I recently read that the Philippines is not even in the top 10 of most visited countries in Asia. I think is a shame as it boosts of such natural beauty. I went there for the first time in the beginning of 2010 and was totally impressed by its beautiful coast, limestone cliffs, clear blue sea and underwater world. It is a paradise if you love the combination of the sea and nature. In this blog post I share my best travel tips for the Philippines and suggestions which parts to visit.
Traveling in the Philippines takes a bit of time as it consists of over 7.000 islands. You can imagine that traveling from one island to another makes it time consuming. Nowadays several airline companies like Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines offer daily flights between the different islands, which definitely makes it easier. I have collected the places I liked most and are definitely worth a visit.
Rice terraces of Banaue made by G. Montalbo
The Green North
The northern part of the Philippines is covered by misty mountains, sprawling plains and endless coastline. One of the places I liked the most was the area of Banaue. Rice terraced mountains are everywhere you look. The best season to see the rice fields a is from March to May. For wonderful hiking opportunities go to the quiet mountain town of Sagada where you will experience a sublime mellowness. If you go up north then visit the village of Vigan that still has an old colonial charm. The streets are dotted with ancestral homes and other colonial-era architecture painted in vibrant yellow or deep orange. You can combine a visit to this area with a stay at one of the beautiful beaches of Ilocos norte, like Pagudpud or visit the island of Palaui where you have the opportunity to stay with the locals.
The Visayas in the middle of the Philippines is where most travelers are going. If you are looking for a cocktail of white-sand beaches, restaurants, tourists and water sports then Borocay might be a good place. In 2010 I liked it as I was traveling on my own and it created a good balance with the more quiet places I visited. A great place to visit near Cebu for diving, snorkeling and relaxing is the tiny and idyllic island of Malapascua. There are no cars or paved roads on the island which gives it a laidback ambiance. The simple villages of Malapascua blend seamlessly with the resorts and give the island its charm. It takes some effort to get there, but it is quiet, has beautiful beaches and the main attraction are the rare thresher sharks. Two places I am not a big fan off in the Visayas are Moalboal on Cebu and the area near Dumaguete on Negros. Although the places are great for diving, especially Apo Island, you shouldn’t go there for its beautiful nature or white-sand beaches.
Jurassic Parc Like Palawan
My favorite place in the Philippines is the long stretching island of Palawan. It’s the Philippines most sparsely populated region, but also its most beguiling. It is covered with dense jungle and is still home to indigenous tribal groups. The coastline is simply stunning with lime stone cliffs, the longest underwater river in Asia, crystal clear water with powder white-sand beaches and a magnificent underwater world. Puerto Princesa is the main transport hub on the island. It is just a big city with not much exciting things to do or visit. Nevertheless, if you like kitesurfing or want to learn it then the bay close to the city is an excellent place. Where Borocay is fully packed with kiters from all levels, this place is a quiet heaven.If you would like to experience Palawan from another perspective it is worth checking out this 2-day hike through the jungle.
Further up north near Sabang you will find the Subterranean River which is one of the longest navigable river-traversed tunnels in the world. Although the river is over 8km long you will only be taken up the river for 1,5 km. The water is emerald green and creates a beautiful contrast with the cave. Realize that it is touristy though!
On the way to El Nido I recommend staying at a little island called Modessa Island that only has one, Modessa island Resort and is really affordable. The island is stunning!
In the northern tip is the little town of El Nido, sandwiched between towering limestone cliffs and Bacuit Bay. It is the base for exploring the Bacuit Archipelago, either diving, snorkeling or just relaxing. The islands hide so many white-sand beaches, hard-to-access lagoons, and peaceful coves that the beauty overwhelmed me. There are many boat services providing tours around the different islands. Nowadays El Nido is not that quiet town anymore and is becoming more and more touristy. Best is to rent a boatman with his boat and take the opposite route of all the other tour boats so that the chances of being among many tourists is lower.
A nice place to stay, although not direct in the village, is Island Front Cottages on Corong Corong Beach. It is quiet and provides a beautiful sunset overlooking the sea. If your budget is a bit more then Vellago Resort (no children aloud) or El Nido Cove Resort are two nice options. The latter is located 20 minutes by tuk tuk up north from El Nido town. The beach is not interesting, but they have a good pool overlooking the sea.
From El Nido there are also opportunities to fly or go by boat to the Calamianes Island group. Here there is also an endless supply of undeveloped powder-sand beaches, excellent coral for snorkeling, dense rainforests, mangrove swamps, and the crystal-clear lakes of Coron Island.
Bacuit Archipelago, El Nido
I recently met Al who is originally from Palawan and organizes a beautiful boat trip for a couple of days through the azure blue seas of Coron and gives you the opportunity to meet the tribal villages that live on some of the surrounding islands.
Why the Philippines is still not in the top-10 of most visited countries in Asia is still a mystery to me. To share its beauty with you and make other travelers aware as well, we recently started offering activities via I Like Local. Maybe I convinced you to visit the Philippines on your next holiday?!