Best things to do in the Philippines

written by
Rough Guides Editors

updated 18.04.2023

Separated from its Southeast Asian neighbours, the Philippines has always been a little different. The variety of the best things to do in the Philippines is astonishing. You can surf, island-hop or dive pristine coral reefs in the morning, and on the same day visit Indigenous villages, ancient rice terraces, historical cave systems and jungles mothered peaks. Here is our pick of the best things to do in the Philippines.

The information in this article is inspired by The Rough Guide to the Philippines, your essential guide for visiting the Philippines.

1. Boracay Beach

While in the Philippines, you will want to visit the 4km powdery sand strip of white beach that is Boracay. Here there is a carnival of activities for travellers. A short walk along the beach takes you past restaurants serving a veritable United Nations of cuisines, including Greek, Indian, Caribbean, French, Th ai and more.

The beach is also dotted with interesting little bars and bistros, some of them with no more than a few chairs and tables on the beach, and others where you can sit in air-conditioned luxury eating Chateaubriand and smoking Cuban cigars.

Discover two paradise islands in the Philippines with our tailor-made trip to Boracay & Palawan. Enjoy luxurious hotels, white sandy beaches, a fascinating underwater world and the hospitality of the local population.

Find more accommodation options to stay on Boracay island


White beach in Boracay, the Philippines © Shutterstock

2. Ati-Atihan Festival

Ati-Atihan is a quasi-religious mardi gras held every January in Kalibo on Panay Island. The culmination of the two-week event is a procession through the streets on the third Sunday of the month, a sustained three-day, three-night frenzy of carousing and dancing.

Throw in the unending beat of massed drums and the average Filipino’s predisposition for a good party, and the result is a flamboyant alfresco rave that claims to be the biggest and most prolonged in the country. The Ati-Atihan mantra Hala Bira, Puera Pasma translates as “Keep on going, no tiring.”


Ati-Atihan Festival, Philippines © Hagen Production/Shutterstock

3. El Nido

With its scruffy beach, narrow, tricycle-choked streets and unplanned rows of concrete hotels, the small but booming resort town of El Nido, in the far northwest of Palawan, comes as quite a surprise for somewhere that’s marketed as paradise. But though the town makes a poor first impression, visiting El Nido is one of the best things to do in the Philippines - the surroundings are jaw-dropping.

The town is the departure point for trips to the mesmerizing Bacuit archipelago, where the El Nido marine sanctuary is the largest such reserve in the Philippines. The archipelago’s striking beauty has not gone unnoticed by developers, who have established a number of exclusive resorts on some of the islands.

A fascinating underwater world is ready to be explored. Coron is known for its wreck diving while El Nido has one of the most beautiful islands in the Philippines, hidden lagoons, and hundreds of species of coral and marine life. This tailor-made diving adventure in Palawan allows you to discover both places, above and below the water.

Find more accommodation options to stay in El Nido


El Nido, Philippines © Antonio V. Oquias/Shutterstock

4. Marvel at the Banaue Rice Terraces

The rice terraces around Banaue are among the great icons of the Philippines and were hewn from the land two thousand years ago by the Ifugao people using primitive tools. Called the “Stairway to Heaven” by the Ifugaos, the terraces would stretch 20,000km if laid out end to end. Not only are they an extraordinary sight, but they are also an object lesson in sustainability.

The terraces are on the UNESCO World Heritage list, and they will not last forever if they are not protected. They have always been subject to constant deterioration, due to erosion, imperfect irrigation systems and the actions of earthworms. Strict measures have been taken in recent years to protect and revive the paddies, and young farmers are slowly returning to work in the fields.


Rice terraces, Batad village, Luzon, the Philippines © Tappasan Phurisamrit/Shutterstock

5. Try Filipino cuisine

Filipino food is a delicious and unique blend of Malay, Spanish, Chinese and American traditions. Dishes range from the very simple, like grilled fish and rice, to more complex stews, paellas and artfully barbecued meats. Many dishes use local fruits such as calamansi, coconuts and mangoes. Seafood is especially rich – expect anything from meaty crabs and milkfish to grouper and stingrays on the menu.

Most meals are served with San Miguel, the local beer, and are followed by sumptuous tropical fruits and decadent desserts.


