Philippines Photo Tour: May 2015


Tour Leader: Karl Grobl. Trip limited to 10 participants

The Philippines, known as Pearl of the Orient, is one of the great treasures of Southeast Asia. Often overlooked by travellers, the Philippines rewards those who go the extra distance to reach and explore it. Because it’s off the beaten path, the Philippines is a great place to escape the multitudes who descend upon other parts of Southeast Asia. The country is the second-largest archipelago in the world, being composed of more than 7,000 islands. The Philippines boasts a fantastic landscape with wonders enough to stagger even the most jaded traveler: the UNESCO World Heritage sites of Banaue with its amazing the Rice Terraces (called by many the 8th wonder of the world) and fascinating reminders of the islands’ rich history in places such as Vigan. But that’s not all the Philippines has to offer. If you’re after palm-fringed, white-sand beaches, the Philippines offers that too, on a scale and beauty that one might have expected to find in Hawaii decades ago.

The Philippines has three major regions; Luzon to the north, Visayas in the center and Mindanao in the south. Manila, located in Luzon is the country’s capital. The Philippine culture has affinities with Spain due to three centuries of colonial rule, and has an American influence, largely the result of a major military presence during World War II, but which actually started as early as 1898. The Philippines rich culture and tradition reflects the diverse indigenous groups from its many islands. Roman Catholicism is the predominant religion, being the only Catholic country in Southeast Asia. Tagalog is the official language while English is widely spoken.

Travellers who have been to the Philippines universally comment that it’s the Filipinos themselves who make the country such a joy to visit. Photo friendly and full of smiles, the people open themselves and their lives to visitors on a scale only matched by places like India and Myanmar. The Philippines truly qualifies as one of the last great frontiers in Southeast Asia. This is your chance to be among the few to explore and photograph this amazing destination.


(Tentative, subject to change)

Day 1:
Arrive Manila, where you will be picked up at the airport and taken to the hotel. This evening at 6:00pm we will have an orientation meeting followed by dinner at a nearby restaurant. Spend the night Manila.

Day 2:
Today, cameras in hand, we set out for a Manila City tour and the historical landmarks and interesting parts of the city including Rizal Park, the country’s premier park and the site of many important events in the country’s history; Intramuros, the Spanish colonial city. Its historical landmarks include Fort Santiago, the old Spanish military headquarters; San Agustin Church, the oldest stone structure in the country which has a museum of religious and secular art; Barrio San Luis, a complex of reconstructed period houses depicting the Filipino life styles of the 19th century. The tour also includes Quiapo, a district popular to the locals for its open market and its church which enshrines the black statue of Jesus Christ. Spend the night Manila.

Day 3:
This morning at 8:00 we set out in our own private Jeepney to visit and photograph a bustling fish market, and then Manila’s largest flower market. In the afternoon we ride a mini, man-powered train, and explore life along the railroad tracks. We spend the night Manila.

Day 4:
Today we fly Manila to Laoag then are transported two hours south by private bus to Vigan: Upon our arrival in Vigan we do a short orientation walk and perhaps some late afternoon and evening shooting in Vigan’s old cobblestone street, historic district. Vigan is a UNESCO World Heritage site, In pre-colonial times, Vigan was an important trading post for Chinese junks, trading gold beeswax and other products from the central Cordilleras for exotic Asian goods. Many Chinese traders settled in the mestizo district, marrying locals and starting new bloodlines. Vigan was captured and settled by the Spanish in 1572, and grew to become a centre of Spanish political and religious power in the north of Luzon. We spend the night in Vigan.

Day 5:
This morning we are up early and head out to explore Vigan. We visit the Mestizo District which offers a wonderful glimpse into the Philippines’ colonial past. The ancestral houses were mostly built by Chinese traders using a mixture of local, Asian and Spanish architectural styles. St. Paul’s Metropolitan Cathedral was built by Augustinians around 1790 and features a unique design intended to minimize earthquake damage; a style that came to be known as “earthquake baroque”. Look out for the brass communion handrails forged in China, complete with Chinese characters scrawled by its ancient installers (if you look closely). The eight-sided bell tower is just south of the cathedral. Its position was actually the safety measure of the earthquake baroque style: it was built separately from the church so that in case of earthquakes, it would not topple into the church. Its eight-sided design reflects its Chinese Feng-shui influences. Plaza Salcedo west of the cathedral features a 17th Century monument to Juan de Salcedo, and was also the site of resistance leader Gabriela Silang’s public hanging in 1763. The Ayala Museum used to be the home of Father Jose Burgos but now houses Ilocano artifacts, weapons, kitchen utensils, basketry, costumes, jeweler and Burgos Memorabilia. There are also some dioramas showing important events in the history of Ilocos Sur, and a mini library. After our evening shoot in the historic district, we have a nice, outdoor café dinner and then spend our final night in Vigan.

