The Philippines are no longer a forgotten corner of Southeast Asia: on the contrary, they are becoming one of the most interesting destinations of recent years. It's an Archipelago of more than 7,000 islands, considered the corner where "Asia smiles" thanks to the kindness of its inhabitants. The sea and nature are the masters, with an impressive environmental variety and biodiversity. The Philippines is a kind of gigantic natural park, where there are still unspoiled areas never touched by man.
The Palawan archipelago is increasingly appearing in tourism magazines, referred to as the most beautiful group of islands in the world: from the earthly paradise of El Nido to the resorts of Pamalican, from the open-air aquarium of Coron to the remote Tubbataha Reef Nature Park, where you can admire the flora and fauna of the reef in all their glory.
The islands of Mindanao province are no less, with the surf waves of Siargao, the seven Camiguin volcanoes and the Samal forests.
But the Philippines is not just sea and diving: In Bohol you can see the curious geological formations of the "Chocolate Hills", an expanse of conical-shaped hills formed by the surface emergence of the reef. Boracay offers a bustling nightlife, including music and parties with a group dip in the sea. Corregidor Island, a short distance from Manilla, tells the story of the Philippines' role in World War II with monuments and memorials.
In short, the Philippines are a new frontier of international tourism, to be explored before they become inflated. Here are the beaches and islands not to be missed.
11 islands and beaches in the Philippines not to be missed
- Corregidor Island
- El Nido and the islands of Bacuit Bay, Palawan
- Siargao, Mindanao
- Camiguin, Mindanao
- Tubbataha Reef, Palawan
- Pamalican, Palawan
- Samal, Mindanao
- Bantayan, Cebu
- Coron, Palawan
Corregidor Island stands in Manilla Bay, in front of the capital of the Philippines. It stretches for only 5 square kilometres, but is of paramount importance in the history of this country.
It has always played a strategic role due to its location in the bay: the Spaniards first used it as a correctional institution (the word Corregidor comes from the Spanish corregir, (correct) and then as a defence outpost for Manilla; the United States used it as a fortress during World War II and in 1942 it was the site of a battle between Philippine-American troops and the Japanese (who prevailed).
Today Corregidor is an important tourist destination, where you can discover part of Philippine history and take a few walks in the green forest that covers it. There are several sites dedicated to memory: the Pacific War Memorial Museum, the Philippine Heroes Memorial, the Memorial to the Fallen Japanese and a series of anti-aircraft artillery batteries, fortifications and mortars scattered across the island. Mystery lovers cannot miss the ruins of the hospital, which is said to be inhabited by ghosts.
El Nido and the islands of Bacuit Bay, Palawan
Palawan has in recent years become a mandatory destination for those looking for a dream sea. It is the least populated region of the Philippines and perhaps the most fascinating, starting from El Nido and from the archipelago of Bacuit: here sea and beaches do not fear comparisons with the countries of Southeast Asia or even the Caribbean.
El Nido, also called "the last frontier of the Philippines", is an authentic earthly paradise (perhaps the last) of this area of the South China Sea, perfect if you are looking for a remote place away from urban civilisation. The municipality of El Nido occupies the northern tip of Palawan Island and includes coral islets and beautiful white shorelines, which were formed by transporting white sands of ancient formation here. All around there is an emerald sea like you will rarely see. In addition to swimming and snorkelling, you can stroll through prehistoric caverns and immaculate lagoons.
El Nido is part of a large marine sanctuary for the conservation of the ecosystem: its coral reefs are home to more than 800 species of fish. Underwater you will encounter parrot fish, butterfly fish, angel fish and clown fish, and also barracuda, redfish, moray eels, lobsters, cuttlefish and seahorses.
The southwest part of El Nido is occupied by the 45 islands of Bacuit Bay, a fairytale landscape where islets covered with vegetation are dotted one after the other, creating hundreds of enchanted coves, populated by colourful fish and coral. It is a diving paradise, with 30 special sites, where you can even see dugongs and sea turtles.
