As another whirlwind travel year comes to an end, it’s about that time to reflect and reminisce on my crazy year and highlight my top moments/surprises. In 2017, I traveled to 13 new countries including, Ecuador, Finland, Japan, Indonesia, Philippines, Singapore, Cuba, Colombia, Peru, Bolivia, Cyprus, Oman, and Jordan. I also revisited some of my favourite countries including Italy, Greece, Croatia, and Norway.
In 2017, I visited a total of 17 countries on 4 continents. WOW. I didn’t even notice it was that many until I typed it out. I guess I’m really living up to the name Crazy Travelista. 🙂
Without further ado, here are my Top 10 Travel Highlights & Surprises of 2017:
1. Galapagos Islands
The Galapagos is on many bucket lists and a dream destination for animal and sea lovers. But it costs a fortune, right? WRONG. I did one week for under $1K. Yep, I got skills like that haha. You can read about how I did it here and also free or cheap things to do in the Galapagos here.
It was just so fascinating to me walking around and seeing Sea Lions sitting on park benches, marine iguanas (that look like mini dinosaurs) wading next to me in the water, and stopping for a traffic jam of life size turtles in the wild. Oh, and seeing a sea horse up close in the wild was freakin incredible!
But my ultimate favourite memory was swimming with hammerhead sharks and sea lions at Kicker Rock. I’m not going to lie, I was scared shitless of jumping into the water above a shark, let alone a whole swarm of them. But it was a once in a lifetime experience and I wasn’t going to pass it up. If you do ONE thing in the Galapagos, take the tour to Kicker Rock on San Cristobal Island.
2. Northern Lights in Tromsø, Norway
One of my top 5 bucket list items of all time was finally fulfilled in Tromsø, Norway this year. I miss the Northern Lights in Iceland the year before and was so bummed. But let me tell you, it was well worth the wait and just made it that much more special when I finally got my first glimpse.
Not only did I see the Northern Lights, but they really put on a dramatic dancing show of electric neon green in the sky that I cannot describe it with any other word besides MAGICAL.
God, I loved Lapland. I didn’t think i would enjoy it that much but it really surprised me. I’m not the biggest fan of freezing cold destinations, but Lapland has single handedly changed my mind!
What really captivated me was all the super unique winter activities that you can try that are specific to this region. My favourite activities were the Husky ride, snowmobiling on a lake to see the Northern Lights (unfortunately they didn’t come out that night), taking a photography tour of the arctic landscapes, and especially the sauna plus an arctic ice dip. I did end up seeing the Northern Lights in Levi the next day!
I also really enjoyed a reindeer ride and visiting an ice hotel. Oh, and you can also visited Santa Clause Village and cross the arctic circle! Where else in the world can you do these things?
The only thing I missed was sleeping in an glass igloo hotel, which I plan to return for one day!
My favourite destination of 2017 goes to Japan! Japan is like steeping into another world and I definitely experienced the most culture here than any other place in 2017. I’m not usually a big fan of huge capital cities, but Tokyo is certainly an exception.
My senses were constantly stimulated walking around the chaotic yet peaceful city, and I could have spent my entire time in Japan exploring Tokyo and been satisfied. My favourite part was experiencing an owl and cat cafe.
Other favourites included expiring Kyoto (dressing as a geisha is a must), climbing the Fushimi Inari shrine, taking a sushi making class, visiting the Bamboo forest, and walking part of the Kumano Kodo Pilgrimage route.
Japan is easily one of my top 5 favourite countries in the world and it’s somewhere I will 100% return to. Japan was the cleanest and most organized country I have ever been with the most respectful people I have ever encountered. If only the rest of the world would follow their lead.
Indonesia was near the top of my bucket list, especially Bali. And boy did it live up to my high expectations. I spent 2 weeks hopping around the islands, swimming with manta rays, snorkelling, surviving the craziest driving on a motorbike ever, chasing waterfalls, frolicking through rice fields, and slurping down smoothie bowls.
Bali is the perfect place to live it up in luxury, for next to nothing in cost. The people were amazing, the temples were grande, and the option for healthy food was endless. What’s not to love about Bali?
When I was younger, my family sponsored 2 Filippino girls who became like family (and lived with us for years). I always wanted to go see where they came from and I finally got the chance this year. With over 7000+ islands to choose from, it was hard to pick where to go. But since Palawan got rated the most beautiful island in the world, I knew I couldn’t miss it.
I spent a week between Coron and El Nido island hopping some of the most beautiful waters I have ever seen. I climbed the most dangerous hike I will ever do at Mt. Taraw and motorbiked around El Nido. I caught some epic sunsets at Las Cabanas and got daily massages.
