Top five places to visit in the Philippines
I feel like it only makes sense for me to first write a post about the Philippines for the travel series considering I am half Filipino, and I lived there for over ten years. Even with all the time I spent there, there are still so many islands I have yet to visit and explore. So in this post I'll share some of the top places I'd recommend that I have been to, as well as a short list of the places that are still on my list to go to.
Let's get started.
5. San Juan, La Union
One of the main reasons I'd recommend La Union is because a lot of times I have friends that come to Manila and are looking for a place to go to, but don't necessarily have enough time to fly to another island. When they ask me to recommend places that are accessible by bus, or by driving, I usually suggest San Juan, La Union. Located about 4-5 hours away from Manila, La Union will give you your fill of sand, beach, and waves. If you're a bit of an adventurer and have never tried surfing before, San Juan is a great place to start. The last time I was there, you could rent out a board and hire an instructor for about Php. 400/hour (roughly $8 USD). If you don't feel like surfing, you can also opt to hire a tricycle driver for the day to take you to the Tangadan Falls in San Gabriel. About a half hour hike/walk from the road, there are cliff jumping spots along the way. The falls itself is stunning with enough space for you to swim as well. Lastly, don't miss out on the beautiful sunset views. La Union's coastline is blessed with some of the best sunsets I've ever seen.
If you've researched anything on the Philippines, one of the first places that would pop up as a destination to go to would be Boracay. It's a small island that is well known for it resorts and beaches. It recently went through a six-month shut down for a clean up operation and reopened in October 2018. The island is divided into three different areas - or stations - with Station 1 being known for it's high end resorts, Station 2 for the night life and restaurants, and Station 3 as the more laid back, less crowded area. This is a great place to go to because you can pretty much find a little bit of everything. If you want to get away from the noise, there are areas where you can relax on the beach away from the crowd. If you want to be more outdoorsy, you can go jet skiing, snorkeling, scuba diving, etc. There are a lot of different restaurants if you're looking for good food, and a few small malls if you're looking to just walk around.
Cebu is close to my heart. Maybe I'm a bit biased because I'm part Visayan (from the Visayas group of islands), but what's not to love about beaches, waterfalls, and let me not forget - lechon (roasted pig). Lechon is a must try, and arguably the best place to eat it in my opinion. If it's your first time visiting, I'd have to recommend going to a little town call Moalboal. It's a couple of hours away from the city, but there's a lot of opportunities to go island hopping, snorkeling or scuba diving, and it's fairly close to Kawasan Falls, one of Cebu's well known waterfalls (try canyoneering for an activity if you do end up going). Another popular destination is Oslob, mainly for the whale sharks. While I admit, I have gone and was able to swim with the gentle giants, the methods of how they run the experience has caused some controversy. I'll let you guys do your own research on it, but nevertheless, the experience of being in the water with them was absolutely breathtaking. If you run out of things to do, which I doubt you will, you can also easily take a ferry from Oslob to Bohol, another island. I'd love to give more information on Bohol as well, feel free to reach out and ask!
2. El Nido, Palawan
El Nido is also a beautiful place. Only a ferry ride away from Coron or a 4-5 hour van ride from Puerto Princesa, tourism in this little town has boomed in the last few years and for good reason. This place is filled with hidden beaches and secret lagoons. Take any of the tours they have, and you'll get your fill of the ocean. It's usually a tie between El Nido and Coron for which comes in first place, they're both pretty spectacular. I do have to warn you guys though, these towns aren't fully commercialised yet so if you are planning on going here, expect the infrastructure to still be a bit behind with modern times. When I was last there in 2016, it was almost impossible to get a reliable internet connection. So if you're looking to get lost in nature, and need a little break from the outside world, Palawan will not disappoint.
1. Coron, Palawan
Saved the best for last, Coron! There are so many reasons why Coron has to be number one on my list. Not only is it beautiful there, but I had one of the most genuine experience with a local. Quick story time. My sister and I were traveling through Palawan, doing the Puerto Princesa - El Nido - Coron route (I still have my itinerary in case anyone wants some ideas, feel free to ask me for it), and we had found out the day before we were supposed to get on the boat from El Nido to Coron that our hotel booking had cancelled. We decided to just wing it and try and find a place when we got there. We landed at the pier, and the first tricycle driver we talked to was a man called Kuya Nanding (Kuya is a term of endearment that can somewhat translate to older brother) who ended up not only finding a place for us at a very affordable price, but he basically adopted us for the few days that we were there! He organised private tours for us, was our tour guide, made sure we got to the tourist sites during the times he knew the other tour boats wouldn't be there, and took most of the photos for us so we could really enjoy our time there. I had never felt so welcomed, and it was obvious he was passionate and proud of his hometown.
Apart from that, the place itself is breathtaking. There are so many things you can do there from visiting a hot spring, to swimming in lakes, feeding giraffes, and snorkeling or diving at WWII shipwrecks. I would go back in a heart beat. Similar to El Nido, there are group tours that you can go on to visit the different tourist spots such as Kayangan Lake, Barracuda Lake, Twin Lagoons, and others. For those that want to get a private boat tour, we were able to hire a boat and guide (through Kuya Nanding) for Php. 2,500/day (roughly $40 USD). We went to the market early in the morning, bought some fresh seafood, and the boatmen even cooked it for us for lunch. If you do decide to get a private boat, be sure to ask them for the best times to go to the tourist spots, they'd be able to recommend hours in which the other tour boats would have moved to the next destination. Be sure to go to the shipwrecks. It was one of the main reasons I think this place should be on everyone's list of places to go to in the Philippines.
Some honourable mentions I'd like to throw out there:
1. Bohol - I mentioned this briefly when I talked about Cebu, but there's also a lot of pretty neat activities you can do here. Tie it in with your Cebu trip if you have a few extra days!
2. Banaue/Bontoc/Sagada - if you're looking to skip the beach scene and want to go up to the mountains, then I'd suggest these three. This would give you a chance to see the beautiful rice terraces of Banaue, possibly go and see Whang Od for a traditional bamboo styled tattoo in Kalinga near Bontoc, and the hanging coffins in Sagada.
3. Puerto Princesa - might as well go here if you'll be visiting Palawan, and take a day trip to see the Underground River which was voted as one of the New 7 Wonders of the World in 2012.
Some other places I'd still like to visit:
1. Siargao - also known as the surfing capital of the Philippines, but this place has so much more to offer as it is also known for having crystal clear blue rock pools, and lagoons.
2. Batanes - is the northernmost province in the country. The place looks stunning with its beaches, caves, lagoons, and islands.
Hope this helps if in case any of you would like to go to the Philippines. Feel free to shoot me a message, I'd love to give more detailed tips and suggestions. And for those of you that have gone to the Philippines, have I missed anything? Let me know what your favourites were!