Hidden beach in El Nido, Palawan
Guides and Itineraries,  Philippines

5 Philippine Destinations That Most People Love But I Don’t

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After traveling for 2-3 years in various places in the country, I’ve been to a couple of places that are well loved and popular but just don’t resonate with me. Here is that list.

I’d been meaning to write about this for a long time but didn’t because I didn’t want to offend anyone (*cough* tourism offices and people in general). I also felt guilty about not enjoying myself as I should have. That’s actually a funny thing to worry about, but hey, try to live in the Philippines where people will outright bully or harass you for not liking the same thing.

Expectations play a big role on how we react. Sometimes I read and research and when I finally see a bucket-list destination, it just doesn’t live up to the idea in my mind. There’s also the matter of circumstance. I know I enjoy trips better when the weather is fine (even though many Filipinos avoid the sun) and there are less tourists around.

So without further ado, here’s my list of Philippine destinations that most people love and I don’t.

1. El Nido, Palawan

Hol’ up, am I actually including El Nido in this list? Yes, dear reader, I am.

I grew up hearing about El Nido. It used to be exclusive for the rich or those celebrating a special occasion. Over time, growing popularity and competition made it accessible to budget backpackers. That saying, it’s still the premiere destination in Palawan. It’s often cited in best-of lists, including 2016’s TripAdvisor’s list of Top Destinations on the Rise.

As such, I expected to be swept off my feet. I expected world-class beaches and lagoons worthy of being featured in magazine’s front pages.

So you can imagine my disappointment when El Nido didn’t seem all that. There’s the occasional wonder such as the snorkeling area in Matinloc Shrine and Nacpan Beach, but nothing that made me feel awe. I was especially looking forward to the Big Lagoon, but our boat tour only went there for a short sweep while the 10 or more joiners queued up for photos.

Nacpan Beach in El Nido, Palawan | budget-friendly El Nido travel guide
Nacpan beach with this lovely dog. (Photo by Hali)
Hidden beach in El Nido, Palawan
Hidden Beach in El Nido, Palawan. (Photo by Hali)

The food was also disappointing. None of the restaurants we’d been to were good. I liked that the buffet offered in the island hopping tours consisted of seafood, but I wish there was more flavor. Everything served was grilled or boiled. (I also had food poisoning here, along with another joiner who eventually went to a hospital.)

Places that I liked better

Coron is much better in terms of *everything.* In fact, if you’ve been to Coron first before visiting El Nido, you might be underwhelmed as well.

If you’re into beaches, Balabac which is located in the southern tip of the province also has awesome beaches.

2. Kalanggaman Island, Leyte

Kalanggaman Island is one of top tourist attractions in Leyte. It’s famous for its long sand bar.

To me, this is one of those places that look better in photos than it does in real life. The sand is white, but coarse. The sand bar itself looks great when captured with long-monopod cameras or drones, but otherwise it looks ordinary.

Another factor why this made it to this list is it was jam-packed when we visited. We went here during Holy Week, which is admittedly a busy day. But the number of visitors is still too much than I’m used to. We couldn’t even get a decent photo of the sand bar because it was crowded, from pre-dawn to sunset.

Kalanggaman Island beach
Chilling at the beach-side. (Photo by Hali)
Kalanggaman Island sandbar
Kalanggaman Island’s famous sandbar during sunrise. (Photo by Hali)

The good thing about Kalanggaman Island is that it was immediately managed by the LGU once it hit the tourist spotlight. With daily capping and proper garbage measures, it’s a prime example of sustainable tourism.

I might have liked it better if I’d gone here before it got popular or at least in other relaxed days.

You can watch our trip here:

Places that I liked better

Sambawan Island is more captivating and less crowded. The island also offers camping overnight. It’s hours away from Leyte.

3. Seco Island, Antique

Seco Island is a tiny island located 3 hours away from Tibiao or Culasi. Similar to Kalanggaman Island, it’s popular for its sand bar.

My take here is the same as above. It looks best when captured with a drone.

We went here during our backpacking trip in Panay. What I noticed is that most of the surrounding shore is covered with seaweeds. The sand bar area was nice, but the sand was peppered with stones and the water was perpetually low.

