15 Ridiculously Beautiful Places to Visit in the Philippines

by May 4, 2020Philippines

© Dmitry Pichugin – adobe.stock.com

Whenever I sat down to plan my trip to the Philippines, I got stuck. I became so overwhelmed with all the possibilities (Who wouldn’t when the country has over 7,000 islands!)—Bohol, Malapascua, Siquijor, Siargao, Roxas, Batan, Banaeu, Baguio, Boracay. I just couldn’t decide where to go.

And because I hadn’t heard of most of these places before, I kept getting the names mixed up– Malapascua v Moalboal and Siargao v Siquijor. And I because I couldn’t pronounce them, I couldn’t remember them.  Siquijor? Siargao? Banaeu? Baguio?

Guidebooks didn’t help much. One island sounded like all the other islands. Sandy white beaches, crystal clear water, the best diving in the world, blah, blah, blah.

Just give me a list of the best places in the Philippines, and I’ll go there!

I just sort of gave up and decided to wing it when I got to the country.

Big mistake!

For one thing, it’s not easy to hop from just any island to any other island. So I ended up backtracking or taking more expensive transportation than if I had planned better.  And instead of being out on the beach, I found myself stuck inside figuring out where to go next and then how to get there.

My best advice for you is to be clear what kind of vacation you’re looking for (A party? A mellow vacation? Only beaches? Or a combination of beaches and mountains?) and where you can get that kind of vacation.

Of course, it’s ok to change your mind once you’re there, but at least have some kind of plan and a list of must-see destinations.

Finally, if you’re there for longer than 2 weeks, plan for some variety. After a while, one island can start to look like every other island. Consider the mountains of Northern Luzon as well as the tropical islands of the south.

Based on my three months in the Philippines, I’ve wrangled down all 7,000 islands into a list of 15 places that you should visit in the Philippines. At the end of the post, I’ll tell you my top 5.

Let’s take a look!

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THE NORTH: NORTHERN LUZON

Let’s start with the north. Not many international tourists go here. But they should. Northern Luzon is the ideal place for those looking for culture, natural beauty, history, architecture and adventure. The three top destinations here are the rice terraces in Ifugao province and the cities of Vigan and Sagada. I suggest adding at least one of these places to your itinerary. Any of them will make for a nice change of pace from the islands to the south.

1. Rice Terraces of Ifugao Province: The Most Beautiful Place in the Philippines

You will never forget your visit to the rice terraces in Ifugao province. They were first built 2,000 years along the slopes of the Cordillera Mountains. Walking along the rice fields or standing on ridges above them, you’ll be stunned by the breathtaking and dramatic views around you. If you’re into photography and hiking, then making the 9-hour bus ride from Manila will be worth it.

Aerial View of Batad Rice Terraces, Ifugao Province, Luzon Islan

There are rice terraces sprinkled throughout the region. Some are easier to get to than others. Some can be done on your own while others require guides. Banaue is the easiest rice terrace to get to, but Batad, Bagaan, Mayoyao, Hungduan, and Nagacadan are UNESCO World Heritage sites. Don’t worry. You can take in several in one trip by hiking from one to the other.

PRO TIP: No one likes to think about insurance, but accidents do happen. I highly recommend getting World Nomads. This is what I've used for short-term travel. When  I quit my job to travel around the world, I switched to Safety Wings. They're very affordable (less than US$100 a month depending on age) especially for those of us who are over 40 years old. They now cover COVID19.

2. Sagada: The Weird and Wonderful Philippines

This next destination on this list of best places to visit in the Philippines is a bit weird but also wonderful. It’s the backpacker haven of Sagada. Located about 13 hours by bus from Manila, this rather eerie destination is famous for its creepy hanging coffins, thrilling caves, and beautiful waterfalls. It’s ideal for those with more adventurous spirits or those seeking a bit of traditional Filipino culture.

Echo Valley Hanging Coffins in Sagada, Philippines

The most important stop in Sagada is the Echo Valley Hanging Coffins. For those who like adventure, do the Cave Connection, an underground passage that connects Sumaging Cave with Lumiang Cave (more creepy coffins). You can also hike to Bomod-ok Falls, Mt. Sipitan, Mt. Kiltepan, or Marlboro Hill.

3. Vigan: A destination for architecture and history lovers

Vigan is the best place in the Philippines if you love history and architecture. Being one of the oldest towns in the Philippines, the UNESCO World Heritage site is filled with fairy-tale-like old colonial houses mixing the Spanish and Chinese architectural styles. Vigan’s heritage exists today because it’s one of the few places in the Philippines to have avoided destruction during World War II. You can get from Manila to this northwestern coastal town by taking a 9-hour bus ride. A long ride, but well worth it!

