Isolated white-sand beaches, reefs teeming with marine life, cascading rice terraces – it’s no wonder that the Philippines is thought of as paradise. And there’s even more than meets the eye, from the world’s smallest primate to the unique hanging coffins of Sagada. Yet, with well over 7,000 islands you can get overwhelmed by what’s on offer. Whatever kind of trip you’re after, here’s our guide to the best islands in the Philippines.
The Philippines’ eco-island remains a firm backpacker favourite. Palawan’s capital, Puerto Princesa is carbon-neutral, while the island and its beaches have collected countless accolades – particularly for the jaw-dropping Nacpan Beach near El Nido. For many, a visit to Palawan is all about getting out on the water. Once there you can go island-hopping between hidden coves and deserted beaches, and snorkelling in the coral reef-filled waters. For many, the island’s main attraction is the famous Puerto Princesa Underground River. One of the ‘New 7 Wonders of Nature' – the river runs for 8.2km underneath the St Paul Mountain Range.
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While the Philippines is full of excellent snorkelling and scuba diving opportunities, Mindoro goes the extra mile. Some 30km off the coast lies the Mindoro. It's one of the world’s most spectacular and important reefs, with over 450 different species of coral. Once you're at the reef you'll see all sorts of marine life, from giant schools of tuna to barracudas, sharks, sea turtles and manta rays. Other top dive sites around Mindoro can be accessed from the popular town of Mindoro, situated in the north of the island.
Part of the Visayas group of islands, Bohol is a nature paradise packed with national parks, spectacular beaches and cascading waterfalls. Many people visit to see the famous Chocolate Hills – over a thousand rounded hills, that turn chocolate brown in the dry season. Bohol offers numerous encounters with wildlife – the highlight being a chance to see tarsiers. These tiny, saucer-eyed creatures are the world’s smallest primate.
One of the Calamian Islands, Coron is known for its diverse opportunities for shipwreck diving. If you're scuba diving fan Coron should on your list of the best islands in the Philippines. You'll get the chance to explore World War II-era Japanese ships. Besides wreck diving, other top dive sites in and around Coron include the jungle-encircled Lake Barracuda and Siete Picados Reef. At the reef, you can see everything from sea turtles to staghorn coral. Snorkellers can also explore these sites, as well as the eerie Kayangan Lake, where strange rock formations and bizarre needlefish lurk just beneath the surface.
Located in the central Visayas region of the Philippines, Boracay is one of the smallest islands on our list. The island hit the headlines in 2018 when the Philippines government announced it was 'closing' the island. Tourists were banned from visiting for 6 months while the island's infrastructure and ecosystem recovered. Now, the island is welcoming tourists again, albeit with stricter rules in place. Here you’ll find many of the top international chains of hotels and resorts. On top of that, there's plenty of beach bars and clubs – especially around White Beach and Bulabog Beach. Adrenaline seekers will be spoilt for choice here with a range of water sports and other adventures on offer. Options range from windsurfing, kitesurfing and parasailing to cliff diving, horse riding and sailing.
The Philippines’ biggest and most densely populated island, Luzon, is home to the nation’s capital Manila, with its bustling traffic-clogged streets and swanky shopping malls. North of Manila, this vast island unravels a range of sights. You can see everything from 2,000-year-old rice terraces and Sagada’s hanging coffins to the historic colonial city of Vigan. Meanwhile, Southern Luzon is known for its coconut-infused cuisine, wild windswept eastern coastline and the perfectly conical Mt Mayon – the Philippines’ most active volcano.
The little island of Ticao is part of the Masbate Province and lies just off the tip of Southern Luzon. Home to just two resorts, a smattering of tiny villages and one small town, the landscape here consists of isolated golden beaches, rainforest and waterfalls. Here you’re unlikely to meet other travellers and you’ll often the beaches deserted. The excellent snorkelling spots are often quiet too. The waters off the coast are a favourite for a variety of manta rays and sharks, including blacktip reef sharks, whale sharks and even hammerheads.
Top image: Beautiful scenery of Coron, Palawan, Philippines © Kasia Soszka