The Philippines is doubtless one of the most beautiful places on Earth. Encompassing as many as 7,641 islands, this sun-kissed tropical paradise has it all, from pristine emerald isles, white sandy beaches, spectacular dive sites, magnificent mountains, lush rainforests, historic cities, to charming towns and provinces. If you have a mind to take a trip, and are wondering where to head to first, here are all the best places to visit in the Philippines.
NOTE: This is a fairly long and comprehensive article. For ease of reading experience, please use the Table of Contents to guide and help you navigate through the text.
The coastal village of Anilao lies along the southern end of Batangas, about a two-hour drive from the capital Manila. While the village itself is rather unremarkable, it is its underwater scenery and biodiversity that make it one of the best places to visit in the Philippines. The surrounding waters are teeming with marine life – among the richest anywhere in the globe – of which nudibranchs and rare fishes are especially numerous and diverse.
Anilao has gained international fame as one of the best dive destinations in the country, with many diving-dedicated resorts arrayed along its shores, and world-class competitions and workshops held every year. Indeed, its accessibility, wealth of marine life, and variety of diving environments – many of which are friendly to novice divers – have earned it the nickname The Birthplace of Scuba Diving in the Philippines.
Favorites among the abundance of dive sites in Anilao include Cathedral Rock, a roofless rock cavern akin to an underwater ampitheater. Originally barren, the area has been seeded with coral from elsewhere. Descending divers are met with swarms of angelfish, butterflyfish, damselfish, Moorish idols, parrotfish, and wrasses, among others.
Eagle Point has plenty of small reef fishes, sponges, nudibranchs, and crinoids. Sepoc Wall is mantled with gorgonian sea fans and other soft corals. Basura, teeming with frogfish, ghost pipefish, Bobbit worms, harlequin shrimps, mimic octopuses, seahorses, cuttlefish, rare nudibranchs, and other aquatic critters, is an excellent spot for muck divers and underwater macrophotographers.
For those not into diving, Anilao is still worth a trip. Beach bums will find welcome at nearby Masasa Beach, which boasts of cream and beige sands and crystalline waters, and Sepoc Beach, a beautiful sandy shoreline hidden behind steep rock cliffs. Sombrero Island, a hat-shaped rocky islet fringed with light sands, presents the ideal destination for island-hopping enthusiasts.
Meanwhile, hikers and trekkers can head inland and ascend the popular hiking destination of Mount Gulugod-Baboy (local term for pig’s spine). Three peaks rise from this range, namely Pinagbanderahan, Gitna, and Gulugod-Baboy. Its summit, elevated 525 m (1,722 ft) ASL (above sea level), affords hikers a stunning view of the surrounding landscape and the nearby islands, and even a glimpse of the famed Taal Volcano in the distance.
2. Apo Island
PROVINCE: Negros Oriental
Apo Island lies off the southern coast of Negros Oriental, hemmed in on all sides by the Bohol Sea. The island and its surrounding waters are a world-renowned diving and snorkeling destination, and assuredly among the best places to visit in the Philippines.
The vastness of the marine habitat around Apo Island is staggering. It is home to over 650 documented species of fish, and around 400 of the 450 species of coral in the Philippines are found here, ranging from tiny bubble corals to massive gorgonian sea fans and brain corals. Sea turtles are particularly common. The aquatic environment around the island is rigorously protected by the local community.
Popular dive spots in the area include Largahan, where multitudes of macro life – nudibranchs, flatworms, frogfish, scorpionfish, clownfish, and eels, among others – are regularly sighted. Baluarte is home to sprawling hard and soft coral formations, and the diverse marine life here include numerous species of reef fishes, green turtles, and banded sea kraits.
Immense colonies of clownfish or anemonefish, nicknamed the Clownfish City, reside among the sweeping fields of anemones at the Marine Sanctuary and Protected Seascape, where diving is strictly regulated. For experienced divers who can manage strong currents, huge schools of jacks are often seen at Mamsa Point; while trevallies, mackerels, tunas, barracudas, anthias, snappers, and fusiliers are common sightings at Coconut Point.
Although the surrounding waters and the teeming marine life within are the main draw, Apo Island itself is equally appealing and certainly worth exploring. Its coasts are defined by massive boulders and remarkable rock formations, interspersed with rare strips of beautiful white sands. Trails through the vegetation lead to two vantage points – the island’s lofty and slender lighthouse, and a view deck on the island’s southern tip.
3. Apo Reef
PROVINCE: Occidental Mindoro
Off the western coast of Occidental Mindoro is the Apo Reef, the largest contiguous coral reef system in the Philippines and the second-largest in the world, next only to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. The reef and its surrounding waters are administered and protected as the Apo Reef Natural Park.
The Apo Reef is one of the best places to visit in the Philippines, especially for diving enthusiasts. After all, it ranks among the best known dive sites in the country, featuring crystalline waters, an incredibly high concentration of marine wildlife, and a variety of diving environments including steep walls and sheer drops.
Strong currents at the North Wall bring into the scene jacks, trevallies, tunas, gray and whitetip reef sharks, and other pelagic fish, even elusive hammerhead sharks, with occasional hawksbill turtles. Ego Wall is adorned with sea fans, sponges, and soft corals of diverse shapes and hues. Mabuti Wall, a favorite haunt of blacktip reef sharks and moray eels, also houses great numbers of Moorish idols, porcupinefish, and groupers. Hunter’s Rock is a mating spot for thousands of sea snakes.
On the outskirts of the reef is Shark Ridge, a sheer wall-drop covered in gorgonians and seething with masses of angelfish, hawkfish, damselfish, and surgeonfish. Whitetip reef sharks, jacks, tunas, and turtles are regular sightings here, with random visits from mantas, devil rays, and blacktip and gray reef sharks.
The Apo Reef is marked by three islands on the surface. The largest is Apo Island (not to be confused with Apo Island in Negros Oriental), which houses a permanent ranger base and the Apo Reef Light, a once-historic lighthouse now replaced with a modern 34 m- (110 ft-) tall tower. The island’s shoreline is of fine white sand, and here visitors may pitch their tents for an overnight stay.
The two other islands are Apo Menor, a rocky limestone islet on the western end of the reef, and Cayos del Bajo, a cluster of flat coralline rock formations on the east.
4. Bacolod City
PROVINCE: Negros Occidental
The City of Bacolod is a highly urbanized city along the northwestern coast of the province of Negros Occidental, of which it is the capital but is governed independent and separate from it. The second most populous city in the Visayas after Cebu City, Bacolod is the center of the Bacolod Metropolitan Area, which encompasses two neighboring cities – Talisay and Silay.
Bacolod ranks not only as one of the best places to visit in the Philippines, but among the best to live in. The city is beloved as the friendliest of all cities throughout the country, fondly called the City of Smiles for its warm, winsome, and welcoming people. Its cuisine, too, with its many flavors, is inviting to the palate, and boasts of fine local delicacies such as the piaya and the chicken inasal.
Bacolod is home to a number of spectacular festivals. The MassKara Festival is the city’s flagship, a week-long festivity held annually every third weekend of October nearest October 19, the city’s Charter Anniversary. This exuberant Carnival-like celebration is marked by vividly colorful masks and costumes, street dancing, and vibrant music.
The Panaad sa Negros Festival is a thanksgiving celebration held annually during the month of April. It is participated by the other cities and towns of the province of Negros Occidental.
Bacolod’s cityscape is dotted with remarkable landmarks and attractions. Among such notable sights is the Bacolod Public Plaza, which hosts the annual MassKara Festival. Set right in the heart of downtown Bacolod, the Plaza is adorned with fountains, statues, and a gazebo, and erected here are monuments including the Memorial for the Unknown Soldier, the Theodore C. Vinther Memorial and Marker, a tribute to the heroism of the eponymous American soldier during World War II, and the Monument for Fallen Journalists.
In the midst of the city is spread out the Capitol Park and Lagoon, a scenic provincial park encompassing the Negros Occidental Provincial Capitol. Fronting the Capitol is a wide manmade lagoon teeming with fishes, and lined with trimmed hedgerows, luxuriant trees, and paved walkways. Matching sculptures depicting a woman standing alongside a carabao (water buffalo), and a man pulling another carabao, are erected on the northern and southern end of the lagoon, respectively.
Negros Museum, a privately owned provincial museum, houses the artworks of local and foreign artists of Negros Occidental featuring the history, culture, and lifestyle of the province. Within the museum is the Negros Museum Café.
The city is also home to Art District, famed for its colorful street mural art and graffiti, and its art shops, galleries, restaurants, and cafés – the scene of a vibrant nightlife.
Bacolod’s northern neighbors – Talisay City and Silay City – are also well worth visiting. Talisay is visited foremost for The Ruins, the remains of a once-grand mansion set alight by its owners to prevent capture by Japanese forces during World War II. The manor’s stone skeleton has endured to this day, and is now sought as a popular tourist attraction. Trees, fountains, and resplendent flower gardens adorn the mansion’s spacious, grassy lawn.
Silay is dubbed as the Paris of Negros for its artists, cultural shows, and its array of perfectly preserved heritage houses, many of which have been declared by the National Historical Commission of the Philippines as part of the Silay National Historical Landmark. Of these grand ancestral homes, the most famed is Balay Negrense Museum.
Mount Patag in Silay cradles the North Negros Forest Reserve, featuring expansive camping grounds and several hiking trails through the jungle leading to hidden falls and cascades.
5. Baguio City
The City of Baguio is a chartered and highly urbanized city nestled in the Cordilleras, elevated some 1,540 m (5,050 ft) ASL. Its high elevation affords it a cool climate not unlike those of temperate countries, earning it the nickname Summer Capital of the Philippines. Its high elevation is also ideal for the growth of pine trees, which the city is especially famed for, thus its moniker City of Pines.
Won over by the city’s crisp mountain air – a stark contrast to the sweltering heat of the Philippine lowlands – the Americans established Baguio in 1900 as a hill station on what used to be a vast grazing land for cattle. The original lay of the city was planned by the illustrious American architect and urban planner Daniel Burnham.
Today, Baguio has grown into the most important city in Northern Luzon. It is a center of commerce and industry, and is hailed as the Educational Hub of the North owing to its prestigious universities with vast student populations.
Baguio is also a center of tourism, and the city is renowned as one of the very best places to visit in the Philippines for its cool climate, wealth of sights and attractions, and the rich ethnic history and culture of its indigenous inhabitants, the Igorots.
Visitors entering Baguio through the zigzagging Kennon Road, one of the four highways in and out of Baguio, are greeted by the famed Lion’s Head, a massive limestone boulder measuring 12 m (39 ft) high painstakingly carved in the likeness of a lion’s head.
Doubtless the most iconic tourist attraction in Baguio is Burnham Park. Officially the Burnham Park Reservation, this historic urban park is set in the middle of the city and was originally designed by Burnham himself, thus the park’s name. The Park’s main feature is Burnham Lake, an extensive manmade lagoon at the very center of the park where tourists can rent boats.
On Burnham Park’s northern portion lies the Igorot Garden, a small park dominated by statues representing the five main Igorot tribes – the Ibalois, Bontocs, Kalingas, Ifugaos, and the Kankanaeys.
The main entrance to Burnham Park is through the ornate iron gates at the northwestern end. Upon entering the gates, tourists pass through Rose Garden where the bust of the park’s namesake stands, surrounded by manicured gardens, fountains, and an amphitheater.
Situated on the Park’s western side is the Baguio Orchidarium, a garden where orchids are displayed and sold. To the east lies the Melvin Jones Grandstand, a venue for concerts, parades, and other activities, with the adjacent open field regularly hosting association football. Southeast is Children’s Park, and beyond it, the track and field stadium known as the Baguio Athletic Bowl.
Across Burnham Park’s eastern side extends the length of Session Road, the city’s most recognizable and principal thoroughfare. This inclined hillside street is lined on either side with numerous cafés, restaurants, shops, and various other commercial establishments.
Adjacent to Session Road is the Our Lady of the Atonement Cathedral, popularly known as the Baguio Cathedral. This early 20th century Roman Catholic church is famed for its unique rose-hued exterior, twin spires, and stained glass windows.
On Baguio’s eastern section is Teachers Camp, a sprawling pine-clad expanse of classrooms, dormitories, cottages, dining rooms, assembly halls, administrative offices, and an athletic oval built in 1908 to accommodate American and Filipino teachers. Now a tourist destination, visitors may rent the dormitories and cottages when teachers are not using the facilities. Ditto for the athletic oval.
Near Teacher’s Camp is the Baguio Botanical Garden, a natural park featuring pine trees, landscaped gardens, greenhouses, and nurseries. The Garden encompasses the Baguio Arts Guild Art Gallery, as well as statues commemorating the city’s friendly ties with several foreign cities, along with sculptures depicting Igorot tribesmen and replicas of traditional Cordilleran huts.
Northeast of the Botanical Garden lies the Mansion House, the summer residence of the Presidents of the Philippines. Initially built in 1908 to house the American Governors-General in the Philippines during their colonial reign, the Mansion is now a popular tourist attraction, visited for its Spanish Colonial Revival main building housing a museum of presidential memorabilia, and its massive gates of ornate ironwork.
Across the Mansion House is Wright Park, a tranquil promenade lined with pine trees with a long reflecting pool in its midst. A lengthy stairway leads to the back where paddocks of ponies available for hire are situated.
On the northeastern outskirts of Baguio is Mines View Park, featuring an Observation Deck overlooking the abandoned gold and copper mines of the town of Itogon, hence the park’s name. The park is well-known for its stunning views of the verdurous Cordillera mountains.
Camp John Hay, a former American military base now repurposed into a tourist destination, lies on the city’s southeastern fringes. Set within the vast expanse of pine forests and lush vegetation is the camp’s Historical Core, which encompasses the Bell House, a century-old structure, along with the similarly-aged Bell Amphitheater which hosts a gazebo encircled by multi-terraced flower gardens. Highlights of the camp’s history are featured on markers installed at the History Trail and Secret Garden. Nearby lies the Cemetery of Negativism, a symbolic burial site for negativism. The camp is replete with recreational activities, such as camping, nature trekking, and horseback riding.
At the city’s southern purlieus stands Fort Gregorio H. del Pilar, home to the Philippine Military Academy, the country’s premier military cadet training center. The Academy is sought for its expansive and elaborately-landscaped lawns and gardens adorned with vintage war vehicles and weaponry, and for a chance to glimpse the cadets conducting their drills.
Baguio, steeped in the ethnic history and culture of the Igorots, is hailed as a veritable sanctuary of folk arts and craft ranging from wood carving, weaving, to tattooing. Indeed, the city has been inscribed among UNESCO’s Creative Cities, the first Philippine city to bear the honor.
Throughout the city are museums and galleries showcasing the rich heritage and culture of the indigenous Cordillerans. The Baguio Museum holds artifacts, antiques, and archives that tell the history of the Cordilleras. Museo Kordilyera of the University of the Philippines Baguio, the first ethnographic museum in the country, houses a trove of items and informative displays highlighting the culture and tradition of the indigenous peoples in Cordillera and Northern Luzon. The Laperal Guesthouse, popularly known as Laperal White House, hosts the Ifugao Bamboo Carving Gallery, where Filipino artworks fashioned from bamboo are displayed. The art galleries and craft shops of Tam-awan Village contain exhibits of indigenous Cordilleran life, history, culture, and crafts.
Baguio is especially popular among tourists for its Panagbenga Festival, or Flower Festival, which is hosted yearly in celebration of the city’s abundance of flowers and its rich ethnic history and culture. The festival, the name of which is derived from the Kankanaey word meaning a season of blooming or a time of flowering, is celebrated throughout the month of February. A consistent and infallible tourist draw, the Panagbenga is marked by a number of festive activities leading up to the highly anticipated grand parades of dancers garbed in colorful and creative flower-inspired costumes, and massive and spectacular floats overlaid with flowers.
Palawan is long regarded as the Philippines’ Last Frontier. This archipelagic province, encompassing the long and narrow Palawan Island and the surrounding 1,780 islands and islets, holds some of the country’s most spectacular and sought-after sights. Indeed, Coron, El Nido, and Puerto Princesa, all in Palawan, consistently rank among the top tourist destinations in the Philippines.
But beyond these popular getaways, Palawan has more to offer. Numerous places in the province remain unexplored and uncharted, hiding veritable pockets of pristine and paradisiacal beauty. A case in point – Balabac.
The town of Balabac encompasses more than 30 islands and islets sprawled on the southwesternmost reaches of Palawan, including the eponymous Balabac Island. Excluding the Spratly Islands, Balabac is the westernmost point in the Philippines, nearer to Malaysia than Puerto Princesa, the capital city of Palawan.
Balabac’s remoteness and relative isolation have long been its chief means of preserving its incredibly scenic natural beauty. The islands are renowned for their astounding diversity of wildlife, notable among which is the pilandok or Philippine mouse-deer (Tragulus nigricans), which is found nowhere else in the world. The islands’ avian dwellers include the grey imperial pigeon (Ducula pickeringii), Philippine cockatoo (Cacatua haematuropygia), blue-headed racket-tail (Prioniturus platenae), and the Palawan hornbill (Anthracoceros marchei). The surrounding marine waters are home to dugongs (Dugong dugon), saltwater crocodiles, sea turtles, dolphins, sawfishes, and numerous other marine animals.
Apart from its endemic wildlife, Balabac boasts some of the finest beach and island destinations in the country, earning the town a spot among the very best places to visit in the Philippines. Most of the islands are fringed with ivory shores of soft, fine, and white sands, and the shallow waters in between are perfectly crystalline and of a most tempting turquoise hue.
The most sought-after beach in Balabac is Punta Sebaring in Bugsuk Island, an extremely lengthy strip of shoreline with sands that are utterly soft and fine to the touch, and glaringly bright and white. Punta Sebaring is regarded to be even more beautiful and breathtaking than White Beach in Boracay, and is considered by many to be the longest white sand beach in the Philippines.