Day 6:
Today we take a long scenic drive along the amazing, photogenic road through a Philippine National Park to Sagada. Sagada is a small town nestled in the middle of a valley at the upper end of Malitep tributary of the Chico river about 1,500 meters above sea level. Its lofty little town, dirt-free air, with the smell of towering pine trees. The journey is one of the prettiest drives in Luzon, and takes about 6 hours due to sharp bends & bumpy roads through the Cordilera Mountains. We pass the highest point in the Philippine highway system and pass some amazing terraces which we will stop and photograph along the way. Spend the night in Sagada.

Day 7:
Today we rise early to photograph rice terraces in and around Sagada, then set off to explore the famous hanging coffins. Hanging coffins are an ancient funeral custom. Coffins of various shapes can be seen hanging either on beams projecting outward from vertical faces of the mountain, are placed in caves in the face of cliffs, or sit on natural rock projections. We spend the night Sagada.

Day 8:
After breakfast we board our bus for a 250 kilometer trip to Baguio, a city on the Cordillera mountain range in the middle of the island of Luzon. Due to its cool mountain weather, Baguio is considered the summer capital of the Philippines. Because of its many pine trees it is also called the City of Pines. In the afternoon we do a bit of photo-wandering in Baguio, then have dinner and relax at our hotel. Spend the night in Baguio.

Day 9:
Sleep in, enjoy a magnificent breakfast and a late morning departure by private bus from Baguio to Manila, stopping along the way to take photos of workers in the vegetable fields or whatever strikes our fancy. Spend the night in Manila.

Day 10:
Free day in Manila. Today, enjoy a free day in Manila to relax, shop or photograph on your own. Spend the night in Manila.

Day 11:
After breakfast at our hotel in Manila we transfer to airport for flight to Bohol. Upon arrival in Bohol, we drive we drive to our hotel for check in, a quick swim or some time relaxing or photographing on the beach. At sunset we walk the beach photographing the seascape, fishermen and children frolicking in the water.This evening we enjoy photo sharing and an open-air dinner overlooking the ocean. Spend the night in Bohol.

Day 12:
This morning we rise early and head to the Tarsier Research and Development Center to photograph the Tarsier, a strange, tiny monkey with large eyes. The Tarsier measures only about 3 to 6 inches in height, making it one of the smallest primates. The small size makes it difficult to spot. The average adult is about the size of a human fist and will fit very comfortably in the human hand. The Tarsier’s eyes are fixed in its skull; they cannot turn in their sockets. Instead, a special adaptation in the neck allows its round head to be rotated 180 degrees. The eyes are disproportionately large, having the largest eye-to-body size ratio of all mammals. These huge eyes provide this nocturnal animal with excellent night vision. After photographing Tarsiers, we take a boat ride through the local jungle, and on the way back to the hotel make a short stop to photograph the Chocolate Hills. The Chocolate Hills is a rolling terrain of haycock hills – mounds of general shape which are conical and almost symmetrical. The mounds are made of grass-covered limestone. The domes vary in sizes from 98 to 160 ft high with the largest being 390 ft in height. During the dry season, the grass-covered hills dry up and turn chocolate brown. This transforms the area into seemingly endless rows of “chocolate kisses”. We spend the night in Bohol.

Day 13:
Today we do portfolio review, enjoy relaxation at the beach and or arrange optional excursions throughout this tropical island. We spend night at Bohol beach resort.

Day 14:
Today we are transported back to Manila with the afternoon and evening free to shoot the streets of Manila, then have our farewell dinner for those joining the optional extension to say goodbye to those who are heading home. Spend the night in Manila.

Day 15:
Guests are transported to the airport to meet your flight home.


Optional Extension: TBD

Day 15:
(June 4) Manila – Today we’ll head to the railroad tracks and under a freeway overpass to photography a poor community that has taken up residence there. In the evening, we will photograph the sunset on Manila Bay along Roxas Boulevard and then pan jeepnies along Mabini Street during the twilight hour. After dinner we will photograph some of the night life centered around the bars and night clubs of Manila. Spend the night in Manila.

Day 16: Manila – Today we’ll visit a Jeepney fabrication facility, then make our way over to photograph the coal scavengers in the port district. If we have enough energy and time left over, we will head to Makati (the high-rise financial district) and find a location high on a skyscraper to capture an aerial photograph of Manila city with it’s twinkling lights and busy streets. Spend the night in Manila.

