The Philippines are in fact hundreds of large and small islands. To see some of the best islands in the Philippines, you have to take the boat or plane. During my holiday here, I of course couldn’t visit all the islands (there are thousands!), so I’ll only talk about the best places to go in the Philippines spread out over some of the most stunning islands of this nation.
What to do in Bohol?
Bohol is one of the larger islands and very often visited by tourists who want to get a taste of the beautiful nature. There are also beaches, but if I’m honest, there are much better ones in other parts of the Philippines.
From Cebu you get here by taking the ferry. You first have to commute to the port of Cebu (from the airport you can take a taxi, which will cost you between 300 and 400 pesos for a single ride). From there you’ll have to set sail for about two hours in the direction of Tagbilaran (+/- 500 pesos + 100 pesos for your luggage + 20 pesos harbor tax). From here you can rent taxis or tricycles to take you to your hotel.
I think the Chocolate Hills in the Philippines are one of the most famous things to see in the country. These gigantic molehills create a very unique landscape in any season, but in the hot summers, the grass turns as brown as Hershey’ chocolate kisses and that also explains where the name comes from.
You get the best view on these hills from the top of a hill itself. In order to reach the viewing platform, you first have to climb a good number of stairs, but the panorama at this altitude is truly breathtaking.
Of course it’s not only flowers and plants that live in the tropical rainforests of the Philippines. There are also a lot of animals tucked away between this foilage! One of the cutest animals which you will find in the Philippines is unfortunately also threatened with extinction… By hunting for their fur or just because humans wanted to keep these cuties as pets, there are only a few hundred tarsiers left. These tiny animals (they are barely as big as a fist!) are very susceptible to stress and commit suicide if they are bothered too much.
Fortunately the amazing Filipinos noticed that something had to be done to save these animals and so a ‘Tarsier Sanctuary’ was established on Bohol. In this small protected piece of rainforest, peace and freedom is given to the tarsiers. For a small contribution you can enter this sanctuary and you are taken on a small tour by a guide who shows you the tarsiers. The spot where you can see these incredibly cute animals with their gigantic eyes is limited to a small area and the guide ensures that the tourists are never too loud or get too close.
Actually this is already a different island, but it is connected to Bohol by a bridge. Here too, there are some of the best places to go in the Philippines, so I recommend visiting Panglao too.
This island seems to have been taken over by the Chinese and Koreans, but fortunately the beautiful beaches are still (mostly) untouched. In the southwest you’ll find the cozy -but touristy- Alona Beach. Here you find white sand that is as soft as powder and it is surrounded by turquoise waters that make for excellent diving. In the transparent water you will find beautiful coral reefs, gigantic sea turtles, whale sharks and large schools of fish: you can even snorkel among thousands of sardines! And believe me… That is damn impressive!
The rest of Panglao island is especially relaxed. Enjoy fresh fruit and a cocktail on one of the beautiful beaches or be adventurous and jump from one of the cliffs directly into the sea. Adventure is guaranteed here!
What to do in Siargao
If you’re looking for one of the best islands in the Philippines, you must go to Siargao. Stunning, untouched nature, flawless beaches and sweet, helpful inhabitants. I have to admit that this has become one of my favorite places in the world. Here are the top things to do in Siargao, one of the best places to go in the Philippines:
Three islands tour
If there is one day tour that you must do in Siargao, then it’s the ‘three islands tour’.
With a banga (the typical boats of the Philippines) you set sail through the clear blue water until you reach Guyam Island, Naked Island and Daku Island.
Guyam Island is tiny and picture perfect. Naked Island is –alas, for lovers of uncovered body parts– a barren sandbank. The largest and, in my opinion, most impressive island is Daku Island. Waving palm trees welcome you and once you set foot on land you will really notice how exceptionally beautiful the beaches are here. The snow-white sand is turned over by clear water in hundreds of shades of turquoise and makes this place undoubtedly one of the most beautiful places to visit in the Philippines.
