When I finished my university studies and the chance to achieve my travel goals started to become a reality, exploring as much of the Philippines was at the top of my bucketlist. I did that for a while and got to visit my home country’s top tourist spots and amazing off-the-beaten-path destinations. Then, I ventured farther to visit more places in Asia & beyond.
After my trips abroad, I still traveled around the Philippines. Many of my later trips was a re-visit of places that inspired wanderlust the most in my early years of travel. In the process, I gained a wider perspective on places that truly made my country stand out from the rest of Asia.
Here are my top picks for first-time travelers who want to start discovering beautiful destinations in the Philippines.
Most of these places are easy to reach from Manila, Cebu and other major airports. I also included a few remote, yet extraordinary spots for those seeking off-beat adventures. If you want to discover more spots, check out the best beaches in the Philippines and the Philippines’ most beautiful waterfalls as well.
If you have the unfortunate dilemma of choosing only one place to visit in the Philippines, Palawan should be at the top of your list. You came to the country to see spectacular beaches and islands. You are going to experience the best in Palawan!
Most travelers arrive in Palawan by way of Puerto Princesa. Known as the “City in a Forest,” Puerto Princesa is not only the island’s busiest gateway, it’s home to many remarkable attractions. Don’t miss the Puerto Princesa Underground River (a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the longest navigable underground river in the World), island hopping trips to Honda Bay, and a tour around the city.
How to go — Touchdown at Puerto Princesa International Airport (PPS). Major airlines including Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines & AirAsia serve direct flights from Manila, Cebu, Iloilo & Clark. Travel time from Manila to Puerto Princesa is around 1h30m by plane.
This is one of my favorite places to go in the Philippines for dramatic “over the water” views. El Nido is blessed with gorgeous off-shore islands, soaring limestone cliffs, hidden beaches, and secret lagoons. The “SEAnery” here rivals popular destinations in Asia like Ha Long Bay and the Phi Phi islands.
How to go — Most travelers arrive in El Nido by flying to Puerto Princesa Airport and traveling by land to El Nido. Travel time is around 5-6 hours. If you want to skip the long land journey, you can also fly directly to El Nido Airport.
Located farther north of El Nido, Coron is also popular for pristine lagoons and white-sand beaches. The views underwater are just a beautiful too! Go here for shipwreck diving, sprawling coral gardens, and great snorkeling.
Cebu is the Philippines #1 most visited tourist destination thanks to its strategic location in Central Philippines, well-connected flight/ferry network and diverse set of attractions. When in Cebu, visit the old Spanish-colonial heritages sites, beaches and waterfalls scattered throughout the province and nearby islands. Don’t leave without getting a taste of the local cuisine, starting with the prized Cebu Lechon!
Dumaguete & Negros Oriental
How to go — Dumaguete Airport is about an hour south of Manila by plane. You can also fly directly from Cebu. The flight only takes 30 minutes.
Looking for a place to visit near Cebu? Bohol is one of the best destinations to add to your bucketlist! This island is famous for its heritage sites and natural attractions, including the iconic Chocolate Hills. Bohol is also where you can meet the cute Tarsiers, one of the World’s smallest primates. If that’s not enough, beautiful beaches, diving sites, and dolphin encounters await in Panglao Island.
How to go — Bohol International Airport is 1 hour south of Manila by plane. You can also go by ferry from Cebu. Sea crossing takes around 1h30m hours.
If swimming with sea turtles is on your bucketlist, the best places to go is Apo Island, a protected marine sanctuary with sprawling coral gardens.
Endless stretches of white-sand beaches, not your only image of a perfect island getaway? Surigao has many extraordinary sights for the off-beat traveler. See the bizarre Enchanted River. Enjoy the island hopping in Siargao, Dinagat Islands, and Britania Islands.
Siargao & Sohoton lagoons