19 Best Places to Visit in the Philippines

Batad Rice Terraces Village
© Jonald John Morales | Dreamstime.com

Already in the times of the American colonial rule, the western occupiers were impressed by the landscape and the beauty of nature, which was offered to them on the island state in the Pacific Ocean.

Even today, the tropical archipelago with its several thousand islands, its long sandy beaches, the beautiful natural spectacles as well as the architectural heritage of the colonial era can amaze even experienced globetrotters.

The Philippines have been an absolute tourist magnet for decades. The scenic diversity as well as the mixture of modernity and tradition still inspire today. Countless national parks, breathtaking coral reefs and the hospitable culture of the Filipinos attract millions of visitors to the island paradise every year. Enjoy our list of the 19 Best Places to Visit in the Philippines.

19. Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park

The Philippines, or the kingdom of 7,000 islands, as the country in the western Pacific of Southeast Asia is also called, impresses with its unique wealth of species. This diversity can be discovered in countless national parks. One of the most popular parks is the Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River National Park, which extends over almost four hectares. This world-famous tourist attraction is located on Palawan, the third largest group of islands in the Philippines. This area has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1999.

In addition to 800 plant species, including 295 tree species and several specialized cactus species, the park’s paradisiacal flora and fauna attracts some 95 bird species, among which 15 are endemic. Particularly famous are, for example, the Palawan pheasant, the symbol of Puerto Princesa, or the brilliant Philippine kingfisher.

The main attraction of the park is the Sabang Underground River, the longest navigable underground river in the world. Stalagmites and stalactites have formed in many places along the river, some of which are over 8 meters deep. 1.2 kilometers of the river can be navigated. Swallows and dwarf bats have their home here.

Mysterious and enchanting are the caves and grottos in the Puerto-Princesa Subterranean River National Park. If you visit the mighty Daylight Hole at the right time of day, for example, you will be treated to an extraordinary natural spectacle of light and shadow.

18. Vigan

The city got its name from the Chinese settlement of traders. The city of Vigan is one of the best preserved examples of a developed Spanish colonial city in Asia. At the height of the Spanish colonial period in the 18th and 19th centuries, the Hispanic city was also of high importance to the Philippines because of its strategic location.

Because Vigan City uniquely combines ancient Asian architecture and European colonial architecture, it was inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1999. Besides the Spanish, you will also find the Chinese heritage, which is still evident from the time of numerous Chinese-Creole elite families of the area.

A special jewel of the historical city is built by Augustinian monks in 1641 – the Cathedral of Vigan, built in the Baroque style. The imposing church sought less the height, but more the width, which gives it a safe stand during earthquakes. Its interior decoration shows Filipino, Chinese and Spanish elements.

The historic architecture, including the archbishop’s palace and numerous stately colonial buildings, are reminders of the city’s glorious, colorful past.

For first-time visitors, the Baluarte or Vigan Fortress is a must-see attraction. Here you will also find a mini zoo with animals from other countries as well as endemic species of the Philippines. You should also discover the Hidden Gardens in the heart of the former Spanish city. Some beautiful garden plants as well as best potteries await you there.

17. Chocolate Hills

The so-called Chocolate Hills are a unique geological formation that includes 1268 almost identically shaped mounds. It is located on the Philippine island of Bohol.  They cover an area of 50 square kilometers. A good starting point is the municipality of Carmen. Here, the first chocolate mounds are located just beyond the town center.

They crisscross the landscape like gigantic molehills, covered only by grass. When there is too little rainfall in the dry season and the grass turns brown, the dome-shaped hills resemble oversized chocolate kisses, which gave them the name Chocolate Hills. The hills reach a height of between 30 and 120 meters.

Those who see the formation for the first time will find it hard to imagine that it is a freak of nature and not man-made. Geologists have been debating the exact origin for quite some time and, of course, there are many myths surrounding it, such as the one about the battle of two giants who threw stones at each other for days before, tired and exhausted, they made friends and left the island. The battlefield of their fight, according to this legend, is said to represent today as the area of the Chocolate Hills.

16. Davao City

Without a doubt, Davao City is one of the most beautiful cities in the Philippines. The geographical location alone on the lofty Mount Apo, the largest mountain in the Philippines, and on the Gulf of Davao is a strong argument for visiting Davao. Hardly any other city has as many green and forest areas as Mindanao’s largest city. And not only Philippine-wide, but worldwide.

One of the most beautiful destinations in Davao is the 80-hectare Eden Nature Park & Resort located on Mount Talomo. If you want to escape the urban hustle and bustle for a while, this is the place to be.

Another famous sight in Davao is the Philippine Eagle Center. If you want to see the impressively large Philippine national animal, the Philippine Eagle, you can’t help but stop by here. The beautiful bird park presents not only the Philippine Eagle, but also some other representatives of the Philippine bird world.