Along sections of Bugsuk’s coastline are mangroves, while forests of coconut palms and other trees flourish inland. Monkeys sometimes caper and cavort on the shores, while mouse-deer occasionally venture forth from their woodland sanctuaries and into the sandy beach. On the island’s southern end protrudes the silver Queen Helen Sandbar, the third longest sandbar in the Philippines.
Onuk Island is a tiny island in the middle of the vast Roughton Reef, boasting an ivory beach with a swath of white sand extending towards the surrounding crystalline waters.
Camiaran Island is famed for its sandy shoreline tinged with a soft pinkish hue, hence its nickname Pink Island. Southwest of Byan Island is the milky Angela Sandbar, the fourth longest sandbar in the Philippines. Canabungan, Candaraman, Patawan, Patongong, Secam, Tangkahan, and most isles in Balabac also have white sandy beaches.
Aside from its silver shores, Sicsican Island is deemed as one of the best snorkeling spots in Balabac, along with Pulau Bato at the Nasubata Reef, a distinction not be taken lightly, since almost everywhere in Balabac is ideal for snorkeling.
The main island, Balabac, holds attractions of its own. The island houses the Cape Melville Lighthouse, a Spanish colonial era lighthouse built in 1892 and one of the oldest in the Philippines. Hikers and trekkers can take the trails towards Melville Peak, Malaking Ilog Peak, and Italawon Peak. Indalawan Beach is accessible from the town proper, while Indalawan Falls is further inland.
7. Bantayan Island
Across the Tañon Strait from the northwestern end of Cebu Island is Bantayan, a palm-covered island surrounded by the waters of the Visayan Sea. The island is known for its magnificent white sandy beaches that draw crowds of tourists both local and international.
Bantayan is a true tropical idyll. Numerous palms cover vast swaths of the island. Lucent waters of emerald and sapphire hues lap up softly against pristine shores of fine white sand. The summer sun holds a promise of endless balmy days. A calming and soothing aura suffuses the entire island, and the people are given to an unhurried and laidback lifestyle. Thusly, Bantayan is one of the best places to visit in the Philippines.
Despite being one of the top tourist draws in Cebu, the beaches of Bantayan are rarely crowded. On most days, the shores are fairly free of visitors, further adding to the island’s already irresistible appeal. There are a number of resorts around the island, many of which are clustered along the southeastern shoreline, and in the northwest. Among the island’s most popular beaches are Alice Beach, Kota Beach, Maribacan Beach, and Paradise Beach.
Beyond the beautiful sandy shores, there are plenty of other sights worth seeing in Bantayan. Visitors can dip in the refreshingly cold waters of a rock pool within Ogtong Cave. The Saint Peter and Paul Church, an ancient church wrought of stone, and the Kota Ruins, the remains of a once-mighty fortress, tell tales of the Spanish colonial era.
Mangrove forests flourish along the coasts, of which the most sought-after is the Obo-ob Mangrove Eco-Park. Numerous islets surround Bantayan, such as Virgin Island and Hilantagaan Island, affording ideal destinations for island-hopping enthusiasts.
8. Batanes Islands
Sprawled on the northernmost reaches of the Philippines, surrounded by foaming and furious waves, and swept on all sides by mighty winds are some of the Philippines’ most beautiful islands – Batanes.
Though ten islands form the province of Batanes, only the three largest – Batan, Itbayat, and Sabtang – are inhabited, and these by the indigenous Ivatans. The provincial capital, the town of Basco, lies on the main island of Batan.
Batanes is beyond doubt one of the very best places to visit in the Philippines. Exceedingly scenic natural landscapes and impressive manmade structures render these northerly isles picturesque at every turn.
Northeast of Basco in Batan stands the majestic Mount Iraya, the northernmost active volcano in the Philippines and the highest point in Batanes. Mountaineers who gain its 1,009 m- (3,310 ft-) high summit are rewarded with an unrivaled view of the entirety and beauty of Batanes.
West of Basco are the Vayang Rolling Hills, the most renowned and the most recognizable image of Batanes. Vayang is a dramatic landscape of verdant, grass-clad hills extending in gentle undulations, and ending in steep cliffs beneath which foam and froth the waves of the sea. From here, the three major islands can be viewed all at once.
South of Vayang are the Naidi Hills, upon which is built the 20 m- (66 ft-) tall Basco Lighthouse. The raised hills, which were once the settlement of ancient Ivatans, and the lighthouse, serve as superior vantage points.
The rocky shores of Chadpidan and Chanpan (popularly known as Valugan) lie to the northwest and southeast of Basco, respectively. Both beaches are strewn with boulders and gravel disgorged by Iraya in its ancient eruptions, which were then smoothed and polished over time by the waves of the surrounding seas.
Along the southeastern coast of Batan, overlooking the Pacific is Rakuh a Payaman, a beautiful landscape akin to Vayang. This so-called Marlboro Country is a vast expanse of gently rolling wind-swept and grass-clad hills ending in sheer cliffs towering over the sea.
On the western coast of Batan is Maydangeb Beach, or simply White Beach, a secluded cove with a white sandy shore ringed by lofty rock cliffs. On one side of the cove stands an immense boulder, beyond which is hidden the stunning Homoron Blue Lagoon, a concealed pool of calm, clear, and mesmerizingly blue waters.
Northwest of Batan is the larger Itbayat Island. Along its eastern coast lies the primeval Turungan Cave, the most ancient dwelling of the ancestors of the Ivatans who first settled here some 4,000 years ago. Above the cave are the Turungan Hills, the burial grounds of the cave’s earliest settlers.
Along Itbayat’s northeastern coast rises Rapang Cliff, a mighty wall of towering cliffs and rocky hills rising above the verdure and overlooking the Pacific. Here lies the Stone Bell, a bell-shaped rock lying atop a flat rock, which, when struck with yet another rock, creates a sound not unlike that of a bell.
Southwest of Batan is the smaller Sabtang Island, known for its Morong Beach, a pristine cove with a white sandy beach, upon which stands the remarkable rock formation of Nakabuang Stone Arch.
Also in Sabtang are Chavayan and Savidug, picturesque villages encompassing the traditional stone houses of the Ivatans.
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Benguet is a landlocked highland province cradling the southern end of the Cordilleras – the long and lofty mountain range arrayed along Northern Luzon. Accordingly, Benguet is home to numerous mountains, among which are some of the highest peaks in the Philippines, and enjoys a pleasantly cool climate owing to its high elevation.
Benguet is one of the best places to visit in the Philippines, highly sought-after for its crisp climate, scenic natural beauty, and the rich culture and heritage of its indigenous people, the Igorots.
La Trinidad, the capital town of Benguet, is renowned as the Strawberry Fields of the Philippines for its strawberry plantations, particularly the La Trinidad Strawberry Farm; and the Rose Capital of the Philippines for its remarkable rose gardens, especially those of Barangay (village) Bahong. Though most of the towns in Benguet cultivate vast vegetable farms – thus earning the province the title Salad Bowl of the Philippines – the hub of vegetable trading is in La Trinidad because of the La Trinidad Vegetable Trading Post.
La Trinidad is home to the Valley of Colors, officially known as the STOBOSA Hillside Homes Artwork, featuring hillside houses within the sitios of Stonehill, Botiwtiw, and Sadjap of Barangay Balili painted with colorful abstract designs.
Two popular hiking destinations in La Trinidad are Mount Kalugong, with its limestone formations and picnic grounds; and Mount Yangbew, with its scenic grassland summit.
The town of Atok is famed for Adevonan Falls, a majestic 27 m- (89 ft-) high cascade; Mount Timbak (2,717 m or 8,914 ft ASL), the third highest peak in Luzon and the ninth highest in the Philippines; the Naguey Rice Terraces along the Amburayan River; and the Northern Blossom Flower Farm, a colorful flower garden and plant nursery backdropped by Mount Pulag.
The town of Bakun holds the Bakun Trio – Mount Kabunyan (1,788 m or 5,866 ft ASL), Mount Patullok or Lubo (2,087 m or 6,847 ft ASL), and Mount Tenglawan (1,943 m or 6,375 ft ASL) – as well as several waterfalls and caves.
Chief attraction in the town of Bokod is Ambuklao Dam, one of the most important hydroelectric facilities in Luzon. The town of Buguias is renowned as the home of the mummy of the revered folk hero Apo Anno.
The mining town of Itogon houses Binga Dam, and the two popular hiking destinations Mount Ugo (2,150 m or 7,054 ft ASL) and Mount Ulap, (1,846 m or 6,056 ft ASL).
In the town of Kabayan, where the borders of Benguet, Ifugao, and Nueva Vizcaya meet rises Mount Pulag, at a height of 2,922 m (9,587 ft) the tallest peak in Luzon and the third tallest in the Philippines. Numerous mountaineers seek Pulag for its frosty climate, pine-clad trails, and the otherworldly views of the “sea of clouds” and the Milky Way at dawn at its grassy summit.
Mount Tabayoc (2,842 m or 9,324 ft ASL), the second highest mountain in Luzon and the seventh highest in the Philippines, is also in Kabayan. Along Tabayoc’s feet lie four magnificent lakes – Lake Ambulalakao, Lake Incolos, Lake Letep-Ngapos, and Lake Tabeo.
The Kabayan Mummy Burial Caves, which house centuries-old mummies, are Natural Cultural Treasures of the Philippines.
The town of Kapangan features the Bdasi pine forests; Bulalakao Cave; the Cantampan Rice Terraces; and several waterfalls such Badi Falls and Pey-og Falls. The Palina Rice Terraces is in the town of Kibungan. Mada-ew Falls cascades in the mining town of Mankayan, while the town of Sablan boasts of Mount Dakes, Asal Falls, Sabdang Falls, and Towing Falls. The towns of Tuba and Tublay are sought for their hot springs.
10. Boracay Island
Off the northwestern coast of Panay is the island paradise of Boracay, a veritable tropical Eden bounded by magnificent shores of soft white sand and ringed by crystalline waters of turquoise, aquamarine, and cerulean hues.
Boracay’s fame is legendary. As the country’s premier beach destination and top tourist draw, it is ranked not only among the best places to visit in the Philippines, but in the world as well. It has been lavished with copious awards and accolades by numerous travel publications and agencies, not to mention the praise of everyone who has ever been to the island.
Multitudes of tourists from around the world are drawn to this fine patch of tropical beauty each year. Beach bums, sun worshippers, scuba divers and snorkelers, sailors, windsurfers and kiteboarders, and all manner of people who seek sun, sand, and sea find home and happiness here.
Though a tiny island no more than 7 km (4.4 mi) long and less than 1 km (0.6 mi) wide at its narrowest spot, Boracay boasts of some 17 spectacular beaches arrayed along its coasts.
On its southern shoreline runs Cagban Beach and Manoc-Manoc Beach, and between the beaches is the Cagban Jetty Port, the entry and exit point of Boracay.
West of the island extends White Beach, a 4 km- (2.5 mi-) stretch of extremely fine and soft sand dazzlingly white and bright. Along the beach groves of coconut palms grow tall and lithesome beneath the summer sun, their vast and verdant fronds swaying softly in the gentle sea-breeze. Further out to sea, numerous paraw sailboats of beautiful designs and diverse colors glide gracefully through the silken waters.
White Beach is Boracay’s main tourism beach, housing numerous hotels, resorts, restaurants, and various other shops. The lengthy beach is divided into three sections: Station 1, Station 2, and Station 3.
Station 1, the northernmost, has the widest and most developed beachfront, and is lined with prime hotels and resorts. Station 2, encompassing the central portion of the beach, is the center of activity in Boracay, with the greatest crowds and the most number of shops. Southerly Station 3 is the least developed, but makes up for it with peace and quiet, and lower prices.
North of White Beach are Diniwid Beach, Balinghai Beach, Punta-bunga Beach, and Banyugan Beach.
East of Boracay, across White Beach is Bulabog Beach, the second most popular beach in the island. Nearly 1.5 km (0.9 mi) long, the beach also boasts of fine white sands and crystal clear waters. Bulabog is protected from strong seas by a coral reef 500 m (1,640 ft) offshore, and during the dry season, the Amihan wind turns the beach into an excellent windsurfing and kiteboarding spot. Indeed, Bulabog is hailed as the top kiteboarding beach in Asia.
North of Bulabog are Lapuz-Lapuz Beach and Ilig-Iligan Beach, while to its south are Tulubhan Beach and Tambisaan Beach.
On Boracay’s northern end lies Puka Beach, a restful expanse of ivory sands and azure waters with very few people. Locals seek and comb the beach for puka shells, which they gather and craft into ornaments and trinkets.
Apart from being a premier beach draw, the island is also renowned as one of the best diving destinations in the Philippines, featuring a number of spectacular dives sites.
Yapak 1 and Yapak 2 are separate walls descending from a depth of 30 to 70 m (98 to 230 ft). Barracudas, stingrays, white tip and gray reef sharks, dogtooth tunas, groupers, Napoleon wrasses, and giant trevallies are par for the course here, with odd appearances from the rare Mola mola. The wall at Hinugtan is clad with gorgonian sea fans and soft and hard corals. All about are schools of jacks and shoals of groupers, along with snappers, angelfish, and triggerfish.
Tulubhan Reef, with its shallow depths, mild currents, and relaxed atmosphere, is an excellent site for novices. Its brilliant coral gardens are alive with colorful marine life, including butterflyfish, parrotfish, moray eels, sea snakes, cuttlefish, sea cucumbers, and feather stars. Angol Point is another choice spot for beginners, with vivid coral formations and numerous colorful reef dwellers. A wealth of macro life makes this site a favorite for underwater macrophotography.
- The Best Reasons to Visit the Philippines
- The Most Beautiful Beach Destinations in the Philippines
- The Top Dive Sites in the Philippines
Bukidnon is a landlocked province in Mindanao, occupying a wide plateau encompassing vast grasslands, pine forests, rolling hills, and towering mountains. The name of the province means highlander or mountain dweller, a reference to its high elevation of 915 m (3,002 ft) ASL. Owing to its elevation, Bukidnon enjoys a rather cool climate, with temperatures of 16 to 31 °C (61 to 88 °F) throughout the year.
Bukidnon is not for tourists seeking skyscrapers, bright lights, urban crowds, and fast-paced living. Instead, the province is best suited for those who want to delight in the beauty of Nature and enjoy a laidback lifestyle. Far removed from the chaos of the metropolis and endowed with a wealth of scenic natural wonders, Bukidnon offers a travel destination truly worth including among the best places to visit in the Philippines.
Bukidnon cradles the Kitanglad Mountain Range, one of the last few rainforests in the Philippines and home to diverse species of rare and endemic wildlife. The range encompasses some of the tallest peaks in the country, including Mount Dulang-Dulang, (2,938 m or 9,639 ft ASL), Mount Kitanglad (2,899 m or 9,511 ft ASL), Mount Kalatungan (2,860 m or 9,383 ft ASL), and Mount Maagnaw (2,742 m or 8,996 ft ASL), the third, fourth, sixth, and eighth highest mountain in the Philippines, respectively. Accordingly, Bukidnon is a haven for mountaineers.
Northeast of the province is the town of Impasugong, the Home of the Country’s Finest Cowboys. The town boasts of a 642-hectare communal ranch encompassing wide fields and pasturelands. Tourists can explore the ranch on horseback and learn the basics of cowboying from the resident cowboys.
Impasugong is also home to the Center for Ecological Development and Recreation (CEDAR), a protected reforestation area dubbed as An Eco-tourism Site in the Heart of Bukidnon. The CEDAR covers manmade and natural forests, plantations, rivers, and five waterfalls, of which the most accessible are magnificent Gantungan Falls, mysterious Natigbasan Falls, and majestic Dila Falls. Visitors can explore the area either on foot or on horseback.
Southwest of Impasugong is the town of Sumilao, where Alalum Falls, a mighty cataract thundering 45 m- (148 ft-) high, and the Mapaso Spring, a natural hot spring accessible via a lengthy hike, are both located.
Also found in Sumilao are several caves, including Sumalsag Cave, an extensive cave network housing massive chambers, stalactites, stalagmites, and rimstones; Lagundang Cave, a little-known cave featuring a 69 m- (225 ft-) deep entrance, fascinating rock formations, and an internal waterfall and pond; and Basag Cave, within which are eight waterfalls.
South of Impasugong and east of Sumilao is Malaybalay City, the capital of Bukidnon. Dubbed as the South Summer Capital of the Philippines, the city boasts of numerous tourist attractions. The pyramid-shaped Monastery of the Transfiguration, home to Benedictine monks, offers a place of meditation for anyone seeking peace and quiet. The blue waters of the Nasuli Spring are deep enough for diving, while the Matin-ao Spring is shallow enough for children to swim in. Mount Capistrano is sought by trekkers and hikers. The pinewoods of Pines View Park are a favorite camping site, while many other parks also cater to tourists.
In Valencia City in the midst of Bukidnon lies Lake Apo, a 24-hectare, 26 m- (85 ft-) deep crater lake with emerald waters. The lake, elevated about 640 m (2,100 ft) ASL, is ringed by verdant hills, and upon its surface bamboo cottages idly float. Also in Valencia is Kasanayan Cave, which houses huge stalactites and an internal river.
12. Cagayan de Oro
PROVINCE: Misamis Oriental
Cagayan de Oro is a highly urbanized city sprawled along the northern coasts of Mindanao. Although regarded as the geographic capital of the province of Misamis Oriental, Cagayan de Oro is a chartered city and is thus governed independent from the province. It is a center of commerce and industry, considered Mindanao’s most important city after Davao.
