The Philippines is an archipelago in Southeast Asia. Its closest neighbors in the region are Vietnam and Malaysia. Despite its location and affiliation with other Southeast Asian countries, the Philippines is significantly different from them. For one, the waters of South China Sea/West Philippine Sea separate the country from mainland Asia. Moreover, centuries of Spanish and American colonization have made the Philippines culturally distinct.In some ways, the Philippines feels more like an Americanized Latino country than an Asian one. It is the legacy of nearly 400 years of Spanish colonization and almost 50 years of American rule. Perhaps this is why it is one of the most popular tourist destinations in the region. Most Filipinos, especially in urbanized areas, speak English fluently. Giant malls and fast food chains dot its metropolises. Western pop culture maintains a huge influence over the locals. Even so, the Philippines is just as beautiful and exotic as any Southeast Asian country. Its people are among the friendliest, engaging, and resilient in the world.
The Philippines in Brief
The Philippines occupies an area of approximately 300,000 square kilometers. An archipelago, the country is made up of more than 7,600 islands. These islands are divided into three island-groups: Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. The city of Manila in Luzon is the nation’s capital, while Cebu City and Davao City are the most important cities of Visayas and Mindanao respectively.
The Philippines is a tropical country sitting just above the equator. As thus, it enjoys a mild tropical climate with three distinct seasons: summer, the wet season, and the cold season. Summer lasts from March to May, months of sunshine with only the occasional rainfall. The months of June to October are the wet months, when the country is visited by the southwest monsoon. The coming of the northeast monsoon spells the arrival of the cold season, which lasts from November to February. It can be hot and humid all year-round.
Because the Philippines lies on the typhoon belt, the country can experience as many as 19 typhoons every year. A lot of these storms can be devastating. The most destructive one to visit the Philippines to date was Typhoon Haiyan (locally known as Yolanda), which made landfall on eastern Visayas in 2014. Haiyan killed approximately 6,000 people and injured 29,000 more. It also caused damage amounting to more than US$2 billion. Haiyan to date is one of the most catastrophic typhoons in recorded history.
Hardship is no stranger to the Filipino. Centuries of colonialism, political and economic tumult, and natural disasters have finely honed their sense of survival. Yet nowhere in the world will you find a group of people as laidback and positive in their outlook as the peoples of the Philippines.
Flying to the Philippines
The main gateway to the Philippines is the Ninoy Aquino International Airport. It is located in Pasay City, Metro Manila. From there, you can fly to almost anywhere in the country. Secondary international airports include Clark International Airport in Luzon, Mactan-Cebu International Airport in Visayas, and Francisco Bangoy (Davao) International Airport in Mindanao.
Philippine Airlines, the national flag carrier, is the country’s largest airline, with around 56 domestic and international destinations. Low-cost carriers Cebu Pacific and CebGo also offer domestic and international flights. Other low-cost airlines operating in the Philippines are Philippine Airlines’ subsidiary PAL Express and Philippines AirAsia.
The Philippines’ Top 10 Tourist Destinations
The Philippines may not be as popular as its neighbor countries like Thailand. But it can pretty much hold its own when it comes to natural beauty and richness of culture. The Philippines has 36,000 kilometers of coastline, one of the longest in the world. This coastline boasts of some of the prettiest beaches on the planet. The country also has plenty of dramatic landscapes worth seeing.
Listed here are the top 10 tourist destinations you must see when you visit the Philippines:
#1 – Manila
Manila is the Philippines’ capital city and one of the oldest cities in Southeast Asia. Many tourists travel to Manila to get to other destinations in the country, but Manila itself is worth an extended stay. The city of Manila is where you’ll find many of the country’s cultural institutions, such as the National Museum, Rizal National Park, Manila Cathedral, and the walled Spanish colonial enclave of Intramuros. Just outside Manila is sophisticated Makati City, the country’s financial center; the hipster community of Fort Bonifacio Global City in Taguig; Ortigas Center in Pasig and Eastwood in Quezon City, the call center capitals of the metropolis. Metro Manila is also home to many of Asia’s largest shopping malls.