15. Manila

There are many different opinions about Manila: some find the capital of the Philippines just awful, others are of the opinion that Manila is an extremely interesting city, as it combines many contrasts. Manila is a city of strong contrasts. A city that polarizes.

Manila looks back on a history of more than 500 years. For most of that time, however, the city was under foreign rule. No wonder, then, that many of the local sights date back to this era.

When the Spanish reached Manila Bay in 1570, they fought the king Rajah Sulayman who ruled there and defeated his troops. Sulayman’s palace was burned to the ground. On the ruins, Miguel López de Legazpi built the Fuerte de Santiago, a fortress with strong walls eight meters thick and 22 meters high. Intramuros, that is, the area “inside the walls,” is today something like Manila’s old town and also probably the city’s most important landmark. Restored buildings from the Spanish colonial period are located here, including the city’s most important museums.

Probably the most impressive building in Intramuros is the Manila Cathedral. It is the official seat of the Archbishop of Manila. The building has been badly damaged several times and was last lavishly restored in 1958.

Not quite as pompous, but much older, is the church of San Augustin, which you will also find in Intramuros. It was built as early as 1571 and is considered the first Spanish-baroque stone church in the entire Philippines. The former conquistadors Miguel López de Legazpi and Martin de Goiti were buried here.

14. Donsol

The village of Donsol in the south of the Philippine island of Luzon is a place that turns even notorious morning grouches into willing early risers. The reason for this can be more than twelve meters long and weighing up to 30 tons – welcome to the realm of the whale sharks, the largest fish on our planet.

Through its wide-open mouth, it sucks in hundreds of liters of water and expels them again through the dense rows of its tiny teeth. They function like a rake, catching the giant’s food – krill, plankton and tiny fish.

Whale sharks are migratory fish, the plankton eaters stay only for a few weeks or months in good feeding grounds, and then move on. From December to May, dozens of the peaceful sharks swim in the waters off Donsol (Philippines). The probability of snorkeling with one or more of the giant fish during the three-hour boat trips, especially in March and April, is very high.

13. Tagaytay

Tagatay is a city in Luzon south of Manila, which can be reached in about 2 hours by car or van. Tagaytay is located near Taal Lake and Taal Volcano and offers its visitors numerous beautiful viewing platforms. The most famous is The People’s Park in the Sky. When it’s not foggy, you can look down on Taal Lake and Taal Volcano about 1,000 meters above sea level.

If you are already in Tagaytay, it is well worth considering not only to look at the beautiful Taal Volcano in Taal Lake from a viewing platform, but also to actually climb it. The best way to do this is to drive to Talisay and from there take a boat to the main crater of Taal Volcano. To get to the crater itself, you have to climb a few meters: either on foot or on horseback.

12. Siargao

Somewhat more experienced Philippine vacationers may have heard glimpses of Siargao Island in northeastern Mindanao; mostly in connection with the notorious wave “Cloud 9”, which is a real visitor magnet for surfers from all over the world. But this beautiful spot in the Philippines has something to offer not only for the daring water sports enthusiasts who compete in the annual international surfing championship.

More and more travelers are discovering the dreamlike islands for themselves and are pursuing island hopping, for example. Around Siargao Island you can find some islands like “Hamburger Island”, which lives up to its name and from the bird’s eye view takes the shape of a burger, or “Dako Island” (or “Dacu” or “Daku Island”) and numerous sandbanks with finest sandy beaches. The starting point is often the small village General Luna or also called “GL”.

Siargao Island, like many other Philippine islands, is unique and deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as other popular destinations like Palawan. The big difference is that there are far fewer tourists here.

11. Sagada

An impressive cave can be found in Sagada at an altitude of 1500 meters in the middle of the Cordillera Mountains. Besides the hanging coffins in Echo Valley, the Sumaguing Cave is one of the sights in the idyllic mountain village.

On the discovery tour, nature lovers and adventure seekers get their money’s worth. As you descend the stone steps, you can already imagine the dimensions of the gigantic, 180-meter-long cave.

With an experienced guide ahead, you descend into the dark, subterranean world equipped only with a lamp. The cave surprises its visitors with a huge range of different rock formations. These were created by water alone. Over time, it made its way through the cave in small rivulets.

The adventurous path leads over loose boulders further and further down and, together with the dim light, makes for an unforgettable nature experience.

10. Cebu

Cebu is one of the better known islands in the Philippines. With its flat-sloping beaches, high-quality hotel complexes and colorful coral gardens along the coast, Cebu makes a vacation a dream come true. A good tourist infrastructure makes the journey quite uncomplicated.

