The Philippines is a destination that is easy to visit multiple times due to its more than 7,000 islands. The most difficult decision you make as a traveler, is figuring out which island to visit first. The Philippines is divided into the three main island groups of Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao, representing different regions in the country.
There is a reason that Boracay Island is considered the beach capital of the Philippines because there are more than 12 beaches. This tiny island in the west Visayas region is ideal for beachgoers who are after simple relaxation in the sun or water activities. White Beach, on the west side of the island, is one of the best beaches in the Philippines. Puka Shell Beach is on the tip of the island and is a favorite spot for shell collectors. Cagban Beach is a quiet spot with nearby caves that are rumored to still contain treasure chests. Diniwid Beach is a tiny beach at the north end of White Beach that has the best view of the island from a platform rock located there.
If a swim with sea turtles sounds like the experience of a lifetime then you will want to head to Apo Island in the Philippines. The reason this location lends itself to swimming with turtles and other sea life is because of the protected marine sanctuary. The Apo Island Marine Reserve is where you can take guided trips to see the sea turtles up close and snorkel at the coral reefs. The island is an eco-traveler’s dream. The protected landscape is some of the most untouched in the country. For great views of the island and the water go to the Apo Island View Deck.
The island of Cebu, in the central Visayas region, is considered the port to some of the best diving and snorkeling in the Philippines. If you are an underwater enthusiast, Cebu is one of your best options for excursions that get you up-close to whale sharks, coral reefs, and sea turtles. Some of the most spectacular scenery from the water near Cebu are the sea caves that attract photographers and outdoor enthusiasts looking for unique diving and snorkeling sites. While Cebu’s greatest draw is its water, Cebu City is a metropolitan area, with tourist attractions like museums and cathedrals that will interest history buffs.
One of the top diving destinations in the world, Coron Island is a tropical paradise, with electric blue and green water that almost seems unreal. The mountainous island sits on the tip of the Palawan island region, the western-most section of islands in the Philippines. The island is popular for diving because of the numerous wrecks here. Many of the preserved shipwrecks are located in depths ranging from shallow water at just 10 feet to deep water at 120 feet. Some of the wrecks require more than one dive to explore due to their size, but you can easily spend a week diving in this area. For non-shipwreck diving, check out Barracuda Lake, a former volcano with many unusual rock formations and fish.
The rice terraces of Banaue are one of the most striking things to see in the Philippines. The emerald-green terraces are an agricultural wonder in this area. Your most impressive view of the terraces is at sunrise when clouds and fog lift off the mountain to reveal the intricate landscape of the terraces. The Batad Rice Terraces and the Bangaan Rice Terraces are protected UNESCO World Heritage sites. For a deeper taste of this region, take a stroll through the Banaue Ethnic Village or the Hiwang Village to mingle with the indigenous people who farm the rice terraces.
The historical city of Vigan in the northern Philippines is one of the most charming towns to visit in the Luzon region. Its culture is a fusion of Chinese and Spanish influences originating from settlers to the area. Take a ride in a horse-drawn kalesa through the streets and admire the colonial architecture, courtesy of the Spanish who colonized the area in the 18th century. Vigan is a city with many nuances to explore. The best view of the area is from the Bantay Bell Tower, which is also a noted landmark in the area. A visit to the St. Paul Metropolitan Cathedral is breathtaking and a perfect spot to sit and people-watch as you take in the local culture.
The Philippines capital of Manila, on the island of Luzon, is a bustling city with non-stop activity. Hop on board one of the colorful jeepneys, the main form of public transportation, to get a taste of local life while you visit the city’s top attractions. Usually over-packed with locals, the bumpy ride through the streets on the iconic and kitschy jeep/bus hybrid vehicles will be one of the highlights of your visit. Buy local fruits and handmade gifts at the public market at Quiapo Church, where you are likely to see several thousand people show up on Fridays for worship.
One of the most unique experiences you can have in the Philippines is in the northern tribal region in Sagada. Nestled in the rugged and remote Cordillera Mountains are tribes that embrace the occasional visitor. This area is a paradise for the advanced outdoor enthusiast. The steep mountains and high elevation enhance the thrill and skill level required for outdoor adventure. One of the best places to visit in this region of the Philippines is the hanging coffins that hide deep in the mountains. It is best to connect with a local guide to take you to this incredible site because this is not a tourist area, but rather an authentic tribal region hiding an experience worthy of bragging rights
The rock islands, caves, and natural parks of Palawan Island are the hidden paradise of the Philippines. The coastal city of Puerto Princesa is where you should base yourself to explore some of these natural gems of the country. The Subterranean River National Park is a great first stop to see a five-mile underground river and impressive limestone caves. The UNESCO World Heritage site has boat tours that take you through the national park. Other must-see spots in Puerto Princesa are Honda Bay, which is popular for snorkeling, and Ugong Rock, where you can try ziplining and caving.
On Samal Island, also called Garden City of Samal, hiking, diving, and kayaking are a way of life. One of the top things to do on Samal Island, besides relaxing at the beach, is visit the Monfort Bat Sanctuary, which is home to millions of bats in the caves. An enjoyable day trip away from the beach is to Hagimit Falls, where you can walk on the nature trails and cool off in one of the pools below the tropical waterfalls. Samal Island is a short distance away from Davao City, which makes a great change of pace when you want a more metropolitan scene or a broader range of dining.