Best places to visit in the Philippines
The Philippines has so many places to visit that you could spend a lifetime just exploring this archipelago. We’ve spent four months exploring this beautiful country and have still barely scratched the surface!
To put it into context, there are over 7,500 islands in this one country, all with their own unique character. When deciding where to go in the Philippines, it is probably best to focus on a few islands as the distances are big and the travel times can be long. This will mean you have more time for activities rather than spending much of it in transit!
How to plan your trip
The majority of trips will start on the two islands with major international airports - Luzon (Manila & Clark) and Cebu (Mactan-Cebu Airport). The great news is that that these two islands have plenty to keep you busy and can be the bookends of a trip - entering one and leaving through the other.
In between there are plenty of places to visit and you’ll be sure to find paradise! Here’s the best places to visit in the Philippines from our travels so far.
Cebu used to be a place that virtually no travellers visited! Back in 2013, we were warned by several people that Cebu was very unsafe and we didn’t spend long there. Fast forward to 2019 and it is the place to go in South-East Asia!
This island is characterised by its hundreds of stunning falls, giving Bali a run for it’s money as the capital of waterfalls in Asia. As well as this you’ll find plenty of other opportunities for adventure, whether it is on the stunning coast or the jungle interior.
Cebu should be on everyone’s list when visiting the Philippines.
Top 4 activities in Cebu
Kawasan is probably the most famous waterfall in the Philippines (its certainly one of the most instagrammable) and has become incredibly popular in recent years. When you first see that stunning blue pool to swim in, you’ll see why. The savvy traveller can still get this place virtually to themselves and if you follow our guide, you’ll have an epic time at this beautiful waterfall.
The Sardine Run
Ever seen those nature documentaries where you see huge shoals of fish that change shape if something comes near them? Well this is something you can witness right off the beach in Moalboal.
What makes this even better is that you won’t need a tour or a boat, you can simply walk down to the shore with a snorkel and mask, swim 50 metres and see this phenomenon for yourself! It is one of the easiest (and most memorable) things to do in the whole of the Philippines. This is something you must include in your Cebu Itinerary.
If you’re bored of simply swimming in paradise waterfalls (although we’re not sure if that is possible!) then head to Aguinid Falls for a bit more adventure. This multi-levelled waterfall is one you can climb up without the need for equipment. Aguinid Falls is an adventure lover’s paradise as you can dive into milky blue pools, climb up the falls assisted by a rope and take in the jungle as you make your way through five different levels.
Check out our guide to Aguinid Falls to see what you’ll be in for!
Get that shot of paradise at Tumalog
There are few places more picturesque than Tumalog Falls and it is one of the most instagrammable spots in the Philippines! Many tours describe this as the Avatar waterfall as it looks like it came straight out of the James Cameron film. Check out our guide to find out the best way to see this beautiful place.
How to get to Cebu
Air - Cebu is a major hub with plenty of international and domestic flights. Along with Luzon, this is the easiest place to get to and depart from.
Boat - Cebu is also a major ferry port and you can get to/from Bohol, Siquijor and Negros by ferry. You can also take a very very long ferry to Luzon!
Where to stay in Cebu
D’ Gecko - Moalboal
D Gecko has everything you need for a trip to Moalboal, comfy rooms, space and a location right in the middle of the restaurants and by the beach. You can literally hire the cheapest scooters in town right next door to the hotel! It is a little on the pricey side for what it is, but the majority of the time we found it to be quiet and a good place to sleep.
However, be aware that this isn’t a good place to stay on Fridays when the beach party is on (although we aren’t sure there is anywhere that doesn’t get the full brunt on the music). The music is loud and echoes through the corridors until 3am, making you feel like you’re in the middle of the party!
Fantasy Lodge - Samboan
Fantasy Lodge is a quiet guesthouse with epic ocean views and comfortable rooms. The beds here are perfect for resting up after a long day exploring and there’s a restaurant on site so you won’t have to go far for food.
The only downside is that the rooms are right next to the restaurant, meaning you’ll hear the conversations from any of the early risers!
We wanted to stay a few nights and could only get a booking for one night so our best advice is don’t leave it until the last minute! Another thing to note is that they don’t have enough scooters for all the rooms if everyone wants to rent one so if you think you will need one then reserve in advance. If not they will be able to get you a motorbike with gears which we took but didn’t enjoy riding so much.
Siquijor is tropical island bliss without the crowds (we’re sure it’s only a matter of time!). As it is slightly more difficult to get to it doesn’t see as many travellers, meaning not so many people, hotels and cars on the road. It still has beautiful waterfalls, white sand beaches and plenty of things to see as well as an incredibly relaxed vibe.
