Dubbed by the Spaniards as “La Perla del Mar de Oriente” (or “The Pearl of the Orient Seas”), the Philippines is an archipelagic country in Southeast Asia rich in natural resources and ravishing sceneries. Although often overlooked by foreign tourists who prefer backpacking in neighboring Mainland Southeast Asian countries, the Philippine Islands have so much to offer to its visitors!
With over 300 years under Spanish rule, the Philippines has a rather distinct culture compared to the rest of the countries in Southeast Asia. In fact, it has the largest Catholic population in the region. This makes the nation’s traditions, food, language, and architecture a bit more interesting.
To help you explore more of this wonderful maritime country in the Pacific Ocean, I listed down the best places to visit in the Philippines. As a local, I chose the top tourist destinations I think international tourists will like. I’ll also share with you some insider tips I believe would be helpful.
The list will be classified under the 3 main geographical divisions of the islands: Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao.
Without further ado, here are the top places you should visit that’ll prove to you it’s indeed more fun in the Philippines!
The Best Places To Visit in Philippines
If you’re coming to the Philippines from abroad, you’ll most probably land in its capital, Manila.
|Note: The term “Manila” can refer to the capital city or the collective area of the country’s National Capital Region. The latter consists of Manila City, Quezon City, Caloocan City, Las Piñas City, Makati City, Malabon City, Mandaluyong City, Marikina City, Muntinlupa City, Navotas City, Parañaque City, Pasay City, Pasig City, San Juan City, Taguig City, and Valenzuela City.|
The City of Manila is the most historical among all the cities in the National Capital Region. It is home to the 2nd oldest street in the entire country, Escolta (just next to Cebu’s Colon Street), as well as the oldest Chinatown in the world, Binondo.
But perhaps the most notable historic site in Manila is Intramuros, a 64-hectare walled city that used to be a Spanish fortress. Constructed in the late 16th century, Intramuros was the seat of the Spanish Empire’s government in the Philippines.
Although most of the city was destroyed by World War II, its ruins still stand to remind us of its glorious past. Centuries-old churches such as the Manila Cathedral and the oldest church in the country, UNESCO World Heritage Site San Agustin Church, can also be found within Intramuros.
Inside Intramuros is Fort Santiago, a former military headquarters. This is also where Philippine National Hero Dr. Jose Rizal spent his last days before he was executed on December 30, 1896.
Speaking of Rizal, the Luneta Park (a.k.a Rizal Park) is perhaps the most iconic destination in Manila. It’s what you’ll see on postcards of the city. The 60-hectare park is where Dr. Rizal was executed. Hence, the name. A popular place for Filipino families to have a small picnic, Luneta has a wide dancing fountain and manicured gardens, including a Japanese Zen garden and a Chinese-themed garden. The Manila Ocean Park is also just within the vicinity of Rizal Park.
If you want to experience Metro Manila’s nightlife, Makati City and Bonifacio Global City are the hippest places to be.
Just approximately 60 kilometers south of Manila is the beautiful city of Tagaytay. Although it got more congested in recent years, this place is still my go-to place when I want to get away from the hustle and bustle of Manila. There is something oddly comforting with this city’s rustic vibe.
Tagaytay is also a popular wedding venue for a lot of couples, and when you come to visit the place you’ll understand why. Its chilly breeze, pine trees, quaint hotels, nice restaurants, and stunning views of the Taal Lake that fills the Taal Volcano make the city extra romantic.
There are also several family-friendly amusement and recreational parks in Tagaytay. This includes Sky Ranch, Palace in the Sky, and Puzzle Mansion. If you’re staying in Manila for a few days, you must visit this place even for just a few hours!
Like Tagaytay, Baguio is also a cold place a lot of local tourists flock to when they want to escape the scorching Manila heat. Labeled as the Summer Capital of the Philippines, Baguio is snuggled within the Cordillera Central Mountain Range in the North and has one of the coldest climates in the Philippines.
Baguio is also called “The City of Pines” because of the abundance of pine trees in the area. The smell of pines and the cool weather make this city a perfect cozy getaway.
Some of the most well-known tourist spots here are Mines View Park and Burnham Park.
Banaue Rice Terraces: UNESCO World Heritage Site
If you grew up or at least studied a few years in the Philippines, you’ll know that the Banaue Rice Terraces is one of the country’s most celebrated natural treasures. These rice terraces are featured on almost all geography textbooks used in elementary schools throughout the nation.
Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this agricultural wonder was hand-chiseled by the Ifugao people about 2,000 years ago. These rice paddies are designed to look like a giant staircase.
Further up north is the charming city of Vigan. The city has preserved its 16th-century charm, so you can go back in time and get a glimpse of what it was like during the Spanish colonial era. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is home to the famous Calle Crisologo, a cobblestone pavement street where you can see kalesas (horse-drawn carriages) and traditional pottery shops.
