Top 7 List on the best Island in the Philippines to visit, travel or live, for me

Choosing an island to live on in the Philippines
Where is the best island in the Philippines? (click to enlarge)

What are The Philippines made up of and why try to find home there?

The Republic of the Philippines (to give its full name) is made up of  over 7, 107 Islands. Give or take a few due to high tide and global warming. In fact I find it quite difficult to get exact details on what is actually considered an island in the Philippines. A sand bar, a hunk of sheer rock in the sea, or a place where you can actually set foot on. Knowing the Philippines quite well by now, I will take the latter on that one.

Understanding the regions of The Philippines

Map of the Philippine Regions
Map of the Philippine Regions

I find the regions in the Philippines confusing and plentiful. Sometimes referred to as Regions X, III or sometimes it’s by geographical name Visaya’s, Luzon etc,. To make matters even harder this can then be broken down into Eastern, western etc,. areas. And, from what I can see all names and areas change depending on who you talk to in the Philippines and where they come from. Let alone look at a Lonely Planet map or Rough Guide map.

For me I keep it simple. To the north is the large island Luzon (Manila, Sagada etc.) The Second biggest land mass island is Mindanao in the South (Davao, Cagayan de Oro, Zamboanga etc,.) Then in the middle are a plethora of smaller islands like Bohol, Cebu, Iloilo. And, to the west is a long strip of narrow island called Palawan.

Either way I will make an attempt at trying to find a home in the Philippines. I don’t get that hit me on the side of the head this is home feeling I got in Nepal(previous blog post, opens new window/tab). But, Filipino’s do seem to be nice judging from whom I’ve met so far. English is widely spoken, and I go against what a lot of travelers to the Philippines say and, admit I like the food. Well, at least most it anyway.

Here is my top 7 list for choosing the Philippines:

1) English: I’ve traveled many countries on my search. Language is a major barrier. While one can always learn a new one. It’s not always so easy to do, especially to the level of actually living and working in a place within a fixed time frame. At least not for me.

2) The People: Filipino’s are very friendly. They are also quite honest, and most are hard-working.

3) Cost: The Philippines can be more pricey to travel than the rest of SEA. But to live, it’s cheaper. Long term rentals, and food are very low.

4) Communications: Internet and telecoms are widely available throughout the country.

5) Climate: Not a big one for me as I am not a sit in the sun person. But many many people enjoy the year round warm climate.

6) Visa extensions: 2 Month extensions are readily available for over a year. And in many cases beyond. They are a little more expensive than in other countries but a lot less hassle.

7) Transport: is an issue as Ferries give me the creeps and flights are more expensive than the overland buses I am used to. But, it is well linked internally.

Morning mist rising up off a rice terrace in Sagada, The Philippines
Morning mist rising up off a rice terrace in Sagada, The Philippines

So where and how will I choose the best island in my attempt at living in the Philippines?

1)I’ve already traveled the North of the Philippines. Here the air is cooler in places like Sagada or Banaue, the people friendly and the landscapes lush with mountains and rice terraces.

2) There’s Cebu where the expats roam the streets and the city is full of metro life.

3) Palawan, a long strip of beach and rock frequented by divers, the rich, and an occasional backpacker.

4)Then there’s Mindanao, a place constantly in the news as a conflict zone. Yet Davao still remains high on the list of many an expat and traveler. (warning:please read this before planning a trip to Mindanao)

5) Bohol, tourist land of tarsiers, chocolate hills, mountains and beaches.

6) A tiny little island called Camiguin off the coast of Mindanao offers untouched rural bliss.

7)Then there’s the likes of Boracay A heavily promoted tourist spot whose prices are so out of touch with the rest of the country it’s hard to believe it’s possible.

Here’s what I know about finding out where to go:

1) I read my guide-book. And, took everything with a pinch of salt. But, things like ATM’s, internet, and costs were all noted down.

2)I went online and read forums like the thorntree and travellerspoint about places in the Philippines. Read people’s opinions and again separated out ego posts, novice posts, and expat posts. Read between the lines and took notes.