Siquijor is like stepping back in time when compared to other popular Southeast Asian beach destinations, you’re not going to be forced to take unnecessary guides on easy 10 minute walks to waterfalls here (Yes Cebu, we’re talking about you!). If that sounds like what you’re looking for, this is the island for you.
Top 4 activities in Siquijor
Siquijor may not have the amount of waterfalls that Cebu does, but a couple of good ones is all you really need. Cambugahay is the most popular and most beautiful with stunningly blue pools at the foot of the falls and is surrounded by palm trees and jungle.
It is easy to see why it’s a favourite spot with locals and whether you want to fly off a swing or simply have a chilled paddle, Cambugahay will be the place for you.
Paliton Beach is the most beautiful beach on the island offering calm water and the perfect place to chill while waiting for one of those iconic Siquijor sunsets. The whole place is flanked by palm trees and is far enough away from the road to give you the feeling of escaping civilisation.
Watching the cliff jumpers at Salagdoong
Even if you don’t want to jump yourself, watching the cliff jumping at Salagdoong is one of the best things to do on Siquijor. At the top of a 10 metre cliff, you’ll see the brave propel themselves off the edge and the more cautious try to work out whether what they’re doing is actually safe!
We were there for half an hour taking in the spectacle and even flew the drone for another perspective. Simply looking at this incredible coloured water is reason enough to go.
Happy hour at Coral Cay
Happy Hour at Coral Cay comes with a picturesque view looking out to the sunset and a pretty epic rope swing! It’s a beautiful spot to chill at the end of a day exploring the gorgeous island of Siquijor.
How to get to Siquijor
The best way to get to Siquijor is by boat which runs twice a day from Cebu City and Dumaguete as well as a single daily crossing from Liloan in Cebu. There is a small airport which has flights to Cebu several times a week but they are pretty pricey (they are cheaper the earlier ahead you book).
Where to stay on Siquijor Island
The great news is that Siquijor has plenty of good accommodation that isn’t too expensive. The bad news is that the best can sell out in advance, so don’t expect to be able to just rock up to the best ones and haggle for a room.
Best choice - U Story
We really wanted to book U Story, but it sold out a long time before we visited Siquijor. The whole place is Balinese themed and instantly relaxes you when you arrive. The rooms are spacious, comfortable and in a really quiet location to rest and unwind.
The hotel is just a 10 minute ride by motorbike or tricycle from San Juan town, but the food at U Story is so good that you won’t need to go to San Juan for every meal! Whilst we couldn’t stay we ate there several times and not only was the food great but the setting was absolutely stunning.
Budget choice - Gold View
Having failed to get into U Stay, we opted to go to Gold View Resort. It is a good option as the hotel is set on a wilder beach than the likes of Paliton or Salagdoong, and it is very quiet and a nice place to rest after a day exploring.
The rooms are a bit spartan, but the beds are as soft as they come in the Philippines and are comfortable. The wifi can only be used at the restaurant area which can be a pain, but most wifi and phone signal in the Philippines is shocking anyway.
It is 15 minute ride (around 7km) from San Juan and down a short dirt track to the entrance. The staff were the friendliest we met in the Philippines (a famously friendly country) and the laundry was the best we had in three months in Asia.
El Nido - Palawan
Why go to El Nido?
Palwan is probably the biggest draw card for the Philippines at the moment, offering paradise islands, beaches and lagoons within a short distance from the towns. For years we’d heard about the beauty of Palawan and it was only on our recent trip that we got to see it for ourselves.
Whilst we preferred the island hopping in Coron, if you like paradise with some of the best food you’ll eat in the country and decent hotels, then El Nido is the place for you. The only drawback is that paradise isn’t cheap and El Nido is the most expensive we visited.
Top 5 activities in Palawan
Kayaking to Papaya Beach
Our favourite thing to do in El Nido was easily our independent kayaking trip! In fact, hiring a kayak and exploring the nearby beaches was a highlight of our whole three month trip as we got to check out paradise beach after paradise beach without a tour group setting in sight. Our favourite was the stunning Papaya Beach, a place that few people visit (late in the afternoon) and was one of the best beaches we’ve seen in the Philippines. Stunning water, powder white sand and epic views make Papaya the place to go in El Nido.
The Big Lagoon is up there with our favourite places to visit in the Philippines and is best seen early in the morning with hardly anyone around! This stunning lagoon is 45 minutes away from El Nido by boat and is absolutely huge. There’s a separate lagoon which has a startlingly light blue water and coral as well as the main lagoon which just seems to stretch on forever.
It is one of the stops you must do on an island hopping trip from El Nido.
Seeing Secret Lagoon with no one else there
The name of this spot would make you think that hardly anyone goes there, but that is far from the truth! Secret Lagoon is one of the most popular places to visit in El Nido and we’ve seen videos of huge queues outside.