Cagayan de Oro is swiftly evolving into one of Mindanao’s premier tourist destinations, and among the best places to visit in the Philippines overall. The city is earning local and global fame as the Whitewater Rafting Capital of the Philippines, the only city in the country to offer whitewater rafting year-round. After all, the city is home to the Cagayan de Oro River, a mighty waterway noted for its torrential waters, numerous rapids, and remarkable rock formations. The river’s depth, flow, incline, and boulder-riddled course make it highly ideal for whitewater rafting, as well as kayaking.
The city is also known for its admirable collection of urban and natural parks. Among the more popular metropolitan parks is Plaza Divisoria, otherwise known as Golden Friendship Park. It was built in the early 1900s as a town divider, or a divisoria, meant to be a fire breach in the wake of a massive conflagration that nearly reduced the town to ashes. This lengthy downtown park encompasses five islands and hosts the monuments of the heroes Jose Rizal and Andres Bonifacio, along with other local heroes.
At night, the Plaza becomes a massive shopping area as the streets are closed to traffic, and numerous vendors peddling delicacies and various wares set up kiosks, stalls, and stands.
Gaston Park was once the site of the first Spanish settlement in the province, and served as the main plaza during the Spanish colonial period. Today, the park is a favorite haunt of locals, especially during weekends.
Vicente de Lara Park, fronting the Misamis Oriental Provincial Capitol, is famed for its promenades lined with monuments and mahogany trees, and is a popular jogging area in the morning.
Plaza de Los Heroes is a memorial park dedicated to the heroes of the Three Battles of Cagayan de Oro during the Philippine-American War, marked by a black granite memorial shrine.
The MacArthur Memorial Marker, located at the edge of Cagayan de Oro Port, is a shrine dedicated to the legendary World War II American hero Douglas MacArthur. The memorial is a giant white peaked cap held aloft by five posts carved as golden stars – after the general’s rank.
The Gardens of Malasag Eco-Tourism Village, nestled within a reforested area, is home to replicas of tribal houses erected amidst a lush and verdant environ.
Mapawa Nature Park encompasses a mountainous and forested landscape replete with magnificent waterfalls, swift springs, and diverse flora and fauna. An array of activities catered towards visitors include nature trekking, horseback riding, biking, and ziplining.
Macahambus Cave, ensconced within the Macahambus Forest Nature Reserve, is sought by hikers for its scenic paths and trails that lead to a veranda overlooking the Cagayan de Oro River. The cave is a historic site. It was here that the Kagay-anons, the natives of Cagayan de Oro, fought and won the Battle of Macahambus Hill against the Americans on June 4, 1900. It was the first of the few battles won by the Filipinos against the Americans during the Philippine-American War.
A short distance from the cave is a doline referred to as the Macahambus Gorge. A natural park known as Macahambus Adventure Park offers stunning views of the gorge, as well as thrilling activities such as rappelling and ziplining.
13. Calaguas Islands
PROVINCE: Camarines Norte
The paradisiac islands of Calaguas lie on the verge of the Philippine Sea, a two hour-long boat ride from the eastern shore of Camarines Norte. The surreal beauty of the islands was once a secret known only to the most adventurous of souls. But these days, there is nothing hidden that cannot be disclosed. Once considered as an off-the-beaten path destination, Calaguas has since then climbed up high on the list of the best places to visit in the Philippines.
The beachscapes of Calaguas are exactly every beach lover’s dream, seemingly lifted straight from the pages of a travel magazine. The foremost beach is found on Tinaga Island, one of the two main islands in Calaguas. Here Mahabang Buhangin (local term for long beach or long sand), a lengthy strip of white sandy shoreline dotted by rocks on either end, stretches for nearly 3 km (1.86 mi). True to its name, the beach is long and vast, affording visitors ample space and freedom to do as they wish.
Mahabang Buhangin fronts waters of irresistible turquoise and cerulean hues, inviting swimmers for an invigorating dip. Tall palms abound along the coast, behind which gradually rises a rolling landscape of verdant hills and knolls, affording an excellent vantage point to witness the full beauty of Tinaga and even the nearby isles. On the other side of the hills lies sprawled the fishing village of Mangkawayan.
Opposite Tinaga is its sister island Balagbag, which is fringed with a beach of dark sands and crushed corals. Green hills rise behind the beach, offering trekkers the perfect spot to view the full beauty of Mahabang Buhangin on neighboring Tinaga.
Beyond Tinaga, the other isles of Calaguas beckon to eager island-hopping enthusiasts. There are numerous sights to see and explore in Guintinua Island (the other main island in Calaguas) and in the numerous viridescent islets spread across the azure sea, ranging from remarkable rock formations to stunning beaches.
The influx of tourists has so far not ruined the pristine beauty of Calaguas. Save for a number of resorts that have cropped up along the coasts, the islands remain relatively unspoiled. The local community, as well as tourists, have been urged to safeguard the well-being of Calaguas.
The island province of Camiguin lies between Bohol and Mindanao, encompassing Camiguin Island and two islets – White Island and Mantigue Island. Though Camiguin is the second smallest province in both land area and population, after Batanes, it holds an important distinction as one of the best places to visit in the Philippines. Travelers visiting Camiguin are feted with a rich display of scenic natural spectacles and historical treasures.
A volcanic island, Camiguin is composed of four stratovolcanoes. Mount Hibok-Hibok, the northernmost, is the only volcano in the island with historical eruptions. Elevated 1,330 m (4,370 ft) ASL, Hibok-Hibok is comprised of several flank domes, of which the best known is Mount Vulcan, ironically dubbed as the Old Volcano despite being the youngest volcano in the island.
Mount Timpoong, the largest volcano, is comprised of several domes, the two tallest of which are Timpoong Peak, at 1,614 m (5,294 ft) the highest point in Camiguin, and Mambajao Peak, at 1,568 m (5,143 ft) the second highest point in the island.
Both Hibok-Hibok and Timpoong are part of the Timpoong and Hibok-Hibok Natural Monument, the island’s only remaining rainforest, home to an important watershed and most of the island’s endemic wildlife.
The two other volcanoes are Mount Butay, also known as Mount Uhay, and the 571 m- (1,872 ft-) tall Mount Guinsiliban, the southernmost volcano in Camiguin.
Camiguin is known for its numerous volcanic springs. Beneath Hibok-Hibok are the mineral pools fed by the Ardent Hot Spring. With a temperature of 40 °C (104 °F), the steaming waters are ideal for soothing bodily aches and strains.
The cool and bubbly spring waters of the Bura Soda Water Swimming Pool, the only soda water pool in the Philippines, is said to taste similar to soda water, or so the locals claim.
The Santo Niño Cold Spring flows from Mount Mambajao and into wide pools made for swimming and bathing. The Macao Cold Spring fills a forest pool with crystalline sapphire waters. The Tangub Hot Spring, a volcanic hot spring welling from the sea bed, can be explored by snorkelers and scuba divers.
Besides springs, the island is also home to Katibawasan Falls, a cataract roaring from 76 m (250 ft) high, and Tuasan Falls, a shorter but no less-grand waterfall. The manmade lake known as Tanguines Lagoon is ideal for fishing.
Camiguin’s historical attractions date back to the Spanish colonial era. Three of these have been declared Natural Cultural Treasures of the Philippines, including the Old Guiob Church Ruins in the town of Catarman which were destroyed by Mount Vulcan’s eruptive birth; Catarman’s old cemetery that was buried beneath the sea by the same eruption, now commemorated as the Sunken Cemetery of Catarman and marked with a giant cross; and the Watchtower of Guinsiliban, the most important watchtower in the island during the Spanish rule.
Additionally, Camiguin has numerous Important Cultural Properties, such as the Old Mambajao Fountain, a unique Spanish-era fountain; the Old Mambajao Municipal Building, a well-preserved Spanish-era government building; the facade of the Santo Rosario Church; and 14 heritage and ancestral houses.
The two islets off Camiguin’s coasts are also attractions in their own right. White Island, an uninhabited islet off the northern shore of Camiguin, is backdropped by Hibok Hibok and Vulcan, and sought for its white sandy shores and crystalline waters ideal for swimming and snorkeling.
Mantigue Island, also known as Magsaysay Island, lies off the eastern coast of Camiguin. The islet has a white sandy beach, an evergreen forest, a fishing village, and snorkeling and diving spots.
PROVINCE: Camarines Sur
Hemmed in on one side by the vast expanse of the Philippine Sea, and on the other by lofty forest-clad mountains, the coastal town of Caramoan and its nearby isles are a true paradise and certainly deserves a spot on the list of the best places to visit in the Philippines. This tropical idyll is renowned for its surreal natural beauty – sublime, pristine, and suffused with an aura of peace and serenity.
All along its mainland coast are majestic shores of fine ivory sand lined with coconut palms. The white sand beaches offer the perfect spots to relax, unwind, get a lovely tan, or indulge in a game of beach volleyball, among others. Gota Beach and Paniman Beach are the foremost beaches on the mainland, serving as jumping-off points for island-hopping.
Though the mainland has stunning sights of its own, it is the array of islands within reach that are more sought after by sightseers. The surrounding green isles of Caramoan seem like brilliant jewels scattered across a sapphire board, awaiting eager explorers.
Among the best known islands within Caramoan is Katanawan (Catanhawan), a small rocky islet lined with a sandy beach. A sandbar links the islet to a sheer and lofty grass-clad hill, where sightseers can clamber up the rocks all the way to the summit to gain a panoramic view of the surrounding islands.
Lahos (Lahus) is another of the more frequented islands. Its name is derived from the local word for vanish, in reference to its white sand beach which is submerged – thus vanishing – during high tide. The beach is squeezed between two massive and identical rocks. The island has good spots for snorkeling and diving.
Cagbalinad Island is known for its stunning beach and striking rock formations, and is considered an excellent spot for snorkeling. Manlawi Island also has a white sandy beach, while the island of Sabitang-Laya boasts not one, but two long beaches.
Matukad Island is noted for its remarkably sheer rock cliffs, of which the tallest is heavily sought-after by cliff-jumping enthusiasts. Nestled among the cliffs is Matukad Lagoon, a hidden lake said to be the dwelling of a legendary bangus, or milkfish, of tremendous size.
The pebble beach on Malarad Island is formed from bleached-white gravel and corals. Also on the island is Tayak Lake, a concealed saltwater lagoon with clear turquoise waters.
Beyond beach combing and island-hopping, more adventures await visitors back on the mainland. Spelunkers must not miss Umang (Omang) Cave, a massive naturally-lighted cavern bedecked with remarkable speleothems; Kulapnit (Culapnit) Cave, home to numerous bats; and Bulang-Bugang Cave, an underwater cave accessible only through a small opening at the bottom of a huge rock formation.
For waterfall-chasers, Layahan Falls and Hugsad Falls can be reached via lengthy treks. Meanwhile, ascending the five hundred steps to Mount Caglago’s summit yields a gigantic statue of the Our Lady of Holy Rosary Mother of Peace and an uninterrupted view of Caramoan. Also worth visiting is the St. Michael the Archangel Parish, a brick church established by Franciscan missionaries in 1619.
16. Cebu City
The City of Cebu is a highly urbanized city on the eastern coast of the island province of Cebu. Though the city functions as the seat of government of the province, it is administered independent from it. Cebu City is the center of Metro Cebu – the country’s second biggest metropolitan area after Metro Manila, encompassing Cebu City itself and many neighboring cities and towns. The city is the political, economic, educational, and cultural hub of the Visayas, thus its nickname Queen City of the South.
Cebu is the oldest city in the country, harking back to the 16th century when the Spanish conquistadores founded it as their first settlement in the Philippines, and subsequently the first capital of the archipelago. It was here that the Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan planted the Cross of Christianity in the name of Spain in 1521.
Indeed, amidst the vast urban sprawl stand enduring reminders of its Spanish colonial past. Magellan’s Cross, the very cross that Magellan himself planted, is now Cebu City’s most renowned landmark. The cross is housed in a chapel built within the heart of the city.
Not far from Magellan’s Cross is the Basilica Minore del Santo Niño (Church of the Holy Child), the first Roman Catholic church founded in the Philippines. Built in 1565, the venerable church is wrought of stone and houses the country’s oldest relic – a statuette of the Santo Niño de Cebú (Holy Child of Cebu), the very icon presented by Magellan to Juana, wife of the then native ruler of Cebu Rajah Humabon, during the couple’s baptism on April 14, 1521.
Calle Colon, named after Cristóbal Colón (Christopher Columbus) is the country’s oldest national road, and was once the town’s main thoroughfare during the Spanish regime. In its heyday during the American era, the street was the town’s commercial center, lined with shops, offices, and other buildings. Today, however, the historic street is no more than a downtown shopping area.
Fort San Pedro is a triangular Spanish stone fortress built in 1738 to repel Moro raiders. Part of the fort has been repurposed into a museum showcasing well-preserved artifacts from the Spanish era.
Fronting the fort is a plaza that harks back to bygone Spanish years. The plaza changed names several times during the Spanish and American colonial eras, before finally being named Plaza Independencia, the name it bears today, as a symbol of the province’s and the country’s independence from foreign rule. The renovated park features centuries-old trees, statues, and landscaped gardens.
More modern attractions in the city, apart from its numerous hotels, malls, casinos, and resorts, include the recently constructed Temple of Leah, so-called the Taj Mahal of Cebu, a vast and sprawling shrine of ancient Roman architecture. Commissioned by Teodorico Soriano Adarna to honor his late wife Leah Albino-Adarna, the grand shrine houses an immense bronze statue of Leah, as well as chambers containing her personal collections.
Though itself a tourist destination, and indeed one of the best places to visit in the Philippines, Cebu City is best known as the gateway to the rest of Cebu Island, its satellite isles, and the surrounding Visayan provinces, all of which offer spectacular beach and island experiences.
The city is also famed for its Sinulog Festival, a yearly feast celebrated every third Sunday of January to honor the province’s patron saint, the Santo Niño. The Sinulog is one of the greatest, grandest, and most popular festivals in the Philippines, drawing millions of visitors each time. The celebration is marked with solemn religious rituals alongside street dance parades, pageants, and parties, among other festive activities.
17. Chocolate Hills
The Chocolate Hills is the main draw in the island province of Bohol, and one of the best places to visit in the Philippines. It is a most curious geological formation, a rolling landscape of hundreds of hills shaped akin to haycocks rising above the surrounding plains and extending as far as the eye can see.
The hills are largely of a symmetrical conical or dome-shape, each seemingly an absolute copy of the other. Most of the hills stand anywhere from 30 m (98 ft) to 50 m (164 ft) high, while the tallest measures 120 m (394 ft) in height.
The hills are sprawled over an area some 50 km (31 mi) wide; most are spread throughout the towns of Batuan, Carmen, and Sagbayan, while a few others are found in the towns of Bilar, Siera Bullones, and Valencia. Exactly how many of these dome-shaped hills there are is disputed, though figures range anywhere from 1,268 to 1,776.
The base of each hill is ringed with trees, but the dome is bare, save for a cladding of cogon grass and a scattering of ferns. It is this grass overlay that lends color to the hills. During the rainy season, the grass flourishes green, affording the hills a verdant hue. But at the onset of the summer, the grass withers to a shade of brown, causing the hills to resemble an assortment of chocolate bonbons and thus earning the hills their delightful name.
The hills are not meant to be scaled individually. Rather, these must be viewed from decks especially designed to afford a commanding outlook of the entire landscape. Two of these decks have been built, one in the town of Carmen and the other in Sagbayan. From these observation decks, the uninterrupted view of the Chocolate Hills is absolutely as delightful as its name makes it out to be.
Contrary to its name, the hills are not actually made of chocolate or any kind of confection for that matter. Rather, the hills are karsts, or limestone formations.
While there is no one definite explanation as to the origin of the hills, the consensus among the scientific community is that the hills are marine limestone uplifted above sea level and subjected to weathering and erosion by rainfall and groundwater throughout a long period of time.
In recognition of its exceptional beauty and scientific significance, among others, the Chocolate Hills has been declared as a National Geological Monument, the third of such monuments in the Philippines.
- The Best Reasons to Visit the Philippines
- The Most Amazing Places to Visit in the Philippines – PART 1
Palawan, the Philippines’ Last Frontier, is home to a world of wonders, a paradise pure and pristine it echoes the ancientry of the Earth. On its northern reaches is Coron, a living embodiment of the natural beauty of the archipelagic province. Coron stands as one of the best places to visit in the Philippines, and among the most spectacular beach and island destinations in the world.
The town of Coron encompasses the eastern half of Busuanga Island, all of Coron Island, and about 50 surrounding islets that form part of the Calamianes, the archipelago that separates the West Philippine Sea from the Sulu Sea.
The town proper, the Población, flourishes on the southern coast of Busuanga, along sheltered bays and inlets. On the northern outskirts of the Población rises the 210 m- (689 ft-) tall Mount Tapyas, the second highest point in Coron. A 700-step concrete stairway wounds its way to the grassy summit, where hikers are afforded a panoramic view of Coron.
Amidst a mangrove forest within reach of the Población flow the Maquinit Hot Springs, one of a handful of natural saltwater springs in the world. The springs’ heated waters stream into rough-hewn stone pools where visitors can ease bodily aches and strains.
Off the southeastern shore of Busuanga lies the dive site Siete Pecados, the name of which is Spanish for seven sins. The site is so named because the seven rocky outcrops rising above the cerulean waters are rumored to mark the spots where seven children who went swimming against their mother’s wishes drowned. Its ominous name, however, belies its wondrous beauty – no other dive site in Coron holds a wealth of marine life as diverse and colorful as that in Siete Pecados!
South of Busuanga is Coron Island (not to be confused with the namesake town), a rugged island walled with karst cliffs and crags and ringed with gentle ivory shores. Along its northwestern coast lies the spectacular white sandy Banol Beach.
Nestled within the cliffs of Coron Island are several majestic lakes, only two of which are accessible to tourists. The first is Kayangan Lake, a resplendent brackish lake ringed by towering limestone cliffs overhung by dense vegetation. With crystalline turquoise waters affording visibility to depths of 10 m (33 ft), Kayangan is renowned as the cleanest and clearest lake in the Philippines and elsewhere in Asia. The lake is home to multicolored fishes and other marine life.
