I have visited most of these Filipino locales and can attest to their wonder. This is a collection of some of my favorite destinations.
Planning a Philippines Adventure
The adventurous traveler should consider a visit to the Philippines for a number of reasons. The people, the beauty of the country, and the fact that so many Filipinos speak English are just the starting points. Crowded Asian countries can be intimidating and confusing at times, and knowing that the language barrier won’t be such a problem is certainly a great help.
Coupled with Filipino hospitality, the natural beauty and man-made sites make a Philippines adventure a great idea. This is a destination that can be explored on just about any budget.
Don’t be intimidated by the fact the Philippines is composed of more than 7,000 islands, frequently scheduled air travel to most major destinations is available and affordable. Travel during religious holidays tends to be more expensive though, as this is when most Filipinos holiday. If you want a quieter vacation or you are on a budget, avoid travel during Easter (holy week) and Christmas.
The Philippines weather can also be of some concern, as there can be typhoons in some parts of the country from June through November. It is usually best to visit from December to May.
Taking a Philippines Holiday: 10 of the Best Places to Visit
The following list includes mainly places that are familiar with receiving tourists from around the world. In these places, English and other languages are more likely to be spoken. Most of these are places this author has visited firsthand. I hope this is helpful.
Boracay is a small island that can easily be reached by air from Manila. Cebu Pacific, PAL Express, and Zest Air all fly to Boracay. Flights to Kalibo require a two-hour van trip and a short ferry ride, while flights to Caticlan only require a brief tricycle ride and ferry ride.
Boracay is a small island, roughly 10 square kilometres, that is surrounded by white sand beaches. It has everything sun and sand lovers could want. The windward side is a great place for kitesurfers and windsurfers. The leeward side is where most of the accommodations are located.
There are accommodations that range from budget backpacker to super luxury. In general, the white beach resorts tend to have higher-end hotels located near boat station one, mid-range resorts near boat station two, and less expensive lodgings near boat station three.
If you love the beach life, this is the consummate Philippines holiday destination. Boat tours, parasailing, personal water craft rentals, and scuba diving tours and lessons are just a few of the activities available on the island. But the real attraction of the island is the gorgeous white sand beaches and turquoise waters.
In the evening, the Boracay nightlife offers everything from dance clubs on the beach, to open air bands, to cozy outdoor bars where you can sit and have a quiet drink. In the last 30 years, the island has gone from being a small, off-the-beaten-track slice of paradise to a vibrant international destination with a huge variety of daytime and nighttime activities available. If you want to get a good overview of the island, visit Mount Luho and see the island from viewing platforms high above Boracay.
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2. Camiguin Island
Anyone wanting to get a little off-the-beaten-track on their Philippines holiday should consider a trip to Camiguin Island. It can be reached by taking a flight to Cagayan de Oro City from Manila (or Cebu City). From there, it is a two-hour ferry ride via the Paras Sea Cat.
Camiguin is a volcanic island, comprised of 7 volcanoes and 20 cinder cones, which looks unlike most islands in the Philippines. In fact, it looks like it would be more at home as a Hawaiian island. Don’t worry though—there hasn’t been any active volcanic activity on the island since the late 1940s. The island itself is about 16 miles in length and 10 miles wide.
Camiguin Island boasts tours to volcanic peaks, waterfalls, and hot springs. There is even a sunken cemetery. Good snorkeling and diving is also available. There are black sand beaches as well as White Island, a sand spit-like island just off the coast. The ever-changing White Island can be visited by boat tour. Bring lots of sun block though, there is no cover from the sun.
Camiguin is a laidback place with less developed infrastructure than some tourist spots in the Philippines. But it is still worth the trip for the adventurous traveler who wants a more relaxed and laidback Philippines holiday.
3. Manila and Environs
There are numerous places to visit in and around Manila during your Philippines holiday. During a visit to the country, you will likely need to spend some time in Manila, so why not see some of the sights?
There are religious landmarks like San Agustin, the oldest church in the Philippines. Built in 1607, it is located inside the walled city of Intramuros. It is designated by UNESCO as a world heritage site. The Basilica de San Sebastian is another church worth seeing in Manila. It is an architecturally unique building designed to be earthquake proof, with structure and metal fixtures designed by Gustave Eiffel.
The wet markets are another great local attraction. Once customers choose a restaurant to eat in, they are accompanied to the wet market to purchase the seafood of their choice: fish, lobster, squid, shellfish, crab, you name it. The food is purchased in the market, then prepared by the restaurant for a reasonable fee—a seafood lover’s paradise.
A visitor should also consider a tour to Corregidor Island. This island stands as a monument and living museum for the allied defense of Manila during World War II. Against all odds, soldiers held out for nearly a month on "The Rock" after the fall of the surrounding area to the Japanese.
