There are over 7,000 islands and four seas that make up the Philippines. That’s a lot of amazing places to explore! Although the Philippines is an incredibly budget-friendly country to visit, you probably won’t have the time or money to see everything it has to offer. That’s why we’ve narrowed down its must-see locations, the spots you absolutely shouldn’t miss on any Philippines adventure.
Getting to the Philippines
There are numerous direct flights available from the UK to the Philippines, usually into Manila. Non-stop flights take between 12-13 hours, but many cut the journey time by making a visit to the Philippines part of a wider itinerary in Asia or Australia. The Philippines’ location makes it easy to visit from anywhere in South East Asia, or from Japan and China, before heading on south to the likes of Malaysia, Indonesia, Australia, or New Zealand.
Getting around the Philippines
An archipelago of over 7,000 islands means you should do a little bit of research about how to get around the Philippines before you travel there.
Planes and boats are likely to be your main mode of transport in the Philippines as you move between islands. Routes from Manila – the capital city – will have the most options, while travelling between other islands will see you using smaller planes or ferryboats. The views you’ll get along the way make it worth every peso.
Once you’re on land, jeepneys – the unique Filipino bus system – are widely available to get you exactly where you need to go. This is generally the most budget-friendly way to get around.
El Nido translates as ‘The Nest’, aptly named by the Spanish in the 18th century. Spend an hour here, and you’ll quickly realise why – you will almost certainly want to settle here forever.
The El Nido region is made up of 54 small islands and forms a part of the larger Palawan Island. El Nido has the ubiquitous magical beaches of every Filipino island, bearing appropriate names like ‘Hidden’ and ‘Secret’, offering you plenty of spots to soak up the sun and enjoy your own slice of paradise. You can also climb Mount Taraw, the highest peak on the island, for spectacular views across the region. It’s not an easy climb, so we recommend going with a guide.
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, spoils you with blue lagoons, limestone cliffs and the Dilumacad Underwater Tunnel, a great spot for more experienced divers.
Who knew that in the heart of South East Asia you can find a miniature Spain? Cebu is a central province in the middle of the Visayas Islands, and is known for the Spanish architecture and cultural influence that remains from its days as a 16th-century colony. An hour south of Manila by plane, a visit to Cebu should start in the port capital Cebu City, where you shouldn’t miss 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 exquisite Kawasan Falls in Badian, a great spot to indulge in some canyoning and to cool off from the heat.
Anywhere called ‘Chocolate Hills’ has to go straight on your Philippines itinerary, right? Over 1,200 rounded hills bulge from the Bohol landscape like rock formations on an alien planet. Covered in green grass, they turn brown during the dry season, giving them their name (so no, they’re not actually made of chocolate). Legend tells that the hills were formed by two feuding giants hurling boulders at each other, until they grew tired and decided to be friends instead.
Another top pick for Bohol is the Philippine Tarsier Sanctuary in Corella. Here, you can see the beautiful, big-eyed tarsier monkeys up-close. For anyone who doesn’t know what a tarsier is, think of the cutest animal you’ve ever seen and then double the level of cuteness – the closest to a cute Japanese anime animal come to life.
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. There’s loads to do here.
Grab your swimmers and head to the central Filipino island of Boracay. Once named ‘the second-best island destination in the world’, it boasts an incredibly generous 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 great spot for parasailing or diving. At night, stop anywhere on the 4km stretch of sand for beautiful sunsets, fire twirlers and beach-side bonfires. The Philippine Mermaid Swimming Academy is located here too. In a 90-minute lesson you can try on a tail, learn to navigate the waters and end with a unique 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 your walking boots and visit Cordillera mountain range in the North Luzon region. Hundreds of hills means there’s hiking for all levels of fitness, and the landscape is packed with tribal legend and mysteries. Explore enough and you’ll find parts of the mountains levelled out to create impressive Banaue rice paddies and the Ifugao rice terraces. These are maintained by local tribes people, and staying overnight in the Tam-awan Village huts gives you the chance to learn all about their traditions.
The Cordillera is the perfect region of the Philippines to visit if you want to discover more about its culture, away from the more famous beaches.
Ilocos is another region of the Philippines that mashes up Asian culture with Spanish influence. It lies northwest of Luzon, making it easy to reach from the Cordilleras.
The highlight is Vigan, an enchantingly quaint city where horse-drawn carriages, cobbled streets, and decidedly rustic buildings lie incongruously in the middle of the exotic landscape. It’s one of the Philippines’ oldest cities and a UNESCO World Heritage site, well worth spending some time exploring.
When you’re ready to move on, you can head north to Laoag City to try your hand at sand boarding down La Paz sand dune or riding a 4×4 over the undulating landscape.
Not many islands lie alone in the Philippines, but Camiguin Island to the south represents an outpost relatively untouched by tourism. The island might be small, but it’s home to seven volcanoes that offer numerous hiking trails through the wild landscape, a sunken cemetery you can dive through, thundering waterfalls to swim under, and hot springs to sink into and relax. You can also join a trek through the jungle or go snorkelling in Gingood Bay.
If you’re after some adventure, Camiguin Island should be your number one choice.