Philippines Tourism places
Get ready for a gushing report because I love the Philippines. Those who are on a backpacking tour of South-East Asia often skip it due to it being quite geographically separated from the mainland, but do yourself a favor and seriously consider visiting this fantastic country. It is in many ways the forgotten gem of the region.
Why you should go
The Philippines may not immediately trigger exotic mental images in the way that Thailand or Indonesia do, perhaps because it’s relatively less known. To be honest, before I visited the Philippines I knew very little about it, but I’m glad I listened to those who told me to go there.
- Incredibly varied and densely packed with attractions. Whether you are looking for stunning beaches, mountain trekking, world-class diving, or cultural sites, the Philippines has it in spades.
- Easy contact with locals. Unlike other countries in Southeast Asia, there’s not much of a language barrier as most people speak English. Filipinos are also by and large very friendly and welcoming people. Backpacking is very popular amongst Filipinos and you are likely to meet quite a few domestic tourists.
- Unique mix of Asian, Spanish colonial and US influences (as the Philippines was briefly a US colony). Expect to see 17th century baroque-style churches next to noodle stands, or to hear a mix of local Tagalog and heavily American-accented English coming from the radio.
- The most stunning tropical islands. The Philippines is one of the largest island groups in the world with 7, 107 islands. The show Survivor shot many of its seasons on some of these gorgeous islands. If you are looking for incredible unspoiled beaches, you can find them here.
One caveat: if you are traveling the wider South-East Asia region, it may not be the most obvious starting destination, as it may seem at first glance ‘less Asian’ which could dissapoint if it’s your first stop. However, if you have already been elsewhere in South-East Asia or don’t mind something a bit different, The Philippines is a must-go destination.
Where to go in The Philippines
Some major destinations I’ve chosen to highlight. (There are many more places to see!)
The Philippines has many islands that are quite spread apart. Here is what each region is most known for:
- Palawan for beautiful nature, spectacular island hopping (around El Nido and Coron), and wreck diving around Coron. This is the region not to miss.
- Northern Luzon for hiking, caving, and the UNESCO world heritage rice terraces of Banaue
- Boracay Island is the most heavily advertised holiday destination of the Philippines. It’s the least ‘backpackery’ place. Expect lots of resorts and activities like para-sailing, banana boats, jetskis, water-skiing, etc. Generally much higher prices here than elsewhere in the Philippines.
- Southeast Luzon (Bicol) has an impressive volcano near Legazpi which can be hiked. You can swim with whale sharks in nearby Donsol (though they were nowhere to be found when I tried myself). If the whale sharks fail to show up, go on a firefly watching tour along the nearby river. I know, it’s not exactly the same calibre of wildlife, but it’s a really lovely experience.
- Bohol for visiting local villages, seeing tarsier monkeys, and the quircky Chocolate Hills (slightly overrated, but still cool)
- Mindanao: very off the beaten track. Region has had some security issues so check travel advisories before going here.
To get around anywwhere in Luzon, buses are your best bet.
As far as ferries go, the short ones are worth it: for instance between Bohol and Cebu or Cebu and Malapascua island. Taking a boat from El Nido to Coron Island is a particularly nice journey and is a bit of an attraction in itself. (You can also do this leg as a tour with an adventure company where you sleep in hammocks on deserted islands. Haven’t done this myself but it seems like an amazing way to get from El Nido to Coron.)
However, ferries are not great for covering long distances. Forget about taking a boat from Manila to Palawan for instance; there’s a boat connection but it only goes once a week and takes a good 28 hours to get there. Because everything is quite spread apart in the Philippines realistically you’ll probably end up taking an internal flight or two if you want to see a lot. Fortunately local carriers offer pretty cheap flights: check, or .