The Philippines is a beautiful country, with plenty of places worth visiting. Most people equate the Philippines with palm trees and beaches. And yes, there are plenty of them.
But this island nation is actually quite diverse. From mountains and rice fields in the north of Luzon to coral reefs and endless sunsets in Palawan, there’s something for everyone in the Philippines.
Travelling around the Philippines, unfortunately, takes a lot of time as the country is made up of islands and the infrastructure is sometimes lacking. So unless you have unlimited time, you may need to make some hard decisions about which places you’ll go and which ones you pass on.
I’ll help you out by listing my favorite places in the Philippines that I went to during my three-week trip in 2018. These are the best places to visit in the Philippines:
I was about to skip Coron when another traveller convinced me I could not leave the country without seeing this paradise on earth. And she was right! I am so glad I changed my schedule and took the ferry to Coron because it turned out to be one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen.
Coron town itself is not the most interesting, but it is the jump-off point for boat trips to stunning white beaches in turquoise water, green lagoons and coral reefs.
Where to stay:
The Kaluchuchi Hostel for Divers is not just for divers. Thankfully, because I don’t dive. But I did have a lovely stay here. The owners are super friendly and helpful. They booked boat tours for me and even lend me some snorkeling gear.
I knew I had to visit Moalboal when I found out how great the snorkelling is there. And I was not disappointed.
Just a few meters from the beach you can swim with huge schools of sardines and even sea turtles! It is truly a magical sight.
And the little town on Cebu Island itself is charming, an adorable and chilled-out beach front with shops, restaurants (even vegan!), and bars. It reminded me of Mykonos in Greece.
And the canyoneering you can do at the Kawasan Falls was one the highlights of my trip. I jumped off a 13-meter cliff!
Where to stay:
If you’re going to Moalboal, make sure you stay as close to the beach as possible, instead of in the main town. Crazy Bears is one of those great backpacker hostels. It’s comfy and clean with good facilities. Great sleep and a chill atmosphere guaranteed.
If you want to get away from the mass tourism in the Philippines and unwind for a few days, Siquijor is a great escape. There’s really not much to do on the island except enjoy the laid-back island vibes, chill on the beaches and take a motorcycle tour around the island.
The beaches of Siquijor are not as nice as the ones on Palawan or Coron, but will still do the trick. You get to Siquijor by taking the ferry from Dumaguete and then a tuk tuk or motorbike to wherever on the island you want to go.
Where to stay:
Love Shack Hostel is the way to go in Siquijor. It’s clean, comfortable and cute. The staff is super nice and they create a friendly and social atmosphere.
There is more to the Philippines than amazing beaches. The northern part of Luzon is home to the impressive Cordillera Mountains. This mountain range has a completely different climate and vegetation than the tropical islands, reminiscent of north Vietnam and Laos.
I recommend trekking the rice field and enjoying small town rural life in Batad. It’s an isolated little town you can reach by taking the night bus from Manilla to Banaue and then transfering to a little local jeepney to Batad. You’ll have to walk the last bit to the village as the road suddenly stops. The views over the UNESCO World Heritage rice fields are so worth it!
Sagada is almost the complete opposite. Also high up in the mountains, but much dryer with pine trees instead of rain forest. Sagada feels like a little hippie commune. It’s best known for the very impressive hanging coffins and great hiking trails. You can reach it by bus from Banaue or Manilla.
Where to stay:
Batad is a tiny village, so opt for a local homestay with a restaurant. I got a lot of confused looks and questions whenever I asked for a single room, because they’re not used to women traveling alone. So I ended up paying for a double.
Sagada caters more to couples and families than backpackers, but there’s plenty of choice for accommodation. Simply walk around and ask for vacancies or go to the tourist information center.
Palawan is probably the most popular island in the Philippines. El Nido was named one of the most beautiful beach towns in the world a few years back and tourism there simply exploded. It’s now too expensive and touristic for my taste.
On Palawan Island, I recommend you skip Puerto Princesa and El Nido and visit Port Barton instead. This small town is beach bum heaven. It has become more touristy, so there are plenty of hotels and restaurants, but has maintained its secluded charm. There is no Wi-Fi and undependable electricity, so you can really unwind.
But the boat trips and snorkeling here are incredible and the beach bars super chill. It’s half the price and double the fun of El Nido.
Where to stay:
Give into the laid back, no frills atmosphere at Orange House. This small homestay in the fishers village of Port Barton is perfect for backpackers on a budget. Locally owned and woman run! The highlight is the outdoor bamboo bathroom.
Places to skip in the Philippines
You will likely have to skip a few places you originally wanted to visit in the Philippines, due to bad connections, time restrictions or weather. These are the first to give up in my opinion:
The Philippino capitol has a bad reputation, but that is not completely deserved. The old part of the city, Intramuros is beautiful and well worth a visit and Manilla nightlife is pretty legendary. However, do be on guard as parts of the city are unsafe. And prepare to spend most of your day stuck in traffic.
This gorgeous little paradise island has some of the best beaches in the world. Or, I should say, had. Because a dramatic increase in tourism turned this paradise into a parking lot. It has actually been closed to the public for 6 months to let nature resettle after all the pollution from partying tourists. I hope it works…
Named the most beautiful beach in the world, this little town is now at the top of everyone’s travel bucket list. As a result, it has quickly expanded into long roads filled with expensive hotels and restaurants. Although El Nido is certainly beautiful, in my opinion, it is overpriced and overrated. There are a lot of better places you can visit on Palawan.
Cebu city is a more comfortable arrival place than Manilla, but by no means more beautiful. Just like the capitol, Cebu is grimy, chaotic and best quickly abandoned for the rest of the island.
Have you visited the Philippines? What were your favorite spots? Let me know in the comments.
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