The 10 Best Places for the Unique Philippines Experience

The Philippines is known for its sunshine, pristine beaches, and amazing seawater. Tourists may be overwhelmed because the country is actually comprised of over seven thousand islands! To find out which are the best places to go out, I invited fellow travel bloggers to contribute and share their recommendations.

In fact, they are not all just amazing beaches – let’s check it out so you can plan your perfect tropical getaway with a good mix of fun, food, and leisure.

Manila

Cora from Inside Our Suitcase

Manila is the captivating capital city of the Philippines and a must-visit destination during your trip. The city offers a unique blend of history, culture, and a vibrant atmosphere.

During our one-month trip to the Philippines, we spent four nights in Manila, basing ourselves a 30-minute drive from Manila Airport in Makati. This neighborhood served as an excellent base for exploring the city. With its upscale hotels, trendy shopping malls, and bustling nightlife.

When it comes to spending a day in Manila, I recommend starting at Intramuros, the walled city where you’ll have the opportunity to ask along cobblestone streets taking back to the Spanish colonial era.

Then, head over to Fort Santiago and admire the colonial architecture and ancient churches that transport you back in time. Afterward, continue your exploration by heading to Rizal Park, a serene green oasis dedicated to the country’s national hero, Jose Rizal. Take a leisurely stroll through the park, enjoying the tranquil atmosphere and beautiful gardens.

Meanwhile, if you’ve got the time, to consider delving deeper into the cultural and artistic treasures of the Philippines, visit the National Museum of the Philippines, where you can appreciate a vast collection of art and artifacts.

When it comes to places to eat, Manila has no shortage. Café Juanita was one of our personal favorites for traditional Filipino food. However, the street food scene here is also well worth sampling.

Manila Old Town

An easy way to take a quick spin of the old town of Manila is to hire a horse carriage.

The area is set up by the Spanish Conquistadors in colonial times, and visitors could find Spanish-style mansions, museums, churches, and fortresses – some of them are UNESCO World Heritages.

Highlights of Manila’s Old Town and points of interest – 

San Agustin Church and Convent

It is the oldest church in the Philippines. The first church was built in 1571, and then there were several rebuilt through the next 15 years because of battles and fire – eventually repaired and became the UNESCO world heritage site in 1994.

Ateneo de Manila

The building was founded in 1817 and it’s a government official building. It was also, destroyed, damaged, and renamed several times during battles and the World Wars; and it was later repaired and remained.

Beaterio de la Compania de Jesus

It is a house of the Beaterio de la Compania de Jesus – the first Filipino congregation of religious women. Founded in 1684 by a Chinese mestiza from Binondo, and since then many important events have been held in the site.

Puerta Real and Revellin De Real

It was built in 1663 and used exclusively by the Governor-General for state occasions. Old gate walled in and chambers are converted into powder magazines. Ravelin was converted into Manila Aquarium during the American period! After the damage and was in the early 1900s, the site was reopened in 1998 with the name Acuario de Manila.

Tagaytay 

Christine from The BackpackingExecutive

Located in the province of Cavite, Tagaytay offers a cool climate, breathtaking vistas, and a tranquil ambiance. This beautiful city is considered the second summer capital of the Philippines. And one of the most visited places in the Philippines.

There are many ways to get to Tagaytay. The cheapest option is by bus, and travel time is approximately 2-3 hours, depending on the traffic. The other options are by van, private cars, or taxi, which are a little pricey.

If you are visiting Tagaytay, Start your journey by exploring the Picnic Grove. It is a scenic spot with lush gardens and picnic areas. You can rent a gazebo, bring food, or purchase snacks from the local stalls. Enjoy the cool weather while admiring the panoramic view of Taal Lake and Volcano.

Head to Sky Ranch amusement park is a must-see destination. Take a ride on the Sky Eye, a towering Ferris wheel that offers panoramic views of the city and the surrounding areas. Enjoy other attractions and rides at the park, such as the Viking ship or the Sky Cruiser.

Treat yourself to a satisfying lunch at one of the many restaurants in Tagaytay that offer scenic views. Visit Leslie’s Ridge and Restaurant and savor the renowned local specialty dish, “bulalo” (beef marrow soup) or “tawilis” (small freshwater fish). These culinary delights are must-try dishes that contribute to the overall Tagaytay experience.

If you are planning to visit Tagaytay, travel early before sunrise to avoid getting stuck in traffic. Check the operating hours and availability of attractions and plan your visit accordingly.

Naga City

If you are interesting to go a little bit further, check our Naga City in in the Bicol Region of the Philippines.

Naga City is one of the cities in the Philippines that boasts a rich historical background that draws visitors from across the country, and even around the world.

Boracay

Paula from Truly Expat Travel

There are two ways to get to Boracay: fly from Manila to Caticlan airport with Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific, and AirAsia, which will have you at the jetty before boarding a ferry, or fly directly into Kalibo Airport and take the 2-hour transport to the jetty. If you stay in a resort-like Shangri-la, it will have its own private ferry; otherwise, take the public ferry, which takes around 15 minutes.