Cadlao Island, seen from the coast of El Nido, has a perfect lagoon for snorkelling. Matinloc island stretches like an 8 km snake and has some of the best walls for observing fish through a mask. Miniloc Island is home to Palawan's most photographed spots, the Big Lagoon, the Small Lagoon and the Secret Lagoon, which can be reached by kayak to then explore the jungle and hidden water bodies. Locals claim that Secret Lagoon inspired Alex Garland to write the novel "The Beach", which was later turned into a film starring Leonardo DiCaprio (shot in Thailand).
Boracay is a postcard island with dreamy beaches: palm trees that cast shade on the white sand, the seabed that slowly descends from blue to deep blue. It stands off the great island of Panay, in the middle of the Philippine archipelago. It is not only loved for its beaches, but also for the lively nightlife: Boracay is one of the most tourist-developed islands in the Philippines.
Don't miss a visit to White Beach, the most famous beach, four kilometres of shallow turquoise waters where it is a pleasure to swim (there are no currents) and lie down while enjoying life. From morning to evening you can relax here, then at sunset you can enjoy late-night clubs, small restaurants where you can sample fish dishes and beach parties. A moonlight swim here is a common occurrence.
Those looking for tranquillity and seclusion can find them at other beaches in Boracay: just get away from White Beach and you will discover deserted beaches, hidden coves, and caves to explore.
Bohol is another island in the heart of the Philippines, a naturalistic destination of rare wealth. Its beaches have nothing to envy of the others in the country, expanses of white sand and deep blue sea like Alona Beach, on the nearby island of Panglao, where you can also spot dolphins and whales, passing through these parts during their journeys for reproduction. Exploring Bohol, you'll also discover hidden waterfalls in the rainforest and maybe you'll be able to meet some specimens of the spectral tarsier, one of the smallest monkeys in the world.
The island of Bohol also has a peculiar feature, the more than 1500 "Chocolate Hills", a series of perfectly cone-shaped structures arranged in the centre of the island. They were created thanks to the coral reef that emerged on the surface during the Ice Age, and then it was rainwater that shaped its shape. A truly unique panorama, that UNESCO rewarded by placing it on the list of World Heritage Sites. The term "Chocolate" refers to the brown colour that the hills take during the dry season.
These bizarre geological formations 30 to 50 metres high (called Tsokolateng Burol in Filipino) extend as far as the eye can see and within them there are caves and springs. That's why they are an irresistible attraction and one of the most visited places in the Philippines.
800 km from Manilla in the area of Mindanao, Siargao there is an island unlike many others in the Philippines, especially for its "tourist" populations: it is frequented mainly by surfers, who swarm here all year round thanks to the ideal conditions that guarantee a trip out on your board. The seabed, wind and break make Siargao a popular international spot for its very high waves.
In addition to the charm of surfing, the island offers other things, such as nature where mangrove forests dominate, rich in wildlife, secluded lagoons where you can dive, white sandy beaches along which to stroll and waters to dive into to observe the pristine coral reef.
Away from mass tourism, also in the Mindanao area, we find Camiguin. As a testament to the variety of the Philippines, it is an island where there are as many as seven volcanoes: this is why it is called "the island born from fire". All now extinct except one still active, Mount Hibok-Hibok.
Camiguin is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful islands in the Philippines and the effort to get there will be rewarded by the views that will present themselves before your eyes. Visiting it will take you back to prehistory, also because human presence is scarce (and the Spaniards didn't consider it much): there are only five villages. You can walk amongst the waterfalls hidden in the rainforest by the emerald vegetation and then look over volcanic black sand beaches, immersing yourself in captivating colour contrasts. Perhaps by eating the island's sweetest fruits, such as lanzones, typical bunches that a festival is also dedicated to. Try bathing in the Ardent Hot Springs that gather in stone tubs like natural baths in the jungle.
Snorkelers have fun at the Giant Clam Sanctuary, as well as in the submerged cemetery, which was covered by water after an eruption moved it several metres out to sea.
Nearby islets, on the other hand, have white shorelines, such as the sandbank of White Island, which can be visited depending on the tides.