I rented a kayak and paddled out to Bikal Beach on Cadlao Island through a gnarly storm that came out of nowhere (I’m glad I didn’t capsize and lived to tell about it hehe). Palawan was outstanding and gave me just the ideal amount of adventure and relaxation.
My second trip to South America this year brought me to the super dangerous country of Colombia (extreme sarcasm people). Colombia is such a colourful and vibrant country and I felt completely safe traveling there solo.
My favourite part of Colombia was visiting Tayrona National Park. It’s basically a national park filled with endless gorgeous beaches. You can even rent a hammock and stay the night there if you are into the camping (and spiders) thing. My only regret is that I only spent one day here.
Other highlights included climbing El Peñol for the EPIC views from above and visiting the most colourful city I’ve ever seen in Guatape. Oh, ad you can’t miss the beautiful and lively city of Cartagena. I basically spent all my days eating ceviche and photographing the dreamy colorful balkanise of the city. Colombia quickly became my favourite country in South America!
Another top 5 bucket list items was checked on my trip to Peru when I visited Machu Picchu. The long wait was more than worth it and it didn’t let me down one bit! What was even more special is that I miraculously almost had the whole place to myself. What a dream!
I spend 6 days in Cusco and the Sacred Valley constantly being awed of the next site. I attempted and completed the most exhausting hike of my life at Rainbow Mountain (above 17,000 feet altitude).
And to top it off, I enjoyed one of the most scenic train rides I’ve ever taken through the Sacred Valley to Machu Picchu.Oh, and I ate ceviche just about every day and didn’t feel guilty about it one bit. All in all, Peru was awesome!
Another “dangerous country” I visited myself this year (sarcasm again people). I want to start by saying that the hospitality I experienced in Jordan was some of the most heart felt i have ever experienced. I felt super welcome and super safe the entire time.
I spent 3 days in Petra and it blew my mind!!! Along with Japan, it was my favourite destination of 2017. I felt like Indiana Jones discovering the lost city of Petra and I had so much fun hiking around the city and doing some mini photo shoots.
The highlight for me was Petra by night which was pure MAGIC. If you go to Petra, definitely don’t miss it!
Most people I know have never heard of Oman and/or don’t know where it is on a map. And this is exactly why I wanted to visit! For the few people I knew who have visited, I have never heard a bad thing about the country.
The main attraction for me is all the Wadis in Oman. Think a desert oasis with a bright green body of water in the middle, lined with palm trees. It was like a mirage, but in real life. Oman was amazing and I had the best time renting a car and driving around to find new places. The Omani people were very kind and I felt right at home in this beautifully untouched Middle Eastern country. I highly recommend you visit soon before it becomes super touristy.
So What’s In Store for CrazyTravelista in 2018?
Well, let’s just say that 2018 is going to be the year of GROUP TRIPS and I’m super excited about it! I have 4 trips planned so far to Lofoten Islands (Norway), Croatia, Banff, and Iceland. The Norway trip is tentatively filled, but keep a look out very soon for details on Croatia, Banff, and Iceland. So excited to meet like-minded travellers!
In terms of solo travel, I have my eye on some places that I’m hoping to get to this year. But as always, who knows if I will actually make it to all these places.
CrzayTravelista’s 2018 Travel Wishlist
HaLong Bay, Vietnam
Rio de Janeiro
Back to Albania
Looks like I have lots of planning to do! Cheers to 2018!
Palawan has been voted the most beautiful island in the world, and for good reason. With its plethora of crystal clear turquoise waters, stunning lagoons, and plunging cliff lines, its not hard to see why. Palawan is the epitome of the word paradise.
There’s a lot you can do and see on Palawan even with a limited timeframe. I spent a week in Palawan, split between El Nido and Coron and it was the perfect introduction to the Philippines.
To make it simple, it’s going to take a long time! There are no direct international flights to El Nido so you will have to fly to Manila first, and then either fly to Puerto Princesa and take a 6-8 hour van ride up to El Nido.
Or there is the more direct (and more expensive) option of flying nonstop to El Nido. I flew with Air Swift on a short flight from Manila and it cost me $130. To me the direct flight was worth it to get there quicker.
You’ll be greeted at El Nido airport with a serenade from the local Filipino women, a unique welcome to the Philippines! Air Swift passengers are also given free coffee, juice and snacks upon arrival.
To get to your accommodation, you’ll most likely have to take a tricycle, which reminds me of a mini tuk tuk. It costs 300 PHP to get to town (around $6) and takes around 15-20 minutes.
El Nido Tours
People flock to El Nido for the famous island hopping tours. There are 4 main tours leaving from El Nido: Tour A,B, C, and D. Creative, huh? They also offer combined tours if you’re super short on time (but some of the stops are cut out obviously).
