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 Itinerary
Our organizers created the itinerary. This is an edited itinerary to show the actual one that we followed.
|0830PM ETD Manila
|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
|0700AM Island hopping (Matnog Lighthouse, Juag Lagoon Fish Sanctuary, Tikling Beach)
0200PM ETD for Catarman
0500PM ETA Catarman / set camp
|0500AM ETD for Biri Island in Samar
0200PM ETD for Tacloban
0600PM ETA Tacloban / settle in a commercial lodging
|0500AM ETD for Palompon, Leyte
0700AM ETA Palompon / boat ride to Kalanggaman Island / set camp
|1200PM ETD Manila
0530PM Short stop in San Juanico Bridge
|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.
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.
We took a couple of shots, greeted the other joiners in the road trip, and then proceeded to our next stop, 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.
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.
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.
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.
Visiting Sorsogon for the second time was delightful as the first time. We freshened up in Tikling Island before heading to our next destination.
From Matnog Port, we rode a roro bound for 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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
Thoughts on our 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.
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 and expenses
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 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.
A few contact details in case anybody’s interested and wants to reserve in advance:
- Kuya Alex, Juag’s Fish Sanctuary: Facebook
- Palompon eco-tourism: (053) 3382094/ 09173037269/ 09173037267
Don’t forget to watch our road trip from Manila to Leyte here. 🙂
Thanks to Kuya Brahma and Ate Moon, both comprising #TEAM, for organizing this epic Philippine Road Trip. 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.
What about you? Where’s the longest road trip you’ve taken? Let us know in the comments section below!
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Katherine Cortes is a long-time backpacker and a freelance writer/editor. She likes beaches, snorkeling trips, and relaxing staycations (preferably with bath tubs!).