Showcasing the country’s definitive cultural highlights, our Essential Philippines holiday combines the best city, countryside and beach moments. Begin in bustling Manila, head to the famous rice terrace of northern Luzon, see tarsiers near Bohol’s extraordinary Chocolate Hills, and relax on the picture-postcard sands of El Nido.
At a glance
- Contrast modern Manila with its historic side
- Trek Banaue’s verdant rice terraces
- Discover Sagada’s unusual hanging coffins
- See tarsiers and Chocolate Hills in Bohol
- Watch dolphins swim around Pamilacan
- Hop between El Nido’s island beaches
Manila - 2 nights
Manila, like many densely populated capitals, is an exhilarating mix of organised chaos, congested streets and enriching culture; a fast-paced metropolis where towering skyscrapers sit alongside historic architecture and impoverished shantytowns. Despite a catastrophic earthquake in the mid-1800’s and relentless shelling during World War II, this resilient city continues to thrive and expand. Besides its absorbing history and traditions, Manila has developed a rich creative side, packed with eclectic art galleries, grand theatres, and a lively music scene.
Day 1 - Arrive Manila
On arrival in the Philippines, you'll be met by your private guide, who will accompany you to your Manila hotel.Welcome to Selective Asia! This level of personal service (such as private transfers, private tours etc) is what you can expect throughout your trip. A few services (eg boat cruises) will be shared, but we'll always make sure you're aware of these.
Day 2 - ‘Old & New’ city tour
Tour Manila’s classic landmarks and vibrant modernity, cycling through the cobbled streets of Intramuros - Manilla’s historic, 16th century original walled city - on a traditional, handmade bamboo bike. Follow your guide to the ancient San Agustin church, and the Casa Manila museum house showcasing typical Filipino colonial life. Continue to the impressive Fort Santiago, overlooking Manila Bay, containing a poignant museum dedicated to the country’s famous freedom fighter and national hero, Dr Jose Rizal. Walk through Rizal Park’s ornamental gardens, visit the unique Chinese Cemetery (with spectacular mausoleums resembling luxury homes equipped with everything from kitchens to running water!), and wander in Makati, the capital’s glittering financial, shopping and entertainment district, to see the Nielson Tower, Fort Bonifacio, and the American WWII Cemetery. The rest of your evening will be at leisure to try some typical Filipino dishes, including chicken adobo and colourful halo-halo pudding.
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Banaue - 3 nights
Banaue’s spectacular 2,000-year-old rice terraces inevitably form the focus of any visit to northern Luzon, but the region has a wider wealth of history and culture to discover. Batad’s traditional villages show you ancient culture in harmony with the region’s stunning natural beauty, while Sagada’s sleepy streets, old markets and poignant hanging coffins seem forever frozen in time. Visit Bontoc museum to see a wealth of fascinating Cordillera artefacts including ceremonial headdresses, tribal axes and nose flutes. Soak up the region’s cultural highlights and trek out to cool off in remote waterfall pools.
Day 3 - Road trip to Banaue & the Cordillera region
Journey north towards Banaue and the mountainous Cordillera region, stopping to visit the volcano-damaged (though still active) San Guillermo Church in Bacolor, and passing through the evergreen provinces of Nueva Ecija and Nueva Vizcaya, glimpsing rice fields and remote villages. The landscape provides plenty of scenic distraction from the long drive, and you’ll stop for several photo opportunities to capture the scenic views as you travel further north. Take in Dalton’s Pass and the pineapple-growing town of Bagabag, before arriving in Banaue in the late afternoon. The rest of your day will be at leisure to breathe in the fresh mountain air.
Day 4 - Banga-an village visit, Batad trek
Set out to explore the region's rice terraces and villages. First stop is the village of Banga-an. Nestled in a picturesque valley, this traditional village offers an insight into rural Ifugao community life. After spending some time strolling around the village and meeting its residents, continue on to the start point for your trek in the Batad rice terraces. This region boasts the picturesque rice terrace views – in an amphitheatre shape - that are seen on postcards. It's a challenging trek through the rice terraces, requiring balance along the narrow terraces and a good pair of walking shoes! But you’ll be rewarded with unbeatable panoramic views of the Batad rice terraces spreading out across the valley. It's possible to continue your trek to the Tappiyah Waterfall if you're feeling fit (it involves a steep descent). After lunch overlooking the terraces return to your hotel, where the rest of your day will be at leisure to relax and revive.
Day 5 - Bontoc museum, Sagada hanging coffins
Set off for Sagada, passing through the stunning scenery and dramatic rice terraces that this region is so well-known for. Stop to see a fascinating collection of Cordillera region artefacts at the Bontoc museum, then continue to Sagada, a small town famous for its fascinating burial traditions. Traditional Ifugao beliefs state that the spirits of the dead should be close to the gods, and have traditionally interred the deceased in colourfully painted coffins suspended from the cliff side. Your guide will also show you some of the sombre subterranean caves that have been used as burial grounds, where you can learn more about these unusual traditions. If time permits, visit the waterfalls of Bomod-ok and Bokong, and Lake Danom on your way back to Banaue.
