With over 7000 idyllic islands, some of the world’s best scuba diving and surfing, a rich and diverse cultural history as well as some of the world’s most famously friendly locals, it is rather surprising that the Philippines remains a relatively undiscovered holiday destination. This vast archipelago is characterised by lush, jungle-clad mountains, exquisite beaches and crystal clear waters. Culturally inclined visitors can explore myriad mystical tribal villages, ancient rice terraces, and crumbling Spanish churches while food lovers can indulge in the renowned Filipino cuisine, which is an eclectic mix of culinary ideas borrowed from the varied cultures that have influenced the country: Malays, Polynesians, Chinese, Spanish and of course the warm and welcoming native islanders. Whether you are keen laze about in the sun, get involved in some adventurous watersports, or get in touch with your inner culture vulture, this remarkable archipelago has so many varied islands to offer that you should have no trouble finding your own little piece of paradise.

Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park

 

Situated in the Sulu Sea, the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park is a protected area lying in the heart of the Coral Triangle in the Phillippines. The park is a bird and marine sanctuary known for its incredible biodiversity and comprises two vast atolls, crystal-clear waters and an abundance of marine life. This UNESCO-listed area boasts an array of marine diversity featuring 600 species of fish, 11 species of sharks,13 species of dolphins and whales,100 species of birds, and 360 species of corals, which is about half of all coral species in the world; as well as nesting hawksbill and green sea turtles. The well-preserved coral reef features as one of the most popular dive sites in the world. Visitors wishing to venture to the remote underwater wonderland can do so on a liveaboard dive boat.

Manila

 

 

If you are a fan of big bustling cities, you will almost certainly fall in love with Manila. As the capital of the Philippines, the city is sprawling, chaotic, and culturally complicated, with a colourful multi-cultural heritage and a lively nightlife. Manila is a destination best suited for energetic travellers who enjoy discovering heritage sights, getting some retail therapy in glitzy shopping malls and partying their nights away in the city’s infamous go-go clubs and wild late-night hotspots. Culture vultures and history lovers can enjoy the city’s diverse museums such as the National Museum of the Filipino People and the Ayala Museum. Explore the medieval walled enclave of Intramuros full of historic attractions, take a guided tour of the lavish Malacanang Palace, and visit San Agustin, Manila’s oldest stone church. If you look beneath its rough gritty exterior, Manila is a treasure trove of cultural, historical delights just waiting to be discovered.

 

Bohol

 

The Bohol archipelago comprises Bohol Island and several satellite islets, and is renowned for its exceptional coral reefs, stunning white beaches, crumbling colonial mansions and lush jungles. A key attraction on the main island include the Chocolate Hills, a sea of conical hills that turns a rich brown in the hot season, forming a stark contrast with the surrounding emerald-green rainforests. Other highlights of the region are the spectacular snorkelling and scuba diving around Panglao Island, whale and dolphin watching, and sightings of the Bohol Tarsier – the world’s tiniest (and possibly most adorable) primate.

 

Mount Pinatubo

 

Situated at the meeting point of the Zambales, Tarlac and Pampanga provinces in Central Luzon, Mount Pinatubo is an active stratovolcano in the Zambales Mountains. This dramatic, famous landmark is decorated by swathes of verdant forest and grasslands punctuated with rocky outcrops, providing one of the most sought-after destinations for nature photography in the area. After its eruption in 1991, the volcano encompasses an enormous, 85-metre-deep blue lake, in which visitors swim from a white-sandy beach. The 25-kilometre trail to the summit of this 1486-metre-high structure rewards its hikers with a viewing deck and 170-step staircase down to the water. Culture enthusiasts will also take the opportunity to learn more about the ancient Aeta people, nomads who have lived off the land for thousands of years.

 

Coron Island

 

Presided over by steep cliffs and magnificent karst rock formations, the wedge-shaped and mountainous Coron Island is the third-largest of the exquisite Calamian Islands. The island is most famous for its world-renowned dive sites which are home to ten well-preserved underwater World War II shipwrecks surrounded by colourful coral reefs and an abundance of fascinating marine life. The area surrounding the wrecks features rock formations which provide excellent snorkelling opportunities, with underwater visibility extending up to 80 feet (24 m). Other popular attractions include the Barracuda and Kayangan lakes surrounded by breathtaking jungle-clad limestone cliffs and offering wonderful swimming conditions in the crystal-clear turquoise waters. If you are seeking an idyllic island paradise complete with stunning powder white beaches and extraordinarily beautiful scenery and wildlife, Coron Island may be just the destination for you.

