Figuring out how much to budget for two weeks in the Philippines was unexpectedly tough. As a popular backpackers destination in Asia, visions that spring to mind involve 50p noodles at the side of a road, scooters zooming through the streets to reach a hidden waterfall and long, long journeys between cities. And while that’s definitely possible, it’s also more expensive to travel than many of the surrounding countries.
As a group of over 3,000 islands, getting around in the Philippines is harder than mainland South East Asia where frequent and cheap buses shuttle thousands of tourists between cities each day. Ferry and plane are your main methods of getting between islands; the former cheap but notoriously slow while the latter is far quicker, but also far more expensive with a greater environmental impact that shouldn’t be brushed over.
In short: it’s possible to budget for two weeks in the Philippines – thousands of backpackers do it each year – but my experience unexpectedly turned out to be very different.
How my travel style affected my budget in the Philippines
As you browse Wander with Laura, you’ll find plenty of budgeting posts that come from years of travelling on a shoestring but this trip was more flush than any I’ll be able to afford for a long time. Last year, I was lucky enough to win a blogger award with the unbelievable prize of…well, a trip of a lifetime!
If I had all the time in the world, I’d have taken that prize fund and stretched it out to cover months in the incredible archipelago but as us travel lovers know, annual leave is always in woefully short supply. My trip was condensed into a two week whistlestop tour of some Filipino hotspots I’ve been lusting after for years and when you travel faster, the amount of money you spend can rocket.
So, if you’re a budget backpacker you may not be able to plan the entire cost of your trip around this blog post. But I hope that for all types of traveller, whether your purse strings are tight or loose, you’ll get an idea of what things cost in the Philippines – from tours and transport to food and those extras that can really add up.
Costs listed below are for two people so to find the cost for a solo backpacker, divide them by two or check out my round up at the end. The exchange rate at my time of travel was around 66 PHP (Philippine Piso): 1 GBP.
Transport – 10,940 Pisos or £165.76 (plus internal flights)
As I mentioned in my introduction, travelling the Philippines generally involves booking a number of internal flights which can bump the cost of transport up significantly. While the figure above is everything we spent while we were actually in the Philippines, we did book our internal flights in advance at an additional cost of…deep breath…£427…each. Eek. Arguably worth it to visit some of the smallest, cutest airports I’ve ever seen, this broke down into:
Manila – Boracay (Caticlan): there are two airports you can use to access Boracay, Caticlan and Kalibo. As the journey was directly following our international flights, we decided it was worth the extra money for the ability to transfer to Boracay in around 30 minutes, compared to the two hour journey from Kalibo but budget travellers may want to compare prices for both airports.
Boracay (Caticlan) – El Nido: most travellers will fly into Puerto Princesa in Palawan, then take a six hour van transfer to El Nido and if I had a tight budget, this would be the journey I’d take. However, on this trip we were lucky enough to be able to fly directly into El Nido with Airswift which was a delightful experience if I do say so.
El Nido – Cebu: after El Nido, our next stop was Bohol so we flew into Cebu with Airswift before catching a ferry across to Panglao island.
Cebu – Legazpi: the final stop of our trip was far less touristy than our other stops but it was worth every second of the journey. Travelling to Donsol for a more ethical whale shark experience is becoming more and more popular but the fastest way to get there remains a flight to Legazpi airport, followed by a two hour van transfer to the town itself.
Legazpi – Manila: arguably my least favourite flight of the lot, this was us leaving to fly home!
If you need to fly a lot, it’s always worth trying to minimise your impact on the planet. I talk about offsetting the carbon emissions from my trip to the Philippines in my February sustainability challenge.
Similarly to the internal flight situation, our fairly busy schedule had us choosing speed and convenience over budget on a couple of occasions. However, my backpackers eye stayed watchful as paying way over the odds for something just doesn’t come naturally after six months travelling on a shoestring. While I won’t go through everything we spent, here’s an idea of what you can expect to pay for some of the most common journeys travellers in the Philippines will do.
