Leyte and Biliran: The Underrated Destinations

5D4N Complete Budget Travel Guide for Less than $80 US / Php 4000

If you would have thought of an adventure in the Philippines; top of your mind would either be Boracay, Palawan or Cebu, few would have considered Leyte and Biliran. These provinces seldom reach our radar much more would we consider as a potential destination.

So brace yourselves, I will let you in – in a one of a kind adventure.

Biliran and Leyte both belong to the lesser known Eastern Visayas region. If you are a Filipino and if asked what destination is worth visiting in the area, most would probably say “go visit the San Juanico bridge, the longest in the Philippines”. Seriously, you cannot expect a tourist to spend the entire day in a bridge and marvel in its architectural glory. Whilst it length is indeed a feat, tourist will always prefer nature and experience.

Luckily, these two provinces have enough natural resources prepped for wonder-seekers. I know you got tons of questions and in great doubt whether I am to be believed.  You probably might be asking: what exactly should you expect when you visit the area?  Is it backpacker friendly? Is it expensive? Is it really worth it? Well, with confidence I dare to say that this place deserves to be in your bucket list.

 

What Exactly should you Expect in Leyte and in Biliran?

Food

Disclaimer: I’m bad in describing food, I’m only good devouring them.

If you have been living under the rock and you don’t know the staple products of Eastern Visayas, well you should know by now that sea food is abundant here. I repeat, SEA FOODS are plentiful, and the best part? They are very affordable. I mean AFFORDABLE.

Should you be in for a hunt of some local delicacies, try moron a sweet chocolatey sticky rice of sort wrap in a banana leaf or binagol a distinctly sweet tasting delicacy made of taro root uniquely wrap in a banana leaf. They’re not hard to find as these are commonly sold in almost every street corners.

I’ve warned you I’m worst in describing food.

Binagol a native delicacy in Leyte. Phot By Judgefloro via Wikimedia Commons

Nature (Beaches. Island. Waterfalls)

The most advantageous part taking a lesser coursed road is that you’ll most likely have an authentic experience, genuine, raw and full of unexpected surprises. That is exactly what I experienced. It is hard to fathom why people flock a crowded resort when in the Eastern Visayas you’ll probably chance a beach all for yourself.

These two provinces offer unique beach experiences, in Leyte you’ll got to enjoy an uninhabited island with long stretch of sandbars. In the other side, which was my favorite, presents you a stunning island all for yourself. Then a little trek in the peaceful town you’ll witness a waterfall which almost looks decorated because of its magnificence.

There is no short of natural wonder here. So be prepared to be blown away.

Enjoying the wonderful experience in Kalanggaman Island

People

I have been to several areas in the Philippines and if you are a Filipino you might have this notion of not easily trusting your fellow, but being in here feels somewhat different. I find the people in Leyte and in Biliran easy to be liked. I don’t feel that the locals treat tourists as cash cows, no drivers have forced me for a commission ride, no vendors have pestered me out to buy goods, nobody did ruin my experience which is totally commendable.

What I experience rather is the opposite. Locals are very friendly and you can easily ask them for directions and recommendations. I was not referring to the hotel staff as that is their duty of course, I am referring to the people I have met in the roads, in public transport, the security guards in the park, and even the drivers. They are helpful and some are even willing to accompany you just to ensure you won’t get lost. I don’t get this feeling of having to secure my belongings because nobody made me felt unsecured. All throughout my brief stay I relied heavy on information’s from the locals.

Testament to the kindness of the people in the area was my very unique experience. When I spent my night in one of the island and was supposed to eat my dinner that I discovered I left my food in the port. What a fool I am, I know! I imagined myself going on a forced diet, but one of the island’s caretaker come to my aid and fed me for the night. It was a simple food, a fish he caught himself that same day and a rice, I insisted to pay him but he refused saying “You are a visitor in this island, enjoy your stay”. His generosity, albeit having less, gave me more and it was truly overwhelming.

The ambivert lad finally made some friends

How Expensive is Biliran and Leyte?

Well, let’s put it into perspective. An overnight stay in an uninhabited island with sandbars of great beauty would probably cost you $ 10 – $ 15 (Php 500 – Php 700) while the cost of renting the entire island by yourself (assuming you are the only guest during your stay) would cost you at least $20 – $ 25 (Php 100 – Php 1500). Well if that is expensive for you then I don’t know what isn’t. I have provided my breakdown below, so please read further.

Can you backpack Leyte and Biliran?

Definitely. There are a lot of decent hotels, hostels, inns and homestay that would cost you less than an Uber ride in Metro Manila. And if accommodations are not your thing, you can pitch a tent in the islands for a small fee.