 

Panglao Island

 

Panglao Island, one of the most famous destinations in the Philippines. Set in the Central Visayas region of the Visayas island group, the photogenic landmass boasts spectacular white shores, a buzzing nightlife scene, and an array of adventure sports. Visit Alona Beach for its broad sands, lively beachfront bars and clubs, and excellent souvenirs, or head to the soft sands of the palm-fringed Danao Beach or Panglao Beach for a little more tranquillity. Active travellers will delight in the chance to take part in scuba-diving, island hopping, dolphin watching, snorkeling, kitesurfing and fishing. Nature lovers can look forward to rich marine life, wonderful caves, and extraordinary sinkholes.

 

Tagaytay

 

Located roughly 70km from the national capital, Manila, Tagaytay has a cooler climate than most of the country, offering a temperate escape from the tropical heat. It is known for its striking scenery, most notably the Taal Volcano. This complex volcano consists of a series of islands and crater lakes, and can be reached either on foot or horseback. Once you have experienced Taal, take a wander round the town to take in its historical churches, colonial architecture and array of shops and roadside stalls. For family entertainment or fun with friends, head to Tagaytay Picnic Grove, where you can go hiking, ziplining, horse riding and (no surprises) picnicking, or the Sky Ranch Theme Park, with its smorgasbord of adventure rides.

 

General Santos City

 

Situated in the province of South Cotabato in the Philippines, General Santos City – also referred to ‘GenSan’ – is a thriving urbanised city. Known as the ‘Tuna Capital of the Philippines’, it is famous for its tuna fishing industry, and visitors flock here to visit the renowned GenSan Fish Port Complex. Visitors can also look forward to climbing the impressive Mount Matutum located north of the city, visiting the scenic Kalaja Karst, and strolling around the incredible General Santos Plaza. Other popular activities include: paragliding, fishing, zip lining, shopping, diving, and golfing.

 

Vigan City

 

Established in the 16th century, Vigan is one of the oldest cities in the Philippines and the finest surviving example of a Spanish colonial town in Asia. The old town is characterised by quaint cobblestone streets, horse-drawn carriages, dark-wood mansions, numerous historical museums, beautiful colonial churches, and some remarkably well preserved ancient houses. While many of these houses remain private homes, a few are open to the public and provide rare insight into life at the turn of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Today the city is a fascinating fusion of old and new, of East and West, of tradition and modern life. Must-see attractions include the Vigan Cathedral, the Saint Paul Metropolitan Cathedral and the Plaza Salcedo which comes alive with a fabulous fountain and light show at night. This remarkable and timeless heritage city is an essential addition to any North Luzan itinerary.

 

Camiguin Island

 

‘The Island Born of Fire’, Camiguin is the Philippines’ tiniest province, covering just 238 square kilometres. Its lush volcanic interior is dotted with ancient churches, waterfalls, and hot and cold springs, while the coast features striking black and white beaches, a sunken cemetery and a spectacular array of exotic marine life. Climb to the peak of the island’s sole active volcano, Mount Hibok Hibok, to see its crater lake and superb views over the island, take a boat tour to Camiguin’s two exquisitely scenic satellite islets (Mantigue Island and White Island), visit the Ardent Hot Spring to soak in restorative mineral pools in a lush setting, or simply enjoy all the coast has to offer, including fishing, snorkelling, swimming and lazing in the sun.

 

Siquijor Island

 

Set in the Visayas, the tiny and remote Siquijor Island is known for its beautiful deserted white-sand beaches lapped by crystal-clear waters and fringed by lush forest. Visitors can look forward to an array of wonderful activities including renting a scooter to explore the hidden treasures of this island paradise, hiking through the tropical forest to the cascading Lugnason Falls, viewing the colonial-style St. Francis of Assisi Church, a historical landmark; or relaxing on the quiet Kagusuan Beach. Other highlights include: the Guiwahon Spring Park, Siquijor Port Beach, the 400-year-old enchanted Balete Tree, Salagdoong Beach and the palm-fringed Paliton Beach. Don’t miss the opportunity to view the turquoise waters of the three-tiered cascading Cambuhagay Falls or diving and snorkelling through the exquisite coral reefs.

