The popularity of the Philippines has been steadily rising over the past few years as word of its beautiful beaches and rich heritage slowly spreads across the world. When visiting the Philippines.
The fact that it still remains largely untouched by mass tourism means it has retained its exotic atmosphere and authentic feel, unlike other destinations in South East Asia.
However with a smaller proportion of visitors the Philippines is still getting to grips with accommodating foreign visitors.
Comparatively there is not as much information about the country available online so some travellers struggle to find an itinerary that suits, however there are niche websites that cover recommended tours and activities in the Philippines and from these I’ve compiled some of the very best.
While there are endless stretches of coastline in the Philippines, the country is first and foremost a world class diving destination. Its location in the coral triangle means its one of the richest marine landscapes in the world and the diversity of marine life is just overwhelming.
There are literally hundreds of different dive sites, scattered across the countries 7,000+ islands and with the opportunity to enjoy everything from beginner to advanced dives you’re sure to find a site that suits.
Beginners to scuba diving should head to either Bohol, Palawan or Puerto Galera. These are all extremely popular tourist destinations and offer spectacular dives suitable for all levels. Being a well established dive destination means there is no shortage of diving shops and guides, so if you’re not already scuba certified it’s the perfect place to start.
Experienced divers should head to more remote locations; with its proximity to the South China, Sulu, and Philippine Seas the country offers some of the best dives in the whole world.
Tubbataha reef is constantly featured in ‘world’s 10 best diving sites’ type lists, but is more suitable for scuba-mad divers who don’t mind living on a boat diving four or five times a day.
Other, more accessible alternatives are the islands near Cebu city, the country’s second largest city. In Cebu you can go to Moalboal for the sardine run – it’s similar to South Africa’s more famous dive, only this one is available all year long. Another option is visiting Oslob island and diving with the whale sharks over there.
Another great water related activity you should consider is surfing. As with diving, the Philippines has some of the world’s most renowned surfing sites.
The surfing scene here is quite mature, which means there are already a handful of surfing resorts that offer tailored surfing escapes and provide equipment and tuition to guests.
Checking in to such a resort can be a great idea for solo travellers. It’s an opportunity to meet with other tourists from all over the world and make new friends, while enjoying the region’s epic surf.
If you are into surfing, the best place to go to is Siargao island. Considered the ‘surfing capital of the Philippines’, the island is a mecca for surfers of all abilities. There are dozens of surf sites in Siargao, but the most popular one is the cloud 9 beach so its best to find a hotel close to it.
If you don’t have the time to go to Siargao, you could always try surfing at Boracay. The island is the most popular tourist spot thanks to its stretch of white beach, one of the most beautiful in the world. However, if you go to the other side of the island you’ll find Bulabog beach – a great surfing spot where there are strong winds all year round.
The Philippines has over 7,000 islands, each with their own unique features and attractions which is why island hopping is one of the most recommended activities for first time visitors. It allows you to fill your day with fun and adventure, while getting a full taste of what each island has to offer.
These tours can be easily found at all popular tourist destinations, but I recommend trying them out in Puerto Galera and Palawan.
Island hopping in Puerto Galera is a perfect mix of beautiful secluded beaches, and some of the best snorkelling sites in the whole country. Make sure you visit the ‘coral garden’ and the underwater cave at san Antonio, you will not be disappointed.
Palawan is often named best island in the world by prestigious magazines and publications. Island hopping here offers a spectacular combination of snorkelling sites and hidden lagoons. You’ll have a day packed with adventure, while being surrounded by some of the most stunning landscape in the world.
Tours typically go out from either El Nido or Puerto Princessa, the 2 main tourist spots in Palawan. If you are taking the tour from El Nido, make sure Miniloc island is included! With its 3 secret lagoons, Miniloc is one of the most beautiful islands in the Philippines and you can’t afford to miss it.
One of the greatest things about the Philippines is the mixture of old and modern, nature and the urban environment. The country is a perfect place for hiking; whether its through the streets of Manila’s old city or climbing a tropical volcano somewhere in the islands there’s plenty for all to enjoy.
For those looking to soak up some culture and learn about the country’s rich history there’s no better place to do so than the capital, Manila.
The old city, named Intramuros, was actually a fort founded by the Spaniards upon their arrival to the Philippines. Intramuros is filled with museums and churches that showcase a unique blend of Hispano-Filipino culture and architecture.
Notable sites at Intramuros include Fort Santiago, a former prison now turned into a small museum, the St. Augustin church, and the Manila Cathedral.
Just walking around the ancient streets is a fun activity that can easily fill up half a day, especially if you hire a guide who can teach you about the local history.
You could also cross the Pasig river to the north of Intramuros, and visit Binondo, the world’s oldest Chinatown. Binondo is a also full of interesting historic landmarks, and is a great place to try some local street foods.
If you prefer trekking in through the natural world you’re spoilt for choice when in the Philippines. Typically each island you visit will have some sites and landmarks worth exploring. Nevertheless, I recommend taking a day trip out of Cebu and visiting the Kawasan falls. The Falls are a great place for families looking to relax at its pool, and for thrill-seekers who wish to try some cliff jumping, or take the canyonering tour to reach the falls.
If you are feeling adventurous try trekking to Ösmena peak (1013 metres), Cebu’s highest mountain, and going down to the Kawasan falls from there. The best plan is to spend the night at the peak’s campsite so you can watch the sun rise and enjoy a spectacular view of the whole of Cebu island. Then make your way down to the falls and enjoy a few hours over there before heading back to the city.
The Philippines has no less than 6 UNESCO world heritage sites; I’ve already mentioned Manila’s St. Augustin church and Tubbataha reef, which are definitely must see locations as well.
While I certainly advise visiting as many of this sites as you possibly can, there are two which you should do everything you can not to miss. The first one is Puerto Princesa’s Subterranean River National Park in Palwan. The site has been named one of the new seven wonders of the world, and is the most popular attraction in the Philippines; this means you should buy your tickets in advance, especially in the summer.
Here the underground river stretches for 8.2km and is famous for its unique formations of stalactites and stalagmites. Since the underground river connects directly to the sea, a one of a kind phenomena, its a great place to find a huge selection of plants and animals all concentrated in a very small area.
The second most recommended site is the Sagada rice terraces, also known as “Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras“. The entire area is full of this man-made terraces dating back more than 2000 years and still used today! They are all worth a visit, but the Batad rice terraces are the most beautiful.
Contrary to what most people think, it’s the Batad terraces which are a UNESCO site and not the ones in Banaue – where most tourists accidentally find themselves. Apart from the magnificent view and great hiking opportunities found in the area, it’s also a great place to marvel at ancient man’s ingenuity and harmony with nature.