Few countries offer as many opportunities for adventure as the Philippines. With a variety of islands that provide the perfect location for everything from hiking and snorkelling to kayaking and whitewater rafting, the Philippines has long been a playground for adventurous souls. If you thought the Philippines holidays were the preserve of sun worshippers and beachgoers, think again – more fun awaits.
Have the dream Philippines holidays in Bohol
Taken aboard a spacious riverboat, floating lunches are the perfect way to soak in the views, discover new locations, and sample some of the country’s best cuisine. Although various floating lunches can be found across the Philippines, the Loboc River in Bohol offers an ideal location, with its wide channel, lush green banks, and overhanging palm trees.
In addition to slowly cruising down the river, there are also stops along the way where you can join in with some traditional dancing and singing, or simply admire the beautiful surroundings. If you’d prefer a solo adventure without the lunch, the area also attracts a veritable crowd of paddle boarders, who can be seen skillfully keeping their balance as they edge their way along the Loboc River.
No Philippines holiday would be complete without catching a glimpse of its diverse marine life – and dolphin and whale watching comes top of the list for most. The calm, clear waters of Pamilacan Island in Bohol provide the perfect setting, where you can spot everything from killer whales to bottlenose dolphins.
While on Bohol, soak up the bizarre landscape of 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 ideas for the Philippines holidays.
- For a perfect honeymoon: Epic Suites by Bohol Social Club
- For price and quality: Island World Panglao
Where to stay in Bohol
Kayak around the islands of El Nido
With more than 7,000 islands and islets making up the Philippines, it would take a lifetime to visit them all. However, for the ones you do visit, a great way to explore them is in your own kayak. Kayaks offer the freedom that a cruise doesn’t, putting you in control of the itinerary and allowing you to discover islands at your own pace.
Among the best places to explore by kayak is El Nido in Palawan, with its serene, glass-like waters, limestone coves brimming with marine life, and gorgeous, palm-tree-studded beaches. Also known as the “Last Ecological Frontier”, it is home to more than 200 endemic species, including the endangered Calamian deer.
Motorised boats are banned from mooring in El Nido’s lagoons unless issued with a special permit, helping to maintain the serenity of the area and protect the local marine life.
- For budget stays: Happiness Hostel
- For stunning views: Cadlao Resort and Restaurant
Where to stay in El Nido
Enjoy pristine beaches and coral reefs at Cebu Island
The Philippines is home to arguably some of the world’s most mesmerising waterfalls, with dramatic rock faces and foamy turquoise pools. And while admiring them from the ground is an amazing idea for your Philippines holidays in itself, canyoneering offers an exhilarating adventure you’ll cherish for a lifetime.
Kawasan Falls in Cebu provides the ultimate spot for canyoneering, where you’ll find yourself walking, scrambling, climbing, jumping, and swimming in rugged yet blissfully peaceful surroundings. It’s a great way to get up close and personal with the waterfall while enjoying the heart-pumping experience of jumping into the cool waters below.
Apart from the waterfalls, Cebu Island is renowned for its diving spots in the Philippines. There are many wonderful dive sites around the island with a variety of marine life and coral reefs.
One of the most renowned dive sites in Cebu is Monad Shoal, just off the coast of Malapascua Island. This is one of the few places in the world where you can dive with monad sharks, which are known for their long tails. If you're planning shark diving, keep in mind that the best time to do it is early morning, so to have this incredible experience you'll have to wake up early.
Explore the fascinating Visayas: First you will get to know Cebu with its waterfalls and islands 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 tailor-made Total immersion - Visayas.
- For diving: Cebu Seaview Dive Resort
- For making new friends: Nacho Hostel Cebu
Where to stay on Cebu Island
Visit the Del Carmen Mangrove Forest of Siargao Islands
Covering an area of more than 4,500 hectares and home to 27 different mangrove species, the Del Carmen Mangrove Forest of Siargao Islands offers the Philippines holiday experience like no other for lovers of nature and the outdoors.
