An island to ourselves
February 5, 2007 3:42 PM   Subscribe

The Philippines — We want to get away for a while. I mean really get away.

Last summer my husband and I spent a fantastic week on Huahine in French Polynesia. We stayed at a pension, covered the island in bicycles, and didn't see a single other honky for days.

We'd like to plan a trip to dive the Philippines, but are totally uninterested in staying anywhere touristy or resorty. I know there are dozens of small islands that will suit our craving for isolation, but that's the problem — there are dozens of islands to choose from.

Any Mefites have experience diving in the remote islands? I really don't know much about our options, so I'm wondering if we can have it both ways — will the less-populated islands even have dive operators? Or places to stay/eat? Obviously, we don't want to stay anywhere dangerous either, which rules out a few islands. People have suggested Puerto Galera but a Google search reveals lots of resorts and nightclubs. Yuck. I'm sure it's beautiful, but yuck.
posted by Brittanie to Travel & Transportation around Philippines (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Picking something at random is a really lousy idea. Some parts of the southern islands have insurgency problems and have been targets of terrorist attacks.

The US State Department has warned about travel to the Philippines (posted last June but still current):
The Department of State urges American citizens to consider carefully the risks of travel to the Philippines and continues to warn against all but essential travel throughout the country in light of heightened threats to Westerners. The Department also continues to urge Americans who choose to travel to the Philippines to observe vigilant personal security precautions, and to remain aware of the continued potential for terrorist attacks, including those against U.S. citizens. Terrorist groups, including Jemaah Islamiyah and the Abu Sayyaf Group, continue to plan multiple attacks throughout the Philippines, as do some radical insurgents who have broken away from Moro groups. Explosive devices have been placed in shopping malls, on public transportation, at airports and port facilities, in places of worship, and in other public areas resulting in numerous casualties and deaths. No area of the Philippines is immune from the possibility of a terrorist attack, although the southern island of Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago are particularly affected.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 4:02 PM on February 5, 2007

I second the urging to avoid the southern islands.

As for resorts/tourista, my Phillipines touring experiences are 20 years out of date, so take with a grain of salt, but back then even the big resorts were completely devoid of non-native life for several months of the year. I suspect you could go to Puerto Galera during the off season, and not find it yucky at all. Unfortunately, I have no idea if off-season would work for your diving plans...
posted by nomisxid at 4:37 PM on February 5, 2007

Response by poster: From my question: Obviously, we don't want to stay anywhere dangerous either, which rules out a few islands.

Steven C, I'm not looking to pick a place at random. That's why I posted this question. Otherwise I'd just throw a dart at a map and go.

I realize that no place is safe from terrorism, but I would think that *avoiding* high-tourism places would be safer than visiting a resort where lots of Americans congregate.

As far as off-season travel, we'd like to go in May, which is the beginning of the off-season, but any later than that is the off-season for a good reason — it's also typhoon season.
posted by Brittanie at 4:46 PM on February 5, 2007

I realize that no place is safe from terrorism, but I would think that *avoiding* high-tourism places would be safer than visiting a resort where lots of Americans congregate.

I disagree. The places where foreign tourists go is also where the local government concentrates its security measures. Leave the "beaten path" and spend several days on your own and you're painting a "Kidnap me!" sign on yourself if anyone inimical notices you. You're also giving them several days to plan and carry out something nasty.

Wanna be the star of the next beheading video? Doesn't sound like a fun time to me.
posted by Steven C. Den Beste at 5:09 PM on February 5, 2007

I'm not entirely sure what you're looking for from your description. If you stay in the northern part of the country you should be safe from the evil terrorists.

I have stayed in fairly remote areas, but the nicer hotels in those areas are usually owned by a foreigner. In general those owners keep to themselves unless you approach them. I've stayed in the Iba and La Union area on the western coast of Luzon a couple of times and it was very quiet and remote.

I don't think many foreigners end up in places like Romblon, but they are vacationy areas for Filipinos.

If you want more of an expensive resort compound experience there are places like Palawan.

Boracay is always busy, but its a very safe relaxing situation. It has bike trails and you can walk all around exploring.

I don't think Puerto Galera is what you're looking for. My understanding of the usual Puerto Galera crowd are those looking for diving by day and bars by night.
posted by joelr at 5:40 PM on February 5, 2007

Steven is overreacting a little bit. I personally would not go anywhere near Mindanao or the Sulus, but most of the Visayas and Luzon are fine for foreigners with respect to being a specific target for terrorists or kidnappers. You need to worry more about petty crime and gouging (pickpockets and Manila cab drivers, respectively) and attacks on infastructure which aren't nationality specific (e.g., the ferry bombing).

I'm not a diver but, if I were to go anywhere as a first timer, I'd opt for Bohol. Excellent diving sites and there are plenty of resorts that cater to foreigners but there are also places which are more local market. You'll get a clean room with aircon and food on-site, but no crazy resort amenities. (I'm perfectly happy with a well-shaded hammock on the beach, and maybe a San Mig.)

I you have any questions about Cebu, my email is in my profile. I lived in Cebu for a few months and still go back about 2-3 times per year.
posted by nathan_teske at 5:49 PM on February 5, 2007

why don't you sit down with a travel agent that specializes in that part of the world? Such a trip sounds like it won't be inexpensive and could be very unpleasant, or downright dangerous, if not planned properly. Yet, the proper planning might make for a trip of a lifetime. Sounds like you need some professional, up to date advice.
posted by Salvatorparadise at 6:29 PM on February 5, 2007

Best answer: Please stay away from Puerto Galera. It's too crowded. Boracay is real pretty, but if you want to get away from the tourists, this might not be the best one for you.

What I can recommend is Palawan. The bad: It has resorts & tourists, so might also not be the one you're looking for. However, the people are usually the types who want to get away from the bustle of the Boracay. So despite the existence of resorts, it's still quiet & remote.

You can try out El Nigo. Accomodation ranges from $60 to $200 per day, with a couple of meals per day, I believe. The usual activities available are kayaking, scuba, snorkeling, boat rides, and lots and lots of eating :)

Dolarog is one of the most affordable resorts, I believe. Around $60 per day. Their website is

I also heard good things about Coron and Casa El Nido.

My friends would always recommend Rosanna's. They're always booked, though, so it might be hard to get a rservation.
posted by chette at 10:43 PM on February 5, 2007

Take a look at Tortola in the British Virgin Islands. Pretty laid back. The beaches are beautiful and mostly deserted
posted by DudeAsInCool at 11:42 PM on February 5, 2007

Best answer: Here's an interesting thread on Coron, Palawan in the Philippines. It's fairly comprehensive from a newbie's point of view, and I hazard that this might be up your creek.

The town of Donsol at the southern tip of Luzon island is visited by whale sharks every Feb. to July. You might want to consider a diving expedition to say hello to these friendly giants.

Steven's rather pessimistic picture notwithstanding, yes, you do have to be careful when travelling to unknown areas. Yes, there are some areas that tourists should stay away from. But instead of avoiding the beaten path entirely, I'd suggest you try going where the locals themselves go for fun.

I was actually born in the Southern Philippines, and let me say that it's not as scary as some of you make it out to be. Yeah, you still gotta be careful, but in Davao City you'll sleep pretty soundly without a worry. There's also some good diving to be had there, if you're willing to turn a deaf ear to the alarmists.
posted by micketymoc at 12:43 AM on February 6, 2007

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