We recently joined One Life Adventures Philippines tour for their 10-day action-packed itinerary around Palawan. After hearing so many good things about the tour from friends and One Life’s raving Tour Radar reviews, we thought it was a great way to see the highlights of Palawan in a short trip, without much planning from our side.
To give you a taste of what we got up to on the tour and to help you see if it’s for you, we’ve assembled a complete day-by-day guide, review and answers to important questions that you might have. Read on for our full trip story and plenty of photos!
Day 1 – Manila
The tour starts in the Filipino capital of Manila, presumably because it’s a city that’s easy to travel to from most places in the world. As a huge city and one of the most densely populated places on earth, Manila is a bustling place to explore before the tour starts and we recommend flying in a day early to check out some of the top attractions. The tour doesn’t officially start until 6-7pm on day 1.
Spending one day in Manila, we caught a Grab taxi to the old ‘Intramuros’ area of the city. From here we rented bamboo bikes and rode around sightseeing. The historic Fort Santiago, old churches and parks all set the scene in this must-see area of town. Other than Intramuros, shopping malls, nightlife and a few solo attractions, there isn’t a great deal to do in Manila so a day or two is enough to see the city if you want to arrive early before the tour.
Between 6 and 7pm on the evening of day one, we eventually met our tour guide Becca and the rest of the group of 18 people. First impressions were good as we all enjoyed a free cocktail in the rooftop bar of the hostel and then headed onwards to dinner in a secluded nearby restaurant.
Where we stayed: Z Hostel (1 night)
A trendy hostel and great place to stay for the nightlife. The rooftop bar is busy every evening, the complimentary breakfast was excellent and they serve up delicious coffee. It’s a good place to stay for solo travellers too! The only downside to the hostel is the lack of soundproofing. Music played until the early hours and it was a struggle to sleep so pack some earplugs!
Day 2 – Puerto Princesa Relaxation and Iwahig Prison
After a very early morning start (we’re talking 5:30am!) we took a short transfer to Manila Airport and headed onwards to Palawan. On arrival in the small airport of Puerto Princesa, we were picked up and dropped off at our hotel, which was only a couple of minutes away from the terminal. Day 2 is essentially a rest day after an early morning start and was spent meeting fellow travellers and getting a welcome briefing from our tour guide.
We relaxed by the pool in the boutique hotel most of the day, sipping cocktails, chatting and eating lunch. Canvas Boutique Hotel is without a doubt the best accommodation throughout the entire 10-day tour so is well worth taking advantage of whilst you’re there. Spacious rooms with rainfall showers, a top-notch buffet breakfast and plenty of food and drink options all made it great! After relaxing at the hotel, we boarded the One Life Adventures bus in the afternoon to travel half an hour down the road to Iwahig Prison. This open-air and self-contained prison is managed by the prisoners themselves with very little security. It’s designed to rehabilitate them and give them a better quality of life than other prison facilities throughout the world. Here we met the prisoners, listened to their sometimes-shocking stories and watched their very own boy band perform live. The whole experience was fun and enlightening.
On the evening of day 2, we ventured in a Jeepney, the cool and colourful local taxi transport, to a quirky restaurant down the road. Restaurants vary for each tour but they’re all hand picked by the One Life team and we can honestly say the dining options were a highlight of the trip!
Where we stayed: Canvas Boutique Hotel (1 night)
A 3-star designer hotel with great facilities, a swimming pool, restaurant and spacious rooms. Breakfast was included.
Day 3 – Puerto Princesa Underground River and Port Barton
Day 3 of the tour starts with a top-notch buffet breakfast at the hotel before boarding the One Life minivan and heading to Puerto Princesa Underground River. The journey takes around 1hr 30mins. We arrived in Sabang town, where we then boarded traditional Banagka boats and jetted across the ocean to a secluded bay and destination for the famous river.
After walking across a beach and through a forest you emerge to the starting point of the river, boarding a small rowing boat with a guide and then cruising into a labyrinth of underground caves and caverns. The Puerto Princesa Underground River covers over 8.2 kilometres of twisting caves and it was voted as one of the modern natural wonders of the world. It’s simply a must-see for any visit to Palawan and you’ll appreciate the beauty of the intricate cave complex. Bring your own high-power torch to explore the caves yourself.
