The following itineraries span the entire length of this incredibly diverse archipelago, from the historic cities of Luzon to the idyllic islands of the Visayas and the remote jungles of Mindanao. Given the time involved moving from place to place, you may not be able to cover everything, but even picking a few highlights will give you a deeper insight into the natural and cultural wonders of the Philippines.
Evidence of the Philippines long and complex history is sprinkled all over the archipelago, but northern Luzon is the most evocative of its tribal and colonial past, with handsome old cities and enigmatic remains. This itinerary could be completed in under a fortnight (ten days minimum), especially if you take some flights, but as with the others, you’ll get a lot more out of it if you tackle it more slowly.
1 Intramuros, Manila
The oldest part of Manila drips with history, from Spanish churches and forts to illuminating museums.
Take a tour of this beautiful old town, home to the biggest church in Southeast Asia and bahay na bato architecture still redolent of colonial Spain.
The nation’s woodcarving capital makes for an intriguing detour, sprinkled with the stores of local craftsmen.
The oft-overlooked capital of Bulacan province is crammed with colonial remnants, from the elegant Barasoain Church to a smattering of preserved sixteenth-century Spanish homes.
The best-preserved colonial town in the Philippines is a treasure-trove of tiny museums, chapels and crumbling villas.
The capital of Ilocos Norte boasts plenty of historic attractions of its own, while the Malacañang of the North, former holiday residence of the Marcoses, is a short ride away.
Head into the mountainous heart of Luzon, where Sagada is a focus for the Igorots (Cordillera tribes) and the enigmatic hanging coffins.
8 Banaue and Batad
You’d be remiss to travel up here and not spend time among the legendary rice terraces, fantastical ridges in the mountains often shrouded in mist.
Millions of visitors come to the Philippines primarily for what’s below sea level – the waters surrounding the island chain harbour some of the world’s richest marine life. The following tour would ideally take several weeks – and lots of advance planning – to complete.
1 Puerto Galera
This easy-to-reach resort makes a great introduction to the local dive scene, with plenty of resorts and operators to choose from.
2 Apo Reef
Take a day or two to explore this protected reef off the west coast of Mindoro, home to sharks, turtles and rays.
Try and take the bangka across to Coron for some spectacular wreck diving, primarily Japanese ships from World War II.
4 El Nido
Continue on to the Palawan mainland where the numerous dive schools at El Nido can help arrange trips to Tubbataha.
5 Tubbataha Reef Marine Park
Time-consuming (and expensive) though it is to reach, this is nevertheless the pinnacle of Philippine diving, with a mind-boggling array of reef and pelagic marine life.
6 Apo Island
From Puerto Princesa fly to Cebu City then head south to Dumaguete and Apo Island, another dive hot spot.
7 Panglao Island
From Dumaguete it’s a short boat ride to languid Panglao Island, home to congenial resorts, beaches and dive sights.
8 Padre Burgos
Cross over to Leyte to experience this exciting dive location, home to whale sharks, dolphins and manta rays.
For the definitive whale shark experience you’ll need to continue north across to Luzon, where Donsol is the best place to swim with these gentle giants.
The appeal of hiking volcanoes or trudging city streets can wilt (especially in the tropical heat), when compared to the dazzling white beaches on offer in the Philippines. This tour takes in the best of the nation’s strips of sand. This itinerary needs a minimum two weeks, but given the focus on beaches, could be obviously extended into a much longer trip.
Take the short flight to this lesser visited island and seek out some of the sandy beaches off its eastern coast.
2 Caramoan Peninsula
Back on the Luzon mainland, this rugged promontory harbours blue-water coves and enticing resorts.
3 Malapascua Island
Fly from Legazpi to Cebu City, where it’s a four-hour bus and boat ride to this tiny islet ringed by chalky white sands.
4 Siargao Island
Double back to Cebu for the short flight to Siargao, best known for surfing but also rich in empty, wild, sandy beaches and offshore islands.