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Manila - 1 night
Returning to Manila, after a few days in Luzon’s rural north, heightens the contrast between the Cordillera region’s calm, agricultural surroundings and the non-stop, high-energy rush of the capital. Tour the city’s eclectic jumble of old and new; sample the vibrant arts scene, taking in everything from traditional Filipino folk song and dance to Broadway musicals; experience Manila’s oldest cultural heritage in the Quiapo district, wandering past fortune tellers and herbalists; and stop wherever the aromas make your mouth water in Binondo’s Chinatown enclave - the oldest in the world - to try stuffed spicy dumplings and seafood noodles.
Day 6 - Fly to Manila, explore the city
Fly to Manila, where the remainder of your afternoon will be at leisure to discover more corners of this bustling capital.
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Panglao Island - 3 nights
The island province of Bohol is known for its gorgeous beaches, enticing coral reefs and striking geographic formations in caves, waterfalls and the evocatively-named Chocolate Hills. The main island’s forested interior is home to endangered, endemic primates - the adorable bug-eyed tarsiers - that peep between the leaves in their sanctuary home. The 70-plus smaller surrounding islands, chief of which is Panglao, are a hub of world-class diving where you can see schools of tuna and mackerel, groups of snapper and the occasional black-tipped shark, swimming around the otherworldly coral, as dolphins breach out in the bay.
Day 7 - Plane & boat to Panglao Island
Fly from Manila to Tagbilaran, the capital of the island province of Bohol, and transfer to your hotel on Panglao Island. The remainder of your day will be at leisure to relax on the island’s clear beaches.
Day 8 - Tarsier sanctuary, Chocolate Hills, river cruise
Head over the bridge to Bohol, driving through a pastoral landscape of coconut plantations and small villages, to the Tarsier Sanctuary in Corella. Navigate through a small section of the sanctuary, keeping your eyes peeled for dozing tarsiers, and possibly meeting ‘Tarsier Man’ Carlito Pizzaras whose work with these unique creatures has been invaluable. Continue inland to a viewpoint near Carmen for panoramic views across Bohol’s famous Chocolate Hills. This unique landscape of conical hills, covering an area of 20 square miles, turns brown during winter, making them look like domes of chocolate, but is lush green during summer. Soak up the scenery before driving south to Loboc for a leisurely cruise along a picturesque section of river, with palm trees and jungle foliage lining the banks, enjoying a typical Filipino lunch as you travel downstream before meeting your driver and travelling back to your hotel.
Day 9 - Pamilacan dolphin & whale spotting cruise
Depart early for Pamilacan island to board a motorised outrigger spot dolphins and whales offshore. The boat crews are former fishermen who previously made an income hunting the whales but now safeguard the future of the marine life through tourism. Several cetacean species, including the playful spinner dolphins, can be spotted in these waters year round, and at least six different types of whales are seen between April and June, though these sightings are rarer. Enjoy lunch prepared by the locals on Pamilacan Island, then transfer back to your hotel where the rest of your day will be at leisure.
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El Nido - 3 nights
One of the most picturesque regions in the Philippines, El Nido’s cluster of limestone islands rises dramatically out of the sea. The area was named after the nests of the swiftlet birds - ‘nido’ in Spanish - found in the crevices of its cliffs, which form main ingredient in the traditional dish of bird’s nest soup, highly prized in several Asian cultures. El Nido is now a protected marine reserve, home to an incredible diversity of underwater life, including the rare dugong (a relative of the manatee), three species of endangered sea turtles, and sleek black-tip sharks.
Day 10 - Fly to El Nido
Head to Panglao airport to catch your flight to El Nido. From the jetty, take a shared boat to your chosen resort where the rest of your day is at leisure to explore El Nido’s beautiful coast.
Day 11 - Island hopping
An island hopping tour is the best way to experience the natural beauty of El Nido. Which specific islands you visit, and the route of your boat trip, will depend on the resort you start from, but you’re guaranteed to find plenty of the golden sands, clear water lagoons and snorkelling sites that the region is famous for.
Day 12 - At leisure on El Nido
Your day will be at leisure to relax and enjoy the beach and hotel facilities.
Day 13 - Depart El Nido
Your day will be at leisure until it's time for your onward flight.
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We only provide privately guided holidays - meaning that you will not be expected to share guides or transport for the duration of your visit. You can also start on any day you choose.
