Can’t imagine the Philippines? Picture turquoise bays of pinnacle islands fringed with soft coral sand, steaming volcanoes, stepped terraces of rice fields climbing steep mountain valleys. Along with its natural beauty, Asia’s Latin heart is garnished with glittering Catholic churches, vibrant carnival parades and chatty, welcoming locals. Visits don’t have to be resort-based. The cities have plenty of B&Bs at prices that would please even the most cash-strapped backpacker.
Boracay island is barely bigger than London’s Richmond Park, but it’s as close as the Philippines gets to Thailand’s Phuket or Koh Phi Phi. The Lazy Dog – one of the best B&Bs in the Philippines – sits in the heart of what amounts to the main town: a dense strip of backpacker hostels, bars and beachside resorts which stretches along Boracay’s principal beach. Rooms in rich primary colours, whitewash and raw wood feel laid-back Latin American. Palm-shaded white sand is right outside the lobby.
Rooms are a tad tired, and you won’t get the coral-island idyll you see in so many pictures. That’s further north up Palawan island, in El Nido. Yet the Casafuerte is a perfectly respectable option, 2km (1.24mi) from the beach, in the heart of Puerto Princesa. It’s ideal for budget travellers needing a place to stay before an early morning flight: the airport is a five-minute cab ride away.
It’s worth underlining the fact that Palawan’s best beaches and landscapes are in El Nido at the north end of the island – too far from Dang Maria for a day trip, unfortunately. But from here, the Puerto Princesa river makes for an easy excursion, running through dripping caverns next to the sea in Sabang. The beach (and airport for those connecting flights) are both a 10-minute drive away and the hotel has pleasant garden surrounds for last-day idling.
With hospital-white walls and floor tiles, the Orchid’s rooms might feel a little sterile for such a fecund destination, but big French windows bring the local beauty in, opening onto breakfast balconies overlooking a tranquil tropical garden through which butterflies flutter, with plenty of communal lounge space. There are simpler bamboo-walled cabins for those on a tighter budget, and Boracay’s main beach is an effortless stroll away.
With a diminutive blue pool, minimalist contemporary-colonial-style rooms, a decent restaurant and a tour fixer on site, the Amid is a good base – particularly if you need to be in Puerto Princesa rather than at a beach resort. The onsite Sabie Bakes turns out delicious cupcakes to go with your morning cappuccino, and the property comes with a modest stretch of sands a 20-minute walk away. The airport is a handy 10-minute drive.
Close to Puerto Princesa’s bars and restaurants, yet far enough away for a restful night’s sleep, the Uyang is a simple, reliable option that features triples and quadruples. Its functional, brown-tile and lime green rooms are in a peaceful tropical garden and come at backpacker prices. Air-conditioning and wifi are included – not always the case with a bargain base. And your taxi to the airport? No need – it’s within walking distance.
With views through lush tropical gardens and forest, across Itaytay Beach, and to a bay of tropical islands, the Beso is a fine example of backpacker glamping. There are doubles and dorms in canvas tents under palm-thatched roofs, all in easy reach of the beach. The Pamuayan Waterfalls and the Puerto Princesa river-caves are a half-hour drive away. The hotel can help organise scooter rental for self-guided rides around the rest of Palawan island.
Situated a little way beyond Puerto Princesa, on the main road to the waterfalls and river-caves, Blessie’s deals in cheap-and-cheerful ultra-budget stays in very basic bamboo huts – frankly, there’s barely space for a bed. There are no restaurants within the immediate vicinity, so unless you have your own scooter you’re restricted to the hostel’s over-priced kitchen. Still, staff are helpful and can organise trips throughout Palawan island.
This place lurks beside a busy road behind the ramshackle, stilt houses that line the inner shore of Mactan island in Cebu. Despite the unpromising setting, it has well-kept, minimalist hostel-style rooms with bunks, whitewashed walls, warm wood touches and workstations. Cooked breakfasts are generous, great breads included, but with no beaches nearby you’d only stay if on a real budget, and needing to be right by Mactan-Cebu International Airport.
The setting is pleasant: on a quiet street in the heart of Baguio town, in the mountainous interior of Luzon island. The rooms are simple but agreeable, with cream tones and wood veneer. Conveniently, the Mines View Park lookout is a 15-minute drive away. Catch it early in the morning, as the sun rises over seemingly endless folds of rippling hills. Welcoming staff can help organise hikes in the local hills and guides for the city’s celebrated February flower festival.
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