During your three islands tour you also make a stop on the way between the islands for a bit of snorkeling. Depending on where you halt, you will see beautiful corals. I did not see a lot of fish, but a bit of cooling down is always a good idea in this climate!
I recommend to rent a private boat (+/- 1500 pesos and you can take up to four people.), because for a tour you already pay +/- 1700 pesos per person (lunch is included, but then it is still much more expensive)…
These boats depart from General Luna. I recommend buying some fruit and maybe even fresh fish at the local market. On the largest island (Daku Island) your lunch will be prepared for you at a small price. On Guyam Island you can buy hamburgers, but usually you start your day tour with this small island and at eight o’clock in the morning you might not yet feel like eating a hamburger… On Naked Island you can not buy or cook food.
Maasin Bridge Palm Tree Swing
“Sir, look there!” – If the friendly locals had not shown me this place, I would have driven past it every time. Right next to the red Maasin Bridge (twenty minutes from General Luna) is a somewhat unusual tourist attraction of the Philippines.
One of the palm trees has grown into a very strange shape. This giant aged very crookedly over the water and then suddenly straightened its trunk to get all of the sunlight for itself. The children who live in this place turned the palm tree into an original toy and attached a sort of stepladder at the top. After a difficult climb on the trunk you have to jump and, like a real trapeze artist, swing across the river.
I clearly have a lot to learn when I look at the local children! They effortlessly climb into the tree and show off their tricks. Sometimes they even jump on the trapeze with two at a time, while a third person jumps into the water while doing some complicated backflip. Cirque du Soleil in the Philippines!
Maasin Palm Tree overlook
If you explore the island on your own, then you’ll probably get to this place one time or another. After a sharp bend you suddenly get overwhelmed by an endless wall of palm trees. On the side of this steep path lies only a deep abyss, so you get an unobstructed view over the natural beauty of this island. Earlier on I already told you that Siargao is mostly untouched by humans, and this definitely proves that statement. If you don’t mind getting up early, I recommend looking at a sunrise here: magical!
Probably this is the most chill place on the island. Beginning surfers or experts all come together to show off their skills on the amazing waves while curious tourists watch the sports enthusiasts from their hammocks or resorts. This is also the best place to take surf lessons in the Philippines. That can be done for about 500 pesos per hour. Don’t forget to also visit the famous ‘Cloud 9 Pier’ (50 pesos). From this structure you get very nice views of the surfers and during a sunset this is certainly one of the best spots on the island.
Explore the mangroves in the north
The south of Siargao is much more ‘developed’ than the north. In the north you’ll find heaps of untouched nature. Vast mangrove forests often grow along the beautiful beaches. Some of these beaches can be visited on foot, but you can also rent a boat to sail past these strange and mysterious plants.
Drive your scooter along the endless roads
One of the best things to do in Siargao is to rent a scooter. For 350 to 500 pesos per day you can explore the beautiful landscapes of this island on your own. The roads never get boring! The concrete or dirt lanes meander through forests strewn with palm trees or you race right next to one of the paradise beaches. When the sun sets, the whole island turns pink and that again creates breathtaking views! During your drives, always pay attention to cats, dogs and playing children (and falling coconuts!), because they often block the road.
You find many small villages on the island and most of them are located along the street side (or between the palm tree forests). Pilar is one of those small and charming villages, but instead of the typical huts you also find pile dwellings that seem to almost fall into the river. In the water, under these ramshackle houses, you often see children playing. Feel free to say hello! They’ll proudly show their catch of the day too, because these little rascals are often great spearfishers.
Magpupunko Rock Pools
The Magpupunko Rock Pools are one of Siargao’s best-known things to see. When the seawater drains away at low tide, some deep pools appear along the rocky beaches of Magpupunko. In these craters, clear water remains in which locals and tourists relax until the flood scares them off again. Don’t forget to bring flip-flops or sea shoes, because the rocky ground sometimes hurts to walk on. The first pool is clearly the most popular, because everyone seems to wait around here. Feel free to go on exploring! Because there are many other puddles a little further down, and there is usually no one to interfere with your valuable me-time.