Like all things in the Philippines, if you go early you’ll have the chance to have it to yourself. You can just rock up, climb through the hole in the wall and experience this beautiful place without anyone else there. Then you can reclaim the name “Secret Lagoon”.
To do this requires hiring a private boat though - here’s how to organise that.
Taking in the sunset with a drink at Los Cabanas
Los Cabanas is the place to be at sunset in El Nido. Not only does it have the best views, but it also serves ice cold drinks with a hammock to swing in. Idyllic. The beach itself isn’t stunning but at sunset it is definitely the place to head for spectacular views.
Visit one of the top-rated beaches in the world - Nacpan
Nacpan beach has regularly been rated as one of the best beaches in the world and it is only a 30 minute drive from El Nido! This huge beach has space for everyone, beautiful views out to the nearby headlands and palm tree groves that line the entire beach.
How to get to El Nido
Air - The major airport in Palwan is Puerto Princesa which offers the most regular and by far the cheapest flights to Cebu, Manila, Angeles, Iloilo and Coron. The downside with Puerto Princesa is that it is a 5-7 hour hour motion-sickness inducing journey in a van to get there. However, you can organise your transfer below.
The alternative is to fly into El Nido directly using Swift. The airport here feels more like the lobby of a fancy resort, offering free drinks and snacks while you wait for your plane to arrive on the tarmac. El Nido airport operates flights to Manila, Angeles, Cebu, Coron, Caticlan, Tagbiliran and even Puerto Princesa, but they are a lot more expensive that Puerto Princesa. We chose this option and had a great flight with them. Try and book early for the best deals.
Boat - There are two ferries per day from Coron, taking 4ish hours.
Where to stay in El Nido
In much the same way as Coron, El Nido town is not anything to write home about. In fact at the moment it is like one big construction site and boy is it noisy. Some hotels in town have started offering ear plugs! That’s why we chose and would recommend staying at least a couple of kilometres from the centre. As with Coron, the islands are where it’s at but staying on them will depend on your budget.
Budget - Ambiance Place
This is where we stayed and it has its good and bad points. Our biggest gripe is we found it terribly overpriced but it was still one of the cheapest options by the time we got round to making our booking.
Ambiance is out of the main town and tucked away down a path that is 80m from the road and right by the water (you can see it from the breakfast area and is magical at sunset). It is also next door to our favourite Indian restaurant in El Nido : Ghandhi’s Revenge - so good!
The rooms are clean and quiet (something which is very hard to find in the budget range in El Nido) and the view from the communal terrace is sublime. However the bathroom is a small wet room and the room itself is pretty small too.
The wifi was one of the few we had in the Philippines that actually worked (it was really fast most of the time) which was a major plus point for us. They also rented very reasonably priced kayaks.
Midrange - Frangipani El Nido
Anywhere else in the Philippines this would be considered a top end price but this is El Nido, and boy is it expensive.
Still the rooms do look terrific with many having magnificent views. It gets great reviews and is very near to where we stayed so we assume it will also be quiet.
Luxury - El Nido Resorts Lagen Island
This place looks pretty incredible. The bungalows have outstanding views and look really stylish and modern. It is currently getting excellent reviews and for the price looks the best of the lux options.
Note that it is on an island, around 45 minutes boat ride from the town so staying here will likely mean paying more for food and boat tours. Having said that if we were on holiday and not on a long term trip we would have headed here and not El Nido town!
Coron island is home to some of the most incredible natural wonders in the Philippines: two stunning lakes, the incredible twin lagoons and one of our favourite beaches in the whole country. Within a short distance you’ll find more places that will take your breath away including several paradise islands to live out your tropical beach dreams.
The town in Coron is simply horrible: noisy, expensive and incredibly run down. It is not the kind of place you want to spend too long in. So in this case paradise does come at a cost, but don’t let that put you off, you’ll be spending all your days on the water anyway.
Top 5 activities in Coron
What Banul Beach lacks in size, it makes up for in beauty. This small strip of bright white fine sand has crystal clear water, stunning cliffs all around and is situated in the most incredibly picturesque location.
Time your arrival perfectly and you’ll have the whole place to yourself. We’re not usually lying on the beach lovers, but we could have stayed here all day. It’s not only one of the best things to do in Coron, but one of the best in the Philippines.
There’s something magical about sandbars and Ditaytayan is no exception, especially when you see it from above. This long stretch of sand stands out from the ocean and looks like you’ve found your own deserted island.
The water here is blissfully warm, clear and perfect for swimming. Most people stop here for lunch (showing just how spoilt you are on an island hopping trip in Coron), but we think it deserves more time than that.