Tucking into a delicious buffet lunch in Sabang, we then headed onward to Port Barton in the minivan, taking around 2hrs 30mins. Your first impression of Port Barton town will be that of simplicity. It’s a no-frills beach village with basic shops, accommodation and beach bars. Whilst a little bit touristic, it feels a lot rawer and more untouched than the likes of Puerto Princesa and El Nido and it’ll likely be one of your favourite destinations. It definitely was for us! The rest of Day 3 is spent relaxing on the beach to your desire, kicking back with some rum cocktails in a reggae bar and heading out for dinner. A group night out was even on the cards for us! Nightlife here is on a small scale but it’s lively.
Where we stayed: Elas Cottages (2 nights – one on either side of the island camping)
These small and basic bungalows are right on the beach in Port Barton. As the area is still mostly in development, you won’t find many accommodation options and nowhere has hot water. That means cold showers all around! Whilst Elsas Cottages were basic, it was a clean and comfortable place to stay and in a good location. You probably won’t spend much time in your room anyway! We checked into this accommodation for 3 nights, leaving our belongings here on day 4 whilst we camped on the island (more on that below).
Day 4 – Port Barton Island hopping and camping
Day 4 was probably our favourite day on the entire One Life Adventures Philippines tour! The day starts by boarding the custom-built One Life Adventures boat on Port Barton beach, where you’ll soon be sailing the seas of turquoise water with wind in your hair. The first stop for us was a small local school in the area. The children greeted us with smiles and we spent a couple of hours watching their dance performances, touring their classrooms and generally having fun playing with the kids.
As a traditional Palawan school, you really get to connect with the kids and learn about their school day and the environment where they learn. They’re cute, full of energy and will make you feel welcome! We recommend taking them some pencils, books, and especially coloured beads to play with. They’ll go down a treat!
The rest of the day took us onward to various white-sand beaches and some of the best snorkelling spots of the trip. You’ll get to see sea turtles, tropical fish and coral in picture-perfect blue water. It’s seriously as blue as the photos!
The last stop on the itinerary for the day is the secluded tropical island where you’ll stay for the night. Here we climbed to the top of a viewpoint for stunning views of the bay, played volleyball on the beach, had a drink in the treehouse and generally hung out together on the beach. Once darkness descends on the island, the bonfires are lit and it’s time for a hearty beach BBQ with games, songs and stories. As you’re essentially cut off from the outside world with a lack of phone signal, it’s a nice environment to get to know your fellow travellers.
Where we stayed: Twin tents tucked back under a canopy on the beach. A pillow, sleeping bag and mattress is provided. It’s so quiet and peaceful you’ll actually have a great sleep – we sure did! (1 night)
Quick island camping FAQ’s:
Are there any showers on the island?
Nope! Best bring the baby wipes or walk 50m to the sea for a good old wash from mother nature. As we were on the beach all day this wasn’t too much of a problem.
Are there toilets on the island?
Yes, but they’re very basic. Bring along some toilet paper from the accommodation in Port Barton.
What should I bring?
Pack a small overnight bag with toiletries and a towel. All you really need for the two days of island hopping is your swimsuit and a top for an evening. It’s beach life at its best! Also bring your usual phone, camera and GoPro to snap some pics. On the day of departure for the island, you’ll also have the chance to visit a Port Barton shop to buy drinks and snacks for the island trip.
Day 5 – Port Barton island hopping continued
After waking up bright and early in the island tents, breakfast was cooked up and then we set off back onto the One Life Adventures boat for more island hopping in the Port Barton area. Stops on the itinerary were a small island, aptly named ‘Starfish Island’, where we came up close and personal with baby and full-grown starfish on the shores of the island. We then walked across the sand bar in the middle of the ocean.
Other stops included a small trek to a peaceful forest waterfall, more snorkelling lagoons with turtles and then an island beach resort where we could relax to our heart’s desire. Throughout the island-hopping experience you’ll capture some truly amazing scenery and will have plenty of beach and snorkelling time. It felt like a really good mix and the day was great fun!
We arrived back into Port Barton at sunset, tired after a day in the sun and ready for a refreshing shower. Now we know how Tom Hanks felt on castaway! The restaurants we enjoyed during our time in Port Barton were a trendy pizza-oven restaurant with giant stone baked varieties and a bamboo furnished garden restaurant with good cocktails and south-east Asian inspired dishes. On day 5 we also got to see a local (One Life sponsored) basketball team play, although this isn’t an option on all tours and depends on game schedules. All in all, Port Barton was amazing…It’s a destination that’s often overlooked in favour of El Nido and Coron but all are worth visiting.
