When I finished my university studies and the chance to achieve my travel goals started to become a reality, exploring as much of the Philippines was at the top of my bucketlist. I did that for a while and got to visit my home country’s top tourist spots and amazing off-the-beaten-path destinations. Then, I ventured farther to visit more places in Asia & beyond.

After my trips abroad, I still traveled around the Philippines. Many 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 made my country stand out from the rest of Asia.

Here are my top picks for first-time travelers who want to start discovering beautiful destinations in the Philippines.

Most of these places are easy to reach from Manila, Cebu and other major airports. I also included a few remote, yet extraordinary spots for those seeking off-beat adventures. If you want to discover more spots, check out the best beaches in the Philippines and the Philippines’ most beautiful waterfalls as well.

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1. Palawan

If you have the unfortunate dilemma of choosing only one place to visit in the Philippines, Palawan should be at 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!

Where to stayTours + discounts

Destinations + tourist spots

Puerto Princesa

Most travelers arrive in Palawan by way of Puerto Princesa. Known as the “City in a Forest,” Puerto Princesa is not only the island’s busiest gateway, it’s home to many remarkable attractions. Don’t miss the Puerto Princesa Underground River (a UNESCO World Heritage Site and the longest navigable underground river in the World), island hopping trips to Honda Bay, and a tour around the city.

How to go — Touchdown at Puerto Princesa International Airport (PPS). Major airlines including Cebu Pacific, Philippine Airlines & AirAsia serve direct flights from Manila, Cebu, Iloilo & Clark. Travel time from Manila to Puerto Princesa is around 1h30m by plane.

Where to stayTours + discounts

El Nido

This is one of my favorite places to go in the Philippines for dramatic “over the water” views. El Nido is blessed with gorgeous off-shore islands, soaring limestone cliffs, hidden beaches, and secret lagoons. The “SEAnery” here rivals popular destinations in Asia like Ha Long Bay and the Phi Phi islands.

How to go — Most travelers arrive in El Nido by flying to Puerto Princesa Airport and traveling by land to El Nido. Travel time is around 5-6 hours. If you want to skip the long land journey, you can also fly directly to El Nido Airport.

Where to stayTours + discounts

Coron

Located farther north of El Nido, Coron is also popular for pristine lagoons and white-sand beaches. The views underwater are just a beautiful too! Go here for shipwreck diving, sprawling coral gardens, and great snorkeling.

How to go — Touchdown at Coron-Busuanga Airport, which serves direct flights from Cebu, Clark, and Manila.

Where to stay

More reasons to visit Palawan

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 (a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Cagayancillo), Linapacan, Cuyo, and Spratly’s Islands (Kalayaan Islands).

Luxury island resorts including Amanpulo, El Nido Resorts, and Dos Palmas Resort.

2. Cebu

Cebu is the Philippines #1 most visited tourist destination thanks to its strategic location in Central Philippines, well-connected flight/ferry network and diverse set of attractions. When in Cebu, visit the old Spanish-colonial heritages sites, beaches and waterfalls scattered throughout the province and nearby islands. Don’t leave without getting a taste of the local cuisine, starting with the prized Cebu Lechon!

How to go — Cebu-Mactan International Airport serves direct flights from all major cities in the Philippines as well as international flights from Asia and North America.

Where to stayTours + discounts

Places to see + things to do

Easy-to-reach luxury beach resorts in Mactan Island.

Centuries-old churches and heritage sites.

Among the Philippines’ best white-sand beaches and diving in Malapascua, Bantayan, Moalboal, and Camotes Islands.

Waterfalls & hiking in Badian (Osmena Peak), Samboan, Ginatilan, Badian, Oslob, Barili, and Cebu City’s highlands.

Badian-Kawasan Canyoneering

3. Bohol

Looking for a place to visit near Cebu? Bohol is one of the best destinations to add to your bucketlist! This island is famous for its heritage sites and natural attractions, including the iconic Chocolate Hills. Bohol is also where you can meet the cute Tarsiers, one of the World’s smallest primates. If that’s not enough, beautiful beaches, diving sites, and dolphin encounters await in Panglao Island.

How to go — Bohol International Airport is 1 hour south of Manila by plane. You can also go by ferry from Cebu. Sea crossing takes around 1h30m hours.

