Riding the entire Philippines on a budget

Earlier this month, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced that the COVID-19 global health emergency is officially over. This means, no more lockdowns or restricted travel like what we’ve experienced in 2020 to early 2022.

That said, this is the perfect time to help the tourism industry bounce back, and there’s no better place to explore than our country, the Philippines. For motorcycle riders, the best way to explore the country is by going through the Philippine Loop.

Philippine Loop on a tight budget image

But perhaps the biggest challenge faced by motorcycle riders to finally embarking on that Philippine Loop adventure is money. Not only that gas prices are still relatively high, checking in a hotel multiplied by 10 or more days could rack up thousands of pesos. Then there’s the cost of RoRo (Roll on, Roll off vessel).

Is there a way to do the Philippine Loop on a modest budget? The answer is YES, according to 15-time Philippine Looper, Raymund Concepcion.

Just a brief background, Raymund Concepcion is a veteran motorcycle rider who just loves to explore the Philippines, and we mean the entire Philippines. He probably did the Philippine Loop – and all of its possible versions – more than anyone in the motorcycle community. He has designed many of Adventure Team Philippines’ (ATP) riding challenges.

Philippine Loop

The Philippine Loop is pretty straightforward – just ride throughout the entire Asian Highway 26 (AH26) in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao until you “loop” back to your point of origin. Along the way, that’s where you can do “side trips” to the different tourist spots the localities have to offer.

Philippine Loop on a tight budget image

According to Raymund Concepcion, to enjoy all the major destinations in the entire Philippines, the minimum loop is around 5,000 kilometers long. This should already give us an idea on how much we will be spending on fuel alone, depending on what motorcycle we ride.

Raymund Concepcion, for example, did the Philippine Loop multiple times on board his trusty Yamaha Serow 250. If he gets an average fuel consumption of 35 kilometers per liter, that means he should have enough money for 143 liters of gasoline. Considering (as of this writing) the per liter price of gasoline, Raymund would have to shell out more or less PHP 9,000 in fuel expenses for the entire Philippine Loop.

Philippine Loop on a tight budget image

For RoRo fare, that’s an additional PHP 7,500 (approx) for the entire loop. So, if you’re embarking on a Philippine Loop adventure today riding solo on a Yamaha Serow 250, you’ll need at least PHP 16,500, for fuel and boat fare only.

If you're riding a scooter like a Honda BeAt, you'll likely just need 100 liters of fuel to complete the trip.

Pro tip (to stretch your budget)

A lot of Filipinos have family members in the provinces. To stretch your budget, Raymund Concepcion suggests contacting your relatives and planning your trip accordingly to include them in your itinerary.

Philippine Loop on a tight budget image

It's always customary in Filipino culture to offer food and accommodation to visiting relatives, and if you're on a tight budget, a visit to your loved ones in the provinces could save you thousands of pesos in hotel and food expenses.

Also, to avoid spending on mechanical failures, tires, oil changes, etc., it is prudent to keep your motorcycle in tip-top shape in the weeks leading to your planned Philippine Loop. Do that preventive maintenance/PMS, buy a new tire, etc. while at home so that the chances of a  breakdown while on the trip are slim.

Philippine Loop on a tight budget image

Also, bring your sleeping bag, tent, or hammock. The reason is that camping is still cheaper than sleeping in a hotel. If ever you ventured into a rural area during your trip, sleeping or pitching your tent in the barangay hall or police station grounds is always welcome to the locals. In our experience, the locals would even feed you, lend you clothes (if you're wet from the rain), and would love to hear about your adventures and would not ask for anything in return.

For your part, it's always nice to bring pasalubong for the kids like candies and small toys. 

Philippine Loop in just a couple of days

How many days you would complete the entire Philippine Loop is up to you, but on average, it takes at least 2 weeks to fully enjoy the beauty of our country. For those who don't have the luxury of leaving work too long, says Raymund Concepcion, doing an "endurance style" Philippine Loop might be best for you, and do it in 2 parts.