Tubbataha Reef, Palawan
Off Palawan, on the eastern side of the Sulu Sea, there is Tubbataha Reef. Simply one of the most beautiful coral reefs on Earth, a Unesco World Heritage Site and a natural park with extraordinary biodiversity. The area was discovered in the late 1970s, but remains remote and difficult to reach except by cruise from Puerto Princesa (the nearest inhabited islands are about 130 kilometres). But those who manage to get there do not forget it: there are so many types of marine species and there are spectacular perpendicular coral walls, but also large lagoons and two atolls.
Tubbataha is a jewel to be preserved, with blazing corals feeding from continuous currents and with fish large and small swimming undisturbed along the reef: barracudas, sharks of different species, carangids. The incredible amount of plankton is a sign of the health of this stretch of ocean, far from the presence of man. There are diving sites, open in the months when the weather gives exceptional underwater visibility, that is from mid-March to mid-June.
The island of Pamalican, in the archipelago of the Cuyo Islands, lies in the middle of the Sulu Sea, northeast of Palawan. It's an exclusive tropical retreat that offers dazzling white beaches and 7 square miles of pristine coral reef. Small (2.5 kilometres long and 500 metres wide), Pamalican is a private island dedicated to tourism. It belonged to a family that exploited it for crops, until it was bought by another family, the Sorianos, who decided to build a luxury resort.
The sea and beaches are absolutely pristine, perfect for walks and diving. Corals are observed underwater and large sea turtles can be seen grazing freely.
The archipelago of Samal is a world of forests overlooking the green sea in the Davao region, in the central and eastern part of Mindanao. It consists of nine islands, rich in lagoons: the best known is Samal, which has 118 km of white beaches, hotels and resorts.
A trip to Samal offers the opportunity to delve into a world of dense jungle, rock formations, transparent bodies of water.
Stop at Canibad Beach, California, where you can admire the clear change between the turquoise of the lower part of the beach and the bright blue of the deepest one. Take a boat to the neighbouring Vanishing Island, whose shoreline appears and disappears depending on the tides.
Samal and its surroundings are an idyllic setting, a concentration of the Philippines in a few kilometres, with plenty of space to find isolation, palm trees where you can take refuge in search of shade, mountainous reliefs in the background covered with infinite shades of green. The curious can enter the Monfort Bat Sanctuary, a large cave that houses a colony of more than two million bats that hang from the ceiling.
The island of Bantayan is located in the crowded archipelago off the northern tip of Cebu. Crowded, but with mostly deserted islands, and therefore a very peaceful place. Bantayan is one of the most relaxing corners of the Philippines, famous for its white beaches, transparent waters and the friendliness of the people.
The beaches are smaller and less beaten than those of other renowned resorts. The typical landscape is that of a strip of white sand that divides a forest of palm trees on one side and the crystal clear sea on the other. Here time flows slowly, with a swim, a walk along the shore, a stop for a drink in the shade of a thatched hut. The more active can delve into the forest that occupies the centre of the island, or hop on a boat to circumnavigate it and reach Hialntagaan to the north, or zigzag between the atolls of Botigues, Dong and Lipayran to the south.
The Palawan Archipelago is considered by many tourists and magazines to be the most beautiful in the world and the list of places to visit there is a lengthy one. Among these, we cannot forget Coron, which along with Busuanga, Sangat and Culion and a hundred other micro-islands is part of the Calamianes archipelago. The beauty of Coron is comparable to that of El Nido, with the added advantage of being less well known than the northern tip of Palawan.
If you love marine nature and diving, it's your place: seabeds are populated by stingrays, corals, molluscs and brightly-coloured fish, but also by the rare dugong and sea turtles. It's like being inside an open-air aquarium. Inland on the island is Lake Kayangan with its calm waters, nestled between the rocks and the emerald green of the forest.
Discover Philippines with Costa Cruises
For those who like to explore the world in search of new places, not much frequented but exciting, the Philippines have been one of the best destinations for a few years now. The colours of the islands, the wealth of nature, the traditions of a very welcoming population and in general the wonder of the beaches and the sea are the characteristics of the Philippines that will enter your eyes and heart.
Over 7,000 islands in the archipelagobetween the Pacific Ocean and the China Sea, there are many things to do, new cultures to get to know, tasty dishes to taste. And there are some absolute jewels to visit, like these 11 that we recommend: they will win you over and give you memories to share with friends and other travel enthusiasts.