The Philippines’ Most Beautiful Places According to Travelers Who Visited All 81 Provinces

The Philippines' Most Beautiful Places according to travelers who visited all 81 provinces.JPG

I’ve been reading articles about the top, must-visit, or recommended places in the Philippines, each one with a different take. I even wrote something similar. And while I am excited to see each new list, lately I’ve been wondering: What would travelers who have been to more places in the Philippines than most of us – particularly to all 81 provinces – say? Would their list be entirely different from the ones already out there, or somehow similar?

Feeling like a woman on a mission, I looked for these adventurers to ask what the most beautiful places for them are – or simply, what are their favorites. I was able to talk to 13 travelers who have reached this milestone of 81 provinces, and they attempted to answer my questions, some with difficulty. While all could easily list the places they love, some could not rank them. (It must be tough, considering all the places they’ve been to!) And, as Gael Hilotin, the only female among those I asked (and to my knowledge, the only female thus far who has visited all provinces), noted: “I’ve never been to a place I didn’t like.”

These travelers’ reasons for choosing the places they love are clear, though, so I used their main reasons as themes to group the places on this post. And so, without further ado, here’s the list!

Breathtaking, picture-perfect sights

PALAWAN

There is indeed a solid reason why Palawan is recognized by many as the most beautiful island in the world – even the travelers who have been to all the Philippines’ 81 provinces mentioned this place without hesitation the moment I asked! 11 of the 13 travelers I talked to have Palawan on their list, many ranking it as their Top 1 or 2. Majestic karst formations, beautiful white sand beaches, and clear lakes and lagoons make Palawan postcard-perfect, particularly El Nido and Coron, these travelers’ most-recommended places. Many call Palawan a paradise.

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Most beautiful island indeed! This one is Coron’s iconic view from the hill bordering Kayangan Lake.

If there is one place anyone, especially a first-timer in the Philippines, should visit, it is Palawan. Ramil delos Reyes and Edgar Co strongly suggests it, and Ramil always recommends El Nido in particular to foreigners he meets.

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Just one of El Nido’s many breathtaking sights. This one is taken from the viewpoint near Matinloc Shrine.

Estan Cabigas loves Brother Island in El Nido for its many beautiful natural features for such a small island. Aside from the white sand and clear waters, the island has a little forest and rock outcropping. On moonless nights, the Milky Way is clearly visible in the sky.

Aside from Coron and El Nido, places frequented by less tourists are worth visiting, too, especially if you want your own quiet spot in paradise. Edgar Alan Zeta-Yap recommends Port Barton near El Nido and Cuyo in the northeast of Palawan. Harly Marcuap recommends Balabac in the south.

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Edgar Alan Zeta-Yap describes Port Barton as having “supple sands hugged by jungle-clad mountains, turquoise waters, and lovely coral gardens.” This photo is from his blog, Eazy Traveler.

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Cuyo has beaches and historical forts and ruins like this one by the sea in Barangay Lucbuan. Photo by Edgar Alan Zeta-Yap, Eazy Traveler 

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For Harly Marcuap, Onuk Island in Balabac is the “most heavenly island in Palawan (if not the entire Philippine archipelago).” Getting here usually takes eight hours by land and boat from Puerto Princesa, but it’s worth it. Photo from Harly’s blog Akrosdayunibers

BATANES

Jagged cliffs pounded by ocean waves and sweeping green hills sometimes dotted by lighthouses or traditional stone houses are Batanes’ signature features. No wonder it is many a Filipino’s dream destination. And, ten of the travelers I talked to listed Batanes as one of their favorites.

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Green hills, lighthouses, and sea – Batanes’ signature features. This photo is taken in Basco, the province’s capital town.

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Sabtang Island has dramatically beautiful hills and cliffs.

For the adventurous and also those wanting some quiet with less people, head to Itbayat in the north, accessible by boat or a short plane ride. It is also the Philippines’ northernmost municipality. Boat trips easily get canceled, though, when the waves are rough.