Philippine Loop on a tight budget image

Let's say you'll be doing this, do the North Loop from Saturday to Sunday. This means Day 1 (Saturday) will be (if you are) from Manila to Aparri, traversing Alaminos, then Aparri, and back to Manila via Baler) on Day 2 (Sunday). This will be the first part and you have already covered more than 1,500 kilometers of your Philippine Loop.

Now, the second part will cover 3,500 kilometers of the loop and would require at least 4 days of your time because you'll be riding all the way to Mindanao and back. According to Raymund Concepcion, to “acclimatize” your body for the long haul, do the second part of your Philippine Loop counter-clockwise. 

This means that you'll be taking the Manila-Batangas-Mindoro-Panay-Negros-Mindanao route. Say, you'll be taking off from Manila at 4 AM, Friday, you should be at Batangas Port in about 3 hours. From there, the RoRo from Batangas to Calapan, Mindoro, would take approximately 2 hours. Use this time to nap. From Calapan Port, you'll be traveling approximately 127 kilometers and should be in Dangay Port, Roxas City by 11 AM.

Philippine Loop on a tight budget image

The ferry from Dangay to Caticlan, Malay, Aklan, would take 4 1/2 hours. Use this time again to rest/nap and eat lunch. By 3:30 PM, you'll be on Panay Island. Ride from Caticlan to Port of Dumangas would take about 4 hours so you'll reach it by 7:30 PM. Ferry to Bacolod City will take another 2 hours. 

Since you've had about 8 1/2 hours of rest while on RoRo, you should have enough energy to continue riding all the way to Dumaguete City, which is just 4 hours away. By 1:30 AM, you should've reached the Port of Dumaguete City. Catch the 2 AM RoRo to Dapitan, Zamboanga.

Since it's a 5-hour boat ride, use this downtime for sleeping. By 7 AM, Saturday, you're already in Mindanao and have traveled approximately 1,000 kilometers of both land and sea.

Fresh from your 5-hour rest/sleep, ride the next 13 hours to Davao City, via Cotabato and General Santos City. You can check in at a budget hotel in Davao City. Local food in Davao City is relatively cheap, so no need to worry about spending too much.

The next day, Sunday, ride 400 kilometers from Davao to Lipata Port in Surigao City. Let’s say you began riding at 6 AM, you’ll be at the port by 2 PM and should have more than enough time to catch the 3 PM ferry to San Ricardo, Leyte. This point of sea travel from Surigao to Leyte is approximately 2 hours.

Philippine Loop on a tight budget image

Again, you can use this downtime to sleep or rest. From 5 PM to 9 PM, you’ll be riding almost 200 kilometers to reach Tacloban City. You can spend the night in Tacloban by checking in at a budget-friendly hotel or push further for another 5 1/2 hours to reach Port of San Isidro, Northern Samar. By 2:30 AM Monday, you still have time to catch the 3 AM FastCat ferry to Matnog, Sorsogon. After 1 1/2 hours, you’re back again at the Island of Luzon. Again, use this downtime to rest.

Arriving at 4 AM in Matnog, Sorsogon, take it easy and ride for the next 12 hours until reaching home in Manila. Take note, however, that a 4-day Manila-Bacolod-Davao-Tacloban-Manila ride is possible assuming that you will not encounter any issues (mechanical, delays, etc.) along the way and is able to board a RoRo vessel right away. Eating is also done during boat rides or during a gas stop to save time. This "endurance style" Philippine Loop is not advisable, by the way, as the whole essence of traveling is to enjoy the beauty of our country and not just riding through it.

Lastly, it's always wise to bring extra cash for emergencies if you really want to complete the Philippine Loop. You don't want to be stuck in the middle of nowhere after your motorcycle had a breakdown and you don't have the money for parts and labor.