The Philippines – Two Lesser Travelled Destinations

Andrew Leeson


Romblon Philippines

I love being in the Philippines. For me it’s kind of like two countries in one. There are the main cities and central hubs for each region and the main tourist spots. Think Boracay (boy has that place changed since I was first there 18 years ago), then there is ‘everywhere else’.

I really enjoy the ‘everywhere else’.

I cannot stress enough that if you haven’t been island hopping through the Philippines, and you have some sense of adventure, then this should be a serious consideration for you.

Why the ‘Everywhere Else’ Philippines?

For me, it’s how the outdoors should be. It’s picture postcard perfect. The beaches, palm trees and water are exactly how you want to picture it. It’s big. You can get a bit lost, be away from the tourists and still be surrounded by extraordinarily relaxed locals going about their lives. They all speak great English, so interaction is easy.

Spend a week in the outer islands and coming back into the cities will be a bit of a shock to the system.

I’ll tell you about two areas that I have visited that are not high on the tourist path and are well worth a visit.

1. Romblon Islands

Romblon Island Philippines

The Romblon Island group consists mainly of Tablas, Romblon and Sibuyan islands. I spent 5 days on Romblon Island and encountered only 2 other westerners – a couple from Switzerland. It might be because there are no direct flights to Romblon. I went south from Manilla to Batangas, crossed over to Mindoro Island, caught a jeepney around to Roxas, ferry over to Tablas Island, caught a jeepney around to the other side of Tablas, then a ferry to Romblon Town and island itself.

Yes, the water and beaches do look like this:

Bonbon Beach, Romblon Philippines

I took my time, but it was worth it. It’s illegal, but once the jeepneys get away from main centres they let you ride on the roof – a great way to watch the tropics pass by on a hot day. And it’s usually just you and the locals.

There are faster ways by more direct ferries which you can Google if interested. The below photo would be about peak hour in Romblon Town, where you get off the ferry on Romblon Island itself. Keep in mind this is their main city. 

Romblon Water Taxi

I was lucky enough to arrive in Romblon Town the day before the Miss Romblon Islands contest. Being the only foreigner in town I was invited to join the judges table up the front, consisting of the Deputy Governor of Romblon Islands, his wife, and a few other local dignitaries. Life is tough sometimes.

I hired a scooter to ride around the island and everywhere I stopped I was swamped by local kids wanting to speak with me. They really do not get many foreigners here.

And you will probably leave with some marble sculptures, it’s what Romblon Island is famous for. Everywhere you go there are shops selling sculptures from marble mined on the island itself. I bought a 30cm black shark and two smaller dolphins. I kept the shark, and ex kept the dolphins. Breakups are so hard on the kids. 🙂

The roads are empty. Hire a scooter and just explore and try not to talk to the locals. Impossible!

2. Siquijor (sick-ei-or)

Siquijor Island

I don’t know why, but on one trip I had in my head I wanted to go to Siquijor. On this occasion I landed in Cebu then worked my way down. As I travelled south from Cebu many Filipinos gave me odd looks and a few warned me off going to this island altogether.

What I learnt was that this island is also known as the Island of Witches. For the more superstitious (and perhaps older) Filipinos this island has mystical powers, and many would prefer not to set foot on the island.

Like Romblon there are no direct flights. The staging point to Siquijor is from Dumaguete, which itself is a wonderful town to spend the night. In fact, it’s a very popular retirement town for expats.

Take a walk along the corso by the sea, eat an ice-cream and soak up the vibrancy at night when it seems many of the town’s university students have the same idea.

Siquijor Ice-Cream and Chill

You will meet more tourists on Siquijor but still nowhere near other parts of the Philippines. It still has that ‘end-of-the-line’ feel to it.

Sequijor Island Beach

It is as cliched as other parts of the Philippines: beautiful beaches and water, great diving with plenty of marine animals to see, friendly locals etc. If it’s relaxation you want, then you couldn’t find a much better spot though.

There is one main road that circles the island and traffic is minimal. So again, rent a scooter and go out and explore the day away. Siquijor has some nice waterfalls, or maybe go see a Witch Doctor and see if they can cure what ails you?

Traffic Jam in Siquijor Philippines

Another three vehicles and it’ll be a local traffic jam:

I recommend a day trip to Apo Island which is about 12-15km off the coast of Siquijor. Apo Island is a marine sanctuary with over 400 different types of coral, over 650 different fish species and is renowned for their sea turtles. 

Sea Turtles Siquijor Philippines

You can also stay on Apo Island, as I did once for four typhoon blowing days (try and avoid typhoon season, or if you don’t at least check weather reports). I spent that long on the island because no boat could come to take us off. On the day they did come he was hesitant. My girlfriend at the time could not swim and the boat was not big. But the waves were. She didn’t speak much on the trip back.

Apo Island Philippines

No electricity, they have 3 hours of on-line generators producing energy each day. 1 hr for each period for breakfast, lunch and dinner.

We didn’t have the best time on Apo Island. That was only due to the typhoon. It was wet, windy and pretty miserable. Not a lot to do if you can’t swim or dive. We and a German couple gave the bar a good workout. However, during other times I hear it’s well worth a few days on the island that only has a few hundred local inhabitants. There are plenty of accommodation options right on the water’s edge.

The Philippines – a country built to explore so get out there and explore it. This could be your local taxi:
Siquijor Water Taxi

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Andrew Leeson

Andrew Leeson

Over 20 years of experience helping people live a better life in SE Asia. Having worked in financial services in Asia I understand the challenges when moving to and living in a new country. I have travelled extensively throughout the region and experienced what SE Asia has to offer to retirees.

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