Day 17: Today we’ll fly to Cebu where we’ll be staying at the relaxing, beachfront the Crimson Resort Hotel. On the evening of our arrival, we’ll make our way into Cebu City to photograph the “Sinulog dancing candle ladies of Santo Nino Basilica.

Day 18: Cebu – Today we’ll photograph a bustling local fish market and then boxing at a local gym in an impoverished part of Mandaue. (Boxing is only 2nd to Basketball as the most popular sport in the Philippines.) If time permits, we will visit and photograph preparation of Cebu’s famous Lechon at a local restaurant. Spend the night at Crimson Resort hotel on Mactan Island.

Day 19: Today, Karl will do photo critiques throughout the day. Otherwise, it’s a free day. You’ll have time to enjoy the beach locale – perhaps do some snorkeling or swimming.

Day 20: After a leisurely breakfast, we’ll catch mid-day flight to Manila where you can connect with your connecting flights home.


Karl Grobl

Karl Grobl is a humanitarian photojournalist specializing in the photographic documentation of relief efforts and development work of NGOs worldwide. His images have appeared in publications such as Newsweek, CNN, Geo, Town and Country magazine and The Chronicle of Philanthropy, but the largest majority of his photos appear in the annual reports, newsletters and communications materials of his humanitarian organization clients. Karl’s non-NGO work is represented by Zuma Press, the premier international editorial picture agency and wire service. His 2005 Haiti photo-story “City of God” was nominated for a World Press Photo Award.

Over the last ten years, Karl has worked in over 50 countries including Afghanistan, Sudan, Uganda, Burkina Faso, Ghana, Guinea, Peru, Bolivia, Colombia, Cambodia, Vietnam, Myanmar, India, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, the Philippines, East Timor, Cuba, and Haiti.

Following the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami Karl spent more than a month embedded with five different non-governmental organizations documenting tsunami relief efforts in India, Sri Lanka and Indonesia. One year later he returned to document the reconstruction. He has covered post conflict peacebuilding efforts in Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and East Timor, HIV/Aids issues in Africa and Asia as well as Human trafficking in Cambodia and the Philippines.

In addition to his rigorous international travel schedule, Karl teaches photography workshops and leads international photography tours. He is a regular lecturer on photography and photojournalism and a long time member of the National Press Photographers Association. Karl is a member of the Advisory Counsel of Focus For Humanity, a non profit organization, who’s mission is to provide financial support, resources and training for professional and amateur photographers wishing to work with NGOs. He also works as a technical consultant for several photographic and photography-related technology companies and was featured in a world wide advertising campaign for SanDisk memory cards.

Dates & Prices

Dates: TBD
Cost: TBD

Price based on double occupancy. A single supplement (TBD) applies.

Price Includes: All 14 hotel nights, airport transfers, all ground transportation, in-country flights, all breakfasts, all dinners, entrances to tourist sites, boat rides, English-speaking guides, drinking water.

Tour Leader: Karl Grobl. Trip limited to 10 participants

Optional Extension: TBD

Storytelling in Manila and Cebu

Dig a little deeper in the Filipino culture exploring photojournalist/story-telling with your camera. You’ll spend two days in and around Manila visiting photographing a Jeepney fabrication facility and coal scavengers in the port district. The next three days will be spent on Cebu where you’ll photograph boxing, bustling fish markets, and the dancing candle ladies.

Dates: TBD

Cost: TBD

Single supplement: TBD
Price Includes: All 5 hotel nights, airport transfers, all breakfasts, all dinners, round-trip flights Manila to Cebu.

*All prices subject to change without notice, owing to the variable nature of international currency exchange rates and sudden changes in local costs.

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A deposit of $600 per person is required at time of booking. Full payment is due 90 days prior to departure.


  • On cancellations more than 120 days prior to departure, all monies are refunded less a $275 administrative fee and less any monies spent on participant’s behalf such as airline or other tickets.
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Notification by phone or email is acceptable, but please follow with written notice. In the unlikely event we have to cancel a tour, a full refund will be given.


Jim Cline Photo Tours LLC, and their agents act only in the capacity as agents in all matters pertaining to hotel accommodations, sightseeing tours, and transportation, and are not responsible for any loss, damage, theft, or injury to person or property resulting from a defect in any vehicle, or the actions of any persons who provide services for this tour or for the action or inaction of any third party. Baggage is at the owner’s risk entirely. The tour operator reserves the right to withdraw the tour at any time, to decline any person as a member of the tour for any cause at any time. All prices are based on current rates of exchange and, while every effort will be made to hold them firm, they are subject to change.


