Travel on a Shoestring: The Philippines and Beyond

We love travel and adventure. We also like to keep our expenses down (who doesn’t anyway) so we often travel on a shoestring. But while budget travel, especially in the Philippines, has been and will always be popular, adventure travel involving exploration of remote, exotic and even possibly dangerous destinations is rapidly becoming popular as well. The Philippines and the rest of Asia are not wanting in terms of adventure travel destinations – as we have discovered in our trips to these places.

Not all of the tourist attractions featured here are recommendable for budget travel. However, there are some places worth the visit even if one has to shell out a little more cash. We got to visit the non-Philippine destinations here if only for the nature of our previous work but we thought we’d share our adventures in these places as well. So join us as we feature different tourist attractions in the Philippines and beyond, travel culinary adventures, some travel tips and various reflections on our encounters with nature and different cultures.

Baguio: Old Charm, New Delights

the Baguio City Cathedral

In our younger years Baguio City was the prime tourist destination for us with its pine forests and colorful flowers, charming green and white wooden structures, cool mountain air and relaxed pace. However, despite the disastrous 1990 earthquake, Baguio's urban development has speeded up in later years and when we lived and worked there briefly from 1998 to 2004 it was not the laid back mountain retreat we had known it to be. Go to Sagada was the advice we would hear from people who miss the Baguio of old (and visit Sagada we ultimately did).

Daranak Falls

Daranak Falls in Tanay, Rizal

Eons ago, Hinulugang Taktak in Antipolo, Rizal was the one waterfall we knew that was closest to the Manila metropolis. As kids we would always look forward to our visit to the Antipolo cathedral, the cashew stores and to Hinulugang Taktak, spurned on to swim in its waters by the famous local song about those falls. In the years that followed unfortunately, Hinulugang Taktak has been transformed into something closer to a cesspool, its waters polluted and filled with thrash; not so surprising since the falls are fed by a stream that runs through a densely populated municipality. Our fascination with waterfalls in Rizal province would have ended there until we discovered Palo Alto Falls in Baras and another one in Tanay that we've heard about long before but never got to visit until very recently: Daranak Falls.

Palo Alto: Waterfalls at Our Backdoor

mini cascades on the stream inside Palo Alto Leisure and Residential Estates, Baras

There's never a shortage of natural attractions that one can chill in within two to three hours from the Manila metropolis. Laguna with its waterfalls at Kalayaan, Los Baños, Nagcarlan and Majayjay (not to mention Pagsanjan and Siniloan) has always been on our travel radar for some time now. But just recently we realized we didn't even have to travel that far. There are waterfalls in Baras and Tanay, both in Rizal province, which are located even closer to Metro Manila.

Island Hopping, Guimaras

islets near SEAFDEC's Igang Marine Station in Guimaras

We had barely left the creamy white sand beach of Alubihod when we noticed that something was not quite right with our rented motorized outrigger. It was a fine Monday morning when we left Raymen's Beach Resort for our island-hopping trip, the sun was up and the waters of the Panay Gulf unusually calm during this time of the year. And yet our boat, even while equipped with a new engine, was plodding along at the majestic pace of 5 kilometers per hour. Worried, we asked our two boatmen if there was any problem. They replied that this was usually the case with the new engines but assured us that all was well.

Guimaras: Mangoes and Alubihod Beach

Alubihod Beach and Alobijod Cove resort, Nueva Valencia, Guimaras

Mention Guimaras to any Filipino and the first thing that comes to his or her mind is: MANGOES! But while this island province may be famous for its sweet fruit, it also boasts several unspoiled white sand beaches, beautiful islets and marine sanctuaries. On a recent trip to Iloilo for a working conference we decided to set aside 2 days and 1 night for a side trip to Guimaras. In little more than an hour after arriving at the wharf in downtown Iloilo City, we were already resting inside a room at a beach resort in Nueva Valenca town, Guimaras. It was that near. No wonder this island is such a popular side trip for visitors in Iloilo City.

Nagcarlan: Waterfalls, Cemeteries and Cold Springs

Bunga Falls and Underground Cemetery, Nagcarlan, Laguna

We've been here a few times before but it wasn't until our latest visit that we realized why this Laguna town had become a tourist destination. Besides a few attractions such as Bunga Falls and the Underground Cemetery the town has a relatively cool climate and is surrounded with plenty of lush greenery. It's an upland town located at the foot of and even including sizable portions of Mt. San Cristobal and Mt. Banahaw, both peaks providing a beautiful backdrop for the town.

Liliw: The Tsinelas Capital, A Red Church and Some Good Eats

the St. John the Baptist Church and shoes on display at a store in Liliw

In our younger years we've always associated the town of Liliw in Laguna with its cold springs called batis in the Tagalog dialect. It's the town in the region that you visit if you want a cool dip in a mountain spring during the hot summer months. In recent years however, Liliw's claim to fame has shifted. While the cool mountain springs are still there, Liliw is now widely regarded as the "tsinelas capital" of the country for its footwear-making industry. And the town has many more to offer to the unsuspecting traveler as we would discover in our visits to this place.

Mayon Volcano – At Long Last

view of Mayon Volcano in Cagsawa, Daraga Albay with ripened rice stalks in the foreground

As our plane was swooping in to land at Legazpi's airport we were straining our necks, trying to catch a good view of the volcano we had been seeing for decades on postcards, on travel books and even on grade school social science text books. Alas a band of clouds hid most of the upper half of Mayon – a sight that would not change as we walked away from our parked plane towards the airport terminal. It would remain that way even as we left Legazpi City that same day for the port town of Matnog, Sorsogon and its beaches.

Subic Beach: Sorsogon’s Pink Sand Wonder

the larger of the Subic Beaches, Matnog, Sorsogon

Matnog, the southernmost municipality of Luzon Island, was once described as a place where "you get a boat to go somewhere else." While it's true that this town is the jump-off point for ferries headed to Northern Samar and the rest of the Eastern Visayas, people are finding out that there is so much more to Matnog than just the gateway port it has always been. Case in point: the pink sand islands of Tikling and Calintaan and the Juag Lagoon marine sanctuary.

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Matukad Island, Caramoan
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entrance to Kayangan Lake, Coron, Palawan
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