I don’t know about you, but my ideal vacation takes the form of picture-perfect beaches, a tropical setting, long warm days and plenty of time to relax (cocktails are essential, of course). Unfortunately for me, this type of holiday is pretty popular and while I really wish I had the cash to spend on a two-week luxury vacay in Bora Bora, I uh, I don’t – #SadLife. But, you guys, you don’t need to be a millionaire to have an amazing island getaway, in fact, the Philippines is actually an incredible destination for just that kind of escape and offer plenty of fantastic options for us mere mortals. If you’ve ever thought about visiting the Philippines but have been unsure of where to go or just need some inspiration to plan your next island adventure, here are my tips on discovering the Philippines most idyllic island destinations AND a few hidden gems!
Palawan is one of the most popular places in the country, but there are definitely a few tricks you can use to avoid the crowds and still enjoy it to the fullest. You can’t afford to miss Puerto Princesa and El-Nido, of course, but there are also many smaller islands worth exploring too. Puerto Princesa is close to the Underground River National Park, while El-Nido is full of breathtaking beaches and lagoons. One thing you could do is book a resort at one of the smaller islands and take tours from there, using it as your base.
If you want to experience a different side of Palawan, visit Coron instead. This area is much less developed and you won’t encounter quite as many tourists. Coron is known as one of the best dive sites in the world, primarily thanks to some spectacular wreck diving spots.
- Private resorts are your best option for secluded beaches, but keep in mind they can be costly. Minoloc and Pamalican islands are two of the best and resorts here will cost you at least $500 a night!
- If you decide to visit Coron, you won’t need a car. Instead, hire a Bangka and travel by water. It’s a much nicer way of travelling and allows you to stop by some smaller islands on your way there.
- Some agencies offer bundle deals and packages which can make visiting Palawan easier and cheaper, like this El Nido Honeymoon Package. So romance. Very love.
I already wrote about this amazing island when I first visited and totally fell in love with the place! It’s really no surprise to hear it was named best beach in the world, which meant it became an even bigger tourist attraction. The White Beach area is where all the tourists flock, but it still maintains its beauty and special charm and is well-worth visiting. The area is full of high-end resorts, bars and activities so it’s a great spot to spend your vacation.
Other beaches you’ll find in Boracay, such as Puka and Bulabog, might be a little less spectacular than White Beach but are still stunning and well-worth visiting. Thanks to the fact Boracay is so small, getting there from your hotel shouldn’t be any trouble at all.
- Boracay’s luxury resorts can be cheaper than their Palawan counterparts so, if you’re looking for a VIP experience on a beautiful island, this might be the place to try instead
- If you rent a room in Bulabog, you’ll only be 20 minutes or so from White Beach, worth keeping in mind when accommodation hunting. Resorts here are a little more budget-friendly.
- Bulabog is also one of the best kitesurfing sites in the world!
Although Cebu is the 2nd largest city in the Philippines, most tourists never bother going there. While the city itself isn’t exactly a tropical island dream, with top attractions being the shopping malls, it’s a gateway to endless beautiful locations and, if you dig a little deeper, offers a few wonders waiting to be discovered.
Two great islands located in the Cebu province are Malapascua and Moalboal. These are both diving destinations – small beach towns with a handful of dive resorts. At Malapascua you can dive with sharks, while Moalboal offers you the chance to do the ‘Sardine Run‘. Both islands have beautiful empty beaches, so they are perfect for those in search of peace.
- Spend at least a day in the city itself. There are a few historical monuments and religious sites which are worth a visit. Most recommended is the Taoist temple and the Metropolitan Cathedral.
- Mactan island is just 30 minutes drive from the city, and it’s where the airport is located. The island is full of high-end resorts and is the launch site for many island hopping tours.
- Kawasan falls and Ösmena Peak are also very close to the city and make for a great day tour. The Falls, in particular, is one of the most impressive in the Philippines, and a perfect adventure for families.
Bohol is actually even more popular than Palawan, but there are far fewer tourists here. The airport at Tagbilaran serves as a direct line from Seoul, so many Asia-based tourists come here for weekend getaways. They typically concentrate around the area called Panglao and Alona beach, which is very similar to Boracay’s White beach.
Panglao is a good spot to stay, but try to avoid Alona beach if you can. There are plenty of smaller beaches which are just as nice and less crowded. Bohol is one of the best islands for nature lovers, so don’t spend all your time in the tourist-oriented areas. Two recommended activities are hiking in the chocolate hills and visiting the Tarsier sanctuary. Doing so will allow you to get a full taste of Bohol’s unique landscape and wildlife.
Camiguin Island is also very close to Bohol, just a short ferry ride away. This volcanic island is more of an ‘off the beaten track’ experience, but perfectly safe. You can relax on its black sand beaches or try many of the adventures the island has to offer.
- The Tarsier is the world’s smallest primate and an endangered species. Make sure to visit the sanctuary and not a zoo, so you can support the preservation efforts.
- Balicasag island is one of the best snorkelling spots in the Philippines and most resorts in Panglao can help you arrange an island hopping tour.
- Bohol is one of the most child-friendly provinces in the Philippines – good hotels and a huge selection of activities are perfectly combined here.
Siargao Island was a well-kept secret for many years, serving mainly as a surfing destination. It attracted surfers from all over the world, who sought great beaches and a laid back atmosphere. With beaches compared to those of Boracay and scenery closely resembling Palawan, it’s no wonder the idyllic island destination has become more popular in recent years.
Now is your best chance to visit this wonderful island before it gets too crowded. It’s quite easy to reach by ferry but there’s also a new airport too. Hotels here are decent but not amazing, with the main attraction being the wonderful beaches and the ability to experience nature in its purest form.
Top attractions worth trying include diving, hiking and a vibrant nightlife scene. However, no trip to Siargao can be complete without at least giving surfing a quick try. The island’s surfing scene is extremely well developed, and there are plenty of dedicated resorts who offer lessons.
- Consider getting off the island and onto the mainland for some really great hiking sites. You’ll find waterfalls, mountains and caves are scattered all over!
- Surf resorts and clubs not only offer equipment and lessons, but also the option of joining a group. This could be a really fun experience and a chance to meet some new people.
- Cloud 9 beach is the main surfing spot and a constant feature in the world’s best surfing spots type of lists. Just keep in mind, it’s a spot best tackled by experienced surfers.
Like many parts of Asia, the Philippines is a great place to wing-it or ‘just see what happens’ with your travel plans. That said, if you’re travelling for a special occasion, like a birthday, anniversary or honeymoon, you may want to consider getting some help to plan your vacation in the Philippines. Hopefully, this has given you some useful ideas on how to travel the Philippines a bit differently and added a few new spots to your travel bucket list! It’s very easy to include all the popular destinations in your itinerary and still have a few experiences away from the crowds too.
Useful travel resources for your trip to the Philippines
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Agoda – one of our go-to sites for booking hotels
Skyscanner – our go-to for booking flights
RentalCars.com – a great search engine for renting a car
Booking.com – another of our go-to sites for booking hotels
TourRadar – a great search engine for booking tours
Uber – our go-to ground transport option