Getting to and from Boracay: 300 – 700 Pisos (£4.55 – £10.61) per person
After a 4am alarm, three flights and barely two hours sleep sat upright in economy, it’s no surprise that we paid over the odds for convenience on our way to Boracay. Knowing we weren’t functioning enough to negotiate ourselves a good fare, we blearily booked our transfer at one of the offices in Caticlan airport. This gave us a bus transfer to the jetty, our boat to Boracay and another bus to our accommodation for the sum of 1,400 Pisos for two.
Budget travellers will want to swerve this option as our return journey (where we arranged a tricycle and our boat transfers ourselves) cost 600 Pisos – under half the price!
Ferry from Cebu to Tagbilaran, Bohol: 500 – 600 Pisos (£7.58 – £9.09) per person
If you’re headed to Bohol (and I would highly recommend it!), the ferry is super easy to navigate. The price above is for a journey in the air conditioned part of the boat and I’d really recommend it as the cost to upgrade is minimal. When you’re stuck inside with a load of people for two hours, unable to open a window, this will make a big difference to the comfort of your journey.
We paid for our ferry tickets at the office outside the terminal on both occasions but be aware that this doesn’t include a ‘luggage fee’ of just over 100 Pisos per bag. To this day, I still don’t know whether this is legit or a scam but it’s something to bear in mind. Bohol ferry port also charge a terminal fee of 20 Pisos per person.
Van from Tagbilaran to Alona Beach, Panglao or vice versa: 600 Pisos (£9.09) per car
Find people to share with on the ferry and you could bring the cost down.
Vans from Legazpi to Donsol or vice versa: 125 – 2,000 Pisos (£1.89 – £30.30) per car
When travelling in the Philippines, you’ll usually find that there’s a super cheap but lengthy way of getting somewhere and a fast but pricey route. If you’re on a budget and/or travelling with a group, I’d recommend taking a tricycle to Legazpi terminal where you can catch a van to Donsol. This is a super cheap way of reaching Donsol as you’ll pay as little as 125 Pisos per person but you may be hanging around for a while waiting for the van to fill up.
We knew that our flight arrived late afternoon, around an hour before sunset, so rather than risk being stuck in Legazpi for the night, we booked a 2,000 Piso car transfer with our hotel in Donsol. Obviously, the more people you’re travelling with, the less this will cost per person!
As for any other transport costs, we only really took taxis or tricycles when we were in transit. Walking is my absolute favourite way to see a city, not only because it’s more sustainable but also because you often spot things you might have missed otherwise.
Food – 20,086 Pisos or £304.33
One of my favourite things about travel is eating out more often. While there’s a little voice in the back of my mind telling me that a delicious home-cooked meal would probably be lovely too, I just want to get out there and try everything. In all honesty, this was a little harder as a vegetarian in the Philippines. I’m planning to write up a full blog post on this soon but of all the countries I’ve visited in Asia so far, the Philippines is definitely the least vegetarian friendly.
While this definitely didn’t stop me from indulging, it did mean that I often had to steer away from the more local joints that boasted delicacies such as lechon, a roasted pig dish that Anthony Bourdain claimed ‘the best in the world’ in Cebu. Instead, I ate a lot more Western food than I usually would while travelling for the sake of ease, which also accounts our higher than expected meal costs:
Average lunch for two people, including drinks: 618 Pisos (£9.46)
Average dinner for two people, including drinks: 927 Pisos (14.04)
Average snacks for two (ice cream or in transit): 246 Pisos (£3.74)
Average price of a cocktail: 150 Pisos (£2.27)
Average daily cost per person: 1,434 Pisos or £21.74
Activities – 24,549 Pisos or £372.26
There are so many incredible things to do and see in the Philippines that it’d be possible to spend months there and barely scratch the surface. From hidden streets in sprawling cities to tiny islands with sand that almost glows in the sunlight, spending time here can cost as much or as little as you’d like.