The lakes & lagoons of Coron Island
The lakes and Twin Lagoon in Coron Island are another natural wonder of the Philippines. Kayangan Lake is the most popular and it’s a fantastic spot for a morning swim. Our personal favourite was Barracuda which somehow feels even more dramatic. Twin Lagoon is also blessed with incredible beauty and can be explored by kayak or swimming.
Sunset views at Mount Tapyas
The hike to the top of Mount Tapyas is short (just over 700 steps) but definitely sweaty, the views are well worth it! From the peak you can see the sea and surrounding islands, as well as the sun dropping below the horizon. It is a beautiful place to be at the end of the day.
If you head here early enough, you’ll have a stunning white sand beach island all to yourself! Malcapuya is breath-taking and could fool you into thinking you were in the Maldives. So long as you arrive before the tour groups, you’ll have paradise without a soul in sight.
How to get to Coron
Air - Flights to Coron are infrequent and quite pricey. All flights go into Busangua Airport which isn’t a place for nervous fliers as the runway is perilously short. Our flight put on the emergency brakes and came within metres of the farmers field next door!
Busangua only has flights to Cebu, Angeles and Manila.
Boat - The alternative is to get one of the ferries which operates between Coron and El Nido every day. Ferries take 4 hours and can be rocky on a bad day!
Where to stay in Coron
Finding good accommodation at the budget end in Coron is difficult. For one, everywhere is overpriced, but a lot of places suffer really badly from noise and are run down.
Charms is a great option as it has recently been built and is just outside of town. The rooms are clean and have a good shower - essential after a day of island hopping. It is only 15 pesos to get to town on a tricycle (30c USD) and only takes 5 minutes.
Midrange - The Funny Lion, Coron Town
The Funny Lion gets rave reviews and it must be on to something as everyone we met seemed to be staying there! They are building one in El Nido as well to emulate the success of the place in Coron.
The rooms look great and the views even better! We would have stayed here, but sadly it was fully booked when we visited.
Luxury - Two Seasons Coron Island Resort & Spa, Bulalacao
There’s only one place which people talk about in the luxury bracket and it’s the Two Seasons. The rooms are individual bungalows that look out onto the beach and the sea - a dream compared to the dusty Coron Town.
However, being away from Coron Town could make things like boat tours very expensive. We would recommend checking before you book so that you don’t have a costly shock!
Luzon is frequently overlooked by people with their eyes fixed only on paradise islands. The Cordillera region in particular offers a completely different and really authentic Philippines experience with stunning rice terraces, unique indigenous culture and so many fascinating places to visit.
So rather than immediately leave Manila, why not head up to the mountains and enjoy the cooler temperatures and clean mountain air.
Top 4 activities in Luzon
The hanging coffins of Sagada
If you want to see something you’ll never see anywhere else, head to Sagada. Just outside the town you’ll see the hanging coffins which have been attached to the side of a cliff. This is part of an ancient superstition that places their dead relatives closer to heaven and some coffins will even have chairs alongside them for the spirits to wait whilst they ascend.
We’ve never seen anything like it anywhere else!
The hanging coffins of Sagada
The beauty of Batad
Batad will blow you away. This stunning rice terrace is more like an amphitheatre, surrounded by mountains and feels about as far away from civilisation as you can get in the Philippines. The road stops a few kilometres from Batad and once you’ve got over the steep walk, you’ll see this stunning sight in blissful peace. We could have stayed here for days.
Hiking around the rice terraces in Banaue
Banaue is the big draw of Luzon and as soon as you cast eyes on the stunning landscapes you’ll see why. Our favourite thing to do was walk around the rice terraces, exploring the small villages and taking in the views at each turn. Along the way you’ll meet friendly locals who will smile and say hello, and you may even have a few local kids tag along!
Tagaytay - a lake in a volcano in a lake!
Just a couple of hours south of Manila is Tagaytay, a place that has to be seen to be believed! You’ll get on a boat to cross a lake to the main volcano, then climb up to the top of the crater to see the lake inside - it’s kinda like a Russian doll. We’ve never seen a spot quite like this and the views from the top are incredible.
Getting to Luzon
Air - Manila is the major city in Luzon and has numerous international and domestic flights. It is by far the easiest place in the Philippines to get to.
The Cordillera - To get to the Cordillera (Sagada, Banaue and Batad) you will need to take a bus. You can stop in Baguio to break up the journey, otherwise you’ll face 9 hours straight on the bus!
What to pack for the Philippines
You’ll want to bring gear for snorkelling, hiking waterfalls and being in the water. We’d recommend a GoPro, neoprene shoes for hiking the waterfalls, reef safe sunscreen, a snorkel for Coron (you don’t know how many mouths have used the ones you hire) and a dry bag.
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Are you planning a trip to the Philippines? Is there an island you think we should go to? Let us know in the comments below!