Other places that make great tourist destinations in Manila include the Manila Baywalk—which has great restaurants, bars, cafes and open air entertainment—historic Rizal Park, and for shoppers the expansive Mall of Asia. You can get most places easily by taxi, but always make sure the trip is on the meter.
4. Tagaytay and Lake Taal
Tagaytay is a summer destination for wealthy urbanites from Manila, but it is becoming an attractive place for tourists as well. It boasts a cooler climate than Manila and some breathtaking scenic views of Taal Volcano and the valley below.
One of the best lookout points is at the Palace in the Sky located in the People’s Park. Here, the remains of the mansion of former president Ferdinand Marcos have been converted into a museum/park/scenic viewpoint. You can see Taal Volcano and Laguna Bay from this unique perch. Lake Taal is also a short drive from Tagaytay and boat trips are available to the volcano located in the middle of the lake.
Tagaytay can be a little more expensive than other places in the Philippines, but accommodations ranging from budget to luxury resorts are available. There are many good restaurants in Tagaytay as well, and the government of the Philippines has built a large, luxurious, revenue-generating casino there under the aegis of PAGCOR (the Philippine Amusement and Gaming Corporation). It has concerts and gaming facilities for discerning travelers. Coach and van tours are available from Manila to Tagaytay and Lake Taal.
5. Coron in Busuanga, Palawan
Coron is a small town largely built around tourism. It is located on the island of Busuanga in Northern Palawan. It can be reached by air from Manila. While Coron itself doesn’t offer a lot in the way of beaches or scenery, boat tours (island hopping) to surrounding islands offer a spectacular experience.
The snorkeling available in this part of the Philippines is incredible. Tourists can take advantage of swimming in salt water lagoons, swimming through caves, hiking to fresh water lakes, and experience thermoclines in brackish (where fresh meets salt water) lagoons. Visitors pay a small fee at each island to the indigenous Tagbanwa people, who are caretakers of these islands. The scenery is outstanding here and it is kept in pristine condition. Beautiful white sand beaches abound free from the clutter of development often found in places of such beauty, making this a wonderful destination for a Philippines holiday.
Coron is also a mecca of sorts for the scuba diving crowd, as numerous dive centers offer packages for wreck diving. There are eleven major wrecks in the area of Japanese ships that were sunk during World War II. This is an incredible experience and the local guides are very friendly, experienced, and knowledgeable. Something is available here for divers of all levels.
For those more comfortable on land, there are other things to do in Coron. A mountain bike or motorcycle trip around the island is a good excursion. It is also possible to take a day trip to a wildlife sanctuary on Calauit Island or make a day of it by doing the physically challenging hike to the top of Mt. Tundalara to enjoy the view of the surrounding area. Evenings can be spent with a trip to relax in the rejuvenating waters of Maquinit Springs.
6. Puerto Galera
Puerto Galera is a two-hour bus and one-hour ferry trip trip from Manila. Located in northern Mindoro, Puerto Galera offers a variety of beaches and other activities that should keep most travelers busy.
Beach activities abound. Scuba diving is popular in nearby Sabang, while snorkeling trips can be arranged almost anywhere. Like most beach resorts, there can be pestering vendors on the main beaches. So a banca (local outrigger-style pump boat) ride to a secluded beach is a nice option. Some boatmen will even arrange food or massage on the beach. This can be done for a reasonable price.
White Beach in Puerto Galera has the largest variety of accommodations in the area, but there are numerous smaller beaches in the area with nice places to stay as well. Sabang is not necessarily recommended for families, as prostitution is fairly widespread and out in the open.
The usual beach activities can be arranged in White Beach, with banana boat rides being quite popular. The bars and restaurants in the area are often staffed by ladyboys (men who look and behave as women), but it is very low key and part of the local colour. Other activities in the area include trekking Mt. Halcon (four days), mountain biking, and a popular trip to take a cool dip at Tamaraw Falls. Other popular day trips are the Hanging Bridge and beautiful Tukuran Falls.
Puerto Galera has a lot to offer anyone on a Philippines vacation, and there are some nice resorts for families. The nightlife in Sabang is a little more raucous than Puerto Galera, but there should be something for everyone planning a getaway here.
7. Cebu City and Environs
Cebu City is the second largest city in the Philippines. It is smaller and less congested than Manila and can feel quite cool when there is a breeze. There are some international flights to Cebu City, and it can also easily be reached by air from Manila and many other major cities in the country.
The city itself has many interesting historical attractions. There is the Cebu Taoist Temple, a great place to find peace and tranquility in the middle of a busy city. Located on a mountain and overlooking the city, the temple has lush gardens, statues, and shrines—just make sure you wear pants (no shorts or sleeveless shirts).
Cebu City is also home to the historical Magellan’s Cross, considered by many to be a symbol of Catholicism in the Philippines. If you visit, leave a small donation. Next door is the Basilica Del Santo Niño, Cebu’s oldest church and an architecturally interesting site worth seeing. You can get around easily and inexpensively by taxi, but make sure the driver uses the meter.
In the surrounding area, Cebu City also has numerous resorts and beaches located near the airport in Mactan Island. The resorts in the area vary from mid-range to luxury. In Cebu City, there are numerous options, including many inexpensive budget pensions.
Two hours outside of Cebu City is a small coastal village called Moalboal, a great site for divers as one of the oldest dive resort areas in the country. There are some fantastic dive sites in this area, though nearby White Beach is better suited for beach lovers. If you do go to Moalboal, go to the ATM beforehand, as there are none in town, (although credit cards can be used for some resorts and dive centers).
8. Puerto Princesa, Palawan
Flights to Puerto Princesa are available from Manila. Like many places in the Philippines, this area has many good dive sites and several dive companies operate here. A lot of big fish are often spotted in this area, including manta rays, hammerheads, and even whale sharks.
Honda Bay is another great place for visitors, as it is the home of numerous beautiful unspoiled white sand beaches. Take an island-hopping trip and visit some the unique islands in the area. There is great diving and snorkeling, and tourists on holiday can even see the hordes of bats that populate Bat Island. Other typical beach activities are also available in the Puerto Princesa area.
One of the most famous places to visit is the Underground River. This tour is considered to be one of the most unique tours offered in the country. It is not for the faint of heart, however, as this is a tour in a dark, dank place filled with bats and other creatures. For some that might be too much, but for many it is a once in a lifetime Philippines vacation opportunity to explore a vast underwater cave system.
9. Baguio and Banaue
Baguio and Banaue are not really that close to each other. But one of the easiest ways to get to Banaue is by flying to Baguio, then taking an eight-hour bus trip to Banaue. Is it worth doing? Baguio is known as the summer capital of the Philippines and is a worthy destination in and of itself. The climate is temperate compared to the rest of the country.
There are many places to visit and a good infrastructure for tourists. Places to visit include the Baguio Botanical Gardens, a unique tourist site because of the exhibits that display the houses of traditional tribesmen of the area. For sightseeing, Mines View Park provides some fabulous views. Outside of town, tourists can visit the Asin Hot Springs for a relaxing dip in a hot pool on a cool day.
The eight-hour bus ride to Banaue is definitely worth the trip, as the Rice Terraces—often referred to as the eighth wonder of the world—are a sight to behold. Carved into the sides of the mountains of Ifugao over 2,000 years ago by area tribesmen, these rice terraces are famous worldwide, appearing in countless photographs and films. To this day, locals still practice planting rice and vegetables on the majestic terraces. This is one of the most unique places in the world and has to be seen to be truly appreciated.
Another worthwhile destination in the region (suggested by fellow hubber Cecilia Beltran) some five and a half hours from Baguio is Sagada. Blessed with natural splendor, Sagada is renowned for its caves and the Hanging Coffins. Sagada locals prefer to have coffins placed on cliffs rather than underground. This practice has been in existence for over 2,000 years, and the Sagada people carve their own coffins in their old age before they die.
10. Panglao Island, Bohol
Panglao Island is located near Tagbilaran City and can be reached by regular flights from Manila. Alona Beach is a gorgeous coral white sand beach that stretches for one and a half kilometres. Not nearly as expansive as the beaches in Boracay, it is equally beautiful. There is less night life than Boracay, but it also has less crowds and a cool, laidback feel that appeals to many travelers. There are several dive companies operating in the area and numerous world class dive sites for divers of all calibers. German is often spoken in many restaurants and hotels here. It has a bit of a European feel, but there is a nice range of options for diners and lodgers.
Outside of Panglao on Bohol Island proper, there are several interesting attractions that make Bohol a great vacation destination. The Church of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception in Baclayon is the second-oldest church and is made of coral stonework. The stones were reportedly cemented together with the whites of a million eggs.
Another good place to visit is the Tarsier Sanctuary in the town of Corella. This is a breeding center that helps protect the world’s oldest and smallest primate, the tarsier. These tiny primates could easily fit in the palm of a human hand, though it is not recommended as they are very fragile.
Another interesting place to visit is Simply Butterflies, a butterfly conservation center. The informative center provides interesting facts about butterflies and moths, and who doesn’t love watching butterflies?
Probably the most famous site in Bohol is the Chocolate Hills, a unique geological formation of more than 1,700 mound-like hills spread over a 20-square-mile area. All of these sites in Bohol can easily be visited in a day by hiring a car and driver in Panglao. The price is usually very affordable.