With more than 7,000 islands in this beautiful Southeast Asian nation, the Philippines is an island hopper’s dream. You’ll need a lot of vacation days to see all of them, so we’ve rounded up some of the best Philippines islands and beaches where you can experience the perfect mix of nature and relaxation.
Best Islands in the Philippines
Up to experience a slice of paradise and indulge in some adventure? There’s every type of island available in the Philippines, whether you’re looking to ride the surf, kiteboard, go diving, or simply lie on pristine white sands and work on your tan. Here’s an intro to some of the best islands to visit in the Philippines. Spoiler: one of the Most Beautiful Islands in the World is on this list!
1. Bohol Island
Best Philippines island for: Travellers longing for a tropical haven
Just over a two-hour boat ride from Cebu City, Bohol is a Philippines island that’s famous for its Chocolate Hills – over 1,000 grassy hills that turn chocolate brown during the dry season. The dry season in the Philippines is typically from November to May, which is also the high tourist season. The island is also home to the Philippine Tarsier and Wildlife Sanctuary, dedicated to the preservation of these primates (think of a Gremlin with googly eyes – only cuter). Remember, these endangered creatures are nocturnal, so there’s little chance to spot them during the day. If that weren’t enough, there are another 75 smaller islands surrounding Bohol for you to explore on your Philippines vacation!
Best Philippines island for: Dream-like white sand beaches
This tiny island in the Philippines was closed last year because of over-tourism but is now reopened. A popular tourist destination (for good reason), the island is known for White beach, a four-kilometre stretch of sand which is considered of the most beautiful beaches in the world. During the day, the Boracay’s choppy waves make it an ideal spot for water sports and is a world-class kiteboarding destination. At night the beachfront is awash with small restaurants, music and fire dancers.
3. Bantayan Island
Best for: Island hoppers looking for an easy going vibe
If you’re looking escape the hustle and bustle and experience island life, then this beautiful island in the Philippines is your answer. Located just northwest of the island of Cebu, Bantayan has remained relatively unscathed by modern life. Explore the island by scooter, sunbathe on the white-sand beach, or take a day trip to a nearby tropical islet. Stay in the little town of Sante Fe on the southern coast. Keep in mind, the island is crowded with people during the Holy Week, and accommodation is scarce.
Best for: Adventure travellers
Overwater bungalows, UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and jaw-dropping beauty; what more could one want in an island escape? The province of Palawan is the largest island in the Philippines. Located in the west of the archipelago, it’s scattered with so many little islands surrounding it that Palawan is an archipelago in itself! The most popular destinations here have to be El Nido (in the north) and Puerto Princesa (central Palawan). Book a guided tour of the Underground River in Puerto Princesa, one of the Natural Wonders of the World, or go on an island-hopping adventure in El Nido by kayak. With lots of daily domestic flights from Cebu and Manila, you can easily spend your entire Philippines vacation here in Palawan.
Best for: Surfers in search of serious waves
Welcome to the Philippines island of Siargao. Located on the east side of the archipelago, this tear-drop shaped island is one of the top places to visit in the Philippines for surfing. The waves at Cloud 9 are a magnet for surfers, and this right-breaking reef weave is the sight of the annual Siargao Cup surfing competition. If surfing isn’t your thing, drive north to Burgos, where you’ll discover palm trees, soft powdered sands, and more gentle waves where you can chill out and work on your tan and unwind with a cold bottle of San Miguel or mango smoothie.
Best for: Nature lovers dreaming of a secluded island getaway
This secluded island is home a 4,000 hectare limestone forest, teaming with flora and fauna, as well as stretches of stunning white sand beaches between huge rock formations. Named after the local sea turtle, this Philippines island is a draw for scuba divers, snorkelers and kayakers. If that weren’t enough, Caramoan also has waterfalls, freshwater pool and caves. The island was also used as a shooting location for Survivor.
All About Cebu, Philippines
Cebu is a Philippines province which consists of the main Cebu island and the surrounding islands. The main port of call is its capital, Cebu City, the second biggest city in the Philippines located in the centre of this large island. While Cebu is typically used as a stopping-off point between the island’s major airport and the many nearby paradise islands, there is enough to do in Cebu for a few days if you make the time.
One of the popular sights in Cebu City is the Jumalon Butterfly Sanctuary and Art Gallery, where guests can see a variety of butterflies native to the Philippines. For a spiritual and historical experience, another top sight in Cebu is the Taoist Temple which was built by Cebu’s Chinese population. If you’re looking for a good spot to walk around and explore for a few hours, head to the sight of Magellan’s Cross and the Lapu-Lapu Monument on Mactan Island. Located right by the water, this is the site where Lapu-Lapu, a Mactan warrior, defeated Magellan in the Battle of Mactan, which was considered a great victory for the native people against the European colonizers.
Getting in and out of Cebu
If you have an early flight from Cebu-Mactan you can stay in Lapu-Lapu City, which is actually on Mactan Island in Cebu. Here you’ll find a variety of mid-range, budget, and even luxury accommodation to stay at only a short taxi or jeepney ride away from the airport.
Best Festivals in the Philippines
There’s no shortage of colourful and vibrant festivals in the Philippines that celebrate the traditions and history of the country.
