination. Made up of over 7000 islands, there’s a beach to match any personality and plenty to keep the active traveller happy.
- Explore dozens of white sand beaches like El Nido and Palawan
- See Banaue’s rice terraces
- Enjoy an unbelievable 4WD ride across Crow Valley with it’s rocky rivers and ash fields
- Visit Ben Cab Museum to see its famous animist wood carvings
- Take a dip in Tappiyah waterfall
Begin your adventure in Manila, a sprawling and busy city. You’ll have a chance to explore the San Augustine Church, a UNESCO World Heritage side, take a ‘calesa,’ a horse drawn carriage, to Manila Cathedral, and visit Fort Santiago. You’ll explore the Chinese cemetery, and have the chance to do some bargain hunting in Quiapo, the oldest district of the city.
Visit Mount Pinatubo, an active volcano in the Cabusilan Mountains which after 600 years of inactivity erupted in 1991. Learn about the affects the eruption had on the Aetas, indigenous people who had lived there since the Spanish conquest.
Travel to Palawan in the south famous for beaches and gorgeous national parks. You’ll tour the city of Puerto Princesa, cruise down the Iwahigh River on three-person paddle boats through lush mangroves, and watch the fireflies light up and turn the evening from wonderful to magical. See the UNESCO World Heritage underground river, walk through the jungle to visit the Batak people perhaps the oldest inhabitants of the Philippines and tour the lagoons of El Nido by boat. End the trip on the Seven Commandos beach with an opportunity to snorkel and relax.
Discover for yourself the islands and highlands of the Philippines on this 16 day adventure. The landscape is lush and beautiful, the people are interesting and open, and the adventure is not to be missed. Enquire today.
Start Manila, a sprawling city with a unique mixture of the modern and historic. Keep an eye out for the ‘jeepney’s, these colourful and flamboyantly decorated vehicles originally made from jeeps left by the American troops after the war, are a great way to get around and experience the city as the locals do.
Manila city tour
Today we embark on a tour of one of the world’s great metropolises, Manila. We’ll visit the World Heritage listed San Augustine Church before climbing aboard a ‘calesa’, a horse drawn carriage still used as public transport, to the Manila Cathedral. After pausing at Fort Santiago we’ll continue to the famous Chinese Cemetery to learn about the various temples, memorials and halls that were designed for Chinese citizens during Spanish rule. We will then head to Quiapo, the oldest district of Manila often referred to as the underbelly of the city and is the place for bargain hunting. In the afternoon we visit Makati, the modern, cosmopolitan district of Manila known for being the financial centre of the Philippines with numerous galleries, shopping malls and restaurants. Visiting both the old and the new today highlights the diversity this eclectic city has to offer.
Mt Pinatubo; walk to the summit, view crater lake. Transfer to Baguio.
An early start this morning as we journey north for approximately 2-3 hours to reach the stop-off point for our visit to Mount Pinatubo. This active volcano, located in the Cabusilan Mountains, last erupted in 1991 after 600 years of deep slumber. It was previously obscured from sight and covered in dense forest which supported a population of several thousand indigenous people, the Aetas, who fled to the mountains during the Spanish conquest of the Philippines. We will board a 4×4 jeep and enjoy a thrilling drive across Crow Valley, a moon-like terrain, with vast ash fields and rocky rivers. We will walk the last section of the trail as we head up towards the summit. The walk is approximately an hour each way and although has no steep inclines; once at the crater summit we are rewarded with views of the crater lake and it’s deep turquoise colour. After lunch we will transfer for another 3 hours through the beautiful vistas and tiny villages of the Cordillera mountain range to Baguio City. Time-permitting we will visit the superb BenCab Museum which is famed for its animist wood carvings.
Drive to Banaue; witness spectacular views of the rice terraces
Today we journey to Banaue, a region famed for its 2000 year-old rice terraces. Built by the Ifugao tribes and stretching as far as the eye can see, the emerald green terraces were carved out by generations of traditional farmers and remain one of Asia’s most spectacular sights, often referred to as the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’. Our guesthouse this evening is perched on the edge of the small village of Banaue and the restaurant delivers spectacular views across the valley. The transfer today will take approximately 6 hours however there will be regular stops to allow us to absorb this striking mountainous terrain.
Day walk through terraces and traditional villages; swim option at Tappiyah Falls.
After a quick jeepney ride we arrive at the small village of Batad. Forming an amphitheatre, the rice terraces here are the most spectacular as the concentric circles that line the mountain-side frame the village in the middle of the valley. We will visit a traditional village where life has remained much the same for centuries and the bones of the villagers ancestors preserved and wrapped in colourful handwoven blankets can be seen. After a walk through the terraces we will visit the vast Tappiyah waterfall, an ideal spot for a refreshing swim for those keen.