Friendly Filippinos with sea urchin
Friendly Filipino with sea urchin

3)I read a few Filipino blogs from the various areas. Including some government ones. Here I got a feel for what local life was like. Again it was important to weed out promotion, personal feelings, and points of issue. This was one of the most valuable resources I found in the Philippines.

English is widely spoken in the Philippines and Filipinos love to blog! They are all over the place. And yet few make it out to international recognition. Perhaps this is due to many living in the Philippines and not blogging about other places, but either way there is a tremendous resource made up of Filipino bloggers out there.

Eliminating Islands one by one with my list of things I think I need to live there.

I need a place that is rural enough so that the people are still nice. And not tapped into the money, money, money big city life of say Manila. This I’ve learned already in my travels to find home.

Yet the place should not be too detached or remote so that I am living in a bamboo hut somewhere. This is impractical, and not for me.

I want to be away from the mainstream tourist trade to avoid being targeted by every other tour tout, yet close enough to converse with other travelers.

The Elimination

Bohol, Camiguin, and Palawan all ranked high for these. With Bohol slightly lagging due to its high number of tourist sites. Yet from Nepal I have learned that sometimes one can turn that to your advantage.

There was one other thing that’s been annoying me. Friends and strangers alike keep mentioning the lure of living on a deserted or is it desert island. The idea of isolation, tropical beauty, living off the land and life of paradise seems to appeal to most people in the west working 9-5 jobs. Or is that now 8-9 jobs these days??

And so I felt the urge of putting this constant peer pressure and small amount of self questioning to rest.

And, the winner of the best island in The Philippines is …

I chose Palawan. It’s got remote locations, (google maps still haven’t picked up on it very well), it’s got a main city which has the only ATM’s on the island. From forums I can see that it’s a lot cheaper than expats and locals make it out to be (taking a small risk here). It’s got an immigration office. A tourist trade. And plenty of beach and mountain locations to keep me busy.

My main issue before getting there was that I’d heard electricity was bad, but I’ve lived without before. Just about everyone tells me the roads are the worst in the Philippines. And I was concerned about the internet and being bored as I’m not much of a beach person.

But Palawan is the chosen place.  A short  flight from Manila and the start of a few phase in trying to find a place called home … Will Palawan be the best island in the Philippines?

Coming soon:

Puerto Princessa, capital of Palawan … left it by lunch time …

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57 Replies to “Top 7 List on the best Island in the Philippines to visit, travel or live, for me”

  1. Really interesting article. I am looking forward to hearing more about Palawan as you discover it. Ive thought about traveling to the Philippines, but with over 7000 islands, its hard to know where to start! Good luck with your adventure, and keep up the good work!

    Sean

    1. Glad you enjoyed the article Sean. Hopefully my travels around Palawan and the rest of the Philippines can shed some light on, at least, some of the 7000 + islands!

      Many thanks for the good luck wishes!

  2. Pingback: How to find an island to live on? | Camping
  3. Hi, i am about asking the same questions, but more about where to travel, coz i know the Visayas already quite well, and got a place on Camiguin already. I m anxcious to see the continue about Palawan. I think to go there myself end of January, begin Feb. 2010. El Nido seems great. Mountains dont meet, maybe we will.
    Greetz
    Bruno

    1. -Bruno- Hi there, You won’t go wrong with traveling to Palawan! It’s quite different to places in the Visayas, and Camiguin. If you are currently staying or living in The Philippines, feel free to drop me an email sometime.

      Safe Travels

  4. good article. trying to explore the philipines. only problem is a have only 7-10 days to do it in. stayed in manila for 3 days in ’09. some advice. hit me up at “email address removed” thank you

    1. -pablo- I deleted your email from your comment as you might get unsolicited mail, and or spam for leaving it there. With only 7-10 days I would book flights ahead to either Palawan, or Bohol, depending on your own personal likes. Bohol can be done in a few days. Palawan longer as there, for me at least, is a lot more to do. It will also depend on what time of year you go. Personally, I would fly straight to Palawan and spend your week there rather than get to much done all over the country.