 

Batanes Islands

 

Made up of 10 small islands, the Batanes are a rugged wilderness of sheer craggy cliffs, boulder-strewn beaches, cobalt waters and rolling green hills peppered with traditional stone and thatch cottages. Besides its scenic beauty, there is history everywhere you go in the Batanes – crumbling colonial bridges, ancient churches, dug-out tunnels where soldiers once sheltered during World War 2. The archipelago also has several dramatic geological features, including volcanic Valugan Beach, inundated with boulders spat up by an eruption of Mount Iraya in the 1400s, and the Nakabuang Natural Arch – a rock arch rising from the white sands of Sabtang Beach.

 

Boracay

 

Located in the Central Philippines and measuring just 7 kilometres long by 500 metres wide, tiny Boracay Island is a tropical paradise of tranquil aquamarine bays, ice-white beaches and palm-fringed shores. It is best known for its idyllic White Beach, a 4-kilometre-tract of palm-fringed fine white sand that epitomises coastal paradise. Head to secluded Diniwid Beach for serene sun-worshipping, neighbouring Baling Hai bay for magical snorkelling and scuba diving, and to Bulabog Beach for excellent kitesurfing and windsurfing. Visitors can soak up gorgeous sunsets while enjoying scrumptious seaside seafood buffets followed by vibrant nights filled with live music.

 

El Nido

 

Sandwiched between dramatic limestone karst cliffs and the spectacular Bacuit Bay on the northernmost tip of Palawan Island, the coastal settlement of El Nido serves as a popular tourist destination and the gateway to the extraordinary Bacuit Archipelago. The town’s bustling beachfront area has become a well-known party hotspot with plenty of lively bars, restaurants and nightclubs. Travellers seeking a more tranquil experience can tour the numerous surrounding islands and islets where you can indulge in a wide range of watersports including diving, snorkeling and kayaking. With its vibrant, bustling centre only a short hike or mountain bike ride away from a wonderful array of traditional villages, lush forests, gorgeous mangroves, and pristine remote beaches, El Nido offers the best of both worlds – wild hedonism combined with the peaceful and rejuvenating tranquility of nature. .

 

Baguio

 

Dubbed the ‘City of Pines’ for its forested surrounds, Baguio is a vibrant university city and the kick-off point for forays into the remote and mountainous jungles of the northern Philippines. To while away the time with retail therapy and other pleasant indulgences, head to Session Road – Baguio’s main drag and beating heart – lined with shops, restaurants, cafes, malls, boutiques and antiquated cinemas. Several lovely parks are dotted across the city’s canvas and provide respite from its bustle by day, while Baguio’s thriving culinary scene and effervescent nightlife provide plenty of entertainment after dark.

 

Puerto Galera

 

Situated on the island of Mindoro in the Philippines, a few hours’ drive from Manila, Puerto Galera is an idyllic resort town famous for its magnificent soft sands and enthralling, excellent dive sites. This tropical wonderland offers an impressive number of natural attractions, most of which are underwater: must-sees include San Antonio Island’s underwater cave; the giant clams site; and an incredible Coral garden. The crystalline, turquoise waters are home to lionfish, Moorish idols, trumpet fish, and brightly-coloured anemones and starfish. Travellers can keep fit by taking part in swimming, sailing, surfing, snorkeling or scuba diving, or head inland to hike through lush forested mountains to numerous secluded waterfalls and pools. Bird lovers should make sure to take the bamboo walkway of the Mangrove Conservation Area.

 

Makati

Makati is the economic hub of the Philippines and the seat of its stock exchange, located just 10 kilometres from the country’s capital, Manila. It is a vibrant, cosmopolitan city with glittering skyscrapers, high-end hotels and trendy bars, mixed in with lively markets, street stalls and serene green spaces. You can trawl the chic boutiques of the Power Plant Mall or shop to your heart’s content in the massive Greenbelt Mall – a complex of five interconnected buildings surrounded by a leafy park. The Ayala Museum explores Filipino culture through its historical, archaeological exhibits, while the Ayala Triangle Garden is another lush space in which to wander or relax.

