Best places to go in the Philippines
Enjoy island escapes, historic towns and all the lechon you can handle.
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No more than an eight-hour flight from most major cities in Australia, and with flights often on sale for incredibly low prices, the Philippines is quickly becoming a hot destination for Australians looking for picturesque islands, lush rainforests, colourful reefs and pristine beaches. With more than 7,000 islands on the map, we're here to help you find the best ones to explore on your next visit.
Best for island hopping: Coron
If when you hear "Philippines", you think of pristine turquoise waters surrounded by limestone hills and colourful coral in crystal clear water, you're probably picturing Coron. Within those clear waters also lie about a dozen shipwrecks waiting to be explored by divers.
- Best for: Island hopping day trips, scuba diving at shipwrecks.
- How to get there: Cebu Pacific flies from Manila for one-stop journeys from Australia. You can also travel by boat from El Nido. Cebu Pacific also flies from Cebu. You can also fly with Philippine Airlines from Cebu or Clark, or AirSWIFT from El Nido or Puerto Princesa. If visiting El Nido too, you can take a ferry between the two islands in about 3.5 hours.
- Where to stay: The Funny Lion
- Top things to see and do: Dive the Japanese shipwrecks in Coron Bay, swim in Twin Lagoon, visit Maquinit Hot Springs, hike to the top of Mt Tapyas.
- How long do I need? 3-5 days.
- Recommended tour: Coron Reefs and Wrecks Day Tour
Best for backpackers: El Nido
Perched on the northern end of the island of Palawan, El Nido town is the stepping stone to some of the province's most picturesque spots including lagoons filled with clear, turquoise waters, lengthy beaches and colourful diving and snorkelling sites – all easily available to those on a budget.
- Best for: Island hopping day trips, backpackers.
- How to get there: AirSWIFT flies directly to a small airport in El Nido. You can also get budget flights to Puerto Princesa (and then catch a minivan shuttle to El Nido). Cebu Pacific flies there from Manila, Cebu and Iloilo, and both AirAsia and Philippine Airlines fly from Manila, Cebu and Clark. If visiting Coron too, you can take a ferry between the two islands in about 3.5 hours.
- Where to stay: Cadlao.
- Top things to see and do: Swim in Big and Small Lagoons, relax at Nacpan Beach, join island hopping tours.
- How long do I need? 3-4 days.
- Recommended tour: El Nido island hopping tour A.
Best for all-around holidays: Cebu
Home to both the second-largest metro area in the Philippines and natural wonders like beaches and waterfalls, the island of Cebu has something for just about every traveller.
- Best for: Foodies, exploring waterfalls.
- How to get there: Cebu Pacific, AirAsia and Philippine Airlines fly there from across the Philippines, including Manila. If visiting Bohol as well, a ferry can get you between the islands in about two hours.
- Where to stay: Bluewater Sumilon if you like beaches or Bai Hotel if you like the city
- Top things to see and do: Swim at Kawasan Falls, go on a canyoneering adventure, eat the local lechon, take in the history of the Philippines' oldest settlement.
- How long do I need? 4-5 days.
- Recommended tour: Canyoneering at Kawasan Falls.
Best for adrenaline-seekers: Bohol
From adventure parks with zip-lines and ATV rides through the countryside to picturesque river cruises and pristine beaches, Bohol is packed with things to do in the great outdoors. Its lush forests are home to the tiny tarsiers (pictured) and its coastal waters filled with colourful reefs and sea life.
- Best for: Seeing wildlife, adrenaline-fueled adventures.
- How to get there: Cebu Pacific flies to Bohol from Clark, Davao and Manila. Philippine Airlines flies from Davao and Manila, and AirAsia flies from Clark and Manila. If visiting Cebu as well, a ferry can get you between the islands in about two hours.
- Where to stay: Bohol Beach Club.
- Top things to see and do: Visit a tarsier sanctuary, check out the other-worldly Chocolate Hills, cruise down the turquoise Loboc River, snorkel off the beaches of Panglao Island.
- How long do I need? 4-5 days.
- Recommended tour: Countryside tour with Chocolate Hills.
Best for surfers: Siargao
Like a less-crowded and even more laid-back version of Byron Bay, but in the Philippines, Siargao and its surf have put this small island on the map for international travellers. But even for those who have never stepped onto a board, its beaches, swimming holes and small offshore islands make it well worth a visit.
- Best for: Surfing on Cloud 9 break, being a beach bum.
- How to get there: Cebu Pacific flies from Cebu and Manila, and Philippine Airlines flies from Cebu, Clark and Davao.
- Where to stay: Buddha's Surf Resort.
- Top things to see and do: Cloud 9 surf break, island hopping, swim in lagoons and cave pools.
- How long do I need? 3-4 days.
- Recommended tour: Tri-island hopping tour.
Best for classic beach holidays: Boracay
After a brief six-month closure to tourists in 2018 to clean up the island and improve infrastructure, Boracay is back. In fact, with its picture-perfect White Beach and luxe resorts, Condé Nast Traveller called this seven-kilometre-long slice of paradise the best island in Asia in 2019.
- Best for: Kitesurfing, relaxing on the beach.
- How to get there: There is no airport on the island of Boracay, but it is served by two nearby airports: Kalibo and Caticlan, where you can easily get a nearby ferry that can get you to Boracay. You can fly to the larger Kalibo airport with Cebu Pacific or Philippine Airlines from Cebu or Manila, or with AirAsia from Manila. You can fly to Caticlan with Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines or AirAsia from Cebu, Clark and Manila.
- Where to stay: Shangri-La's Boracay Resort and Spa.
- Top things to see and do: Swim at White Beach, try kitesurfing.
- How long do I need? 2-3 days.
- Recommended tour: Boracay Sunset Cruise.
Best for history: Vigan
Spend a day or two exploring the UNESCO World Heritage Listed city of Vigan. Dating back to the 16th century, the cobblestoned streets are lined with Spanish colonial-style buildings and are home to museums and cathedrals that are an ideal break in between beach destinations.
- Best for: History buffs.
- How to get there: Take a 7-10 hour bus or car ride north of Manila. Philippine Airlines flies from Manila to Laoag Airport, located two hours from Vigan.
- Top things to see and do: Explore Vigan's old city centre.
- How long do I need? 1-2 days.
- Recommended tour: None, just wander around the historic city.
Best for off-the-beaten-track adventures: Bicol
It may not be on most people's Philippine itinerary, but the Bicol Region, about a one-hour flight from Manila, is home to a host of attractions to keep any eco-tourist occupied, including conscious whale encounters in Donsol to trekking near the towering (and active) Mayon Volcano.
- Best for: Volcano trekking, ethical whale shark encounters.
- How to get there: Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines both fly to Legazpi Airport from Manila and Cebu.
- Top things to see and do: See whale sharks in Donsol, visit the Mayon Volcano on a trek or ATV tour, see the Cagsawa Ruins.
- Where to stay: Oriental Hotel Legazpi.
- How long do I need? 2-3 days.
- Recommended tour: Mount Mayon ATV Experience.
Ready to go? Check out the latest Philippines travel deals
Disclosure: Alex Keshen travelled to the Philippines as a guest of Cebu Pacific.
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