Please click on the hotel category buttons below to view hotel details. These are recommended properties only - we have many alternative options for you to choose from if you would prefer. You can mix hotel categories throughout your holiday.
|Hotel class||Price per person (based on total # travelling)|
|2 - 3||4 - 5||6 persons|
Hotel CelesteSporting a fashionable Makati City address, and equally chic interiors, the Hotel Celeste exudes style and sophistication. This boutique hotel takes ‘haute couture’ as a starting-point... See more
South Palms ResortAs locations go, you’d struggle to beat this stunning Panglao Island resort. Nestled within lush tropical greenery, and just steps away from a half-mile long, pristine white sand beach, South Palms Resort... See more
El Nido Miniloc Island ResortFirst impressions count, and El Nido Resorts’ Miniloc Island getaway could not score more highly for instant wow factor. Nestled in a perfectly private ultramarine bay at the foot of towering limestone cliffs... See more
The Manila HotelOnce a favourite of the former First Lady Imelda Marcos, possibly because the suites offered plenty of room for her shoes, the distinguished Manila Hotel is one of the city’s oldest hotels... See more
Amorita ResortPerched high atop a limestone cliff, overlooking dramatic seascapes, the Amorita Resort is an idyllic tropical retreat that promises romantic seclusion and family fun in equal measure... See more
El Nido Lagen Island ResortPeeping out of dense forest onto the curving shore of a sheltered lagoon, the El Nido Lagen Island Resort sits in a timeless bubble of natural beauty… See more
Discovery Primea HotelDesigned by an award-winning architect and situated in the heart of bustling Makati Central Business District, the Discovery Primea Hotel boasts a high standard of amenities combined with... See more
Donatela HotelDonatela Hotel is a blissfully tranquil Bohol Island resort, whose lush botanic gardens are sprinkled with a selection of private, characterful guest villas. Though not on the beachfront, the views are sublime... See more
El Nido Pangulasian IslandEl Nido Resorts’ private Pangulasian Island getaway in Bacuit Bay boasts a dreamlike beachfront setting with a backdrop of lush tropical forest. A 750-metre stretch of brilliant white sand... See more
Solo travellers are always welcome - please contact us for a tailored quote.
These prices are shown in GBPUSD.
Selective Asia is a UK-registered company, but our client-base spans the globe, so we bank in both GBP and USD and can therefore provide a fixed price in either currency.
We also have payment facilities in Canada, New Zealand, Australia and the EU, and can typically offer better-than-bank exchange rates on the date of payment in these currencies (against a booking priced in GBP).
Whilst many clients are happy with of our recommended itineraries in the current form (and at the price quoted), there are those that wish to personalise their holiday in some way, whether it be a change of hotel, an additional destination or even start from scratch. This is when our tailor-made specialists come into their own; with many years of experience both living and working in the region they are ideally equipped to advise on alternatives and to facilitate any necessary changes.
The important stuffPlease note: During high season periods (such as Easter, Christmas and New Year) hotels often levy a surcharge and these are not included in the above prices. Your consultant will be happy to advise you of these.
- English speaking, local guide
- All accommodation listed
- Land transportation by private air-conditioned vehicles
- Any domestic flights listed (unless marked otherwise)
- All admission fees at attractions, temples and activities as mentioned in the itinerary
- All meals listed (B: Breakfast, L: lunch, D: Dinner)
- International flight reconfirmation.
- Flights to/from Asia. We are an ATOL bonded operator and can arrange flights for all our clients, regardless of whether you are departing from the UK or from almost any other worldwide destination.
- Entry visas
- International airport departure taxes
- Any meals not listed in the itinerary
- Drinks, other than water on activity days
- Personal expenses (laundry, telephone, drinks, tip...)
- Travel insurance
- All other services not listed in 'inclusive'
Please note: All prices are correct at the time of publishing. They are liable to change and can only be confirmed upon submitting an enquiry.
FlightsWe will arrange all internal flights used within our holiday itineraries. We can also arrange discounted flights from all UK airports to Asia and we are a fully bonded ATOL operator. If you would like a quote for your international flights then please complete the required section on the enquiry form.
VisaYou will not require a visa to enter the Philippines. Your consultant will be happy to advise you on visa requirements.
PassportPlease ensure that you have a valid passport with at least 6 months validity remaining after your return date. You will also need at least one blank page for each of the countries you are visiting.
InsuranceYou will require a comprehensive travel insurance that covers you for medical costs associated with hospitalisation, emergency travel and repatriation back to your home country. We offer our customers a specially discounted insurance policy, ideally suited to the needs that a trip such as this creates. Tick the insurance box in the enquiry form and we will send you a quote to suit your needs.
Vaccinations and Malaria PreventionYou will undoubtedly require vaccinations for your visit to Asia. Please consult your doctor or a vaccination clinic for the most up-to-date advice. They will also be able to advise you of the most suitable anti-malarial medication if required. It is important that you do this well in advance of your departure date.
Booking ProcedureOnly once you are completely happy with any holiday itinerary we create for you will we ask for a payment. In order that we can secure availability for your booking we would typically require a deposit of 20%.
Travelling ResponsiblyWe care about the places and the communities that you will travel through. It is important to us that we travel as responsibly as possible throughout Asia and that we are giving something back to the regions and the people that make these journeys so special. Full details on our approach to responsible travel can be found on a dedicated section of this website.
Our tailor-made service costs you no extra
This itinerary is designed to work straight off the peg, but we'll happily tailor it until it's a perfect fit for you, to ensure we’re making the absolute best of your time and funds. All you need to do is ask...
Your own private guides & drivers
You'll typically have your own private guides & drivers throughout your trip. When you will be sharing a service (eg a boat cruise) with others, we'll always let you know.