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 14 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
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! 12 of the 14 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.
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.
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 and Rodillo Jerhen recommends Balabac in the south.
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.
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.
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’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.
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.
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.
The majestic, 55-meter-wide Tinuy-an Falls in Bislig is also spellbinding.
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.
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.”
Numerous and diverse attractions
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.
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.
Remote and unspoiled
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.
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.
“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.
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.
Rodillo Jerhen agrees, and is particularly fond of the pristine pebble beach of Maconacon.
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.
Understated but with a charming beauty
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.
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.”
Rodillo Jerhen loves the terrace-like falls of Kaparkan, also because walking on and exploring the falls is quite manageable.
Memories and preferred activities
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.
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.
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.
“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.
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 14 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
Rodillo Jerhen – @thewanderlustic
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!