Places to Visit in Philippines
The places to visit in Philippines extend far beyond the pristine islands and white sandy beaches that it is well-known for – think mountains, villages and teeming megacities.
Graced by dazzling beaches, year-round sun and numerous opportunities for diving, island-hopping and surfing, the Philippines has long attracted a steady stream of foreign visitors. Yet there’s far more to these islands than sand and snorkelling. Beyond the coastline are mystical tribal villages, ancient rice terraces, jungle-smothered peaks and crumbling Spanish churches. Look closer and you’ll see the influence of the island’s rich stew of cultures – Islamic, Malay, Spanish and American – in an exuberant array of festivals, tantalizing food and elegant colonial towns that has more in common with Latin America than the rest of Asia.
Best Places to Visit in Philippines
Manila’s moniker, the ‘Pearl of the Orient’, couldn’t be more apt – its cantankerous shell reveals its jewel only to those resolute enough to pry. Skyscrapers pierce the hazy sky, mushrooming from the grinding poverty of expansive shantytowns, while gleaming malls foreshadow Manila’s brave new air-conditioned world. The determined will discover Manila’s tender soul, perhaps among the leafy courtyards and cobbled streets of serene Intramuros, where little has changed since the Spanish left. Or it may be in the eddy of repose arising from the generosity of one of the city’s 11 million residents.
10. Apo Reef
It takes a special spot to stand out amid the Philippines’ myriad dive sites and Apo Reef is such a spot. A protected, mostly sunken atoll off the west coast of Mindoro, Apo Reef supplies divers and snorkelers with a smorgasbord of underwater splendour. The crystal clear waters abound with life, including 285 species of fish and 197 species of coral. On some dives you might lose track of how many sharks, rays and sea turtles you spot. Rogue tuna, wrasses and huge schools of jacks patrol deeper waters, while in the shallow eels, turtles and an array of macro (small marine) life patrol the dazzling reefs.
The best way to take in Siquijor’s mellow vibe is to circumnavigate the nearly traffic-free island by motorbike on a day trip. Start with a morning dip at Paliton Beach, before proceeding to JJ’s for awesome fruit shakes and breakfast. Arrange a visit with a folk healer, involving unique traditional herbal remedies; head to Lazi for its magnificent coral-and-wood church; then cool off in the falls or at Kagasua Beach. Check out some modern art at Olang Art Park, and finish north of Larena for a cold beer and stellar sunset.
Relatively unspoiled and of an ideal size for exploration, Camiguin can be singled out for its imposing silhouette – drop it down next to Hawaii or Maui and it wouldn’t look out of place. With over 20 cinder cones 100m-plus high, Camiguin has more volcanoes per square kilometre than any other island on earth. To truly grasp this island’s inspiring topography, veer into the interior on roadways that carve through dense forests and culminate in rocky pathways that trail further up into the highlands. Made for do-it-yourself adventurers, Camiguin’s peaks and valleys offer streams for scrambling, mountains for scaling, canyons for rappelling and pools at the base of thundering waterfalls in which to wash off the day’s exertions.
A chill-out vibe and friendly breaks for both experts and novices make this island an important player in the Philippines surfing scene. The picturesque pavilion at Cloud Nine is the community and tourism hub, but waves abound elsewhere; head to the tranquil village of Burgos in the north for an undeveloped experience or charter a Bangka to seldom-visited spots. At the end of the day, regardless of your skills, nothing beats exchanging exaggerated tales of your exploits, a beachfront sundowner in your hand while you stare out at the waves rolling in.
It may all seem a bit touristy, but no visit to Bohol is complete without an inland detour to visit the iconic Chocolate Hills and cute bug-eyed tarsiers. Renting a car or motorbike is the way to go; get there at dusk for the memorable sight of the grassy hillocks spanning out to the misty horizon. Meanwhile, you can search for tarsiers in the wild on night safaris, but your chances are slim, so head to the tarsier sanctuary where you are guaranteed to see these extraordinary freaky and lovable primates.
The tribes of the Cordillera of North Luzon all seem to have impressive burial practices. In Sagada, the way folks deal with bodies is both relatively simple and fascinatingly unique: hang them. Not in the gallows sense; the hanging coffins of Sagada are stacked into niches cut into rocky cliffs, shelved like old books sitting in silent elevation over the jungle valleys. Sagada itself is one of the few traditionally ‘backpacker’ towns in North Luzon, with a gentle, friendly budget-traveller vibe that’s hard not to love. Try to time your visit for a begnas (traditional Kankanay community celebration), when women wear tapis and older men don G-strings and gather in the dap-ay (outdoor patio): chickens are sacrificed, gongs are payed and general merriment ensues.
Southeast Luzon, geographically defined by the Bicol peninsula, is becoming adventure-travel central for the Philippines. Besides boasting some of the best regional cuisine in the islands, Bicol is a top draw for water and adrenaline junkies via the Camsur Watersports Complex, where wakeboarding and its derivative sports rule the roost. Daet, Camarines Norte, is a burgeoning surf and kitesurfing destination. To experience a more laid-back connection to the water, head to the edge of Luzon and snorkel alongside the gentle whale sharks of Donsol – an unforgettable highlight.
3. Ifugao Rice Terraces
It’s easy to look at a map of North Luzon and assume the Cordilleras is all untamed wilderness. And yes – there’s rugged jungle. But what really strikes a visitor to Banaue, Batad and the other towns of Ifugao is how cultivated the mountains are. Even the sheerest cliffs possess little patches of ground that have been tilled into rice paddies. Take all those patches together and you get a veritable blanket of upland-tilled goodness, an unending landscape of hills rounded into rice-producing lumps of emerald and one of the best places to visit in Philippines.
With a postcard-perfect, 4km-long white beach and the country’s best island nightlife, it’s not hard to figure out why Boracay is the Philippines’ top tourist draw. Overdevelopment has made some old-timers long for the halcyon days of no electricity, but the debate about whether it’s better now or was better then won’t worry you too much when you’re digging your feet into the sand on White Beach and taking in the Philippines’ most famous sunset. Yet for all that’s changed, Boracay remains generally mellower than the likes of Kuta Beach or Ko Samui. And solace can still be found, in particular at the southern end of Boracay’s signature White Beach, where the spirit of the old Boracay lives on.
1. Bacuit Archipelago
Cruising through the labyrinthine Bacuit Archipelago of northern Palawan, past secluded beaches, pristine lagoons and rocky islets, is an experience not to be missed. Only a short Bangka ride from the easygoing coastal town of El Nido, the crystalline waters of Bacuit Bay are a fantasyscape of jagged limestone islands, mesmerising from any vantage point, whether from under water, from the air or lying on the beach. Easily the rival of southern Thailand or Halong Bay in Vietnam, the islands hide so many white-sand beaches, lagoons and coves that you’ll be overwhelmed. Overnight island-hopping trips in the bay or further north through the Linapacan Strait towards Coron offer an opportunity to bed down in remote fishing villages where the daily catch is grilled for dinner.