The Philippines is a destination that is easy to visit multiple times due to its more than 7,000 islands. The most difficult decision you make as a traveler, is figuring out which places to visit first. The Philippines is divided into the three main island groups of Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao, representing different regions in the country.
The scenery in each region of the Philippines ranges from mountainous and tropical to metropolitan. You can enjoy a day of walking the historical colonial streets of the capital city of Manila or catch a rare glimpse of tiny tarsier monkeys at a private sanctuary on the island of Bohol. The steep, plush mountains provide unforgettable hiking experiences.
Since you are surrounded by the Pacific Ocean, it's not surprising the Philippines has some of the best beaches in Asia, and the scuba diving opportunities are outstanding.
Plan your travels around this tropical island nation with our list of the best places to visit in the Philippines.
There is a reason that Boracay Island is considered the beach capital of the Philippines because there are more than 12 beaches. This tiny island in the west Visayas region is ideal for beach-goers who are after simple relaxation in the sun or water activities. White Beach, on the west side of the island, is one of the best beaches in the Philippines.
Puka Shell Beach is on the tip of the island and is a favorite spot for shell collectors. Cagban Beach is a quiet spot with nearby caves that are rumored to still contain treasure chests. Diniwid Beach is a tiny beach at the north end of White Beach that has the best view of the island from a platform rock located there.
This island is known for its many resorts, so finding a place to stay is easy. For a panoramic view of the island, take a day trip to Mount Luho, its highest point.
The island of Bohol in the Philippines' central Visayas region runs at a slower pace, and it's a destination that showcases the country's natural beauty. One of the most unique natural wonders on the island is the Chocolate Hills in Carmen. This UNESCO-protected site is a collection of 1,200 geological formations that turn brown in the dry season, resembling a landscape of chocolate candy kisses.
Bohol is home to a family-owned sanctuary for the tiny tarsier primate, known for its large engaging eyes. For a small fee, you can take an intimate walk through the grounds, and stand inches away from the small nocturnal mammal.
The top draw of Bohol is the beach. Panglao Island features some of the best beaches in Bohol: Alona Beach and Danao Beach, which have fantastic diving; Dao Beach and Bingag Beach, which are popular resort areas; Bolod Beach, which has a large stretch of shoreline; and Doljo Beach, which is fairly remote but fantastic for finding seashells.
Snorkeling with a whale shark
The island of Cebu, in the central Visayas region, is considered the port to some of the best diving and snorkeling in the Philippines. If you are an underwater enthusiast, Cebu is one of your best options for excursions that get you up-close to whale sharks, coral reefs, and sea turtles.
Some of the most spectacular scenery from the water near Cebu are the sea caves that attract photographers and outdoor enthusiasts looking for unique diving and snorkeling sites. The Sudlon National Park, located approximately an hour from Cebu City, is a breathtaking park to explore and hike.
While Cebu's greatest draw is its water, Cebu City is a metropolitan area, with tourist attractions like museums and cathedrals that will interest history buffs.
The rice terraces of Banaue are one of the most striking things to see in the Philippines. The emerald-green terraces are an agricultural wonder in this area. Some of the terraces are estimated to have been hand-carved into the mountainside more than 2,000 years ago.
The Batad Rice Terraces and the Bangaan Rice Terraces are protected UNESCO World Heritage sites.
For a deeper taste of this region, take a stroll through the Banaue Ethnic Village or the Hiwang Village to mingle with the Indigenous people who farm the rice terraces.
Your most impressive view of the terraces is at sunrise, when clouds and fog lift off the mountain to reveal the intricate landscape of the terraces. You can base yourself in the town of Banaue and hike or drive to the Batad rice terraces, or arrange a stay in a native hut of the Ifugao people for a more authentic experience.
Bantay Bell Tower in Vigan
The historical city of Vigan in the northern Philippines is one of the most charming towns to visit in the Luzon region. Its culture is a fusion of Chinese and Spanish influences originating from settlers to the area.
Take a ride in a horse-drawn kalesa through the streets and admire the colonial architecture, courtesy of the Spanish who colonized the area in the 18th century. Vigan is a city with many nuances to explore.
The best view of the area is from the Bantay Bell Tower, which is also a noted landmark in the area. The Calle Crisologo historic district is a walkable district, where you will encounter many local craftsman and see historical architecture.
A visit to the St. Paul Metropolitan Cathedral is breathtaking and a perfect spot to sit and people-watch as you take in the local culture.
Jeepney in front of the Minor Basilica of Saint Lorenzo Ruiz, Manila
The Philippines capital of Manila, on the island of Luzon, is a bustling city with non-stop activity. Hop on board one of the colorful jeepneys, the main form of public transportation, to get a taste of local life while you visit Manila's top attractions.
Usually over-packed with locals, the bumpy ride through the streets on the iconic and kitschy jeep/bus hybrid vehicles will be one of the highlights of your visit.
Plan stops to the main park in the city, Rizal Park, and the San Agustin Church, which was built in the 16th century. Buy local fruits and handmade gifts at the public market at Quiapo Church, where you are likely to see several thousand people show up on Fridays for worship. Accommodation: Where to Stay in Manila
7. Davao City
For a city scene outside of Manila, head to Davao City, which has a large metropolitan area. Davao City is the main city in the southern Philippine region of Mindanao.
