There are more than 7,000 reasons to visit the Philippines, with a coastal length twice as that of the United States. The Philippines boasts stunning and practically endless white sandy beaches and an underwater world which is no less spectacular. It also doesn’t hurt that six months out of a year, you will have nothing but sunshine and tan lines.
If you come for the culture and cuisine, you won’t be disappointed: There are that 300 years of Spanish occupation, pre-Hispanic trade with the Chinese, Sri-Vijayan escapees from the Malay peninsula, and aboriginal people keeping up with the demands of 21st-century living.
So if you are ready to call it a tropical holiday in a country of more than 7,000 islands, here are of the best and most beautiful places to visit in the Philippines…
1. El Nido – one of the most famously beautiful places to visit in the Philippines
This small beach town perched on the edge of Bacuit Bay in northern Palawan is famous for its more than 50 karst limestones rising vertiginously out of cerulean waters teeming with colourful corals and fish.
Named at various times by various agencies to be one of the most promising destinations in the world, El Nido, and the province it belongs to, is an ultimate beach lovers’ paradise without the suffocating forest of beachside hotels (yet) ruining the natural view.
Best explored on an island-hopping spree, El Nido islets and islands hide in their bosoms cavernous depths, sumptuous lagoons, uninhabited stretches of powder-fine, dazzling white-sand beaches, and wildlife not found anywhere else in the country.
An arduous ferry ride to the north and an equally long bus ride to the south bring the adventurous traveller to the emerald lakes of Coron and one of the New7Wonders of Nature, Puerto Princesa Underground River.
2. Boracay Island – one of the most stunning beauty spots in the world
This dog-bone shaped island epitomizes beach bumming and partying from sundown to sun up. Rightfully the beach capital of the Philippines, Boracay’s crown jewel is the 4-kilometre long White Beach whose powder-fine sands and sumptuous turquoise waters give the Caribbean a run for its money.
As the premiere tropical escape of the country, Boracay has everything you may expect from a major city – international cuisine, five-star hotels, and riotous, booze-induced nightlife.
If you’ve had enough of the madness, escape to Puka Beach to the north where solitude, swaying palms, and pounding surf will keep you company. Easily one of the most beautiful places to visit in the Philippines, if not the world!
3. Batan Island – one of the best places to visit in The Phillippines
Long-ignored by the lower mainland because of its remoteness, Batan and the smaller islands of Batanes burst into the scene when intrepid travelers crossed tempestuous seas far north and started bringing stories of unspoiled islands floating without care in the tumultuous South China Sea.
While amenities are being put into place to make Batanes up to speed, the largest –Batan Island – still beckons with verdant cliffs abruptly dropping to pounding surf below, rolling hills populated by grazing cows, pre-Hispanic settlements, squat stone houses, Spanish-era churches, and a promise of heaven on earth under the milky blanket of stars when power is out and cold beer is at hand.
4. Lake Pinatubo – the beautiful summit crater lake of Mount Pinatubo
Created in the aftermath of the 1991 earthquake which led to the eruption of the once dormant volcano of the same name.
Lake Pinatubo in the province of Zambales in the north-western Philippines has grown to become a destination of choice for weekend warriors escaping the discombobulating traffic and stifling heat of the capital, Metro Manila.
5. Siquijor – the pretty and mystical island to explore in the Philippines
In Filipino folklore, Siquijor enchants with its mystic traditions and equally enchanting native, albeit raw, beauty.
A small island floating between central and southern Philippines, Siquijor was once the stronghold of Catholic missionaries in the region best exemplified by well-preserved 300-year-old churches and a convent, a national treasure and said to be the largest in the archipelago.
6. Sagada – the unique destination to explore in The Philippines
This landlocked town in the aptly named Mountain Province of north-central Philippines is a storehouse of Ifugao culture which remains alive and well to this day.
Coffins hanging by the cliff-side and unbelievably sculpted rice terraces are as natural scenery as the verdant karst mountains spread out on your feet.
