Mount Hamiguitan: The Philippines’ Newest UNESCO World Heritage Site

SGMT | Mount Hamiguitan —
It’s Monday and you probably have a million things on your to-do list, but here’s one thing you absolutely must make time for: exclusive photos of Mount Hamiguitan, the Philippines’ newest UNESCO World Heritage Site, by Jacob Maentz.

Screencap from jacobimages.com

Exclusive because Mount Hamiguitan is still mostly off-limits to the public; special permits are given to researchers, but that’s about it. Photographer Jacob Maentz was granted access to the national park only because he was working on a book about the country’s UNESCO sites, and the images he has captured have been nothing short of stunning. I can’t post too many screenshots here as I don’t want to infringe on his intellectual property rights, so do go over to his website and check out the amazing Mount Hamiguitan.

Have a wonderful week, everyone!

How Much to Budget for El Nido (6 days, 5 nights)

How Much to Budget for El Nido (6D/5N)) | SGMT
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An El Nido vacation can cost as little as ₱5,000 to as much as…I don’t know…₱5,000,000 or more. This budget, which we used for our Palawan trip last June, is somewhere in between. It’s nowhere near luxurious but it’s not exactly cheap either. It’s for smart spenders — people who are willing to pay, but not needlessly — who want to treat themselves to a nice, easy, stress-free holiday covering the best of both Puerto Princesa and El Nido.

For the Palawan itinerary covered by this budget, see:
El Nido, Nice and Easy: A Stress-Free 6-Day Itinerary for Non-Backpackers.

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Airfare – ₱1,322

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We got our round-trip Cebu-Puerto Princesa tickets during a Cebu Pacific seat sale. Philippine Airlines and Air Asia also fly to Puerto Princesa while direct flights to El Nido can be booked with AirSwift.

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Accommodations (5 nights) – ₱5,884

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This price is per person, based on two people sharing a twin room, and covers:

For more accommodations options, see these lists:

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Firefly Watching Tour – ₱1,037

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This activity starts at around 6 PM and is a great option if you have a free night in Puerto Princesa. You can save a few hundreds if you go DIY, but the tour package, which we booked through AsiaTravel, already includes hotel pick-up and dinner as well as the tour itself.

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Dolphin Watching Tour – ₱1,000

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Another half-day Puerto Princesa tour, this one takes place in the morning and is a wonderful last-day activity for people whose flights don’t leave till the afternoon. After canvassing prices, we booked with Dolphin and Whales Travel & Tours and had the best time.

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Island Hopping Combo Tour – ₱2,000

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After considering the pros and cons of single vs. combo tours and comparing tour operator prices and reviews, we decided to go on El Nido Paradise’s Combo Tour A & C. Our rationale in a nutshell: a combo tour saves both time and money. Separate tours would have taken two days and cost ₱2,600. The drawback is having less time in each stop compared to a regular tour but we decided we would rather do all the sightseeing in one day so that we can spend the whole day after that just chilling and beach bumming. No regrets: we loved our island hopping tour — you can check out our experience in Island Hopping in El Nido: Combo Tour A & C so you can decide for yourself — and we got to spend the next day lazing around Nacpan Beach, which some people have called the most beautiful beach in the world.

You can check out El Nido Paradise’s other tours here.

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Van Transfer – ₱1,150

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To avoid hassle, we also pre-booked our van transfers with El Nido Paradise. Each van transfer (PP-EN and EN-PP) costs ₱550 and we also paid a ₱50 surcharge to be picked up from our hotel in Puerto Princesa. It’s a 6-hour ride so check out: How to Survive the Van to El Nido.

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Meals – ₱3,200

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There are tons of dining options in El Nido but meals in restaurants and cafes can prove to be rather expensive. We didn’t want to scrimp on food so we budgeted ₱400 per meal for a total of 8 meals. Whenever we went over ₱400, we re-balanced our budget by eating at a carenderia next time. Luckily, we enjoyed free breakfast at the inn/hostel/hotel we stayed in and the tour price for island hopping already included an absolute feast for lunch.

Our go-to place for good food in El Nido was Trattoria Altrove. Art Cafe was also good. For cheap meals, try the carenderia across the Catholic church in El Nido — a meal of rice and delicious chicken adobo only cost us ₱60 there.

In Puerto Princesa, we enjoyed dinner at Kalui, which certainly lived up to its reputation as the no. 1 restaurant in the city.

