Stunning white-sand beaches, clear turquoise ocean, fascinating nature and the friendliest local people you’ll ever meet—the Philippines really was a special place to backpack through.
How is the Philippines for digital nomads? I guess, that depends on where you go.
In comparison to my travel experiences as a digital nomad in Thailand, some of the places in the Philippines are quiet and relatively untouched by tourism.
After spending a few hours researching online, it became apparent there could be some challenges when it came to finding reliable internet access. It seemed that Manila was the place to be if you wanted to get involved in the digital nomad scene.
With plenty of coworking spaces available out there, it definitely gave me some reassurance knowing there would be a place for me to work if and when I needed to.
However, the bustling city of Manilla wasn’t where I wanted to spend my limited time whilst in the Philippines. With just two weeks and a long list of things to do, I skipped Manilla all together and headed straight to the other islands.
Cebu-Mactan, Cebu Island
First stop was Cebu Island. Cebu-Mactan airport is one of the main airport hubs in the Philippines. I wanted to avoid Manila but still start my travels from a center spot—Cebu was a great place to start.
We arrived at the airport with only a rough idea of the direction we wanted to take and no solid destination in mind. Within 10 minutes, we met an equally clueless French backpacker who was looking for travel companions to share transport with to keep travelling costs low.
Two then became three for the rest of the trip.
The three of us jumped in a taxi to Moalboal, which I’d heard was good for Scuba diving and was within driving distance of Badian and Oslob.
Nothing like winging it!
Moalboal/Badian, Cebu Island
Three-quarters of an hour later, the taxi dropped us literally in the middle of nowhere. We seemed to be the only foreign faces in the bustling shantytown street. This small, remote place turned out to be the very centre of Moalboal and after a couple of hours speaking with the friendly locals and jumping in and out of tricycles to look for accommodation, we found somewhere to stay.
What I loved the most about this place was how it was relatively unheard of by tourists. It allowed me to truly feel the local Filipino atmosphere. There are hardly any restaurants here; There’s only street food, so you have to eat the Filipino way in Moalboal.
We hired motorbikes and headed straight for Badian, which was only a 20–30 minute ride away.
Number one on our list were the beautiful Kawasan falls. Surprisingly, this tiny Filipino village is still so quiet and so remote despite having this beautiful waterfall located right in the middle.
Oslob, Cebu Island
After a two-and-a-half hour bus journey from Moalboal to Oslob, the three of us decided to pay a little more and find accommodation that came with semi-decent wifi, so I could spend half a day getting some work done.
Day two started at 4:00 a.m. If you want to see some beautiful whale sharks, they eat breakfast early! (Without a doubt, my absolute most favourite experience of Cebu Island).
After an early morning swim with these insanely majestic giants, we got back on the bike and headed straight for higher ground to explore the waterfalls.
After a last-minute decision to island-hop, we took a bus and then a boat ride to Bohol.
Across Bohol Island, I discovered the man-made forest, the chocolate hills, and the Tarsier sanctuary. As soon as we got to Bohol, we rented a motorbike to explore the island at our own pace and in our own time. There really is no better way to see this beautiful island than on a motorbike.
Alona Beach-Bohol Island
We stayed a stone’s throw from Alona beach. As you would expect, this place is about as touristy as it gets. (Poor planning meant we ended up in Alona by mistake—that’s what happens when you let the boys plan the trip to the next island!)
The pros: Beautiful sunsets and waterscapes, and if you want to get some work done, you’ll find WiFi in the pricey beachfront restaurants.
The cons: Well, just about everything else, unfortunately. Food, accommodation, and travel are extremely expensive here. It was also incredibly busy, and to me, it just didn’t have that ‘backpacker’ vibe at all. I wouldn’t come back to this part of Bohol.
Puerto Princesa, El Nido & Surrounding Islands, Palawan
Next place on the list and the one I was most looking forward to exploring was Palawan.
After a full week of heavy rain on Cebu and Bohol islands, it was definitely time to get on a plane and head over to the other side of the Philippines for some sun!
We took a late-night plane from Cebu-Mactan airport to Puerto Princesa (the cheapest route to Palawan), got a few hours sleep in a cheap room, and at six in the morning, we hired a minibus to take us on a five-hour drive to El Nido.
We based ourselves in the town of El Nido proper, in a lovely family-run pension.
Palawan is generally known to be a little more expensive than the other islands for accommodation, but after our stay in Alona beach in awful, low-end accommodation for the mid-high price range, this place was much cleaner and felt reasonably priced for what we got. For example, we got aircon and hot water for the first time in over a week (yaaaaas!!!)
You can’t visit Palawan and not go island hopping and kayaking. Exploring Palawan’s remote islands and untouched beaches are a MUST for every backpacker who comes here!
I visited the most beautiful and tranquil beaches around El Nido and got to do some real off-road exploring on our motorbike, which is always one of my favourite activities.
My favourite memory of Palawan would have to be the private boat trip we took with a bunch of travellers we met along the way.
We stopped the boat so we could swim to a small, uninhabited island surrounded by coral. We played frisbee and snorkelled, searched for sea turtles, and had such a great time together in the pristine nature that was all just for us. It was a moment I’ll remember forever.
Is The Philippines Good For Digital Nomads?
Although I found the Philippines a fantastic travelling experience (and I’ll definitely be back!), it was definitely a little challenging at times. I probably wouldn’t recommend it for a digital nomad who needs to work/upload/post on a daily basis.
That being said, there were ways around internet connection issues, which mostly involved organisation and planning ahead. I was also able to buy a local sim card at the airport when we first arrived in Cebu, and I often used 3G data to touch base and check important emails on the go when WiFi wasn’t available.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way!
There’s also A LOT of travelling involved to get from one island to another and things move at a slower pace in the Philippines.
The tourism infrastructure isn’t quite in place yet to make travelling around as seamless as it is in Thailand, for example.
It’s probably only a matter of a few years—not decades—until that changes. The upside to that is the Philippines is one of the few places left in Southeast Asia where you can feel like you are doing something close to ‘proper backpacking’.