When I finished my university studies and the chance to make my travel dreams started to become a reality, exploring as much of the Philippines at the top of my bucketlist. I did that for a while and I got to visit a lot of my home country’s top tourist spots and amazing off-beat destinations. Then, I ventured farther to visit nearly all countries in Southeast Asia (East Timor is still on my list!) and a bit beyond the region.

After my trips abroad, I still traveled around the Philippines. A lot of my later trips was a re-visit of places that inspired wanderlust the most in my early years of travel. In the process, I gained a wider perspective on places that truly make my country stand out from the rest of Asia.

This list includes my top picks for first-time travelers who want to start discovering beautiful places in the Philippines, and those looking to inspire their next adventure.

1. Palawan

Why go — If you have the unfortunate dilemma of choosing only one place to visit in the Philippines, Palawan should be on the top of your list. You came to the country to see spectacular beaches and islands. You are going to experience the best in Palawan.

How to go

Puerto Princesa is the most popular gateway to El Nido, Central, and South Palawan. It’s around 1.5 hours southwest of Manila by plane. Fly with Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines or AirAsia. You can also book direct flights from Cebu, Davao, Clark and Iloilo to Puerto Princesa Airport. Or, fly via Coron Airport, which serves Coron and remote island groups in North Palawan.

Top Palawan tourist spots & things to do

Amazing underwater and “over water” views in El Nido (Bacuit Bay) and Coron (Calamanianes Islands).

Off-beat island hopping in Balabac, San Vicente (Port Barton), Taytay, and Quezon (Tabon Caves). Remote island chains and great diving unchartered by tourist crowds in Tubattaha reefs — UNESCO World Heritage Site (Cagayancillo), Linapacan, Cuyo, and Spratly’s (Kalayaan).

Convenient city tours in Puerto Princesa, island hopping in Honda Bay & excursions to Puerto Princesa Underground River — UNESCO World Heritage Site and longest navigable underground river in the world.

Backpacker budget friendly and great for solo travelers.

Luxury resorts.

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Palawan travel tipsEl NidoPuerto Princesa

2. Cebu

Why go — Cebu is an awesome jump-off point and base to explore the Philippines. It’s also a worthy destination in itself.

How to go

Cebu Airport is 1 hour south of Manila by plane. A better option is to fly directly to Cebu from Hong Kong, Singapore, Seoul-Incheon, Kuala Lumpur, Tokyo, Nagoya, Taipei or Los Angeles. Cebu also hosts direct flights to major cities in Central and Southern Philippines.

Top Cebu tourist spots & things to do

Bustling and historic Metro Cebu — Home to many of the country’s most important historical and sites and the Philippines top tourist destination.

Easily reached and top class resorts in Mactan Island.

Among the Philippines’ best white-sand beaches and diving in Malapascua, Bantayan, Camotes, and Moalboal. More beautiful beaches and islands in Alcoy, Dalaguete, Aloguinsan, Badian, Barili, Cordova, Santander, San Remigio, Argao, Daanbantayan, and Lapu-Lapu.

Beautiful waterfalls & hiking in Osmena Peak, Samboan, Ginatilan, Badian, Oslob, and Barili.

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Cebu travel tips

3. Bohol

Why go — Bohol is an all-in-one travel destination complete with beaches, heritage sites, natural attractions, and convenient accessibility.

How to go

Tagbilaran Airport is 1 hour south of Manila by plane. You may also take a fastcraft ferry from Cebu, which takes around 1.5 hours.

Top tourist spots & things to do

Famous Bohol Chocolate Hills.

Tarsier sanctuary — among the World’s smallest primates.

Beautiful beaches and diving sites in Panglao.

Many remarkable Spanish-colonial churches and historical sites.

Loboc River cruise and decent waterfalls.

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Bohol travel tips

4. Dumaguete & Negros Oriental

Why go — If swimming with sea turtles is on your bucket list, you can do it in Apo Island Marine Sanctuary. Extremely chill Dumaguete is the jump-off point to Apo Island, Siquijor, and the highlands of Negros Oriental.

How to go

Dumaguete Airport is about an hour south of Manila by plane. You may also fly directly from Cebu. The flight takes 30 minutes only.

Top tourist spots & things to do

Swim with sea turtles, snorkeling, and diving in Apo Island.

Many excellent waterfalls and mountain resorts.

Low-key yet accommodating Dumaguete City.

Jump-off point to Siquijor Island.

Where to stayTours & discounts

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Dumaguete travel tipsSiquijor

5. Cordilleras

Why go — The Philippines isn’t just all about postcard-perfect beaches. It has cool highland landscapes and rich mountain culture too! The Cordilleras has many of the country’s most scenic natural landscapes, waterfalls, and mountain summits. Its famous tourist places include Banaue, Sagada, and Baguio.

How to go

Traveling by land from Manila takes around 8 hours to Banaue and 12 hours to Sagada. Cut the travel time by arriving at more relaxed Clark Airport, which caters to direct international flights from Hong Kong, Singapore, Macau, Seoul-Incheon, and Doha. The nearest airport with commercial flights is Tuguegarao Airport, which serves direct flights from/to Manila.

Top tourist spots & things to do

Banaue Rice Terraces — UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Unique and well-preserved culture of Igorot people and other mountain tribes.

Sagada caves and walking trails.

Baguio City — The Philippines’ summer capital.

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Baguio travel tipsSagadaBanaue

6. Ilocos

Why go — Step into historical and relaxed Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur. Both provinces are famous for their heritage sites, captivating beaches, and Ilokano food.