1. Ati-Atihan Festival
Best for: Travellers seeking the ultimate Filipino fiesta experience
With the dancing rhythm of the drums, Ati-Atihan is the Philippine’s answer to Mardi Gras. A mix of Catholic ritual, tourist attraction, social activity and Indigenous drama, the week-long festival takes place from sunup to sundown, and is held on the third week of January.
2. Sinulog Festival
Best for: Festival goers who love colourful displays of ceremony and pageantry
Hailed as the most spectacular festival in the Philippines, Sinulog in Cebu City attracts visitors from around the world, with its kaleidoscopic parade and religious ceremonies. Participants dress in brightly-coloured costumes and dance to the rhythm of drums, trumpets and native gongs.
3. Moriones Festival
Best for: Participating in of the Philippine’s oldest religious festivals
Dating back to 1807, this week-long celebration draws visitors to Marinduque during Holy Week. Combining Catholic pageantry with folk mysticism, the festival pays tribute to St. Longinus, the centurion who pierced Jesus Christ with a lance. Revellers wear intricate masks during the festival, roaming the streets with wooden swords and spears.
The Philippines: Things to Know Before You Go
What are the main airports in the Philippines?
Most people fly to the Philippines via the Manila Ninoy Aquino International Airport (MNL). Manila Ninoy is the only Philippines airport currently offering direct flights to/from Canada on Philippines Airlines, with Vancouver International Airport being one of the major hubs for this airline. From Manila, travellers can make domestic connections to other hubs in the Philippines like Mactan-Cebu International Airport (for Cebu island and beyond), Francisco Bangoy International Airport (Davao City in the south), Puerto Princesa International Airport (for Palawan), and more. Check out some tips on the best time to book flights to Manila here.
When is the best time to visit the Philippines?
Best time to visit the Philippines is from December to February, where the archipelago experiences its dry season and the temperatures are coolest (relatively speaking!). Typically the month of May signifies the start of the wet season and November is when the dry season begins to kick in, while the low season (from June to September) the Philippines islands experience hot and humid weather with some monsoon rains. This is when resorts and island life will be much calmer in the Philippines, so if you luck out with some sunny days during your trip you’ll have the best of both worlds! The vibes will be much more chill, prices on accommodation much cheaper, and you might just have a little piece of paradise to yourself.
What are the common languages spoken in the Philippines?
Tagalog (Filipino) and English are the main languages spoken in the Philippines. The Philippines is known to have some of the friendliest people on the planet; it’s also the country with the most amount of English spoken in Asia, so you can definitely get by no problem. But it couldn’t hurt to add in a Kamusta (word for ‘Hello’) or a Salamat (‘Thank You’) once in a while!
What currency is used in the Philippines?
Currency is the Philippine peso (PHP) and is subdivided into 100 centavos. 1 CAD is worth approximately 39 pesos. A standard meal of street food in the Philippines will go for 100-150 PHP while a sit-down meal is more like 800 PHP for two people, a bottle of domestic beer costs around 50 PHP, your morning cap will set you back about 100 PHP, and the standard minimum fare on a jeepney is 9 PHP in the Metro Manila area.
Do I need a visa for the Philippines?
Travellers using a Canadian passport can visit the Philippines without a visa for the purpose of tourism or business for up to 30 days. A stay exceeding 30 days will require a visa.
What are the popular foods in the Philippines?
While the Philippines doesn’t have an official dish, Adobo is one of the country’s most popular foods and chicken or pork Adobo is a must-try when you’re visiting. Another must-try in the Philippines is kare kare, a stew made up of oxtail, seasonal vegetables and a thick peanut sauce. It’s traditionally served with bangoong, a fermented fish sauce. For veggie travellers, eat all of the pancit bihon (rice noodles and veggies) you can!
As you’d expect, there’s plenty of fresh seafood in the Philippines. Kinilaw is similar to ceviche – a raw fish salad cured in kalamansi (Filipino lime) or vinegar, with ginger, onions and chillies. And let’s not forget about lechon! What’s lechon? This dish is ubiquitous throughout the Philippines and it’s a popular meal served and enjoyed for a fiesta, like during Christmastime, to celebrate a Christening or just a Sunday meal. For you vegetarians and vegans out there, we won’t go into detail about how this dish is made, but we can say that some of the country’s best lechon can be found on Cebu and the surrounding islands.
If you’re in the mood for dessert, look no further than a bowl of Halo-Halo to share with your travel buddy. In Tagalog, Halo-Halo translates as “mix-mix” and this popular Philippines dessert is a concoction of crushed ice mixed with evaporated milk and add ons that include fruit jelly, sweet beans, sago, ube and tropical fruits. And if you really want to treat yourself, don’t leave the Philippines without trying a mango float. Filipinos describe this dessert as their own version of tiramisu, and it’s a concoction of layers of graham cracker separated by mango coulis and whipped cream. Delish.
What is the national animal of the Philippines?
The Carabao is the country’s national animal. This swamp-loving water buffalo can be found throughout Southeast Asia. For some, the Carabao is symbolic of the Filipino people’s hard work and strength.
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