Halo-halo - a mouthwatering blend of shaved ice, evaporated milk and various toppings © Shutterstock

6. Vigan — one of the oldest towns in the Philippines

One of the unmissable things to do in the Philippines is to visit Vigan - one of the oldest towns in the Philippines. Lying on the western bank of the Mestizo River, it was in Spanish times an important political, military, cultural and religious centre. The old town is characterized by its cobbled streets and some of the finest colonial architecture in the country, mixing Mexican, Chinese and Filipino features.

Many of the old buildings are still lived in, others are used as curio shops. A few have been converted into museums or hotels. The attractions are within walking distance of one another, with Plaza Burgos the most obvious reference point. Adding to the old-world atmosphere, some streets are open only to pedestrians – unusual in the Philippines – and romantic horse-drawn kalesas.

Find more accommodation options to stay in Vigan


Vigan, Luzon, Philippines © Daniel Andis/Shutterstock

7. Swimming with whale sharks - one of the most thrilling things to do in the Philippines

Swimming alongside a giant but gentle whale shark off the coast of Sorsogon, in southern Luzon, is among the unforgettable things to do in the Philippines. The area around the sleepy town of Donsol is best known for one of the greatest concentrations of whale sharks in the world. The number of sightings varies: during the peak months of January to April there’s a very good chance of encountering these gentle creatures.

Swimming with these colossal sharks as they sedately glide through the clear waters is a truly unforgettable experience, but remember that you need to be a good swimmer and a decent snorkeller to get into the water with them. Outside of whale shark season, there’s not much here for travellers, and most of the accommodation options and even some restaurants are closed.


Swimming with the whale sharks is one of the most thrilling things to do in the Philippines © Leith Holtzman/Shutterstock

8. Coron Island by Bangka

One of the best things to do in the Philippines is to stay in Coron Town to explore the spellbinding islands and coves scattered around Coron Bay – also a fantastic destination for wreck-diving. Bangka trips are easy to arrange, but it’s worth comparing the various packages on offer. Coron Island is the most popular destination, but you should also try to spend some time on the smaller, less-visited islands.

Most hotels and tour operators in Coron Town offer day trips to Coron Island, an enchanting cluster of jagged limestone cliffs and peaks just fifteen minutes across the bay. The island offers truly spectacular landscapes and some rich snorkelling sites, though visitors are confined to the northern coast.

Find more accommodation options to stay on Coron Island


Coron, Palawan, Philippines © Kasia Soszek/Shutterstock

9. Chocolate Hills

Soak up the bizarre landscape of Bohol’s iconic Chocolate Hills, conical brown-green mounds said to be the calcified tears of a broken-hearted giant. Renowned throughout the country, hiking in the surreal Chocolate Hills is one of the best things to do in the Philippines.

What you think of the hills will depend largely on the time you visit. During the glare of the day, the light casts harsh shadows and the hills lose their definition. But at dawn or dusk, they look splendid, especially during the dry season (Feb–June) when the scrub vegetation covering the hills is roasted brown.

Most visitors head for the 360-degree viewpoint at the government-run Chocolate Hills Viewpoint. Built atop one of the unearthly formations, it’s reached by a winding road and a steep climb up two hundred or so rough-hewn steps.


Chocolate hills, Bohol island, Philippines © Eva Mont/Shutterstock

10. Tarsiers

Admire these tiny primates with their enormous, sorrowful eyes at their protected sanctuary in Bohol. Ten kilometres northeast of Tagbilaran outside the village of Corella, the Philippine Tarsier Sanctuary is dedicated to protecting what is left of the native population of tarsiers.

Often mistakenly referred to as the world’s smallest monkey, the cuddly tarsier – all 10–15cm of it – is more closely related to the lemur, loris and bushbaby and has been around for a staggering 45 million years.

After a brief induction at the base camp, knowledgeable guides lead visitors into the jungle, but spotting the sanctuary’s hundred-or-so free-to-roam residents among the foliage can be challenging, especially as the creatures are nocturnal and rarely move.

Find more accommodation options to stay on Bohol island

On this tailor-made Total immersion in Visayas you will get to know Cebu with its waterfalls and some of the best islands in the Philippines before heading to Dumaguete to swim with turtles and over to Bohol: known for its chocolate hills and tarsiers, this island never ceases to amaze. A few more beach days in Siquijor conclude this trip.


