in

7 Philippine Islands You Must Visit Before You Die

As central Philippines recovers from the devastation of Super Typhoon Haiyan, many of the 7,107 Philippine islands are ready to receive visitors. The monsoon season has come to a close, making now the ideal time for a beach getaway. Help kickstart the local economy by turning up on these shores.

1. Boracay, Aklan: Party Central

Children playing near Willy’s Rock, a volcanic formation at Station 1 on Boracay’s White Beach CC BY 2.0 Rick McCharles
Children playing near Willy’s Rock, a volcanic formation at Station 1 on Boracay’s White Beach CC BY 2.0 Rick McCharles

The fine white sands that made this island world-famous invite you to leave your flip-flops behind and go barefoot in their powdery softness. Island hopping and water sports will fill your days with discovery and adventure, while at nightfall, candlelit sandcastles, fire dancers and music of all genres lend a fun and easy-going atmosphere over the island. Bring your friends or make new ones at the bar—the world parties here!

HOW TO GET THERE: AirAsia flies to Kalibo from Manila and Kuala Lumpur.  From Kalibo Airport, it takes 1–2 hours by bus/van (from PHP 200) to Caticlan Jetty and 20 minutes by boat (PHP25/100 depending on craft + PHP75 environmental fee + PHP100 terminal fee) to Boracay. From there, take a tricycle or van to your hotel (from PHP50.) Alternatively, if you are flying in from Manila, one-way island transfers are available onboard your flight for PHP520.

2. El Nido and Taytay, Palawan: Limestone & Lagoons 

Villas on stilts at El Nido Resorts, Apulit Island, off Taytay town in Palawan CC BY 2.0 Jack Versloot
Villas on stilts at El Nido Resorts, Apulit Island, off Taytay town in Palawan CC BY 2.0 Jack Versloot

Once accessible only to the luxury travellers, El Nido and the islands off Taytay now welcome backpackers with a sense of adventure (and strong bottoms for rough roads). Snorkel and kayak amidst dramatic limestone cliffs and islands sans the crowds. You’ll surely discover your hiding place in this unspoilt paradise.

HOW TO GET THERE: AirAsia flies from Manila to Puerto Princesa. From Puerto Princesa Airport, take a van to El Nido town (5–6 hrs, PHP600–900).

3. Oslob, Cebu: Close Encounters

A gentle giant in the waters of Oslob, Cebu ©Jay Kok
A gentle giant in the waters of Oslob, Cebu ©Jay Kok

“SHARK!” If that cry doesn’t drive you away with the fear of Jaws, then you belong right here! Whale sharks, the largest fish on the planet, are sighted every morning off the shores of Oslob town. After swimming with these magnificent giants, stop over at Tumalog Waterfalls for a refreshing dip, Moalboal for diving and Carcar town for Spanish colonial houses, belly-busting lechon (whole roasted pig) and crunchy chicharon (deep-fried pork rind).

HOW TO GET THERE: AirAsia flies to Cebu from various destinations. From the airport, take a yellow coupon taxi  or a white metered taxi to Cebu South Bus Terminal (at least 30 mins, from PHP300) and catch a bus to Oslob (3 hrs, PHP120).

4. Panglao Island and Pamilacan Island, Bohol: Beyond Beach Bumming

Outrigger boats at Pamilacan Island CC BY 2.0 Ronald Belleza
Outrigger boats at Pamilacan Island CC BY 2.0 Ronald Belleza

Timid, wide-eyed tarsiers and the unusual Chocolate Hills will pull you away from relaxing beaches—but only if you let them. The pure shores of Bohol and its surrounding islands, among them laid-back Panglao and the dolphin-watching and snorkelling haven of Pamilacan, are for beach bums who want more. Eco-tourism attractions and colonial heritage make the province one of the country’s best destinations for nature and culture.

HOW TO GET THERE: AirAsia flies from Manila to Tagbilaran, Bohol. From the airport, taxis (30–40 mins, from PHP500) and vans (PHP600 per van) are available to Panglao Island. Tours to Pamilacan Island range from PHP1000–PHP4000 depending on inclusions and group size.

5. Island Garden City of Samal, Davao del Norte: Beyond Pearls

Hagimit Falls, one of Samal’s well-hidden attractions CC BY 2.0 Paul Lewin
Hagimit Falls, one of Samal’s well-hidden attractions CC BY 2.0 Paul Lewin

The Pearl Farm luxury resort isn’t the coastal paradise’s only draw. Step into “the island that has it all”, with lush green plains, enchanting mountains and cerulean seas to add to its claim. Travellers are discovering tranquil Hagimit Falls, the underwater colours of Talikud Island’s Coral Garden Marine Park, the high tide mangrove sandbar of Vanishing Island, and Monfort Bat Sanctuary, home of 2,000,000 fruit bats.

HOW TO GET THERE: AirAsia flies from Manila to Davao. From the airport, take a taxi to Santa Ana Wharf, Sasa Wharf or Sasa Ferryboat Landing (10–20 mins, under PHP200), depending on your destination. From there, take a motorboat or RORO ferries to Samal (15–45 mins, depending on resort location).

6. Camiguin: Sleeping Giant

Camiguin’s White Island, as seen from a viewpoint CC BY 2.0 Allan Donque
Camiguin’s White Island, as seen from a viewpoint CC BY 2.0 Allan Donque

Now you see it, now you don’t. The island’s best beach—actually a sandbar—appears only during low tide. This is only one of Camiguin’s many secrets, among them an underwater cemetery, church ruins, hot and cold springs, waterfalls, and the extinct remnants of ancient volcanoes. The popular cream-filled Pastel buns and sweet lanzones (langsat) fruits will have you snacking non-stop as you go on the island loop.

HOW TO GET THERE: AirAsia flies to Manila from various destinations. From Manila, take a domestic flight to Cagayan de Oro.

Short route: From the airport, take a van to Cagayan de Oro city centre (PHP199, 45 mins–1hr). From there, it’s a 20-minute ride to Macabalan Port by taxi (PHP80) or jeepney (PHP7). Ride the Ocean Jet ferry (2 hrs, PHP550–PHP750, one trip daily at 8:30am) to Camiguin-Benoni Port.

Long route: From the airport, take a van to Agora Bus Terminal (2–3 hrs, around PHP200). Hop aboard a Butuan-bound bus (2–3 hrs, PHP143) and alight at Balingoan Bus Terminal. Walk or take a motorela (PHP8) to Balingoan Ferry Port, where fast craft depart for Camiguin-Benoni Port (1 hr, PHP150). It is also possible to take a taxi (1.5 hrs, around PHP3000) straight to Balingoan from the airport.

7. Tubbataha Reef: The Last Frontier

Wall to wall corals and marine life at Tubbataha Reef
Wall to wall corals and marine life at Tubbataha Reef

Technically not an island but two large atolls in the Sulu Sea, Tubbataha is a World Heritage Site for its natural richness. Set at the apex of the Coral Triangle, it is described by divers as a true underwater jungle. Shark sightings are guaranteed and the sheer amount of marine life is among the best in the world. If you’re a marine explorer at heart, this should be on your bucket list. And if you don’t dive, it’s time to earn your certifications as this is for experienced divers only.

HOW TO GET THERE: AirAsia flies to Puerto Princesa from Manila. From Puerto Princesa, access to Tubbataha is via liveaboard only (10–12 hrs), arranged through accredited dive operators. Dive season is from mid-March to mid-June. Packages start at USD1600. Book in advance, as there are limited slots.

What do you think?

Haven of Lived Time

East Coast Flood Relief: What You Can Do