Transfer to Pampanga; stay in the foothills of Mt. Arayat.
Making our way through Central Luzon towards Manila, we today journey for approximately seven hours towards Magalang, a small town located in the Pampanga province. There will be the option to explore the modern town of Angeles and visit the City Museum which tells of the story of the town’s involvement in the Philippine Revolution and World War Two. For those who would rather relax this afternoon the hotel swimming pool provides a great space to unwind.
Journey back to Manila; fly to Puerto Princesa, Palawan. Sunset river cruise to see the firefly spectacle.
We leave early today as we head straight to Manila airport to check in for our flight to the island of Palawan, the second leg of our Philippine adventure. Drastically different from the highlands of the north, Palawan is famed for its white sand beaches and spectacular National Parks. We will have a city tour of Puerto Princesa and then early evening drive to the Iwahig River, a clear wide river flanked by dense jungle on either side. We will meet our boat guide before boarding our three-person paddleboats for a cruise through the mangroves; learning about the jungle mangroves and how to sky navigate is all the more magical as we watch the spectacle of thousands of fireflies that cluster on their favoured fragrant mangrove trees.
Visit the UNESCO site of the 8.2km underground river and cave system.
Today we transfer to the famous World Heritage Site of Puerto Princesa underground river. This natural wonder features an 8.2km navigable river that winds through a spectacular cave before emptying into the South China Sea. ‘Cathedral’ chambers, cavernous caves and geological formations are viewed as we make our way through the river by boat. At the mouth of the cave ancient trees frame the clear lagoon and large monitor lizards are often seen along with many species of monkeys. It is a true biodiversity hotspot and a great place for tropical bird watching too. After lunch on the beach there will be the option to enjoy a mangrove paddle boat tour lead by the community to explore a deeper part of the forest. We will return to Puerto Princesa for our overnight stay.
Batak tribe trek; visit the tribal community and learn about their age-old traditions.
We journey today to the town of San Rafael, the jump-off point for visiting the Batak Community. A walk through the Palawan jungle takes us to the village of the Batak, believed to be the oldest inhabitants of the Philippines. The Batak still live largely as they have for centuries and are semi-nomadic hunters. They are believed to be the smallest tribe in stature and by numbers; the average Batak man stands at barely 5 feet tall and the population is now estimated at just 360 members. We will enjoy lunch with the Batak community and will have the opportunity to converse with the tribe through our leader. Tonight’s beachside guesthouse consists of cottage style bungalows set in a peaceful garden location in Barangay.
To El Nido, the gateway to the Bacuit Archipelago famous for its blue lagoons and towering limestone karst cliffs.
Right in the north western tip of Palawan is El Nido, one of the most picturesque and iconic places in the Philippines. Made up of hundreds of limestone islands said to have formed millions of years ago El Nido is a marine reserve with only a few islands inhabited. Our journey to El Nido town, the gateway to the Bacuit archipelago will take approximately 4-5 hours and upon arrival there will be time to explore the small town and pay a visit to the local market or small art galleries.
Boat trip to explore the secluded coves; swim in the aquamarine waters of the Sulu Sea.
We take a boat tour today of the lagoons and beaches of El Nido. The Big and Small Lagoon’s tranquil turquoise-green waters of its orchid-lined limestone walls, showcase a kaleidoscope of marine life. We will also visit the ‘Secret Lagoon’; surrounded by limestone karst cliffs this secluded lagoon is only witnessed by entering through a tiny crack in the cliff that was once a vast cave. The final destination is Seven Commandos Beach named after the seven remaining Japanese commandos who remained on the island after World War II. The island has a long white sandy beach lined with palm trees. There will be ample opportunity to snorkel throughout the day to explore the amazing underwater ecosystem consisting of over 100 types of coral.
Free day to relax in this tropical paradise.
Today is a full free day to further explore this dramatic coastline. Options available include hiring a bicycle to discover more of the coastline, a fishing tour to catch your own lunch, a kayaking tour of the archipelago or simply chose to relax in a hammock admiring the view from our beach-side hotel.
Transfer to airport; fly to Manila.
We spend the morning driving back to the south of Palawan to Peurto Princesa airport for our return flight to Manila. The journey will take approximately 6 hours and passes through lush greenery and agricultural land. Upon arrival we will transfer to our centrally located hotel in Manila. There will be a final optional group dinner at a local restaurant.
This is a small group guided holiday. The group is usually between 4 and 16 in size, with an average of 12 like-minded clients booking individually, in a couple or as friends together.
You are reasonably fit, enjoy the outdoors and are looking for some exercise. Some previous experience is preferable for activity based trips.
