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But the Central Spine offers more of an authentic Philippines experience at a cheaper price without the crowds … with beaches and experiences that are just as good.
In this post, I suggest a 1-2 month itinerary for those who want to follow a ‘Road Less Travelled’. All on a GRANDPAcking Budget of US$54 / day for 2 people.
THE SUGGESTED ROUTE:
- You start in Cebu City
- Then Bantayan Island
- Then Maripipi Island
- Then San Antonio Island
- Then Ticao Island
- Then Masbate Island
- Then Marinduque
- Then Romblon Island
- Then Tablas Island
- And finish in Carabao Island
If you start in Boracay Island, you can do this trip in reverse. Spend up to 1 week in each location. It’s worth spending a whole week in Bantayan, Maripipi, San Antonio, Marinduque, Romblon, and Tablas.
These ‘Central Spine” islands have some of the lowest crime rates in the whole of The Philippines.
They may be ‘off the beaten track’ but they are safe and friendly.
Door-to-door travel time is about 6 hours. The cost for 2 GRANDPAckers is about PHP810.
Rent a scooter for PHP250 / day (the rate for 1 week or more) to get you around the island and to save costs.
The beaches on Bantayan Island are mostly average (at best) and so is the swimming. In most cases, the beaches are stony and there are stones underfoot as you wade out in the water for a swim. But, you do get some good snorkeling. The best sandy beach is White Beach.
If you want to stay on the beachfront, you have very few options: you will need to choose Where To Stay carefully, and negotiate hard for an affordable price.
As I say in my rules of thumb, it is best to turn up with folding cash, make them an offer, and pay up-front – this will get you the best price.
If you want to be within walking distance of a good selection of restaurants and bars, you need to target the Kota Town area. From here you have easy access to White Beach and plenty of entertainment in the evenings ranging from live music to sports bars to karaoke.
BANTAYAN ISLAND TO MARIPIPI ISLAND:
Cross references: Bantayan to Malapascua (but don’t go via Malapascua), Malapascua to Ormoc (but don’t go via Ormoc), Ormoc to Naval (but go direct from Palompon instead), Naval to Maripipi Island, and Maripipi A Secret Escape.
From Bantayan, I went to Malapascua. Malapascua is an expensive tourist trap for SCUBA divers. I suggest that you skip Malapascua and head directly for Maripipi Island.
Start your trip early and head to Bantayan Port. Catch a ferry to Hagnaya Port (before 9am). Catch a bus heading for Bogo City. Get off at the junction with the East Nautical Highway Road. Catch a Trike to the Port. This first part of your journey should take less than 3 hours. Catch a noon ferry to Palompon, Leyte (you should arrive before 3pm). Catch a Minivan to Naval, Birilan Island (2-3 hours).
The door-to-door time is about 11 hours. GRANDPAckers should budget transport costs of PHP1,300 for 2 people.
There is only 1 proper Resort on Maripipi – the Napa Beach Resort. Make sure that you have contacted them directly, in advance, and negotiated a room and price. For a 1 week stay, target a discount of at least 30% off of their daily Rack Rate. You should be able to get a Large Aircon Double Room for PHP1,000 or a Family Room for PHP1,500. I recommend the latter.
The normal way to get from the Bangka Port to the Napa Beach Resort is 25 minutes on the back of a Motorbike (Hamal / Hamal). You will need 1 Moto each. If you don’t fancy this, ask the Napa to organise alternative transport … they may be able to send the Police Van!
The door-to-door trip time is about 4 hours. 2 GRANDPAckers should budget transport costs of PHP340 (more if you don’t want to use the Motos).
The Napa Beach Resort is a bit isolated. To get around, you have to catch Motos. There are no Trikes and no Jeepneys.
MARIPIPI ISLAND TO SAN ANTONIO ISLAND:
Cross references: Maripipi to San Antonio.
From there, you catch a 3:30am(ish) Bangka to Calbayog City (3 hours). Catch a Trike to the Minivan Terminal. Catch a Minivan to Victoria (1.5 hours). Walk 500m to the Bangka Port. Catch a Bangka to San Antonio (30 mins). Walk to your hotel.
I suggest that you stay at the Haven Of Fun Resort. You can get a Fan Double for PHP1,000. They have the best beach and their restaurant prices are reasonable.
You won’t find any noisy bars here.
San Antonio is a nice ‘hideaway’ island if you are looking for a quiet place in the real Philippines – away from the busy and popular tourist spots.
SAN ANTONIO ISLAND TO TICAO ISLAND:
Cross references: San Antonio to Ticao.
Start your journey early. Walk to the Bangka Port. Catch a Bangka to Victoria (30 mins). Walk 500m to the main road. Catch a Trike to the main Allen Ferry Port (20 mins). Ideally, you want to be there before 7:00am; if not, you have to catch a 9:30am ferry from the southern Allen Ferry Port. Catch a ferry to Matnog (90 mins). Catch a Jeepney to Bulan Airport Road. Catch another Jeepney to Bulan. Catch a Bangka to San Jacinto on Ticao Island.
There are very few Hotels listed in Ticao Island on the internet. The most well known is the Ticao Beach Resort. The Ticao Beach Resort is the only SCUBA Dive Resort on the island. Room prices start at PHP2,500 / night – too expensive for GRANDPAckers.
I suggest that you stay at the Ticao Lodge. It’s cheap but cheerful. An Aircon Double costs PHP800 / night.
There are plenty of cheap Eateries around town plus, for a change, a couple of nicer restaurants near the Bangka Port.
TICAO ISLAND TO MASBATE ISLAND:
Cross references: Ticao to Masbate.