Sagada, due to its high-altitude location, opens you up into the world of freezing nights and misty mornings while the rest of the country is parched with sweltering heat.
7. Daraga – a great place to visit and explore in the Phillippines
This rural town of 115,000 people in southeast Luzon (Northern Philippines) offers a beautiful introduction to the greater Bicol Region, with the perfect cone of Mayon – derived from a local word meaning “beautiful” – volcano in the background.
Daraga is a highly agricultural town gradually urbanizing to accommodate the influx of visitors.
Despite the hustle of downtown Daraga, there’s a very rural life going on in the rice paddies at the foot of the mountains.
8. Vigan – the best-
preserved example of a Spanish colonial town in Asia
No other place in the Philippines has held on to their colonial past on a city-wide scale as unfailingly as Vigan.
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Vigan, in the Ilocos Region of north-eastern Philippines, beckons the history and architecture aficionado with narrow, cobblestone streets, Baroque churches, and well-preserved Spanish-era mansions which transport visitors to that era when time flies as fast as the speed of the horse-drawn “kalesa.”
9. Apo Island – a volcanic island that offers one of the best diving and snorkeling in the country
Apo Island was once a sleepy fishing village far off the well-trodden tourist path. Today, this small island at the foot of Negros is an eco-tourism haven that continues to subsist on marginal fishing outside of the dollars that come pouring in during summer.
Put your ocean-going game face on, and leave your worries behind (don’t forget to bring back your trash to the mainland).
10. Davao City – a popular place to visit in The Philippines
The transport, commercial, economic and educational hub of southern Philippines, Davao is a delightful mix of “colorful life, wildlife and city life.”
Here, you have a city ruled with an iron fist, which means petty thievery is next to non-existent, clean streets are the norm, and the comforts of civilization – shopping malls, WiFi connection, cafes, universities – are all within arm’s reach.
Davao is an expatriates favorite because it is a liveable city within close distance to a wealth of satellite attractions and cultural heritage that the Spanish conquistadores did not manage to subsume.
Join the throng of Kadayawan Festival and witness the “lumad” (indigenous peoples) in their traditional thanksgiving celebrations as they beseech divine guidance and express their gratitude with a bountiful harvest and native dancing at the foot of the Philippine’s highest peak, Mount Apo.
11. Banaue Rice Terraces – a gorgeous beauty spot to visit in the Phillippines
Not only are these rice terraces beautiful to look at but they are also more than 2000 years old, having been farmed and developed by the area’s indigenous people.
If you view the terraces from the higher elevations, they are nothing short of stunning and they give the locals great farming space as well.
Surrounded by lush greenery and a fantastic landscape, the Banaue rice terraces are not the only rice fields in the area but they are certainly the most prominent and well known. They are definitely worth a trip to this area of the country.
12. Batad – a pretty traditional village located near the rice terraces
Located in Luzon near the famous Banaue rice terraces is another location that you won’t want to miss. A very mountainous region, Batad offers not just great views of the rice fields but also enjoy a gorgeous waterfall and some of the most extraordinary views you’ve ever seen.
If you want an even better view, make sure that you trek to one of the mountain tops so that you can see everything, which includes lush greenery, hiking trails, and the Tappiya Falls, which many people choose to swim and relax in before leaving the area.
13. Chocolate Hills – an amazing and unique place to visit in the Phillippines
Located on the Bohol Province and named for the color they become during the wet and dry seasons, Chocolate Hills consist of more than 1000 hills and are also home to the adorable Tarsiers, which are the world’s tiniest primates.
At one point, the hills closely resemble the Hershey Kiss chocolates that people are so familiar with.
Regardless of what color they are when you visit them, this is a beautiful area of the country that offers lots of color and greenery and provides a gorgeous landscape for you to enjoy while you’re there.
14. Coron – one of the most stunning places in the country
The municipality known as Coron boasts crystal-clear waters, sandy white beaches, and some of the most beautiful landscapes you’ve ever seen. Included in the town is the Kayangan Lake, which has the distinction of being the cleanest lake in the entire country; if you visit Coron, you won’t want to miss it.
