Epic Philippine Road Trip: Manila to Leyte in 1 Week

Road trip from Manila to Leyte
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What’s the longest road trip in the Philippines you’ve taken? Ours is a 1-week-long drive from Manila to Leyte, where our final stopover was Kalanggaman Island in Palompon.

Hali and I booked this packaged tour in the Holy Week of 2016. As such, we had ample time for a long vacation and we didn’t have to use up leave credits at work. Initially, I considered going to Calayan Island instead, but ultimately I decided that a long road trip is something everyone should experience at least once. Moreover, since this was a packaged tour, we simply had to pay and let the organizers arrange everything.

That saying, you can also use this as a guide if you ever plan on doing a similar road trip.

Road trip from Manila to Leyte

Our group met at Buendia Station where a private van was waiting for us. Our road trip includes stops to interesting points in Albay, Sorsogon, Samar and finally Leyte.

Here is a map I created that shows our route.

Manila to Leyte road trip route in Google maps

Manila to Leyte Road Trip Itinerary

Our organizers created the itinerary. This is an edited itinerary to show the actual one that we followed.

Day 0
0830PM ETD Manila

Day 1
0800AM ETA Cagsawa Ruins in Albay
1100AM ETA Paguriran Island in Bacon, Sorsogon
0230PM ETD for Matnog, Sorsogon
0400PM ETA Matnog / boat ride to Subic beach / set camp

Day 2
0700AM Island hopping (Matnog Lighthouse, Juag Lagoon Fish Sanctuary, Tikling Beach)
0200PM ETD for Catarman
0500PM ETA Catarman / set camp

Day 3
0500AM ETD for Biri Island in Samar
0200PM ETD for Tacloban
0600PM ETA Tacloban / settle in a commercial lodging

Day 4
0500AM ETD for Palompon, Leyte
0700AM ETA Palompon / boat ride to Kalanggaman Island / set camp

Day 5
1200PM ETD Manila
0530PM Short stop in San Juanico Bridge

Day 6
1200PM ETA CWC / short wakeboarding session (Optional)
1200AM ETA Manila

We had an agreement to have an open itinerary. This means the itinerary is subject to change, depending on our decision. We can stop whenever we discover a new place of interest even if it’s not in the original schedule.

Our original plan was to visit Kalanggaman Island in Leyte and then head straight to Sambawan Island in Biliran. After a group discussion, it was decided to camp overnight in Kalanggaman Island instead. I was disappointed since the reason I booked the tour is to see Sambawan Island, but Hali was in agreement that it was the more practical choice, money- and time-wise. Looking back, I agree that we made the right choice then because it would be a shame to visit Sambawan Island on a rush.

P.S. You can read about our next trip in Biliran: Island Hopping in Sambawan Island and Chasing Waterfalls in Biliran.

Albay

From Manila, we spent a night on the road all the way to Bicol Region. We were ready for Day 1!

We had breakfast and a short tour in Cagsawa Ruins in Albay. This is actually our second time here — Hali and I had also visited Cagsawa Ruins during an outreach mission in Sorsogon a year before.

Mayon Volcano
Mayon Volcano as seen from Cagsawa Ruins. (Photo by Hali)

We took a couple of shots, greeted the other joiners in the road trip, and then proceeded to our next stop, Sorsogon.

Sorsogon

Hali and I love Sorsogon, so we were both excited to get here!

From Albay, we headed straight to Paguriran Island Lagoon in Bacon, Sorsogon. Paguriran Island Lagoon is an emerging summer destination. It features a natural pool that fills with aqua-green saltwater during high tide. It’s similar to Tangke Lagoon in Gigantes Islands.

It was low tide when we arrived in Paguriran Island Lagoon, so we didn’t get a chance to swim. We stayed for a bit and took pictures.

Paguriran Lagoon in Sorsogon
Paguriran Lagoon. (Photo by Hali)

We had lunch and then hurried to catch the last passenger boats in Matnog Port headed to Subic Laki Beach. We got off at Subic Laki Beach, where we pitched our tents for the night. Hali and I watched a bright full moon before joining the group socials held on the beach.

The morning after, we went on an island hopping tour in Matnog.

Our first stop is Matnog Lighthouse, an abandoned lighthouse in a rocky islet. The waves were strong so our boat had a bit of difficulty in letting us off, but we safely managed to set foot in the island.

Island hopping to Matnog Lighthouse
Start of our island hopping tour in Matnog.
Matnog lighthouse in Sorsogon
Matnog Lighthouse. (Photo by Hali)

Next is Juag Lagoon Fish Sanctuary. This is a marine sanctuary home to various species of fishes, giant clams, sea cucumbers, and more. In our first visit in Matnog, our group stayed here and even today it’s still one of my favorite places in the country. Hali and I were so excited to be back. We sought out Kuya Alex and asked how he was doing considering the last typhoon that ravaged the province and then we went with the others for fish feeding.

