The Philippines are a beach bum’s heaven on earth. There are over 7000 islands to choose from, so that’s a pretty good start, not to mention the glittering turquoise waters that are teeming with tropical fish, the plethora of secret lagoons hidden by enormous limestone cliffs, and the endless white sandy coves lined with palm trees and coconut shacks. Top all of that off with a frosty san miguel in hand and a fresh fish dinner while watching some of the most vivid sunsets you’ll ever see, and you have a recipe for an absolute dream.
If you’re still not sold, have a read of my top 6 reasons to visit the Philippines below:
Boracay is the marmite of the Philippines: you either love it or you hate it. The island itself is beautiful, featuring the classic stretches of palm fringed white beaches and blue waters, but it is absolutely jam packed with tourists and all of the bright gimmicky attractions that seem to follow them. You can’t go far without being badgered to buy a selfie stick and the island is often inundated with tour groups and cruise visitors, however… you will never be short of accommodation, shops, restaurants or bars to choose from, most of which feature candlelit tables, hammocks and cushy bean bags on the sand.
If partying is what you’re in the Philippines for then you’ve come to the right place. I strongly suggest staying at the infamous Friendz hostel, which boasts great dorms and free pasta (and rum) nights twice weekly, that often lead into epic nights out with new-found travelling pals. I speak from experience when I say be careful not to get sucked into a bubble here, as days can melt into weeks after a few mojitos with a good group of people, which is why I’m heading back again next year, in hope of finishing off my original itinerary!
Diving and snorkelling is great in Boracay and there are a few memorable day trips to be had from the island. One that I would definitely recommend (although not for the faint hearted) is cliff jumping at Aerial’s Point. If adrenaline rushes aren’t your thing, then find yourself a local with a boat and ask them to sail you away to a remote island – not the worst alternative, right?
2. El Nido
Located at the far northern end of the beautiful island of Palawan, El Nido is a rustic and charming port town with a cruisy island atmosphere. There’s just about enough food and drink options to keep you busy along the main strip, but the vibe is more beach shack than beach club. Pukka bar (the town’s token reggae spot) is definitely worth a look.
You’re spoilt for choice with deserted beaches here, which are easily accessible by moped, taxi or by walking your way along the coastline – my recommendations would be Corong-Corong, Nacpan and Las Cabanas. If you want something even more remote, jump on a fisherman’s boat and ask him to take you to some secret coves. The sunsets on El Nido are absolutely out of this world and best enjoyed with a drink on the beach and a fresh fish BBQ, the Beach Shack on Las Cabanas beach is definitely worth a look.
El Nido can be a pain to get to if you don’t book the direct (and sometimes pricey) flight from Cebu or Manila in advance, as you’ll have to fly to Puerto Princessa and then take a 5 hour van up to get there, so try to avoid this if the direct route is within your budget.
3. Bacuit Archipelago
El Nido is the gateway to the incredible Bacuit Archipelago just off shore. Made up of stunning limestone cliffs towering out of the crystal waters, tiny remote islands and hidden lagoons, it really is like something from a dream world. The archipelago hosts a few fairly expensive but extremely gorgeous accommodation options. However, if they’re out of your price range it’s easy enough to stay in El Nido and explore the archipelago by day trips either with tour operators or fishermen with their own boats.
The most famous spots to go and see are undoubtedly the Big and Small Lagoons. The place names sound simplistic and modest but you will be amazed when you kayak or float your way through these jurassic looking paradisiacal pools. Most tours will tie in a few other spots on your day trip depending on what the tides and crowds are doing, but there are definitely enough hidden beaches to find one all to yourself.
To travel anywhere in the Philippines you have to go by plane, so you’ll find yourself in and out of Cebu or Manila airport a fair few times. As Manila has a reputation for being a little unsafe, I’d recommend sticking to Cebu where possible and making the most of the detour by exploring outside the airport. Cebu carries a lot of cultural significance in the Philippines, as well as having its own fair share of white sand beaches, fantastic eateries and lively bars.
The Kawasan Falls just outside of Cebu in Moalboal are absolutely stunning and have the brightest milky blue water you will ever see. There are three different waterfalls here, the largest (and most popular) has a cascade of over 20m. Head here as early in the day as possible to beat the crowds and to bask in that beautiful morning light.
Just south of Cebu lies one of the most famous places to swim with whale sharks – Oslob. I swam with whale sharks just off Isla Mujeres in Mexico and haven’t been in Oslob, but I would strongly recommend the experience to anyone as it’s exceptionally incredible. Tour operators will pick you up from your accommodation in Cebu and take you on a full day trip which includes transport, snorkelling kit, lunch and admission fees. Trips will start from around $200 but the memories are unbeatable.
Famous for being the Philippines’ top surfing spot and boasting beaches synonymous with those of the South Pacific, it’s no surprise Siargao is growing in popularity. The well known reef wave Cloud Nine can draw in a few crowds, so if peace and quiet is what you’re after then head off shore to one of the many remote islets to find a large slice of sugary soft white sand all to yourself.
If you’ve had enough of the salty sea life then head in land to soak up the green landscapes of the Ifugao rice terraces or visit Bohol to come nose to nose with tarsiers in the Chocolate Hills.
The rainy season of the Philippines runs from June – October, so the best time to visit is November – May.