Known as the “country of a thousand islands,” the Philippines is full of surprises. Travelers can explore history and the arts in Manila, relax along some of the world’s best beaches on Boracay, dive under the waves on Bohol, or explore countless coves and bays on Palawan. With delicious cuisine, friendly people, and a proud culture, there are near infinite possibilities available to travelers. In this short article, we will survey several popular destinations and recommend things to see. When planning a trip to the Philippines, focus on what you hope to experience and narrow your focus to a few locations.
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Palawan Island and El Nido
Manila is the country’s capital and largest city. Visitors arriving from abroad will likely land first in Manila. From here you can easily connect to a domestic flight bound for the smaller resort destinations. Traveling within the Philippines is complicated by the country’s geography. The islands are spread out and overland travel can be cumbersome and slow. For this reason it’s best to limit yourself to fewer destinations. The most popular tourist and resort towns are located in the central islands. Northern Luzon and Mindanao to the south are less frequented.
Time-limited travelers often skip Manila and make a dash for the beaches. However, in recent years the city has become quite popular with expats and garnered a reputation as a worthwhile destination in its own right. Start your tour in Intramuros. The Spanish-era colonial fortifications are a great introduction to the Philippines’ long history. There are lots of attractions here, among them Fort Santiago, Manila Cathedral, and San Agustin Church. Just to the south is Rizal Park, where you will find several museums including the National Museum of Natural History and the National Museum of Anthropology. Once you’ve had your fill, find some time for shopping or exploring the city’s nightlife in Bonifacio Global City. This trendy area has lots of shops, cafes, restaurants, and bars. Finally, many head north on Luzon Island to visit the stunning Banaue Rice Terraces. It’s a great excursion from Manila before you venture south to the beaches.
Regularly regarded as one of the world’s top beach destinations, Boracay’s reputation more than makes up for its small size. Just over 10 square kilometers in area, the island is packed with resorts and revelers enjoying some sun and sand. White Beach along the central island is popular as is Puka Shell Beach in the north. After you’ve had a rest on the sand, go for a hike up Mount Luho where you can enjoy a bird’s eye view and snap some great photos to impress your friends and family on social media. Given its popularity, you should certainly check ahead regarding accommodations, particularly during the peak season from November to May.
Cebu Island is a long, narrow island stretching some 196 kilometers north to south. It is a popular destination for its beaches, coral reefs, and rich fishing waters. Cebu City is the principle transportation hub. Explore sights in town as you acquaint yourself with the island. Pay a visit to Fort San Pedro, Magellan's Cross, and Basilica Minore del Santo Nino. From Cebu City, find yourself a smaller resort along the coast where you can enjoy some relaxation and swimming. A few things you won’t want to miss include the famous sardine run in Moalboal on the island’s western coast. Here you can dive into a sardine swarm and watch as countless fish churn under the waves. In Oslob on the south of Cebu Island, you can swim with whale sharks. These are the largest fish in the world and truly spectacular creatures. Seeing them up close is the highlight on anyone’s visit to Cebu.
Located adjacent to Cebu, Bohol is a prized diving location. Deep beneath the waves, the waters here hold a wondrous landscape. On land, there are historic churches, cute tarsier monkeys, and beautiful natural scenery. Bohol’s Chocolate Hills were used as backdrops for scenes in the Harry Potter film franchise. Tagbilaran City is the main point of entry for those arriving by air or sea. Panglao Island is connected via two bridges to Tagbilaran City and is a great place to explore. Visit Alona Beach, a popular venue for some diving or snorkeling amongst the coral reefs. Don’t miss the Philippine Tarsier Sanctuary and your chance to explore Balicasag Island with its famous Black Forest Dive Site.
Palawan Island and El Nido
El Nido sits on the northern tip of Palawan Island, roughly 420 kilometers south-west of Manila. Owing to its location as part of the Sunda tectonic plate, the geology on El Nido is unlike anywhere else in the Philippines. Towering limestone formations enclose great bays filled with emerald and sapphire waters. Schools of multicolored aquatic life swim in the pristine currents, which are largely protected against development. El Nido’s reputation has grown in recent years after ranking as one of the world’s top beaches, yet it is still relatively unknown to foreign tourists and retains its exquisite charm and local flavor. This is a great destination and one you will certainly enjoy.
The Philippines has long captivated visitors. As its reputation for world-class travel continues to grow, more people are making the journey to this wonderful country. The several places outlined here only scratch the surface of what’s waiting for you. As you consider your next travel destination, there is much to recommend in the Philippines. Add it to your list if you haven’t done so already.