When it comes to variety, there is nowhere like The Philippines. Every island offers something different from the next, meaning that there is something for everyone in the Pearl of the Orient Seas. Off-the-beaten-track and once-in-a-lifetime? The Philippines has it. Whether you want hidden gems or world-renowned wonders, here are just 15 outstanding destinations worth exploring.
The Philippines has quite the reputation for white sand. If you want to see the best of the beaches, then Camiguin Island can meet those needs. It even has a sandbar just off of Mambajao called ‘White Island’.
This island’s photogenic quality has attracted attention over time, making it one of the more crowded spots on this attractions list. But that does not mean Camiguin Island is a waste of time. The gigantic Ardent Hot Springs and cosy Mantigue Island Nature Park is ideal for spending time deep in the jungle. And did you know that you can go snorkelling at the eery Sunken Cemetery?
The ‘Caving Capital’ of The Philippines, Samar is an outdoor enthusiast’s dream come true. There are heaps of waterfalls to be found on this island, as well as jaw-dropping caves and unbelievable rock formations. If after all those adventures you need a space to chill out, then Calicoan Island has you covered with the chance to surf or snorkel.
Although there are a few resorts in Samar, it is considerably quieter than this country’s most visited spots: proving just how fun off-the-beaten track can be.
The “Latin City of Asia”, Zamboanga is colourful all-year-round; but especially during the Hermosa Festival season. Spread across the entire month of October, this annual celebration is in honour of the city’s patron saint: Our Lady of the Pillar. From a nine-day novena to an iconic Regatta, October marks Zamboanga’s liveliest time of the year.
Art imitates life here, as the natural sights found in the province of Zamboanga are just as extraordinary as anything you will find in the city. When admiring the rainforest region of La Paz, it is hard to believe that anything so surreal-looking could exist. Not to mention the cascading and extravagant Merloquet Falls.
Road trips, riverboats, and resorts — Siargao Island has it all. Popular spot Magpupungko Beach has a rocky and rugged charm, but then bare essentials Naked Island is equally enthralling.
Outside of Traveller’s Choice hotels and an international palate, Siargao Island has its subtleties too. Its wide and well-paved roads guide visitors into the heart of this tropical landscape. Whether you prefer bicycles or motorbikes, this is a great option for those who want to see everything that action-packed Siargao Island has to offer.
Palaui’s protected landscape entrances its few visitors. Its cliffs are so green that it holds a candle to the bewitching Emerald Isle. Even the historical Cape Engaño Lighthouse was inspired by the island’s natural beauty, with its name meaning “to entice”.
Less coveted than Luzon, Palaui Island offers a more serene slice of Cagayan Valley. With limited accommodation options available, this island is a great option for travellers who want to get to know locals and see a different side to The Philippines.
Swimming with sharks in The Philippines may sound like fun, but certain destinations have received scrutiny for the unethical treatment of whale sharks and the impact on these creatures’ health. Respecting the local wildlife is a rule that every traveller should follow, and here is one way that you can still go diving without disturbing the aquatic life.
Despite being one of the only spots in the world where divers can spot the thresher shark regularly, Malapascua Island often goes under the radar. With a huge emphasis on shark conservation (and results to match), this island is an animal-friendly and unique alternative destination.
One of the more underrated spots in Cebu is Bantayan Island, found at the region’s northernmost tip. Famous for the endless sprawls of sun and sand, Bantayan Island is all about relaxation. Aside from swimming and sunbathing, there are plenty of exciting restaurants here that will cater to your tastes: including a couple that are suitable for vegetarians and vegans.
But if you want to try something a little more adventurous, why not go skydiving? Whether you are an absolute beginner or have some experience under your belt, the professionalism and friendliness of the staff will ease any of your nerves. Everyone knows that the best way to see a place is 3000 ft in the air.
If you want to stay somewhere more urban, then check out Taal! Quieter than the iconic Vigan City and 45 km away from Taal Volcano, this small heritage town is a brilliant choice to learn more about local history. As you walk around, your eyes will meet the colonial Spanish architecture. There are several ancestral homes that you can wander through.
Then there is the sacrilegious Minor Basilica of Saint Martin of Tours (Taal Basilica) that dates back to 1575. It is not only the largest Catholic church in this country, but in Asia!
Is a travel article about The Philippines ever complete without mentioning the Chocolate Hills? Hardly. An extraordinary natural phenomenon, in the centre of Bohol you will find over 1200 hills like the ones seen above.
Although they are not tall, the hills cannot be climbed individually and can only be admired from a viewing deck. Whilst nature can be more fun up-close, this distance means that the Chocolate Hills’ sheer breadth can be fully appreciated. Stunning in both the wet and dry season, the Chocolate Hills is a real feast for the eyes.
Sleeping Dinosaur Island
Welcome to Jurassic Park… Well, not quite. This scenic island gained its name from the fact that from a distance, it really does look like a dinosaur lying down! You do not have to hide from velociraptors here, and so exploring the island’s wilderness is encouraged. From hiking to the top of the trail to riding a pump boat around the island, life finds a way on the Sleeping Dinosaur.
If you want to escape The Philippines’ main tourist attractions and go somewhere a little more “real”, then we have you covered. This sleepy neighbourhood may be known for its surfing scene, but what you really want to see is hidden in the forest.
The sloping Balagbag Falls is not only immersive, but also accessible. Entrance is cheap (around 30 Philippine peso) and its two tiers make for an easy trek. The best part? Its running waters are crystal clear.
Mahabang Buhangin Beach
A true hidden gem, the Mahabang Buhangin Beach manages to be sociable but unspoiled. Between the fresh seafood served at restaurants and the chance to camp on the sand, life is a beach here. Once you have finished pitching your tent, make sure to explore that vibrant coastline. The only pitfall to this place is having to leave it.
If you want a slice of the Filipino countryside, then why not visit Maligcong? Home to winding trails through paddy fields and farmland, walking around this neighbourhood is beyond peaceful. Time moves a little slower in the place that is all about enjoying the little things in life.
Whether you want to hike the hills before sunrise or just enjoy a cup of coffee from a homestay, Malicgong will help you to disconnect from any stress.
Isolated from the main province, Caramoan’s location makes it not only perfect for island-hopping and diving, but for travellers looking to stay somewhere more secluded. If you ever wanted a Boracay but without the crowds, this is it.
Its white sand beaches and unbelievably blue waters also make it a great spot to unwind. Soaking up the sun has never been more fun in this island paradise.
Last but not least is the incredible Puerto Princesa, whose limestone caves and underground river have earned it the titles of UNESCO World Heritage and one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature (2012). There is more to this sight than what can be seen at the surface, as going underground is just as thrilling.
To see it for yourself, just book onto one of the many tours provided. But buy your tickets in advance; Puerto Princesa’s beauty is no secret.