How to get to Manila
The Ninoy Aquino International Airport serves Metro Manila. You can fly direct to Manila via the following airlines:
- Australia – Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines, Qantas
- Bahrain – Gulf Air
- Brunei – Cebu Pacific, Royal Brunei Airlines
- Cambodia – Cebu Pacific
- Canada – Philippine Airlines
- China – Air China, Cebu Pacific, China Eastern Airlines, China Southern Airlines, Philippine Airlines, Philippines AirAsia, Shenzhen Airlines, Xiamen Air
- Ethiopia – Ethiopian Airlines
- Guam – Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines, United Airlines
- Hong Kong – Cathay Pacific, Philippine Airlines, Philippines AirAsia
- Indonesia – Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines
- Japan – All Nippon Airways, Cebu Pacific, Delta Air Lines, Japan Airlines, Jetstar Asia Airways, Philippine Airlines
- Kuwait – Kuwait Airways, Philippine Airlines
- Macau – Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines, Philippines AirAsia
- Malaysia – AirAsia, Malaysia Airlines, Philippine Airlines, Philippines AirAsia
- Netherlands – KLM
- Papua New Guinea – Air Niugini, Philippine Airlines
- Saudi Arabia – Philippine Airlines, Saudia
- Singapore – Cebu Pacific, Jetstar Asia Airways, Philippine Airlines, Scoot, Singapore Airlines
- South Korea – Asiana Airlines, Cebu Pacific, Jeju Air, Korean Air, Philippine Airlines, Philippines AirAsia
- Taiwan – Cebu Pacific, China Airlines, EVA Air, Philippine Airlines, Philippines AirAsia
- Thailand – Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines, Thai Airways
- Turkey – Turkish Airlines
- United Arab Emirates – Cebu Pacific, Emirates, Etihad Airways, Oman Air, Philippine Airlines, Qatar Airways
- United Kingdom – Philippine Airlines
- United States – Philippine Airlines
- Vietnam – Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines, Philippines AirAsia
Recommended accommodations in Manila
Read my article Manila 101 here:
#2 – Palawan
Palawan is considered to be one of the most beautiful islands in the world by none other than Conde Nast Traveler. This island on the southwestern side of Luzon is the Philippines’ final frontier, full of nature reserves on both land and sea. Palawan is where you will find the Puerto Princesa Underground River, one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
On the northernmost tip of Palawan’s main island, you’ll find El Nido, home to 50 gorgeous white sand beaches and dramatic sunsets. Just off Palawan’s main island is Coron Island, a dive site known for its magnificent rock formations, diverse marine life, and shipwrecks. Southeast of Palawan is the Tubbataha Reefs National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site and an important center of marine biodiversity in the world. The reef is home to hundreds of coral and fish species, as well as sharks, dolphins, whales, turtles, and birds.
How to get to Palawan
To get to El Nido, you ride a tricycle from Puerto Princesa International Airport to the city’s bus terminal. There you will find provincial buses that will take you directly to the El Nido municipality.
Dive operators from Tubbataha Reef offer transport services from Puerto Princesa. Ask your dive operator to pick you up.
You can fly directly from Manila to Coron’s Busuanga Airport via Cebu Pacific or PAL Express. SkyJet, a boutique airline, also offers flights from Manila to Coron.
Recommended accommodations in Palawan
- Sheridan Beach Resort and Spa, Puerto Princesa
- Lagen Island Resort, El Nido
- Club Paradise Palawan, Coron
Read my article Budgeteer Guide in Palawan:
#3 – Boracay, Aklan
Before Palawan caught the world’s attention, Boracay was the queen of Philippine beaches. This tiny island off the coast of Aklan is famous for its powdery white sand and breathtaking sunsets. Today’s Boracay remains the beach bum’s paradise, where you can stroll barefoot on the sand, work on your tan with a glass of coconut juice in hand, or swim the shallow blue waters. If you’re up for an adventure, you can go diving or windsurfing. At sunset, the island comes alive with beach parties and all-night dancing.