  5. hey mate, did you make it out to palawan yet? how is life there? looking to go on a year long journey thru the philippines, only prob is i need to work.. so HIGH SPEED internet is an important factor in deciding where i’ll stop by…

    friends recommend Manila because it has got everything, while locals are recommending the province over the polluted and over populated manila…

    thoughts?

    1. -ben- Hey Ben, yes, down south in Mindanao now.

      High speed internet in the Philippines … Smart and Globe offer 2MB standard connections for fixed addresses. 1 year minimum contact. About USD$20 per month. There is also mobile internet, but at the moment, it’s disastrous.

      Certainly Manila has the best of most things, but all over the Philippines connections are available. Always check to make sure “internet is working” in WIFI zones as quite often there will be a signal, but no internet. You have to ask.

      Again, like in a lot of places, the more you pay for accommodation, the faster the internet!

      Sure Manila is polluted, and crowded. But I don’t find it that bad. Locals often times complain about the city. It’s certainly not the easiest to get around. But, it’s not the worst either. Personally I would go somewhere else. Davao, is a nice city to check out. Cebu, is another big place where internet is very accessible.

      Hope this helps.

  6. those islands off sabah fro m KK are pretty good ..cheap and oh so clean….this is a great site for getting to know about palawan where i have never been but will be going soon…whitsunday islands are good too….

  7. Love to read your travels, if you are in Batangas city come and visit me, stay foe a few days

  8. Hello,
    I am Filipino, but now live in the US. I just came back from my trip from Nepal and love the trekking. Somehow, I feel like “home”, when i was there. Someday, I would like to explore my native country – Philippines, and glad that you are giving tips on where to go, trek, and the island that is not too busy with tourist.
    thanks

    1. Hello there,

      Glad to here you have enjoyed the beautiful country of Nepal. And yes, I hope you too will be able to explore your own country soon. Especially the unexplored or non-touristy parts. This is key!

  9. Hi there, I know is a little late but im curently living is Seoul and heard a lot of Philippines from here, I really want to go but the problem is that I also read that there is a lot of “Human Traffic” so, im a bit scared because there is only me and my friend (girl) who is going.

    What do you recomend me!?!?

    Tanx!

    1. Hello Pee,

      Don’t be scared is the first thing I would say. The Philippines is generally a very safe country. The only place to avoid are parts of Mindanao, which is the southern most island. And, parts of Manila, basically at night.

      It depends what you like to do! Up north there are Rice terraces, caving, trekking. In Palawan there’s lots of diving, snorkeling, beaches, deserted islands, and cliffs. In Bohol there are chocolate hills, tarsiers, and caves.

      Take your pick!!

  10. it’s nice that you chose palawan. i grew up on that province but haven’t gone and seen yet all of what that beautiful island has to offer – most of the municipalities facing s. china sea and kalayaan islands. btw, you can catch also boat (a big one) to sabah from one of the municipalities in the south (brooke’s).

  11. hello! Thank you for blogging the natural wonders of our country! I idolized you ‘coz you’ve enjoyed ur travel and at the same time you’ve been helping to recognize the natural wonders of our country..thanks a lot!

    by the way,I’m not a traveller..I’m just researching for the assignment of my sister..

    God bless!

  12. Great artical. I’ve been to the Philippines twice and loved it so much that I want to make itmy home! First time I stayed in Manila and Puerto Galera the second time to Boracay for 10 days. So hows life in the philippines for you? Is it what you had hoped it would be? Anyother islands not listed that you might consider living?? I plan the move in 1 years time. I want to be living on the beach and also be able to do some kind of buisness, not ready stop working just yet lol.. Johnny

  13. Hi, thanks for the information. We are planning to go to Palawan this coming 25th of January, 2012 to see if this is the place where we can live for good. Just like you, I love the rural life because people are mostly honest and not yet tainted by greed. The other reasons why I love the rural life is that I love to plant and raise livestock. I’m more of a farmer and definitely not a city girl. And as I keep on researching about Palawan, I have this feeling that this is the best place for us, but of course, if God willing. Thanks for posting this great information and keep on posting…

    1. Hi Lyvia,

      Best of luck with the move to Palawan. It’s certainly one of the “better” locations to relocate in The Philippines. I’d certainly spend some time traveling the whole island first before settling in any one spot. It’s a varied place. But El Nido is pretty much an ideal setting for many things!

