Talk about a needle in a haystack. With a bewildering 7,641 islands to choose from – including two that are often dubbed best island in the world – you’ll only have time to visit the greatest on a trip to the Philippines. Read on for the Philippine islands that you need to know about – rich in nature, culture and adventure.
Matinloc Island, Palawan
Located in Bacuit Bay, off Palawan Island’s northerly El Nido region, Matinloc Island is home to some of the area’s most famous tourist attractions: Matinloc Shrine, a Virgin Mary church left eerily abandoned in a tropical cove; Secret Beach, only accessible by boat; and Hidden Beach, where craggy slate-grey rocks form a white-sand sheltered bay that backs onto rainforest. The covert beaches are concealed by limestone formations and the Matinloc shrine offers some of the best panoramic views in the area.
Miniloc Island, Palawan
Get ready for more imposing scenery that could have come right out of the Jurassic Park opening sequence. Just like Matinloc, Miniloc Island is not to be missed on your El Nido trip, but while Matinloc is known for its obscure beaches, Miniloc is renowned for its breathtaking aquamarine lagoons: the Big Lagoon, Small Lagoon, and Secret Lagoon. Here, visitors can explore the area’s unique ecosystems aboard kayaks which are available for rent on site. You can paddle out or charter a boat to its neighbouring islands, such as Shimizu. The water is ideal for snorkelling, and you’ll also find diving opportunities.
Siargao Island, Surigao del Norte
Growing in popularity in the past few years, Siargao is known as the surfing capital of the Philippines. Surfers from all over the world visit to catch the perfect Cloud 9 swell. While it has long been a surfer’s paradise, regular beach lovers and vacationers are slowly discovering Siargao’s inland charms. Exploring this laidback island and its neighbours, you’ll find cool waterfalls to stand under, smooth limestone gullies to walk in and warm cave pools surrounded by tree-root smothered boulders. It’s a largely untouched landscape with an undeniable natural beauty; some are even calling it “the new Palawan”.
Just like Palawan, Boracay has enjoyed the title world’s best island for its powdery, white-sand beaches and glorious sunset views. It has long attracted travellers from all over the world, and as such has taken some wear and tear through the years. Because of massive commercialisation, the island is oversaturated with establishments and structures and is often crowded with more people than it can handle. Sewage and waste problems are also beginning to worsen. In 2018, the Philippine president ordered a six-month closure of the island, to allow its rehabilitation. This was the beginning of Boracay’s restoration to its former glory.
Calaguas, Camarines Norte
Strictly speaking, Calaguas is a group of islands, east of Manila in the province of Camarines Norte. While a handful of islands make up the area, Tinaga is the best known and most frequented for its pristine 3km (2mi) stretch called Mahabang Buhangin. Not nearly as distinguished as Boracay or Palawan, the islands of Calaguas remain unadulterated. Fancy accommodations are also not an option in Mahabang Buhangin, so it has become a popular camping ground for the adventurous islander. Surrounding rolling terrain and hiking trails also present a more active alternative to lying on the beach.
Matukad Island, Camarines Sur
Once hidden jewels, the islands around the Caramoan peninsula in Camarines Sur were brought into the limelight after being featured on several seasons of the long-running reality competition, Survivor. The show’s typical setting is remote and isolated, a look very much had by the Caramoan islands. One of these islands is Matukad, which boasts a gorgeous fine-sand beach, lush forest backdrop and hidden lagoon. The lagoon is obscured by a tall limestone cliff, that, when climbed, presents a superb view of the natural pool below. The waters are calm and clear, perfect for swimming, but pack some courage for the climb as the rock wall is steep and jagged, which many contend is also worth the view.
Lahos Island, Camarines Sur
Another impressive Caramoan island is Lahos. A striking image, the island is characterized by two major rock formations opposite each other, allowing a small beach to stretch between them, creating shorelines on either end of the island. This untainted piece of paradise makes for a great place to simply lay back and bask in its raw beauty. It also goes without saying that Lahos is a perfect location for stunning new photos to add to your social media feeds.
White Island, Camiguin
This bare island just off the coast of Camiguin’s capital is a favourite for more than just its accessibility. More a sandbar than an island, it is free of any trees or structures, save for a meagre shack that sells snacks and rents out umbrellas. What surrounds it, however, are exquisite views of the horizon and Mt Hibok-Hibok on the province’s main island. Because there is not much shade, it’s best to come early in the morning or late into the afternoon to avoid the day’s scorching hours. Try to chance upon either sunrise or sunset for an even more remarkable scene.
Pamalican Island, Palawan
For the epitome of a luxurious tropical escape, head to the island of Pamalican in Palawan – aboard no less than a private plane, of course. This island northeast of mainland Palawan is home to the exclusive Amanpulo Resort by Aman Resorts International. A visit guarantees top-notch, highly-personalized service from the resort’s experienced team and staff, plus an island experience that will feel curated just for you. While the resort boasts the finest amenities and service, the natural features of the island – from its immaculate shoreline to the vibrant marine life beneath the surface – takes the Pamalican experience above and beyond.
Kalanggaman Island, Leyte
While the luxurious island of Pamalican may sound divine, a trip here does end with quite the hefty bill. For those seeking out a tropical escape with a more feasible price tag, the country has a remarkable lineup of undeveloped virgin islands, too. One of these is Kalanggaman in Leyte. While the island itself isn’t all that large, two dazzling sandbars extend into the sea on either side. There are no hotels on the island, nor is there electricity – two enticing features to campers. There are basic facilities however, such as toilets and cottages for rent, so choosing to spend the night wouldn’t be too rough. Kalanggaman might not be the easiest to get to but its picturesque sandbar alone makes it a must for anyone travelling around the Visayas.
