Island hopping 101 with 7,500 islands to visit in the Philippines
Here are some notes and highlights of our trip, and you can check out these 20 incredible facts about the Philippines in this article I wrote for the Huffington post Travel.
Every year, a hot air balloon festival takes place in the province of Pampanga just north of Manila, and for years, I've wanted to go. So when I heard that this year's festival started on my birthday, I immediately booked a (too expensive) ticket.
The ride at sunrise in the 8-passenger balloon lasted about 40 minutes, taking us 35 miles into the countryside amid bright morning skies. One of the highlights was looking down and getting amazing aerial shots of the farms, fields, small barangays (neighborhoods) and children running out to wave at us.
The day after my birthday, I raced down to Manila to meet my buddy, Trevor, who was flying in from Austin, Texas for two weeks of island hopping. I figured Trev wouldn't want to jump on another plane the next morning, so I arranged a car ride down to Tagaytay, a picturesqe mountain province a few hours south of Manila where wealthy city folk spend weekends and vacations. The highlight of Tagaytay was our day trip to Taal Volcano.
Get this: Taal is a tiny island that sits in a lake in the middle of a volcanic crater on a bigger island, which sits on a huge lake on the giant island of Luzon. The car ride, boat ride, and hike up the volcano was arduous but well worth it (we chose not to take a donkey ride up like most tourists). The scenery was gorgeous, and it was a blast hitting golf balls off of the volcano lip into the lake at the tiny island as a target!
After a driver back to Manila, we took a midday flight to Coron Island in the island province of Palawan, which is commonly ranked as one of the best islands in the world. The three most common tourist destinations on Palawan include the underground river outside of the main city, Puerta Princessa, island hopping off of El Nido, and the island of Coron.
In my book, Coron is one of the most amazing places in the world, and Trev and I were lucky enough to get invited by two vacationing movie producers from Los Angeles to jump on their boat (the drone photos were taken by Taylor). We spent a day island hopping among uninhabited slices of white sand beach, sandbars, idyllic swimming lagoons, partially submerged caves, inhospitable volcanic cliffs, and other scenery seemingly straight out of The Jungle Book.
It was a precious reminder that a simple connection with other human beings who are nothing like you can be one of the best things in your life.
It was also in Cebu that I almost put on a shirt containing one of the biggest *#%! spiders I've seen in my life! I picked up a shirt that had been sitting on the floor (I'm a slob) and was about to put it on when this prehistoric arachnid fell out.
So before you get too excited about island hopping, as well, ask yourself if you could put up with this critter in your clothes?
If you want to see the video of my cursing like a sailor right when it happened, click here.
Back to reality, we spent a couple of days in the city of Cebu, which I spent working. But Trev took advantage of our time by taking a day tour exploring Cebu island. He got to swim with giant whale sharks in Oslob and go canyoneering, cliff jumping, and swimming and splashing in majestic Kawasan Falls. No worries, since Cebu is my home city for the moment, I've already done these things several times and, most importantly, Trev loved it.
The next morning, we had a 4 am flight to the small island of Camiguin, which holds a unique distinction: it's the only island in the world with more volcanos than towns (7 to 5). Called the Island Born of Fire, the volcanos have been dormant since the 1950s, and Camiguin is one of the greenest and most lush places I've been. A sandbar, nature reserve on another tiny island, natural springs, ruins from Spanish settlements in the 1500s, and incredible 250-foot waterfalls kept us busy for two days.
A brutal travel schedule with a 3 am wake-up time to catch a flight, followed by a 5-hour car ride found us in the small beachside town of San Fernando in La Union. Trev and I first met in Costa Rica and then Nicaragua, where he was surfing and I was geeking out writing books, so he wanted to catch a wave in the Philippines, too.
While the waves weren't great, he did get out on his board, and our Awesome Hotel (no, really – it's called Awesome Hotel) was a perfect place to catch up on work and train to preperare for my upcoming Kyokushin Karate camp in Thailand.
It was a great trip – I'm sunburnt, exhausted and smiling - and just a small sample of the island hopping possible in the Philippines. I can't wait until the next friend comes to visit so I have an excuse to get out and travel!
Only about 7,4187 islands to go before I see them all!