Aside from that, Vigan also has some fascinating delicacies. You must try their bagnet (deep-fried crispy pork belly) and Ilocos empanada (crunchy orange dough pie filled with longganisa, egg, and shredded papaya).
Mayon Volcano, Legazpi
Now, it’s time to go south. In the province of Legazpi in the region of Bicol, you will find a perfectly shaped volcano called Mayon. Renowned for its perfect cone shape and symmetry, its name Mayon was derived from the Bicolano word “Magayon”, which means beautiful.
Within the vicinity of the volcano is the Cagsawa Ruins. It used to be a Franciscan church built in 1587 but was buried along with the whole town of Cagsawa due to the eruption of the volcano.
If you’re feeling extra adventurous, you can hire an all-terrain vehicle (ATV) to tour around the surroundings of the volcano.
Tubbataha Reef, Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, and Coron Island — do they ring a bell? These places may sound familiar because they’re all listed in UNESCO Sites. And they’re all found in the island province of Palawan.
The Tubbataha Reef is a protected marine reserve abundant with a variety of underwater creatures, coral reefs, and extinct underwater volcanoes; while the Puerto Princesa Underground River has one of the best cave systems in the world. The Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park features an underground river that comes out directly into the sea.
Coron Island is a tropical paradise with limestone karst cliffs, transparent waters, shallow-water coral reefs, and a bunch of islets and inlets. The island is famous for its World War II Japanese shipwrecks, making it a great spot for scuba diving.
The White Sand Beaches of Boracay
Known for its white sands and world-class hospitality, Boracay Island attracts tourists from all over the world into its fine sands and inviting waters. Reputable travel guides and magazines constantly list the island as one of the most pristine beaches in Asia.
In fact, Boracay Island is perhaps the most well-known destination in the Philippines. One Google search of the best beaches in the Philippines will show you lists that will include Boracay in one way or another. It just always comes up!
3 sections divide Boracay’s White Beach: Station 1, Station 2, and Station 3. Generally, White Beach Station 1 is for tourists who want to enjoy a luxurious tropical holiday. Station 2 is for those who enjoy dining and partying. While Station 3 is for visitors looking for a quiet beach getaway.
Known as “The Queen City of the South”, Cebu is the center of trade and tourism in the Central Visayas Region. I grew up in Manila but lived in Cebu City for four years, and I can say that it is like the Manila of Visayas.
Cebu is a very modern province with booming business parks, high-rise condominiums, luxury hotels, huge malls, and a big international airport. But the province has preserved its strong colorful heritage as the oldest city in the Philippines.
The province of Cebu was one of the earliest Spanish settlements in the Philippines. The oldest street in the entire country, Colon, can be found in Cebu City.
Aside from well preserved Spanish colonial buildings and spectacular skyscrapers, Cebu also boasts awesome marine parks and beaches.
|Insider Tip: If you’re planning to flex your newly learned Tagalog slang to the locals here, I suggest you leave it in Luzon Island. Cebu and its nearby provinces speak Cebuano. Although most people can understand Tagalog, they’re more comfortable speaking Cebuano and English than Tagalog.|
Some of the best beaches in Cebu are found on Bantayan Island. This island in northwest Cebu is abundant in natural resources and beautiful sceneries.
Oslob is also a nice Cebu beach destination that’s famous for its gorgeous sandbar and butandings (whale sharks).
Chocolate Hills and Panglao Island, Bohol
Further down south is the small province of Bohol.
Aside from the Banaue Rice terraces, one of the most celebrated natural resources in the country is the Chocolate Hills. They are covered in green grass that turns brown during the dry season, hence the name.
The province of Bohol is known for 2 world-class tourist destinations: the Chocolate Hills and Panglao Island. Bohol is comparable to Boracay because of its white-sand beaches, crystal blue waters, exciting nightlife, and incredible diving sites.
Another major Philippine hub is Davao City. As the largest city and the 3rd most populous city in the Philippines, this metropolitan area is the seat of trade, commerce, and industry in Mindanao. It is also home to the highest mountain in the Philippines, Mount Apo.
Davao is also known for its famous durian. This tropical fruit with a spiky outer shell has a strong pungent odor and sweet flavor. As locals would say, “it smells like hell, but tastes like heaven”.
If you want to experience beach life in Davao, Samal Island is only one ferry ride away from the city. The beaches on this island garden city feature gorgeous white sands and interesting marine life.
Photo by Traveloka
Known as the surfing capital of the Philippines, Siargao Island is where you’ll find the famous Cloud 9 wave — a tube-like wave notorious for giving surfers a challenge.
Siargao also has stunning beaches without huge resorts, hotel chains, and commercial establishments. Its laid-back vibe attracted young professionals in Manila to give up their city jobs for simpler island life.
Two of the most well-known beaches on the island are Alegria Beach and General Luna Beach. The former is a 5-kilometer stretch of white sand perfect for beach bums, while the latter is a famous surf spot, where local and international surfing competitions are held.