There is no amount of words that I can write here that will truly justify my feelings for this country. Out of all our travels, the Philippines is one of our favorites and will always have a special place in our heart.
With 700 islands, the variety of activities and landscapes on offer in the Philippines is limitless. The adventurous will find endless hiking opportunities on many of the islands, and there is no shortage of volcanic peaks to climb. Underwater views are some of the best, with an endless list of world class diving spots. Beach bums will have a hard time enjoying most other beaches in the world after sipping on Margaritas on deserted idyllic stretches of sand. As for culture, the Philippines has a fascinating blend, most prominently comprised of Native, Spanish, and American origins. Essentially, the Philippines has something for everyone as its hard to leave the country without having a Filipino sized smile across your face first. While other places in the world can match the Philippines in beauty, such as Hawaii, few can compete with the Philippines when it comes to price. Staying in paradise in the Philippines is available for all budgets, high and low, offering more bang for your buck no matter what your budget is.
After taking two trips to the island nation and spending over 6 weeks on various islands, Claire and I only know one thing… that we are not finished with the Philippines yet. It is a country we plan to visit often in the future, whenever we have the opportunity to get to.
If you want to know more about the Philippines, check out our review of the country here. This post consists of our 25 photographs that describe our travels through the Philippines. In my opinion, these photos still do not do proper justice to the beauty found in this country.
If there is anywhere in the Philippines that is not pretty, Manila is that place. Loud, rough, and messy, stepping into this city for the first time is like getting punched in the face. Your senses will be obliterated but once you regain your footing, the city can be a fun and adventurous start to your stay in the country.
Almost all travelers enter the country through the massive capital, so you will likely spend at least a little time here. As significant as the city is to the country, spending a full day here is necessary no matter how antsy you are to get to those deserted beaches not so far away.
Diving is king in Pureto Galera. It seems there are as many dive shops as there are dive sites on this small stretch of Oriental Mindoro, but don’t let that deter you because diving here is some of the best the Philippines has to offer. Dive sights are world class and with and endless list of spots to check out, there are dives that suit all levels of divers. Most spots are within a ten minute boat ride of where you stay.
With its proximity to Manila (just a bus and boat ride away) Puerto Galera is the perfect spot in the Philippines to get your diving certification if you do not already have one or want to advance your certification further. While dive shops and instructors are plentiful, we had the opportunity to train with one of the best divers on the planet. Aaron is decorated in more diving certifications and achievements than a North Korean General, and is a wealth of knowledge when it comes to diving. You can contact Aaron email@example.com or visit his website Global Dive Adventures & Training. We highly recommend Aaron if you are looking to dive in the area.
Few stretches of beach are more beautiful in the world than the small collection of islands found off the coast from El Nido. This area at the northern tip of Palawan is a beach hopper’s paradise. Here you will spend your days jumping from island to island, each with its own unique landscape or underwater view. Water doesn’t get any clearer, and with hundreds of carved limestone islands along the horizon, the only reason you would want to leave this tropical paradise is if you had a little too much sun for the day. The archipelago also boasts great diving and snorkeling opportunities. When we visited here, we did not have our diving certification or a waterproof camera… guess that is plenty of enough reason to go back here some day!
This tiny spec in the middle of the ocean is probably my favorite island that we have stayed on in the Philippines. While you can find more beautiful islands, and ones with better underwater views, this is the place you go to relax, disconnect from the world, and still have all of the beauty that the Philippines has to offer.
Staying overnight on the island (which you most certainly should!) gives the place a Gilligan’s Island vibe. The only accommodation on the island is Pandan Island Resort. Consisting of castaway cottages with thatched roofs and run by a family, the resort offers visitors a slice of paradise while bringing guests back to basics. Your biggest worry will be how many sea turtles you get to see for the day and making sure to find the best spot for sunset. If there is anywhere in the world to escape reality but have just enough comforts from the real world to keep you sane, Pandan Island is that sacred place.
While most people get to Bohol and rush to the interior of the island for those Chocolate Hills and cute little Tasiers, Claire and I headed offshore for an island about a mile away. The tiny island is ringed with coral reefs and coral beaches all the way around. On the far side of the island is a resort run by the government where guests can stay. The rest of the island contains a tiny village where locals farm or work at the resort. Given the size of the island, it is not uncommon to bump into hotel workers while on their family farm. Diving here is supposed to be incredible, but Claire and I visited this island on our first trip meaning snorkeling was our only option. It is a place I want to return back to in order to stay underwater for longer.
Bohol Island is famous for two things, Chocolate Hills and teeny tiny primates. To my disappointment, the hills were formed over thousands of years of erosion and contain thousands of fossils from the ocean, rather than being giant Hershey kisses dropped down from the sky. As for the tiny bug eyed mascot of the island, you would be pretty hard pressed to find one in the wild. The Tasier is the smallest primate in the world and it is becoming more endangered due to loss of habitat. Luckily, there are people looking to help these little creatures out by creating a sanctuary for them. Visitors’ tickets help with the maintenance of the sanctuary where you get a chance to see these bundles of cuteness up close.
Perhaps it was over inflated expectations. Perhaps it was uncontrolled tourism. Perhaps it was a little of both. Claire and I were disappointed with one of the islands recently ranked as one of the best in the world by a few travel magazines. While the beach is undoubtedly beautiful with its emerald waters and white sand that stretches for miles, tourism has had its effects on the island. Hotels and restaurants creep onto the beach, completely destroying that island getaway feel. The island’s diving options are also sub par when compared to other locations in the Philippines. What this island is good for, however is a good party. Increasingly becoming a party destination, Boracay is where you go to let loose and nurse a hangover in the warm waters in front of your accommodation. If you’re looking for a tropical getaway on a beautiful island, skip Boracay… if you’re a party tourist… you’ll never want to leave this island.
Not having a nice beach doesn’t stop people from descending upon the eastern edges of Luzon Island for one reason: Whale Sharks. Swimming with these creatures was INCREDIBLE! Getting face to face with one of the largest animals in the world was an out of this world experience. While snorkeling was an incredible, scuba diving with them was a once in a life time memory. While diving at Manta Bowl (looking for Manta Rays) three whale sharks ended up swimming past us, causing me to almost spit out my regulator in awe. These creates are truly humbling and are an experience that I hope to repeat again sometime in the future. I’m gonna break the rules here and post videos instead of photographs because I didn’t get any photos of these gigantic creatures, only video.
Please Read Before Going Whale Shark Spotting
Before you get in the water with the gentle giants, you really should inform yourself about responsible interaction with these creatures. Other than Donsol, you can also see Whale Sharks in Oslo and both sites having their pros and cons. If you plan on heading to either of these spots, I strongly recommend reading Katherine’s Whale Shark spotting guide at Tara Lets Anywhere. Katherine is a native to the Philippines and has an excellent article detailing both sites as well as essential knowledge that everyone should know before they go. Please be a responsible traveler and take a look.
Apo reef is literally in the middle of nowhere. A 3 hour boat ride away from the nearest island, Apo Island really is just a tiny spec in the middle of the sea. With its crystal clear waters and gigantic reef system, it would take weeks of diving to thoroughly explore the reef system. The big draw card for visiting here is to see the plethora of Reef Sharks that patrol the walls of Apo. While it is recommended that you have your advance certification in order to dive here, we were allowed to dive due to the number and variety of dives that we had completed before going to Apo.