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Miscellaneous – ₱1,407

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Some of the expenses we took out of our miscellaneous fund are:

  • ₱500 – transportation to and from Nacpan Beach (₱1,000 per tricycle, negotiated down from ₱1,500)
  • ₱150 – transportation to and from Marimegmeg Beach (₱300 per tricycle)
  • ₱25 – transportation from the El Nido van terminal to Spin Designer Hostel (₱50 per tricycle)

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Total Budget – ₱17,000

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For a frugal traveler like me, ₱17,000 can sound like much but, when you think about it, it’s for 6 days, it already includes airfare, and it enabled us to have the most unforgettable experiences in both El Nido and Puerto Princesa. Anyway, if you were going to spend nearly ₱20,000 on travel, wouldn’t you rather spend it on your own country so your countrymen can benefit from it as well? And Palawan is absolutely worth it. If you haven’t been yet…go! You won’t regret it.

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List of Philippine Holidays 2017

List of Philippine Holidays 2017 | SGMT

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Time to start planning your travels next year!

Here’s the list of regular holidays and special non-working days for 2017, as decreed in Proclamation No. 50, signed by President Rodrigo Duterte last August 16 and released by Malacañang today, August 18. The special holidays for the observance of Eid’l Fitr and Eid’l Adha will be announced as soon as the official dates of these celebrations are set based on the Islamic calendar. Long weekends in 2017 are in red.

January 1, 2017 (Sunday) – New Year’s Day (Regular Holiday)

January 28, 2017 (Saturday) – Chinese New Year (Special Non-Working Day)

February 25, 2017 (Saturday) – EDSA Revolution Anniversary (Special Non-Working Day)

April 9, 2017 (Sunday) – Araw ng Kagitingan (Regular Holiday)

April 13, 2017 (Thursday) – Maundy Thursday (Regular Holiday)

April 14, 2017 (Friday) – Good Friday (Regular Holiday)

April 15, 2017 (Saturday) – Black Saturday (Special Non-Working Day)

May 1, 2017 (Monday) – Labor Day (Regular Holiday)

June 12, 2017 (Monday) – Independence Day (Regular Holiday)

August 21, 2017 (Monday) – Ninoy Aquino Day (Special Non-Working Day)

August 28, 2017 (Monday) – National Heroes Day (Regular Holiday)

October 31, 2017 (Tuesday) – Additional Special (Non-Working) Day

November 1, 2017 (Wednesday) – All Saints Day (Special Non-Working Day)

November 30, 2017 (Thursday) – Bonifacio Day (Regular Holiday)

December 25, 2017 (Monday) – Christmas Day (Regular Holiday)

December 30, 2017 (Saturday) – Rizal Day (Regular Holiday)

December 31, 2017 (Sunday) – Last day of the year (Special Non-Working Day)

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As you can see, we have 4 long weekends next year, not counting Holy Week and Christmas. Start planning and budgeting! 🙂

(And if you’re wondering, the beach in that picture above is Nacpan Beach in El Nido, Palawan. Batanes, pictured below, would be the perfect place to visit in the May/June long weekend. See: 7 things you should know before planning your trip to Batanes.)

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Anti-Offloading Tips from an Immigration Officer

Anti-Offloading Tips from an Immigration Officer | SGMT —
Plus guidance straight from the Bureau of Immigration and the Inter-Agency Council Against Trafficking (IACAT).


I recently had the chance to put a few questions to an Immigration officer and he kindly agreed to give me a few tips for travelers who might be nervous about getting offloaded. (I promised him I would keep his identity confidential, even though he didn’t really require this as a condition to answering my questions, and I also assured him he didn’t have to reveal any “trade secrets” from the Bureau of Immigration.) Please take note that these tips are for legit tourists, particularly first time travelers who might understandably be worried about the possibility of being offloaded. If you’re reading this so you can find out how to fool the Immigration officer at NAIA, I urge you to please, please reconsider your plans. You may have good intentions — maybe you just want to work so you can send your kids to school and get your family out of poverty — but the risks can be very high. It might be your family who will end up having to sell everything to save you, so please think about it.