Is it safe to travel at these places?

What kind of question is that? I would not be able to upload this article and share with the world how amazing my trip was if it’s not safe. By all means, no single instance I felt being cautious of my safety during my stay.

 

Sample Itinerary and Expenses

So you finally decided to visit Biliran and Leyte for real, and was wondering for a detailed itinerary. Don’t worry, I got you covered. See my suggestion below, then thank me later. Have a fun and enjoy your exciting trip buddy!

Day 1: Tour Tacloban City

Cross the San Juanico Bridge

Across the San Juanico strait you’ll find the longest bridge in the Philippines connecting Samar and Leyte boasting a total length of 2.16 kilometers.

San Juanico Bridge. By Oscar Rasson (originally posted to Flickr as San Juanico Bridge) via Wikimedia Commons

Witness the Opulence of Sto. Niño Shrine and Heritage Museum

Politics aside, the museum located in Real St, Downtown, Tacloban City, Leyte is one of the most visited site due to its grandeur. Proudly displayed are artifacts, antiques and art pieces from around the world, naming few of it were Italian tiles, chandeliers from Czech Republic, Argentine carpets, Chinese porcelain jars and Austrian mirrors. You may contact the museum at (053) 321 9775. Daily viewing starts at 0800 to 1700 no lunch breaks.

  • Entrance Fee: Php 60 per head minimum of 3 persons
  • Student Rate: Php 30 minimum of 5 and be sure to present your valid ID
  • Camera fee: P 200
The outside view of Sto. Niño Shrine and Heritage Museum

Revisit History at the Leyte Landing Memorial Park

Meet the man behind the infamous line: “I shall return” in a site considered as one of the most historically important. The MacArthur Landing Memorial National Park sits on a 6.78 hectares (16.8 acres) coastal plain in the barangay of Candahug. It is a protected area the commemorates the landing of General Douglas MacArthur in Leyte Gulf to campaign for the recapturing and liberating the Philippines from Japanese occupation on 20 October 1944.

Shameless dab at MacArthur Landing Memorial National Park

See the Picturesque Leyte Provincial Capitol

Build in 1907, is located at Tacloban City, it is the seat of the provincial government of Leyte. What makes this place special was that it serves as the Commonwealth Government of the Philippines office at the time of when President Sergio Osmena, Sr.

Leyte Provincial Capitol. Photo By Morten Nærbøe via Wikimedia Commons

 

Manila to Tacloban, then Naval, Biliran

Time
Activity
Expenses (in Peso, 50 pesos = $1)
0700Arrival at Tacloan City Airport
0700 - 0720From Tacloban airport, find a jeepney with a signboard Downtown Imelda and disembark at Tacloban bus terminal
50
0720 - 0740At the terminal, take a bus or jeepney bound to either Marabut, Basey, Guian,etc (all Samar destinations will most definitely pass the bridge)
20
0830 - 0900
From San Juanico Bridge, take a bus or jeepney and disembark at town proper P 20
20
0900 - 1000
Brunch
*not accounted*
1000 - 1010
Ride a jeepney going to Real St, Downtown, Tacloban City
8
1010 - 1100
Have a guided tour at Sto. Niño Shrine and Heritage Museum
260
1100 - 1120
Take a jeep going to Leyte Provincial Capitol
8
1120 - 1140
Take pictures of Leyte Provincial Capitol
1140 - 1200
Ride a jeep or multicab with the sign board St. Paul/Campetic and get off at Campetic Crossing
8
1200 - 1210
Take a pedicab going to MacArthur landing
10
1230 - 1240
Take a pedicab going back to Campetic Crossing
v10
1240 - 1300
Take a jeep or multicab going to Tacloban's New Bus Terminal
8
1300 - 1330
Find a ride going to Naval
1330 - 1500
From Tacloban ride a van/bus going to Naval
130
1500 - 1600
Find an inn/hostel/homestay in Naval
250
1600 - 1700
Explore Naval, and grab some dinner
*not accounted*
End of Day 1

Day 2: Head straight to Biliran

Sambawan Island

Sambawan Island is Biliran’s version of island paradise. It’s a small island 5km west coast of the Municipality of Maripipi and can only be accessible via charted boat from its main town of Naval or Kawayan. It is made of series of interconnected stony islets with two main islands and a grass covered rocky terrain.  It is also considered as a marine sanctuary and a popular dive site due to its abundant marine life. It has a stark, mountainous coastline and a sunrise so magnificent you would not want to miss waking up to every morning.