It is the responsibility of each tour member to inform the tour operator of any possible health problems or handicaps upon registration. By forwarding a signed reservation form and trip deposit, you certify that you do not knowingly have any physical or other conditions of disability that would create a risk for you or other trip participants. Once a trip has been confirmed, medical circumstances will not be considered as exceptions to our cancellation policy. We assume no responsibility for medical care or for special dietary requirements.

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To allow for any unexpected contingencies, all participants are strongly urged to purchase trip cancellation and interruption insurance.


While Jim Cline Photo Tours LLC endeavors to make the itinerary as accurate as possible, it should be considered as an approximate schedule of activities rather than a rigid schedule of events. Trip itineraries are subject to revision due to weather, ocean or trail conditions, government restrictions, and other reasons beyond our control. The tour leader has the right to make changes in the published itinerary whenever in his sole judgment conditions warrant, or if he deems it necessary for the comfort or safety of the tour.

Country Info


Health Information on vaccinations and other health precautions, such as safe food and water precautions and insect bite protection, may be obtained from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) hotline for international travelers at 1-877-FYI-TRIP (1-877-394-8747) or via the CDC website. For information about outbreaks of infectious diseases abroad, consult the infectious diseases section of the World Health Organization (WHO) website. The WHO website also contains additional health information for travelers, including detailed country-specific health information.

Money: Currency exchange rates


Suggested equipment: Digital SLR with lenses offering a focal length from wide (24mm or wider) to telephoto (100mm or longer), laptop or netbook computer running image viewing software such as Breeze Browser or Photo Mechanic and an image editing program such as Adobe Photoshop, or a combintation softward program similar to like Lightroom. Additionally we strongly recommend a back-up device such as external hard drive.

Be ready in case it rains: I suggest getting a few OpTech 18″ RainSleeves: They are a plastic bag type sleeve made to protect an SLR camera with a lens up 7.0″ in diameter and 18″ in length. The sleeve protects the gear from dust and inclement weather. It is designed for hand-held use or tripod application. The Rainsleeve features a unique eyepiece opening that adapts to most camera viewfinders, allowing composition of shots through the camera’s lens, not through the plastic. Camera & lens controls are easily visible and operable through the sleeve. Drawstring lens opening offers easy access and a snug fit. There are two Rainsleeves per package and they sell for about $5.00


Temperatures: The monthly average daily high temperature in Manila in May is 93 F
The monthly average daily low temperature in Manila in May is 77 F

The climate of Philippines is marked by comparatively high temperature, high humidity and plenty of rainfall. The climate of Philippines resembles the climate of the countries of Central America to a large extent. Philippines enjoy a predominantly tropical climate. The entire nation of Philippines has a high relative humidity because of high temperature and the surrounding water bodies. The average monthly relative humidity of Philippines varies between 71 percent in March and 85 percent in September.

This from Lonely Planet, about “when to go”:

“Any time is a good time to visit the Philippines, with the possible exception of Holy Week (around Easter), when hotels book out months in advance and prices triple. New Year’s sees a similar hotel crunch in popular spots like Boracay, but the parties make it worthwhile. Also be aware that during typhoon season (June to early December), tropical storms raging up the east coast can mean foul weather for days, but there’s not much you can do to predict typhoons. Adopt the Filipino maxim – bahala na (whatever will be will be) – and wait it out.

The Philippines’ weather has become more unpredictable in recent years, but January to May usually brings the best weather to most of the country. However, this is also the high tourist season. Foreign arrivals are highest in January to March, while Filipinos hit the road en masse in April and May for their ‘summer’ holidays. Don’t worry too much about crowds though; outside of a few popular beach resorts it’s never very hard to escape other tourists in the Philippines. Low season is during the ‘rainy’ months of June to September, which in some areas of the country aren’t rainy at all.”

So, it’s likely to be hot and humid in Manila, cool in Baguio and Sagada and then hot again in Bohol. It will likely rain a bit, and that will make for some great photos!


Philippines Testimonials

“We found most of the restaurants to have well cooked food and charm . . .  The staff were friendly and fun to talk with . . . Karl was great. He is one of the best tour leaders we have had. He made sure that we were well informed about settings and anything else we asked for. His constant reminders to check settings at the stops made us think about what we needed to change before we got going at each location. He’s a great teacher. He knew when to let us go and when to remind us of tricky situations for our set ups. . . Outside of the people I’d say Vigan [my favorite part of the trip] was nice and Sagada was a great spot for photos . . .  [The local guides]  were good but Karl was so much better. . . the trip was well priced. . .  Loved the discussions [with Karl and the group] .”

