BC (before corona!), The Philippines had attracted an ever increasing number of tourists but rest assured, the off-the-beaten-path gems still exist if you know where to look. Most of the country’s 7,107+ islands are uninhabited and we recommend island-hopping to explore as many as possible. Boat rides with snorkel gear and a grilled fish lunch on the beach are a great way to see a handful in one go. Private island resorts such as Amanpulo and Pangulasian and villas like Nay Palad Hideaway make for ideal post-Covid holidays where it’s easy to avoid crowds and have incredible experiences. Nay Palad is particularly fantastic for families because everything is included. Two of our favourite places to stay for those keen to island hop are Lagen Island and Busuanga Bay Lodge.
Who doesn’t love a good spot of sand and an ocean view? We don’t mean to brag, but The Philippines boasts some of the best beach destinations in the world. Whether it’s the powdery whites of Boracay and Bohol, the volcanic black in Negros Oriental, or the soft creams of Palawan and nearly every other island in the country the sands of the Philippines will never disappoint. Take your pick, dig your toes in, grab a rum cocktail or a San Miguel, kick back and soak in the breathtaking beach views.
Voted one of the new Wonders of the World, a navigable river flows through soaring caves on the island of Palawan near Puerto Princesa. This is no secret spot, it’s always filled with tourists, local and foreigner alike, so the experience isn’t just about gliding through the cave, it’s also about enjoying tourism Filipino-style.
In dry season when the earth is brown, some say these look like chocolate drops. Whatever you think they resemble, they are unique. More than 1,200 of the mounds are grouped together on the island of Bohol and a viewing platform makes it easy to survey the region. To see the chocolate hills and tarsiers, we recommend staying at Amarela or Amorita, both charming boutique hotels in nearby Panglao.
One of the smallest primates in the world, tarsiers are hard to spot in the wilds but at the Tarsier Conservation Centre on the island of Bohol, these little animals come and go freely and the guides walk around in the early morning to find where they’re sleeping. Which means when you turn up, the guides can walk you through the forest directly to the resting critters. You won’t find that in Borneo!
– diving, apoo island
Whether it’s your first time or your thousandth, diving in the Philippines can spoil you for life. Thresher sharks, rays, whale sharks, turtles, mantis shrimp, octopuses, pipefish, seahorses, and so much more ply the waters of the Philippines. On top of that the shipwrecks of Coron, now artificial reefs covered in coral, offer a chance to explore a bit of WWII history in a wholly unique way – complete with lobsters. With warm water temperatures and good visibility, the diving here is some of the best in the world. Lined by one of the oldest protected marine reserves in the country, Apo Island is home to countless turtles and some of the best diving in the Philippines. Take a day trip from Dumaguete or Siquijor to snorkel with the turtles or slide into an easy drift dive and marvel at the healthy reef teeming with life.
Sure, you can see rice terraces throughout Southeast Asia but when you stand in the amphitheater of hand-carved terraces in Batad or look out over the Banaue terraces, you’ll forget about the rest. This is a jaw-dropping marvel of mankind’s ingenuity and perseverance.
The Spanish left a mark on the Philippines – you’ll hear it in the language, see it in the architecture, the food, and the religion. Yet nowhere is it as evident as in the heritage areas of Taal and Vigan. In Taal, just two hours south of Manila, you can see the largest cathedral in Asia while Vigan, far in the north, still boasts cobblestone streets and horse-drawn carriages. If you’re looking for a place to stay, I’m a fan of Paradores del Castillo.
It’s hot and humid in the Philippines which makes swimming below a waterfall the ideal way to cool off when out trekking, sight seeing, or even just enjoying a leisurely stroll. Kawasan on the island of Cebu and Cambugahay on Siquijor may be the most famous but I also love Casaroro in Negros and Tappiyah in Batad as these are an excellent reward for the scenic treks to reach.
When I first visited the Philippines, I intended to stay 30 days, the length of my visa-free entry. Within four hours, I knew I’d find a way to extend. The people were simply too wonderful for me to go anywhere else. Filipinos have a well-earned reputation for their friendly, welcoming charm and you’ll find it everywhere you turn. English is widely spoken so communication is easy and if you venture out on your own or by public transportation, don’t be surprised if you find yourself deep in conversation with new friends.
If you’ve ever wanted to climb a volcano without exhausting yourself, Taal is the one for you. On foot or horseback you can reach the summit in well under an hour and look at the crater lake with its little island. Or turn around and look across a lake back at the bigger island you were just on. Taal Volcano is home to an island in a lake on an island in a lake on an island. Oh yes, and it’s active so keep an eye out for steam vents.
Sorry Thailand with your mango sticky rice, you’ve got nothing on the mangoes in the Philippines. Juicier and sweeter than any other mangoes, I’d call these the fruit of the gods. If you arrive when they aren’t in season, grab a bag of dried Cebu mangoes to get an idea of just how tasty these golden juice bombs are. If you’re really on the hunt for amazing mangoes, you’ll need to visit Guimaras, home of the sweetest mangoes in the world. Stop by in May for the annual festival celebrating the province and the fruit.