Best of all, you can take a group tour so that you don’t miss any of the lagoons and islands in the area, since this is one town that always offers something for everyone.
With just one trip there, you’ll understand why this is one of the most beautiful places to visit in the Philippines.
15. Hinatuan Enchanted River – a flawless saltwater river that flows into the Pacific Ocean
Although a saltwater river, its water is crystal clear and it is one of the most beautiful bodies of water you’ll ever experience. Found in the province of Surigao del Sur, the deep blues and greens found there make it an extraordinary and truly enchanting place to visit.
It is also believed to be visited by engkanto, which are fairies and nature spirits who protect it and bring it good luck. But if you visit the river, you don’t have to spend time figuring out why the water looks so amazing; instead, you can simply enjoy the beauty of it all.
16. Intramuros – Old-world Intramuros is home to Spanish-era landmarks
Intramuros is a great town to visit if you want to see the country’s past mixed in with the present. Not only is the architecture amazing, but you can walk along cobblestone streets and enjoy all types of preserved ruins, which are perfect for the history buff in all of us.
You can take advantage of either the walking tour or just explore yourself. This is a walled city located within Metro Manila, and it is said to have played a part in the history of the country when it was occupied by Spain.
17. Mount Mayon – an active volcano in southeastern Luzon, Philippines
Located in Albay Province, Mount Mayon is the most active volcano in the country and is famous because it projects perfect symmetry and an iconic look. It stands at a regal 8200-plus feet high and can be seen even from miles away.
The perfect conical shape is truly something to see because most volcanoes are irregular in shape. If you decide to hike in the area, you can see the volcano up close, which is truly spectacular.
Regardless of how close you are, you’ll be amazed by this beautiful volcano and the town that surrounds it, giving it an eye-catching look.
18. Mount Pulag – Luzon’s highest peak
Located in Luzon, this is an overlooked area but one that you won’t want to miss if you love great mountain views, lots of greenery, and fresh mountain air.
At more than 7800 feet above sea level, Mount Pulag offers beautiful scenic views the entire time that you’re climbing up or down.
If you visit there at sunset or sunrise, it is even more extraordinary. At one point, you’ll be literally in the clouds and the mountain’s breathtaking views will never cease to amaze you, regardless of how many times you visit it.
19. Sangat Island – a paradise-like island offering fantastic diving
Sangat Island is a mere 20 minutes from the town of Coron and offers crystal-blue waters, lush mangroves, lots of beautiful greenery, majestic limestone cliffs, and even coconut palms that dot the beautiful sandy coast.
In fact, if you want to feel as if you are in paradise, this is the place to be.
You can enjoy the area on a speedboat or jet ski, or simply relax and swim in the beautiful water. Although often overlooked, this is an incredible part of the Philippines that is well worth the trip.
20. Tubbataha Reefs – home to a great diversity of marine life
These reefs are located on the southeastern part of the island near the Sulu Sea and consist of thousands of acres of coral reefs, not to mention sharks, dolphins, whales, and all types of fish.
The natural park associated with the reefs is one of the best marine reserves and dive sites in the world, and their diving season runs from mid-March to mid-June. You do have to take a boat to get to these reefs and the park, so you might want to keep that in mind when planning a trip to this area of the country.
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Michael Cowley – writer and photographer
Ever since he was knee-high to a grasshopper Michael has always had an affinity for adventure. Growing up he was lucky enough to live in a handful of exotic far flung locations including Hong Kong, Pakistan, Kenya and Tanzania and since then he’s continued seeking out new places and cultures. In his spare time he explores everywhere from the sizzling street markets in Bangkok to random back alleys in Sri Lanka and everything in between! He also has a special fondness for Cohibas, trying all kinds of street food, playing carrom with random strangers, and fine wine – he knows his clarets from his chiantis. He counts Cuba, Amsterdam, Indonesia, Goa, Cambodia and Italy as his favourite destinations. Find Michael on Instagram or Twitter.