Alongside Kayangan lies its twin, Luluyuan Lake, separated only by a long ridge. Luluyuan is better known as Barracuda Lake, after the brackish lake’s fearsome dwellers. Besides barracudas, Luluyuan is home to various other marine life. It is among the most unusual and remarkable dive sites in the Philippines, housing fascinating underwater features and formations, including haloclines and thermoclines.
Coron Island is also known for the enchanting Twin Lagoons, a pair of magnificent lagoons separated by a towering karst wall. The first and the larger lagoon leads to a smaller and secluded lagoon through a small hole upon the karst wall.
Coron Bay, off the western coast of Coron Island, has gained international fame as one of the best diving destinations in the world for its trove of well-preserved wrecks of Japanese Imperial Navy ships that were sunk by the U.S. Navy in 1944.
The World War II-wrecks, which remain mostly intact, include the Akitsushima Maru, Irako Maru, Kogyo Maru, Kyokuzan Maru, Nanshin Maru, Okikawa Maru, Olympia Maru, Terukaze Maru (hitherto the East Tangat Gunboat), and the Lusong Gunboat.
Amidst the submerged metal ruins, marine life pulses in rich and colorful profusion. Soft and hard corals mantle the sunken decks and hulls, while vivid fishes and other marine creatures carry out a glorious display of resplendent scales, fins, shells, and skins.
On the southernmost reaches of Coron lie three popular island-hopping destinations: Bulog Dos Island, a tiny islet that has a small patch of white sand beach dotted with rocks; Dicalabuan Island, fringed with white sandy shores and is shaped akin to a banana, hence its nickname Banana Island; and Malcapuya Island, the largest among the three, boasting white sandy shores, coconut palm groves, warm waters, and a viewing deck upon its midst.
- The Best Reasons to Visit the Philippines
- The Most Amazing Places to Visit in the Philippines – PART 2
- The Most Beautiful Beach Destinations in the Philippines
- The Top Dive Sites in the Philippines
19. Davao City
PROVINCE: Davao del Sur
The City of Davao is a highly urbanized city along the southeastern coast of Mindanao, overlooking the blue expanse of the Davao Gulf. The city is geographically situated in the province of Davao del Sur, but is governed independent from it. Davao is among the most populous cities in the Philippines, and among the world’s largest cities in land area. It is the center of Metro Davao, the third most populous metropolitan area in the Philippines encompassing several neighboring cities and towns.
Davao is known as the Land of Plenty – abundant in people, natural wealth, culture and heritage, and not least in awe-inspiring sights and attractions to which numerous tourists are drawn. Indeed, Davao is an anchor tourist destination in Mindanao, and considered one of the best places to visit in the Philippines overall.
Tourist attractions in the city include People’s Park, an exceedingly expansive public park built in the city’s midst. Within the vastness of the park is a dome, a children’s playground, a library, a small forest, a manmade waterfall, gardens, fountains, fish ponds, sculptures, picnic tables, and impressive lights at night. Numerous doves and pigeons call the park home.
The Davao Crocodile Park is a crocodile breeding farm housing great numbers of the scaly reptiles. Visitors to the park learn more about crocodiles, and are feted with a rich display of other resident animals of the park, such as tigers, deer, monkeys, bearcats, and snakes, among others.
The Philippine Eagle Center of the Philippine Eagle Foundation is home to a number of the critically endangered Philippine eagle (Pithecophaga jefferyi), otherwise known as monkey-eating eagle, the largest of the extant eagles in the world in terms of length and wing surface and among the world’s rarest and most powerful birds. Though the Center exists primarily as a conservation breeding facility, it also caters to tourists wishing to witness and learn more about the majestic birds of prey, which have been declared the Philippine national bird. The Center also houses other birds, mammals, and reptiles, most of which are endemic to the country, as well as numerous species of tropical rainforest flora.
GAP Farming Resort is an extensive mountain farm encompassing orchards of trees bearing durian, mangosteen, rambutan, pomelo, sweet tamarind, and other tropical fruits. The lush and verdant resort is adorned with manifold statues depicting figures from Filipino folklore, and features an immense swimming pool, horseback riding facilities, picnic tables, and camping grounds.
Eden Nature Park is another mountain resort, replete with pine forests, gardens, playgrounds, a cultural park, scenic hiking trails, and an array of activities for tourists such as skycycling, nature trekking, horseback riding, swimming, and fishing.
Malagos Garden Resort is a collection of parks nestled in tropical greenery. The resort features forests, gardens, playgrounds, a zoo, an art gallery, and a museum, as well as hotel rooms. Both indoor and outdoor recreational activities are plentiful.
On the southwestern end of the city, straddling the borders of the provinces of Davao del Sur and Cotabato, is Mount Apo, the highest mountain in the Philippines. Immediately off the city’s coast is the Island Garden City of Samal, a veritable resort city boasting white sand beaches, crystalline waters, and a wealth of marine life.
Visitors especially flock to Davao in the month of August to take part in the city’s premier festival, Kadayawan sa Dabaw, a vibrant and colorful celebration of life, culture, and the bounties of nature. Highlights of the festival include spectacular street dance parades, motorcades, pageants, and art exhibits by local artists.
The coastal province of Aurora lies on Luzon’s eastern seaboard, fronting the Philippine Sea and beyond it, the vast expanse of the Pacific. The province is well known for its spectacular beaches, of which the most popular are arrayed along the shores of the town of Baler. Thus, tourists visiting Aurora often only seek out Baler.
But south of Baler, on the southernmost end of Aurora lies the town of Dingalan, an equally worthwhile destination which merits its own niche among the best places to visit in the Philippines.
Dingalan is hemmed in on the east by Dingalan Bay, northeast by the Philippine Sea, west by the lofty Sierra Madre mountain range, and south by the Umiray River. The town prides itself on its pristine natural sceneries.
Being after all a coastal town, Dingalan is a beach destination first and foremost. On its northeastern coast lies White Beach, a strip of sandy shoreline fronting Dingalan Bay. The beach’s name, however, is only a reminder of what it once was. The sands of the beach were once white, but a succession of devastating typhoons washed away the white sands and left only a beige-hued shoreline.
Nonetheless, the beach remains incredibly picturesque. Tall palms are ranged along the shore, while the turquoise waters beckon to visitors for a dip or even a trip underwater.
East of White Beach rise tall, green hills marching eastwards before ending in lofty cliffs overlooking the Philippine Sea, very much reminiscent of the seaside cliffs of Batanes. Upon these hills are built the Dingalan Lighthouse and the Dingalan View Point, both of which are accessible via a trek through a trail from White Beach. Both vantage points afford the most iconic views of Dingalan.
South of the town is Matawe Beach, a 400 m- (1,312 ft-) strip of fine grayish sand fenced by mountains on three sides. The beach hides a vast expanse of tidelands encompassing remarkable rock formations visible only during low tide.
Dingalan is home to several caves, of which the best known are the Lamao Caves, an array of caves bored along the seaside cliffs facing the Philippine Sea. In one of the caves is a natural waterfall cascading from an underground stream.
Waterfalls also abound, such as Tanawan Falls, a small, two-tiered waterfall gushing near the Tanawan View Deck, a vantage point offering a panoramic view of the entire town. Abungan Falls is a more impressive-looking waterfall descending from a height of nearly 15 m (49 ft). Laktas Falls, a series of small cascades over rocks, is part of the Ibona River, along whose shores lie the idyllic recreation area known as Lipit Picnic Grounds. Other falls include Tabi Falls and Iyapit Falls.
21. El Nido
The coastal town of El Nido on the northernmost tip of Palawan Island encompasses the numerous surrounding isles known altogether as the Bacuit Archipelago. Recent years have seen this tropical idyll gain legendary fame, for its natural beauty is truly wondrous and unrivaled elsewhere in the world. It is doubtless one of the best places to visit in the Philippines and among the most beautiful scenes to ever exist on Earth.
El Nido, aptly named Heaven on Earth, is a masterwork of Nature, a resplendent tapestry woven of emerald isles and turquoise waters, and embroidered with shores of white sands, lofty limestone cliffs, lush jungles, enchanting lagoons, ancient caverns, and a vast wealth of flora and fauna.
El Nido is home to more than fifty white sand beaches, some of which are arrayed along the mainland coast. Duli Beach, with its golden sands and excellent waves, is a favorite among surfers.
The Twin Beaches of Nacpan and Calitang are especially popular. Nacpan Beach, a lengthy strip of fine white sand, extends along the coast until it meets the equally beautiful but much shorter Calitang Beach on a promontory that affords an impressive view of both beaches.
The white sandy Seven Commandos Beach, isolated by mountainous terrain, is supposedly named after the seven Japanese soldiers who lived there for a time.
However, the true charms of El Nido, as well as the vast majority of its white sandy beaches, are found in the Bacuit Archipelago.
Cadlao Island, the largest of the Bacuit Islands, is home to a number of white sand beaches, among which are Pasandigan Beach to the south and Paradise Beach to the southeast. Nature trails wind through the island’s rainforests, leading to secluded coves and hidden lagoons.
Nat Nat, a fringing reef with sandy patches off the southern coast of Cadlao, is a macrophotographers’ paradise, with numerous species of corals, fishes, crinoids, nudibranchs, seahorses, and other macro life.
Dilumacad Island, boasting white sand beaches, towering limestone cliffs, and lush vegetation, is better known as Helicopter Island, as its shape, when viewed from afar, resembles a helicopter.
The dive sites around Dilumacad are home to trumpetfish, titan triggerfish, juvenile pinnate spadefish, snappers, yellowtail fusiliers, and yellowtail barracudas, along with green and hawksbill sea turtles, and to a lesser extent, eagle rays, cowtail stingrays, flying gurnards, and dragon seamoths. The Underwater Tunnel, a cave dive site, houses ringed pipefish, map puffers, lionfish, scorpionfish, moray eels, and banded coral shrimps.
Matinloc Island, the longest island in the Bacuit, is ringed with beautiful white sand beaches, among which is Hidden Beach – a pocket white sand beach accessible only through a narrow crevice on the encircling rock cliffs. On the island’s northern end stands the Matinloc Shrine, an abandoned convent now rumored to be haunted by ghosts.
Miniloc Island is famed for its enchanting lagoons. Along its northeastern coast are Big Lagoon and Small Lagoon, both pools of pellucid turquoise waters walled by lofty limestone cliffs clad and crowned with verdure. On its southern coast is Secret Lagoon, so named because it can only be reached through a tiny opening on the seaside cliffs that conceal it.
Off the southern coast of Miniloc are colorful and shallow coral gardens teeming with reef fishes, ribbon eels, and nudibranchs. Schools of big-eye snappers, barracudas, tunas, and mackerels drift along. Turtles are plentiful.
North of Miniloc are Twin Rocks, famed for its bluespotted ribbontails and stingrays, hence its nickname Stingray Airport; and North Rock, the northernmost of the Tres Marias Islands, sought for its pelagics – jacks, barracudas, blacktip reef sharks, eagle rays, and mantas, among others.
Shimizu Island is home to ivory beaches, dramatic limestone outcrops, and clear waters. It is one of the favorites among snorkelers. The beautiful Wall of Entalula Island is covered with sea fans, sea pens, and numerous diverse critters.
Pangulasian Island has stretches of white beaches all along its coast, as well as excellent snorkeling and diving sites within its azure waters. A trail through the island’s midst leads to an excellent vantage point on the island’s peak.
Vigan Island is better known as Snake Island because of its white sandspit (s-shaped sandbar) that ‘snakes’ to the mainland coast.
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22. Great Santa Cruz Island
PROVINCE: Zamboanga City
Not far from the coasts of bustling Zamboanga City is an oasis of calm and beauty, an island renowned for its magnificent shores unrivaled elsewhere in Asia – Great Santa Cruz Island. While the island forms part of the city, it somehow feels distant, remote, far removed from the city itself.
Though its name belies its actual size, this little island is famed worldwide for its beautiful pink sand beach – the only one of its kind in the whole of Asia and among a handful of pink sand beaches in the world. For this very reason, the island is regarded as one of the best places to visit in the Philippines.
The flushed color of the shoreline comes from red organ pipe corals (Tubipora musica) that have been pulverized over millions of years, and then washed ashore and mixed in with the white sand. Some of these scarlet corals, most likely those newly-come from the sea, remain intact, and one may chance upon these half-buried in the sand.
The soft rosy hue of the beach is incredibly lovely, especially when set in contrast to the encircling translucent waters of teal and turquoise shades. Besides its beautiful pink coralline beach, the island is also known as an excellent spot for snorkeling and diving, as the surrounding waters teem with a vast wealth of marine flora and fauna.
23. Hinatuan Enchanted River
PROVINCE: Surigao del Sur
In the southerly province of Surigao del Sur in the island of Mindanao flows the Hinatuan Enchanted River, a deep spring river renowned for its ethereal beauty. The river is famed for its startlingly crystalline waters and its most unusual colors, which are many and varied, ranging from jade, turquoise, cerulean, and sapphire.
The Enchanted River wells up out of a subterranean cavern whose depths have yet to be fully explored, and out into pool dubbed as the Blue Lagoon, the main and most impressive outward feature of the river. It then flows for some 600 m (1,969 ft) before spilling out into Hinatuan Bay. The river is hemmed on either bank by limestone cliffs overhung with dense verdure.
The river is steeped in legend. One such legend ascribes the river’s enchanting colors to the jade and sapphire stones cast by fairies into the waters. Locals believe the river is home to engkantos – supernatural beings or deities – who guard the river. Fisherfolk tell tales of fishes that dwell in the river that cannot be caught with any means.
The beauty of the Enchanted River is legendary. It is among the most popular tourist draws in Mindanao, and one of the best places to visit in the Philippines. Multitudes of sightseers seek the river to marvel at its striking clarity and exceptional colors.
To protect the river against damages from tourism, the local government has banned tourists from swimming in the Blue Lagoon. Instead, a swimming area has been established 10 m (33 ft) from the Blue Lagoon.
The river is populated with schools of large fishes, which are fed every afternoon during a scheduled feeding session set to the Hymn of Hinatuan. Before every feeding session, tourists must vacate the riverine waters, and crowd on the viewing deck especially made for just such purpose. As soon as the Hymn plays, the fishes come out in astounding numbers and enthusiastically feed on the food scraps thrown by the caretaker and the tourists.
The river empties out into Hinatuan Bay, an anchorage for ships and boats where tourists wishing to be ferried to and fro the surrounding islands can avail of the local boatmen’s services.
24. Honda Bay
Honda Bay lies along the eastern shore of Puerto Princesa, the capital city of Palawan. To its east is the broad expanse of the Sulu Sea. On its midst lie sprawled a cluster of green isles fringed with beaches of soft and fine white sand that would awe even the strictest and most scrupulous beach connoisseur. Its pellucid waters are home to a diverse array of marine life – perfect for diving and snorkeling.
Recent years have seen the bay and its islets grow as one of the more sought-after beach destinations in the Philippines. While admittedly not as popular as the premier tourist draws of El Nido or Coron, which lie on the northern reaches of Palawan, Honda Bay is equally beautiful and doubtless deserving of its distinction as one of the best places to visit in the Philippines. Its proximity to Puerto Princesa and the city’s air and sea ports makes it a good choice for those seeking a quick beach weekend getaway, or as a precursor to a thorough exploration of Palawan.
The various isles in the bay, which are accessible by outrigger boats, are named after their certain peculiarities. For instance, Starfish Island is so named because of its abundance of starfishes, while Bat Island is home to thousands of those flying mammals, and Pandan Island abounds with pandan plants (Pandanus amaryllifolius). Cowrie Island is shaped like a cowrie shell, while Snake Island bears resemblance to the shape of that slithering reptile.
25. Hundred Islands National Park
The Hundred Islands National Park is a protected area encompassing the 123 islands scattered across the southwestern waters of the Lingayen Gulf. It is the first ever national park in the Philippines, created in 1940 through Presidential Proclamation No. 667 signed by President Manuel Quezon.
Subsequent laws enacted by succeeding presidents saw the National Park’s area expanded, its management improved, and its jurisdiction transferred from the national to the local government. The Park is currently under the supervision of the City of Alaminos, which lies along the shores of the Lingayen Gulf. The Hundred Islands has been declared a National Geological Monument of the Philippines.
The islands are thought to have been formed nearly two million years ago. The striking mushroom-like appearance of many of the islands is credited to the tides and waves slowly eroding the bases of the islands over the centuries.
Diverse wildlife which seek sanctuary in the Hundred Islands include avians such as the Philippine duck (Anas luzonica), white-eared brown dove (Phapitreron leucotis), Philippine hawk-cuckoo (Hierococcyx pectoralis), Philippine coucal (Centropus viridis), Philippine bulbul (Hypsipetes philippinus), elegant tit (Pardaliparus elegans), lemon-throated leaf warbler (Phylloscopus cebuensis), and the grey-backed tailorbird (Orthotomus derbianus). The marine waters are home to giant clams, colorful corals, and numerous fish species and other marine animals.
The Hundred Islands is undoubtedly the premier tourist draw in the province of Pangasinan, and is considered among the best places to visit in the Philippines. The islands boast of white sand beaches, rock caves and caverns, and limestone cliffs and crags clad and crowned with verdure, and the surrounding waters are pellucid and rich with marine life.
Only five of the islands have been developed for tourism, namely Governor Island, the biggest island within the Park, housing a tall cliff that offers the perfect vantage point to gain an unobstructed view of the entirety of the Hundred Islands; Quezon Island, named after the late President Quezon, who signed into law the creation of the Park; Marcos Island, named after the late dictator Marcos, and known for its Imelda Cave, the opening of which is a hole on the ground plunging some 6 m (20 ft) into crystalline waters; Children’s Island, the island best suited to families with children in tow; and Pilgrimage Island, which hosts a long and winding stairway that climbs to the island’s summit where a gigantic statue of Christ the Savior stands.
