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The Philippines is an archipelago of over 7,000 islands, two of which have repeatedly been dubbed the “Best Island in the World”. It’s no secret that it’s a country with a surplus of naturally rich and culturally diverse islands. But out of the thousands, which exactly are the ones that shouldn’t be missed?
Home to some of Bacuit Bay’s most famous tourist attractions such as Matinloc Shrine, Secret Beach, and Hidden Beach, Matinloc Island is a must on anyone’s first trip to El Nido. The covert beaches are concealed by El Nido’s iconic limestone formations and Matinloc Shrine offers some of the best panoramic views in the area. These are all stops on El Nido’s Tour C package in addition to nearby Star Beach and Helicopter Island.
Just like Matinloc, Miniloc Island is not to be missed on your El Nido trip. 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 these stunning wonders of nature aboard kayaks which are also available for rent on site. Conveniently, these are all stops on El Nido’s famous Tour A package, along with Shimizu Island and Seven Commandos Beach.
Growing in popularity in the past few years, Siargao is most famously 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 the island’s other charms, such as its laidback way of life, beautiful rock and cave pools, neighboring islets, beaches, and untouched landscapes. Its natural beauty is undeniable, 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 commercialization, 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. Recently, the Philippine President ordered a complete six-month closure of the island, effective April 26, to allow its rehabilitation. Hopefully, this is the beginning of Boracay’s restoration to its former glory.
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, the island of Tinaga is best known and most frequented for its pristine three-kilometer 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 popular camping ground for the adventurous islander. Surrounding rolling terrain and hiking trails also present a more active alternative to lying on the beach.
Quite the hidden gem even to local travellers in the past, 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 series, Survivor. The show’s typical setting is rendered ‘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, which 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 will contend is also worth the view.
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.
This bare island just off the coast of Camiguin’s capital is a favorite among both locals and travellers for more than just its accessibility. Really 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 on White Island, 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.
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 the Aman Resorts International hotel group. Pamalican Island is one of their many sites alongside other dreamy destinations like Bali, Indonesia and Porto Heli, Greece. A visit to this island guarantees top-notch, highly-personalized service from the resort’s experienced team and staff, plus as an island experience that will feel curated just for you. While the resort boasts the finest amenities and service, the island’s natural features from its immaculate shoreline to the vibrant marine life beneath the surface takes the Pamalican experience above and beyond.
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 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.
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.
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, 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.
The famous TV franchise Survivor set four seasons of the show in the Philippines. The first two filmed in Caramoan, with the other two in remote Palaui Island. Located far 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 an historic lighthouse from the Spanish occupation which is now considered a national cultural treasure. Its lone residential village of Punta Verde serves as camping grounds for visitors who wish to rough it out and stay a while.
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.
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.
Near the center 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 with its elegant cascades and enchanting turquoise waters. Another similar treat is Lugnason Falls, which is usually much less crowded than popular Cambugahay.
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 center. 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 at the other, Bantigue Island, Bakwitan Cave, and Antonia Beach. Seafood, especially scallops are also abundant, needless to say affordable, 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.