Where to stayTours + discounts

4. Dumaguete & Negros Oriental

Extremely chill Dumaguete is the jump-off point to Apo Island and Siquijor. It’s also a good base to explore the many waterfalls, lakes, and mountain resorts of Negros Oriental province.

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

Where to stayTours + discounts

Places to go + things to do

Apo Island

If swimming with sea turtles is on your bucketlist, the best places to go is Apo Island, a protected marine sanctuary with sprawling coral gardens.

Tours + discounts

Siquijor

Hop on a ferry from Dumaguete & wander around Siquijor Island. Visit the stunning beach coves, waterfalls and experience the idyllic island lifestyle.

Where to stayTours + discounts

5. Surigao

Endless stretches of white-sand beaches, not your only image of a perfect island getaway? Surigao has many extraordinary sights for the off-beat traveler. See the bizarre Enchanted River. Enjoy the island hopping in Siargao, Dinagat Islands, and Britania Islands.

Where to stay

Destinations + attractions

Siargao & Sohoton lagoons

Cloud 9 in Siargao Island considered as the Philippines’ best surf spot. When in Siargao, don’t miss a trip to the exotic Sohoton lagoons in Bucas Grande Island and see the rare non-sting jellyfish.

Where to stay

6. Cordillera Region

The Philippines isn’t just all about postcard-perfect beaches. It has cool highlands and rich mountain cultures too! Go here for scenic viewpoints, waterfalls, summit treks, and of course, the famous rice terraces.

Where to go + what to do

Banaue & Ifugao

See the Banaue Rice Terraces, a top tourist spot in the Philippines featured on the P1,000 bill. Banaue village is an excellent base to explore the Ifugao Rice Terraces (a UNESCO World Heritage Site) and immerse in the well-preserved culture of the Igorot mountain people.

Where to stay

Sagada

The bizarre hanging coffins draw many travelers to Sagada. This popular backpacking hub is also popular for cave spelunking, beautiful waterfalls, village treks & sunrise viewpoints.

Where to stay

Baguio

This is the Philippines’ summer capital. Baguio City offers a cool climate, urban comforts and fun day trips beyond the city including La Trinidad strawberry fields.

How to go — Land travel from Manila is approximately 5-6 hours to Baguio, 8 hours to Banaue, and 12 hours to Sagada. Cut the travel time by arriving at more relaxed Clark Airport.

Where to stay

7. Ilocos

Visit historical and relaxed Ilocos Region in Northern Philippines.

Beautiful destinations + where to go

Vigan

Vigan is the best-preserved Spanish-colonial town in Asia. If you’re a lover of old cities, this UNESCO World Heritage Site is a must-visit.

Where to stay

Laoag & Ilocos Norte

Ilocos Norte is one of the Philippines’ best heritage destinations as well. From Laoag, visit the Spanish-colonial churches of the province including Paoay Church (included in UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites). Go farther north to find the beautiful beaches, surfing, and coastal landscapes in Pagudpud and Burgos.

How to go — Laoag Airport is an hour north of Manila by plane. You can also arrive at Clark Airport and travel to Laoag or Vigan by land.

Where to stay

8. Bicol

Interesting places + tourist spots

Legazpi City

Legazpi is the gateway to Bicol Region. This city is perhaps the most most picturesque in the Philippines! Here, you can enjoy majestic views of Mayon Volcano, recognized as the World’s “perfect” cone-shaped volcano.

Where to stay

More reasons to visit Bicol

Swim with whale sharks at Donsol (Sorsogon).

Go off-the-beaten-path to Calaguas Island and Caramoan.

Get a taste of the Bicol Express and other local Bicolano cuisine.

9. Central Luzon

Central Luzon is a new addition to this list thanks to easy access from Clark Airport, the fastest growing flight hub in the Philippines. In case you find yourself transiting via Clark, there are plenty of places in Central Luzon that’s worth a stopover.

Where to go + things to do

Clark & Pampanga

This former US air base, located in the greater metropolitan area of Angeles City, is developing as a major international and domestic flight hub, and will soon rise as the country’s first smart city. Clark and Angeles City is an excellent jump-off point to explore Pampanga province, a culinary and heritage destination in the Philippines, and other interesting spots nearby including Puning Hot Springs.