How to go

Laoag Airport is an hour north of Manila by plane. You may also arrive at Clark Airport and travel to Ilocos by land.

Top tourist spots & things to do

Historic Vigan — Best-preserved Spanish-colonial town in Asia and UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Among the best heritage centers in the country. Home to the churches of Paoay and Santa Maria, both of which are UNESCO World Heritage Sites, and notable heritages sites in Laoag, San Nicolas, Batac, Burgos, and Sarrat.

Decent beaches, surfing, and coastal landscapes in Pagudpud and Burgos.

Unique Ilokano native cuisine.

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Laoag travel tipsVigan

7. Bicol

Why go — Want to add extraordinary photo souvenirs of nature to your collection of beach holiday selfies? In Bicol, You can find the World’s most perfect cone-shaped volcano and swim with whale sharks in addition to some of the country’s most scenic islands.

How to go

Legazpi Airport and Naga Airport are the main gateways to Bicol. Both are around 1 hour southeast of Manila by plane. Legazpi Airport also services direct flights from Cebu Airport.

Top tourist spots & things to do

Scenic Mayon Volcano — The World’s most perfect cone-shaped volcano.

Swim with whale sharks in Donsol.

Among the Philippines best beaches and island hopping in Caramoan and Calaguas.

Major heritage center with many remarkable Spanish-colonial churches and heritage sites.

Decent surfing in Daet.

Where to stayFlights to Legazpi
Where to stayFlights to Naga
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Legazpi travel tipsNagaCaramoan

8. Surigao

Why go — Endless stretches of white-sand beaches and party places, not your only image of an island getaway? Surigao has many beautifully bizarre sights for the off-beat traveler. It has a cool surf scene too!.

How to go

Surigao Airport is the busiest airport. It is located approximately 1 hour and 40 minutes southeast of Manila by plane. From Cebu Airport, you may also take a flight to Surigao City or fly directly to Siargao or Tandag, Surigao del Sur.

Top tourist spots & things to do

Cloud 9 in Siargao — the Philippines’ best surf spot.

Exotic Sohoton lagoons and non-sting jellyfish in Bucas Grande Island.

Island hopping & rugged beaches in Siargao, Bucas Grande, Dinagat, and Britania.

Bizzare Enchanted River

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Surigao travel tipsSiargao

9. Lake Sebu & South Cotabato

Why go — Watch the 15th and 37th-second of this quick video of Lake Sebu’s zipline. It’ll make it extremely hard to resist visiting Lake Sebu.

How to go

General Santos Airport is around two hours by plane from Manila or around 1 hour from Cebu or Iloilo. Land travel from General Santos to Lake Sebu takes 2 to 3 hours. Alternatively, you may arrive at Davao Airport and take a 2-3 land trip to General Santos.

Top tourist spots & things to do

Scenic lakes and waterfalls in Lake Sebu town.

The well-preserved and unique culture of T’boli people and other mountain tribes.

Cheap seafood and yellow-fun tuna in General Santos — Tuna capital of the Philippines.

Lake Sebu
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General Santos
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Lake Sebu travel tipsGeneral SantosDavao

10. Iligan & Northern Mindanao

Why go — One word… Waterfalls! Iligan and the rest of Northern Mindanao is home to many of the country’s most breathtaking cascades.

How to go

Laguindingan-Cagayan de Oro Airport is the primary gateway to Iligan and Northern Mindanao. It is 1.5 hours south of Manila by plane. From the airport, travel time to Iligan City Center takes around 1 hour.

Top tourist spots & things to do

Among the Philippines’ most beautiful waterfalls including Tinago, Maria Cristina, and Limunsudan. Loads more waterfalls to explore and mountain views to enjoy in Lanao del Norte, Misamis Oriental, Bukidnon, and Camiguin.

One of the Philippines’ best white water river rafting in Cagayan de Oro.

Decent beaches, diving, and hiking trails in Camiguin.

Where to stay
Cagayan de Oro
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Iligan travel tipsCagayan de OroCamiguin

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11. Iloilo

Why go — Iloilo province is a mishmash of the best things about traveling in the Philippines. Don’t follow everything the guidebooks say, there’s more to Iloilo than a mere working city and a tourist gateway. It has its own set of worthwhile places to visit that are still largely untouristic. From here, you can easily go on a trip to Guimaras, Boracay, Antique and Capiz.

How to go

Iloilo Airport is an hour south of Manila by plane. You may fly directly from Singapore and Hong Kong. The airport also serves direct flights from/to Cebu, Cagayan de Oro, Davao, and Puerto Princesa. Guimaras is just 15-minutes away by ferry from the city center. Meanwhile, Boracay-Caticlan is 5 hours away by bus.

Top tourist spots & things to do

Enchanting beaches and islands in Gigantes, Guimaras, and Concepcion.

Cheap seafood and delicious Ilonggo native cuisine.

Major cultural and heritage center famed for Miagao Church — UNESCO World Heritage Site, Calle Real, grand colonial houses, and heritage buildings.

Bustling yet relaxed Iloilo City — Alternative gateway to Central and Southern Philippines and one of the most livable cities in the country keen on preserving its cultural and natural heritage.

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Iloilo travel tips

Note: Destinations featured above are not listed by rank.

Got places in mind that should be on this list? Share your photos and videos and tag #detourista on Instagram and Facebook.

Don’t stop here

With over 7,000 islands, there’s a ton of worthy places to go to in the Philippines. There are certainly a lot more destinations that I should have included but did not because I could only feature a limited number of places on this list.

See more Philippines blog tips & travel guides:

Check out these pages for more inspiration on places to go in Asia: