The Philippines is an island nation located in the Western Pacific. The region boasts one of the world’s longest combined coastlines due to the nation’s seven thousand tropical islands. These islands have beautiful coral reefs and spectacular diving, wildlife like whale sharks and dugongs, and mountainous tropical rainforests.
Filipino people are smiling, warm, and generous. Flights can be found to Manila or Cebu, and interisland travel is easy to find via plane, car, train, or ferry. Here is a look at some of the best places to visit in the Philippines:
10. Vigan[SEE MAP]
A visit to the Crisologo St region of this town is like a step back to colonial times. Horses pull carts along cobblestone streets, and dark-wood mansions flank the sides, as a reminder of the grand life that many enjoyed in this colonial Spanish trading post. At the time, many goods like beeswax and gold were traded to China for exotic Asian items.
Today, the main income for this port is tourism, though the splendor from its trading history remains. Vigan has two hearts, a shopping center in the North, and a business district in the South. Tourists will enjoy the museums that have been created from several mansions, St Paul’s Cathedral, and the Mestizo district.
9. Bohol[SEE MAP]
The huge orange eyes and tiny fingers of the miniscule tarsier serve as the spokesmodel for the island of Bohol. Just a short trip from Cebu, this area is one of the few remaining homes for this tiny primate. The unique geologic oddity of the chocolate hills serves as the second draw for the non-divers to the region.
The mogul-like hills come with a legend of being formed by the rocks thrown by an angry giant. Most of the visitors to this region are, however, here to partake in the breathtaking dive opportunities that the region has to offer. It is the jumping off point for the marine reserves off of Pangalo and Pamlican islands.
8. Manila[SEE MAP]
This Asian megacity is the capital of the Philippines, the fly-in point for most tourists, and a bustling opportunity to appreciate bounds of culture new and old. From tall gleaming buildings on the skyscraper gazing tour to the turn-of-the century landmarks on the self-guided downtown tour, there is much to see in Manila.
Food, whether from a street cart or high cuisine restaurant, is excellent and diverse, representing much more than the blend of Spanish, indigenous, and Chinese heritages that have found their way to this island nation. There is never a bad time to go to Manila, as there are almost two-dozen annual festivals to keep the city celebrating.
7. Donsol[SEE MAP]
Located in the province of Sorsogon, a place of pristine beaches, stunning waterfalls and unexplored caves, the sleepy fishing village of Donsol is the place in the Philippines to see whale sharks. They like tropical waters, which makes Donsol Bay a great habitat for them.
The protected species migrates through Donsol between November and June, with the numbers peaking between February and May. This huge fish is not shy about approaching boats; indeed, some carry scars from encounters with propellers.
6. Tagaytay[SEE MAP]
The Taal volcano that sits majestically above the town of Tagaytay is a combination of active and extinct craters that create a beautiful tapestry of must-sees. Lake Taal is nestled inside the old Taal volcano crater, and the central island for the lake is the currently active volcano craters, which can be seen steaming on certain days.
Those who have never seen the pristine waters of a crater lake in person will be astonished at their pristine beauty. The long town of Tagaytay sits along this ridge, and is known for being clean, laid back, and a haven for foodies. Tourist attractions in town include the Punta de Santiago lighthouse, St Anne Shrine, and the large local flower farm.
5. Cebu[SEE MAP]
Cebu is an island province in the Philippines, consisting of the main island itself and 167 surrounding islands. Its capital, Cebu city, is the oldest in the Philippines, and home to the nation’s second international airport.
The city is a smaller but similarly busy version of Manila, with many of the same urban benefits of new, old, cutting edge and cultural. One advantage that Cebu has is Matcan island, featuring a premiere dive site that is a short drive from an international airport. Another diving gem, the island and resorts of Malapascua, is about a four hour drive to the port town of Maya, and then must be accessed by boat. It is well worth the trip, however, as it is often considered the number one dive site in the country.
4. Mindoro[SEE MAP]
Mindoro is an island that consists of two different regions, Mindoro Oriental and Mindoro Occidental, which are separated from one another by a high mountain range. The north of the region is mostly remote, and home to the primitive Mangayan tribe. This trip is well worth it for divers, however, as the town of Sablayan is the doorway to the island of Pangan and the pristine Apo Reef Marine Natural Park.
There is only one resort on the island, so reservations are recommended. In Mindoro Oriental, the main tourism location is the town of Puerto Galera. This is the ideal beach town, with resorts and white sand beaches for the water lovers, as well as jeep trips, orchid-filled rainforests, kayaking rivers and waterfalls for the trekkers in the group.
3. Banuae[SEE MAP]
The mud-walled rice terraces in Banuae are reason enough to take the bus trip from Manila to this unique indigenous town. The agricultural engineering system represented here was built 2000 years ago and passed on from generation to generation.
Though the serene and impressive flats would be enough to make this a must-see, the spectacular wood-carved rice guardians make the trip even more worthwhile. The ancient, crude sculptures are reminiscent of tikis, and believed to protect the crops from harm.
Though tourism has brought the Western world to an ancient way of life and created a large tourist market here, there are opportunities to visit less touristy towns whose rice crops are still the main staple of their economy for those seeking a more authentic experience.
2. Boracay[SEE MAP]
Endless white sand beaches, colorful outrigger sailboat rides, and beautiful resorts grace this island that has been consistently in the top three beaches in the world by travel review sites. The most populous region of Boracay is the central part of White Beach, which has the most opportunities for food, adventure, shopping, and public merriment.
Moving further away, more remote options are available, but they come with reduced amenities. Lodging ranges from budget shacks to high-end full-service resorts, but the white sand beaches, turquoise water, and romantic ambiance are open to all.
1. Palawan[SEE MAP]
One of the best places to visit in the Philippines, Palawan is an island province that stretches from Mindoro to Borneo between the South China and Sulu seas. Puerto Princesa, which is close to large karst formations with an underground river, is the provincial capital.
Coron Reefs on Busuanga Island is a popular diving spot, drawing divers who want to explore Japanese shipwrecks from World War II. Another popular destination is El Nido, a town sandwiched between towering limestone karst cliffs and the beautiful Bacuit Bay.