Required Documents: The Basics

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First of all, if you haven’t read “Pinoy Abroad: List of Documents Required by Immigration for International Travel” please do so right now. (The link will open in a separate tab so you don’t have to leave this page.) That article will give you a list of documents you have to bring when you travel — the basic requirements, the additional documents that may be required if the Immigration officer has doubts about you, the requirements if someone else is paying for your trip, and the list of people who need a DSWD travel clearance or a Travel Authority. If you want to be really prepared — to the point of being over-prepared sometimes — you’ll find even more tips here: “Offloading, required documents, and other Immigration FAQs.”
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An Immigration Officer’s Tips

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Here’s the gist of what the immigration officer said when I asked him for tips for first time travelers:
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Pinoy Abroad: List of Documents Required by Immigration for International Travel

SGMT | List of Documents Required by Immigration — 
In 2014, I wrote a post titled “What Filipinos Need to Know About Traveling Abroad: Guidelines from the Bureau of Immigration” and since then, I’ve had a lot of people writing to me and asking for advice on how to “pass” the Immigration screening. Two years have gone by since that article first came out so I thought I’d create this updated list of documents that travelers may be required to show at the Immigration counter.
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What documents are required for ALL Filipinos who are traveling abroad as tourists?
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  1. Passport issued by the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) – must be unexpired with at least 6 months remaining validity*
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  2. Visa – if required at the final destination
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  3. Return ticket

*I emailed Immigration some time ago and they verified that the passport must be valid for 6 months from the date of departure.

The visa must be unexpired.

You must have a ticket for your flight back to the Philippines. A few people have asked if return tickets are still needed if, for example, they plan to go backpacking around Southeast Asia and don’t want to set their schedule in stone. I asked an Immigration officer about this and, yes, you still need a return ticket. This is because the country you are heading to — and most other countries — will almost certainly require tourists to present a return/onward ticket upon arrival, as proof that you don’t intend to stay in their country illegally or for longer than you’re permitted. Without a return/onward ticket, you could be sent back to the Philippines.

  • If you really intend to go on a trip without making specific plans for return, I suggest you set an estimated date of return and: (a) buy a ticket back to the Philippines from a budget airline, so it won’t hurt your pocket too much if you decide not to use it, OR (b) buy a ticket from an airline that will let you change travel dates. This strategy might cost you a bit more but that’s better than being sent back — prudence is cheaper than regret.
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Dolphins are always a good idea

Dolphin Watching in Puerto Princesa | SGMT
SGMT Palawan Dolphin Watching in Puerto Princesa 03

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Who doesn’t love dolphins? (No, seriously, who doesn’t?) We had the chance to go dolphin watching on our last day in Palawan and it was absolutely one of the highlights of our 6-day Puerto Princesa/El Nido itinerary.

Our flight back to Cebu was scheduled to depart Puerto Princesa  at 3:20 PM and at first we had nothing planned for the day. We figured we would probably just use the time to shop for pasalubong — we were staying at Holiday Suites, which is conveniently located right across Robinsons Palawan — or simply lounge by the hotel pool and enjoy our last vacation day before plunging back to reality. However, while researching Puerto Princesa tours, I stumbled upon a group offering a half-day dolphin watching tour and it just seemed to fit perfectly into our schedule, so we went for it.

A guide picked us up at 6:30 AM and drove us, along with half a dozen others, to the Puerto Princesa Baywalk, where we boarded a boat staffed by another guide, a boatman, and a dolphin spotter. As we headed out to the Sulu Sea, the guide explained that the tours were seasonal (April to October) not because the dolphins were only there for part of the year, but because we were going out to open sea and the waters tended to get too rough for comfort during the rest of the year. She said they can’t guarantee that we would see a dolphin that morning — but, she added with a wide smile, the chances were around 95%. Hurray!
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Nacpan Beach: To Go or Not To Go (and Spend P1500)

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I’ll be honest: if the tricycle driver hadn’t offered to take us to Nacpan Beach for P1000 — instead of the usual P1500 — I might never have gone.

Nacpan Beach has been described in superlatives ranging from “the best beach in El Nido” to “the most beautiful beach in the world.” Friends who’ve been there told me: absolutely, I should go. And yes, I’d seen that oft-shared overlooking image of the twin beaches, Nacpan and Calitang, separated by a stripe of palm-tree-lined blinding white sand. Nacpan is nice — no question about that.

But sometimes, the more a place is hyped up, the more I hesitate. I feel like if so many people I know have already been to a place and unanimously agreed that it’s great, then there’s not as much motivation for me to go and see it for myself because…what could I possibly add to the discussion? And superlatives are all very well but I have to admit I’m a bit cynical about them, especially here in the Philippines where a surefire way to go “viral” is to tell us Filipinos we are the best at something. Online poll results I take with a grain of salt, particularly ambiguous awards like “best” or “most beautiful” because, well, how do you define good or beautiful? It’s all subjective. For me, it’s less informative being told that Nacpan Beach is the best beach in El Nido (or the world!) than being told exactly what makes it good, what people love about it.

So…in the end I went to Nacpan Beach. And in case anyone out there is also wondering whether it’s worth the P1500 asking price, let me tell you what I liked about it so you can decide for yourself.
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