We use a mixture of hotels of varying standard. Most are ‘standard’ or ‘comfortable’ (3/4 star type hotels) but we do have 3 nights in ‘basic’ guesthouses, in Banaue and Barangay.
Vaccinations and Visa
No visa required for British passport holders. Citizens of most countries are allowed to enter the Philippines without a visa for a stay of up to 21 days, provided they hold a valid return ticket. There are no mandatory vaccination requirements. Recommended vaccinations are: Diphtheria, Yellow Fever. The risk of malaria is slight but you may wish to consult your GP or travel health clinic for further advice. Bilharzia is known to occur in some of the lakes or rivers visited on this itinerary, we therefore advise all to take advice from your guide or leader locally before venturing for a swim.
The Philippines is a huge country and whilst this tour focuses on the islands of North Luzon and Palawan there is still a considerable amount of ground to cover in just over 2 weeks. The itinerary is scheduled in such a way as to not feel too rushed and there are various activities scheduled every day. Most drives are reasonably short but there are, however, longer drives of between 5 and 7 hours. On the longer driving days the journeys will be broken up with regular stops and meal breaks and the leader will of course be discussing the landscape and highlights we pass through.
The walks through villages and rice paddies are not strenuous and accessible to everyone. We recommend that you should be comfortable walking for a couple of hours at a time with some undulations but there are no steep inclines.
When travelling in some areas of the country, service may not be as fast or reliable as you are used to in other countries and Filipino attitude towards certain things such as animal welfare and food may differ from your own. That said, if you come ready for an experience the country’s rewards will not fail to deliver.
Eating & drinking
Filipino food is an exotic, tasteful fusion of Chinese, Spanish and American with Malay culinary influences. There is a wide variety of fresh seafood available throughout. The national dish is adobo, which is either chicken or pork, or both, simmered in soy and vinegar with garlic and black pepper. Another delicacy is Lechon de leche; roasted suckling pig. Almost every dish is served with portions of plain steamed rice (kanin). Coconut, soy, vinegar and fish sauce are widely used to add flavour.
Western food will be available in some areas but cannot be guaranteed. Vegetarian food is available in the Philippines, however the concept of vegetarianism can be misunderstood so if you are a vegetarian please be clear and state that you don’t eat meat, chicken or fish.The best beer to try is San Miguel although a fresh coconut juice is a refreshing alternative. Locally made rum is called Tanduay rum and it is worth trying Tapuy, a very strong rice wine. Western food will be available in certain parts of the Philippines.
Weather & seasonality
The Philippines has a hot and humid tropical climate with a wet season from May to October and a dry season from November to April. The best time to visit is during the dry season when temperatures average 22 – 32ºC. January and February are the coolest months and good for travelling, while March and April warm up significantly with sunshine all day and temperatures reaching to highs of 36°C. December, January and February can get a little cold up in the mountains so we would suggest you bring a fleece or jumper to keep warm at this time.
Sun 06 Nov 16 – Sat 19 Nov 16: 2,199 GBP
Sun 15 Jan 17 – Sat 28 Jan 17: 2,389 GBP
Sun 12 Feb 17 – Sat 25 Feb 17: 2,389 GBP
Sun 12 Mar 17 – Sat 25 Mar 17: 2,389 GBP
Sun 12 Nov 17 – Sat 25 Nov 17: 2,389 GBP
Sun 03 Dec 17 – Sat 16 Dec 17: 2,389 GBP
Price: from 2,199 GBP (excluding flights. Flight inclusive options available please enquire for details)
- 13 breakfasts and 5 lunches
- All accommodation
- Airport transfers
- Travel insurance
- Single accommodation – from GBP 410 (availability on request)
- Airport transfers for Land Only bookings
If you’re looking for a company with experience in small group adventures you can’t beat these guys. This operator started life in February 1974 when two friends got together to provide an overland truck to travel to the Minaret of Jam, deep in the heart of the Hindu Kush, the most inaccessible of the world’s great monuments.
For the company, and people who work for them “it’s all about adventure” which is what they were founded on and what they are still about today. Their trips take place all around the world where they help travelers to delve into local traditions, cultures, cuisine, lifestyles – anything that contributes to a country’ unique identity.
We love that their groups and guides travel courteously and respectfully, in smaller groups to minimise the impact, to ensure that every holiday is a beneficial experience for everyone involved.
Highlands and islands of the Philippines
- Trip Code: AWA310
- Dates: Multiple
- Price: from 2,199 GBP
- Depart: Manila, Philippines
- Arrive: Manila, Philippines
- Length: 16 days
- Adventure: Discover emerald rice fields, smoldering volcanoes and colonial architecture in Philippines