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Itbayat has the country’s northernmost island, Mavulis, also known as Y’ami. A five-hour boat ride on a sea that suddenly went rough made for an extreme and dangerous adventure, according to Harly Marcuap. Photo from Akrosdayunibers

What makes Batanes also beautiful, according to some of the travelers I talked to, are the friendly locals, the Ivatans. They are usually described as warm and hospitable.

Stunning landscapes and rich culture

IFUGAO

Ifugao’s rice terraces are both a natural and architectural wonder, with some recognized as UNESCO World Heritage sites. Trekking along these terraces with the mountains in the background feels like walking inside a postcard. These terraces, painstakingly built and shaped by Ifugao’s people, showcase not only natural beauty but our indigenous culture, according to cultural heritage advocate Ivan Henares. This is top one on his list. A few others like Gael Hilotin also have Ifugao, or Cordillera in general, on their list.

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Batad Rice Terraces, one of the most famous among all rice terraces, and also a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Photo by Harly Marcuap

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Mayoyao Rice Terraces, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is meanwhile arguably among the most beautiful. Its terraces are stonewalled. Photo by Glen Santillan

KALINGA

Like Ifugao, Kalinga also has its own share of beautiful rice terraces and mountain views. It also has a rich indigenous culture, with one example being the surviving traditional hand-tapped tattoo done by Whang-od, (also known as Fang-od), the oldest and last known mambabatok (traditional Kalinga tattoo artist). The warmth and hospitality of the people are also tattooed in the minds of a few travelers I talked to, in addition to receiving memorable tattoos from Whang-od.

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Getting tattooed by Whang-od is an unforgettable experience, according to Glen Santillan. Photo by Albert Realto

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Kalinga has its own beautiful rice terraces, too! These terraces are in Buscalan, Tinglayan. Photo by Harly Marcuap

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For Harly Marcuap, Kalinga also has the Philippines’ “most dramatic view of mountain chains.” Photo by Harly


Vivid, dramatic waterscapes

SURIGAO DEL SUR

Among this province’s beautiful places like beaches, waterfalls, and rivers, what stands out are the otherworldly blue waters of Enchanted River in Hinatuan. James Betia says this is the best river he ever saw.

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Rivers are usually green, but not this mesmerizing blue like the Enchanted River’s! Photo by Glen Santillan

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The blue waters up close. Photo by Harly Marcuap

The majestic, 55-meter-wide Tinuy-an Falls in Bislig is also spellbinding.

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Tinuy-An Falls’ width and powerful rush of waters. Photo by Harly Marcuap

BUCAS GRANDE ISLAND, SURIGAO DEL NORTE

Bucas Grande Island’s big and small emerald lagoons lined with karsts in Sohoton make for a dramatic swim and boat ride. It is also home to stingless jellyfish. This is among Gael Hilotin’s three favorite places. She attests to the friendliness of locals, too.

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Lubugan Lagoon’s clear waters, one of Sohoton’s lagoons where you can occasionally find stingless jellyfish.

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The stingless jellyfish! Look at their size!


Unique, one-of-a-kind natural features

BIRI ISLAND, NORTHERN SAMAR

Walking into Biri is like entering another world, with massive rock islands sculpted by the elements into unusual shapes, a few even forming seemingly manmade structures like stairways and some parts resembling alien features like moonscapes.

According to Ramil delos Reyes and Edgar Co, the landscape is “very unique, and perhaps only the Philippines has something like it.”

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Biri’s rock formations are huge and awe-inspiring.

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Some rock formations like Magasang form seemingly manmade shapes like stairways.

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Waves also sculpt these giant rock formations.


Numerous and diverse attractions

CEBU

From beautiful white beaches and dive sites with colorful marine life to picturesque waterfalls and cultural heritage sites, Cebu has a wealth of attractions to offer. There is just so much to see in Cebu, according to Melvin Brutas and Albert Realto.