Other notable islands include Bat Island, named for its vast bat population; Cuenco Island, with its beautiful beaches and the stunning Cuenco Cave; Cathedral Island, housing an incredibly picturesque natural grotto; Crocodile Island, a tiny islet shaped akin to that fearsome reptile, and adjacent to it, a turtle-shaped islet known as Turtle Island; and Virgin Island, the name of which is said to be derived from its shape, which locals claim is resemblant of a woman’s body.
Popular activities in the Hundred Islands include island-hopping, beach bumming, cliff-jumping, swimming, fishing, diving, snorkeling, kayaking, jet skiing, and parasailing, while zip lining, rappelling, and wall climbing are offered on the developed islands. While the developed islands have tourist accommodations, visitors can opt to pitch their tents overnight on any of the islands opened for camping.
26. Ifugao Rice Terraces
In the highland province of Ifugao are built ancient engineering wonders that have stood the test of time – the world-renowned Rice Terraces.
The rice terraces are carved into the exceedingly precipitous slopes of the Cordilleras – the long and lofty mountain range in Northern Luzon that encompasses several provinces, including Ifugao. Soaring to heights of 1,500 m (4,900 ft) ASL, the terraces resemble emerald steps ascending into the skies.
The rice terraces sprawl across several towns and villages in Ifugao. The most famous of these terraces is the cluster found in the town of Banaue. This cluster, known as the Banaue Rice Terraces, has been declared a National Cultural Treasure of the Philippines.
It is said that when the “steps” of the rice terraces in Banaue are put end to end, these would be enough to encircle half of the globe. Such a claim is well founded, as reports estimate the terraces’ total length at around 20,100 km (12,500 mi) – roughly half the Earth’s circumference!
Other remarkable rice terraces in Ifugao are the Batad Rice Terraces and the Bangaan Rice Terraces in the town of Banaue, the Mayoyao Rice Terraces in the town of Mayoyao, the Hungduan Rice Terraces in the town of Hungduan, and the Nagacadan Rice Terraces in the town of Kiangan. These five clusters, collectively known as the Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras, have been inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
It is believed that the terraces were first built 2,000 years ago as an ingenious solution to the scarcity of suitable land for farming in the rugged and mountainous province of Ifugao. The terraces were carved by the ancestors of the Ifugaos – the indigenous tribes who inhabit the namesake province – largely by hand and using only primitive tools and equipment, following rigorously the contours of the hills and mountains.
To sustain these terraces, the ancient Ifugaos devised an elaborate irrigation system that harvests the water issuing from the springs and streams of the rainforests atop the mountains. Retaining walls of stones and rammed earth keep the terraces from eroding.
As it has been during its creation, the upkeep of the rice terraces requires intensive collaboration and cooperation among the Ifugaos. To ensure the survival of the rice terraces, the indigenous farming knowledge and practices which have made possible the existence of the terraces are passed from one generation to the next. Thus, to this day, the Ifugaos still tend to the rice terraces in much the same way as their ancestors did millennia ago.
The rice terraces are of utmost significance to the Ifugaos, a keystone of their society and indeed their very source of life. The terraces are intertwined with their culture, which encompasses an intricate system of practices, rituals, and festive events revolving around rice, from its cultivation to its consumption.
The rice terraces are beyond doubt among the very best places to visit in the Philippines. Their ancient and enduring beauty draws thousands from across the world. After all, a trek through the terraces is akin to a journey through history. The old pathways through the terraced paddies, the vivid green of the rice fields, the wild flowers along the banks, the flowing streams and gushing fountains, the towering mountains, the culture, and the people – all speak of a thousand year old tale of harmony between man and nature.
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27. Iloilo City
The City of Iloilo is a highly urbanized city situated on the southeastern tip of Panay Island, in the province of Iloilo, of which it is the geographic capital but is politically independent from it. The city was founded in the 16th century, among the first settlements of the Spanish colonizers in the Philippines. Today, it is highly regarded as a choice tourist destination, indeed one of the best places to visit in the Philippines.
Iloilo is a city of many names. It is known as the Heart of the Philippines, since it is situated almost in the geographic midst of the archipelagic country, as well as (Asia’s) City of Love for its soft-spoken people, the Ilonggos. It used to be the Royal City of the South as it was once one of the Spanish royal cities in the Philippines during their colonial reign.
The city is celebrated as the Emerging Museum City of the Philippines, owing to its collection of museums which is especially numerous and noteworthy. Dozens of museums of art, history, and science, among other fields, dot the cityscape. Foremost among these is the Western Visayas Regional Museum, a regional extension of the National Museum of the Philippines which houses several galleries containing hundreds of archaeological artifacts, fossils, and relics showcasing the rich history and culture of Western Visayas.
Museo Iloilo similarly features an immense and impressive array of artifacts and relics from pre-Hispanic times to the colonial eras, as well as modern artworks of local artists. The Museum of Philippine Economic History, the first economic history museum in the Philippines, hosts galleries focusing on the rich economic history of the Philippines, and especially highlighting the economic significance of Iloilo during the Spanish and American colonial eras, during which it was held as the country’s most important city after Manila.
The Iloilo Museum of Contemporary Art, the first museum dedicated to contemporary art in the Visayas and Mindanao, is filled with the artworks of local and international artists, as well as exhibits of Iloilo’s rich cultural heritage. Other notable museums and art galleries in the city include the Henry Luce III (Museum and Library) housed at the Central Philippine University, University of San Agustin Museum, University of the Philippines (UPV) Art Gallery, John B. Lacson Foundation Museum of Maritime Culture and Craft, and the Rosendo Mejica Museum, among others.
Iloilo is also renowned as the City of Mansions for its splendid array of some 240 mansions built by local families who prospered from the boom in the sugar industry during the Spanish and American colonial eras. The most famed of these impressive ancestral homes is the Mansion de Lopez, otherwise known as Nelly’s Garden, which is hailed as the Queen of Heritage Houses in Iloilo. Another of these renowned houses is the Lizares Mansion.
More modern tourist attractions in the city include the Iloilo River Esplanade, a lengthy park and boulevard extending along both banks of the Iloilo River. Here, tourists can delight in peaceful and scenic views of the river and the city while taking a leisurely stroll.
Aside from its historic edifices, tourists also seek Iloilo to partake in its Dinagyang Festival, which is hosted yearly every fourth Sunday of January in honor of the Santo Niño (Infant Jesus) and in celebration of the rich local history and culture. The Dinagyang features parades of dancers with blackened skins, costumed in Ati (Aeta) tribal arms and attire, and staging tribal choreographies to the sound of drums and other ethnic percussions, as well as cultural presentations, beauty pageants, sports competitions, and various other side events.
28. Kalanggaman Island
Akin to a pearl laid in the midst of a sapphire board, Kalanggaman Island sits on the northern reaches of the Camotes Sea, some 28 km (17.4 mi) off the western coast of Leyte. The island derives its name from langgam, the Visayan word for bird, on account of its shape resembling that of an avian.
A tiny island no more than 750 m (2,461 ft) in length, its diminutive size belies its great reputation – it is in fact one of the best places to visit in the Philippines. The island is renowned for its spectacular shores of soft, fine sands surrounded on all sides by crystalline waters of jade and turquoise hues. Lush groves of coconut palms crown its midst.
On the island’s western end is a bright, white sandbar that stretches in a winding fashion for nearly 250 m (820 ft) into the surrounding sea, visible only during low tide. There used to be slivers of sands protruding from its eastern and southern ends as well, but a powerful typhoon washed both sandbars away.
Travelers seek Kalanggaman to marvel at its pristine beauty, luxuriate in its white sandy shore, and swim and kayak on the turquoise sea. The surrounding crystalline waters, which have been declared a Marine Sanctuary, are perfect for snorkeling and diving.
There are no resorts on the island, though basic amenities have been built, and an array of huts are available for rent. Tourists may pitch their tents for an overnight stay. In a bid to preserve the natural beauty of Kalanggaman, the local government regulates tourism on the island, allowing no more than a few hundred visitors each day.
29. Mactan Island
Off the southeastern coast of Cebu Island is Mactan, a tropical island paradise widely accounted among the best places to visit in the Philippines. Here, the trappings of modernity meet the tranquillity of nature, where sprawling resorts and skyscraping hotels rise alongside brilliant shores of powdery white sand and idyllic waters bright and blue beneath the sun.
Mactan is undeniably modern, and yet has retained much of its natural beauty. It is regarded as one of the best beach destinations in the Philippines, and an exceptional tourist draw overall. It is an excellent option for tourists and travelers looking to spend a day or two at the beach without going far from the comforts and conveniences of modern, even luxurious, living.
The white sand beaches of Mactan are incredible, affording visitors a unique and truly unforgettable beach vacation. A wide selection of resorts, ranging from affordable hostels for the budget conscious to five-star luxury hotels for the extravagant, offer outstanding accommodation facilities and a variety of amenities. The island offers some of the best snorkeling, island hopping, jet skiing, sailing, and other recreational pursuits of any island in the Philippines.
Mactan is also hailed as one of the best diving destinations in the country. Impressive dive sites dot the waters around the island, all teeming with multitudes of diverse and colorful marine life.
Suitable for novices are the shallow regions of the Kontiki Reef, which house colorful corals where shoaling reef fishes and numerous other critters live in remarkable abundance. Its profusion of macro life makes it ideal for underwater macrophotography. At night, divers come to see shrimps, crabs, and sea snakes crawl out of their lairs.
The Shangri-La Marine Sanctuary is known for its brilliant and healthy coral formations. Angelfish, bannerfish, blue tangs, butterflyfish, clownfish, goldfish, harlequin sweetlips, lionfish, parrotfish, pipefish, puffers, rainbowfish, silver batfish, soles, and wrasses are common here, along with schools of jacks and barracudas.
Bluespotted stingrays are the main draw at the Nalusuan Island Marine Sanctuary, though schools of angelfish, groupers, snappers, sweetlips, and triggerfish vie for the same attention. The Hilutungan Marine Sanctuary boasts wildlife in riotous display, where swarms of batfish, black snappers, drummers, jacks, parrotfish, ribbon sweetlips, and surgeonfish, as well as turtles, jockey for position in front of the divers’ cameras.
The wreckage of a small airplane, now covered in corals and crawling with critters, awaits wreck divers and underwater macrophotographers at Tambuli.
Mactan is steeped in history. It is here that the first battle between the Filipino natives, led by the legendary hero Lapu-Lapu, and the invading Spanish conquistadores, commanded by the renowned Ferdinand Magellan, was fought. Magellan himself was slain in the battle, and the natives successfully repulsed the conquistadores. The 20 m- (66 ft-) tall bronze Lapu-Lapu Statue commemorates the victory of the Filipinos against the Spaniards.
Despite this heroic stand, the island eventually fell to subsequent Spanish armies, which were more numerous and heavily-armed than Magellan’s host. Christianity was enforced as the sole religion, and the Magellan Shrine was erected to honor Magellan for introducing Christianity to the island.
30. Malapascua Island
Across a shallow strait from the northernmost tip of Cebu Island is Malapascua, a tiny island held as one of the best places to visit in the Philippines.
Malapascua is known chiefly as an excellent diving destination, with a number of spectacular dive sites scattered within the surrounding waters. The most prominent of these is Monad Shoal, the only place on Earth where thresher sharks – elusive sharks with unusually long tails – can be sighted consistently just before and during sunrise.
But Malapascua is as much of a haven to beach bums and sun worshippers as it is to divers. Indeed, before the island gained fame for its dive sites, it was known first as one of the top beach destinations in the Philippines on account of its magnificent beaches. All along the island’s coast are white sandy beaches looking towards cool and clear waters.
The island’s main draw is Bounty Beach, a vast stretch of fine white sand extending along the southern shoreline. Tall coconut palms with fronds swaying in the breeze are ranged along the beach, some of which have woven hammocks fixed among them. The beach is incredibly scenic, and the water is startlingly clear. Bounty Beach is almost always free of crowd, allowing tourists to have sections of the beach all to themselves.
There are other beaches around the island, such as Guimbitayan Beach and Langob Beach along the northern coastline, and Logon Beach on the southwest. Several islets near Malapascua also have white sandy beaches. A tall lighthouse on the island affords an excellent vantage point, and a choice spot for viewing the sunset.
31. Manta Bowl
The diving destination affectionately nicknamed the Manta Bowl is still another one of the best places to visit in the Philippines. It is a vast bowl-shaped depression set beneath the waters of Ticao Pass, the strait known to have one of the world’s highest concentration of plankton. This world-renowned dive site has earned its name, and its reputation as the Manta Ray Capital of the Philippines, for the manta rays that gather here in massive numbers.
The Manta Bowl is a natural feeding and cleaning station for manta rays, which are drawn to this region to feed off the plankton-rich waters of Ticao Pass. They are afterwards cleaned by hordes of remoras and cleaner wrasses. Besides mantas, this site also attracts other big fishes, notably whale sharks, hammerheads, thresher sharks, and tiger sharks.
The shallowest part of the Bowl is at Rock Point, an underwater landscape of rocks and ridges, hard and soft corals, and plenty of reef fishes. This is the best spot for close encounters with mantas and whale sharks. Mantas and thresher sharks are also seen at Tamis Rock.
Behind Rock Point is Shark Apartment, where blacktip and whitetip reef sharks are regularly sighted resting beneath huge rocks and corals. On the Bowl’s western side is Tuna Alley, a veritable highway for huge schools of skipjack tunas.
32. Mayon Volcano
Almost in the midst of the province of Albay stands one of the world’s most iconic volcanoes – majestic Mayon.
Mayon is an active stratovolcano renowned worldwide as the most perfectly formed volcano because of its perfectly symmetrical conical shape. Rising to an imposing height of 2,462 m (8,077 ft), the volcano towers above everything else in the province, and indeed in the entire Bicol Region (which encompasses Albay). This “perfect cone” is a premier tourist draw, riveting thousands of admirers from across the globe with its sheer splendor and majesty.
Mayon is no innocent beauty, as it is given to a fiery and capricious temperament. Its violent fits of anger have been well recorded throughout history; over 47 eruptions in the past 500 years have made it the most active volcano in the Philippines. Its most devastating eruption was in 1814, which buried the entire town of Cagsawa and more than a thousand people with it, leaving the local church’s bell tower the only structure standing.
Despite its tumultuous tendencies, Mayon is beloved as one of the best places to visit in the Philippines. While the chance to take a photograph of and with the “perfect cone” is enough to draw visitors, there is also an abundance of other activities to engage in.
Visitors can rent all-terrain vehicles (ATVs) and drive through rough and adrenaline-inducing trails around Mayon’s base, along the way exploring the Cagsawa Ruins Park, traversing across rivers, even clambering up Mayon’s rocky shoulder, and all the while delighting in the encompassing natural scenery.
Although Mayon is currently closed to mountaineers, its two sister mountains, massive Malinao and mighty Masaraga, rise on either flank, offering equally worthwhile mountaineering alternatives. Malinao soars to a height of 1,564 m (5,131 ft) ASL, while Masaraga’s pinnacle towers 1,328 m (4,357 ft) ASL. Mayon, Malinao, and Masaraga together comprise the Magayon Trio, the three famed mountains of Albay province.
Further off are the Quitinday Hills, a lovely assemblage of verdant rolling hills and mounds akin to Bohol’s renowned Chocolate Hills. The tallest of these beautiful grass-clad knolls rises 127 m (417 ft) ASL, affording a most delightful view of Mayon in the distance. A well-established trail leads to its summit, beckoning hikers and trekkers to a brief and relaxing climb.
There are also several waterfalls within reasonable distance, such as Quitinday Falls, a charming waterfall within an equally charming cave which, despite its name, is nowhere near the green hills of Quitinday; and Vera Falls, a cascade of cold waters descending mightily from a rock cliff.
33. Metro Manila
Metro Manila, officially the National Capital Region, is the seat of government of the Philippines. It is a vast, sprawling, and exceedingly populous metropolitan area, among the most populous metropolitan areas in Asia and in the world. It is the country’s center of economy, culture, education, and tourism, and accordingly is one of the best places to visit in the Philippines.
Metro Manila encompasses 16 highly urbanized cities – the City of Manila, Quezon City, Caloocan, Las Piñas, Makati, Malabon, Mandaluyong, Marikina, Muntinlupa, Navotas, Parañaque, Pasay, Pasig, San Juan, Taguig, and Valenzuela – and the municipality (town) of Pateros.
The City of Manila, the capital of the Philippines, is one of the oldest cities in the country. It was founded in 1571 by the Spanish conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legazpi among the ruins of a flourishing centuries-old Malay settlement along the banks of the Pasig River, which the Spaniards had conquered and razed. He built Intramuros, the Walled City of Manila, which served as the seat of Spanish colonial power in Asia for more than three hundred years.
Today, Intramuros is one of the most sought-after tourist destinations in Manila. Though ravaged by many wars, sections of the historic fortified city remain intact. The ruins of the Fort Santiago, the massive stone citadel that once guarded the city, still stand. Within the walls also stand the Minor Basilica and Metropolitan Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, a Spanish colonial era church otherwise known as the Manila Cathedral, and the San Agustin Church, the oldest church in the country and a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Opposite Intramuros, across the Pasig River, is Binondo, the oldest and among the largest Chinatowns in the world, which traces its roots back to the 16th century.
Adjacent to Intramuros is the vast expanse of the historic Rizal Park, otherwise known as Luneta Park, one of the largest urban parks in Asia. Luneta, known as Bagumbayan during the Spanish colonial era, figures prominently in Philippine history as it is the site where Jose Rizal, now the country’s national hero, was executed by the Spaniards in 1896, hence its current name.
