A local’s guide to top Philippine destinations

October 5, 2021

Almost over a year after travel restrictions, lockdowns and quarantine protocols were first imposed due to the spread of the coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) pandemic, the Philippines has been opening up tourism destinations to help drive local travel.

The quarantine restrictions — where Filipinos were cooped up inside their homes for an insane period of time — have left them raring to go on a long, worthwhile vacation, as showed in some tourism surveys.

More Filipinos have been looking forward to traveling again — mostly for their mental health.

And while the national government is going full swing on its inoculation drive to achieve herd immunity and we’re waiting for looser travel restrictions, it’s best to plan out where to go once leisure travel goes full blast.

Here are some of the best Philippine tourist destinations that may pique your interests for your much-awaited leisure travel:

The skies reflect the blue waters in White Beach, Boracay.

1. White Beach, Boracay

There is no shortage of pristine beaches in the Philippines, but if you are looking for a more active beach scene, one of the best places to visit is White Beach in Boracay. This is the most populous beach on the island but where you will find ample opportunities for boating and other water sports.

Plenty of chairs and hammocks are beneath the palm trees, so you can relax and enjoy the pure white sand. You can even book a beachside massage. Snorkeling is a popular activity at White Beach, but if you do not want to put in so much work, take a banana boat ride or book a trip on a glass-bottom boat.

Photographs courtesy of DoT fb page
Walls of Intramuros offer a glimpse of the past.

2. Manila Historical Sightseeing

Over at the metropolis, Manila is an exciting and vibrant city surrounded by centuries-old churches and colonial history. It is easy to walk around Manila on your own, or take a guided sightseeing tour of the oldest district — the Intramuros or walled city — where you’ll find some of the most significant tourist attractions and important landmarks and monuments.

This will give you a better appreciation for Manila, as you can see the famous San Agustin Church and monuments at Rizal Park and Fort Santiago, each bearing a significant influence on Manila that is best shared by a guide. Some tours are offered by coach, and others are available as walking or biking tours around the city.

3. Shipwreck Diving, Coron

The sunken ships to explore on Sangat Island in Coron are some of the best diving sites in the world. The wrecks are at varied depths that are suitable for both deep water scuba divers and shallow water snorkeling.

The shipwrecks — many from World War II — have become habitats for diverse fish species. The clear water makes for easy viewing of the shipwrecks and underwater wildlife.

Many of the shipwrecks are from an attack on the Imperial Japanese Navy in 1944. Deep divers will want to view the Akitsushima Maru warship, Irako Maru, and the Kyokuzan Maru. There are so many shipwrecks to explore that you may want to consider staying for several days.

A resort like the Sangat Island Dive Resort caters to divers who stay multiple days, and it is a five-minute boat ride to many dive sites.

If you are new to the island, you may want to consider booking a dive or snorkel trip that can get you to the best spots.

Ash spews from the Mayon volcano, seen from the Philippine city of Legazpi in Albay province, south of Manila early on January 31, 2018. – Nearly 90,000 people living around the volcano have fled to overcrowded relief camps where authorities have warned of a worsening sanitation crisis. (Photo by TED ALJIBE / AFP)

4. Mayon Volcano

Over in Albay, Bicol, the Mayon Volcano is a must-see in the Philippines. It is an active stratovolcano with an elevation of more than 2,400 meters and boasting a perfect cone peak.

Most visitors will want to enjoy the volcano by viewing it from the ground. Nature trails in the national park grounds surround the volcano, where you can also see wildlife like parakeets and other birds.
Extreme hikers can apply for a permit to climb the volcano, but it is a difficult trek through the forest, and dangerous gases are emitted near the peak, so caution is advised. The ideal time to visit is March through May, outside of the rainy season. You can take an organized trip from Manila to get there.

5. Chocolate Hills, Bohol

The geological wonder on the island of Bohol known as the Chocolate Hills is a unique natural phenomenon. This UNESCO World Heritage site is a protected area that features more than 1,200 small mountains that emerged above the ground over several centuries. The area was once under the ocean, and these unique hills expand in every direction.

They are green during much of the year, but during the dry season, they turn to a chocolate-brown color, thus the name, chocolate hills. A convenient path leads to the top of a lookout area, which provides the best view. Be sure to observe the many delicate flowers along the walkway that are unique to this area.