Speaking from experience, there are a couple of things I’d have done slightly differently with a bit more local knowledge but overall, I had a list of things that I really wanted to do across the two weeks and I think we balanced our full days out nicely with some more relaxing things too. Let’s dive into a breakdown of what exactly we decided to do and how much you can expect to pay for some of the most popular things to do in the Philippines.
El Nido Island Hopping Tour A: 2,400 Pisos (£36.36) for two people
Full disclosure: while we’d originally factored this tour into our travel budget, it ended up being gifted as part of my work with the El Nido Tourist Office – check out my blog post about sustainable tourism in El Nido to find out more.
You’ll find these tours everywhere in El Nido and the price is generally consistent throughout, including four – five stops and lunch. The locations we stopped at were so stunning that I can’t bring myself to say that it wasn’t worth it but what made me sad was the hordes of people being shuttled from one beach or snorkelling spot to the next. Secret Beach and Secret Lagoon definitely aren’t so secret in 2019 but that being said, if you’re on a budget it’s hard to avoid them. My advice for budget travellers would be to group together with some other travellers from your hostel and pay for a private boat to stop exactly where you’d like. This way, you can decide to leave before the organised tours and have a more personalised experience in all the places that you genuinely want to visit.
Private tour of Bohol: 3,700 Pisos (£45.52) for two people
After our tour of El Nido left us feeling utterly enthralled by the magical lagoons, but a little flattened by the generic feel of the A, B, C, D tour style, we decided to do things a little differently in Bohol.
The classic full day tours of Bohol are available for around 400 – 500 Pisos (£6 – £7.58) per person, including about 10 stops but we’d chatted to a few different travellers one day and all of them sounded pretty disappointed with their experience. Combined with our time in El Nido, this cemented our decision to splash out on a private driver for the day at 2,500 Pisos (£37.88). We also paid the entrances to all the attractions separately, which I’ll break down in my dedicated post all about exploring Bohol that’s coming soon.
We loved every second of the tour: our driver Arnel was the kindest man, chatting to us for hours as we drove between attractions and taking endless photos of us whenever we asked. We drove past his mum walking down the road, explored the cave close to his house and he told us about how devastating it was to experience the earthquake that flattened many houses in Bohol back in 2013. Hearing him speak about how he started running down the road to get back to his family brought tears to both of our eyes, and writing about it now is having a similar effect. It was a real personal experience that we just wouldn’t have got from a coach tour and I know that I’ll never forget him.
If you’re planning to visit Bohol and want to take a private tour, I’ve kept a copy of his card especially to recommend Arnel so please contact me and I’ll happily pass along his contact details!
Beginners dive in Panglao, Bohol: 5,100 (£77.27) for one (and a half) people
“One and a half?” I hear you ask. I’d wanted to scuba dive for years and this was the perfect place for my first time. But I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t even make it out of the practise swimming pool. Maybe I’ll write more about this further down the line but for now I’ll just say that it was way tougher than I expected.
However, for those of you who do want to dive in Bohol, I’d highly recommend Bohol Fun Divers. They’re a PADI five star centre with brilliant instructors who are kind, patient and highly experienced. You can get a beginners dive (where a session lasts about three hours including the introduction session and a 20 – 30 minute dive) for about 3,700 per person.
Moalboal and Kawasan Falls trip from Cebu: 8,399 (£127.26) for two people
I was absolutely desperate to see both the sardine run in Moalboal and the Kawasan Falls so when we headed back to Cebu after Bohol, I scoured the internet to find one of the very few tours that would take us from the city. The journey is around three hours each way so while it’s possible, it’s definitely not the most efficient way of doing it – something I didn’t realise when planning the trip. We still had an amazing day though!