Within the bounds of Rizal Park is the National Museum Complex of the National Museum of the Philippines, which encompasses the National Museum of Fine Arts, the National Museum of Anthropology, the National Museum of Natural History, and the National Planetarium.
Manila is also home to the Cultural Center of the Philippines Complex, which houses an array of museums, art galleries, and theaters, among other edifices.
Divisoria, a sprawling commercial center in Manila, is dubbed as the Shopping Mecca of the Philippines for its numerous bazaars and shopping malls, and its cheap prices.
Quezon City is the most populous city in the Philippines. It served for a time as the capital of the Philippines, hence why a number of important government offices are erected here. The highest expanse of the city forms part of the La Mesa Watershed Reservation, a protected area encompassing the last remaining rainforest in Metro Manila, within which is nestled the La Mesa Dam and Reservoir and the La Mesa Eco Park. The park is sought by visitors for its scenic nature trails and its numerous and diverse species of endemic flora and fauna.
The City of Makati is the financial center of the Philippines, home to numerous multinational and local corporations. The Makati Central Business District, the principal central business district of the Philippines, houses the headquarters of most of the multinational firms in the Philippines, as well as the country’s biggest local companies. Many of the tallest skyscrapers in Metro Manila and in the Philippines are found here. It is also a well-known shopping hub, offering a wide array of retail stores ranging from local to international, and from upscale to bargain.
The City of Las Piñas is famed foremost for the Las Piñas Bamboo Organ housed within the centuries-old Saint Joseph Parish Church. The organ, which was designed by the Spanish priest Diego Cera in the early 19th century, is the only organ in the world with most of its pipes fashioned from bamboo. The organ has been declared a National Cultural Treasure of the Philippines.
The City of Marikina is dubbed as the Shoe Capital of the Philippines for its vast shoe industry, which is held as the biggest manufacturer of shoes in the Philippines. A prominent landmark in the city is the Shoe Museum, where shoes worn by notable Filipinos are displayed, including the infamous shoe collection of former First Lady Imelda Marcos, wife of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos.
The City of Navotas boasts of a massive fish port that ranks among the largest in Asia, earning it the title Commercial Fishing Hub of the Philippines.
The City of Pasig, named after the Pasig River along whose banks the city is built, hosts the Ortigas Center, one of the top business and financial districts in the Philippines replete with high-rise office buildings, residential condominiums, and numerous commercial establishments and entertainment facilities.
The City of San Juan is where the hero Andres Bonifacio led the Katipunan, a Filipino revolutionary society against Spanish colonial rule, against the Spaniards in the Battle of San Juan del Monte or the Battle of Pinaglabanan in 1896, the first real battle of the Philippine Revolution. This momentous date in Philippine history is marked by Pinaglabanan Shrine, a national shrine and park built as an enduring tribute to the heroism of the Katipuneros who led the Philippines’ struggle for independence from Spain.
The City of Taguig is home to the Bonifacio Global City (BGC), one of the leading business, financial, and lifestyle districts in the Philippines. BGC, a former military base, is renowned for its tall skyscrapers housing corporate offices and residential condominiums, as well as its malls, shops, parks, and recreational and entertainment facilities.
Pateros, the only municipality in Metro Manila, is best known as a top producer of balut, a boiled fertilized duck egg eaten as a Filipino delicacy, earning it the nickname Balut Capital of the Philippines.
The town of Moalboal on the southwestern shores of Cebu is synonymous with spectacular diving. All along its coastline is an array of stunning dive spots, including the Ronda Marine Sanctuary, the Tuble Marine Sanctuary, the Kassai Reef, Oscar’s Cave, the Savedra’s House Reef, the Mandarin Fish Observation Point, Talisay Wall, the Tongo Marine Sanctuary, and the Sampaguita Reef. All feature numerous species of diverse marine life. There is even an Airplane Wreck sunk on purpose to create an artificial reef.
The more popular dive sites are clustered around Pescador Island, a protected Marine Park off the western coast of Moalboal. A true diver’s paradise, the resplendence of the coral gardens here and the immensity of aquatic biodiversity is overwhelming. Sea turtles abound here, while whale sharks drop by on rare occasions. Underwater caverns and tunnels are plentiful, of which the most prominent is called the Cathedral.
A must-see spectacle is the so-called Sardine Run. Sardines often gather in vast numbers, but here in Moalboal, they gather in the hundreds of thousands – even millions! – forming gigantic “bait balls” that move to and fro seemingly as one. Their movements are sudden, yet simultaneous, almost in perfect sync. When predators – mackerels, tunas, even thresher sharks – close in on the sardine balls, prepare for a thrilling and breathtaking spectacle!
But what makes Moalboal even more worthy of being named as one of the best places to visit in the Philippines is that it is not reserved solely for divers. There are plenty of beautiful sights to see, and worthwhile activities to engage in, for those not seeking to take a trip underwater.
Along the coast of the town are the beautiful white sandy strips of Panagsama Beach (Basdiot), White Beach (Basdako), and the more secluded Lambug Beach, where beach bums and sun worshippers can frolic to their hearts’ content. Near the shoreline are snorkeling sites where visitors can witness the richness of the local marine life without venturing too far and too deep into the waters.
From Moalboal, canyoneering enthusiasts can head to the nearby town of Badian to test their mettle in one of the most exhilarating canyoneering experiences in the Philippines. The trail, which winds through rock canyons within the dense jungle, follows the Matutinao River, which rushes over a series of smaller cascades before eventually flowing to the famed Kawasan Falls, a spectacular waterfall dozens of meters high.
35. Monad Shoal
Monad Shoal is a sunken island nearly eight kilometers east from the island town of Malapascua in Cebu. It is about a kilometer and a half-long, submerged at a depth of 20 to 27 m (66 to 89 ft) from the surface. Seemingly unremarkable at first glance, it is in fact one of the best places to visit in the Philippines for diving enthusiasts. The Shoal, after all, is renowned worldwide as the iconic home of a most unusual marine dweller.
Divers troop to Monad Shoal for its main attraction – thresher sharks. Thresher sharks – lamniform sharks with unusually long thresher-like tails or caudal fins – are extremely elusive by nature, preferring the deep waters so that sightings of them are uncommon. But in Monad Shoal, thresher sharks can be seen consistently just before and during sunrise. It is the only such place in the entire world, hence its nickname Shark Point.
Monad Shoal is a natural cleaning station for fish. Thresher sharks come here in the early hours to get serviced by bluestreak cleaner wrasses and other cleaning fishes. The Shoal also has other interesting clients – devil rays, eagle rays, and to a lesser extent, manta rays and hammerheads.
Beyond thresher sharks, the Shoal is an excellent spot for underwater macrophotography, with an extensive reef wall alive with corals, reef fishes, crinoids, nudibranchs, and crustaceans.
36. Mount Apo
PROVINCE: Cotabato, Davao del Sur
In the southerly island of Mindanao, between the provinces of Cotabato and Davao del Sur sits venerable Apo, the Grandfather of Philippine Mountains, and the highest point in all the country.
This potentially-active stratovolcano rises 2,956 m (9,698 ft) ASL, affording an unrivaled view of the surrounding lands. At its summit rises three peaks, the highest of which holds a wide crater with a small lake of icy cold water.
Apo is steeped in the lore and legends of the indigenous tribes who dwell at the foot of mountain, namely the Manobos, Bagobos, Ubos, Atas, K’Iagans, and Tagacaolos. Accordingly, they revere Apo as sacred ground.
Apo is a veritable cornucopia of flora and fauna. Over 272 bird species populate the mountain, 111 of which are endemic, among them the Philippine eagle – the largest eagle in the world and the Philippines’ national bird. Apo and its surrounding landscape are administered and protected as the Mount Apo Natural Park.
Apo is one of the best places to visit in the Philippines, and ranks among the country’s most popular climbing destinations. Its preeminence as the highest mountain in the Philippines draws numerous mountaineers from around the world to take up the challenge of scaling and conquering this towering landform.
Two trails, interspersed with campsites and checkpoints, lead through a diverse array of landscapes – luxuriant rainforests, mossy swamps, verdant grasslands, crystalline pools, rocky terrains, and volcanic structures – all the way to the summit.
The four lakes within the Natural Park are especially noteworthy. At the foot of Apo lies Lake Agco, a most unusual lake of boiling mud and sulfur fed by waters from both hot and cold springs.
Further up the mountain is Lake Venado, a captivatingly beautiful lake with crystalline waters, upon which is perfectly mirrored the upper half of Apo. Because of its startling clarity, Venado is known as Lake Linaw (local term for clear) among the locals. It is the second highest lake in the country, and mountaineers set up camp here before either continuing the assault to the summit, or descending back to the base camp.
The two other lakes, Lake Macadac and Lake Jordan, are set within the mountain’s grassland summit.
The mountain is also home to several waterfalls, of which the most prominent are Tudaya Falls, at 100 m (328 ft) the highest falls within the Natural Park, and Bongolanon Falls, noted for its icy cold waters. Rivers, streams, and creeks are also numerous.
37. Mount Pinatubo
PROVINCE: Pampanga, Tarlac, Zambales
On the trijunction of the provinces of Pampanga, Tarlac, and Zambales rears Pinatubo, an active stratovolcano with an infamous name and a haunting past. Pinatubo earned worldwide notoriety for its cataclysmic eruption in 1991. Before then, the mountain lay dormant for almost 500 years, forest-clad, obscure, and rather unremarkable despite standing 1,745 m (5,725 ft) ASL.
Its eruption devastated the surrounding lands and was felt worldwide. It was the second-largest terrestrial eruption of the 20th century and by far the largest eruption to affect a densely populated area. The eruption reduced the volcano’s height to 1,486 m (4,875 ft). It obliterated the volcano’s summit and replaced it with a caldera that has since then filled with rainwater, forming what is now Lake Pinatubo or the Crater Lake.
The very same eruption, however, also turned Pinatubo into an iconic tourist destination and one of the best places to visit in the Philippines. Numerous sightseers troop to the volcano to visit the caldera, the Crater Lake, and the seemingly alien and apocalyptic landscape formed after the fateful eruption.
Pinatubo is one the most sought-after climbs in the Philippines, not least due to its extraordinary and unique terrain. Mountaineers must ride 4×4 Jeeps across the rough, lahar-mantled, and moon-like landscape of Crow Valley, disembark at the staging area of the trail, before finally beginning the ascent to the Crater Lake. There, successful climbers are rewarded with a most majestic view of the surreal turquoise-hued lake.
PROVINCE: Ilocos Norte
Along the most northerly shores of the island of Luzon is the coastal resort town of Pagudpud, a beautiful seaside idyll nestled between looming mountains and the vast sea. This secluded town is famed for its remarkable white sand beaches and its blue crystal clear waters, earning it a spot among the country’s most impressive beach destinations, and among the best places to visit in the Philippines.
Two of the best beaches in Pagudpud are those of Saud and Blue Lagoon. Saud Beach boasts a long expanse of fine white sand and mesmerizingly blue seawater. Coconut palms grow in abundance along the coast. There are only a handful of resorts, and fewer people relative to other beach destinations in the country. Thus, visitors are afforded ample space and freedom to do as they wish, even during the beach’s peak days.
The white sandy shore of Blue Lagoon extends alongside crystalline waters of turquoise, aquamarine, and cerulean hues. On certain months, the water is as calm and still as those in ponds; during the rest of the year, it is churning with massive and mighty waves.
Pagudpud is dubbed as the Boracay of the North because it has all the postcard-perfect views of that Visayan tropical haven, but with less of the crowd and traffic. Pagudpud is far more peaceful, quiet, and serene. Unrestrained commercialization has not yet ruined its natural beauty.
Apart from the white sandy beaches, there are many other spots in this idyll town worth paying a visit to. Two picturesque natural rock formations stand along the coast – Bantay Abot Cave (local term for hole-mountain or mountain with a hole), an enormous rock with a hole bored through it by the sea, and Timmangtang Rock, a massive rock shaped like a bell.
The Patapat Viaduct, one of the longest bridges in the country, winds along the coast for nearly 1.3 km (0.8 mi). This impressive highway, running between the green mountains and the blue sea, is a favorite among sightseers and photographers.
Further inland is Kabigan Falls, a majestic waterfalls more than 26 m (85 ft) high. Its waters are startlingly cold, a welcome surprise for those willing to undertake the hour-long trek to get there.
There are also sights well worth seeing in the neighboring towns. Bangui, the closest town south of Pagudpud, boasts of the Bangui Windmills, the first windfarm in the Philippines encompassing an array of lofty windmills erected along the coast.
Bordering Bangui is Burgos, the town famed for the Kapurpurawan Rock Formation, an array of massive white rocks carved by wind and waves into a veritable sculpture, and the Burgos Lighthouse or the Cape Bojeador Lighthouse, a historic stone tower harking back to the Spanish colonial era.
39. Palaui Island
Off the extreme northern coast of Luzon lies a land long sundered from time and the outside world, where Nature through the march of years untold wrought a veritable paradise of living wonders – the island of Palaui.
Palaui is a national park administered under the Palaui Island Protected Landscape and Seascape. An emerald speck in the vast sapphire sea, Palaui is a hilly and heavily forested island, with sheer cliffs towering along its coasts sculpted by mighty winds roaring from the sea. Its shores are marked by swaths of jagged rock between which run long strips of fine white sand beside sparkling turquoise waters.
The white sandy beaches of Palaui are of such beauty that many have likened them to the ivory shores of Boracay. But Palaui, because of its remoteness and seclusion, and its raw and pristine natural beauty, is incomparable with the heavily developed and excessively commercialized beach destinations elsewhere in the country. These are also the reasons why Palaui merits a rank among the best places to visit in the Philippines.
Palaui is so far-flung. It can only be reached by outrigger boats that must first run the gauntlet of a capricious sea often livid with furious waves. Thus, visitors to the island will often find entire sections of the beaches all to themselves. Beneath the tropical sun, they can frisk and frolic, caper and cavort upon the sand to their heart’s content. And should they wish to take a break, they can always trek inland and explore the green wilderness of Palaui.
On the northern point of the island stands the Cape Engaño Lighthouse, or the Faro de Cabo Engaño, an ancient and mighty lighthouse wrought of stone, and one of the few lighthouses built during the Spanish colonial period. Two trails snake through the island and lead to the lighthouse – the Lagunzad’s Trail, and the more challenging Leonardo’s Trail. From the lighthouse, the Dos Hermanos, two rocky islets that lie northeast of Cape Engaño, can be descried.
40. Panglao Island
Panglao Island is situated off the southwestern coast of the larger island of Bohol, hemmed in on all sides by the deep and vast Bohol Sea. The island is one of the best places to visit in the Philippines, offering a spectacular tropical beach and island experience. Attractions are abundant, including beach bumming, swimming, island hopping, scuba diving, snorkeling, kitesurfing, and fishing, to name but a few.
Panglao is especially renowned for its white sand beaches. Of these, the most prominent and popular is Alona Beach, a stunning shoreline of brilliantly white and exceptionally fine sand extending along the island’s southwestern coast. On both ends of the beach is a wall of rocks, and along its length is an array of tall coconut palms leaning towards turquoise waters.
Alona is the most developed beach in Panglao. Numerous resorts, restaurants, and various other shops line the beach. Near the shore are moored outrigger boats, awaiting the tourists to be ferried to and fro the nearby islets.
All along the coasts of Panglao is a range of equally beautiful beaches, including Danao Beach, Dumaluan Beach and Libaong Beach (together known as White Beach), and Bikini Beach on the southern shoreline; and Doljo Beach and Momo Beach along the northern coast. The popular island-hopping destinations – Balicasag, Gak-ang, and Virgin Islands – are themselves fringed with white sandy beaches.
Panglao is also a favorite of divers and snorkelers. Many of the island’s dive sites are situated along its white sandy shores, closely hugging the coastline.
The Alona House Reef is a sloped wall covered with corals and anemones, with numerous small fishes and nudibranchs. Arco Point, dubbed Hole in the Wall, is an underwater cave teeming with butterflyfish, cardinalfish, groupers, sergeant majors, and wrasses, with nudibranchs, shrimps, and lots of macro. Doljo Point has two coral-mantled walls, where tunas, reef sharks, and barracudas are sometimes sighted, along with rare glimpses of mantas, hammerheads, and whale sharks. The Habagat Wreck is a sunken boat with colorful fishes shoaling about.
Further out is Balicasag Island, where divers can get up close to numerous sea turtles, witness a veritable Black Forest of black corals, and see countless species of fish and other marine creatures in wild abundance.
Southeast of Panglao is Pamilacan Island, known for its beautiful reefs and its vast collection of marine life, and its Marine Sanctuary where dolphins and whales can be spotted. Massive colonies of sea snakes at Cervera Shoal have given it the nickname Snake Island.
For those looking to take a break from beach bumming and island-hopping, spelunking at Hinagdanan Cave is the perfect diversion. Hinagdanan Cave is an impressive subterranean cavern measuring some 100 m (328 ft) in length. The cavern’s ceiling is adorned with magnificent stalactites, its floor is bedecked with majestic stalagmites, and within its midst is ensconced an enchanting pool with cold and clear water.
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PROVINCE: Ilocos Norte
Paoay is a town along the western coast of Ilocos Norte, facing the West Philippine Sea. The town is sought as one of the best places to visit in the Philippines chiefly for its Spanish colonial era church.
The Saint Augustine Church, commonly known as Paoay Church, is a massive and imposing church wrought of coral stones and bricks. Completed in 1710, this formidable edifice is built along the distinct ‘Earthquake Baroque’ architectural design of the Ilocos region, an adaptive reuse of the European Baroque against earthquakes.
The most striking feature of the Paoay Church are the enormous buttresses on the sides and back of the church building. A massive bell tower built of the same material stands beside the church.
The Saint Augustine Church was declared as a National Cultural Treasure of the Philippines in 1973, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1993.