Tarsier in Bohol, the Philippines© Shutterstock

11. San Agustin Church

This elegantly weathered Spanish pile in the heart of old Manila is the oldest stone church in the archipelago and the resting place of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi. Dominating the southern section of Intramuros, San Agustin Church boasts a magnificent Baroque interior, trompe l’oeil murals and a vaulted ceiling and dome.

Access to the church is via the adjacent San Agustin Museum, a former Augustinian monastery that houses a surprisingly extensive collection of icons and artefacts, though the handsome two-storey building itself and the tranquil central cloisters are just as appealing.


San Agustin Church in Manila, the Philippines © Richie Chan/Shutterstock

12. Spend a day at Manila Ocean Park

At the far western end of Rizal Park, along the bayfront, lies Manila Ocean Park, one of the best things to do in the Philippines with kids. The undoubted highlight is the Oceanarium, a huge saltwater tank viewed via a 25m-long walkway, packed with some twenty thousand sea creatures.

Depending on what entry package you choose, it may include spectacular light shows, musical fountains, sea lion shows, birds of prey exhibit, a trippy jellyfish installation and a penguin park.

Find more accommodation options to stay in Manila

Jellyfish aquarium in Manila Ocean Park Philippines © Shutterstock

Jellyfish aquarium in Manila Ocean Park © Shutterstock

13. Dive At Tubbataha Reef

Located in the middle of the Sulu Sea, 181km southeast of Puerto Princesa, Tubbataha Reef Natural Park has been inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List thanks to its huge number of marine species. Unsurprisingly, it has become a magnet for scuba divers, who reach it on liveaboard boats – most departing from Puerto Princesa between March and June.

The reef is one of the finest in the world, with sightings of sharks, manta rays and turtles a daily occurrence. Dive operators in Manila, Puerto Princesa and Coron Town can arrange one-week trips, which include onboard accommodation and meals, the conservation fee, and up to four dives a day.


Diving at Tubbataha Reef - one of the best things to do in the Philippines for divers © Dudarev Mikhail/Shutterstock

14. Puerto Galera

One of the country’s most popular resorts, Puerto Galera (meaning “Port of the Galleons”) boasts some of the most diverse coral reef diving in Asia and gorgeous, sugar-sand beaches, as a result of which the whole area is often mobbed during national holidays. Arriving by ferry is a memorable experience, the boat slipping gently through aquamarine waters past a series of headlands fringed with haloes of sand and coconut trees.

Brilliant white yachts lie at anchor in the innermost bay and in the background looms the brooding hulk of Mount Malasimbo, invariably crowned with a ring of cumulus cloud.

Find more accommodation options to stay in Puerto Galera


White-eyed Moray eels in Puerto Galera, the Philippines © Oksana Golubeva/Shutterstock

15. Sail along Puerto Princesa Underground River

Recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site and voted as one of the “new Seven Wonders of Nature” in 2012, the Puerto Princesa Underground River is a unique underwater river system that cuts through the limestone hills before emptying out into the sea.

The caves are completely natural and unlit, ranging from low-lying passages to vast, cathedral-like caverns. Because of the site’s popularity and fragile ecosystem, visitor numbers are restricted to a daily quota of nine hundred visitors, which is reached every day during peak season. Make sure you book your visit ahead of time.

Explore the Puerto Princesa Underground River and admire the natural beauty of Palawan on a full-day trip. Sail along the world's longest navigable underground river and enjoy an authentic lunch.


Puerto Princesa cave, Underground river in Palawan, the Philippines © Aleksandar Todorovic/Shutterstock

16. Mount Mayon

The almost perfectly symmetrical cone of volcanic Mount Mayon, near Legaspi, makes for a challenging but thrilling climb. The elegantly smooth cone of Mount Mayon may look benign from a distance but don’t be deceived. The most active volcano in the country, Mayon has erupted more than forty times since 1616, the date of its first recorded eruption.

The traditional window of opportunity for an ascent of Mount Mayon is February to April, and even then you’ll have to be well prepared for cold nights at altitude and the possibility of showers. At any other time of year, you could be hanging around for days waiting for a break in the weather. Though the slopes look smooth, it takes at least two days to reach the highest point of the trail.

Explore one of the most iconic natural landmarks in the Philippines, Mayon Volcano, known for its perfect cone shape. Take the ATV tour to fully enjoy the nature around it and be mesmerized by its breathtaking views.