Where to stayTours + discounts

Subic Bay

An hour’s drive from Clark takes you to coastal Subic Bay, a popular destination for themed attractions and natural sites. Subic’s top tourist spots include the Pamulaklakin Nature Park, Boardwalk Park, Zoobic Safari, Ocean Adventure, Inflatable Island & Duty Free shopping malls.

Where to stayTours + discounts

More reasons to visit Central Luzon

Enjoy an off-road adventure and hike to the crater lake of Mount Pinatubo

Visit the scenic beaches and islands of Zambales

Wander around the heritage sites in Bataan

10. Davao

Considering a trip to Southern Philippines? Start with Davao City, the largest urban center in Mindanao. Located at the foot of Mount Apo, the PH’s tallest mountain, this sprawling metropolis is where you can get a taste of Durian, meet the great Philippine Eagle, and enjoy day trips to refreshing natural sites like Eden Nature Park and Samal Island. Of course, it is also the gateway to beautiful spots in Davao Region and beyond.

Where to stayTours + discounts

Destinations + attractions

Samal Island

Samal Island is easily reached by ferry from Davao City. Enjoy a luxury stay at Pearl Farm Beach Resort, famous for its waterfront stilt cottages, or wander to the peaceful beaches of Talikud Island.

Where to stayTours + discounts

11. Lake Sebu & South Cotabato

Another place worth visiting near Davao is Lake Sebu. This highland village offers cool mountain temperatures, beautiful waterfalls, and scenic lake views. Lake Sebu is the homeland of the peaceful T’boli people.

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 to 3-hour land trip to General Santos.

Where to stay

12. Northern Mindanao

Places to see + things to do

Iligan

One word… WATERFALLS! Iligan is home to many of the Philippines’ most beautiful waterfalls including Tinago Falls, Maria Cristina Falls, and remote Limunsudan Falls (the highest two-tiered in the Philippines).

Where to stay

Cagayan de Oro & beyond

Cagayan de Oro, the largest city in Northern Mindanao, is a convenient hub for tourists visiting nearby Bukidnon and Camiguin Island. It’s also the adventure capital of the Philippines! This city is famous for its white water river rafting, river tubing, paragliding, nature parks.

Where to stay

More reasons to visit Northern Mindanao

White Island, hot springs and prisitine waterfalls in Camiguin Island.

Cool pine forests in Bukidnon, Del Monte Pineapple Plantation and Dahilayan Adventure Park.

13. Boracay Island & Aklan

Boracay is an easy place to visit if you’re looking forward to hitting the beach. At 4 kilometers long, White Beach in Boracay has clear blue waters and very fine white sand, compelling enough to earn Boracay a spot on the list of the World’s best beaches & islands by many globally recognized publications.

Where to stayTours + discounts

14. Iloilo & Guimaras

Don’t follow everything the guidebooks say, there’s more to Iloilo than a mere working city and a flight hub. 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.

Where to stay

Places to go + things to do

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

Eat cheap seafood and delicious Ilonggo native cuisine.

Visit Miagao Church (UNESCO World Heritage Site), Calle Real, grand colonial houses, and heritage buildings.

Enjoy 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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15. Manila & beyond

The Philippines’ capital city offers many attractions for travelers. It’s also a good base to explore interesting places in nearby Cavite, Batangas, Rizal, and Laguna provinces.

Where to stayTours + discounts

Destinations + attractions

Historic Intramuros is a good place to start. This walled city is filled with Spanish-era architecture including the Manila Cathedral, Fort Santiago, and San Agustin Church (a UNESCO World Heritage Site).

Beat the tropical heat & shop at Manila’s massive malls. The Metro Manila is home to many of the World’s largest malls including the ever-expanding Mall of Asia, expected to grab the #1 spot by 2021.

Exciting food and nightlife scene in cosmopolitan Makati and Bonifacio Global City (BGC).

New entertainment districts in the Manila Bay area.

Day trips to nearby Corregidor Island, waterfalls in Laguna, Tagaytay/Taal Volcano, Antipolo (view overlooking Metro Manila skyline) & more.

Places to visit in The Philippines

Philippines tourist spots, things to do in The Philippines, where to go in The Philippines & more.

Note: Destinations featured above are not listed by rank.

What places have you added to your bucketlist? Have you been to beautiful places in The Philippines that should be on this list? Feel free to share your thoughts in the comments!

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