Historic street of Calle Crisologo, Vigan, Ilocos Sur, Philippin

Spend most of your time wandering around the Mestizo District, the heritage area of Vigan, exploring the unique and beautiful architecture from the Spanish colonial era. Walk down pedestrian-only Crisologo Street especially at dusk when the sky is not quite dark yet but the lamps and lights in the shops and cafes are turned on. You can also tour the interior of some of the old mansions like Quema House and Syquia Mansion.

THE WEST: PALAWAN

Now let’s head to the beaches of the Philippines. While Boracay was closed down for 6 months and now has become more low key, travelers have moved their partying to the island of Palawan, specifically to El Nido. Its popularity is understandable. There’s more here to offer a tourist than one can find on any other island in the Philippines. There are two must-stop destinations: Coron and El Nido and three more stops that I won’t cover here, Port Barton, Puerto Princesa, and Silbaltan, but that are also worth checking out if you have time.

Palawan is still undeveloped and there are more places like Balabac that are even more stunning, but as of now their unpaved roads still make it difficult to get to and their history of pirates and terrorism still scare people away. I haven’t covered it here because I didn’t get to it. You can book tours for Balabac in Manila.

4. Coron: Shipwrecks and Stunning Scenery

It can be confusing when people talk about visiting Coron. There’s Coron the island and Coron the town and the town is NOT on Coron the island. Confusing, right? What they really mean is they are probably staying in Coron town, which is located on Busuanga Island and using it as a base for exploring the Calamian Islands. Coron island is one of the Calamian islands. We’ll do what all the other travelers do and call this destination Coron.

So why go to Coron? For divers, there are over 20 Japanese shipwrecks in the waters around the Calamian Islands to explore. For everyone else, the area is just simply drop-dead gorgeous. Like everywhere in the Philippines, there are the white sandy beaches and turquoise blue water. But there are also islands made up of these unique craggy rock formations and containing these stunning as clear as glass lakes.

Palawan, Philippines, aerial view of lakes and limestones cliffs in Coron island.

You’ll have a boat load of island-hopping tours to choose from when you’re in Coron. The popular places to visit on these tours are Twin Lagoon, Kayangan Lake, Barracuda Lake, Malcapuya Island, Ditaytayan Sand Bar, and Coconut Beach. You can also customize your own tour by hiring your own private boat. Kayaking around the islands and Coron Bay is also popular. Don’t miss out on climbing up Mt. Tapyas at sunset for stunning views of the bay and then finishing your evening with a stop at Maquinit Hot Springs.

5. El Nido: Is this now the #1 destination in the Philippines?

El Nido sort of overtook Boracay as THE place to visit when the latter shut down for environmental reasons. Now El Nido’s popularity is causing it to experience some of the drawbacks that Boracay faced–sewage problems, noise pollution, unhealthy coral reefs, polluted oceans, etc. etc. The good news is that the authorities are working on these issues with stricter building codes. Hopefully, these issues can be resolved and when we get over this global lockdown, El Nido will be better than ever.

Don’t let all of this scare you, though. There is a reason so many people have visited El Nido over the last few years. The limestone islands dotting Bacuit Bay are blindingly gorgeous. The bay is similar to limestone islands of Halong Bay of Vietnam and limestone hills of Lijiang in Vietnam.  

Aerial drone view of a beautiful tropical lagoon filled with kay

El Nido is a place that’s ideal for those who like to party. However, if you’re like me and you prefer a more low-key atmosphere, you can easily avoid the noise and crowds by staying outside of El Nido and booking your accommodations at Nacpan or Las Cabanas beaches.

When in El Nido, you should go on at least one island-hopping tour that’ll take you to Big Lagoon, Secret Lagoon, Hidden Lagoon, Hidden Beach, Seven Commando’s Beach, Helicopter Island, or Snake Island. Make sure to schedule some time for relaxing on the area’s beautiful beaches like Nacpan, Las Cabanas, and Lio.

You can get a detailed and easy-to-follow itinerary guide for El Nido here

PRO TIP: Here's a list of essential items to pack for all of your island-hopping tours while in the Philippines:

  • Dry bag - You're going to get wet while in the boat and your things will get wet if you don't have a dry bag. Leave your backpack at your hotel.
  • Waterproof bag or pouch for your cell phone especially for your visit to such places as the Big Lagoon and the Secret Lagoon in El Nido.
  • Water shoes - It's important to have a pair because sometimes you'll need to be walking on rocks to get to your destination. You'll thank me later for bringing them.
  • Sunscreen - Make sure to put it on 30 minutes before being in the sun and/or water. Banana Boat worked the best for me. You can buy it in the Philippines, too, but it's pricey (500 - 700 pesos depending on the store--shop around!)
  • Mask and snorkel - OPTIONAL - Most tour companies provide you with a mask and snorkel, but if you want to bring your own, I highly recommend the full face mask and snorkel. It's ideal for those who aren't confident swimmers.