Juag Lagoon Fish Sanctuary in Sorsogon
Feeding the fishes in Juag fish sanctuary. (Photo by Hali)

Our last stop is Tikling Island, a privately owned island with gorgeous shoreline. Similar to Subit Liit and Subic Laki, the sand here is pinkish when wet. Hali and I enjoyed the shimmering-blue water to our hearts’ content.

Tikling beach in Matnog, Sorsogon
The perfect vacation spot? Tikling Beach. (Photo by Hali)
Tikling Beach in Matnog, Sorsogon
Wind on my face, salt in my hair, sand on my toes, oh la la. (Photo by Hali)

Visiting Sorsogon for the second time was delightful as the first time. We freshened up in Tikling Island before heading to our next destination.

Samar

From Matnog Port, we rode a roro bound to Samar. We took a boat to Marson’s Beach Resort (also known as Villa Patria) in Bani Island. We pitched our tents here for the night. Marson’s Beach Resort has a pebble beach, but we liked it nonetheless. Along the shore, there are two tree swings where you can sit and get your feet wet from the waves during high tide. We enjoyed a boodle fight dinner before heading back to our tents.

Sunrise in Catarman, Samar
What’s the most beautiful sunrise that you’ve seen? Sunrise in Catarman, Northern Samar. (Photo by Hali)

Early in the morning, we rode the same boat to Biri Island, located 1 hour away.

We registered in the tourism office and headed to the Biri Rock Formations. There are seven rock formations you can visit. For our day trip, we explored Bel-at, Caranas and Magasang rock formations. I particularly enjoyed exploring Bel-at and Caranas because of the picturesque ocean views and tidal pools.

Bel-at rock formation in Samar
Tidal pool where a few groups of people were swimming. (Photo by Hali)
Magasang rock formation in Biri
Exploring the limestone rock formations. (Photo by Hali)
Tidal pool in Bel-at rock formation in Biri Island
Tidal pool in Bel-at and Caranas. (Photo by Hali)
Biri rock formations in Samar
View of the tidal pool from a cliff. (Photo by Hali)

Leyte

Our final destination is Kalanggaman Island in Palompon, Leyte. Kalanggaman Island is a bird-shaped island famous for its whitish sand bar. It’s also an IG-famous spot, perhaps one of the most recognizable places in the Philippines.

Kalanggaman Island in Leyte
Kalanggaman Island. (Photo by David Astley)

We arrived here in what was probably the busiest day of the year — a weekend in Holy Week. After looking for a good place to pitch our tents, Hali and I walked around the island. It was crowded so we didn’t get a good photo of the sand bar, but instead stayed in quieter spots of the island. We then spent the rest of our time enjoying social drinks. As our organizer Kuya Ram said, “Ito talaga yung buhay beach bum.” (This is the real beach bum life).

Kalanggaman Island beach
Chilling with a lady-flavored beer. (Photo by Hali)
Kalanggaman Island beach, Leyte
Beach side for snorkeling in Kalanggman Island. (Photo by Hali)
Kalanggaman Island sandbar
Early morning at Kalanggaman Island’s famous sandbar. (Photo by Hali)

I think that Kalanggaman Island is beautiful, but it’s one of those places that look way better in photos than in real life. Aside from its picturesque sand bar, another thing that has it going is its good tourist management. There is daily tourist capping, proper garbage disposal, among other things. I hope the rest of the LGUs in the country follow suit.

The morning after, we packed our things and made our way back to Manila. The return drive was almost non-stop except for a few hours we spent in CWC Sports in Camarines Sur, where our driver got a good sleep while the rest of us tried wakeboarding.

My Thoughts about the Road Trip

This Manila-Leyte road trip was once-in-a-lifetime experience. Because the Philippines is an archipelago, rarely do people plan on doing road trips from Luzon to Visayas, preferring instead easier modes of transport such as airplanes. The good thing about this route is we were able to stop at interesting points.

One of the reasons I joined the tour is that I wanted to see Sambawan Island in Biliran, so I was initially disappointed when the group decided to stay in Kalanggaman Island instead. However, in hindsight this is the better decision, since ideally it takes a whole day to island hop in Biliran.

If I were to change a few things, it would be:

  • Exclude Paguriran Island Lagoon from the route. It took us a long detour to get there and even then we couldn’t stay long since we needed to catch the last trip of passenger boats in Matnog Port. I don’t think it was worth it.
  • Add another 1-2 days to visit Sambawan Island in Biliran.
  • Plan more pit stops on the way back so that it wouldn’t be a continuous long drive.

Overall though, this was definitely an enjoyable experience. I’m looking forward to more road trips in the future.

Sorsogon-Samar-Leyte road trip group shot
Say Hi, six-day road trip buddies! (Photo by Hali)

Don’t forget to watch our road trip from Manila to Leyte here. πŸ™‚

Thanks to Kuya Brahma and Ate Moon, both comprising #TEAM, for organizing this epic Philippine Road Trip, which is dubbed the Holy Week Caravan. I am pleased with this trip, especially since our organizers prepared everything in advance. Kuya Ram is one of those veteran backpackers and it was a pleasure to hear his stories from way back.