The town is home to two other main attractions. The first is the Malacañang of the North, a mansion now turned museum built along the shores of Paoay Lake. It was constructed at the behest of the dictator Marcos as his summer residence in his home province of Ilocos Norte. The grand mansion mirrors the Malacañang Palace along the Pasig River in Manila, hence its name.
The second is the Suba Sand Dunes, a spectacular landscape of rolling hills of sands overlooking Suba Beach and the West Philippine Sea. The shapes and sizes of the hills constantly shift and vary, subject to the whims of the winds sweeping from the sea. Popular activities here include rollercoaster-like rides on 4×4 Jeeps across trails winding through the sandy hills, and sandboarding. The sand dunes, which were declared a National Geological Monument in 1993, afford a most lovely view of the sunset.
42. Puerto Galera
PROVINCE: Oriental Mindoro
On the northern coast of the island of Mindoro lies stunning Puerto Galera, a town widely regarded as one of the country’s top beach destinations, and overall one of the best places to visit in the Philippines. This tropical Eden, hailed as one of the most beautiful bays in the world, is founded along sheltered bays looking towards the rich waters of the Verde Island Passage.
For beach bums, the main draw is White Beach, a lengthy strip of white sandy shore lined with groves of coconut palms and a variety of shops. White Beach is a favorite among locals; on weekends and during the holidays, many Filipino families and local travelers gather here.
Foreign tourists usually base themselves on Sabang Beach. Here, numerous resorts, restaurants, and bars are arrayed along the shoreline, and the nightlife is vibrant and thriving. Sabang Beach is a jump-off point to the remarkable snorkeling and dive spots nearby and further out to sea.
A number of less-popular but no less beautiful pocket beaches dot the coastline of Puerto Galera, while Bayanan Beach and Haligi Beach – dazzling beaches with fewer visitors – are found on the shores of the nearby islets.
Besides white sandy beaches and a vibrant nightlife, this tropical idyll offers some of the finest diving in Asia. After all, Puerto Galera, with its extensive reefs, and its veritable hoard of marine biodiversity – considered one of the richest in the world – is hailed as an absolute diving Mecca.
There are over 40 dive spots, including Monkey Beach, a gently sloping reef covered with a profusion of corals inhabited by small reef fishes, Christmas tree worms, feather stars, moray eels, and turtles. The Dry Dock is an artificial reef fashioned from steel and plywood, now home to lionfish, puffers, porcupinefish, sweetlips, batfish, surgeonfish, groupers, and snappers. Shark Cave affords divers with sightings of whitetip reef sharks resting at daytime amongst smaller fishes.
The Twin Wrecks is a twin-hull catamaran sunk to create an artificial reef. The Sabang Wrecks are three submerged boats inhabited by swarms of batfish, butterflyfish, damselfish, surgeonfish, scorpionfish, stonefish, frogfish, lionfish, and squirrelfish, with lots of macro – perfect for macro-lovers and photographers.
The Pink Wall is a massive overhang mantled with pink soft corals, hence its name. Nudibranchs are the main draw among the diverse life at Sinandigan Wall. Ditto for Dungon Wall. The Canyons offer a world-class exhilarating drift dive where veteran divers are swept by powerful currents into three incredible canyons brimming with marine life.
Further inland are a variety of sights and attractions for those looking to take a break from the sand and the sea. An array of waterfalls may be reached via lengthy treks. Aninuan Falls is closest to White Beach, though still of considerable distance. Tamaraw Falls, the most famed of the known waterfalls in Puerto Galera, cascades from a dizzying height of 128 m (420 ft)!
Tukuran Falls, a smaller waterfall, is aptly named the Hidden Paradise because of its peaceful and picturesque setting. Talipanan Falls, which is also less frequented but no less beautiful, is found near the indigenous Mangyan Village, another site worth visiting.
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43. Puerto Princesa Subterranean River
The Puerto Princesa Subterranean River on the western coast of Palawan Island is one of the world’s most impressive subterranean landscapes, and ranks among the very best places to visit in the Philippines.
The subterranean river flows within the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, a protected area situated north of Puerto Princesa City, the capital of the province of Palawan. The National Park, nestled within the Saint Paul Mountain Range, encompasses spectacular limestone karst landscapes and an impressive range of forest formations. It is home to an incredible diversity of flora and fauna – over 800 species of plants, and more than 200 species of animals.
Beneath this mountainous and forested terrain lies the Saint Paul Underground River Cave, a vast and sprawling network of subterranean caverns, halls, and vaults measuring some 24 km (15 mi) in total length. Within these underground chambers is a magnificent array of curiously-shaped stalactites and stalagmites.
Through the Saint Paul Underground River Cave flows the subterranean Cabayugan River (sometimes Saint Paul Underground River). It is one of the longest navigable underground rivers in the world, with its main course flowing for some 8.2 km (5.1 mi) before spilling out into Saint Paul’s Bay in the West Philippine Sea.
River cruises offered by local tour agencies enable tourists to experience the primeval beauty of the underground river. The entrance to the river is a yawning cliffside hole, through which tourist boats may sail into the cave and up the river. Tourist boats may sail only up to 4.3 km (2.7 mi) in, before turning around and heading back out.
Within the depths of the cave, sightseers can stare at the spectacular subterranean chambers and marvel at the magnificent rock formations. Many of the speleothems are shaped similar to objects or images in real life. The more popular ones include the rock formations resemblant of the T-Rex, the Pegasus, the Giant Candle, and the Holy Family.
Because of its pristine and primeval beauty, the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park has been inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and has been chosen as one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature by the New7Wonders Foundation.
Romblon is an archipelagic province encompassing 20 islands sprawled in the midst of the Philippine archipelago. Boasting natural wonders and historical treasures, it doubtless belongs among the best places to visit in the Philippines.
Tablas Island, the largest island in Romblon, is famed for its beautiful beaches. Aglicay Beach, a half-kilometer stretch of white sand, lies outside the island’s airport. More popular is Binucot Beach, a white sandy beach extending for 1 km (0.6 mi) on Tablas’ western coast.
The Calatrava Coves on Tablas’ northern end encompasses white sandy beaches and limestone formations akin to those in Coron and El Nido in Palawan. North of the coves lies the white sandy Lapus-Lapus Beach, and beyond it, Tinagong Dagat, a saltwater lagoon hidden among rock cliffs.
For waterfall chasers, Mainit Falls and Garing Falls are the ideal destinations, while mountaineers should head to Mount Payaopao, the highest peak in Tablas and the second highest in the province.
On Tablas’ southwestern coast is the Looc Bay Refuge and Marine Sanctuary, a protected area hosting numerous different marine species and an excellent snorkeling and diving spot. The dive site Blue Hole, the only known blue hole in the Philippines, lies on the northeastern coast of Tablas.
On the extreme north of Tablas is Banton Island, which holds the primeval Guyangan Cave System, a burial cave housing centuries-old coffins and ancient artifacts, including the Banton Cloth, a warp ikat textile dating from the Sung Dynasty and the oldest burial cloth discovered in Southeast Asia. Meanwhile, the 17th century Fort San Jose and Banton Church tell tales of the Spanish colonial era.
South of Tablas is Carabao Island, an hour-long boat ride from the legendary Boracay Island in Aklan. Carabao boasts of white sand beaches, crystalline waters, and other natural wonders.
East of Tablas is Romblon Island, upon which lies the town of Romblon, the capital of Romblon province. Within the town are Fort San Andreas and Fort Santiago, the 17th century Spanish forts built to defend against Moro and Dutch raiders. Another Spanish relic is the St. Joseph Cathedral and Belfry, which houses a centuries-old image of the Santo Niño de Cebu (the Holy Child).
Like Tablas, Romblon Island abounds with magnificent beaches. The most sought-after is Bonbon Beach, a 2 km- (1.24 mi-) white sandbar stretching to the uninhabited Bangug (Bangog) Island off the northwestern coast. Other noteworthy white sand beaches include Talipasak Beach and Tiamban Beach.
North of Romblon Island are Alad Island, known for its dramatic seaside caves, and Cobrador Island, home to the stunning white sandy Naguso Beach.
East of Romblon Island is Sibuyan Island, the second largest island in the province. With vast, pristine forests and a well-preserved natural environment, Sibuyan is known as the Galapagos of Asia because of its numerous endemic plants and animals.
Mount Guiting-Guiting, the highest peak in Romblon province and one of the most difficult mountains in the Philippines to climb (alongside Halcon in Mindoro and Mantalingajan in Palawan), towers over Sibuyan. Its sharp, jagged summit is equally famed and feared by mountaineers.
Flowing through Sibuyan is Cantigas (Cantingas) River, the Philippines’ cleanest river. The island is home to more than 30 waterfalls, which includes Dagubdub Falls.
Southeast of Sibuyan is Cresta de Gallo, a long, thin islet esteemed as the most beautiful island in Romblon. The islet is renowned for its incredibly white sandy shoreline, and the surrounding crystalline turquoise waters is sought for diving and snorkeling.
PROVINCE: Mountain Province
Nestled within the pine-clad highlands of Mountain Province, high in the Cordilleras, is Sagada, the Shangri-La of the North. Elevated 1,524 m (5,000 ft) ASL, this idyllic upland town, with its mountainous terrain, pine forests, and cool climate, stands in stark contrast to the rest of the Philippines.
Although small in land area, population, and economy, Sagada is wealthy in natural wonders, and rich in the culture and heritage of its people, the indigenous Igorots, making it one of the best places to visit in the Philippines.
The most iconic sight in Sagada are the Hanging Coffins, an array of pinewood coffins suspended precariously on the exceedingly precipitous sides of the rocks cliffs of Echo Valley. Within the coffins are the remains of the ancestors of the Igorots.
The lofty ridge Kiltepan offers a resplendent view of the sun rising above a sea of clouds, but only to those willing to brave a lengthy and laborious hike in the cold and dark hours of dawn to get there. Sprawled beneath Kiltepan are the verdant Kilong Rice Terraces, one of several clusters of rice terraces carved along the valleys and hills of Sagada.
An alternative to Kiltepan for sunrise viewing is Kamanbaneng Peak, a rugged and hilly land more famously known as Marlboro Country after the herds of wild horses that once roamed here.
More than 60 caves in Sagada await spelunking enthusiasts. The biggest of these, Sumaguing Cave, the Big Cave, is the deepest cave in the Philippines with a depth of more than 152 m (500 ft). Lumiang Cave is a burial ground housing 500-year old pinewood coffins, within which are the remains of the ancestors of the Igorots.
Lumiang and Sumaguing are linked in a trail known as the Cave Connection, which renders a most challenging spelunking adventure. The trail starts at Lumiang, winds through a range of difficult and dangerous obstacles, then finally exits at Sumaguing.
Waterfalls are abundant in Sagada. Bomod-ok Falls, the Big Falls, cascades from a vertiginous height of 200 m (656 ft) and into a cold, crystalline pool, where weary hikers can ease the strains of the hike. Bokong Falls is far smaller, dropping from a height of only 6 m (20 ft); hence, its nickname Little Falls. Pongas Falls is another waterfall sought by sightseers.
Lake Danum is the ideal place for watching the sunset. It is only scarcely larger than a pond, and set in the midst of a grassy field ringed by tall pines. Come twilight, the rays of the setting sun illuminate the waters of the lake in vivid gold and scarlet.
PROVINCE: Davao del Norte
Samal, officially the Island Garden City of Samal, is a massive and sprawling resort city and the largest of its kind in the Philippines. It encompasses the entire Samal Island, the smaller Talikud Island, and several other nearby islets on the northern expanse of the Davao Gulf.
Samal was designed to be a premier beach destination and one of the best places to visit in the Philippines. Thus, the city is a literal cornucopia of resorts. Most are arrayed along the shoreline, while some are built further inland. All offer guests a variety of amenities and numerous activities over water and land.
Samal is a choice destination for beach enthusiasts. Pristine sandy beaches line the shores of the islands, some of white sands, others of cream, beige, gold, or light gray. Among the well-known beaches on Samal Island are the white sandy shores of Canibad Beach and Kaputian Beach.
Off the southwestern coast of Samal Island is the smaller Talikud Island, which boasts of equally beautiful white shorelines and crystal clear waters, while off Samal Island’s northwestern coast lies the so-called Vanishing Island, a strip of white sand visible only during low tide.
Samal is surrounded by the cool and clear waters of the blue Davao Gulf, through which fleets of the brilliantly-colored vinta boats sail gracefully. Extensive reefs within the gulf house crowds of colorful marine life, making for excellent dive spots.
Especially noteworthy snorkeling and diving sites are the Giant Clam Sanctuary, a protected marine habitat for thousands of the massive saltwater clams of the genus Tridacna; and the Coral Garden and Marine Reservation Park, a vast underwater domain of corals and colorful aquatic life.
Besides beach bumming, island-hopping, and water-based recreations, there are plenty of other worthwhile distractions to indulge in further inland.
The most renowned waterfall in Samal is Hagimit Falls, a lovely series of small cascades flowing into natural pools of a most mesmerizing and irresistible turquoise hue. Trees and dense verdure overhung the falls and the riverine waters. Campers may pitch their tents within the surrounding woodland.
The Monfort Bat Cave, a small limestone cave which houses the largest known population of Geoffrey’s Rousette fruit bats, is worth visiting, particularly at dusk, when the bats emerge from their veritable sanctuary.
Meanwhile, traversing the trails to Mount Puting Bato’s summit, the highest peak in Samal elevated at 410 m (1,345 ft) ASL, yields a glorious view of the entire Island Garden City.
47. San Antonio
San Antonio is a coastal town on southern Zambales, opening towards the sweeping expanse of the West Philippine Sea. It was once a sleepy town that was never really high on anyone’s travel bucket list, and the tourist traffic it drew was rare and diminutive. But all that changed when Mount Pinatubo awoke in anger.
Pinatubo is an active stratovolcano lying on the trijunction of Pampanga, Tarlac, and Zambales provinces. Its cataclysmic eruption in 1991 was the second-largest terrestrial eruption of the 20th century, which devastated the surrounding lands and forced the flight of thousands of people from their homes.
The ashes disgorged by Pinatubo fell heavily on the coasts of San Antonio, in particular on Anawangin Cove, Nagsasa Cove, and Talisayin Cove. The ashes mixed with the white sands and turned the color of the shoreline into a soft, light gray – a stark contrast to the surrounding turquoise waters that turn a deeper shade of blue further out to sea. Along the ashen shores stately agoho pine trees grew tall and numerous.
The dramatic and lovely changes to its coastal landscape forever transformed San Antonio. From an unfamiliar and uncharted town, it has swiftly grown into one of the best places to visit in the Philippines.
Of the three ashen beaches, the most popular is Anawangin Cove. Its gray sandy shoreline is walled by lofty hills and mighty mountains clad and crowned with verdure, at whose sandy heels lie sprawled a vast forest of tall agoho trees. A shallow creek flows through the beach and out into the sea. There is no electricity and mobile signal. Campers may pitch their tents upon the shore and in the woods.
Nagsasa Cove is akin to Anawangin, equally beautiful and alluring, but far larger and even more remote. Thus, Nagsasa sees less crowd and traffic, affording those who actually make it there peace, quiet, and wide sections of the beach. Within the cove is a small, charming cascade known as Nagsasa Falls.
Talisayin Cove also has the same ashen shoreline, agoho forests, mountainous walls, and turquoise seawaters, but no creek or falls. Of the three, Talisayin is the least visited. Accordingly, the aura of peace and serenity suffusing the cove is rarely broken.
Silanguin Cove further to the south was spared from the Pinatubo ash fall. Hence its shores are not ashen, but its sands are still gray. Lofty red-capped hills with verdant bases ring the sandy beach, which, like Talisayin, also sees fewer visitors.
Off the coast of San Antonio are the popular island-hopping destinations of Capones and Camara islands. Capones Island, a long bone-shaped island with shores of white sands and rocks, hosts the Capones Lighthouse, or the Faro de Punta Capones, a historic Spanish-era lighthouse erected to guide ships entering Subic Bay. Nearby is Camara Island, which is made up of two rocky islets linked by a sandbar.
48. Siargao Island
PROVINCE: Surigao del Norte
Siargao, a teardrop-shaped island off the northeastern coast of Surigao del Norte, is famed for its exceptional surf breaks. The island is hailed as the Surfing Capital of the Philippines, a premier destination among surfing enthusiasts both in the local and international scenes.
The most popular surf spot in Siargao and the island’s first claim to fame is Cloud 9, a right-hand reef break with thick hollow tubes. Cloud 9 consistently ranks among the ten best surf spots in the world, and is the site of several domestic and international competitions.
Other quality surf spots in Siargao include Jacking Horse and Quicksilver for beginners; Cemetery, Rock Island, Salvacion, and Stimpy’s for intermediates; and Burgos, Pacifico, and Tuason’s Point for experts.
Although Siargao began its reputation as a haven to surfing enthusiasts, it has now burgeoned into one of the best places to visit in the Philippines. Beyond its deep swells and mighty waves, this veritable tropical idyll has more to offer.
Nearly the entire length of its coastline, for instance is dotted with a number of magnificent beaches, many of which are of powdery white sands. Groves of coconut palms, which flourish on the island in vast numbers, line the beaches. The crystal-clear waters of the Pacific are warm and welcoming. The most popular of the island’s beaches is Algeria Beach, a very long stretch of white and golden sand lined with palms.
Three islets off Siargao’s southeastern coast – Daku, Gulam, and Naked Island – which are popular destinations for island-hopping enthusiasts, are also fringed with white sandy beaches.
Besides its mighty waves and magnificent beaches, Siargao is endowed with other natural wonders that merit a trip or two. The Magpupungko Rock Pools is an array of dramatic rock formations and deep rock-cut basins along the northern end of Magpupungko Beach. These tidal pools must be visited during low tide, when the rock basins are filled with seawater left over by the ebbing tide, creating natural swimming pools. Caves and cliffs abound in the area, making for thrilling cliff-jumping and swimming experiences.