Boracay is your holiday destination if you like crystal-clear aqua color water and pure white powdery sand. With the recent 2018 restoration and cleanup, this fantastic town has gone from a backpacker party town to one of the most sought-after destinations in the world.

For a real taste of what to do in one day then, you must get up early for the sunrise, go for a walk along the magnificent beaches right at your doorstep, and then hop on one of the many cruises this island has to offer that will see you spend the entire day, island hopping, snorkeling and enjoying what Boracay is all about. By night, Boracay turns into a party island (however, it now has rules to keep the beach clean, which I love), with many bars dotted along the beachfront.

If you would rather stay on the island for lunch, then head over to Nonies for the best choice of delicious healthy food options on the island, however, at night you can not go past Sirena Seafood Restaurant & Clifftop Bar at the Shangri-la for the ultimate experience.

Coron

David & Intan from The World Travel Guy

The town of Coron is one of Palawan’s most beautiful places, and it’s still underrated compared to the nearby tourist hotspot of El Nido! The Coron area is full of fantastic island hopping, beaches, and diving opportunities, and the town is starting to become well-equipped with comfortable hotels and restaurants.

You can get to Coron town by flying into Busuanga airport, which has direct flights from Manila and Cebu. It’s a short flight and very affordable. The airport doesn’t have international flights yet, but maybe someday. Another good option is to take the fast ferry to Coron from El Nido, which is what many people do.

If you only have one full day in Coron, you should use it for island hopping. There’s a popular boat tour in Coron called the “Ultimate Island Tour” and it visits some amazing sights, including the turquoise Barracuda Lake, the Twin Lagoon, and several white sand beaches. This is the perfect way to spend the day.

However, if you want to get further off the beaten path, there’s also an “Island Escapade” tour that goes to some more remote beaches further away from Coron, and then back in the same day. After a full trip, you can grab dinner at one of the great restaurants in Coron town, like Om’s Thai or Levine’s Eatery, which has sunset views from the rooftop!

El Nido

Hannah & Adam from GettingStamped

To reach El Nido Palawan, you will need to fly directly from Manila to Lio Airport. AirSwift is the only operator on this route, which takes 1 hour and 20 minutes from departure to arrival. You can also fly from Coron to El Nido Palawan in 40 minutes.  A cheaper but much longer alternative is to take two ferries which take approximately 16 hours.

El Nido is a cluster of 45 beautiful and enchanting islands on the tip of Palawan Island, waiting to be explored. El Nido is known for its natural beauty with turquoise waters, sandy beaches, limestone cliffs, and lush forests that make the islands perfect for various activities.

Activities you don’t want to miss in El Nido:

  • Swim through the hole -> At Secret Beach, there is a hole in the rock that allows you to swim through the limestone hole to a completely private beach.
  • Kayak in Big Lagoon -> The color of the water is one of a kind, and is surrounded by tall rock formations that are breathtaking to paddle through.
  • Diving -> With over 30 different dive sites, you will see a wide range of sea life and unique formations like the underwater tunnel.

After a day of water play, you may be starving, so why not stop at Altrove for amazing pizza, which always has a line up down the street but is worth the wait! If you want traditional Filipino food, check out Maa’s Grill in downtown El Nido.

Iloilo

Leslie from Backpackers Thailand

Iloilo, also known as the heart of the Philippines, is home to many cultural and architectural landmarks. The fastest and cheapest way to get here is to hop on a flight from Manila, which takes 1 hour and 15 minutes. Alternatively, you can take a sleeper ferry from Manila North Harbor Pier 4 to the Fort San Pedro Pier in Iloilo. However, this ferry trip takes almost 30 hours, so it’s not for the faint-hearted.

If you’re visiting Iloilo for a day, here’s a short itinerary. Start your day with breakfast at the La Paz Market to try one of the local dishes. After that, head towards the San Joaquin & Miagao Church (take a jeep from the center). Prepare to spend a few hours in these locations.

Head back to the city for lunch. If you’re a foodie, try a dish called Batchoy, it’s the most-known delicacy in Iloilo. Ted’s Oldtimer Lapaz Batchoy serves authentic Batchoy recipe, that promises to satisfy your taste buds and culinary curiosity.

After that, head to the Camiña Balay nga Bato. From there, you can go to the Molo Mansion and Molo Church. Spend your afternoon exploring the Jaro District, which is home to the Jaro Cathedral and many old houses.

In the evening, one of the best things to do in Iloilo is to take a leisurely stroll by the river. As the sun begins to set, the river promenade comes alive with a vibrant atmosphere and picturesque city views.