But a Cebu trip has even more to offer: In contrast to the flat beaches are the up to 1000 m high mountains that cross Cebu from north to south, rugged rocky coasts and densely forested mountainous areas. A varied landscape, which is ideal for hiking and light trekking tours. Some big city flair with shopping, restaurants and some sights can be absorbed in the island capital Cebu City.

Cebu City, the oldest colonial city in the Philippines, was once docked by Ferdinand Magellan. The city thrived on trade with China and is now a bustling and modern metropolis with shopping malls, markets, restaurants and lush parks. Nevertheless, Cebu City has also retained its old charm; a city tour takes visitors back to the island’s past.

Special sights of Cebu City include the Fuerza San Pedro Fortress, the Magellan Cross, the Basilica del Santo Niño and other colonial buildings from the 19th century. Chinese influences on the city are evident during a visit to the Taoist temple, which is used by the local Chinese population.

9. Mindoro

The archipelago captivates with versatile landscapes. If you take a trip to this picturesque spot, you can expect a richness of facets that can only be found in a few places in the world. Beach, mountains, waterfalls and wilderness unite on the picturesque island of Mindoro.

Divers travel from all over to Mindoro to marvel at the unique underwater world. Have you been dreaming of taking up scuba diving for a long time, but you haven’t had the opportunity yet? You should pay a visit to Sabang. This diver’s paradise is located in the north of the archipelago.

In Puerto Galera you can book a multi-day trip to Apo Reef National Park. One of the most spectacular coral reefs that nature has produced. It is located between the west coast and the northern tip of the Palawan region. The reef covers an area of 15800 hectares, which is a protected area. Countless species of fish, sea turtles, giant clams, sharks and stingrays regularly amaze tourists.

8. Coron Island

Coron Town on Busuanga is the tourist center in the north of Palawan. And if you think that the island capital is quiet and peaceful, you are wrong. The horn concerts and exhaust noises are unparalleled.

Who makes vacation here, comes certainly not for a pure beach vacation here. Mainly divers and adventurous backpackers are attracted. There is a lot to see and experience on Busuanga Island, which is just 890 km² in size, and the neighboring Coron Island.

The city itself is explored in half an hour. There are a few cozy corner pubs and many shops where you can find everything you need or not.

Most of the activities take place above or under water. With boats you can discover hidden lakes, lagoons and uninhabited islands on different tours around Coron Town. Prices are similar everywhere and all tours are full day.

If you don’t have so much time, you should choose the Highlights of Coron tour, where you will visit all important points in one day – among others Coral Garden, Kayangan Lake and the Twin Lagoon.

7. Banuae

When you start dreaming about the Philippines, you relatively quickly have a very specific image in mind: dreamlike islands like Siquijor, brilliant white sandy beaches like on Boracay and turquoise blue sea. You see yourself surrounded by coconut palms and relaxed splashing in the water.

But if you’re not a diver yourself and not even passionate about snorkeling, you might be on the lookout for something else. And there it is, the picture of the rice terraces of Banaue!

At this point, I should probably mention that Banaue is not the place you are looking for at all. The real destination is Batad. And to get to Batad, you have to drive uphill by jeepney for another hour over a bumpy road to finally reach the so-called Saddel.

The Saddel is the highest point and here the road ends. From here you go downhill for two hours to finally reach the village of Batad.

Batad is ingenious and in reality it is actually a hundred times better than on the photos. Isolated houses on the slope on one side, on the left the famous 2,000 year old rice terraces and down in the valley then a few more traditional houses. Without question, this place is one of the most beautiful destinations in the Philippines.

6. Boracay

The small “dream island Boracay”, which lies off the northwest coast of Panay, is more popular and well-known than any other Philippine island. On the one hand, there is the “white beach”, one of the supposedly most beautiful beaches in the world, along which numerous beach resorts line up. On the other hand, countless tourists are drawn to Boracay every year, and the onslaught can hardly be handled.

White Beach is, of course, the most important reason to make a side trip here. It is a fine sandy beach over the entire length of 4 km, which regularly appears in the list of the ten most beautiful beaches in the world. The equally long promenade is seamlessly lined with small stores, restaurants, simple accommodations to more upscale hotels, which are mainly located north of Boat Station 1.

Apart from a few small coral and shell particles that accumulate in the rhythm of the ebb and flow of the tide, there are no sharp stones or even sea urchins on which one could injure oneself. The brave swimmer can still easily see the pleasantly white bottom at a distance of 100 meters from the beach at a depth of about ten to 12 meters below him.

Alternatively, “Punta Bunga Beach” is a place to seek peace and tranquility even during peak vacation periods.

5. Palawan

Of course, Palawan is primarily known for its unique nature and paradisiacal dream beaches, because these are exactly what make the island so special. Snow-white sand, turquoise-green lagoons and incredible bathing oases.

Palm trees gently leaning over the beach, coconuts falling here and there in wonderfully soft sand that seems to stretch endlessly.

