In among the 7,000 islands and four seas that make up the Philippines, there are a couple of hundred places you should definitely see. For us backpackers, infinite budgets and paid holidays don’t exist, so we need to narrow down a country’s must-see locations to the absolute best to make the most of our time and money.
If you’re interested in backpacking in the Philippines, I’ve done that job for you. Taking it from 7,000 to seven, here are the spots I think you’ll most in the whole of the Philippines.
Translated into Spanish, ‘El Nido’ means ‘nest’, an apt name for a place you could probably imagine yourself living in some pipe dream of the future.
The El Nido region is made up of 54 small islands and forms a part of the bigger Palawan Island. El Nido has the mandatory magical beaches of every Filipino island with appropriate yet simple names like ‘Hidden’ and ‘Secret’, as well as Mount Taraw, the highest peak on the island.
El Nido is also known as the gateway to the Bacuit archipelago, aka Asia’s best kept secret. Bacuit Bay, on the west of El Nido, gives you blue lagoons, limestone cliffs and the Dilumacad Underwater Tunnel. Go dive.
Who knew that in the heart of Asia you’d find a mini Spain? Cebu is a central province in the middle of the Visayas Islands, and is known for its Spanish architecture and culture. An hour south of Manila by plane, a visit here should start in Cebu City where you can see the beautiful Basilica Minore del Santo Niño, the Jumalon Butterfly Sanctuary and Fort San Pedro.
Outside the city, try freshwater fishing at Papa Kit’s Marina & Fishing Lagoon in Liloan, swim with whale sharks in Tan-awan Oslob and discover the Kawasan Falls in Badian.
Anywhere called ‘Chocolate Hills’ has to be on the Philippines itinerary, right? The 1,268 hills on the island province of Bohol turn a shade of brown each year and, although they’re sadly not actually made of chocolate, they still make for an awesome sight to behold. You could always take your own chocolate bar to eat while you’re there? Just for the photo bants?
Another top pick for Bohol is the Philippine Tarsier Sanctuary in Corella where you can see the beautiful, big-eyed primates up-close. For anyone who doesn’t know what a tarsier is, think of the cutest animal you’ve ever seen and double the level of cuteness – kind of like a furry little Japanese anime creature.
Keep an eye out for other cool creatures on a jungle cruise down the Loboc River and finish your trip with an underground swim in Hinagdanan Cave. So much to do!
Grab the swimmers and head to the central island of Boracay. Once named ‘the second-best island destination in the world’, it has 12 beaches. This means that no matter what you look for in a sandy bay, you’ll find it on Boracay.
White Beach is the main hub and a good place for parasailing or diving. At night the 4km stretch of sand has beautiful sunsets, fire twirlers and beachside bonfires. The Philippine Mermaid Swimming Academy is located here.In a 90-minute lesson you can try on a tail, learn to navigate the waters and end with an insane beach photo shoot. Just like a modern day Ariel.
For those wanting a quieter spot, there’s Diniwid Beach, but if you’re a water baby then it’s all about Bulabog in the east for the wind and kite surfing schools.
Lace up for the North Luzon region and the Cordillera mountain range. Shrouded in mystery and tribal tales, the hundreds of hills are perfect for hiking. You’ll also find parts of the mountains levelled out into the impressive Banaue rice paddies and the Ifugao rice terraces. These are maintained by tribespeople and you can learn more about their traditions with an overnight stay in the Tam-awan Village huts.
This is the place to be if you want to experience more of the culture of the Philippines, rather than just the beaches.
Another region mashing up Asian culture with some Spanish influence is Ilocos. Northwest of Luzon, it isn’t too far from The Cordilleras.
Vigan is an enchanting city where horse drawn carriages, cobbled streets and rustic buildings in the middle of this exotic landscape are totally the norm. Unlike any other Filipino location, it’s one of the country’s oldest cities and a UNESCO World Heritage site.
From Spanish immersion to sand dunes, head north in Ilocos to Laoag City to sand board down La Paz or ride a 4×4 across the dunes.
This lone island in the south of the archipelago lies just a little north of Mindanao and is relatively untouched by tourism. The small island has seven volcanoes you can hike or travel to by motorbike, a sunken cemetery you can dive through, and endless waterfalls and hot springs to bask in. There’s also jungle trekking and snorkelling in Gingood Bay, making Camiguin our island of adventure.
So there you go – seven awesome spots in the Philippines to start off the fun. Enjoy!