Apo Island, Negros Oriental
Apo is a unique one on the list because perhaps even more famous than the island itself are its surrounding waters. A protected marine reserve, the waters around Apo Island hold magnificent coral gardens and bustling marine life. Turtle sightings are especially commonplace even close to shore, making it an exciting site for both snorkelling and diving. There are also accommodation options on the island for those who want more time exploring its marine reserve than a day trip allows.
Malapascua Island, Cebu
Like Apo, the island of Malapascua, north of mainland Cebu, is also famous for its excellent dive sites. As Apo boasts regular turtle sightings, Malapascua boasts that of majestic manta rays and thresher sharks. And while this island’s allure extends far beyond its coast, its beaches don’t make coming back to shore seem too bad either. Peaceful beaches like Guimbitayan and Langob are inviting havens after long days out at sea.
Malcapuya Island, Palawan
With El Nido and Coron crowning the island province, northern Palawan is any beach lover’s utopia. Another of its islands worth a trip is Malcapuya, sitting between the municipalities of Coron and Culion. As you approach, it won’t seem like much but, as you’ll quickly find out, it’s only because you’ll be docking at its backside. This gives its exquisite powdery white sand beach unobstructed views and keeps its shores swimmer-friendly and free of boats. Not only does this island have an immaculate, virgin beach, but its clear waters are also great for snorkelling. Interesting rock formations adorn one end, while the other has a viewing point from which to revel in all its natural beauty.
Mantigue Island, Camiguin
Mantigue Island, also known as Magsaysay Island, sits just off the eastern coast of Camiguin. It’s usually much less crowded than the accessible White Island and offers more activity than the picturesque bare sandbar. More than just a beautiful beach, the island is rich in vegetation and even has a little forest trail for visitors to explore. It is also known for its marine sanctuary, a fantastic spot to do some diving or snorkelling.
Palaui Island, Cagayan Valley
The famous TV franchise Survivor set four seasons of the show in the Philippines. The first two were filmed in Caramoan, with the other two in remote Palaui. Located in the north of the country, off the coast of Luzon, Palaui is an adventurer’s playground. Because of distance, it isn’t frequented by most travellers, which also keeps the island’s rustic character intact. In and around lush terrain are beaches, mangrove forests, hiking trails and waterfalls to explore. The island also houses a historic lighthouse from the Spanish occupation which is now considered a national cultural treasure. Its lone residential village of Punta Verde serves as a camping ground for visitors who wish to rough it out and stay a while.
Batan Island, Batanes
Among the most distinctly captivating destinations in the Philippines is the archipelagic province of Batanes at its northernmost end. While there are innumerable pristine beaches in the country, there is nothing quite like the verdant rolling landscapes of Batanes. For this, many tag the province the New Zealand of the Philippines. Of the 10 islands that make up the province, three are inhabited: Sabtang, Itbayat, and Batan. A tour around Batan will lead to breathtaking sights such as the Valugan boulder beach (a pleasant change of scene from the typical Philippine sand beaches), Homoron Blue Lagoon and Racuh A Payaman, more popularly known as ‘Marlboro Country’. The views are surreal in every direction, from animals peacefully grazing on lavish pastures to the bold blue hues of the sea and sky.
Sabtang Island, Batanes
Journey an hour southwest of Batan and you reach the island of Sabtang. Here, Batanes showcases even more masterpieces of nature, like the Chamantad-Tinyan Viewpoint and Nakabuang stone arch on Morong Beach. But an impressive man-made treasure that also renders this island worth a visit is the traditional Ivatan house, built to withstand the tempestuous weather the province sees, due to its geographic location. Made of limestone and coral walls and thatched cogon grass roofs, these sturdy houses line the local villages of Savidug and Chavayan, which are wonders to stroll through.
Cresta de Gallo Island, Romblon
Near the centre of the Philippine archipelago is a small untouched paradise that still flies below the tourist radar, leaving it in its pure, spotless state. It also helps that it isn’t the easiest to get to and that there is virtually nothing on the island except for whatever nature bestowed. Anyone who decides to make the trip must have all necessities in tow, from water and food to camping gear. But for the trouble, they’ll also very likely have this precious island all to themselves.
The island province of Camiguin is another one of the country’s more underrated tourist destinations. While nearby White Island and Mantigue Island are great spots, mainland Camiguin is not to be overlooked. Majestic waterfalls, hot and cold springs, volcanoes and the famous sunken cemetery – this island presents a long list of sights and activities to fill out an exciting itinerary. And while travellers would come in more moderate numbers in the past, the province is currently working on expanding and promoting their tourism industry, so an influx of visitors is expected in the near future.
Just east of Camiguin is the mystical island of Siquijor. Despite being wrapped in folklore and tales of witchcraft, this island is much more than its age-old legends. White sand beaches and marine sanctuaries with splendid diving spots abound but the star of the island is Cambugahay Falls, a series of gently cascading waterfalls that form a number of enchanting turquoise pools. Surrounded by lush green rainforest and dotted with wooden rafts, it looks like it could have been designed for a luxury waterpark – we’re talking honeymoon-photos gorgeous. Of course, Cambugahay Falls is popular, so for a quieter and more rugged waterfall to wallow in, try Lugnason Falls which is usually much less crowded.
Islas de Gigantes, Iloilo
And finally, rounding off this list are a group of lesser known islands in the province of Iloilo. Collectively known as Islas de Gigantes, some 10 islands sit unspoilt and uncrowded at the country’s centre. A basic tour around the islands makes stops at Cabugao Gamay, a picture-perfect islet with a vegetated rock hill at one end and a prime viewing point over Bantigue Island, Bakwitan Cave and Antonia Beach at the other. Seafood, especially scallops, are also abundant, so seafood lovers can feast to their heart’s content. This is one for your list of places to hurry to before it’s reached by commercial development.
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