Day 6 – El Nido arrival
After a sleep in to recover from the night before, the group set-off on the One Life minivan to El Nido. The journey from Port Barton to El Nido is a comfortable 3hrs 30mins with a stop or two on the way. It also involved plenty of bus activities!
As we arrived late in the afternoon, the remainder of the day was spent relaxing at the new and trendy hostel and strolling through El Nido town to see what was on offer. The town beach is a good option if you want to wind down after the long drive. Into the evening, we assembled as a group for a nice meal in a Thai restaurant, sunset cocktails by the beach and a couple of lively bars to round off the evening.
Day 6 is very much a travel and rest day, which is much needed after the adventures in Port Barton.
Where we stayed: Spin Hostel (4 nights)
A top-rated designer hostel in the centre of town, within a short walk of all the beach, shops, bars and restaurants. Rooms are basic but well-furnished and comfortable. Both private rooms and hostel dorms make up the accommodation (depending on the option you choose). The dorms have large communal bathrooms with good showers and there’s a complimentary breakfast every morning. We enjoyed staying here and would give it top rating for a hostel!
Day 7 – El Nido Philippines Experience & Corong Corong Beach Zipline
Day 7 was another contender for one of the best days on the trip and the same view was shared with many of the people we travelled with. A short drive down the road from El Nido town sits the Philippines Experience, an interactive half day excursion that teaches you about Filipino culture and includes a variety of activities. Here’s everything we got up to in this action-packed morning:
We started with a walk through the forest learning about local trees and plants.
We climbed coconut trees with a harness (it’s easier than it looks).
Designed our own bamboo shot glasses and said ‘Tagay’, or cheers, to a shot of local rum.
Created a cool fish sculpture from banana leaves.
Met the local residents – hens, ducks and plenty of cute rescue dogs!
Danced like a local by jumping over moving bamboo sticks to the beat of the music.
Cooked up a delicious Filipino Adobo meal with instruction from the chef. A vegan version was also made for some members of the group. Plenty of snacks and drinks were provided too!
The 3-hour experience included all of the above, plus a few more cool activities of cultural learning and having fun. Find out more about the Philippines Experience on their TripAdvisor page here or check out our highlights video on YouTube.
After saying goodbye to the friendly Philippines Experience tour guides, we met up with our One Life Adventures Philippines tour guide Becca and she took us to the top of the nearby hill to embark on the breath-taking El Nido Zipline. The zipline costs 500 PHP if you want to sit down or 700 PHP for the forward-facing superman, which we highly recommend! You then get to cross the Corong Corong Beach area from way up high, capturing spectacular views with your GoPro. Whilst thrilling, the zipline is fairly slow moving so we encourage everyone to give it a go!
The remainder of day 7 was spent sampling cocktails and relaxing on Corong Corong Beach and then heading back to the hostel to get changed before dinner. Although the restaurants vary from tour to tour, all options we tried were excellent, with Big Buddha Thai being the best of the best (ask your guide to go here ?).
Day 8 – El Nido Island Hopping
El Nido island hopping is probably what you’ve envisaged before deciding to come to the Philippines. Picture tall limestone cliffs, beautiful sand bars and secluded beach coves left, right and centre. Day 8 was an activity day that we were really looking forward to and it didn’t fail to impress. Whilst a lot of El Nido tours opt for the standard boat routes of A, B, C and D, the One Life Adventures boat goes a slightly different route so you’ll be away from the crowds of tourists most of the time.
For a full day we roamed around the islands off the coast of El Nido, stopping in shallow areas to go snorkelling, enjoying a BBQ lunch on a sandy beach island, playing volleyball, exploring a cave and walking across a sandbar to a viewpoint. The weather was a little rainy during our day of island hopping but we still managed to capture some sea turtles and tropical fish and could appreciate the natural beauty of the islands.
Returning to El Nido town and the hostel at sunset, we then went out for the nightly group dinner and let the laughter ensue at the hostel’s on-site karaoke bar.
Pro-tip: You’ll have the option to rent water shoes at the start of the island-hopping tour and we highly recommend getting yourself a pair. They’re inexpensive and will protect your feet from spiky coral, jellyfish and rocky shores.