The view up in the hill of Sambawan Island

See the complete guide to Biliran: Experience Biliran

 

Naval, Biliran to Sambawan Island

Time
Activity
Expenses (in Peso, 50 pesos = $1)
0700Wake up and prep yourself
0700 - 0830Do you personal preparations and grab some breakfast
*not accounted*
0830 - 0930Buy supplies you'll bring in the island
0930 - 1000 Buy boat ticket and pay port terminal fee, and supplies from the nearby market
70
1000 - 1100Passenger's embark in the boat
1100 - 1300Boat ride ging to Maripipi (take your lunch in between)
*not accounted*
1300 - 1400Take a habal habal going to Brgy Ol-og
100/ 2 pax
1400 - 1500Commision a a fisherman's boat that will take you to Sambawan Island
500 / 5 pax
1500 - 1510Arrival in Sambawan, pay island fee and tent pitching fee
150
1510 - 1520Pitch your tent
1520Enjoy Sambawan
End of Day 2

Day 3: Chase Waterfalls in Biliran

Ulan-ulan and Recoletos Wateralls

Ulan-ulan falls and Recoletos falls is just 15 minutes habal-habal ride from the town of Naval or Kawayan. You can commission a habal-habal driver that will serve also as your trek guide for 20-30 minutes for only Php 500 – Php 900.

The towering Ulan-ulan falls
See the complete guide to Biliran: Experience Biliran

 

Sambawan Island to Naval

Time
Activity
Expenses (in Peso, 50 pesos = $1)
0300Wake up early so you can catch the trip from Maripipi to Naval
0300 - 0330Ride fishemans boat going to Brgy Ol-og
0330 - 0400Take a habal-habal from Ol-og to Maripipi
0400 - 0500Passenger's embark in the boat
100/ 2 pax
0500 - 0700Arrival in Naval
70
0700 - 0800Grab food for breakfast
*not accounted*
0800 - 1300Commission a habal-habal for a Biliran Island Tour
800
1300 - 1330Head back to Naval
1330 - 1400Have some late lunch
*not accounted*
1400 - 1445Take a UV express from Naval to Lemon
70
1445 - 1600Take a UV express from Lemon to Palompon
100
1610 - 1610Take a potpot going to Palompon Tourism Office
10
1610 - 1620Enlist yourself as joiner for next day tour
1620 - 1700Find an inn/hostel/homestay in Palompon
300
1700 - 1800Settle yourself
1800 - 1900Grab some dinner
*not accounted*
End of Day 3

Day 4: Proceed to Palompon, Leyte

Kalanggaman Island

Kalanggaman Island is probably Leyte’s answer to Boracay of Aklan or El Nido to Palawan minus the exuberant price tags. The 753 m and uninhabited island gained a lot of attention lately, thanks to its remote location with crystal clear water, white powder-like sand, and the long stretch of sandbars on both ends.

The long sandbar of Kalanggaman Island
See the complete guide to Palompon: Once Upon A Time in Kalanggaman

 

Naval to Kalanggaman Island

Time
Activity
Expenses (in Peso, 50 pesos = $1)
0700Wake up and prep yourself
0700 - 0830Do you personal preparations and grab some breakfast
*not accounted*
0830 - 0950Buy supplies you'll bring in the island
0950 - 1000Head back to Palompon Tourism Office
1000 - 1030Register and pay boat fee and overnight stay rate (we were 15 pax heading to Kalanggaman that time composed of 4 groups)
425
1030 - 1200Arrival in Kalanggaman Island
1200 - 1230Pitch your tent
1230 - 1300Grab some food for lunch
*not accounted*
1300Enjoy Kalanggaman Island
End of Day 4

Kalanggaman Island to Manila

Time
Activity
Expenses (in Peso, 50 pesos = $1)
0700Wake up and prep yourself
0700 - 0830Do you personal preparations and grab some breakfast
*not accounted*
0830 - 1000Boat ride from Kalanggaman Island to Palompon
1000 - 1200Head back to Tacloban
130
1200 - 1300Buy pasalubong and check in for you flight back to Manila
*not accounted
End of Day 5

Summary of Expenses:

Time
Activity
Expenses (in Peso, 50 pesos = $1)
Day 1
Manila going to Tacloban City
782
Day 2
Naval going to Sambawan Island
820
Day 3
Island tour in Biliran, and Overnight stay in Palompon
1450
Day 4
Overnight stay in Kalanggaman Island
425
Day 5
Palompon to Tacloban
130
Total Expenses
3607 or ≈ $75

Final Thoughts:

So now do you believe me that these places are indeed budget friendly? You’ll get more for the price of less.

Disclaimer

The itinerary and budget guide provided above does not include expenses for food for we at The Earthwalker belives that every human and different dietary needs. But to give you a general view, you can find a decent and good food in the region for the price of Php 100 or $ 2 US.

 

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