P.S. This road trip takes you down south of Manila. If you’re looking for a road trip north of Luzon, you can check Follow Your Road’s guide to a road trip  to North Luzon.

Tips on How to Survive A Long Road Trip

Here are personal tips from this week-long Philippine road trip.

  • Pack light. Seriously, try to put everything in one backpack. If you have it, use packing cubes to save more space. OOTDs are fine, but re-use clothes if possible. You’re most likely going to be in a van (or a smaller car) and it’s gonna be cramped. Be considerate to yourself and other people by packing light to occupy as little space as possible.
  • Get an awesome road trip playlist.
  • Be with people you’d like to travel with. If you’re joining a packaged tour, research about the tour agency first. You’re going to be on the road half the time, so it’s important that you get along with your acquaintances.
  • Use an untinted car. My personal preference is going in a car with untinted windows. Heavily tinted windows can protect you from the day heat, but it can also be stifling especially since you will be on the road for hours. Personally, I like looking outside on road trips as it lets me see a little bit of the country at a time.
  • Prepare for a long return trip. We visited everything on our itinerary on our drive to Leyte, so we had nothing left to see on our way back. We literally stayed in the van for 24 hours or more, except for a short stop at CWC in Camarines Sur.

Budget

This is a packaged tour. Hali and I spent about P7000-8000 each.

We paid for the van use and then chipped in for island hopping, cottage rentals, and so on. Food was shared by the group or brought individually.

Also included in our expenses were This includes endless snacks for the road trip such as Ovaltine biscuits (Did you know these exist?) and refreshments, (mostly ice-cold coconut juices and1.5-liter Coke bottles); two beach hats; a white anklet made of shells; and a thick four-meter rope that may be of use for survival in the future.

Contact

A few contact details in case anybody’s interested and wants to reserve in advance:

  • Kuya Alex, Juag’s fish sanctuary: Facebook / 09079577748 or 09183045437
  • Marson’s Beach Resort in Northern Samar: Facebook
  • Palompon eco-tourism: (053) 3382094/ 09173037269/ 09173037267

What about you? Where’s the longest road trip you’ve taken? Let us know in the comments section below!

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Road trip from Manila to Leyte - ending up in Kalanggaman Island.

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13 Comments

  1. Hi, Just want to ask if you have list of expenses in this trip? We want to try this via own car and I want to have an idea how much we will spend or atleast the fare in Roro including the car. Will appreciate your response. Thanks!

  2. Ovaltine biscuits? Where did you get them? Haha! I remember that I have eaten Ovaltine candies but not biscuits. This is such a long trip! The longest road trip that I have experienced was from Manila to Pangasinan. It was enjoyable because I live here in Oriental Mindoro. I have not visited the northern part of the Philippines prior to that trip. I agree that you should travel with the ones whom you want to be with. It is a long trip and if you are in a wrong company then the trip would be unbearable.

  3. Amazing! the route is very familiar for me beacuse that’s the same route that I take whenever I go back to our province in Laoang, Northern Samar.

    Too bad that I’ve never been to Biri Island. That’s a shame for a nortehanon like me LOL! But at least i’ve been to Tacloban and Palompon.

    Grabe, I would also love to try that kind of adventure. Too bad I don’t have enough leaves this year πŸ™ Love your adventures Kat!

  4. Wow this is an amazing road trip. I think I agree to all your tips. Always pack light as much as possible bring 1 bag, traveling with people you love makes the travel less boring and you wouldn’t notice the time. Plus yeah the not tinted car. I agree with that I love seeing the world runs through the window. I’ve been to bicol region and it was really a long land trip. I can’t imagine pushing it forward to samar and leyte. That’s so awesome:)

  5. Wow you were able to take three provinces in only 5 days. That must have been really tiring eh? I’d been to Sorsogon but not in Matnog. I haven’t been to Samar and Leyte, I didn’t even know they can be reached from Sorsogon.

    The first thing that I remembered when I saw your pictures of Biri is also the Kapurparawan Rock formation. It looks so beautiful!

    My grandfather hailed from Barogo, Leyte. That’s the only thing I knew of Leyte until Kalanggaman Island became famous. I’d sure love to go there too.

  6. Such a long roadtrip! But it is obviously worth it! I am from Leyte but I haven’t visited Kalanggaman yet. I love your photos. It really shows the beauty of Samar and Leyte!

  7. Road warriors! I have been to Sorsogon so many times already due to work decades ago. Couple of years ago, I made two trips to Samar and Leyte. In Samar, I went to the three main cities of Catarman, Calbayog and Catbalogan… and then all over Leyte. One place I missed? BIRI! πŸ™

  8. Thank you so much Hali and Kath for being such wonderful travel companions! Cheers to more travels!

  9. The longest roadtrip I’ve ever been to is when we went to Bicol for a wedding shoot. Damn, that made my butt hurt so bad and become numb… XD Anyways, I love the video that you made, and it just so happens that I also made a video of my recent trip as well, got inspired by your videos that’s why I made my own πŸ™‚

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