Ask anyone in the Philippines where to go and you’ll be met with fingers pointing in all directions. This archipelago of more than 7,000 islands is a treasure trove of stellar destinations, from world-renowned white-sand beaches and towering volcanoes to crowded megacities and sleepy coastal towns. When mulling over your itinerary, you’ll have your work cut out for you.
Thankfully, the Philippines is a land of spontaneity. Domestic flights are cheap, and locals are, in typical Filipino fashion, extremely gregarious and willing to be your personal travel guides. So take the daredevil approach, ditch your travel plans, and just go where the journey takes you, or play it safe and refer to this list of the best destinations in the Philippines.
This 500 km stretch of glorious white sand is arguably the country’s main draw, and with good reason. With numerous recognitions from top international magazines as one of the best islands in the world, you’ll be hard-pressed to find a resort island of this calibre. Swanky beachside bars and award-winning resorts make it a premium nightlife destination, but there are plenty of water activities too. There’s surfing, kiteboarding, cliff-diving, and everything in between.
Don’t miss: Island hopping tours are the fastest way to experience Boracay in a nutshell. Sign up for excursions with stops in Crocodile Island, Magic Island, and Crystal Cove Beach.
Towering limestone cliffs, turquoise waters, and an underwater paradise teeming with life make Palawan one of the Philippines’ best island destinations. Amble around in any of its top locations, each with its own distinctive flavour. Puerto Princesa, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, offers one of the longest underground rivers in the world, while Coron and El Nido attract tourists with their crystal clear lagoons and picture-perfect beaches.
Don’t miss: Sign up with local dive operators to visit one of the most stunning coral reefs in the world, the Tubbataha Reef. This 97,030-hectare Marine Protected Area is home to hundreds of species of fish, whales, sharks, dolphins, and sea turtles.
The economic epicenter of Visayas hosts diverse attractions for both urban explorers and outdoor adventurers. For beaches that won’t have you jostling with tourists (looking at you, Boracay), Cebu’s spectacular shores hold their own. Spy on thresher sharks in Malapascua, go whale shark watching in Oslob, or snorkel on the remote island of Sumilon, but you don’t have to venture far for excitement. Cebu City’s burgeoning bars and stellar eateries serving some of the best food in the Philippines are worthy of exploration as well.
Don’t miss: Ride a ferry from Cebu and explore nearby Camotes Islands, home to some of the best beaches in the Visayas.
Bug-eyed tarsiers are this provinces’ unofficial mascot, but there’s another image often associated with Bohol – the resplendent Chocolate Hills. This unique geological formation of more than 1,200 hills grouped together is one of the province’s main draws, but there are more attractions to uncover. Learn about Bohol’s centuries-long Christian history by touring its churches, skybike across sweeping mountain views in Danao Adventure Park, or sunbathe on the gorgeous coastlines of Panglao Island.
Don’t miss: A trip to Bohol will not be complete without visiting the Tarsier Sanctuary, where you can see the world’s smallest primates in their natural habitat.
There’s no better place to uncover the Philippines’ 300-year Spanish history than Vigan, a culture-packed city located on Luzon’s west coast. A visit to this UNESCO World Heritage Site feels like stepping back in time – imagine horse-drawn carriages clattering on cobblestone pathways, colonial mansions, and ancestral houses. Try your hands on pottery at the Paburnayan Jar Factory, snack on delicious empanadas at Plaza Burgos, or step into the shoes of an ilustrado at Arce Museum.
Don’t miss: Just 15-minutes away from the city is the Ilocos Sur Adventure Zone, where you can ride a zipline to view the beautiful Abra River.
When the mercury skyrockets in the city’s capital, thousands of lowland settlers scurry to higher grounds to seek respite from the heat. Foggy and pine-clad Baguio is a crowd favorite, thanks to being only a four-hour drive away from Manila. Mine’s View Park and its stunning views of the Cordillera Mountains are one of the city’s most popular destinations, while Burnham Park and its numerous recreational activities like boating and biking are a close second.
Don’t miss: The Good Shepherd Convent in Gibraltar Road offers one of the country’s best ube jams (purple yam). Come early as the queues tend to get long!
Looking to disconnect from the hustle and bustle of urban life? Batanes offers the tranquillity you’re looking for amid a lush setting of rolling hills, crashing seas, pastures with wild horses, and majestic mountains. Despite being the country’s smallest province, there’s plenty to explore here. Base yourself in North Batan and explore Valugan Boulder Beach for stunning seascapes. Take a dip in South Batan’s Homoron Blue Lagoon, or visit the Ivatan Stone Houses of Sabtang Island for a glimpse of the lives of local ethnic groups.
Don’t miss: Take an Instagram-worthy selfie in South Batan’s Marlboro Country for stunning views of land, sea, and sky. Here, vast pasturelands are home to herds of carabaos and wild horses.
Have you heard of the Siargao phenomenon? Hundreds of tourists who plan a short stay on this beachy island southeast of Tacloban find themselves extending for weeks and weeks (some never come back home). It’s the island’s gorgeous beaches, world-class surfing, island-hopping, and carpe-diem attitude that ultimately ensnares visitors. Enjoy pro-level waves at Cloud 9 beach, island-hop Guyam, Naked Island, and Daku explore the mysterious Tayangban Cave Pools, or just chill with the laid-back locals.
Don’t miss: Come in September for the International Surfing Cup celebrated with parades, live bands, discos, and parties.
A trip to Sagada means leaving everything behind and losing yourself in the wonders of nature. Verdant natural landscapes, sprawling mountain valleys, limestone caves, and miles and miles of rice fields offer opportunities to meditate and zone out. Wake up early among a sea of clouds at Marlboro Hills, learn about Sagada’s ancient burial traditions at the Lumiang Burial Cave, and snap photos of the majestic Kapay-Aw Rice Terraces.
Don’t miss: Spelunking at Sumaguing Cave is a popular activity. You’ll see fascinating natural rock formations shaped like various animals.
Over 2000 years ago, the ancient Ifugao people hand-carved terraces into the mountains of Banaue to grow rice. Located around 4,900 feet above sea level, the man-made wonder and World Heritage site still stands today and is considered one of the most popular tourist spots in the Philippines. Apart from the Banaue Rice Terraces, the province is a treasure trove of fascinating destinations. Learn about Ifugao culture and heritage at Banaue Museum, trek to Batad village to view the sunning Batad rice terraces, or splash in the exhilarating waters of the Tappiya waterfall.
Don’t miss: If you’re not one to feel queasy, locals in Tam-An Village can show you the bones of their Ifugao ancestors for a small fee. They’re incredibly well-preserved and covered in hand-made blankets – a unique experience that offers insights into the lives of the ancient Ifugaos.
Header image credits: Michael Rivera via Unsplash