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Bantayan Island’s picture-perfect beach. Photo courtesy of Melvin Brutas

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Canyoneering in Badian. Photo courtesy of Melvin Brutas

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Diving off Malapascua Island. This place is known for thresher sharks. Photo courtesy of Melvin Brutas

CAMIGUIN

For such a small island which can be circled by motorbike in a day, Camiguin has many attractions, with pure white sandbars, waterfalls, hot and cold springs, historical sites, and more. This is why Camiguin is among Mervin Marasigan‘s top three places.

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White Island, Camiguin’s beautiful sand bar. Photo by Mervin Marasigan

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Sunset at Sunken Cemetery, one of Camiguin’s historical sites. Photo by Mervin Marasigan

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Katibawasan Falls


Remote and unspoiled

TAWI-TAWI

The country’s southernmost province, with parts of it as close to Malaysia as it is to the rest of the Philippines, has an arresting quiet beauty worth experiencing for those who would take the trouble to explore it. It has pristine white beaches (some several hours away from the province’s capital Bongao) and other rich natural landscapes.

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The peak of Bud Bongao in Tawi-Tawi’s capital is a beautiful vantage point to see the province’s landscapes and seascapes. For Glen Santillan, it is one of the best views he has seen.

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Panampangan Island has stretches of powdery white sand and hardly any people, to Albert Realto‘s delight.

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Salauag, also locally known as Sicolan, is the Philippines’ southernmost island. It is 1.6 kilometers in length and is inhabited by the Tausug and Sama Dilaut. Harly Marcuap writes: “The turquoise sea meets with a different shade of blue that paints the sky, and all these including the fine white sand and healthy green bushes replicate a piece of Utopia.”

Aside from its natural beauty, Tawi-Tawi also has a rich and colorful culture. Particularly notable is Sitangkai, a floating village more than three hours away from Tawi-Tawi’s capital.

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Sitangkai’s floating village is “a different world and culture, a water world,” according to Estan Cabigas. Here, boats are the main mode of transportation.

SULU

“Hostile but beautiful” are the words Javee Francisco used to describe Sulu. With the shadow of conflict hovering over this province, its beaches and other natural wonders remain untouched, save for locals and the few travelers who dare. Sulu is number one on Javee’s list, and is also part of Albert Realto’s list.

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You can have your own piece of paradise in Sulu if you dare, like this powdery stretch of sand at Teomabal Island. Photo courtesy of Javee Francisco

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Sulu’s mangrove forest has crystal-clear waters and is at its most beautiful during high tide. Photo courtesy of Glen Santillan

NORTHERN SIERRA MADRE NATURAL PARK, ISABELA AREA

Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park is the most extensive preserved rainforest in the country and also the richest in terms of biodiversity. Edgar Alan Zeta-Yap was able to explore part of it in Isabela, and was amazed at it being truly “virgin.” He trekked through thick forests, walked on secluded beaches, and swam in the cleanest river he ever saw.

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Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park from above. Photo by Edgar Alan Zeta-Yap, Eazy Traveler

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Dicatayan River (also known as Blos River), the cleanest river Edgar ever saw. Photo by Edgar Alan Zeta-Yap, Eazy Traveler

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An Agta-Dumagat mother and child in their daily life around Sierra Madre. Photo by Edgar Alan Zeta-Yap, Eazy Traveler

CALAYAN, CAGAYAN

Located in the area of the Babuyan Channel, Calayan has rugged landscapes and quiet coves with immaculate white beaches. Sibang Cove (also known as Cibang Cove), with its stretch of white sand and towering rock formations, is Melvin Brutas’ favorite. This is the beach you can have all to yourself, he says, as getting here can be quite a challenge. Boats from Cagayan mainland can take around 5-7 hours.

