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.
What about the Philippines as a place to be a digital nomad? 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 comes to gaining reliable internet access and it seemed 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 get stuck into work if and when I needed to.
However, the bustling city streets of Manilla wasn’t where I wanted to spend my limited time whilst in the Philippines. With just 2 weeks and a long bucket 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, and if like me, you want to avoid Manilla but still want a central point to start your travels from then Cebu is a good alternative place to start.
We arrived at the airport, with only a rough idea of the direction we wanted to head in but 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 3 of us jumped in a taxi to Moalboal, which I had heard was good for Scuba diving and was within driving distance of Badian and Oslob. Nothing like winging it!
Moalboal/Badian, Cebu Island
3/4 hours later the taxi dropped us literally in the middle of nowhere, we seemed to be the only foreign faces in a 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’s relatively unheard of by tourists, enabling 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 1 on the bucket list – the beautiful Kawasan falls. Surprisingly, this tiny Filipino village is still so quiet and so remote despite having this beautiful waterfall located in the middle of it.
Oslob, Cebu Island
A 2 and a half hour bus journey from Moalboal to Oslob later, we decided between the 3 of us to pay a little more and get some accommodation that comes equipped with semi-decent wifi, so I could spend half a day getting some work done.
Day 2, 4 am start – 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.
A last-minute decision to island-hop, a bus and a boat ride later – We arrived in 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 really- That’s what happens when you let the boys plan the trip to the next island!)
The pros – Beautiful sunsets and waterscapes on this beach and If you want to get some work done here you will find wifi in the pricey beachfront restaurants.
The cons – Well, just about everything else; this place is top-end $ for food, accommodation and trips. It’s also incredibly busy and to me, it just doesn’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 island, 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 6 am hired a minibus to take us on a 5-hour drive to El Nido.
We based ourselves in the town of El Nido itself, 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 you got.
(Aircon and a hot water shower for the first time in over a week, yaaaaas!!!)
You can’t come to Palawan and not go island hopping and kayaking. Exploring Palawan’s remote islands and untouched beaches is a MUST for every backpacker who comes here!
I got to visit the most beautiful and tranquil beaches around El Nido and do some real off-road exploring on our motorbike, which is always one of my favourite things to do.
My favourite memory of Palawan would have to be: a private boat trip we did with a bunch of travellers we met. We stopped the boat so we could swim to an uninhabited small island surrounded by coral. We played frisbee and snorkelled, searching for sea turtles, having such a great time together in this 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 and I probably wouldn’t recommend it for a digital nomad that needs to work/upload/post on a strictly daily basis.
That being said, there are ways around internet connection issues, which mostly involved just being organised and planning well ahead. I was also able to buy a local sim card at the airport when we first arrived in Cebu and a lot of the time I 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 only a matter of a couple of years, not decades until that changes though. 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”.