How to get to Boracay
You can fly directly to Kalibo International Airport from:
- Manila via Philippine Airlines/PAL Express, Cebu Pacific/CebGo, and Philippines AirAsia
- Beijing, China via Philippine Airlines
- Busan, South Korea via Philippines AirAsia
- Cebu City via Philippine Airlines/PAL Express, Cebu Pacific/CebGo, and Philippines AirAsia
- Clark International Airport via Philippine Airlines/PAL Express, Cebu Pacific/CebGo, and Philippines AirAsia
- Davao City via Philippine Airlines/PAL Express and Philippines AirAsia
- Hong Kong via HK Express
- Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia via AirAsia
- Nanjing, China via Juneyao Airlines and Philippine Airlines
- Seoul, South Korea via Air Seoul, Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific, Philippines AirAsia
- Shanghai, China via Juneyao Airlines, Philippine Airlines, and Philippines AirAsia
- Singapore via Scoot and SilkAir
- Taipei-Taiyuan, Taiwan via Philippine Airlines
However, from Kalibo International Airport, you will have to ride a bus to Caticlan and board a ferry to Boracay from Caticlan Port.
Caticlan Airport is the shorter and more direct route to Boracay. Understandably, flights going there are more expensive. You can fly to Caticlan from:
- Manila via Philippine Airlines/PAL Express, Cebu Pacific/CebGo, and SkyJet
- Cebu City via Philippine Airlines/PAL Express and Cebu Pacific/CebGo
- Clark International Airport via Philippine Airlines/PAL Express and Philippines AirAsia
From Caticlan Airport, you only need to ride a tricycle to Caticlan Port.
Recommended accommodations in Boracay
#4 – Batanes
Batanes, the northernmost chain of islands in the Philippines, is on many Filipino travelers’ bucket list. This remote province is isolated from the rest of the country by sea and frequent storms. The islands’ sometimes otherworldly terrain is worth seeing at least once in your lifetime. You’ll be treated to views of rugged cliffs, extinct volcanoes covered in greenery, lonely lighthouses, silvery beaches, and deep blue waters. The rich culture of the Ivatan people, the indigenous people of Batanes, is like nothing else in the world.
How to get to Batanes
Basco Airport is the main airport of Batanes. PAL Express flies there from Manila and Clark International Airport three times weekly. SkyJet also operates flights to Basco from Manila. Because Batanes weather is unpredictable and it is often visited by typhoons, flights to Basco can be postponed or cancelled on short notice. Make sure you prepare for the possibility of getting stranded on the islands.
Recommended accommodations in Batanes
#5 – Cebu City
Cebu City is the queen city of the Visayas region. It is the oldest city in the Philippines as well as the first capital established by the Spanish colonial government. Attractions in the city include various Filipino-Spanish heritage buildings and monuments. Outside the city, you can find plenty of opportunities for adventure. You can hike up Osmeña Peak, the highest point on Cebu Island. You can swim with whale sharks just off Oslob. Or you can go on a trek to explore the numerous waterfalls around Cebu’s countryside.
How to get to Cebu City
Mactan-Cebu International Airport, one of the secondary international airports in the Philippines, serves Cebu City. Airlines flying direct there are:
- Manila – Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines
- China – Juneyao Airlines, Lucky Air, Philippine Airlines, Sichuan Airlines, XiamenAir
- Clark International Airport – Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines
- Davao – Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines, Philippines AirAsia
- Hong Kong – Cathay Pacific, Cebu Pacific
- Japan – Cebu Pacific, Vanilla Air
- Kalibo – Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines, Philippines AirAsia
- Malaysia – Philippines AirAsia
- Puerto Princesa – Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines
- Singapore – Cebu Pacific, Philippines AirAsia, Scoot, SilkAir
- South Korea – Air Busan, Asiana Airlines, Cebu Pacific, Jeju Air, Jin Air, Korean Air, Philippines AirAsia, T’way Airlines
- Taiwan – Cebu Pacific, EVA Air, Philippines AirAsia
- Thailand – Philippine Airlines
- UAE – Emirates
Recommended accommodations in Cebu City
#6 – Davao City
Davao City is the Philippines’ third largest metropolis, after Manila and Cebu. It is the most important city in the Mindanao region. Unlike most urbanized cities in the Philippines, however, Davao City is a place of quiet. It does not have a thriving nightlife, with most establishments closed by midnight. However, the city does have its charms. It is the durian capital of the Philippines, where durian, mangosteen and other fruits not commonly found elsewhere in the country are sold cheaply. The city is home to many nature reserves. One of these is the Philippine Eagle Foundation and Nature Center, an establishment dedicated to saving and breeding the endangered Philippine eagle. Another is Mount Apo Natural Park, whose main feature is Mount Apo, the highest mountain in the Philippines.