Despite its malls and large population, Davao City features many natural elements, including the Eden Nature Park, Philippine Eagle Center, and the Davao Baywalk near the sea.
One of the best places to visit in Davao City is Mount Apo, the highest mountain in the Philippines. Davao City is a prime location for shopping, as there are several large malls, including Abreeza Mall and SM Lanang Premier Mall. For a peek into Davao City history and culture, the tiny Davao Museum of History and Ethnography is worth a visit.
One of the most unique experiences you can have in the Philippines is in the northern tribal region in Sagada. Nestled in the rugged and remote Cordillera Mountains are tribes that embrace the occasional visitor.
This area is a paradise for the advanced outdoor enthusiast. The steep mountains and high elevation enhance the thrill and skill level required for outdoor adventure. Hiking is popular in Sagada, particularly to Mount Ampaco, which has the highest peak in the region or through Echo Valley, which has steep and rugged terrain.
One of the best places to visit in this region of the Philippines is the hanging coffins that hide deep in the mountains. It is best to connect with a local guide to take you to this incredible site because this is not a tourist area, but rather an authentic tribal region hiding an experience worthy of bragging rights.
9. Coron Island
One of the top diving destinations in the world, Coron Island is a tropical paradise, with electric blue and green water that almost seems unreal. The mountainous island sits on the tip of the Palawan island region, the western-most section of islands in the Philippines.
The island is popular for diving because of the numerous wrecks here. Many of the preserved shipwrecks are located in depths ranging from shallow water at just three meters to deep water at 42 meters.
Some of the wrecks require more than one dive to explore due to their size, but you can easily spend a week diving in this area. For non-shipwreck diving, check out Barracuda Lake, a former volcano with many unusual rock formations and fish.
Baguio is a city tucked away in a mountainous region on Luzon Island. Though it is a city, Baguio is intimate and reminiscent of a cottage-type environment. Baguio is called the City of Pines for the rich pine forests and cooler temperatures that surround it.
You can explore one of the many hiking and biking trails or take in a round of golf at one of the resorts in the area. Baguio is unique to other destinations in the Philippines because the city is surrounded by trees and not water.
Parks like Mines View and Burnham let you enjoy some of the flora and fauna that are special to this region. Be sure to spend some time along Session Road, which is the main drag through Baguio, where you can take in a slice of local life.
11. Puerto Princesa
The rock islands, caves, and natural parks of Palawan Island are the hidden paradise of the Philippines. The coastal city of Puerto Princesa is where you should base yourself in order to explore some of these natural gems of the country.
The Subterranean River National Park is a great first stop to see a five-mile underground river and impressive limestone caves. The UNESCO World Heritage site has boat tours that take you through the national park.
Other must-see spots in Puerto Princesa are Honda Bay, which is popular for snorkeling, and Ugong Rock, where you can try ziplining and caving.
On Samal Island, also called Garden City of Samal, hiking, diving, and kayaking are a way of life. One of the top things to do on Samal Island, besides relaxing at the beach, is visit the Monfort Bat Sanctuary, which is home to millions of bats in the caves.
An enjoyable day trip away from the beach is to Hagimit Falls, where you can walk on the nature trails and cool off in one of the pools below the tropical waterfalls. Samal Island is a short distance away from Davao City, which makes a great change of pace when you want a more metropolitan scene or a broader range of dining.
13. Apo Island
Sea turtle in the waters off Apo Island
If a swim with sea turtles sounds like the experience of a lifetime then you will want to head to Apo Island in the Philippines. The reason this location lends itself to swimming with turtles and other sea life is because of the protected marine sanctuary. The Apo Island Marine Reserve is where you can take guided trips to see the sea turtles up close and snorkel at the coral reefs.
The island is an eco-traveler's dream. The protected landscape is some of the most untouched in the country. For great views of the island and the water go to the Apo Island View Deck. To get a sense of life on the island for the locals take a stroll on the Lagoon Trail through the Apo Village to see the local flora and fauna and engage with those who live on the island.
14. El Nido
Aerial view of El Nido, Palawan, Philippines
El Nido is a stunning place to visit in the Philippines for its clear water lagoons, marine life, coral reefs, and limestone cliffs. You can even take part in cliff climbing excursions, or go to Taraw Peak to experience a canopy walk with the best views of the landscape.
El Nido is also known for its pristine beaches, like Nacpan Beach and Lio Beach, and as the launch point for island-hopping adventures. Island hopping excursions to places like El Nido Big Lagoon or Snake Island to experience the cliffs and caves from the water are a memorable way to experience El Nido.
Travelers that enjoy making an itinerary up as they go should put Siargao Island on the agenda. The small island is big with experiences, from sought-after surfing waves to unusual rock formations and stunning waterfalls.
Surfing is what Siargao is most known for. The famous Cloud 9 break is here, but there are many coastline spots that bring in large waves. So, even if you do not surf, watching some of the championship surfers that come to the island is a fun activity.
Deep sea fishing is popular out of Siargao as anglers try year-round for sailfish and mahi-mahi. Another trip option when you visit Siargao is to do a bit of island hopping to places like Bucas Grande, where you can see the Sohoton Caves and the non-sting jellyfish.