  14. Hi I am a filipina but I have never been to palawan. Booked for a flight for 2012. Having explored more of our islands, i want to ask you, which one do you like best? El Nido, Puerto Prinsesa or Coron? (not sure if you’ve gone to all 3, but if you already have, how was it?) Thanks! :)

  15. I’m a true-bloodied Filipino, if there’s such a term and I completely agree with most of the things you mentioned here.

    I haven’t been to Palawan yet but it’s one of the few places in the country that has the cleanest city (Puerto Princesa).

    I’m glad to have stumbled on your blog. Great posts here!

  16. Hello Dave,

    great article.

    Maybe you can help me a little with my planning?

    I will be on Philippines with some friends for seven days. We are arriving by plane at Cebu. At the moment we can’t decide if we go to Bohol or Palawan (El Nido). Normally, Palawan would be our choice Nr. 1, but we aren’t sure if we loose to much time with travelling if we go to El Nido. Travelling from Cebu to Bohol is much more easy and faster.

    What’s in your opinion the best way to get from Cebu to Palawan and how long will this take?

    Thanks a lot for your help. Because we have only seven days on the Philippines our final diestination has to perfect with a mximum of time. ;)

    Cu,
    Markus

    PS: Any Guesthouse recommondations for El Nido?
    PPS: What was your ranking (Nr. 2 – 7) behind Palawan?

    1. Hello Markus,

      There are direct daily flights from Cebu to Palawan, and indeed Manila Palawan/Cebu. So getting there is not too much trouble. If you have the money, there are also direct flights from Manila to El Nido, otherwise it’s a 6-7 hour drive from Peurto Princessa to El Nido.

      Yes, Bohol is easier. Chocolate hills, trekking, diving and Tarsiers. El Nido for paradise islands, cliff climbing, beaches and diving.

      If everything goes right, El Nido hands down is the answer for me. A safer bet is Bohol.

      Book your flights in advance on Cebu Pacific. Call your credit card company first to tell them you are using that company.

      El Nido Guest houses are listed under my guide to the Philippines under places I stayed ;) http://www.thelongestwayhome.com/Countries/philippines.html

      All the best
      P.S. There are no ATM’s in El Nido, get your cash before going there or prepare to exchange currencies.

  17. The Missus and I are heading to the Phillipines on 3rd Feb and are very unsure where to go. At the moment its a toss up between Palawan and Camiguin, we want to be away from any bar scene, near a nice beach a with good coastal fishing spots nearby, I will have a hire bike so some nice roads to drive would be nice.
    At the moment Camiguin is a pussy haur ahead of Palawan due to the fact it has a boxing centre where older begginers can train, could you tell me if you are away of something like this near El nido, could be Thai boxing or normal boxing.

    Finally we want to rent a little cottage or house with cooking facilities, nothing flash, just fan bedroom, bathroom and kitchen/kitchenette within a brisk walk of the beach or short bike ride. Do you think we could find something for 15000 php – 20000 php for the month or is this unrealistic ?

    Great source of info this site, keep up the good work and hope Palawan is working out for you.

    P.S (understand you might not be able to answer all but any info appreciated)

    Dave

    1. Hello Dave,

      That’s a hard call alright. I’ll answer your main points.

      You’ll be away from the bar scene in both places.

      Nice beaches? El Nido, hands down.

      Fishing? El Nido, rent a boat or from the shore.

      Nice roads for a bike? Camiguin.

      Boxing, it will be normal due to Manny Pacquiao. There are gyms everywhere in The Philippines, most are quite basic.

      Cottage with cooking facilities for 15,000 – 20,000. This get’s harder. El Nido would be easier and more affordable. Try staying at the further end of the town, by cliffside cottages, and the Golden Monkey. Then ask around for a place. In Camiguin I think it will be more costly unless you run into a local wanting to share with you as it’s full of resorts and people looking for investors.