But the beach is not only a visual highlight: the crystal clear water with great waves invites you to take a long swim, while you can of course just loll around in the sand and enjoy life. When hunger calls, numerous small beach bars and restaurants are waiting for you. You can reach the beach in about an hour by scooter via an adventurous road from El Nido.

As the name suggests, Hidden Beach is somewhat hidden. You will find it on Matinloc Island, west of the northern end of Palawan. Meanwhile, some boat tours are offered from El Nido to this little paradise. Swim through the shallow water and discover the exciting underwater world and hidden rock caves while snorkeling. If you go on your own with a rented boat, you can be lucky and enjoy the bay all by yourself. This will give you a feeling of adventure!

The bay in Sabang, north of Puerto Princesa, is also blessed with heavenly sand. Sabang Beach is framed by hills covered with a deep green rainforest – a simply unique sight!

4. Siquijor

For most Filipinos, the island still has something sinister about it: there are supposed to be monsters and all kinds of other monsters and spirits. If you visit the museum of the Silliman University in Dumaguete City, you can see voodoo dolls. These were actually used on the so-called voodoo island of Siquijor until not too long ago.

There are surprisingly many white sandy beaches around the island, which is not always the case in this region of the Philippines. Popular yet not overpopulated are Salagdoong Beach and also Paliton Beach, all of which are worth a visit.

Besides some bigger caves like Cantabon Cave and a few waterfalls, the island also offers good diving and snorkeling opportunities. If you decide to stay longer, it is recommended to take a tour of the island.

The interior of the island is also very attractive with its magnificent tree population. However, you should trust a local guide if you want to cross the island.

Besides numerous beaches, there is an impressive region with steep cliffs, like here near the well-known excursion destination “House on the Rocks”. In addition, there are some secret bays that invite you to undisturbed swimming and provide a backdrop for great photos.

3. Baguio

Baguio City is located at an altitude of 1500 meters in the Philippine Cordillera. Due to this high mountain location, the city is one of the coolest places in the Philippines.

In midsummer, the temperature here is a pleasant 25 degrees or so, which explains why many Filipino celebrities, politicians and other wealthy people have summer residences there. Local tourists also like to stay in Baguio and its surroundings during the hot months.

In the years from 1910 to 1975, the northern city even replaced Manila as the capital during the summer months.

Baguio is a student city. The typical restlessness that any city with so many young people exudes is also evident in Baguio. Of course, there are some very beautiful places in Baguio, some of which are also prepared for tourism, and at least some of them should be visited during a stay in Baguio. Our tips are:

Baguio Public Market, a very well organized and very clean market that we feel is one of the nicest markets in the whole country.

A beautiful church and one of the landmarks of Baguio City is its cathedral, our Lady of Atonement Cathedral or Domina Nostra Adunationis. Consecrated in 1936, the place of worship stands on an elevation in the middle of the city. The Bridal Veil Falls on Kennon Road are a popular photo motif, but can only be reached by car.

The art village of Tam-Awan consists of grass-roofed huts, each of which is a contemporary art gallery.

The “Cemetery of Negativism” is an extraordinarily creative idea: buried here are emblematic negative thoughts that limit and burden people. The “tombstones” are decorated with funny figures and sometimes witty, sometimes wise sayings.

2. Samal

A true paradise, the Island Garden City of Samal, lies just off Davao’s coast. In just 10 minutes, visitors can take the local ferry to the fantastically beautiful island and, during a day trip or a longer stay, see and get to know the incredibly pretty beaches, the surrounding nature, the relaxed daytime activities amid friendly residents and much more with their own eyes. Popular destinations on the island include Hagimit Falls Samal Island and Batcaves Samal Island (the largest flying fox colony in the world).

For enterprising island visitors, Samal offers a host of interesting activities, including hiking, mountaineering, rappelling and free climbing for mountain sports enthusiasts, and scuba diving, snorkeling, surfing and jet skiing for water sports fans. Volleyball, badminton and beachball are played on the beach, and the Bluejaz Beach Resort & Waterpark has a sizable fun pool area with the longest water slides in the Philippine Islands. Motocross events are also held regularly on the island, as the terrain is ideal for this sport.

1. Apo Island

Although Apo Island is a relatively small island, you can do a lot there, so you won’t get bored easily. The island is known for its Marine Sanctuary organized by the islanders. The reef in front of Apo Island is one of the most beautiful dive sites in the Philippines and is home to over 650 species of fish and over 400 different types of coral.

Of course, a dive is a must for divers! The absolute highlight is snorkeling with the huge underwater turtles directly in front of the coast.

The turtles really come almost to the beach every day to feed and don’t let snorkelers upset them at all. It is really fascinating to be able to observe these great animals so close up. Snorkeling equipment and life jackets can be rented for little money directly at the beach.

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