 

Banaue Rice Terraces

 

Known among Filipinos as the ‘8th Natural Wonder of the World’, these ancient rice terraces bear testament to a phenomenal feat of human labour. Hand-carved into the Ifugao Mountains more than 2000 years ago to facilitate crop cultivation on the steep slopes, they are today considered a national treasure and governed by strict traditional agricultural principles. Treks of varying length and difficulty lead through these terraced valleys, taking in exquisite views, rushing waterfalls and natural rock pools perfect for a refreshing dip.

 

 

Bangaan

 

The tiny, picturesque village of Bangaan lies in the Ifugao area of the northern Philippines, a comfortable day trip away from Banaue. The town and its surrounds are known for their dramatic scenery, characterised by undulating hills, lush forests, and miles upon miles of bright green, UNESCO-listed rice terraces. With its small, traditional community and ‘bale’ houses, Bangaan is an ideal starting point in understanding the area’s culture and has been named a Living Cultural Landscape. Make sure to visit the local markets to see some magnificent crafts including wooden sculptures, silver, and brass jewellery, hand-woven baskets and cloth – which illustrate the distinctive Ifugao style.

Panglao Island

 

 

Panglao Island, one of the most famous destinations in the Philippines. Set in the Central Visayas region of the Visayas island group, the photogenic landmass boasts spectacular white shores, a buzzing nightlife scene, and an array of adventure sports. Visit Alona Beach for its broad sands, lively beachfront bars and clubs, and excellent souvenirs, or head to the soft sands of the palm-fringed Danao Beach or Panglao Beach for a little more tranquillity. Active travellers will delight in the chance to take part in scuba-diving, island hopping, dolphin watching, snorkeling, kitesurfing and fishing. Nature lovers can look forward to rich marine life, wonderful caves, and extraordinary sinkholes.

 

Island Garden City of Samal

 

Officially known as the Island Garden City of Samal, the city of Samal, encompasses Samal Island and the smaller Talikud Island in the Davao Gulf. Samal is the largest resort city in the Philippines offering visitors beautiful white-sand beaches to relax on, colourful coral reefs to explore, and wildlife treasures to discover. The landscape is characterised by lush vegetation meeting steep cliffs, and crystal-clear waters lapping the scenic coconut tree-fringed shoreline. Visitors can look forward to exploring Samal’s serene surroundings, cruising around the island, singing karaoke, sampling local Filipino fair, and watching mesmerising fire dancing. Other popular activities include: taking a refreshing dip in the natural swimming pools of Hagimit Falls, enjoying spelunking through the Balete, Mangongawong, and Baga caves, as well as cycling and walking around this scenic island.

 

Malapascua Island

 

Malapascua’s white beaches, tranquil turquoise waters and verdant tropical vegetation are alone enough to lure many travellers to the island, but it is best known for its scuba diving – specifically diving with thresher sharks. These sharks are not aggressive to humans, and it is possible to dive incredibly close to them. But threshers aren’t all there is to see: Malapascua’s waters are a hub of biodiversity that includes grey reef sharks, hammerhead sharks, devil rays, scorpionfish, lionfish, octopus, moray eels and many more marine species. Other island activities include taking boat cruises around the surrounding islets, windsurfing, sunbathing, swimming, snorkelling, and enjoying spectacular sunset views.

 

Cebu

 

The province of Cebu consists of Cebu Island and numerous surrounding islands and islets. The region has a well-deserved reputation for its picture-perfect beaches, with their calm, crystal clear waters, fine white sand and palm-fringed shores. On the main island, Cebu City pulses with energy and offers a mix of modern malls and amenities, historical sites, and attractive nearby beaches. Thrill seekers should head to Badian to go canyoneering to Kawasan Falls, a non-stop action adventure that involves hiking, climbing, boulder hopping, rappelling, sliding down waterfalls, swimming through deep mountain channels and caves, and jumping into rock pools from as high as 10 metres. Don’t miss island hopping to some of Cebu’s satellites – head to Bantayan Island for idyllic beaches; Malapascua Island to go scuba diving with thresher sharks; and the Virgin and Kinatarkan islands for outstanding snorkelling

 

This is the Philippines’ oldest city, but its bustling streets, shopping arcades, and strobe-lit nightclubs bubble with modern activity. Amid the madness you’ll find several sites that bear testament to Cebu’s ancient roots, including Santa Nino Basilica (the oldest church in the country), Colon Street (the oldest street in the country), and the 16th century Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral. For more frivolous entertainment, visit the slick Ayala Centre – a modern, upmarket mega mall – or head to one of the nearby beaches for sunshine, sea and R&R.

