12 Best Places to Visit in the Philippines
The Philippines is a destination that is easy to visit multiple times due to its more than 7,000 islands. The most difficult decision you make as a traveler, is figuring out which island to visit first. The Philippines is divided into the three main island groups of Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao, representing different regions in the country.
The scenery in each region of the Philippines ranges from mountainous and tropical to metropolitan. You can enjoy a day of walking the historical colonial streets of the capital city of Manila or catch a rare glimpse of tiny tarsier monkeys at a private sanctuary on the island of Bohol. The steep, plush mountains provide unforgettable hiking experiences, and since you are surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, the scuba diving opportunities and beaches are some of the best in the world.
There is a reason that Boracay Island is considered the beach capital of the Philippines because there are more than 12 beaches. This tiny island in the west Visayas region is ideal for beach-goers who are after simple relaxation in the sun or water activities. White Beach, on the west side of the island, is one of the most popular beaches, with a lively reputation. Puka Shell Beach is on the tip of the island and is a favorite spot for shell collectors. Cagban Beach is a quiet spot with nearby caves that are rumored to still contain treasure chests. Diniwid Beach is a tiny beach at the north end of White Beach that has the best view of the island from a platform rock located there. This island is known for its many resorts, so finding a place to stay is easy. For a panoramic view of the island, take a day trip to Mount Luho, its highest point.
The island of Bohol in the Philippines’ central Visayas region runs at a slower pace, and it’s a destination that showcases the country’s natural beauty. One of the most unique natural wonders on the island is the Chocolate Hills in Carmen. This UNESCO-protected site is a collection of 1,200 geological formations that turn brown in the dry season, resembling a landscape of chocolate candy kisses. Bohol is home to a family-owned sanctuary for the tiny Tarsier primate, known for its large engaging eyes. For a small fee, you can take an intimate walk through the grounds and stand inches away from the small nocturnal mammal. The showcase of Bohol is the beach.
The island of Cebu, in the central Visayas region, is considered the port to some of the best diving and snorkeling in the Philippines. If you are an underwater enthusiast, Cebu is one of your best options for excursions that get you up-close to whale sharks, coral reefs, and sea turtles. Some of the most spectacular scenery from the water near Cebu are the sea caves that attract photographers and outdoor enthusiasts looking for unique diving and snorkeling sites. The Sudlon National Park, located approximately an hour from Cebu City, is a breathtaking park to explore and hike. While Cebu’s greatest draw is its water, Cebu City is a metropolitan area, with tourist attractions like museums and cathedrals that will interest history buffs.
The rice terraces of Banaue are one of the most striking things to see in the Philippines. The emerald-green terraces are an agricultural wonder in this area. Your most impressive view of the terraces is at sunrise, when clouds and fog lift off the mountain to reveal the intricate landscape of the terraces. The Batad Rice Terraces and the Bangaan Rice Terraces are protected UNESCO World Heritage sites. For a deeper taste of this region, take a stroll through the Banaue Ethnic Village or the Hiwang Village to mingle with the indigenous people who farm the rice terraces.
The historical city of Vigan in the northern Philippines is one of the most charming towns to visit in the Luzon region. Its culture is a fusion of Chinese and Spanish influences originating from settlers to the area. Take a ride in a horse-drawn kalesa through the streets and admire the colonial architecture, courtesy of the Spanish who colonized the area in the 18th century. Vigan is a city with many nuances to explore. The best view of the area is from the Bantay Bell Tower, which is also a noted landmark in the area. The Calle Crisologo historic district is a walkable district, where you will encounter many local craftsman and see historical architecture. A visit to the St. Paul Metropolitan Cathedral is breathtaking and a perfect spot to sit and people-watch as you take in the local culture.
The Philippines capital of Manila, on the island of Luzon, is a bustling city with non-stop activity. Hop on board one of the colorful jeepneys, the main form of public transportation, to get a taste of local life. Usually over-packed with locals, the bumpy ride through the streets on the iconic and kitschy jeep/bus hybrid vehicles will be one of the highlights of your visit. Plan stops to the main park in the city, Rizal Park, and the historical San Agustin Church that was built in the 16th century. Buy local fruits and handmade gifts at the public market at Quiapo Church, where you are likely to see several thousand people show up on Fridays for worship.
7. Davao City
For a city scene outside of Manila, head to Davao City, which has a large metropolitan area. Davao City is the main city in the southern Philippine region of Mindanao. Despite its malls and large population, Davao City features many natural elements, including the Eden Nature Park, Philippine Eagle Center, and the Davao Baywalk near the sea. One of the must-visit spots in Davao City is Mount Apo, the highest mountain in the Philippines. Davao City is a prime location for shopping as there are several large malls, including Abreeza Mall and SM Lanang Premier Mall. For a peek into Davao City history and culture, the tiny Davao Museum of History and Ethnography is worth a visit.
One of the most unique experiences you can have in the Philippines is in the northern tribal region in Sagada. Nestled in the rugged and remote Cordillera Mountains are tribes that embrace the occasional visitor. This area is a paradise for the advanced outdoor enthusiast. The steep mountains and high elevation enhance the thrill and skill level required for outdoor adventure. One of the must-sees in this region are the hanging coffins that hide deep in the mountains. It is best to connect with a local guide to take you to this incredible site because this is not a tourist area, but rather an authentic tribal region hiding an experience worthy of bragging rights. Hiking is popular in Sagada, particularly to Mount Ampaco, which has the highest peak in the region or through Echo Valley, which has steep and rugged terrain.
9. Coron Island
One of the top diving destinations in the world, Coron Island is a tropical paradise, with electric blue and green water that almost seems unreal. The mountainous island sits on the tip of the Palawan island region, the western-most section of islands in the Philippines. The island is popular for diving because of the numerous wrecks here. Many of the preserved shipwrecks are located in depths ranging from shallow water at just three meters to deep water at 42 meters. Some of the wrecks require more than one dive to explore due to their size, but you can easily spend a week diving in this area. For non-shipwreck diving, check out Barracuda Lake, a former volcano with many unusual rock formations and fish.
Baguio is a city tucked away in a mountainous region on Luzon Island. Though it is a city, Baguio is intimate and reminiscent of a cottage-type environment. Baguio is called the City of Pines for the rich pine forests and cooler temperatures that surround it. You can explore one of the many hiking and biking trails or take in a round of golf at one of the resorts in the area. Baguio is unique to other destinations in the Philippines because the city is surrounded by trees and not water. Parks like Mines View and Burnham let you enjoy some of the flora and fauna that are special to this region. Be sure to spend some time along Session Road, which is the main drag through Baguio, where you can take in a slice of local life.
11. Puerto Princesa
The rock islands, caves, and natural parks of Palawan Island are the hidden paradise of the Philippines. The coastal city of Puerto Princesa is where you should base yourself in order to explore some of these natural gems of the country. The Subterranean River National Park is a great first stop to see a five-mile underground river and impressive limestone caves. The UNESCO World Heritage site has boat tours that take you through the national park. Other must-see spots in Puerto Princesa are Honda Bay, which is popular for snorkeling, and Ugong Rock, where you can try ziplining and caving.
On Samal Island, also called Garden City of Samal, hiking, diving, and kayaking are a way of life. One of the top things to do on Samal Island, besides relaxing at the beach, is visit the Monfort Bat Sanctuary, which is home to millions of bats in the caves. An enjoyable day trip away from the beach is to Hagimit Falls, where you can walk on the nature trails and cool off in one of the pools below the tropical waterfalls. Samal Island is a short distance away from Davao City, which makes a great change of pace when you want a more metropolitan scene or a broader range of dining.