The Philippines is a country that truly delighted me with so many natural wonders and oodles of stunning islands. I really loved my recent trip to the Philippines, and still have PLENTY that I want to see. When planning and researching a holiday to the Philippines, it’s overwhelming how many incredible islands there are to visit. It can be really difficult to choose where to visit. The usual limitations factor into your choice; holiday time, seasonality, flights, boats, buses; so picking smartly and selectively is essential. To make it easier for you when planning your trip to the Philippines, i’ve put together a list of my must see Philippines destinations.
BEFORE YOU BOOK
The number one thing to know about the Philippines is that monsoon season occurs from July to September. Wet season continues after monsoon from September to late November. In November 2013, I had flights booked to Cebu from Singapore and had to cancel them as an earthquake hit Cebu 3 weeks before my trip (mother nature, unlucky). But later on, it turned out that the time I was supposed to be in Cebu, a massive typhoon appeared which caused incredible damage and halted all flights for days. This instance proved to me that travelling to the Philippines is a risk in the wet season. So, I decided to try my luck again for December/January 2016 in the dry season. I booked flights from Melbourne to Manila for the 25th of December (woo Christmas in an airplane!). A typhoon hit Manila and most of the Philippines just one week before my trip. It passed quickly and didn’t cause much damage. I got lucky. I’ve written this so you are prepared; the weather in the Philippines can be unpredictable.
The best time of year (or the most likely to not be affected by monsoons or typhoons) to go to the Philippines is from December to April, with specific locations having slight differences in best time to visit. Weather is typically around 28-32 degrees daily, with sunny skies and occasional overcast.
1. EL NIDO
Imagine sitting on a perfect white sandy beach, your own private island, with only you and your boat there. The sound of the waves hitting the sand is the only sound you can hear. The serenity is insane. If you want that private island experience, Palawan is THE place to go, with El Nido you’re best bet at getting that paradise. El Nido town itself is nothing to rave about, but the islands surrounding it are. The area is still relatively unknown and isn’t crowded, with tourists not flocking as it isn’t convenient to travel to – yet. El Nido is on the northern tip of the Palawan archipelago. It’s centric to backpackers and scuba diving, with plenty of incredible reefs, islands and even whales swimming around. El Nido is definitely a must see destination. You can reach El Nido from Puerto Princesa (6hrs drive), with flights from Manila and Cebu available. You can read more about my trip to El Nido here >>>
See that picture above? That’s called Twin Lagoon, and there’s also a place called Kayangan Lake. They are MUST see places in Coron. Coron is considered part of Palawan, located at the very top on a separate island. The marine life is thriving here. If diving is your thing, there is an incredible Japanese shipwreck. You can get to Coron from Busuanga (30 minutes drive) with flights from Manila. There is also a ferry from El Nido that takes 11hrs on a standard Filipino ferry – driving back to Puerto Princesa and flying back to Manila and then flying to Busuanga is apparently faster!
3. CHOCOLATE HILLS
Number 3 on the list are the oh so cute Chocolate Hills, which are found in Bohol. These little hills transform depending on which season it is. Lush and green in wet season (July to December), and roasted chocolate brown in summer (February to July). Hence the name, Chocolate Hills! The hills are a natural phenomenon as each hill appears simply out of nowhere. You can admire the view from various outlooks. You can find the Chocolate Hills 2hrs drive from Tagbilaran City, which has flights daily from Manila.
4. PANGLAO ISLAND
Offering beautifully serene island vibes, exceptional coral reefs, dive spots and marine life, Panglao island is a choice destination for sun seekers. It combines nightlife, relax and beauty perfectly. Your daytime options include all the usual culprits such as snorkeling, scuba diving, Tarsier Sanctuary and butterfly sanctuary. Panglao island also gives fabulous access to the Chocolate Hills, Loboc River and Pamilacan island – where dolphins and whales love to frolic in the water. Alona beach is the main hub in Panglao island, and is a mere 30 minute cab ride from Tagbilaran City airport.
5. SIQUIJOR ISLAND
Famous for it’s historical healing by witchcraft, Siquijor now ooses healing powers through cocktails and a good dose of sunshine. Lesser known and more relaxed than other islands, there are beautiful waterfalls, caves and hikes on offer, in addition to snorkeling. Known as the ‘Island of Fire’, Fireflies roam the island at night. You can reach Siquijor by boat from Dumaguete, Oslob and Tagbilaran City.
The mother of all islands in the Philippines, Boracay is the perfect paradise and luxury island escape. Boracay boasts it’s 4km long White Beach and perfect sailboat sunsets. Try venturing out to nearby Ariel’s Point for some cliffjumping, or relax in one of Boracay’s many day spas. You can fly to Boracay’s airport, Caticlan just 1 hr flight from Manila, or Kalibo with domestic and international flights available. You can read more about my Boracay trip here >>>
7. TINAGO FALLS, ILIGAN CITY
A beautiful waterfall that you can swim in, Tinago Falls in Iligan City is stunning! Emerald waters and breathtaking views. You can fly to Cagayan de Oro from Manila, and then drive to Iligan City (2hrs).
8. CEBU CITY
The second city of the Philippines, Cebu City offers great daytrips and attractions, which earns it number 8 on my list. You can watch (or swim) with whale sharks in Oslob, or go river canyoning in the Matutinao River and visit the Kawasan Falls. You can also visit Kalanggaman Island which has a beautiful sandbar (imagine the photos!!), snorkeling, kayaking and dolphin watching. You can fly to Cebu from most major cities within the Philippines, as well as internationally.
Over to you! What are your favourite must see Philippines destinations?