      Hope this helps

      Dave

      1. Hello again,

        Many thanks for the swift reply, think I,ll now put Camiguin on the back burner for another year and make for Palawan, that said Siquijor has just popped up on my radar, have you been ? gets damned difficult when you realise just how many destinations there are which all looking fantastic.

        Only read your piece on Camiguin after I sent the last mail, sounds like the sharks have moved in, as a veteran over the last decade on lesser know Thai Islands I know the story only two well, rapacious obsession with money takes hold so damned fast.

        cheers

    1. Yes, it’s one of those places where the climate is actually quite nice for those that like a cooler environment. Unfortunately due to it’s remoteness actually living there could be quite expensive for a foreigner as you need to fly back to Luzon every 2 months for immigration. Though I wonder if anyone living there could confirm whether there is an alternative for visa extensions in Bantanes?

  18. Dear Dave
    Your articles are so informative and I appreciate them.
    Now I would be grateful if you could help me to decide. I will going to visit Philippines for a few days with my girl friend,sometime in March ,and just could not decide whether to visit El Nido or Bohol.
    Can you advise me and tell me which is the better place to go for both of us.

    Thank you

  19. Hi Dave,

    I read a large part of your blog and really enjoy your writing and attitude.

    May I ask you for a bit of an advice? My girlfriend and me are heading to southeast Asia soon with the intention of renting a place for at least a few months, possibly more. We feel that the best set up for us would be a stable place in as natural and wild surrounding as possible (we hate sterile resorts) but also with a reliable and fast internet connection (for our work). We were thinking about either Sabah or El Nido in Palawan. Are places like that available in those areas? How would one go about finding them? We didn’t get very far searching online. Is there any website you’d recommend?
    Really appreciate any advice.

    Blessings,
    Daniel

    1. Hello Daniel,

      You’ll be hard pressed to find places like that online that will cost about 25%-50% more than if you look for them on the ground. For example: What’s acceptable to me, might not be to you. I worked out of a little cottage in El Nido on a broadband USB stick. There was no Air Conditioning and plenty of power cuts. While I found this frustrating, it might be too much for others. Likewise to other people it could be a small annoyance. Better to a place for yourself first!

      A lot of these places charge more if you book online. And quite often don’t live up to expectation either.

      If it’s any help, try http://www.Airbnb.com it might offer up some temporary solutions, and you might meet some locals that could offer up longer term places best suited to your needs.

      Hope this helps

      Dave

      1. Thanks a lot for replying Dave.

        Yeah we looked at airbnb already but didn’t get very far with that either. seems like there’s no way around doing the ground work..

        Speaking of Sabah, do you have any suggestions as to whereabouts would be a good fit for us? We saw there are places for rent in Kota Kinabalu, but they’re all condos in the city with shopping malls etc. We were hoping to avoid that and live closer to the immensity and beauty of Borneo’s rainforests and beaches. Did you come across locations in Sabah where foreigners live outside the city?

        Besides El Nido and Sabah we were even considering some beautiful islands off west Malaysia like Perhentian, Redang, Langkawi, Tioman or Pangkor. Any experience with these? Is it reasonable to expect finding a house there or is it all resorts?

        Hope all these are not too many questions ;)

        Cheers,
        Daniel

        1. Hi Daniel,

          I’m not really an island person any more. Over two years in the Philippines kinda took care of that :)

          Regarding Kota Kinabalu, yes you’re spot on with the condos in the city. KK is actually really small compared to many cities in SEA. And is very clean. It’s also a boat ride away from some islands. But they are fairly touristy.

          Outside of KK you’ll meet a few expats living in remoter areas. But to be honesty many are either retired, or working for a big company. Sandakan is a rough and tumble sort of place. Far from what you are looking for. The biggest issue I think is internet connectivity.

          You might try El Nido again. I here Globe and Smart are offering small WiFi routers that you can take around with you. So long as there’s electricity you should have a signal. But you’ll probably need a local to sign up for you re contracts and all that. I think Globe is the better option for a few months. You could just do a deal with a local offering to pay out the year and get the router in their name. Then leave it with them when you leave.

