The Philippines’ Top 15
The top 15 in the Philippines
Cruising through the Bacuit Archipelago (Click here) in northern Palawan is a must-do. Along the way, you’ll see secluded beaches, clear lagoons, and rocky islets. Bacuit Bay is only a short bangka (wooden boat) ride from the laid-back coastal town of El Nido. It has impressive limestone cliffs, white-sand beaches with palm trees, and coral reefs. Overnight island-hopping trips in the bay or further north through the Linapacan Strait toward Coron give you the chance to stay in remote fishing villages where the day’s catch is grilled for dinner.
Ifugao Rice Terraces
When you look at a map of North Luzon, it’s easy to think that the Cordillera is all wild land. Yes, there is a rough jungle. But what really stands out to people who visit Banaue, Batad, and the other towns in Ifugao is how the mountains have been shaped by people. Even the steepest cliffs have small plots of land where rice paddies have been made. When you put all of these patches together, you get a real blanket of upland-tilled goodness, an endless landscape of hills rounded into rice-producing lumps of emerald (Click here).
There is nothing that says more about the Philippines than a secluded stretch of white sand. Each of the country’s 7000+ islands has at least one beach that looks like it was made just for you. Want to get away from people? It’s almost too easy: most of Luzon is surrounded by empty beaches, and around Coron in Palawan’s Calamian Group (Click here), you can find your own private island. Looking for a good place to dive with lots of other things to do and a great beach? Call El Nido or Sipalay’s Sugar Beach (Click here) (Click here). Want some action along with your beach time? Take surf lessons in San Juan, La Union, or kitesurfing lessons on Boracay (click here) (Click here).
The Philippines wouldn’t be the Philippines without the many colorful festivals, or fiestas, that happen all year long. Even the smallest village, or barangay, has at least one every year. The Ati-Atihan Festival in Kalibo is the oldest of them all. At the MassKara Festival in Bacolod and the Moriones Festival (Click here) in Marinduque, mischievous men in masks get a lot of people dancing. In San Fernando, north of Manila, Catholics are physically nailed to crosses as part of the Easter crucifixion ceremony. This makes for a more macabre scene.
The South of Negros
The “toe” of Negros, which is shaped like a boot, has a little bit of everything: Apo Island has some of the best diving in the world, Twin Peaks is a great place to go hiking, Bais is a great place to see dolphins and whales, and almost every beach is perfect. Siquijor, which is just off the coast, is also a very interesting place. All of this is within an hour of Dumaguete, which is a nice city with lots of restaurants, bars, and an airport. Don’t worry about making plans ahead of time. Just jump in and go where your nose takes you. We can promise that it will lead you to a special place.
Manila Culture & Nightlife
In spite of what most people think, this megacity (Click here) is more than just traffic and noise. Manila has the best nightlife in the world. There’s something for everyone, from the hipster bars with bongo music in Quezon City and Cubao X to the hot bars and swanky nightclubs in Makati. Manila is a rising star in the world of contemporary art and design, and its museums are among the best in the world. Intramuros is always elegant and full of history. Even the food scene, which has been criticized for a long time, is finally getting better as cutting-edge restaurants, earthy cafes, and craft beer bars open up.
Southeast Luzon, which is bounded by the Bicol peninsula (Click here), is becoming the best place in the Philippines for adventure travel. Bicol has some of the best local food on the islands, and the CamSur Watersports Complex, where wakeboarding is king, is a big draw for people who love water and adrenaline. In Daet, Camarines Norte, there are more and more places to surf and kitesurf. Go to the edge of Luzon and snorkel with the gentle whale sharks of Donsol for a more relaxed connection to the water. This will be a highlight you’ll never forget.
Sagada (Click here) is the coolest place in the Philippines. It is a very relaxing mountain retreat deep in the wild Cordillera mountains of North Luzon. It has everything a backpacker’s Shangri-La would have: great hikes, creepy caves, coffins hanging from the ceiling, strong coffee, earthy bakeries, and cozy, very cheap places to stay. Get some granola and go on an adventure, or hang out all day in a cafe with a fireplace and read or tell stories. When you’re on Sagada time, you don’t have to worry about plans.
Boracay (Click here) used to be a quiet, almost unknown backwater not too long ago. Oh, how different things are now. Boracay has become one of the most popular party beaches in Southeast Asia since the rest of the world found out about it. Even with all the changes, Boracay is still a calmer place than places like Kuta Beach or Ko Samui. And you can still find peace, especially at the southern end of Boracay’s famous White Beach, where the spirit of the old Boracay is still alive.
This island is the best place to surf in the Philippines because it has a laid-back vibe and waves that are good for both experts and beginners (Click here). The famous Cloud Nine break is the center, but there are waves all over. For an undeveloped experience, go to the quiet town of Burgos in the north, or take a surf safari to places that are rarely visited. Non-surfers can go from island to island, snorkel, or do some of the best deep-sea fishing in the country. Or, you can just grab a beer on the Cloud Nine pavilion and watch the pros do their thing.
Nature and wildlife in Bohol
Most people who go to Bohol are divers who want to go to Alona Beach, but the real beauty of this island in the middle of the Visayas is in its interior. There may not be a better island in the country for a half-week bike trip than this one. Through the jungle, perfectly paved roads lead to peacock-green rivers, chocolate-colored hills, ziplines in dramatic places, and cute little tarsiers. When the island was hit by an earthquake in 2013, many of its Spanish churches that were built hundreds of years ago fell down. But Bohol came back right away and is better than ever.
The islands of Batanes
The Batanes are geographically and culturally very different from the rest of the archipelago. Women still wear hats that look like haystacks, and people still live in traditional stone-and-cogon-grass homes. You can try the unique foods of the islands and stay in simple homestays to learn about the farming and fishing way of life. Do you feel more active? You can ride your bike along the unspoiled and stunningly beautiful coasts of Batan and Sabtang islands and hike through the interior’s hills, rolling pastures, and extinct volcanoes.
Climbing Volcanic Camiguin
From the northern coast of the main island of Mindanao, you can’t see the rough-hewn landscape of volcanic Camiguin (Click here) because it is hidden by the island’s greenery. To really get a feel for this island’s beautiful landscape, take a road into the interior that cuts through dense forests and ends in rocky paths that lead up into the highlands. Camiguin’s peaks and valleys are perfect for people who like to go on their own adventures. There are streams to cross, mountains to climb, canyons to rappel down, and pools at the base of thundering waterfalls to wash away the day’s work.
Cebu Sand & Sea
Cebu (Click here) is the perfect place for beach lovers. A long ribbon of turquoise water wraps around the island. It is surrounded by sandy coves and steep cliffs. Off the west coast, a wall brings a lot of marine life and many divers to places like Moalboal, where schools of sardines are a must-see. Malapascua and Mactan are great places to dive because they have thresher sharks and turtles, respectively. Bantayan is where you go to fall asleep on the beach. Cebu City, the capital of the Visayas, is right in the middle of everything.
Puerto Galera (Click here) on the island of Mindoro is known as one of the best places to dive in the Philippines. Not as many people know that it is also one of the most beautiful places on Earth. As you leave town, the winding roads give you a bird’s-eye view of the beautiful bays and small islands in the water, while the jungle-covered mountains in the interior make for a dramatic backdrop. During the day, you trek to remote villages of hill tribes, and at night, you return to your base and eat a five-course Italian meal. It’s the perfect place for February’s Malasimbo Music & Arts Festival, which everyone should go to.