Mount Mayon, the Philippines © Shutterstock

17. Mount Pinatubo

Nothing has quite been the same around Mount Pinatubo, 25km east of Clark, since 1991, when the volcano exploded in one of the largest eruptions of the twentieth century worldwide. Today, visits to the resultant moonlike lahar landscape and the lake is one of the country’s top activities, though independent hikes to the top are not permitted.

Organized trips to the volcano leave from the small town of Santa Juliana, about 40km from Clark, where you register. From here, a 4WD takes you for an hour or so across flat lahar beds and over dusty foothills to the start of a gentle hike to Lake Pinatubo. The lake itself is stunning, with emerald-green waters and spectacular surrounding views. Bring a packed lunch. Swimming and boating on the lake are now banned.

Embark on a journey to the “Beautiful Disaster”, the local’s name for the active volcano Mount Pinatubo. Take a 14-kilometre hike before stopping by an Aeta indigenous tribe village.


Pinatubo crater lake in Philippines © posztos/Shutterstock

18. Go Island hopping at the Hundred Islands National Park

The tiny islands of Hundred Islands National Park – there are actually 123, but that doesn’t have quite the same ring to it – cover almost twenty square kilometres. Some islands have beaches, but many are no more than coral outcrops crowned by scrub. Sadly, much of the underwater coral in the park has been damaged by a devastating combination of cyanide fishing and dynamite fishing along with typhoons.

The authorities are, however, going all out to protect what coral is left and help it regenerate, meaning you can only snorkel in approved areas. Unless you want to camp, the closest base is the small town of Lucap, accessible from Alaminos, where day trips set off. The town, however, is pretty dull and not recommended as a place to stay. It’s far nicer to base yourself at one of the resorts near Bolinao.

Hundred Islands National Park, Philippines © Pixabay

Hundred Islands National Park, Philippines © Pixabay

19. Take a historic tour of Corregidor Island

The tadpole-shaped island of Corregidor, less than 5km long and 3km wide at its broadest point, is a living museum to the horrors of war. Lying 40km southwest of Manila, it was originally used by the Spanish as a customs post. In 1942 it was defended bravely by an ill-equipped US and Filipino contingent under continual bombardment from Japanese guns and aircraft.

The island was abandoned after the war, and was gradually reclaimed by thick jungle vegetation – it wasn’t until the late 1980s that the Corregidor Foundation began to transform it into a national shrine. If you visit Corregidor on a day trip you’ll be restricted to a guided tour. Japanese tourists also come here in numbers to pay their respects to the dead on both sides.

1941 Artillery Emplacement Corregidor, Philippines © Shutterstock

Artillery Emplacement Corregidor, Philippines © Shutterstock

20. Discover the falls

The Philippines also boasts a wide variety of waterfalls. One of them is Kawasan Falls - the most popular place to swim in Moalboal. Made up of a series of cascades – some as high as 20m – this jungle-fringed waterfall is a great place for a taster of Cebu’s interior.

If you travelling to Boracay, note the Cambughay Falls on Siquijor island. These are the island’s most accessible and popular waterfalls. Steep steps lead down to the pretty falls, which are a pleasant spot for a picnic or a swim.

Manila’s main claim to fame these days is as the staging point for the dazzling Pagsanjan Falls, chosen by Francis Ford Coppola as the location for the final scenes in Apocalypse Now in 1975. Most tourists come not for the Hollywood nostalgia value, however, but to take one of the popular “shooting the rapids” trips along the Bumbungan River to the falls and back.

Kawasan waterfalls located on Cebu Island, Philippines © oneinchpunch/Shutterstock

Kawasan waterfalls located on Cebu Island, Philippines © oneinchpunch/Shutterstock

Looking for some more exotic destinations for your trip? Read our guide about the best things to do on the Fiji islands or explore the most exotic places to travel in the world.

Ready for a trip to the Philippines? Check out the snapshot of The Rough Guide to the Philippines.

If you prefer to plan and book your trip to the Philippines without any effort and hassle, use the expertise of our local travel experts to make sure your trip will be just like you dream it to be.

We may earn commission from some of the external websites linked in this article, but this does not influence our editorial standards - we only recommend services that we genuinely believe will enhance your travel experiences.

Rough Guides Editors

written by
Rough Guides Editors

updated 18.04.2023

Planning your own trip? Prepare for your trip

Use Rough Guides' trusted partners for great rates

Ready to travel and discover

Get support from our local experts for
stress-free planning & worry-free travels

Plan my trip ⤍