Shake Cafe Smoothie Bowls
This cafe specializes in healthy treats. Delicious and freshly squeezed juices that are decorated with flowers, granola or fruit and served in a coconut. The location (Cloud 9) of this café is also ideal to take some pictures which will make your friends and family jealous!
Discover the pristine beaches
One of the reasons why this is one of the best places to go in the Philippines is because there are dozens of beaches and almost all of them are supercalifragilisticexpialidociously beautiful. Pacifico Beach, Doot Beach and the beach of Magpupungko are among my personal favorites but there are also many unnamed places that you might discover accidentally which are also worth looking for.
The pearly white or yellowish beaches that are flooded with hundreds of shades of blue in combination with the dense forests of palm trees I find really beautiful. Seldom did I see so much untouched nature as on this island.
Siargao is known as the surfing capital of the country. Personally, I don’t know a lot about surfing, but it became very clear to me here that the waves are perfect to glide through with a surfboard!
There are many places where you can learn to surf and if that doesn’t interest you, it’s also fun to watch the surfers. I must admit that it is quite impressive to see people balancing on these high waves so skillfully.
Go party in the coolest way ever
Locals and tourists know how to party here! Every day -yes, even on weekdays- parties are organized in General Luna. The nice thing about them is the concept: there is only one party a day, but it is spread out over different bars. The pre-pre party starts somewhere and lures the first party-goers in, then the next pre-party follows until about midnight and afterwards the real party breaks loose in the last location until about three or four in the morning. The nice thing about this is that you always get to know new places, but also that you often meet the same people and can easily make new friends.
What to do in Palawan?
According to many people, Palawan is one of the most beautiful destinations in the Philippines. The north of this huge island is often frequented by tourists. From here you can explore many breathtaking tourist attractions and even some of the top places to visit in the Philippines. Paradise beaches, rocky islands or tropical jungles; the diversity here is enormous!
Palawan is one of the best places to travel to in the Philippines. Clearly! Because here you find some of the most beautiful beaches of the Philippines (and I would even dare say in the world!). Well-known and popular beaches include Nacpan Beach, Sabang Beach, Seven Commandos Beach and Las Cabanas Beach, but I advise you not to just stick to these. Personally, I thought the most beautiful beaches of Palawan were the ones that were visited least by the general public. And especially the small beaches that you visit during the island hopping tours.
The most paradisiacal (and often completely deserted) beaches, I encountered during my multi-day island excursion. You can read more about that here.
Island hopping tours
From Palawan you can book several daily excursions to the small surrounding islands. Each of these trips visits different islands, so you always get to see new things. According to most people, the ‘A’ and ‘C’ tours are the best ones, but if you want to see more, you can also book the ‘B’ and ‘D’ tour.
From El Nido you’ll have to get to your boat by getting into the water (provide a watertight bag!) with another ten to twenty passengers. You’ll be shown around quite some of the most beautiful places in the Philippines during this day trip, but it never felt too rushed for me. I actually didn’t expect it, but there is a lot of variety here! The heavenly islands are interspersed with razor-sharp rock islands that in turn make way for beautiful freshwater and saltwater lakes in the most beautiful colors of blue that I have ever seen.
Explore uninhabited islands on a multi-day excursion
If you prefer to escape the hustle and bustle of these tours full with fellow tourists, you can also book a multi-day tour from El Nido to Coron (or the other way around). For two to five days, you are joined by an adventurous group of travelers while daily setting sail to the most beautiful islands of the Philippines. Don’t get me wrong, during the day-tour island hopping excursions you can see great things, but now you get to see even more amazing islands and without any other tourists! The toilets and showers are very basic -and there is no internet at all- but the delicious food in combination with the stunning landscapes certainly makes up for that. Are you wondering if such a multi-day tour is something for you? Then be sure to read my own experience in this blog post.
