Off the northeastern tip of Mindanao lies the teardrop-shaped island of Siargao
, a largely undeveloped backwater with Boracay-type beaches and dramatic coves and lagoons. Siargao has got everything, with a typically tropical coastal landscape of palm trees and dazzling seas, and a verdant hinterland of rustic little barrios and coconut groves. Some of the first tourists here were surfers, who discovered a break at Tuason Point that was so good they called it Cloud 9, and though it’s still off the tourist trail, word-of-mouth is bringing an increasing number of surfers from around the world.
Samal and Talicud islands
Samal Island – the Island Garden City of Samal to give it its rather grandiose official name – and the smaller island of Talicud, lie a stone’s throw southeast of Davao in the Gulf of Davao, across the narrow Pakiputan Strait. Samal is the better of the two islands to visit, simply because it’s larger and there’s more to explore. It has some lovely coves and beaches and a number of good areas for scuba diving, with intact coral reefs and a few wrecks; three Japanese wrecks lie next to each other off Pearl Farm Beach on the west coast.
Bantayan Island, just off the northwest coast of Cebu
, is quiet and bucolic, flat and arable, without the moody mountains of mainland Cebu. It’s a great place to explore, though divers will be disappointed with the lack of coral left along the shore. Most of the island’s resorts and beaches are around the attractive little town of Santa Fe on the southeast coast, which is where ferries from mainland Cebu arrive.
Off the northern coast of Panay, between Mindoro and Bicol, the province of Romblon
consists of three main islands – Tablas, Romblon and Sibuyan, and a dozen or so more smaller islands. The province is largely overlooked by visitors because it’s difficult to reach, and once you’re here, to put it simply, there’s not that much to do. There are few resorts and the most sophisticated Romblon’s nightlife gets is the occasional wooden shack with a karaoke machine. There are, however, some beautiful and rarely visited beaches and coral reefs, making it an excellent off-the-beaten-track destination for scuba diving, snorkelling or just exploring and getting a sense of provincial life in the archipelago.
Apo Reef Marine Natural Park
Lying about 30km off the west coast of Mindoro, Apo Reef
stretches 26km from north to south and 20km east to west, making it a significant marine environment. There are two main atolls separated by deep channels and a number of shallow lagoons with beautiful white sandy bottoms. Only in three places does the coral rise above the sea’s surface, creating the islands of Cayos de Bajo, Binangaan and Apo. The largest of these, Apo, is home to a ranger station and a lighthouse. The diving is really something special, with sightings of sharks (even hammerheads), barracuda, tuna and turtles fairly common. Most of the Philippines’ 450 species of coral are here, from tiny bubble corals to huge gorgonian sea fans and brain corals, along with hundreds of species of smaller reef fishes such as angelfish, batfish, surgeonfish and jacks.
Explore more of the Philippines with the upcoming Rough Guide to the Philippines, out in October 2014. Book hostels for your trip, and don’t forget to purchase travel insurance before you go.