TO GO WITH Philippines-environment-rights-tourism-Palawan FEATURE by Karl Malakunas
In a photo taken on February 18, 2011 tourist boat enter an underground river in Puerto Princesa in Palawan. For tourists the Philippine island of Palawan seems like paradise, but for environment activists it feels more akin to a battlefield. Murders and threats on what is promoted as the Southeast Asian nation’s last ecological frontier are emblematic of a struggle across the country, where dozens of environment campaigners have been killed over the past decade. AFP PHOTO/NOEL CELIS (Photo by NOEL CELIS / AFP)

6. Underground River Tour, Puerto Princesa

Taking a river tour of the Underground River in Puerto Princesa is one of the most awe-inspiring things to do in the Philippines. The underground river on Palawan Island is inside the Subterranean River National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The boat tours take you to experience the majestic five-mile river that runs below ground. The trip takes you through an intricate cave system surrounded by vertical limestone cliffs.

You can observe ancient stalagmite and stalactite formations as the coolness of the cave balances the tropical heat outside. As you float through the dark caves on emerald water, your guide will identify points of interest and tropical wildlife that lives along the river, which flows into the South China Sea.

TO GO WITH STORY “PHILIPPINES-COFFINS”Tourists inspect wooden coffins hanging in a cave in the northern Philippine town of Sagada, 21 February 2003. In Sagada, the remote northern Philippine town steeped in tradition, the dead have rested in peace for centuries in crevices of towering limestone cliffs or dark corners of underground caves, but the spirits in these hard-to-reach gravesites have been rudely awakened recently by death-defying treasure and souvenir hunters trying to lay their hands on the decomposed corpses and the priceless artifacts around them. AFP PHOTO/P. PARAMESWARAN (Photo by P. PARAMESWARAN / AFP)

7. Hanging Coffins, Sagada

It is a trek to get to the hanging coffins in Sagada, located deep in the northern Cordillera Mountains, but the sight is something most people in the world will never see. The hanging coffins, some centuries old, are suspended from the cliffs of the Echo Valley. These ceremonial burials were reserved for the wealthy tribesmen.

Getting to the mountainous region requires some travel time and physical endurance to hike the steep and narrow paths to the secluded coffins. You will want sturdy shoes, and you may want to train before your trip to adapt more quickly to the high altitude. The reward is a sight you will never forget and well-earned bragging rights.

A row of rice terraces rises like a stairway to the clouds below a pine forest in this picture taken in Bontoc, the Cordillera mountain region of the northern Phliippines 24 May 2005. Deadly disputes between farming villages over control of mountain springs are becoming more frequent as the Cordillera watershed deteriorates due to deforestation and increasing population. AFP PHOTO JAY DIRECTO (Photo by JAY DIRECTO / AFP)

8. Batad Rice Terraces, Banaue

Viewing the Batad rice terraces at sunrise in Banaue is an unforgettable experience. This is especially recommended for landscape photographers who want to capture compelling images of Philippine agriculture. Some of these terraces are more than 2,000 years old and represent a common form of farming in the country.

The stacked terraces are carved by hand into the mountainside, creating vertical farming fields in a region void of flat land. Workers commonly plant rice and vegetables. You are able to walk some roads above the terraces that give you the best view by looking below. Early morning and dusk provide the best light to illuminate the electric green color of the fields.

9. Coral Garden, Coron

Coron Island in the Philippines is a popular diving and snorkeling location partly due to the abundant and thriving coral reefs. The Coral Garden is a specific site with particularly accessible coral and fish species. Snorkeling and diving tours to the Coral Garden often encompass stops to nearby shipwrecks.

If you are unsure where to snorkel to see some of the best coral, taking an organized trip to the Coral Garden is an easy introduction to the sport. Guides are able to point out sea turtles and fish and offer information about what kinds of coral you are viewing underwater.

Philippines-volcano-tourism-poverty,FOCUS by Jason Gutierrez
Photo taken on May 3, 2011 shows a general view from Tagaytay City, south of Manila, of the volcanic crater locally known as Binintiang Malaki (big extended leg) of the Taal volcano island. Famous for its distinct crater lake, the 23 square kilometre volcano island itself lies inside a bigger lake that makes it among the most spectacular sights, and most popular tourist destinations in the country. AFP PHOTO/TED ALJIBE (Photo by TED ALJIBE / AFP)

10. Taal Volcano, Talisay

The Taal Volcano on the island of Luzon is one of the most active in the country. It is in the center of Taal Lake, so just getting to the crater is part of the adventure. The city of Talisay, where you will catch a boat to get to the crater, is less than an hour’s drive from Manila. You will catch a boat to go across Taal Lake then hike to the rim of the crater.

There are a number of trails around the volcano. The Spanish Trail goes to the top of the volcano and has some of the most impressive views. The less popular Kenney Trail is a good option if you want to avoid potential crowds or if you think you might want to rest along the way. This trail has quite a few shade trees.

Due to the logistics involved in visiting Taal Volcano, you might want to consider an organized day-tour.

So, what are you waiting for? Go get your planners and start visualizing your vacations!