Tour A & C are the most popular and most the pictures you’ve seen from El Nido are most likely from those tours. If you had to pick just one, hands down I would choose Tour A!
All the tours are a fixed price by the government so don’t bother trying to negotiate. There are dozens upon dozens of tour companies in town and they pretty much all offer the same tour with the same stops so no need to be extra picky on this one. I am one for good reviews so booking online beforehand wouldn’t be a bad option either.
Day 1: Nacpan Beach
Rent a motorbike for 300-500 PHP and drive 45 minutes North to Nacpan Beach. The last 20 minutes is super bumpy and rocky and it’s uncomfortable but not dangerous. There’s a little restaurant that serves fresh seafood and drinks on the beach.
Unfortunately, Twin Beach was closed due to a court case involving squatter activity until further notice so it’s impossible to get that infamous view of Twin Beach. This was the best I could do from the bottom of the hill. You can kinda see both beaches, but not so epically. Meh.
Sunset at Las Cabanas Beach
Take a tricycle to Las Cabanas. It will cost 150 PHP from town and takes less than 10 minutes.
Las Cabanas is a great place to relax and unwind from the day, and have a drink if you’d like. There are a few cafes right on the beach and it’s a very popular place to catch the sunset. Meremgmeg Beach Bar was really cool and had swings at the bar instead of seats.
Day 2: Tour A
Take Tour A, the post popular (and my favorite) of the tours. The tour will take you on 5 stops including: Small Lagoon, Big Lagoon, Simizu Beach (lunch stop), Secret Lagoon, and 7 Commandos Beach.
Cost: 1400 PHP (~$27)
I will highlight my favorite spots below:
You can’t swim in this gorgeous lagoon. The boat takes you in and you just sit back and enjoy turquoise waters like you have never seen before.
You can rent a kayak (Depending on availability) or snorkel and explore the big lagoon, which was so much fun!
The Secret Lagoon was unreal in terms of beauty. We had to jump off the boat and swim here from a distance where we could explore the hidden lagoons and caves. This is exactly what I imagined the Philippines to be.
7 Commandos Beach
The last stop of the day is on this long white sand beach. They have a bar and souvenir shop, as well as comfort rooms (what they call restrooms in the Philippines). There is also a fun rope swing that you can play with!
Day 3: Tour C
I booked Tour C with Art Cafe. The buffet BBQ lunch they served was really good! The tour leaves at 9am and comes back around 5pm.
Cost: 1400 PHP plus 100 PHP to rent fins (snorkel masks are already included).
5 stops are included on this tour including: Hidden Beach, Secret Beach, Starfish Beach, Miniloc Shrine, and Helicopter Beach.
I found absolute paradise in Hidden Beach. I kinda wanted them to leave me there “accidentally”.
The Miniloc Shrine had the best viewpoint over the islands (cost is 100 PHP to go here). There are very pointy rocks at the top so please be careful.
This is guaranteed to be one of the most risky hikes you will ever do. Do NOT attempt to do this hike without a guide, it’s quite dangerous (and I don’t say this often).
You’ll be stepping on jagged, pointy, super sharp rocks and at some points you will be climbing up a 90 degree angle! It’s honestly more like rock climbing than a hike. Except that you will have NO harness or protective ear. But the 180 degree panoramic view at the top is worth all the fright and agony getting up there, trust me!
You can go in a group or hire a private guide. The whole trip takes about 2.5 to 3hrs. It costs 500 PHP for one person and can be as low as 300 PHP if you get a few people to go.
Tips for Hiking Mt. Taraw:
Take a sweat rag. I was dripping sweat and was all slippery. Not cool when my guide reached for my arm to pull me up in some places.
Start as early in the morning as possible to beat the heat.
I really wish I had brought gloves because the rocks I had to pull myself up on were super sharp.
Make sure to bring sturdy shoes (they won’t even let you hike without closed-toe shoes), water, and snacks.
Don’t bring many items with you. You do not want a big backpack on your back when you’re doing this climb. My guide actually didn’t let me carry a bag and put my stuff in his backpack.
Make sure to grab the rocks with your hands before moving with your feet.
On the way down go backwards, it’s easier and safer.
Rent a Kayak
Rent a kayak for 400 PHP and paddle over to Bikal Beach on Cadlao Island. There is a small and secluded crescent shaped beach which takes about 45 minutes to 1 hour to get to. You’ll most likely have the beach to yourself. Unless you go in the morning because I believe tour D makes its first stop here.
Wouldn’t you love to have a whole stunning beach to yourself?