5 Camiguin Island
From Siargao you can ferry across to Mindanao and take a bus towards Camiguin, another relatively untouched haven, with the gorgeous sands of White Island just offshore.
6 Panglao Island
Ferry across to Bohol, where another diving hot spot also boasts several enticing stretches of sand.
If you love the beach, you can’t visit the Philippines without a stop here – it’s more developed than most places, but the sand is still spectacular.
This three- to four-week tour gives a taster of the Philippines’ iconic landscapes and islands from the nation’s chaotic capital to the pristine sands of Boracay.
The nation’s initially chaotic capital is a vast, boiling blend of history, high culture and wild nightlife.
2 Banaue rice terraces
It’s worth taking the journey north to see one of the world’s great man-made wonders.
Extend your stay in northern Luzon with a trip to this rambling old town, home of the famed hanging coffins.
4 Puerto Princesa
Backtrack to Manila for the flight to Palawan’s sleepy capital and the trip along the Underground River.
5 El Nido
Continue along the Palawan coast to the spectacular limestone scenery of the Bacuit archipelago.
Take the bangka across to Coron, where wreck-diving and dazzling coves await.
7 Cebu City
Fly to the nation’s third city, home of Magellan’s Cross and a host of historic attractions.
Take the ferry to this historic island, home of the Chocolate Hills and the loveable tarsier.
Backtrack to Cebu for the short flight to this famed resort island, where you can end your tour on a sugary white sand beach.
The physical and historic heart of the nation, the Visayas is perhaps the most alluring region of the Philippines, a sun-bleached concentration of islands littered with beaches, crumbling churches, sugar plantations and untouched reefs. This itinerary needs a minimum of two weeks.
1 Puerto Galera
Begin your tour by taking the short bus-and-ferry trip to this congenial beach and dive resort on the tip of Mindoro.
Ferries link Mindoro to the more remote Romblon archipelago, three main islands offering untouched beaches and intriguing reef dives.
It’s a short boat ride south to the jewel of Philippine beach resorts, justly renowned for its mesmerizing white sands.
Bus across to the south side of Panay, where it’s another short boat ride to this island of mangoes, mountain bikes and handsome Spanish chapels.
Traverse Negros and take the ferry to the island of witches, rich in legend, culture and rugged beauty.
Cut across the Bohol Sea to absorb the charms of Panglao Island, the Chocolate Hills and those adorable tarsiers.
Ferry and bus your way north across Leyte to this little visited gem, home to dizzying falls, coves and even rice terraces.
8 Sohoton Natural Bridge National Park
Nip across to the island of Samar to experience this jungle-clad, limestone wilderness, before heading back to Cebu or Manila.
Few travellers make it as far as Mindanao, but there’s plenty to see in the exotic deep south of the Philippines – skip Manila altogether and begin and end this tour in Cebu City. This itinerary really needs three weeks to do it justice, but could be obviously extended into a much longer trip.
1 Dumaguete and Apo Island
Head south to sleepy Dumaguete, where you can arrange dive trips to the stunning reefs off Apo Island.
2 North coast, Mindanao
Take the ferry to Dapitan and explore the north coast of Mindanao, from the dolphins of Misamis Occidental Aquamarine Park (MOAP) to the falls of Illigan.
3 Lake Lanao
If safe, it’s worth arranging a trip to the Muslim enclave of Marawi and this tranquil lake, ringed by traditional homes and mosques – make sure you check the current situation, however.
4 Cagayan de Oro
This laidback city is a great place to eat, drink and arrange a whitewater rafting excursion
5 Camiguin Island
Compact, easy to explore island off the Mindanao coast, with gorgeous beaches, hot springs and hikes.
Great surfing, empty beaches, cheap lodgings and cool people, a short ferry ride off the coast.
7 Padre Burgos
Ferry across to Leyte and the up-and-coming scuba centre of the southern Philippines.
8 Camotes Islands
Before returning to Cebu, stop off at this tranquil island chain, picture-perfect islets with excellent diving and snorkelling.