Philippines islands certainly check the box on white sandy beaches and jewel-toned water. I can vouch from my diving experience to the lovely island of Malapascua. When I put together this post on the best islands in the Philippines with the help of some amazing Travel Bloggers, I realized there are more than just best beaches in the Philippines and turquoise water. Diving and surfing adventures, jungle and cultural experiences, island hopping and whatnot.
The larger islands have better infrastructure and more amenities suited for couples and families. There are smaller less-touristy islands if you want the true feel of getting-away-from-it-all. There is a perfect island in the Philippines waiting for you. Here are some of the best islands in the Philippines.
Best islands in the Philippines: Think white-sandy beaches and turquoise water
The gemstone blue water of Boracay’s White Beach has consistently helped the island to rank as one of the best places to visit in the Philippines. Restaurants line every corner, and there’s an endless amount of activities for travelers of all ages. The entire island spans just 7 kilometers long, so it’s possible to fully explore it on foot in a single day. Everything is within walking distance, and a short trek to the top of Mount Luho will reveal a panoramic view of the entire island and all its beaches.
Each beach caters to a different type of crowd. You can collect seashells on Puka Beach, relax on Diniwid Beach, kite surf on Bulabog, or snorkel on Tambisaan. There’s even a handful of hidden beaches. On my favorite of all of them, you can have dinner on a disappearing beach that only reveals itself during low tide each day. Most tourists don’t stray too far from White Beach, however, because it has the most vibrant entertainment and biggest selection of things to do. You can even take mermaid lessons! At night-time, the beach comes alive with fire dancers, evening sailboat tours, and some of the most beautiful sunsets in the world.
Most meals cost just 2 to 5 dollars, so I highly recommend tasting street food and experiencing authentic Filipino dishes. Skewered chicken is especially popular, and Mang Inasal serves the best Spicy Paa that you’ll find on the island. The flame-grilled chicken thigh comes with a side of rice, soy sauce, chili, and a small citrus fruit called a kalamansi. It’s delicious! I also recommend the yummy fresh fruit smoothies of Jonah’s Fruit shake. The famous hotspot can be found on White Beach Station 1. If you’re looking for one of the best islands to visit in the Philippines, you won’t be disappointed by Boracay. Check out my guide to the best things to do in Boracay.
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Bantayan Island is an underrated beach haven in Cebu that has a truly relaxing vibe. This is the perfect place to lounge on the beach and just leave your troubles behind. During a short trip to this tropical paradise, we were able to enjoy some of the best beaches in the Philippines with stretches of white sand and crystal clear waters. Bantayan is easy to reach through a ferry or even a private boat from Hagnaya port, only an hour away from Cebu City. The boat ride lasts an hour as well.
Aside from the lovely shores of Bantayan, you will also enjoy the unique ways to go around the island. Tourists and locals use the habal-habal, a motorbike taxi that can be hired to go to any point in Bantayan Island. You can also ride a trisikad in Bantayan, which is the local version of a pedicab. Jeepneys are commonly used by locals but adventurous foreigners are also encouraged to try and navigate the island through this iconic Philippine vehicle.
Accommodation options for all types of travelers abound in Bantayan Island. There are guest houses and hotels that offer spaces for $10-20 USD, more or less, while mid-range rooms can be afforded at around $35 USD. Luxury accommodations are available for as low as $55 USD in Bantayan Island.
Upon figuring out how you want to go around Bantayan Island and settling in your hotel room, it’s time for some exploring. Santa Fe has Ogtong Cave, an underground wonder of nature that can be visited for less than $3 USD. There are also fishing villages where you can go around to taste some local seafood. Dried fish and dried squid are a local delicacy you shouldn’t miss out on. There are many things to do in Bantayan Island, for sure, but if you need a change of scenery, you can take a day trip to another gorgeous spot called Virgin Island for less than $10 USD.
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The tiny speck of land called Kalanggaman Island belongs to Leyte province. It’s so small you can take a circular walk along its shores in less than 30 minutes. The sand is pristine white, the water beautifully clear and turquoise, and large coconut palm trees line the perfect beaches. Kalanggaman is truly a paradise and inarguably one of the most beautiful places I’ve seen in the Philippines. The main long sandbar is where waves from opposite directions crash into each other. It’s one of the best photo spots on the whole island. Swimming in that part of the island is not recommended, as the currents are too strong.
What you can do on the island is quite limited due to its size and lack of facilities. If you’d like to do any extra activities, such as snorkeling or diving, have your own gear or arrange it already in the visitor center in Palompon. It’s also right there in Palompon where you can arrange a boat transfer to Kalanggaman Island. It’s recommended that you bring your own food and plenty of water. You also have to collect your own trash and bring it back to Palompon.