6. An Island-hopping cruise from El Nido to Coron: An Adventure of a Lifetime

Everyone who I’ve spoken to has told me that the best thing they’ve ever done in their whole entire lives was taking a 3-day or 5-day island-hopping cruise from El Nido to Coron or vice versa. Sold yet? These cruises are expensive (over US$300 -$500) but well worth it. Just be warned that once you do one of these multi-day tours, any other island-hopping tour after that just won’t cut.

white sandy beach with palm trees in the Linapacan Islands in the Philippines

The most famous and the most highly-reviewed tour company is Tao Expeditions. They have both 3-day and 5-day tours through the remote Linapacan and Culian Islands. Other companies do similar routes and I met people who booked theirs after getting to El Nido. In all of them, you get to sleep on the beach. Some provide tents, while others provide pre-made very rustic wooden structures. You’ll spend your days sunbathing, swimming, kayaking, drinking, eating and well, you get the picture.

THE CENTER: THE VISAYAS

The center of the Philippines is dominated by the Visayas: a group of islands that are jampacked with paradise-like destinations. The Visayas contains the largest number of destinations on this list of must-see places to visit in the Philippines. These are Boracay, Bohol, Siquijor, Moalboal, Malapascua, and Bantayan. If you’ve got 2 weeks, you can easily and satisfyingly limit your stay to the Visayas.

7. Bantayan Island: It’s all about the beaches                 

Another island with some of the best beaches in the Philippines is Bantayan Island off the coast of Cebu island. This destination has some of the whitest sandy beaches I’ve ever seen. It’s perfect for being incredibly lazy and not doing much of anything. If you’re looking for a mellow and laidback place that’s not so touristy like Boracay, then consider Bantayan Island.

shallow water in front of beach in Bantayan, Philippines

The best beaches are on the island are Paradise Beach—a long white sand beach with crystal clear water and not many other tourists. Along with Santa Fe Beach, it’s also a great place to watch the sunset. You can go on an island-hopping tour to Virgin Island and Hilantagaan Island. Make sure to add St. Peter and Paul church to your itinerary. The outside isn’t that great, but the inside makes it the most interesting Spanish colonial church to visit in the Philippines.

8. Bohol: Exploring the natural wonders of the Philippines

One of my favorite destinations in the Philippines is the island of Bohol. It’s a perfect addition to any itinerary because it gives you not only the white sandy beaches and the crystal clear water but also the opportunity to see animals in the wild (tarsier primates), swim in pools at the base of waterfalls, view unique scenery like the Chocolate Hills, paddleboat down jungle-clad rivers, and kayak through mangroves while fireflies buzz above you.  It’s also easy to get to with just a two-hour ferry ride from Cebu City.

tarsier in tree

Bohol is also a premier diving and snorkeling destination with its colorful and healthy coral reefs and abundant sea turtles. You can go on some fun island-hopping tours to Balicasag or Pamilacan Islands. The best beaches in Bohol are Dumaluan Beach, White Beach, and the beaches in Anda.

You can get a detailed and comprehensive travel guide for Bohol here.

PRO TIP: Make sure to buy sea shoes/water shoes for your trip to the Philippines. The bottom of the ocean is rocky and it’s easy to cut yourself or break your toe or foot while walking in the shallow part of the ocean.

9. Boracay: Is this still the #1 island in the Philippines?

Boracay was THE place to visit when in the Philippines. It used to be packed with package tour groups. The island then became an environmental disaster. So, the forward-thinking government closed down the island to tourism for six months in order to get it back in shape. Now in order to be allowed on the island, you need to show that you already have a booking at a certified hotel.

Plus: No more fire dancing, no more loud music on the beach, no more alcohol on the beach, no more single use plastic bottles, and no more sunbeds or deck chairs on the beach. No more endless parties. It’s now a more laid back and quiet place.

beach with 2 palm trees and a sailboat out in the ocean in Boracay

Located off the coast of Panay island, Boracay is a thin (500 meters) and long (7 km) island. People go to this island for its powdery white sand beaches and crystal clear waters. White Beach with its killer sunsets is probably the best beach in the Philippines. Popular activities include sailing trips, island-hopping tours, and kitesurfing.