If you’re on a budget, or simply don’t want to wake up in the middle of the night for a day trip, you’ll want to actually stay in Moalboal. This will save you a ton of money and you’ll also get to explore some of the area’s hidden gems by staying for longer. If you do need to take a tour from Cebu, here are some great options:
Private whale shark tour: 6,000 Pisos (£90.91) for two people
While we didn’t actually intend to book a private whale shark tour in Donsol, it turned out to be the best thing possible. While Donsol is well-known for being a more ethical destination in which to spot whale sharks, I’d be aware that regulations stating ‘no more than six people to a whale shark’ aren’t followed in the slightest on the daily snorkelling tours. When we got caught up in this a few times, we asked our captain to head off in a different direction entirely to try and seek out another of the majestic creatures away from the crowds.
Read my blog post about snorkelling with whale sharks in Donsol.
For budget travellers who are really concerned with making the most ethical choice, I’d again urge you to group together with some similarly-minded people if possible to hire out your own boat. We booked online through Donsol Eco Tours.
Firefly tour: 2,000 Pisos (£30.30) for two people
A firefly river tour was such a magical way to end our adventures through the Philippines. Floating down the river in complete darkness, we quickly realised that the stargazing is just as incredible as spotting the many fireflies hovering in the trees. Our guide was also fascinating with amazing English and tons of really cool facts about fireflies and different environmental initiatives taking place in the Philippines. I’d highly recommend this tour for one of your evenings in Bohol! Again, we booked through Donsol Eco Tours.
Other – 1,710 Pisos or £25.91
Looking back, my smattering of extras were all pretty meaningful. There’s the bamboo straw I bought in a bid to leave behind plastic and the shampoo / conditioner bars I’ve fallen in love with from Bohol Bee Farm.
I bought some presents for my lovely colleagues, grabbed a notebook from the most lovely stall owner in Cebu’s Ayala Mall and treated myself to a hairband from one of those weird and wonderful Korean shops full of treasures. And finally, I spent less than £1 on some packs of Indomie Mi Goreng noodles that reminded me of many many backpacking meals in guesthouses across Asia.
A note on accommodation
In my previous budget travel round ups, I’ve covered the costs of accommodation pretty comprehensively but I’ve chosen to leave it out of my Philippines travel budget. Again as I was lucky enough to have this prize money to spend on my trip alone, I was able to go pretty crazy with hotels compared to my usual travel budget.
To give you an idea, when I was backpacking in Vietnam our guesthouse rooms averaged around £8.50 per night. Our travel budget in Cambodia was even cheaper at just under £6 per night. If you’re on a Western budget, these are pretty insane prices so I’m able to see the immense contrast when I say that our hotels in the Philippines averaged at just over £100 per night. This cost was bumped up considerably by one absolutely unforgettable night at Miniloc Island Resort (read my Miniloc Island review here) that was eye-wateringly expensive but if I had a lottery win, I’d go back in a heartbeat.
However, if you are a budget traveller, don’t panic. The Philippines has great budget accommodation options absolutely everywhere so you could bag a room for £8-15 per night. When searching for places to stay, I check prices on a few different websites but virtually always find my best deals on Booking.com.
If you’re still reading, congratulations – it’s a whopper of an article but I wanted to pass on as much information as possible to help you plan your trip to the Philippines to the best of your ability. While it’s more pricey than travelling through mainland South East Asia for sure, its natural beauty makes it worth every penny.
As my travel philosophy has changed over the last few years, I’ve become more inclined to pay more when I know that I’ll be getting a more ethical experience and I’d urge you to do the same. While greenwashing is common and I’d always recommend checking out the tour operator or accommodation’s credentials before booking, giving our money to those trying to make travel a more sustainable place has got to be a good thing.
So now, the big reveal. During my two weeks in the Philippines, our spends totted up to:
Total spent (without accommodation and internal flights): 57,285 or £867.95
Average daily cost per person = 2,046 Pisos or £31
If you’re planning a trip to the Philippines, I hope this article has helped you to figure out your budget. I’d actually love to hear your experiences too – particularly if you’re a backpacker – so get in touch and let me know how you found travelling in the Philippines. Until next time!