So many islands, so little time.
It would take two lifetimes to explore all the glory that is the Philippines’ 7,641 islands. For visitors, deciding which ones to visit can be a daunting and overwhelming task. From the lush green hills of the north to the tropical surfing beaches of the south, these are Philippines’ must-visit islands.
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A short boat ride from Coron town to Coron Island gets you to the most iconic and spectacular shot of the Philippines. Once you climb the stairs to Kayangan Lake View Point and catch your breath, you’ll see colossal limestone rocks jutting out of a turquoise green bay. After you’ve got the perfect photos, walk down the stairs in the opposite direction to Kayangan Lake, one of the clearest lakes in the world. Here you can swim and snorkel amongst the colorful fish and coral. This area gets extremely busy so ask your local tour operator or hotel staff what the best time to visit is.
INSIDER TIPBook a private outrigger tour, that way you can avoid crowds and make your own schedule.
This long, skinny island is the country’s largest province and includes Coron. You could spend your entire trip on the island of Palawan and not see half of its natural beauty. One of the most popular and incredible attractions is the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, part of the UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Here you can float deep into an underground cave to see bats and stalagmites. Then, head north to El Nido and join El Nido Yachting Club for a luxury tour of the famous crystal clear lagoons and white sand beaches.
INSIDER TIPBook a three day-two night boat trip with Tao Philippines to cruise from El Nido to Coron or vice versa.
This southern island is the Philippines premier surfing destination. A chilled-out vacation destination with luxury accommodation like Bayud Boutique Resort at affordable prices. The best way to explore the island is on a motorbike. So rent a moped and cruise past swaying palm trees and bamboo beach huts to the Magpupungko Rock Pools. An incredible place for photos and a swim at low-tide. After a full day of surf and swim carb up at any one of the island’s awesome Italian restaurants like Kermit or La Carinderia.
A short ferry ride from Cebu City, Bohol is home to some of the Philippines most unique attractions. You’ve probably seen the Chocolate Hills in guidebooks and textbooks over the years. These brown geological formations protruding from the earth for miles and miles in the distance is truly awe-inspiring. In the same day, you can see another incredible aspect of nature–tarsiers. Visit the Philippine Tarsier Sanctuary in Corella to view these tiny, bug-eyed primates in their natural habitat. Visitors must not use flash and must be very quiet; otherwise, these endangered animals may get so overwhelmed they’ll kill themselves.
INSIDER TIPMake sure your cab driver or tour operator takes you to the Philippine Tarsier Sanctuary, not the Tarsier Conservation Area.
The large island of Cebu is home to Cebu City, the Philippines first capital. As the country’s oldest city there is a lot to discover. Hire a guide to take you to the Cebu Heritage Monument to learn about the city’s long history and culture. Another cultural aspect of the modern-day Philippines is their malls. Head to SM Mall Cebu to experience shopping like a local. They also have a Jollibee, the country’s most popular fast food chain, where the Chickenjoy is a must-try.
Known as the Philippines’ most mysterious island, Siquijor is famous for its witchcraft and shamanism. Don’t worry if you’re not into spiritualism; visitors can partake in the beauty of a dozen waterfalls, white sand beaches, and cliffs perfect for jumping. The most famous spot on the island is the idyllic Cambugahay Falls. A short but steep hike takes you to this three-tiered waterfall. If you want to take a turn on the rope swing, be prepared to pay a small fee.
This is the country’s largest island and home to Manila, the capital city of the Philippines. But don’t hang around, escape the congestion of the city and head north to hike Mount Pulag. In order to reach the island’s highest mountain, you have to venture into remote, rural towns like Kabayan where mummies are hidden in caves. If you’re really brave, drive the narrow, winding roads to see incredible vistas and rows of rice terraces that rival Bali in Sagada, Banaue, and Bontoc.
INSIDER TIPBe sure to plan your route and accommodation well in advance as there isn’t much to choose from.
A quick drive over the bridge from Bohol gets you to this resort destination famous for Alona Beach. Sunbathe, swim, and snorkel off its white, sometimes crowded sands or stop for purple ube ice cream at any of its cafes. There are plenty of relaxed hotels to stay at and local massage parlors to frequent. If you’re up for some adventure, take a swim among the stalagmites in the cavernous lagoon of Hinagdanan Cave.
A short cab ride from Cebu City takes you to a small, luxurious island for those looking to relax and enjoy the water. Diving enthusiasts flock to Mactan for its multitude of diving sites, a stunning variety of marine life, and resorts with dedicated facilities. If you’re not certified, there’s always snorkeling, windsurfing, and sailing off its shores. Don’t leave the island without trying the world’s best lechon (roasted pig) at Zubuchon. Located near the airport, it’s the perfect stop to spot before your flight.
Naval buffs will love this historically significant island where Magellan sailed through, MacArthur landed in 1944, and was inhabited by Japanese guerilla soldiers during WWII. Today, historians can visit the MacArthur Landing Memorial National Park and the location where Battle of Leyte ensued. Separated into two provinces, this less-touristy island has some of the country’s best diving spots are on the southern tip in Southern Leyte. Note that the island is still recuperating after Super Typhoon Yolanda destroyed 70 to 80 percent of its structures in 2013.
Batanes is the northernmost group of islands in the country. The province’s main island, Batan, has green rolling hills dotted with livestock, rugged cliffs, and a lighthouse, making for a completely different landscape compared to the country’s other islands. Rent a car or a motorbike and explore Chawa Cave, a natural salt bed cave thought to be enchanted by spirits. Then head to Naidi Hills, for a postcard-worthy picture of the island’s first lighthouse. Be sure to plan a visit to Maydangeb White Beach where you can walk through a narrow, rocky trail that opens up on the hidden gem that is Huhmurun Blue Lagoon.