PRO TIP: Download these apps onto your phone for your trip to any country in Asia. They will make your life so much easier!

  • Grab: - Grab is the ride-sharing service that people use in Southeast Asia. It's a must-have for getting around Manila, Hanoi, Singapore etc. It's not so necessary on the smaller islands.
  • Klook - Klook is a tour-booking website used by lots of travelers in Asia. You're more likely to book with an honest tour company through Klook than through anyone else.
  • WhatsApp: What's App is the best service to use for getting in touch with other travelers, tour guides, and businesses in the Philippines, Vietnam, Thailand, etc.
  • Booking.com: I think Booking.com is the best website to use for booking accommodations in Asia.
  • MAPS.ME & Google Maps: I have both of these apps on my phone. Sometimes MAPS.ME works better than Google Maps and vice versa. Make sure to download your maps to your phone before you start your adventure so you can view them offline. If you switch SIM cards, you might lose your downloaded maps.

10.  Malapascua + Kalanggaman: Diving with Sharks and exploring the most beautiful island in the Philippines

Malapascua is another diver’s paradise to visit in the Philippines. The island is THE place to dive with thresher sharks! When I get my open water diving certificate, I’m definitely coming back here. But I, personally, didn’t go to Malapascua to dive. Instead, I went in search of the perfect island. I was told that you could find the most beautiful island in all of the Philippines off the coast of Malapascua, called Kalanggaman Island.

sandbar of Kalanggaman

Yes, I can attest to the fact that Kalanggaman Island was probably the most beautiful island I’d been to with the most beautiful sand bar I’d ever seen. I have just one huge regret—I didn’t camp overnight on the island.

There are other things to do around Malapascua as well. You can rent a private boat that’ll take you around to some great snorkeling spots, spend the day on the nearly empty and beautiful North Beach, and end the evening with dinner with some fresh seafood at the local market.

You can find a detailed travel guide on how to visit both Malapascua and Kalanggaman here!

11. Moalboal: Whoever said sardines weren’t interesting?

One of the most unforgettable things I saw in the Philippines was the sardine run in Moalboal. You can not only dive but you can also snorkel a few meters off a beach in Moalboal and see a wall of a million sardines swimming past you. I think Cebu has the best waterfalls in the Philippines, and their close proximity to Moalboal makes it the perfect base to explore them.

sardine run in Moalboal

A popular activity in Moalboal is to go canyoneering off (jumping) of Kawasan Waterfall. You can also grab a scooter or motorcycle and search for other waterfalls like Dao Falls, Binalayan Falls, and Aguinid Falls. Seeing the sardine run is also incredibly easy even if you’re not a good swimmer. Just rent a life jacket at one of the shops near the beach and swim out to the sardine run. You’ll probably also see a turtle or two while you’re there.

PRO TIP: When you arrive in the Philippines, you can buy a SIM card at the airport. There are 2 companies used throughout the Philippines: Globe and Smart. Each of them gives you 10 or 12 GB of memory for 30 days for 1,000 pesos (US$20). I used 2 GB in 30 days.

If you have to "add load" (add minutes or data) for some reason, you can do it at a convenience store around the Philippines. Tell them you want to "add load". You need to give the clerk your phone # to complete the transaction (I usually store my SIM card # in my Contact,s List).

BUT that's not it. You then need to register your phone. If you have Globe, dial *143#. I usually have the store clerk or someone at my hostel or hotel help me complete the registration. If you don't register after every time you add data to your phone, the minutes and data disappear.

12. Siquijor + Apo Island: Shamans and sea turtles

A small island located between Negros, Cebu, and Bohol islands, Siquijor (pronounced seekeehor) is a mysterious island famous for its shamans and sorcerers. Another unique feature of the island is its marine sanctuaries that are filled with healthy coral and teeming with fish. Getting to these reefs is super easy. Just walk right off the beach and into the water. BUT don’t walk on the coral. You can also take a boat to Apo Island and snorkel or dive with giant and friendly sea turtles the size of a dining room table.

waterfall on island of Siquijor. Philippines

The most popular place to visit in Siquijor is Cambugahay Falls—a waterfall with multiple levels of pools. Siquijor’s two best beaches are Paliton Beach and Tubod Beach. Because of Siquijior’s placid waters and healthy coral, it’s a great place to go snorkeling. You can also go cliff diving, hiking, and spelunking.

You can read my comprehensive and detailed itinerary guide for Siquijor here. 

THE SOUTH: MINDANAO

Now we’re heading further south to the island of Mindanao. Here the Philippines is becoming harder to get to. As a result, Siargao and Camiguin weren’t on the travelers’ radar as much as those destinations in the Visayas until now.

