Backpacking in the Philippines

Countries  »  Philippines

The Philippines is a real up-and-coming gap year destination. Situated in South East Asia, the Philippines is made up of 7,107 islands, making up one of the world's largest and most beautiful coastlines.

If you're interested in scuba diving on your gap year then look no further than the Philippines. It's a marine paradise and divers will be mesmerized by the beautiful coral gardens, tropical waters and breathtaking marine life. The dive sites even rival Sipidan just off Borneo and they're up there with the best in the world.

Also, if you like a beach then the Philippines have got a few of those too. Boracay has some of the most beautiful beaches and it's easy to laze away the days until the thriving night scene kicks off as soon as the sun sets.

And no gap year would be complete without island hopping - after all, you've got over 7,000 to choose from, so see how many you can visit when you're backpacking around the Philippines!

Best Experiences

There are an estimated 7,107 islands in the Philippines, pretty overwhelming hey? Planning where to go in the Philippines is definitely the most stressful part. You may have heard of Boracay, Manila and Palawan – they’re the most famous spots, but where else is there to go in this beautiful country? 

Take time to look around Manila

Let’s start with the Philippines’ capital city. Manila has a bad rep when it comes to destinations in the Philippines. I spent a few days there in preparation for my onward flight and although I was apprehensive about it at first I found it to be a friendly and welcoming place, with really good food! I stayed in Moonwalk (seriously!) near the airport. Obviously all cities have their problems and I’d never say any city was ‘safe’ but I just didn’t find Manila to be as scary as some reports make it out to be.

Chances are you’ll have to stay here at some point thanks to the flight hub. I’d recommend you get out and explore to make to the most of the shopping, art galleries, historical buildings, museums, city attractions and nightlife. If you have time check out the Smokey Mountain slums – a huge rubbish dump that houses 1000s of people. That’ll give you some perspective on life. Manila Cathedral, Rizal Park and the Manila Ocean Park are also musts while you’re in the city.


Splash around in Palawan

The two most famous spots in Palawan are the archipelago of El Nido and one of the best wreck diving spots in the world, Coron. I’ve been to both and I’d strongly advise you to do island hopping tours in each – the water is so clear you can see the fishies from the surface and even catch them if you have a quick enough hand. In El Nido you can’t miss the Bacuit Archipelago – one of Palawan’s proudest achievements. One of my favourite things about the beaches of El Nido compared to others in Asia is the fact you can lie on them without being pestered by anyone trying to sell you anything. Make sure to get to Nacpan Beach – it’s stunning. Other things to do in El Nido include scuba diving, motorbiking the coastlines and admiring the stunning limestone cliffs.

When you’re in Coron make sure to visit Kayangan Lake – it’s the cleanest lake in Asia and nestled between looming limestone cliffs. My tour leader took us snorkelling in the caves there and encouraged us to cliffdive – one of the best days of my life!

The Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park is also well worth a look. It’s best accessed from Puerta Princesa, the main airport serving Palawan, and is part of the Coral Triangle where 40% of the world’s reef fish live. 


Surf on Siargao

If you’re into surfing you’ll be into Siargao. Anyone who’s any good will love the Cloud 9 reef break while any beginners (like me) enjoy the relative quiet out on the learner waves. There’s plenty of space to fall off without smashing into anyone.

Even if you’re not into surfing (give it a go!) there are still lagoons, caves, coral reefs, wildlife and a forest reserve to keep you busy in Siargao. 


Check out the amazing wildlife of Bohol

There are around 200 mammal species in the Philippines, but many people come to see the Philippine Tarsier – one of the smallest and cutest monkey species in the world. You’ll find the highest concentration of these in Bohol. Just to warn you, their heads can rotate a freakish 180 degrees, and if they’re stressed they commit suicide by bashing their head against something. So be nice and don’t get too close.

Bohol is also where you’ll find the Chocolate Hills. Over 1,500 mounds formed from coral deposits and shaped by erosion. One of the coolest things to do here is to rent a motorbike and go and explore.

There are also some really good beaches here for you to try with nothing more to do that sunbathe and eat coconuts. And if you want something to get your adrenaline pumping there are plenty of opportunities to swim in waterfalls, explore caves and zipline too. 


Party on Boracay

Boracay is the number one destination for anyone looking to party in the Philippines. It’s home to the famous White Beach – consistently voted one of the top 10 beaches in the world – and 13 other beaches too. In Boracay you’ll find happy hours, cool hostels and great value spas. You can also go windsurfing, have a mermaid lesson, banana boating, fly fishing, flyboarding and jet skiing, among other watersports. That’s if you can bear all that activity after the night before.


Go shark-watching on Cebu

Malapascua Island off Cebu is the top spot to see thresher sharks. If you’d rather swim with whale sharks then you need to go south to Oslob – make sure you stop off at the stunning Kawasan Falls along the way.

Cebu City is worth a day or two to look at the old part of the city and to visit the market by the harbour. Cebu is another main hub of transport within the Philippines so chances are you’ll need to pass through there at some point. 


See the incredible scenery of North Luzon  

Mountains, pines and ravines replace the paradise beaches in this part of the Philippines. The famous Banaue Rice Terraces are located in North Luzon and if you have time to head up there on your Philippines itinerary, they’re well worth a visit. Make sure to take a trip to visit the villagers who choose to live in isolation up here. You can pay a few pounds for a guide who will show you around and make the whole experience a little more authentic than a group tour.


And if you have time for more...

 

Dive in a sunken cemetery on Camiguin Island


Chill out on Siguijor


Go trekking on Palaui Island


Get a traditional tattoo on Kalinga


See Tinago Falls on Mindanao


Get a view of Mount Mayon from Legazpi


This page was written by Victoria Philpott, who is an ex-content manager for gapyear.com. She’s currently travelling and writing about it for her blog vickyflipfloptravels.com. After travelling the Philippines extensively she’s become obsessed with the country and is planning on returning as much as possible. To fill in the void leaving the country has left she’s now our Philippines Section Editor.

 

Trips

Check out these itineraries which we have created for the Philippines, and remember, we are experts in creating tailor made gap year experiences, so if you have a particular route or experience in mind just call the number on the big blue button below.

Philippines Islands Getaway

Philippines Discovery Adventure

Philippines Discovery Adventure

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