You need to start early. Jeepneys leave from San Jacinto to Lagundi every hour from 3:00am to 6:00am. You need to be on one. You can catch the Jeepney to Lagundi from the San Jacinto Bangka Port. Catch a Jeepney to Lagundi (45 mins). Catch a Bangka to Masbate City (1 hour). You should be in Masbate City about 7:30am.
The door-to-door trip takes about 3 hours. 2 GRANDPAckers should budget transport costs of PHP270.
Unless you want to be in the center of town on a noisy street (in somewhere like the Victoria Du), the place to be is on the Circumferential / Nursery Road in the ‘north east corner’ of the Masbate City peninsular.
You can stay in Masbate City but there isn’t much endearing about it. It is just another ‘grubby’ Philippines city with lots of Trikes.
There are no beaches in the City.
You, probably, want to get out of Masbate City immediately on arrival to some other target spot that you have picked on the island. As you arrive so early in the day, you will have plenty of time to travel to your chosen destination.
MASBATE ISLAND TO MARINDUQUE OR SIBUYAN:
You now need to decide whether or not you want to include Marinduque Island. If not, catch a ferry from Masbate City to Sibuyan Island to start your tour of the Romblons (see, below).
Otherwise, you are heading for Marinduque. You want to start this trip early. You have a long way to go. It will be a long 2 days.
Day 1: Catch the 8:00am fast ferry from Masbate City to Pilar (3 hours). Catch a Minivan from Pilar to Legazpi City (1 hour). Catch an Aircon Bus or Minivan from Legazpi City to Naga City (2-3 hours).
The door-to-door trip takes about 8 hours. 2 GRANDPAckers should budget transport costs of PHP1,250.
Online, Naga City has several hotels but not many in the GRANDPAcker price range.
Obviously, there are plenty of budget places to stay that are not online … but they (usually) tend to be below GRANDPAcker Standard.
PHP1,200 should get you a reasonable room.
I suggest the Nagaland Hotel which you can find on AGODA.COM.
Again, you need to start this 2nd part of your journey early. It is going to be another long day.
Catch a 7:30am-8:00am Aircon Bus to Lucena (6 hours). Catch a Trike to Dalahican Port. Catch a Ferry to Mogpog Port on Marinduque (3 hours). Catch a Jeepney to the A&B Coral Resort (45 minutes).
Stay in a ‘Double Suite with Wifi’ at the A&B Coral Beach Resort.
The province of Marinduque is inhabited by peace-loving people and was ranked number 1 by the Philippine National Police and Philippine Security Forces in 2013 as the ‘Most Peaceful Province of the country’ due to its low crime rate statistics.
The A&B doesn’t have the best beach in the world but it is a small resort that focuses on a picturesque central garden. The garden has fruit trees and seating areas.
If you contact the A&B directly in advance, you can get an Aircon Double Suite for just PHP1000 / night at their ‘standard’ rate.
MARINDUQUE ISLAND TO ROMBLON ISLAND:
Cross references: none.
I did not do this leg of my journey myself but there are Bangkas from Marinduque direct to Romblon.
Bruno and Amelia at the A&B will tell you how to do it.
I have also not stayed on Romblon but hear very good things about it.
ROMBLON ISLAND TO TABLAS ISLAND:
Tablas Island is the biggest of the 3 islands that make up the Romblon island group.
There are very few Resorts on the island within GRANDPAcking price range. You need to know Where To Stay. The best place for GRANDPAckers to stay on Tablas Island is the AGLICAY BEACH RESORT – hands down.
You can find the Aglicay online. AGODA.COM has it listed.
I have not done the first part of this journey (I came to Tablas from Mindoro). But I have done the part from Odiongan to the Aglicay.
The Aglicay never seems to be full and always seems to be offering online discounts. You will often see a Deluxe Aircon Beachview room with hot water ensuite going for about PHP1000 / night. Sometimes this includes breakfast for just a few pesos more. If you can, get breakfast included as (otherwise) it will cost you PHP150 each.
If you stay at the Aglicay, you are ‘resort bound’. Their restaurant is not the best nor the cheapest but there are local shops within walking distance if you want to buy odds and sods. The Aglicay rent scooters for PHP600 / day – this is, also, expensive for The Philippines.
Everywhere you go around the island people are genuinely friendly.
The children wave at you as you drive past and shout out ‘hello’. But, it is not just the children… the adults do it too. I don’t think that they see many foreigners touring the island. It makes for a very pleasant journey.
TABLAS ISLAND TO CARABAO ISLAND:
I assume that you start your journey in the Aglicay Beach Resort. Catch a Trike (book it with the Aglicay) to the Guinhaya-an turnoff (30 mins). Catch a Jeepney to Santa Fe (45 mins). Catch the 3:00pm Bangka to Said Port Carabao Island. Walk to your Hotel.
The door-to-door trip takes about 3 hours. 2 GRANDPAckers should budget transport costs of PHP500.
It is not easy to pre-book a hotel online; not one that’s in GRANDPAcker price range anyway.
If you walk along the Said Beach path (which is only about 500m long), you will find several accommodation options.
At the other end of the path (near the town) you will find the Republic of Inobahan and the Terraza De Isla where you can negotiate a Fan Room for as low as PHP600 / night and an Aircon Room for PHP900-PHP1,000.The ‘Republic’ has one of the only ‘proper’ restaurants on the island.
But given the quiet, uneventful days, you find yourself looking forward to a nice Dinner at night… this is your only ‘treat’ for the day.
For that reason, a ‘local’ cafe doesn’t ‘cut the mustard’ and you find that you end up somewhere like the Republic and paying a premium for your meal. As a consequence, budget PHP200-300 each for Dinner.
This route is for people who want to see some of the real Philippines and some beautiful locations.
It is quiet, relaxing, real and unspoilt.
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