The no. of visitors allowed per day on Kalanggaman is limited to 500, so you can rest assured there won’t be tourist crowds. When I visited, apart from our group there were another 10 people. Since the mobile signal is weak and there are no power outlets, you’ll be able to relax and enjoy a digital detox. Just your camera won’t get a break! Kalanggaman is way too picturesque for that. An island that remote boasts also another convenient feature – there are no mosquitoes! You can thus forget the repellent at home, but the same can’t be said about sunblock.
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Best islands in the Philippines: Think verdant greenery and gushing waterfalls
Bohol is a bit different island than all the others in the Philippines. While the rest of the Philippines islands pride themselves with some of the very best beaches in the world, Bohol is all about the jungle experience. From zip-lining to waterfall climbing, there are many things to do in this dense jungle paradise but here are the top things to see and do in Bohol.
The Chocolate Hills is a bizarre earth formation coming straight out of the Jumanji movie. Those cute hills are one of a kind sight that owns its name to the lemongrass that grows on them. During the summer, the grass goes brown giving the Chocolate Hills their iconic look. Bohol Tarsiers are cute little primates with ginormous eyes, who tend to get stressed from everything. Bohol is one of the few places on earth where they still exist and can be observed. Make sure to go to the ethical Philippine Tarsier and Wildlife Sanctuary and not the unofficial trap that keeps exploiting the little guys for profit.
Mother Trees Search was one of the top 5 experiences in my life but or some reason, not one of the most popular activities in Bohol. The Mother Trees are the name locals gave to the special kind of trees the jungle fireflies use for food. And how do you search for them? When the sun falls, you go paddleboarding through the Loboc River until you find one. It’s the ultimate serenity, just you, the stars, and the jungle sounds around you When you spot a Mother Tree, it’s like the stars have come down to earth to play around the tree’s branches. Truly magical!
A great place to stay in the Lomboc area is the Fox & The Firefly. Lovely cottages with outdoor shower (yup, you take a shower in the jungle) located right next to the river. The place is also the starting point for the Mother Trees search!
If you’re looking for adventure, Cebu is one of the best islands to visit in the Philippines. Wherever you stay on the island, there are plenty of amazing places to explore and cool things to do!
One of the most popular spots to visit on Cebu is the Moalboal to witness the gathering of millions of sardines just off the shore of Panagsama beach. It’s a truly incredible sight that will take your breath away. There are a number of restaurants in the Panagsama beach area of Moalboal, but the pick of the bunch is definitely Cockonuts, which serves up delicious meals at budget-friendly prices.
Just a short drive from Moalboal lies one of the most famous waterfalls in the Philippines – Kawasan falls. This beautiful waterfall has become incredibly popular thanks to the stunning turquoise water and lovely jungle setting. One of the best things about visiting is taking a swim to cool off from the heat!
Better yet, Kawasan falls isn’t the only amazing waterfall on Cebu Island. The 8-tiered Aguinid falls in Samboan is a spot adventure lover simply cannot miss. A visit to Aguinid falls involves climbing directly up waterfalls to reach the next tier. You’ll get to enjoy the beautiful nature along the way, as well as swimming and jumping into natural pools if you wish! If you’re craving another waterfall, then the towering Tumalog falls is also well worth a visit! With some truly incredible things to see and do there, Cebu is definitely one of the best islands to visit in the Philippines.
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For most people who visit the Philippines, Luzon is simply: fly into Manila, fly out to somewhere else. Although it may not have the tropical beaches and diving areas that the other islands have, Luzon makes up for it by its incredibly unique culture. While there are things to see in and around Manila, the true magic happens when you head up north to the Cordillera – the Highlands of Luzon.
Forget Bali or Vietnam. These are the most spectacular rice terraces on the planet, and relatively few people come to visit them. The most popular is Banaue where you can still happily walk among the rice terraces free of charge and without a guide. When you’ve finished your walk, there are plenty of cafes in town that have huge balconies, allowing you to sit and stare at the gorgeous views all afternoon.
However, the true jewel in the crown of the Cordillera is Batad. Batad is the most spectacular area of rice terraces we’ve ever seen. They surround you on all sides like an amphitheater. There are plenty of hiking opportunities through the terraces to waterfalls and other hidden spots, and the panoramic views of the lush green rice fields are something you will never forget.
After you’ve had your fill of the rice terraces, head to the misty town of Sagada, famous for its hanging coffins. In this part of the Philippines, the locals traditionally put relatives that pass away in coffins and hang them high up on the cliffs, believing this will place their spirits closer to heaven. Some coffins even have chairs for the dead alongside them! It’s historically a headhunting town and the mysticism around it still remains.
It’s cooler up in the northern highlands so you can try different local dishes, such as soups and stews to warm up. You can base yourself in any of the 3 towns to explore, although Batad can be done as a day trip from Banaue if you prefer. All the villages offer homestays if you want a glimpse of local life or there are many guesthouses.
On our two-month trip around the Philippines, no other island gave us quite the same vibe we experienced on Sibuyan. Despite being located close to well-known Boracay, Sibuyan is far less popular with tourists, and relatively few people have heard of it.
