The best of the Philippines: your ultimate island matchmaker

There are more than 7,000 islands in the Philippines, scattered like fireflies across the Pacific Ocean, and each offering something different for travellers. Read on for our pick of the best.

Published 3 Dec 2020, 13:51 GMT, Updated 24 Jun 2021, 12:29 BST
Banaue is famous for its dramatic rice terraces, many of which are thousands of years old.

Banaue is famous for its dramatic rice terraces, many of which are thousands of years old. 

Photograph by AWL Images

Many islands in the Philippines are almost untouched by travellers, tiny specks of land cloaked in thick forest and ringed by white-sand beaches. And then there are the old favourites, where volcanoes smoke, rice fields shine emerald green and megacities thrum from dusk to dawn.

1. Banaue

Best for: Cultural immersion
Banaue has rightfully gained a reputation for its dramatic rice terraces — vast paddy fields cutting into the hillsides, many of which are a legacy of the Ifugao culture and date back 2,000 years. Hikers weave along pathways while admiring their blazing green hue, walking from village to village where cups of smoky, homemade rice wine await them. Book a multi-day trekking trip in and around the paddies, from the hamlet of Bangaan to Mayoyao, before  finishing in Batad.
Don’t miss: Cooling off in the pools around Chappah Falls.

Palawan's Tubbataha Reefs National Park is an excellent spot to float among sea cows, turtles and sharks.

Photograph by Getty Images

2. Palawan

Best for: Wildlife-watching
This island has appeared on lots of must-visit lists, luring plucky travellers with the promise of primordial adventures. Kick things off at Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park — both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the New Seven Wonders of the World — a vast network of chambers and caverns loomed over by rock cathedrals and smoothed by waterfalls. Elsewhere, the protected Tubbataha Reefs National Park, adrift off of Palawan island, is the jumping-off point for divers to float among sea cows, turtles and sharks.
Don’t miss: Swim alongside fish in a timeworn wreck. Head to the town of Coron, where a Second World War Japanese fleet hides beneath the waves among a tangle of weeds and coral.

3. Bicol

Best for: Watersports
Another little-visited region, Bicol is home to numerous quiet beaches that frame an interior of forests and volcanoes. Its surrounding waters teem with life, including whale sharks, the world's largest fish. Over on nearby Ticao Island, meanwhile, a handful of dive shops will take you to swim with manta rays as they flutter close to the seabed. And for an adrenalin kick, the CamSur Watersports Complex offers a heady mix of guided wakeboarding, kneeboarding and water skiing sessions on the pristine island of Camarines Sur.
Don’t miss: Taking a ride with Mayon Skydrive ATV Adventure (a quad bike) across swampy tracks and bumpy jungle trails.

Siargao tends to attract a surfer crowd who descend on its white sand shores to ride the waves and relax in beach shacks. 

Photograph by Getty Images

4. Siargao

Best for: Island-hopping
The thundering surf of this tear-shaped island is a tempting draw for wave riders. The surfer, yogi and digital nomad crowd wash up here to hang out at its beach shacks, paddle in its rockpools and laze in hammocks over lunches of barbecued shellfish. This place is all about the good life, and beyond the beach are a handful of islands waiting to be explored. These include Naked Island, a slip of a sandbar, Daku, with its wide palm-fringed shore, and dinky Guyam, with its white-sand shoreline speckled with broken shells.
Don’t miss: Watching pro surfers grappling with Cloud 9, a world-renowned reef break.

Bohol's iconic Chocolate Hills are surrounded by dense forests full of hiking trails.

Photograph by Getty Images

5. Bohol

Best for: All-round adventure
This province is a crowd-pleaser on every level. The Chocolate Hills are perhaps the most iconic, with their thickly forested slopes turning from emerald to brown as the dry season sets in. Adventurous types come here to walk paths that wind around their slopes, or bike their bumpy trails, often with electrifying drops below. Alternatively, there are mellow cruises meandering the Loboc River, with swirls of mist hanging low over forest backdrops. And offshore, meanwhile, immaculate reefs are frequented by divers and dolphins alike.
Don't miss: A trip to Danao Adventure Park, with glass cliff walks, canyon swings, caving and cliff diving all on the bill.

Essentials

Getting there: Philippine Airlines flies direct from London to Manila (13.25H). Apart from Manila, other gateways via connecting flights include Cebu, Clark, Kalibo, Iloilo and Davao. Schedules may change due to the pandemic.
Average flight-time: 13.25h
When to go: Between December and February, when temperatures hover pleasantly around 24/25C.

Visit the Philippine Department of Tourism’s website for more inspiring information on the Philippines, including the ways the islands are ensuring the safety of all their visitors. 

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