Tayangban Cave, which encompasses two cenotes – natural sinkholes formed from the collapse of limestone bedrock that expose groundwater underneath – houses stalactites and stalagmites of remarkable shapes and sizes. The cave leads to the clear Tayangban Cave Pool, which is ringed by steep limestone cliffs thickly overhung by vines.
The enchanting Sugba Lagoon sits in the midst of a vast and sprawling mangrove forest, the second largest of such forests in the Philippines. Here, limestone cliffs and hills clad with verdure rise above crystalline water which teem with diverse marine wildlife, making it ideal for snorkeling. As well, tourists can dive, swim, kayak, and standup paddleboard in the tranquil waters.
Tak Tak Falls is said to be the only waterfall in the entire island. Its clear waters cascade from a high cliff overhung by dense vegetation, and into a shallow pool where weary visitors can ease their strains and aches.
- The Best Reasons to Visit the Philippines
- The Most Amazing Places to Visit in the Philippines – PART 1
- The Most Beautiful Beach Destinations in the Philippines
49. Siquijor Island
The island province of Siquijor was once a no-go area for many travelers, and few then would have thought of putting it on their bucket list. The island was rumored to be the abode of horrors, the land of witchcraft and sorcery. Frightful tales spoke of demons prowling the island’s shores, and witches holding covens beneath starless skies.
But those who have actually gone to Siquijor have found otherwise. Instead of demons, they found a landscape of unrivaled beauty – rolling hills, sheer seaside cliffs, lofty mountains, primeval forests, extensive caverns, and enchanting waterfalls. Instead of witches, they found magnificent shores of fine white sand sprawled along the island’s coasts, fronting waters of wonderful crystalline blue. Apparently, the island of witches is in fact the island of beaches. From one of the most shunned places, Siquijor is now highly sought-after as one of the best places to visit in the Philippines.
Siquijor doubtless holds some of the finest beachscapes in the country. Paliton Beach, a breathtaking strip of brilliant white sand lined with tall coconut palms, extends on Siquijor’s western coast, alongside Solangon Beach and other equally impressive beaches.
To the north are the beaches of Sandugan and Dumanhog, to name a few. East lie the white sandy shores of Salagdoong, Talisay, and Camugao, among others. South of the island are the spectacular ivory sands and remarkable rock formations of Kagusuan Beach. Numerous other beaches dot the coastline of Siquijor, all incredibly peaceful and every bit picturesque.
Siquijor is also reputed to have fantastic diving sites. The coral reefs ringing the island are full to bursting with colorful marine dwellers, beckoning to snorkelers and divers to take a trip underwater. Most of the popular beaches are already excellent snorkeling spots. Of the better known dive sites are the Tubod Marine Sanctuary, where numerous tropical fishes swim among coral reefs and seagrasses, and the Tulapos Marine Sanctuary, a pristine underwater world bordered by mangroves.
Moving inland yields even more wonders. Enchantingly beautiful waterfalls cascade within the island in great numbers. The most visited is Cambugahay Falls, a spectacular three-tiered waterfall with crystalline waters issuing from natural springs. Trading height for width, the broad waterfall descends into natural pools ideal for swimming.
Lugnason Falls is a magnificent spring issuing deep from the mountains and spilling into a rock basin of cool and clear waters. Lagaan (La-Gaan) Falls is a far smaller cascade, but every bit picturesque. Locong Falls is yet another small waterfall, while Cangbangag Falls is a towering cataract reported to be the tallest waterfall in Siquijor.
Siquijor also caters to spelunkers. Cantabon Cave is the premier destination for a thrilling spelunking experience. This pristine cave is situated nearly 800 m (2,625 ft) below the ground. Those who manage the descent are feted with a rich display of awe-inspiring speleothems and a surreal subterranean landscape.
Also well worth visiting is the Centuries-Old Balete Tree, a 400-year old balete tree believed to be the oldest and biggest of such trees in the entire island province. This grand and imposing tree is steeped in mystique, and beneath its boughs local shamans hold sacred rituals. A natural spring issues forth from the tree’s roots, feeding a manmade pool where visitors can dip their toes for a cleaning session from the resident fishes.
Subic is a rapidly-developing town on the southern end of the province of Zambales, situated along the northern coast of Subic Bay. It used to host the Subic Bay Naval Base, one of the largest United States military facilities outside of the U.S. mainland.
As one of the best places to visit in the Philippines, Subic warmly welcomes numerous tourists annually, especially weekend visitors from Metro Manila. The town is famed foremost for its diverse assortment of parks, which range from water parks, nature parks, amusement parks, and even a marine park and a zoo, among others.
Along the coast are stretches of sandy beaches, and here multitudes of locals and tourists alike gather to escape the tropical heat. Numerous palms ranged along the shore afford shade, while the gentle waters of Subic Bay offer relief from the heat. Visitors frolic upon the grayish sands, while tourists seeking to engage in island-hopping haggle with the local boatmen for their services. Resorts are especially plentiful.
Aside from the beaches, another alternative to cool off is El Kabayo Falls, a small waterfall reachable via a lengthy hike along a rugged trail passing through dense woodlands.
Subic is a choice destination for divers, who seek the waters of Subic Bay for a spectacular wreck diving experience. The Bay’s claim to fame is its incredible trove of wrecks – around 19 battleship and warplane wrecks lie beneath its waters, many of which belong to the World War II era, while some date back even further.
Doubtless the most popular wreck is the USS New York, a massive American battleship built in 1891. She served in several wars before being scuttled in World War II to prevent capture by the Japanese. She remains mostly intact, along with her four eight-inch guns, at 117 meters among the largest and most impressive wrecks in the Bay.
The wreck of the USS Majaba, a supply freighter of the US Navy dubbed as the El Capitan, is often used for wreck diving training, and an excellent spot for photography.
The San Quentin, a Spanish warship scuttled during the Spanish-American War, is the oldest wreck in the area. Now covered with soft corals, sponges, and crinoids, she is currently manned by a diverse crew of marine creatures.
The SS Oryoku Maru draws divers with her grim history. Infamously known as The Hell Ship, this World War II Japanese prisoner-of-war transporter has earned notoriety for the gruesome horrors inflicted upon the Allied prisoners on board.
51. Taal Volcano
In the province of Batangas lies Taal, an extremely fascinating geological wonder and one of the premier tourist draws in the Philippines. Taal is a rather low volcano, rising to a height of only 311 m (1,020 ft) ASL. Its short stature, however, belies its exceedingly violent disposition. Having had 33 recorded eruptions since 1572, Taal is the second most active volcano in the country, and is the world’s smallest active volcano.
Taal is classified as a complex volcano and fittingly so, too. After all, the geologic structure of the volcano is certainly a strange one. To begin with, Taal is found on the main island of Luzon, which is within the Western Pacific Ocean. Nestled within Taal is Lake Taal, a large freshwater lake that fills the Taal Caldera. In the midst of the lake lies Volcano Island, an island riddled with numerous different and overlapping cones and craters.
Within Volcano Island is a crater lake 2 km (1.24 mi) wide and with an average depth of 20 m (66 ft), referred to only as the Main Crater Lake. In the middle of this lake juts Vulcan Point, a small rocky island said to be the remnant of the old crater floor that is now surrounded by the crater lake. Vulcan Point is often cited as the largest third-order island (island in a lake on an island in a lake on an island) in the world, while the Main Crater Lake is the largest lake on an island in a lake on an island in the world.
Thus, Taal has an island (Vulcan Point) within a lake (Main Crater Lake), that is on an island (Volcano Island) within a lake (Taal Lake), that is on an island (Luzon) within the sea (Pacific Ocean).
Taal’s curious formation is part of its endearing appeal as one of the best places to visit in the Philippines, as evidenced by the thousands of tourists who flock to the volcano to marvel at its unique and intricate beauty.
Taal is one of the most sought-after climbing destinations in the country. Hikers and trekkers are ferried by outrigger boats across Taal Lake and onto Volcano Island. From there, they must then ascend, on foot or on horseback, through either of the several trails that lead to the volcanic walls overlooking the crater lake. The hike is brief, easy, and relaxing, and the trails are all incredibly scenic.
The wonder of Taal Volcano is best witnessed from the City of Tagaytay in the neighboring province of Cavite. When viewed from the Tagaytay Ridge, the volcano and the lake presents one of the most picturesque and iconic views in the Philippines.
52. Tagaytay City
Tagaytay is a city on the southern end of Cavite province, situated well along Tagaytay Ridge, which overlooks Taal Volcano in the neighboring province of Batangas. The ridge is elevated some 610 m (2,001 ft) ASL, affording the city a cool and crisp climate. Hills and mountains dominate the local topography, with patches of pine forests and open grasslands.
Tagaytay is one of the best places to visit in the Philippines. Tourists seek Tagaytay for its pleasant climate and delightful natural scenery, particularly visitors from nearby Metro Manila seeking to escape the heat and chaos of the metropolis. Accordingly, the city is widely regarded as the Second Summer Capital of the Philippines, albeit unofficially, right after the City of Baguio in the northerly Cordilleras.
Tagaytay is best known as the ultimate vantage point to behold the full beauty of Taal Volcano. Indeed, the vast majority the iconic pictures of the famed volcano are taken from Tagaytay Ridge.
As a top tourist destination, the city is home to an array of malls, hotels, resorts, restaurants, amusement parks, and zoos. The city’s parks are especially sought-after, of which the most popular include Picnic Grove and the People’s Park in the Sky.
Picnic Grove is a charming and idyllic hillside park overlooking the iconic Taal. Within this recreation area, families and friends gather to picnic, frolic upon the grass, or simply delight in the beauty of the natural scenery. The park offers plenty of worthwhile distractions to engage in, such as swimming, horseback riding, ziplining, and cable car riding. Cafés and shops are abundant.
Meanwhile, the People’s Park in the Sky is built atop the 709 m- (2,326 ft-) high Mount Sungay, the highest point in the province of Cavite. Consequently, the park affords an uninterrupted view of the entirety of Tagaytay, Taal Volcano and Lake, and glimpses of the neighboring provinces. Picturesque wooden footbridges, gazeboes, and benches adorn the verdant park.
53. Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park
The Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park is situated in the midst of the Sulu Sea, at the very heart of the Coral Triangle, 150 kilometers (93 miles) southeast of Puerto Princesa, the capital city of Palawan. It is a 97,030 hectare-Marine Protected Area, encompassing the North and South Atolls of the Tubbataha Reef and the smaller Jessie Beazley Reef. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The immensity of marine life in the Reefs is astounding. Within its bounds dwell no fewer than 600 fish species and 374 coral species – half of all coral species in the world! Fourteen species of sharks and 13 species of dolphins and whales live here. It is also a nesting site of endangered green and hawksbill turtles, and a breeding ground of over 100 species of birds.
The Tubbataha Reefs is one of the best places to visit in the Philippines for divers. Indeed, it is hailed as the undisputed diving Mecca of the country, and ranks among the most remarkable diving destinations worldwide.
The Reefs house numerous dives sites with varying environments. On the northeastern end of the North Atoll are the Shark Airport and the Washing Machine. The Shark Airport features a wall reef with a sandy bottom where scores of whitetip sharks rest, resembling planes readying for take-off at an airport. Among the sea whips and gorgonians mantling the wall are gobies, angelfish, hawkfish, anthias, and damselfish. Large pelagics, including whale sharks, pass by often.
The Washing Machine is known for its fast, powerful currents which sweep divers in many different directions over a number of gullies. The strong currents convey a vivid parade of jacks, tunas, giant trevallies, and barracudas, along with smaller fishes including triggerfish, butterflyfish, anthias, Sergeant Majors, bannerfish, and sweetlips.
On the southern end of the North Atoll is Amos Rock, a gentle slope ending in a vertiginous wall adorned with sea whips and sea fans. Napoleon wrasses, Moorish idols, angelfish, surgeonfish, fusiliers, groupers, snappers, and mackerel share this dwelling with eagle rays, gray and whitetip reef sharks, and other large pelagics. Sea turtles pay regular visits.
Other dives sites within the North Atoll include the Terraces, Seafan Alley, Malayan Wreck, Wall Street, and South Park.
On the northeastern tip of the South Atoll is Black Rock, a gently sloping plateau occupied by nurse sharks and gray and whitetip reef sharks, along with titan triggerfish, surgeonfish, and rainbow runners. Guitar sharks, leopard sharks, hammerheads, tunas, barracudas, and jacks cruise along in the open.
On the southeastern end of the South Atoll lies the Delsan Wreck, a small sunken ship now populated by a myriad of micro life – nudibranchs, shrimps, crabs, tiny reef fishes, etc. Frogfish, sweetlips, and snappers are par for the course here, while reef sharks and eagle rays, as well as sea turtles, are regularly sighted. A yawning fissure in the nearby coral, known as The Cut, is 30 m (98 ft) deep and is teeming with marine life.
Other dive sites within the South Atoll include the T Wreck, Ko-ok, Southwest Wall, Staghorn Point, and Triggerfish City.
The smaller Jessie Beazley Reef also offers spectacular dive sites and a profusion of colorful marine life. Mantas, whitetip and blacktip reef sharks, tunas, groupers, barracuda, and mackerel are common, along with vast populations of reef fishes and nudibranchs.
Isolated and remote, divers can reach the Tubbataha Reefs only through a ten to twelve-hour ride on liveaboards issuing from Puerto Princesa, and only during April to June, when the seas are calmest, the skies clearest, and the water clarity highest.
54. Verde Island
Verde Island, or Isla Verde, lies between the islands of Luzon and Mindoro, surrounded by the crystalline waters of the Verde Island Passage. The marine biodiversity in the area is exceedingly prolific – the richest in the entire Coral Triangle, and indeed anywhere on the globe! Its vast wealth of marine life has earned it the title Center of the Center of the Marine Biodiversity of the World.
Accordingly, Verde Island is home to superb diving. One of the most popular dive sites in the area is The Wall, a vertiginous wall descending 70 meters into the depths, clad with gorgonians and other colorful corals. Batfish, emperors, surgeonfish, and small reef fishes, along with banded sea kraits, abound. In the open water, pelagics – tunas, blacktip and whitetip reef sharks, mantas, and eagle rays – cruise along.
For advanced divers who can handle powerful currents, there are two premier dive sites. The first is the Pinnacle (the Drop Off), a massive underwater reef jutting above the surface and teeming with marine life in riotous display. The second is the Washing Machine, which affords veteran divers with an exhilarating drift dive through forceful currents over a maze of seven canyons all brimming with colorful aquatic wildlife.
Though first and foremost a diving destination, Verde Island is still one of the best places to visit in the Philippines even for non-divers. It is not only the surrounding waters that are brimming with wealth – the island itself is a veritable treasure trove waiting to be discovered!
Beach lovers will find home and happiness on Mahabang Buhangin (local term for long beach or long sand), a kilometer-long beach stretched along the island’s northern coast. Along the shore are shrubs, bushes, and small trees, while crystal-clear waters of various hues of blue lap up gently against the sand.
Awaiting exploration is the rock cave Cueva Sitio, within which is supposedly a passage that leads to the other side of the island.
The highest points on Verde Island are the summits of the sister peaks Mount Liponpon and Mount Dagit Dagit, both of which are elevated at about 360 m (1,181 ft) ASL. A hike towards either summit yields glorious views of the island and the surrounding waters of the Verde Island Passage. But for those not willing to take the trek, the island’s lighthouse provides a decent alternative vantage point.
55. Vigan City
PROVINCE: Ilocos Sur
The City of Vigan, the capital of Ilocos Sur, is an enduring reminder of the Philippines’ colonial past. It is one of the best places to visit in the Philippines, drawing numerous sightseers to behold the renowned Royal City founded by the Spanish conquistador Juan de Salcedo.
Much of the old urban design of Vigan, which was patterned after the lay of Intramuros, the Walled City in Manila, has endured, making the city the most intact example of a planned Spanish colonial town in Asia.
Most of the colonial-era structures that have remained are found in the Mestizo District, the beautifully preserved historic core of the city also known as the Heritage Village. The Mestizo District encompasses numerous ancestral homes of the city’s elite arrayed along gridded cobblestones streets and alleyways.
Running through the Mestizo District is Mena Crisologo Street, or Calle Crisologo, a broad cobbled street extending for four blocks, hemmed on either side by the grand mansions of the families of the Filipino-Chinese merchants who amassed their wealth from the Manila-Acapulco maritime trade.
Calle Crisologo is the premier draw in Vigan. A number of the old houses have been repurposed as museums, inns, cafés, and shops. During the day, numerous tourists crowd the entire length of the street, parting only to make way for the calesas, or horse-drawn carriages. At night, lamps illuminate the street in soft and lovely hues of gold and vermillion.
North of Calle Crisologo stands the grand Saint Paul’s Cathedral, an impressive church built in 1800 along the distinct ‘Earthquake Baroque’ architectural design of the Ilocos region.
Directly opposite the Cathedral is Plaza Salcedo, the oldest monument in Northern Luzon built in honor of the Spaniard Salcedo. In the plaza’s midst stands the Salcedo Obelisk, which once served as the focal point of the old layout of the city. The plaza is renowned for its spectacular display of ‘dancing’ fountains of water illuminated by resplendent lights and set to the accompaniment of music.
Beside the Cathedral lies Plaza Burgos, a monument dedicated to the martyr Father Jose Burgos, one of the three Filipino scholar-priests who were garroted by the Spaniards for championing reforms in the Catholic Church. The plaza is home to numerous stalls, kiosks, and stands vending local delicacies.
The entire city of Vigan is inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage City after being declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is a member of the Organization of World Heritage Cities (OWHC). Vigan is also officially recognized as one of the New7Wonders Cities by the New7Wonders Foundation.
- The Best Reasons to Visit the Philippines
- The Most Amazing Places to Visit in the Philippines – PART 2
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