~Ed Fitzgerald, Torrance, CA

“I really loved all the locations we visited  . . . the mountain roads and areas  . . . (e.g Bagio & Sagada) were spectacular.  I liked the accommodations in the G Hotel in Manila . . . The Lodge at John Hay was spectacular, and the Salcedo de Vigan and Amarela Resort were both charming.  I liked the fish market dinner we had in Manila, and dinner at the John Hay and Amarela resorts were also very nice . . . There were excellent photo opportunities in almost every place we went  . . . Karl was an excellent teacher in helping me learn how to take control of my Nikon D-90 and learn what I could do with a little bit of thought and preparation . . . I feel I made great strides forward.. The favorite part for me was discovering the beauty of a country that I knew very little about. I was also very taken by the friendliness and openness of almost all of the Filippinos we met and we photographed. Not only were they very friendly and polite (even in the poorest areas-e.g railroad bridge in Manila) but there seemed to be a real sense of community – i.e. of caring for their neighbors and family – in so many places we visited  . . . The local guides were knowledgeable and helpful. I especially appreciated Ferdz taking time to critique my photos and suggest a number of ways to improve them . . . This trip gave me the support I needed to become a better technical photographer, and also a few tips on how to compose better pictures . . . I learned a great deal about how to use [my Nikon 10-24 wide angle lens] effectively. I thank Jim Cline for recommending that lens  . . . I think I got some very good pictures . . . I would recommend the trip to someone who was at least a serious amateur photographer. It’s a great way to see a country, meet many people, and learn some of the stories of the people and places – and at the same time improve your photography and take some nice (if not great) pictures. I am looking forward to future trips. “

~Herb Horowitz

I flew to the Philippines, but I had no idea what to expect . . . I was assuming it would be another opportunity to improve my photography skills.  Little did I know . . . the countryside with the endless green rice terraces, the magnificent  mountains, the  islands with their amazing  white sandy beaches – all so heartbreaking beautiful.  The Filipinos are the warmest, nicest people one can imagine, whether living in the big city of Manila, old Vigan or the Island of Bohol. What a great and wonderful surprise .  . . lots of fun . . .YES, we did [take great pictures]. It was hard to come up with poor images when the surrounding is so beautiful and Karl being such a great teacher. So many people have said nice things about you [Karl] through the years . . . your way of dealing and approaching the individuals whose images you have captured . . . when I look at the images [you take] I can see the sparkle  in the eyes of those you have photographed, and I know you have talked to them, showed a real interest [in them] and smiled. They in return have lowered their defenses, engaged with a smile of their own, a giggle or may be even sadness- but no anger or toughness.  And at times, when I look at the images [Karl's], I just sit there and wait for these people to begin talking. Almost always there is a dialogue.  The ability to carry a dialogue and share is a strong feature in Karl’s teaching.  He offers the information, he shares his knowledge.  You don’t have to ask for help, Karl watches you in action and is there to encourage or correct – either way you feel you gain.”

~ Ruti Alon, Michmoret, Israel

The pre-trip information was excellent and well enough in advance. Great info for things to pack based on the region.  The hotels were wonderful and staff very accommodating.  We ate very well . . . especially [at] the seaside restaurant in Manila . . . where they cooked [fresh fish] right there for dinner. Yum! The walking tour [in Manila] was nice. The people were a definite highlight. I also enjoyed the fish market in Bohol. It was a great photo op! I loved the peacefulness of Bohol and scheduling the beach at the end of the trip was a good call. I liked Karl’s reminders about various [camera] settings and his suggestions about how to shoot in particular lighting situations. I really liked [guides and fellow photographers] Red Santos and Ferdz. They really added to our trip. Ferdz was especially helpful. Both guides really added to our trip.  You [Jim] and Karl are wonderful and accommodating. I appreciate Karl’s enthusiasm and the time he took to scope out some really incredible photo opportunities.”

~Anietra Hamper, Gahanna, OH

Trip Evaluation Form

Philipppines Photo Tour Evaluation Form:

We would love to hear your comments and suggestions from the recent tour. Please, if you have a few moments, fill out this form. Karl and I will personally review and discuss it. Your valuable input helps us to continuously improve our tours.
  • Please feel free to answer each question with as many or as few words as you deem necessary. Again, we appreciate any and all input.