Get a Massage
Get a massage to end your trip in El Nido. It costs about 500-600 PHP per hour for a full body massage and you can find these massage shops all over the city. I got a head and food massage to end my day and it was just perfect after all that hiking and kayaking I had done.
Best Way to Get between El Nido and Coron
There’s a newer fast boat option by Montenegro Lines that leaves daily from El Nido at 6am and from Coron at 12pm. The journey supposedly takes 3.5 hours (it took about 4 hours and 45 minutes) and is pretty comfortable in a clean and air conditioned boat. They play a movie on the flat screen during the trip. I booked my ticket online through Naturalis.
Make sure to arrive to the port 30 minutes early to check-in and pay your port fee (20 PHP) before you can board. You can pick your seat when you check in so if you’re prone to sea sickness, make sure to pick a seat in the back of the boat.
Cost: 1848 PHP + 20 PHP port fee (about $36 USD).
If you want to save a few dollars there is a slower ferry option on a freight ship that takes 7+ hours. I heard it’s extremely uncomfortable and the boats are older and less clean. Just google it if you want to make your decision easier. It’s literally less than a $10 difference so why put yourself through that hell? Take the fast boat!
Day 5-7: Coron, Palawan
Day 5: Ferry to Coron
There isn’t much to do in Coron town honestly. It was a stark contrast to the lively El Nido, so just take the afternoon to relax before the evening activities.
Head to Coffee Kong, for some good coffee. It’s a cute little coffee hangout and the only place I found with soy milk! They also serve breakfast and have really good Air Con.
Hike Mt. Tapyas before Sunset
You have to walk 700 steps to get to the top of Mt. Tapyas, but it’s well worth it. It will take you about 25-30 minutes to walk to the top. How it works is you hire a tricycle to take you there, they wait for you, and then they take you to Maquinit Springs (which is 20 minutes away). The entire ride only costs 300 PHP (~$5) and I was with my driver for about 4 hours.
iPhone pic from the top of Mt. Tapyas
End the Night at Maquinit Springs
Maquinit Springs is a huge natural saltwater hot spring surrounded by mangroves in the jungle. It’s a super unique setting and although it’s quite busy, it’s still very relaxing.
I must say these were the hottest hot springs I have ever experienced. Have you ever noticed that most hot springs are warm, but not very hot? Not this one! It’s super hot and exactly what your body needs after that hike up Mt. Tapyas.
Cost: 200 PHP for adults
Day 6: Island Escapade Tour
I booked with with JY Tours as it was recommended by my Airbnb host.
Cost: 1200 PHP (~$23).
Stops included: Malcapula Beach, CYC Beach, and Waling Waling Island.
A heavenly white sand beach and crystal blue waters. It’s one of the prettiest beaches I saw in the Philippines.
Hiked up the little hill for this secret view.
CYC is the only remaining public beach in Coron. Compared to all the other beauty I saw in the Philippines, this beach was pretty run down, crowded, and dirty. Our group was wondering why they even had this stop on the tour. No pictures here because there wasn’t much to see.
Waling Waling Island (aka “Mini Maldives”)
Locals refer to this beach as the mini Maldives due to the crystal waters. It was my favorite stop of the day!
During low tide, a sand bar appears and you can walk out onto it. It is breathtaking.
Completely unedited iPhone shot of the gorgeous Waling Waling island.
There was another stop on our itinerary but our guide chose to go here instead…which none of us were complaining about!
Accommodations in Palawan were more expensive than I imagined they would be in the Philippines. I spent about $30 per night. When I travel I usually spend on average $25 per night to rent a room (more if I rent out a whole apartment). But the value for the price in Palawan was not that good and the standards were a lot lower than I expected for that price.
That being said, go in knowing what to expect! I stayed in Airbnbs in both Coron and El Nido. While I cannot recommend the place I stayed in El Nido, the room I rented in Coron was very large, clean, and had good Air Con. The host is from California and was really laid back and helpful. It was in a convenient location and was pretty comfortable. You can check out the listing here.
If you’re new to Airbnb, you can use my $40 OFF Coupon. Or even if you are not, you can sign up with a different email and use the coupon as well! ♥
Travel Insurance for the Philippines
I would never travel without travel insurance anymore. I learned my lesson. Too many bad things can happen (and they have unfortunately). Travel insurance is especially important when traveling to islands, as you may need to be air-lifted to the mainland in the worst case scenario. Do you know how much air-lifting costs? Think at least 5 digits (I.e. Expensive AF!).
My favorite travel insurance that I have been using for the past 4 years is World Nomads. I have made 3 claims so far and have been fully reimbursed for all 3 without any hassle. I highly recommend them.
*This post contains affiliate links.
Have You Been to Palawan? Is there Anywhere Else you Would Recommend to Visit that I Missed?
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