This is probably due to the lack of white sand beaches which are so typically associated with the Philippines, but that should not be a deterrent to visiting Sibuyan! The island is home to some stunning waterfalls located in a wild jungle, as well as the cleanest river in the Philippines. If you’re looking for adventure, this is where you will find it!
Sibuyan has one very badly maintained ring road spanning the circumference of the island which surrounds the large Guiting-Guiting mountain. Sibuyan’s coast is mostly rocky, however, if you long for soft white sand beaches fringed with palm trees and crystal-clear water, you can find them at the gorgeous tiny Cresta de Gallo Island, just a short boat ride away. Your guesthouse can probably ask a fisherman to take you out to Cresta de Gallo and barbeque some freshly-caught fish for lunch.
Sibuyan is far less developed than other touristy islands in the Philippines, so expect far lesser amenities and comforts. Local eateries are available on Sibuyan, but restaurants are few, and your best bet is to have your meals organized at the guesthouse. Electricity is out almost every night and the internet connection, as in many parts of the Philippines, is very sporadic. Nevertheless, the island has a very local vibe with friendly people, and if you’re looking for some authenticity on your travels, you will be sure to find it here!
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Best islands in the Philippines: Think diving and surfing adventures
Malapascua was my introduction to a pristine Philippines island and local authentic life. I had gone on a fabulous week-long diving trip here. This is a small island off the northern tip of Cebu – you can walk from one end to the other in a couple of hours. It is a 3-4 hour drive from Cebu airport to the northern tip and then a 30-minute ferry ride. But if white sandy beaches, jewel-toned water, gorgeous sunsets, beautiful marine life, and corals all packaged in a small authentic island is what appeals to you, look no further than Malapascua.
The island has about 4000 locals, with a friendly smile on their faces. No cars on the island truly promises a getaway-from-it-all feel. Malapascua is a diver’s paradise. One of the few places in the world where it is easy to spot thresher sharks! I saw a huge variety of beautiful corals, colorful fish, thresher and white-tip reef sharks, crabs, and macro life.
But Malapascua is not for divers alone. For an island this size, there are plenty of stay and food options, suited for everyone including couples and families. My stay at Tepanee resort was good – not your average diver accommodation. There are other budget stay options available on the island. Over the course of a week, I tried various cuisines from Filipino to Thai to Italian and more. There is a mix of high-end western and local-run restaurants and bars.
Apo Island in the Philippines is a very small piece of land in front of the big Negros Island. This island is only 1.5 square kilometers, where 1,000 people live and are very happy to receive visitors. For the most part of the day here, there is no light. The services and accommodations are very basic, but you will be surrounded by beautiful vegetation and sea.
Most of the travelers arrive here to practice diving. Apo has one of the most beautiful reefs of the Philippines and seeing marine creatures like turtles is relatively easy, even more, if you decide to do snorkel because they like shadow waters. If you do not like to dive or snorkel, then you can climb the 230 steps that will take you to a viewpoint at the top of the mountain, it is said that the sunrise here is wonderful.
The best place to eat with a reasonable variety of dishes is the Liberty Resort (do not imagine a Caribbean resort, it’s a very simple place). Also near the basketball court is a small business where they grill some nights. Walk around the city and talk to people, you will be impressed by how friendly they all are.
The simplest way to get to Apo Island is to take a bus in Dumaguete that heads south and ask the driver to tell you where to get off. The bus will leave you a couple of hundred meters from a port, where there are always islanders waiting in their small boats to take you to Apo for a few dollars. You need to worry about protecting your things very well for some water splashing, because if there is swell you will end up completely soaked, but the adventure (or pain if you don’t like water) it’s worth it.
When people ask me for recommendations about my home county – the Philippines, I always include the island of Siargao in my top 3 destinations. Siargao is located in Surigao del Norte in the southern part of the country. It’s a very laid-back destination for people who want to beach bum, surf or just explore the unknown lagoons and caves in the area.
For beginner or professional surfers, the best place to be is Cloud 9. Here you can rent surfboards or hire a guide to teach you the basics. There are other surf breaks in Siargao, but this is the most popular one. If you’re not into surfing, this is also a great place to just laze around under the sun.
For island hopping, you can go visit Naked Island, Daku Island and Guyam Island in one day. Here you can expect to see fine white-sand beaches and great blue water. If you have more time, you can also visit Sohoton Cove in Bucas Grande, a pristine maze of islets and lagoons where you can see clear water, underwater caves and a lake filled with stingless jellyfishes.
As for the food, there are lots of restaurants offering authentic local Filipino dishes as well as fresh seafood. And as for accommodations, there’s everyone for every budget. If you’re a backpacker, you can easily find homestays and hostels. There are also hotels and resorts that offer more amenities. We’ve stayed in an island resort and budget hotel, and both times we had a great time. All in all, we love Siargao for its very chill ambiance and natural attractions.
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Which is your favourite island getaway in S E Asia? Share in the comments section below.
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