The Philippines is made up of a collection of 7,107 islands, many of which play host to stunning beaches to suit all tastes, from marooned sands in the middle of the ocean to sprawling resorts and mega-islands like Mindanao and Luzon. Then there are the divers’ paradises, rich with pristine reefs, colourful tropical fish and World War II wrecks.
But there’s just as much to discover away from the beaches: jungles, volcanoes, mountains, and hidden caverns await you. In fact, the volcanic nature of the islands is hard to miss. Hot springs bubble up across the Philippine islands and the pyramid-like peaks of live volcanoes like Mount Mayon attract intrepid trekkers who can’t resist the challenge.
So where should you head for to make the most of the Philippines?
The capital city of Manila is most certainly worth a visit. Famous for its waterfront promenade and centuries-old Chinatown, it also boasts Intramuros in the heart of Old Manila, a Spanish walled city dating back to colonial times.
Manila is sophisticated yet spiritual, while consumerism, karaoke and traffic bring with them the gregarious aspect of a buzzing metropolis. With a distinct lack of historic sights due to the devastation of the city in World War II, Manila now hosts some of the best air-conditioned shopping malls, restaurants and night life in all of Asia.
The Philippines are part of the Pacific Ring of Fire so you will find active volcanoes all across the islands, especially if you are on the jungle treks. Mount Mayon puts on impressive lava shows, while the peaks around Los Banos on Luzon Island make for popular day-trips from Manila, largely due to their naturally hot mineral springs.
The Calamian Island
The Calamian archipelago, north of Palawan, is famous for its fascinating collection of shipwrecks which are the remains of a Japanese flotilla that sunk during World War II. The resort of Coron is a diving mecca, with numerous dive centres offering guided excursions to see the wrecks.
Watersports are increasingly popular in the province of Camarines Sur. This is largely due to the development of a world class wakeboarding centre nearby. If you’re not a surfer, it is still an exhilarating sport to watch, while nearby you will find stunning beaches, waterfalls and caves, along with great offshore diving and sport fishing.
For a picture-postcard resort, Boracay offers the quintessential sandy strip of beach, sea and palms. Whether you spend your days kicking back on the beach, sipping cocktails at the beach bars, kite surfing in the bay, or diving amid the reefs, it’s easy to see the appeal.
This tiny island off the north coast of Mindanao experiences spectacular swells from August to November, making it an ideal surfing spot with breaks like Cloud 9 offering spectacular tube rides. Siarga is dotted with laid-back surf resorts that are extra lively during the annual surfing contest in September.
Two hours south of Cebu City lies Carcar town, home to some of the best-preserved Castillian houses, churches and gardens in the Philippines. It is also famed for its culinary specialties: lechon (roast pork) and chicharon (crispy pork rind). You might like to make a day of it and enjoy a slap-up meal within the public market.
The Bacuit archipelago
Soaring cliffs, crystal-clear lagoons and white sandy beaches: the tiny picture-perfect Bacuit islands are dotted off the coast of Palawan. The resort town of El Nido is near some popular dive sites, coral lagoons and relatively deserted beaches you can reach by boat and enjoy a freshly caught seafood barbecue for lunch.
The quiet mountain village of Sagada is the gateway to the mountains of the Central Cordillera with their tribal villages, waterfalls and limestone caves. In addition to beautiful scenery, you will find economical lodges and fantastic food in Sagada. The village is also renowned for its hanging coffins – part of a funeral rite that dates back to ancient traditions.