It’s difficult for a place as beautiful as El Nido to not top a list like this. With its gorgeous rock formations, pristine beaches, and clear aquamarine waters, El Nido is a place that makes Filipinos beam with pride. Located on the northern tip of mainland Palawan, the municipality of El Nido has been increasingly drawing tourists in year after year, with more travellers, both local and foreign, discovering its beauty. It is largely responsible for why Palawan is recognized (and has been, for the past few years) as the best island in the world.
Also within the gorgeous province of Palawan is the municipality of Coron. Perhaps the other major factor to thank for Palawan’s “best island” recognition, Coron boasts of similar gems as El Nido — crystal clear waters perfect for snorkelling, powdery white sandy beaches, and inescapable picture perfect landscapes. As in El Nido, travellers can charter a small boat or join organized tour groups for a day’s trip including the most famous islands and lagoons. One stop that should not be missed by anyone visiting Coron is the breathtaking Kayangan Lake, dubbed the cleanest in the country and surrounded by stunning karst walls, truly a sight to behold, both above and below the water.
Southeast of the island of Palawan, within the Sulu Sea, lies one of the best marine reserves and dive sites in the world, the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park. Home to thousands of hectares of coral reef (containing about half of the world’s coral species) and an extensive variety of fish, shark, dolphin, and whale species, the Tubbataha Reefs is one of the most sought-after waters for divers. For anyone interested in making the trip, the limited three-month-long dive season runs from mid-March to mid-June, and the only way to explore its spectacular waters is by visiting on a live-aboard boat.
Banaue Rice Terraces
The Philippines is studded with natural beauty from below its seas to the top of its mountains. Another site in the archipelago that Filipinos can rightfully brag about are the rice terraces of Banaue. Over 2,000 years old, these rice terraces are a product of manual hard work by the ancestors of the region’s indigenous people. The picturesque terraces are still valuable to locals to this day, providing them an efficient space to farm. Though the Banaue Rice Terraces are the most prominent, there are several other scenic rice terraces within the mountainous region of the Cordilleras.
The pride of the Bohol Province (alongside their adorable Tarsiers — the world’s tiniest primates endemic to the Philippines) is easily the rolling landscapes of the Chocolate Hills. They were named so for their color transition between the wet and dry seasons, turning brown during the latter, and closely resembling the famous Hershey’s Kisses chocolates. Over a thousand hills are estimated to be scattered across the 50 square kilometer area.
Intramuros, nestled within today’s restless Metro Manila, is a walled area that played an important role in the country’s history. It can be said that Intramuros was once the old “Manila” and essentially was the established center during the Spanish occupation. Over half a square kilometer in size, Intramuros today contains traces of the past with its cobblestone streets and conserved ruins and architecture. Visitors can go on walking tours to learn about Intramuros and the country’s history and take kalesa (horse-drawn calash) rides around the historic walled city.
Perhaps the second most popular Philippine island next to Palawan is the island of Boracay. Known for its powdery white sand, spectacular sunsets, and vibrant night life, Boracay has long been a tourist hotspot Filipinos could brag about. With the long list of activities and water sports available, visitors will never run out of things to do on the island. However, it has recently been shut for six months due to a large-scale pollution problem, which has dramatically affected tourism in the area.
Gaining more and more popularity in recent years is the country’s “surf capital” of Siargao. Strategically located along the country’s eastern coast, Siargao receives strong winds and currents that flow in steadily from the Pacific Ocean. To the delight of surfers, this gives the island solid swells they can enjoy, including the famous Cloud 9.
A natural wonder locals are truly proud of is Mount Mayon in the province of Albay. Mayon is an active volcano (the most active in the country) that is famous for its seemingly perfect symmetry. Standing nearly 2,500 metres tall, its flawless conical shape captivates anyone who sets eyes on it. And while viewing it from afar is a sensational sight to see, it can also be experienced up close through a multi-day hike.
Hinatuan Enchanted River
This deep spring river in the province of Surigao del Sur takes its name from the mystical qualities locals believe surround the body of water. With its enchanting shades of deep blues and greens, the river is locally believed to be guarded by fairies and other nature spirits known as engkanto. Contributing to its mystical nature is the unexplained source of its clear saltwater.
Batanes offers an escape like nowhere else in the country. Perched at the northernmost tip of the Philippines, Batanes is surrounded by endless picturesque landscapes of rolling hills, the sky, and sea. A tranquil, slowed-down way of life is enjoyed by the locals, who are also known for their pleasant and amiable nature. Locals are also proud of their province’s virtually non-existent crime rate. In fact, a popular place in Batanes is the “Honesty Cafe”, where a small store and self-service cafe stands unmanned. Customers come in, take what they need, and they are simply trusted to leave the correct amount at an allocated cash box.