Day 9 – El Nido adventure climb and rest day
As the last full day of the tour, we woke up and put on our trainers to prepare for a small hike to El Nido’s Via Ferrata Canopy Walk. This short and easy climb involves crossing a wooden bridge and ascending multiple flights of stairs to get to one of the best viewpoints of El Nido town and the surrounding limestone cliffs. It’s a good place to snap some last-minute holiday pictures!
The remainder of day 9 is a free day/rest day and involves a complimentary massage in El Nido town. We used this time to relax on the beach and do a spot of shopping but you can utilize it to do whatever you like! Here are some of our suggestions:
- Take a taxi to the beautiful Nacpan Beach for an afternoon in the sun. This beach is one of the best in Palawan!
- Stay in town for some shopping and eating/drinking by the beach
- Take a Trike taxi down to Corong Corong Beach for a beautiful beach scene that’s not too far away
On the evening, the entire group met for a family dinner on top of a rooftop restaurant and then we headed to nearby cocktail and karaoke bars. What better way to say goodbye to everyone than happy hour sunset cocktails and a good night out?
Day 10 – Goodbyes
The final day of the trip is simply checking out of the hostel and saying a final goodbye to everyone after breakfast. One Life Adventures organise a complimentary transfer back to Puerto Princesa, or you’re free to stay in El Nido and make your own transport plans. We recommend flying out directly from El Nido as it saves the 6hr 30min return bus ride to Puerto Princesa.
Many of our tour group parted ways at El Nido on day 10 and continued their Philippines adventure. Here are some of the best options for onward travel after the tour:
- Take a ferry to the island of Coron (3hr 30mins). It’s a scuba diver and snorkellers paradise with tall limestone cliffs and hidden lagoons and caves.
- Take a taxi to nearby Nacpan Beach for a couple of days relaxation. It’s only a 45-minute drive from El Nido and was once voted one of the best beaches in the world!
- Travel onward to the islands of Boracay, Siargao or Cebu. All three options are must-see destinations in the Philippines and have something different to offer.
- Fly directly to Manila from El Nido Lio Airport and return home or to another part of Asia. Bali anyone?
Frequently asked questions
What were the mix of travellers on the tour? Is it good for solo travellers?
The mix of travellers on the tour dates you choose will always very, but apparently the mix between couples, solo travellers and the age range is quite consistent. On our tour we had around 7 solo travellers, duos of friends or couples and nationalities from around the world. Australian and British was the most common nationality. Most people on the tour were in their 20’s and early 30’s.
Is it worth paying the ‘private room’ fee?
The tour accommodation is made up of hostel dorms, twin rooms and a tent (one night) as part of the standard package. If you’re travelling with a friend or partner you can pay a fee to upgrade to a private room throughout the trip. Likewise, if you’re travelling solo, you can pay a fee to have your own room throughout, however this substantially increases the cost of the tour. If you’re travelling solo, you’ll be paired up with another traveller on the tour and will share twin rooms and hostels with other members of the group. If you value privacy and your own space to sleep, the room fee is worth it and the overall cost of the tour is still very good value. Otherwise, we suggest you save money and embrace making new friends and living with your fellow travellers!
What should I bring with me to the tour?
If you book the One Life Adventures Philippines tour, One Life will send you plenty of valuable information, including a handy packing list. Based on their list and our own experience, we recommend packing the following in addition to your usual clothes and toiletries:
- Plenty of swimsuits! You’ll be using them a lot
- Sun cream and after sun
- A strong mosquito repellent spray
- Ear plugs
- Quick-dry towel (we use this one)
- Camera, drone, GoPro (if you have them)
- Dry bag
- Portable power bank (we use this one)
- Universal travel adaptor (we use this one)
- Probiotic tablets
- Rehydration sachets and diarrhoea medication
- Wet wipes and hand sanitiser
- High power torch (we use this one)
- Travel pillow
What’s the nightlife like on the tour?
As a destination, Palawan doesn’t have the eccentric and crazy nightlife of the likes of Thailand and Bali elsewhere in Asia, however it does have good nightlife! Puerto Princesa has various bars in the centre of town, Port Barton will entertain you with fun reggae beach bars and there’s plenty of options for a night out in El Nido. The vibe is relaxed during the day, happy hour is available almost everywhere around sunset and then bars liven up as you reach midnight. Each location has at least one late night club-style venue.