Palawan

With its magnificent mountains, turquoise waters and soaring limestone cliffs, the spectacular sword-shaped island of Palawan is known as the last ecological frontier of the Philippines. Beyond the centres of Coron, El Nido and Puerto Princesa, the majority of the island remains unexplored and undeveloped making it an ideal destination for those seeking a secluded piece of paradise away from the stresses of modern living. While the island’s breathtaking World Heritage underwater river is undoubtedly its primary attraction, Palawan has so much more to offer and outdoor enthusiasts will find plenty to keep them actively engaged. From wreck and reef diving to exploring the world-famous rugged cliffs and Tabon Caves of Quezon, you will find endless opportunities for both adventure and relaxation in the exceptionally scenic natural terrain of this idyllic tropical island.

 

Davao City

 

A bustling city on the Philippine island of Mindanao, Davao has plenty to offer the traveller, from its historical sites, museums and state-of-the-art malls, to the beauty of its parks, mountains and beaches. Key attractions include: People’s Park; exquisite Epol Falls; the Davao Crocodile Park; Eden Park, a beautiful mountain resort located above the city; and the Philippines Eagle Centre, home to an array of the country’s endemic eagles. Keen trekkers and nature lovers should head to Mount Apo, which towers over the city at almost 3000 metres high and offers fantastic views over the city.

 

Mindoro

Located off the south coast of Luzon, Mindoro is the seventh largest island in the Philippines. This unspoiled island is within easy reach of the capital, Manila, making it a popular, easily accessible tourist destination for foreigners and locals. Mindoro features world-class diving and snorkelling, excellent beaches, and majestic mountains. With its outstanding natural beauty and wild, rugged interior, this largely undeveloped island offers visitors an exciting array of outdoor activities. Scuba dive at the pristine diving mecca of the Apo Reef, island hop along Mindoro’s picturesque south coast islets or hike to remote villages in and around Mount Malasimbo to discover the ancient Mangyan people. Popular sites to visit include the cascading Tukuran Falls, the spectacular Talipanan Beach, and the beautiful village of Puerto Galera boasting beachside restaurants and vibrant nightlife.

Dumaguete

 

Located along the southeastern coast of the large Philippine island of Negros, the small town of Dumaguete lies at the mouth of the Banica River. This bustling university town serves as the provincial capital. It provides an excellent base from which to explore the surrounding southern Negros area. Visitors can look forward to exploring the buzzing streets lined with an array of historical attractions and strolling along the scenic waterfront promenade, the ‘Rizal Boulevard’, edged by stylish restaurants, lively bars and local food stalls. Must-see highlights include: the St. Catherine of Alexandria Cathedral, the Silliman Hall, and the Silliman University Anthropology Museum. Other popular activities include: diving, snorkelling, hiking, swimming, dolphin and whale watching.

 

Sagada

Set among the misty Cordillera Mountains of the Philippines’ Echo Valley, Sagada is an enthralling town where travellers will be surrounded by extraordinary nature and unique cultures. With its impressive network of hiking routes through rice terraces, natural swimming pools and dramatic peaks, as well as numerous opportunities for adventure sports in its caves, cliffs, and rapid-filled rivers, the idyllic town is a paradise for outdoor enthusiasts. The nature-defying Hanging Coffins, some of which date back hundreds of years and are set on a sheer rock face, are a must-see. Discover the area’s heritage in the village of Demang, where the traditional Appai community lives and celebrates the ‘begnas’ festival. Learn more at the intriguing Ganduyan Museum. An array of restaurants offer Filipino specialities, vegetarian options, and generous portions.