          There’s also the Cameron Highlands in West Malaysia. Forests and quite a few places you could rent out in the main town. No beaches, but it’s close to nature.

          And also Penang (George town) in Northern West Malaysia, which might suit you for beach life. A world heritage site town, and some amazing food.

          Again, there’s no replacing having a look for yourself. A quick trip to KL, a bus to Cameron highlands, check it out. Back to KL, flight to KK, check it out. Flight to Manila and on to Puerto Princessa and a bus to El Nido and check it out. Then make a decision on which place you like the best and go for it!

          1. Thanks so much Dave for all the tips. We’ll definitely have a closer look at your suggestions.

            All the best,
            Daniel

  20. Hi
    Very interesting posts.
    My wife,the kids and myself plan on going to live in the Philippines in 2015.
    We’re considering buying a lot in Palawan
    I’m canadian and my wife is filipino
    I do most of my business on the internet so I wonder if the internet is fast enough.
    How is the internet now (in 2012) and what about banking, are there more atm, what about banks.
    Thanks in advance
    Henri

    1. Hello Henri.

      Well, a lot can happen between now and 2015. Still lacking ATM’s outside of Puerto Princessa, but I’d imagine that will be fixed by 2015. Internet is certainly doable. PLDT offer 3MB connections as do the other providers, Smart and Globe. If you completely rely on internet, you might look at getting a back up connection so you’ll have two. It’s not unusual for one or more companies to have problems over a few days. You’d also want to consider a generator as electricity blackouts/brownouts are very common.

      Hope this helps

      Dave

  21. Great post. I am currently planning the 3 week Philippines leg of my 2 year backpacking trip and have found this post and the comments with your replies very helpful. I’m thinking that my boyfriend and I will fly into Manila travel up north to see the rice terraces (Batad, Banaue, Sagada) and then fly to Palawan – Puerta Princesa, El Nido, maybe Coron. I was hoping to spend some time in Bohol but seems like it will be better to spend more time in less places, especially after reading your stories of all the ferries sinking. Was considering Boracay but seems like it’s more of an overpriced tourist trap than an authentic look into real Filipino life. Please let me know if I’m missing anything or if you have any other pointers!

  22. Nowadays, Palawan pariticularly in El Nido has the highest percentage of tourist arrivals. El Nido is better than exploited Boracay.

    1. And you don’t think El Nido is exploited?

      The city has no vision for the future. Their water table is so low that drainage from septic systems is mixing with well water. Now your morning shower smells like sewage. The fix? And chemicals to subdue the foul odor.

      The traffic is horrendous and I have witnessed many near miss accidents where tourists have almost been run over. Oh they have a traffic plan, but nobody to enforce it.

      The restaurants have begun to utilize day and night menus. A shake doubles in price after 5pm and foods average a 20% increase.

      Tourists wander around aimlessly trying to find lodging because there are more guests than available rooms.

      The bay receives a daily dose our raw sewage and trash. That is why the sea cows have left for greener pastures.

      Live corals? Forget that. The daily herd of people snorkeling and stepping on the corals have killed them. Yesterday I heard a guest say that she that she saw a huge fish while snorkeling; it was a baby diaper lying on the ocean bottom. Civilization ho.

      It is only a matter of time before El Nido becomes a place for locals to visit, because the foreigners will demand better for their money.

  23. I’m a retired ship Captain that has lived off an on in the Philippines since 1947. I was there from 1947 to 1950, naturally I was a 11 year old, but loved it. Then I was working on infared systems on several aircraft working in Thailand and we had to go to Manila every three months for aircraft inspection. I have never lived there but I lived in Thailand for 10 years. Rather accoustome to the orient, and I find your blogs very interesting. I am presently living in Costa Rica and plan to move to the Philippines as soon as possible.

  24. Hello there and great blog,
    Well, im looking to move to the philippines and been looking where to open a little biz and i really love El Nido but would you think its a good place to open a biz and live on? not sure yet what biz but im thinking a gym.
    thanks!

  25. I knew that you’d choose Palawan the second I read your criteria. I’m from the Philippines. Great article!

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