How to get to Davao City
Francisco Bangoy International Airport is Davao City’s main airport. You can fly directly there from:
- Manila – Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines
- Cebu – Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines/PAL Express, Philippines AirAsia
- Clark International Airport – Philippine Airlines/PAL Express, Philippines AirAsia
- Kalibo – Philippines AirAsia
- Puerto Princesa – Philippines AirAsia
- Malaysia – AirAsia
- Singapore – Cebu Pacific, SilkAir
Recommended accommodations in Davao City
#7 – Dumaguete City
Dumaguete City on Negros Island is one of the coolest and hippest cities in the Philippines. This hipster vibe comes from the fact that it is a university town. It is home to many institutions of tertiary education, most notable of which is Silliman University. Additionally, it has a thriving expat community. Forbes Magazine has even named it one of the best places in the world to spend your retirement. Dumaguete City is also a gateway to adventure on Negros Island and neighboring islands. Outside the city are numerous waterfalls worth trekking to. Apo Island just off the coast is a popular diving spot. A ferry ride away is the mysterious island of Siquijor, known for its traditional herbalists and beaches beautiful enough to rival Boracay’s.
How to get to Dumaguete City
Sibulan-Dumaguete Airport is Dumaguete City’s air transport hub. You can get there from Manila via Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines, PAL Express, and CebGo. CebGo also operates flights to Sibulan Airport from Cebu City and Davao City.
Recommended accommodations in Dumaguete City
#8 – Siargao Island
Located in Surigao del Norte, Siargao Island is the surfing capital of the Philippines. Surfers from all over the world flock to this island off the northeastern tip of Mindanao from August to November just to ride Siargao’s fantastic waves. But even if you’re not a surfer, Siargao has plenty to offer – from pristine white beaches to hidden lagoons filled with deep blue waters. Siargao is also a favorite among divers. The island sits on the edge of the Philippine Trench, the third deepest trench in the world. Additionally, Siargao is home to the largest mangrove reserve in Mindanao.
How to get to Siargao Island
Siargao has its own airport, but there are no direct flights there from Manila. To date, only Cebu Pacific flies to Siargao. You have to fly first to Cebu City to catch Cebu Pacific’s Siargao flights.
Recommended accommodations in Siargao Island
#9 – Bohol
The island-province of Bohol in Central Visayas is largely known for its Chocolate Hills – limestone mounds reminiscent of the shape of a popular chocolate brand. But there is more to Bohol than these hills. The island is also known for its fabulous beaches. Panglao Island, a small island just off Tagbilaran City, Bohol’s capital, is a famous dive site. Bohol is also home to the Philippine tarsier, one of the world’s smallest primate species and is sadly endangered. The island also has a collection of Filipino baroque churches dating back to the Spanish colonial era. However, many of these churches are currently undergoing restoration after a devastating earthquake in 2013.
How to get to Bohol
Bohol’s principal airport is Tagbilaran Airport. You can fly there from Manila via PAL Express, Cebu Pacific, CebGo, and Philippines AirAsia. PAL Express also flies to Tagbilaran from Cebu City, Davao City, Clark International Airport, and Seoul, South Korea. CebGo serves direct flights to Tagbilaran from Davao City.
Recommended accommodations in Bohol
#10 – Legazpi City
Mayon Volcano is one of the most iconic sights of the Philippines. It is considered to be one of the most photogenic volcanoes in the world, thanks to its near-perfect conical shape. Its natural beauty, however, masks its deadliness. Mount Mayon is actually one of the world’s most active volcanoes. You’ll find this dangerous beauty within the boundaries of Legazpi City in Albay. But Legazpi City is more than just Mount Mayon. The city is marketing itself as an adventure and events center. Ligñon Hill, for instance, is popular for hiking and ziplining. Legazpi Boulevard is a romantic nightlife spot. The city also has a collection of Spanish colonial baroque churches.
How to get to Legazpi City
Legazpi City is served by Legazpi Airport. The airport is also the primary gateway to the Bicol provinces, to which Albay belongs. You can get to Legazpi Airport from Manila and Cebu via PAL Express and Cebu Pacific/CebGo.
Recommended accommodations in Legazpi City