Seco Island, Antique
Sand bar in Seco Island. (Photo by Hali)

What’s memorable to me about our trip here is the bioluminescence and dolphins we saw along the way.

P.S. Kuya Brahma reminded me that Seco Island is better known as a kitesurfin destination. It’s only recently that it’s being promoted by local millennials as an Instagram spot.

Places that I liked better

If you’re in Antique, there are other places that are more accessible and probably more worthwhile to visit.

4. Gigantes Islands, Iloilo

Gigantes Islands is an island hopping spot in Iloilo.

Hali had been here before its surge to popularity and he was extremely positive about his experience. This and the hundreds of photos of the alluring view in Cabugao Gamay Island made me want to see the place for myself.

We went back here in 2015. Despite my excitement, I can’t discount the disappointment when our boat reached Cabugao Gamay Island. I thought we were visiting Antonia Island or other island, but Hali affirmed that we were in the right place. It’s so small and… “Ito na yun?”

We then island hopped to Tangke Lagoon. It was still low tide but there was no other good time to visit, so we ended up wading around in ankle-deep brackish water.

Cabugao Gamay in Gigantes Islands Iloilo
Cabugao Gamay, the icon of Gigantes Islands. (Photo by Hali)

The thing about not feeling the love for a popular tourist attraction is that it’s difficult to say it out loud. To be honest, I even felt that something was wrong with me instead. Later on, I caught up with a backpacker friend and we chatted about our trips for that year. I was surprised to know that we have similar reactions on Cabugao Gamay in particular, which she’d visited on a perfect weather unlike us. (We also have the same opinion about Kalanggaman Island, whom she’d risked an uncertain boat ride for.)

You can watch our trip here:

Places that I liked better

We went for a 5 days trip to Iloilo and Guimaras. I enjoyed our day trip in Guimaras better than this island hopping experience. In fact, given the chance I would gladly go back to Guimaras for a staycation.

5. Sagada, Mountain Province

Sagada is a town in Cordillera Mountains featuring interesting cultural & nature attractions.

Hali and I visited here as part of our 3 day Sagada-Maligcong trip. It was a packaged tour, so we had a fixed itinerary.

While in Sagada, we visited the Hanging Coffins in Echo Valley, the Small Falls & the Big Falls (Bomod-ok Falls), and Kiltepan. Sagada is interesting enough, but on our visit it was extremely crowded. There was a queue going up Echo Valley and there was a big crowd at the top of Kiltepan waiting for the sunrise.

This is not something that I would like to experience again.

Hanging coffins in Sagada
A crowd taking pictures of one of Sagada’s famous cultural souvenir. (Photo by Hali)
Aguid rice terraces in Sagada
Hali and I in the Aguinid Rice Terraces. (Photo by Hali)

I wrote extensively about our trip in Sagada. This is a place that I might give another chance, if there’s a guarantee we can book on non-busy days (if that is still possible).

You can watch our trip here:

Places that I liked better

Sagada is a unique destination that I can’t really think of another place to compare it to. This is one of the reasons I might be willing to go back here in the future.

I’m sure that these places have their own merits. These are just my opinions based on my trips there. We’ve all visited a popular tourist attraction that we realize isn’t really up to our liking. What’s yours?

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15 Comments

  • MARIANA GUIMARAES

    Hello there!! First of all, congratulations for your amazing blog. It has helped usa lot. 🙂
    I am writing to you, because we are planning to visit the Philippines for the first time and we are struggling about the best itinerary! We will stay there 17 nights during Dec/Jan.We are beach and nature lovers. What do you think about this itinerary: Mactan Island (2 nights – Oslob and Kawasan Falls); Malapascua island (1 night); Bantayan island (2 nights); Bohol (2 nights); Dumaguete – Apo Island and Siquijor day trip (2 nights) ; El nido (1 night); boat trip from el nido to Coron (3 nights) and finally Coron island (2 nights). What to you think? Is this itinerary possible? Should we include or take some activities? looking forward to here from you soon! Thank you!! 🙂

  • Penny

    I think it’s indeed a combination of expectations and other places you’ve allready been to. At the moment I ‘m in El Nido and I’m not a backpacker or a scuba diver. To my opinion the prices you pay for tours A,B etc. Are reasonable (1200 php) but single boattrips to beaches on islands are expensive (4000 php to 7000) and that is no value for you money. Also El Nido as a town looks low budget but isn’t. I like to spend money and have value for it but in El Nido doesn’ t do it for me despite the friendly people. I prefer Boracay even with all the tourists.