Visitors can hop on a boat tour and explore the region, where they will be able to spot flora and fauna unique to the Philippines, as well as find out about recent efforts to educate local communities about protecting the mangroves for future generations.
The expert guides will also make sure you don’t end up having a dodgy encounter with the endangered Crocodylus Porosus, otherwise known as the saltwater crocodile, which calls the Del Carmen Mangrove Forest it's home.
- For a tropical feel: Siargao Island Villas
- For couples: Punta Punta Surf Retreat
Where to stay on Siargao Islands
Discover the diversity of the Davao Region
Known as the durian capital of the Philippines and the de facto capital of Mindanao, Davao, in Mindanao’s southeast, is a relaxed city, with a reputation for delicious seafood. There are a couple of things to see in the city itself – and in the barangay of Lanang – but mostly Davao makes a good base for exploring the surrounding area.
That said, the city’s formidable line-up of annual festivals is certainly worth attending, especially Kadayawan, a harvest festival held annually during the third week of August, which focuses on flamboyant tribal dance parades and a beauty pageant. For many visitors, Davao acts as a springboard for a series of trips beyond the city limits to see southern Mindanao at its finest.
Head north to Calinan and you’ll be in the company of majestic eagles at the Philippine Eagle Center and in touching distance of Mount Apo, the highest mountain in the archipelago. Venture east and you’ll find yourself on the deserted white-sand beaches of the Samal and Talikud Islands. Both are ripe to be explored.
- For luxury: Dusit Thani Residence Davao
- For price and quality: The Bourke Hotel
Where to stay in Davao
Feel the vibrant vibe of the Metro Manila Region
Technically sixteen cities and one municipality make up what is officially known as Metro Manila, covering a vast 636 square kilometres. To see the sights you will have to sweat it out in traffic and be prepared for delays, but the good news is that the main attractions are essentially confined to Manila proper.
The old walled city of Intramuros; Binondo – Manila’s Chinatown – north of the Pasig River; and the museums and parks grouped along the crescent sweep of Manila Bay and Roxas Boulevard. Makati and Ortigas to the east are glossy business districts best known for their malls and restaurants, though the Ayala Museum in Makati should not be missed.
Quezon City on the city’s northern edge is a little out of the way for most visitors, but it does boast some lively nightlife, most of it fuelled by students from the nearby University of the Philippines.
Indeed, Manila prides itself on the quality of its restaurant, bar and club scene and the ability of its residents to whip up a good time – for many tourists, this will be their enduring memory of the place. The city is also a great place to pick up bargains, from the latest goods cranked out by Chinese factories to intricate native handicrafts.
Go on beach holidays on the Boracay Island
Some 350km south of Manila, and just off the northeastern tip of Panay, the island of Boracay is famed for the picture-perfect White Beach, a quality dining and wild nightlife scene, plus activities from scuba diving to kitesurfing. It may be only 7km long and 1km wide at its narrowest point, but Boracay has over thirty beaches and coves, and enough accommodation options to suit all budgets.
Watching the graceful paraws (sailing boats) setting sail at sunset is worth the Philippines holidays on its own. Though Boracay is popular with domestic tourists, they are outnumbered by foreigners, both on package and independent holidays; this gives the island a strongly international feel.
To many visitors, the 4km talcum powdery sand strip of White Beach is Boracay, and while the carnival of activities, touts and tourists is hardly an accurate representation of Philippines beach life, it is certainly fun. The beach is dotted with interesting little bars and bistros, where you can sit in air-conditioned luxury eating Chateaubriand and smoking Cuban cigars.
On this tailor-made trip to Boracay & Palawan, you will discover two paradise islands in the Philippines. Enjoy luxurious hotels, white sandy beaches, a fascinating underwater world and the hospitality of the local population.
Marvel at the turquoise water and limestone caves in Puerto Princesa on Palawan Island
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.
- For budget stays: Sunset Colors
- For jungle surroundings: Atremaru Jungle Retreat
Where to stay on Palawan Island
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Top image: A rice terrace in Banaue © Leonid Andronov