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Things to see and do
See another world beneath the waves
The Philippines is one of the world’s top diving destinations, with everything from sunken islands to stunning wreck dives on WWII warships. The wrecks of Coron are probably the single most famous diving spot, but other great dives include thresher shark encounters on Malapascua Island, and the reefs at Tubbataha, Apo and Anilao.
Dive the wrecks of Calamian Islands
Although there’s plenty to explore above the surface, the Calamian archipelago north of Palawan is most famous for its amazing collection of shipwrecks, the remains of a Japanese flotilla sunk during WWII. The resort of Coron is the gateway to this diving mecca, with numerous scuba centres offering trips to the wrecks.
Snorkel with whale sharks in Donsol
This quiet fishing village has been a magnet for tourists ever since whale sharks were ‘discovered’ off the coast, though local fishermen had known about them for centuries. Today, local boatmen run snorkelling tours that offer the chance to get up close and personal with these amazing gentle giants – the world’s largest fish – which can grow to the size of a bus.
Be amazed by the rice terraces of the Cordillera
Breathtaking in scale, the rice terraces of North Luzon were carved out around 2,000 years ago by mountain tribes using only the most basic tools. Still farmed today, the terraces are accessible from the peaceful town of Banaue, from where it’s possible to hike to isolated villages such as Batad for tribal encounters.
Ascend to the summit of Mount Apo
Rising to 2,954m (9,700ft) in the centre of Mindanao, Mount Apo (‘Grandfather’) is the highest peak in the country and a popular destination for trekkers. The whole Apo mountain range has spectacular waterfalls, rapids, forests, springs and mountain lakes, plus one of the longest ziplines in Asia on the southern slope of Mount Apo.
Feel the party spirit at a Filipino fiesta
The festivals of the Philippines are riotous carnivals, with spectacular fiesta food and amazing costume parades that fill the streets with music. They’re nominally Christian, but hark back to ancient tribal celebrations. Sinulog in Cebu City, Ati-Atihan in Kalibo, and Dinagyang in Iliolo are the top events on the cultural calendar.
Climb a volcano
The islands of the Philippines were thrown up by the Pacific Ring of Fire, and there are active volcanoes all across the archipelago, many accessible on jungle treks. Mount Mayon near Legazpi puts on impressive lava shows, while the cones around Los Banos on Luzon island produce naturally hot mineral springs. Then there’s Mount Pinatubo, which blew its top with devastating results in 1991.
Enjoy the Philippines’ second city
In the middle of the Visayas, Cebu is the Philippines’ second biggest city, and a much more relaxing place to arrive than manic Manila. The island is famous for its diving, festivals and guitars, which have been made here since Spanish times. The Sinulog Festival in January is one of the islands’ most colourful fiestas.
See the pink sands of Santa Cruz
Off the coast of Zamboanga in Mindanao, Santa Cruz Island is famous for its sandy beach that turns pink when corals from the sea are washed ashore. It’s a gorgeous spot even by the standards of the Philippines and a great place to swim, surf, windsurf, snorkel or dive.
Meet local tribes in scenic Sagada
The laidback mountain village of Sagada is the gateway to the Central Cordillera, whose mountains are dotted with tribal villages, limestone caverns, and surging waterfalls. As well as beautiful scenery, cheap lodges and excellent food, Sagada is renowned for its hanging coffins, a funeral rite that harks back to ancient animist traditions.
Surf in Siargao
Spectacular surfing is one of the best-kept secrets in the Philippines, and this tiny island off the north coast of Mindanao sees spectacular swells from August to November, when breaks like Cloud Nine offer spectacular tube rides. The island is dotted with laidback resorts that come to life during the annual surfing contest in September/October.
Explore the Bacuit Archipelago
Floating off the coast of Palawan, this collection of tiny islands is picture postcard territory, with soaring karst cliffs, crystal-clear lagoons and white sand beaches. From the resort town of El Nido, you can roam to amazing dive sites, coral lagoons and deserted beaches by bangka (outrigger boat) with a freshly caught seafood barbecue for lunch.
Meet the world's smallest monkey in Bohol
Bohol Island is famous for its natural wonders, from the famous Chocolate Hills – a range of strangely uniform limestone hills resembling oversized chocolate drops – to the miniature tarsier, one of the world’s smallest primates. Elsewhere on this laidback island are gorgeous beaches, rocky islands and Spanish-ruins, including the Baclayon Church, built in 1595.
Kick back on Boracay Island
The picture of postcard perfection, sandy Boracay Island may have been heavily developed, but it’s still a gorgeous strip of sun, sea and palms. Whether you spend your days lazing on the beach, sipping happy hour cocktails in beach bars, kite boarding in the bay or diving the reefs just offshore, it isn’t hard to see the appeal.
Discover old Manila
There’s more to Manila than crowds and traffic jams. In the centre are the remains of Intramuros, the Spanish walled city, still bound by parts of the massive wall that once protected it. Highlights include the historic San Agustin and Quiapo churches, Casa Manila (a reconstruction of a wealthy family’s home) and the ruins of Fort Santiago.
Wakeboard on Camarines Sur
The province of Camarines Sur is gaining increasing attention as a playground for watersports, largely thanks to the Camsur Watersports Complex near Pili. This is one of the world’s top wakeboarding facilities, and nearby are stunning beaches, caves and waterfalls, with good diving and sport fishing offshore.
Uncover Spanish heritage in Carcar
Carcar town, two hours south of Cebu City, is home to some of the best-preserved Castillian houses, gardens and churches in the Philippines. The town is also known for its delicious lechon (roast pig) and chicharon (crispy pork rind), so make a day of it and visit the public market for a slap-up meal.
Explore colonial heritage at Vigan
WWII saw the destruction of much of the Philippines’ Spanish heritage, so the collection of Spanish-era merchants’ homes in UNESCO-listed Vigan is a rare delight. Some have been turned into museums, while others function as heritage hotels. Horse-drawn carriages (calesas) take tourists around this approachable city.