  • Penny

    A friend of mine has been raving about El Nido. He keeps telling my hubby and me that we should go there. Problem is that I always view it as a rich man’s destination. I may come across as a penny pincher but I do like long vacations and for that I need to stretch my budget a lot more.

  • BBQboy

    Great post, I like posts written by locals that tell it as it is and that suggests other less known places. I find bloggers might spend a few days somewhere, like El Nido, and rave about the beauty…but they maybe haven’t been to Coron or too many other places. And in the end these bloggers all end up writing about the same places.

    Frank (bbqboy)

  • The Wanderlust Dietitian

    I;ve never been to any of these places but can relate. I didn’t dig Venice like EVERYONE else does. Instead, I loved Burano. I agree that high expectations damper your experience more times than not, too.

  • Lorena

    I think it is a matter of preference indeed, because some people I know prefer El Nido over Coron. But you are right, Nacpan is nice. I went to Port Barton also, and some people love It but I got bored. However I’ve visited Kalanggaman when it was not that popular yet, it was great. But nowadays, there’s a problem with the garbage.
    Sambawan is cool but the problem is going there though, not that easy.

    I will definitely check out Antique. Thanks

    • Katherine

      I guess El Nido has its own charm, it’s just I’d been to others with the same features but better. I didn’t know there’s a problem in Kalanggaman because they seem to control the garbage coming in and out when we visited. 🙁

      Oh yeah it’s tricky going to Sambawan Island. The passenger boat has limited schedules and no transfer on Sundays, a private boat is expensive for a solo traveler.

      Go have a kawa hot bath in Antique when you’re there. 🙂

  • Anonymous

    I have been both to El Nido and Coron, but I still prefer El Nido over Coron. I would definitely comeback to El Nido.
    It is a matter of preference.

  • Ross

    Ive always been to beaches during best season, summer. Best beach is Sibang Cove… ever. Eventho i was wet during a rainy night n morning, stranded for a day, and rat made a hole in my osprey backpack next it Aguirangan Island then Calaguas. All these places I camped for minimum 1 night. Overrated is Maniwaya beach and Caramoan. Not so good for swimming or snorkeling. I rate them by fineness n quality of sand, cleanliness of surrounding, most natural state, good snorkeling diving site. So far ive never been to Mindanao yet. Its so annoying when people edit it too much for their IG that it makes people expect a lot.

  • Rupert

    Some places are not as nice as they are drummed up to be – they are past their prime or just over-hyped courtesy of a very active tourism department.
    But sometimes, it’s not necessarily a question of the destinations being “overrated” – it’s a matter of timing!
    If you like remote beaches and a “Robinson Crusoe” experience, going anywhere in the Philippines during Holy Week is a bad idea – it’s the busiest week in the country and tourist destinations will be packed! We try to go abroad during Holy Week – and I dread it when we didn’t plan ahead and are staying local!
    Weather is also a consideration – I always shake my head when I read a “Places to go in…August” – and it lists Asian beach destinations during rainy season when they are at their worst…
    I also found people make a great difference – go with the right people or locals and your memories will be much better than if you trip started with some rude person on the flight/boat/hotel…
    If none of that applies, it probably is just over-hyped and I wouldn’t go back either. I felt that way about the Mermaid in Copenhagen – despite good weather and the best possible people with me – I went like “that’s it – she’s TINY” 😉

    • Katherine

      Rupert, good points. I think first and foremost I get disappointed when a place looks different ala expectation vs reality. For instance in Kalanggaman Island the sand bar looks so white and fine but isn’t really that in person. Then other factors add on. I changed the post title to reflect a more subjective approach. 🙂

      I also agree with your point about going with the best people. Just recently we went to see waterfalls in Biliran and although they were a great sight, we hired an awful tour guide that just ruined the experience. It definitely made me feel like not wanting to go back to the province.

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