Whether you have a diving license or just want to see the colorful underwater world of the Philippines for the first time: Palawan is the perfect place to hop into the water! In El Nido there are numerous diving schools offering daily diving trips. The corals and fish are very colorful and I guarantee you that this is one of the most fun things to do in the Philippines.
Explore an underground river with a boat
Around Palawan you can find many limestone islands. A super cool experience is to view the inside of such an island with a boat trip from Puerto Princessa. The spectacular caves are even listed as a UNESCO World Heritage site, so you can be sure that this is one of the best places to go in the Philippines. Along the way you’ll not only see stalagmites and stalactites, but also other strange constructions of Mother Nature. If you look closely, you might even spot some bats or other animals that live in the dark.
What to do in Coron?
Coron itself isn’t such a fantastic location, but everything you can do around it definitely makes up for that! The tiny islands that surround Coron are treasured with natural highlights. Powdery and snow-white sand, transparent blue oceans and colorful fish also guarantee that the area around this island a popular location for divers.
Island hopping tours
You can also book various island excursions in Coron. The day tours here are organized similar (but the groups seem a bit bigger), and here too, all sights are incredibly impressive.
According to some, Coron has some of the most beautiful dive sites in the world. I think that definitely is true, because the coral reefs and fish that live here still look very good and healthy! Even if you have no experience with diving, I recommend trying it here anyway. During a snorkeling session you’ll get a taste of the beautiful underwater world, but compared to diving it really isn’t that great.
In Coron it’s not only the underwater nature that is breathtaking. Several ships have sunk (intentionally or unintentionally) in this region, and they can now be visited by adventurous divers. Corals, mosses and algae have already seized most parts of these boats, and that really creates a very special view. Fish also find good shelters here, so it also is an excellent viewing spot for exotic underwater creatures.
During some island hopping tours you can also snorkel above a few sunken boats, but with limited oxygen it’s usually very difficult to see them well.
Stay overnight on uninhabited islands
I already mentioned it before, but if you want to see some of the best places to go in the Phillipines, you must organize an overnight tour in between Palawan and Coron. With a big Filipino boat, you set sail into the blue ocean for two to five days. During your adventure, you’ll get to see some of the most beautiful beaches and azure blue oceans of this country. Do you want to see more photos or read about my own experience? Then make sure to read this blog post too.
DO NOT swim with whale sharks in Oslob
Above, I already gave you some inspiration on the best things to do in the Philippines. Unfortunately there are also tourist attractions that you better avoid.
The Philippines, no matter how beautiful it is and how nice the people are, still remains a developing country. This means that ethics aren’t always given much importance.
For many adventurers, it is a dream to swim with whale sharks in the Philippines. Although you can certainly do this in this country, I recommend avoiding Oslob. Even though the whale sharks are not swimming in captivity here, they are lured with food. As a result, the animals have become completely dependent on the local fishermen and seem to have forgotten their natural instincts. Because of this, they often swim too close to boats and therefore get wounded and sometimes even die because of this. Even worse, however, is that they no longer participate in their natural migration patterns, which means that this endangered animal species can reproduce even less.
Another problem is that many tourists do not care about how they treat the animals. Ill-mannered visitors do everything to get the perfect selfie with a whale shark at the expense of the health and lifespan of the animal (stress, scars because of flippers, …).
If you too think these animals should be treated with respect, then you should go swim with whale sharks in the Philippines in Donsol, Dumaguete and Pintuyan. Here you can ethically snorkel with these friendly giants. Moreover, there are also far fewer tourists and that means that you can swim with the animals much longer and thus also make much better photos.
Travel to the Philippines
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Hi, I'm Sam Van den Haute. The last three years I've been traveling the world almost constantly. Heading out for an adventure and visiting the most beautiful places are what I love to do! Let me inspire you with great stories, beautiful pictures and handy tips from my adventures and travels. On my facebook page and instagram account you'll get to see the latest updates and photos to inspire you for your next vacation.