This collection of tiny islands is picture postcard territory, with an abundance of dramatic limestone cliffs, crystal-clear lagoons and white sand beaches. Take a trip in a bangka (outrigger boat) and spend the day snorkelling and relaxing on the beach, with a seafood barbecue for lunch.
This quintessential paradise island may have been heavily developed, but it’s still the country’s most popular tourist attraction. As you laze on the beach at sunset drinking a happy hour cocktail after a day diving, kite boarding or just doing nothing, it isn’t difficult to see the appeal.
In Carcar town, two hours south of Cebu City, are some of the country’s best-preserved Castillian houses, gardens and churches. The town is also known for its lechon (roast pig) and chicharon (crispy pork rind), so make a day of it and visit the public market for a meal.
Cordillera rice terraces
Breathtaking in their scale, the rice terraces in North Luzon were carved out around 2000 years ago by mountain tribes using only basic tools. The most convenient place to stay is the town of Banaue, from where it’s possible to hike to isolated villages such as Batad.
Diving in the Calamian Islands
Although they have great beauty above the surface, these islands north of Palawan draw visitors primarily for their stunning collection of diveable WWII wrecks. For wreck diving closer to Manila, try Subic Bay, while other prime spots for scuba include Apo Island, Malapascua, Padre Burgos, Anilao and Puerto Galera.
Explore colonial heritage at Vigan
The Second World War saw the destruction of many of the country’s old buildings, so the collection of Spanish-era merchants’ homes in UNESCO-listed Vigan is a rare delight. Some have been turned into museums, while others function as heritage hotels. Horse-drawn carriages (calesas) take tourists around this approachable city.
Game fishing in Santa Ana
It may be on the far northeastern stretch of Luzon’s coast, but from March to July Santa Ana draws locals and foreigners interested in game fishing. The Philippines’ warm waters are inhabited by some 2,400 fish species, including many game fish such as giant tuna, tanguingue, king mackerel, great barracuda, swordfish and marlin.
Explore old Manila and see the remains of the massive wall that protected Intramuros, the Spanish walled city. Highlights include San Agustin Church (which has a small museum), Casa Manila (a reconstruction of a wealthy family’s home) and the ruins of Fort Santiago.
At 2954m (9,700ft), Mount Apo (‘Grandfather’) is the highest peak in the country and popular with experienced trekkers; it also has one of the longest ziplines in Asia on its southern slope. The whole Apo mountain range has spectacular waterfalls, rapids, forests, springs and mountain lakes.
Mountain scenery in Sagada
Visit this laidback mountain village for fresh air, beautiful scenery, cheap lodges and excellent food. There are caves to explore, waterfalls to swim beneath and trails to be hiked; or just relax and enjoy the scenery and slow pace of life.
Santa Cruz Island
Swim, surf, windsurf, snorkel or dive in the waters of Santa Cruz Island, off the coast of Zamboanga in Mindanao. It is famous for its sandy beach that turns pink when the corals from the sea are washed ashore.
Snorkel with whale sharks in Donsol
This quiet fishing village has been a magnet for tourists ever since whale sharks were ‘discovered’ off the coast – actually, the fishermen had known about them for years. A day spent snorkelling with the huge creatures (which can grow to the size of a bus), is an unmissable experience.
Surf in Siargao
Some of the best waves in the country can be found around this tiny island off the north coast of Mindanao – on a good day, particularly from August to November, the Cloud Nine break is spectacular. The laidback resorts only really come to life during the annual surfing contest in September/October.
Strap yourself onto a board and be pulled around a lake at 30kph (18mph), at Camsur Watersports Complex, one of the world’s top wakeboarding facilities. The complex has a swimming lagoon, skate park and other sports facilities, plus a range of accommodation and a good restaurant.
World’s smallest monkey in Bohol
See the world’s smallest monkey, the tarsier, on Bohol Island, also home to fascinating natural wonders that include hundreds of limestone hills resembling oversized chocolate drops, nicknamed the ‘Chocolate Hills’. Also visit the Baclayon Church, which dates back to 1595.