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Calayan offers panoramic views like this. Photo courtesy of Melvin Brutas

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Trekking is the best way to see some of Calayan’s scenic spots. Photo courtesy of Melvin Brutas

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Sibang Cove’s pristine stretch, perfect for barefoot walking. Photo by Melvin Brutas


Understated but with a charming beauty

ROMBLON

A province not readily on people’s bucket lists, Romblon has many beautiful and peaceful beaches, as well as a rich culture of marble making. These are the reasons Romblon is close to Harly Marcuap’s heart.

Ramil delos Reyes’s favorite in particular is Carabao Island (locally known as Hambil), as it has white sand comparable with Boracay’s, but is quieter. It is also just less than an hour away from Boracay by boat.

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Romblon has many quiet beaches perfect for relaxing. Photo by Harly Marcuap

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Carabao Island, a quiet beach just less than an hour away from Boracay. Photo by Harly Marcuap

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Romblon is known as the country’s marble capital, so you can easily find stores like this on its streets. Photo by Harly Marcuap

ABRA

While accessible via a drive or a northbound bus from Metro Manila, Abra is not yet quite on the radar of many travelers. But if you are looking for beautiful natural spots and a “wild, unbridled adventure,” Abra is the place to go, according to Estan Cabigas, who says: “From the tallest waterfall that is only accessible by trekking for a day and staying at a rock shelter, to powerful rivers and a unique steps-type waterfall, Abra has it.”

Tagpao Falls, one of the tallest #waterfalls in the #Philippines at the boundary of #Abra, Mt Province and Ilocos Sur.

A post shared by Estan Cabigas (@langyawtravel) on


Memories and preferred activities

DAVAO ORIENTAL

Being a surfer, James Betia finds Dahican Beach and its waves special, having surfed many waves there, becoming good friends with local surfers, and even living there for a time.

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Surf’s up at Dahican! A seven-kilometer white beach, it is also perfect for walking and just taking in the scenery. Photo by Harly Marcuap

James also has a vivid memory of swimming alone in one clear blue pool of the 84-tiered Aliwagwag Falls, and  having the falls all to himself.

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Aliwagwag Falls’ majestic cascades. Photo by Harly Marcuap

NEGROS OCCIDENTAL

Being a cultural heritage advocate, Ivan Henares is enthusiastic about Negros Occidental’s heritage town Silay and other historical structures, as well as its long-standing culture of making sugar.

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One of the historical structures in Silay, Negros Occidental’s heritage town

SORSOGON

“There is no place like home.” This is the main reason Gael Hilotin recommends Sorsogon, which also has many natural attractions like beaches, lakes, and waterfalls. She also attests that neighboring provinces in the Bicol region are beautiful as well.

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The tranquil Bulusan Lake is perfect for boating, or simply taking in the view.

So, there you have it – the list of the Philippines’ most beautiful places picked by adventurers who dared to explore all 81 provinces! Have you been to any of them? Or are there places here that caught your eye that you want to explore, too?

Before you do, though, heritage advocate Ivan Henares has a gentle reminder, to “visit with awe, reverence, and respect, understanding the rich history and culture” especially behind places with a deep heritage and tradition.

I have also written a quite detailed article on travel mistakes to avoid to help travelers explore responsibly and hopefully to keep the places they visit beautiful.

If you enjoyed the suggestions of the travelers I talked to for this article, do check out their blogs or social media accounts (for those who have no blogs), too!

James Betia – Journeying James
Melvin Brutas – @vinvoyage
Estan Cabigas – Langyaw
Edgar Co and Ramil delos Reyes – Pinas Muna
Javee Francisco – Gala PH
Harly Marcuap – Akrosdayunibers
Ivan Henares – Ivan About Town
Gael Hilotin – The Pinay Solo Backpacker
Mervin Marasigan – Pinoy Adventurista
Albert Realto – @albertowz
Glen Santillan – Escape Manila
Edgar Alan Zeta-Yap – Eazy Traveler

And, if you liked or found this post helpful, I also encourage you to check out more from this blog, or follow me for more frequent travel updates and information on Facebook and Instagram. Happy travels!

 

 

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