Will there be WiFi and phone signal throughout the tour?
As Palawan is a developing tourist destination, both WiFi and phone signal can be inconsistent. We found the WiFi at our Puerto Princesa hotel and El Nido hostel to be fairly good, however Port Barton doesn’t have WiFi.
We recommend buying a Globe network SIM card in the airport on arrival. It’ll cost you around 1000 PHP for 10GB+ of data that you can use on your phone if unlocked to any network. You should be able to get signal in most areas, minus the islands and when you’re on a boat or in the middle of nowhere.
How much spending money will I need for the tour? Are there ATM’s in the destinations we visit?
We found Palawan to be extremely cheap compared to our home country of the UK. As accommodation and most activities are included in the tour, plus plenty of meals; you’ll only really need cash for evening dinners, drinks, snacks, souvenirs and the zipline in El Nido. In total we recommend taking 13,000 – 16,000 PHP. If you need cash throughout the tour, reliable ATM’s are available in Puerto Princesa and El Nido town, where you’ll be for most of the tour. We recommend withdrawing in higher sums of money to avoid paying lots of withdrawal fees.
Are meals included in the tour?
More meals were included on the tour than we initially thought actually! Most breakfasts, quite a few lunches and the occasional dinner are included on the tour. Lunches are generally included on the boat tour days and Philippines Experience day. Group evening meal reservations are made; however, you’ll need to pay separately for your own food in restaurants. This was very well organised! We recommend checking the full tour itinerary for detailed meal information.
For an example of the type of restaurants you might find on the tour, check out some of the places we visited below:
- Big Buddha Thai (El Nido)
- Art Café (El Nido)
- Scape Skydeck (El Nido)
- Mojitos (Port Barton)
- Mabuti Eat and Chill (Port Barton)
Is the tour suitable for vegans, vegetarians and those with allergies?
Within our tour group of 18 people, we had two pescatarians, a vegan, two vegetarians and someone with a nut allergy. At every restaurant we visited (even during the island BBQ), all dietary requirements seemed to be catered to. There were usually a couple of speciality dishes within the buffet-style prepared food and plenty of options in each restaurant we visited.
What we liked about the One Life Adventures Philippines tour:
- The organisation of getting from A to B, all activities and restaurants was excellent. Everything ran very smoothly and there was minimal time waiting around.
- There was a good mix of activity time with relaxation time and you had the opportunity to socialise with the group on an evening or do your own thing.
- The places you visit during the tour are amazing – in particular the private island- and island-hopping experience in Port Barton. It felt very unique to the One Life Adventures Philippines tour.
- The value of the tour was very good. For the sheer amount of meals, activities and the type of accommodation we stayed in, we felt the price was well worth it.
- Our tour guide Becca and the overall professionalism and fun vibe of One Life Adventures will help make your trip. You’re encouraged to socialise and have a great time as a group!
What we thought could be improved:
- We’d like to see more background information on the places that we visit during the tour, including fun facts, history and any other interesting stories.
- The El Nido island hopping tour doesn’t include the famous lagoons that many of the main tourist boat routes include. These are well worth seeing and an additional day of island hopping or inclusion on the existing itinerary would be great.
- The tour seems aimed at younger age groups so keep this in mind if you’re an older traveller and are looking for a more cultural and historic tour.
Our overall thoughts
Overall, we absolutely loved our One Life Adventures Philippines tour! Everything from the places you’ll visit to the food, accommodation and organisation of the trip was super smooth and the people we got to share it with helped make the trip memorable. Sure, the itinerary is restricted and you have more freedom exploring the Philippines yourself, but for the amount of fun you’ll have travelling as a group and the great value of what’s included, it makes complete sense for solo travellers, couples or friends visiting the Philippines for the first time.
We’re avid travellers that usually create our own itinerary and explore on the fly, however we have no issue booking another top-rated tour if it’s as good as One Life Adventures Philippines tour. They host various other tours throughout Asia and there’s a good chance we’ll be trying them out soon!
Where to book the One Life Adventures Philippines Tour
You can book the tour directly with One Life Adventures on their website here or with their partner Tour Radar. We recommend looking at both options and comparing prices to see what’s cheaper. Tour Radar have frequent sales so you could get some money off depending on your chosen dates ?
Tour rating: 5/5