13. Siargao: Not just a surfer’s paradise

When I was last in the Philippines, it seemed than every backpacker I spoke to was on their way to or on their way from Siargao. It was THE island to be at in the months before the Caronavirus hit. Siargao is famous for its surfing, but if you’re not a surfer, don’t think the island doesn’t have anything for you. In fact, it’s also got lots of other unique and beautiful features like stunning lagoons, surrounding islands with gorgeous powdery white sand beaches and crystal clear waters, and unique Instagram worthy spots like Bending Palm Tree and Palm Tree Road.

Aerial View - Sohoton Cove, Siargao - The Philippines

There are a few really good island-hopping tours you can go on. These include one to Instagrammable Sugba Lagoon (bring your drone if you have one), Sohoton Cove, and Naked, Daku, and Guyan islands. If visiting Magpupungko Rock Pools (and you should!), make sure you check whether the tide is in or out. Siargao is also perfect for exploring the island by motorbike or scooter.

14. Camiguin: Want a little bit of Hawaii in the Philippines?

Located off the northern coast of Mindanao, under-the-radar Camiguin is an adventurer’s dream island. Having more volcanos than any other island in the world, Camiguin looks more like the islands of Hawaii than of the Philippines. The island is littered with hiking trails, hot springs (and cold), and waterfalls. If you’re looking for an island destination with lots of adventure and great diving but without the hordes of tourists like in Palawan and Boracay, then add this island to your Philippines itinerary.

sandbar of White Island with Camiguin Island in the background

Visit Katibawan Falls, where you can swim in the pool at the base of the falls. Climb up Hibok Hibok Volcano for panoramic views of the island and then once you’ve climbed down, stop at Ardent Hot Springs to soak your tired muscles. Because Camiguin is a volcanic island, the sand is dark brown. But not to worry. You can find the white powdery stuff on White Island. Camiguin also has some unique snorkeling opportunities where you can snorkel in a giant clam sanctuary.

THE EAST: SOUTHEASTERN LUZON

Are you looking for a truly off-the-beaten-path destination in the Philippines? Of course! Who isn’t? Southeastern Luzon is about as under the international tourism radar as you can get in this country. There are a few good places to visit here, but I’m going to add one place to this list of the 15 best places to visit in the Philippines, and that is Mt. Mayon, an active volcano near the city of Legazpi.

15. Legazpi + Mount Mayon: More beautiful than Mt. Fuji?

Located either by a short plane ride from Manila or a 15-hour bus ride, Legazpi is famous for being at the foot of the most perfectly cone-shaped volcano in the world: Mount Mayon. Take that Mt. Fuji! If you’re looking for stunning scenery, this is an ideal stop to your Philippines vacation.

Mount Mayon

Legazpi is a typical noisy and busy Filipino City. However, the Albay District is a great place to escape the hustle and bustle of the city. Walk up Lignon Hill or Sleeping Lion Hill to views of Mount Mayon. But spend most of your time outside of Legazpi hiking up or part-way up Mt. Mayon, checking out the Cagsawa ruins, and driving an ATV to the foothills of Mt. Mayon.

What to Pack for Your Trip to the Philippines

Full Face Snorkel Mask

I love these full face snorkel masks. They're helpful if you're not a great swimmer or if swimming in the ocean freaks you out. THIS is the best thing I bought for my trip to the Philippines!

Waterproof Dry Bag

Another must-have item on your island hopping tours in the Philippines is a dry bag. I like this one because it comes with a waterproof phone case. And the price is pretty reasonable.

Water Shoes

Another of my best packing decisions was a pair of water shoes for when you need to walk from the boat to shore. I met someone who broke her toe on an island hopping tour in El Nido. These shoes will help prevent that from happening.

So these are what I think to be the best places in the Philippines to visit. Now if I had only 2 or 3 weeks in this country, my top 5 (I’m having a hard time cutting it down to 5) would be the rice terraces of Ifugao province, El Nido, Boracay, Bohol, and Siargao.

What do you think? Have you been to the Philippines? What were your favorite places?

If you’re planning to go sometime in the future, where are you most looking forward to visiting?

If you have questions or comments, please leave them in the comment section below!

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4 photos of islands in the Philippines
rice terraces in Ifugao Province in the Philippines

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About the Bamboo Traveler

Julie Krolak

Hi! I’m Julie, the Bamboo Traveler!  This blog is devoted to helping the inquisitive traveler explore Asia’s history and culture. On this site, you’ll find itineraries to help you plan your trip, reviews to help you make more informed decisions, lots of history and cultural information to help make your travels more meaningful, and book recommendations to help you understand a place more deeply.

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