Cebu

Noel from Travel Photo Discovery

Outside of busy urban Manila, one of the most historic cities to explore is located in Cebu City with so many attractions to explore. A combination of very old and new attractions worth seeing Cebu is a very easy hour flight away from Manila and serviced with inexpensive regional flights you can easily book online.

You can base yourself in the historic district or the resort areas of Mactan Island where the airport and the many resorts are located facing the ocean areas of the Cebu coastline. You can also do a variety of boat tours from Mactan to discover the adjacent islands or even the larger island of Bohol which has a ferry service to this island destination.

There are so many historic sites you can explore in the old city district with Cebu Cathedral, Basilica del Santo Nino, Magellan’s Cross, the fortress of Fort San Pedro, and the Cebu Taoist temple with its gorgeous views. Walking the many outdoor markets and the downtown district is fun especially when you can find some delicious local food stalls, food carts, and easy mom-and-pop cafes to try some regional specialty foods from the area.

You can book regional tours to visit the outlying areas and natural wonders of Cebu to enjoy the coastline, waterfalls, and natural areas of the island that are an easy drive or you can take local transportation to do a DIY discovery tour on your own. No matter how you like to travel, Cebu is friendly, easy, and fun to explore.

Leyte

If you enjoy traditional performances and folk culture, Tinikling is one of the most popular and recognizable folk dances in the Philppines which originated during the Spanish colonial era, particularly in Leyte, one of the Visayan Islands. In fact, such performance can be seen all around the country and check out more about the most fabulous folk dances around the world.

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Bohol

Bohol is located in the south of Cebu and it takes about an hour to get there by ferry. Many tourists decided to head there for a day trip or short trip – one of the main reason is for the Chocolate Hills, a spectacular natural wonder that spread across 50 square kilometers of land with 1,776 cone-shaped hills covered in grass. They are called “Chocolate Hills” because at different seasons the grass turns brown under the burning sun and so the entire region looks like a giant box of Hersey Kiss.

Chocolate Hills is a UNESCO Global Geopark and it has cultural significance in local mythologies: Through centuries, stories, myths, and legends are flying around how the hills are formed. For a day trip to Bohol from Cebu, tourists will also typically experience two more natural wonders in Bohol – Tarsier and the Loboc River.

Tarsiers are native to the Philippines, specifically the southeastern Philippines. Their signature is their huge forward-facing eyes. Given that they are nocturnal, their eyes help them to accurately access distances for leaping, tarsiers can leap up to 5.4 meters (and they are only about nine to sixteen centimeters long). They are the world’s second-smallest primate, and there are a couple of Tarsier Sanctuaries in Bohol for visiting.

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Loboc River flows through Bohol Island and it’s a major tourist attraction for the cruise ride. While the food was served on the boat, tourists of the day trip can enjoy them with the tropic view and a rather lively music performance.

Siargao

Katie from KatieCafTravel.com 

Siargao Island is a truly not-to-miss spot for anyone visiting the Philippines. Having skyrocketed to international celebrity for its surfing scene over the past few years, Siargao is home to the International Surfing Cup which takes place every September on the Island.

People from all over the world come to Siargao to learn how to surf, or if they’re more advanced, to try their luck at Siargao’s Cloud 9 Surf Spot – which is one of the most famous surfing beaches in Southeast Asia.

Even though it’s become such a famous tourist location, Siargao still retains its small Island feel. You can drive the entire Island from South to North in less than two hours, and because most of the tourism is concentrated in one location called General Luna, once you venture up north it really feels like you’re a castaway on a tropical island.

In addition to surfing, there are tons of amazing other things to do in Siargao. One of the most popular activities is the Tri-Island Tour, which visits the nearby islands of Gayum, Naked Island, and Daku. These nearby islands are much smaller than Siargao, and each one has its own vibe.

Visiting Sohoton Cove is another popular excursion from Siargao – You need to take a 2-hour boat from Siargao mainland to visit Sohoton, but it’s well worth it once you get there. At Sohoton Cove you can swim in a pool of naturally stingless jellyfish, it’s one of the most unique things you can do in the Philippines! At all tours in Siargao, you can expect a “Boodle Fight” lunch. A Boodle Fight, also called “Kamayan Style Dining”, is a unique picnic they do in the Philippines, and in Siargao it’s extra special because the Boodle Fights include fresh fish caught off the coast of the island.

In a Boodle Fight, the chefs sculpt words and pictures – sometimes the name “Siargao”, palm trees, and fish, out of rice, noodles, fish, and fruit. Everyone gathers around and eats with their hands, “fighting” over the food – It’s a lot of fun! When it comes to food in Siargao, there are tons of options in General Luna, the main area where most of the tourism in Siargao is centered around.

The most popular spots are Kurvada, an authentic Filipino Carinderia where you can get BBQ and other local dishes, and Shaka – a beachside cafe with a view of Cloud 9 that sells beautiful smoothie bowls.

Vigan

Michael from Time Travel Turtle

About 400 kilometers north of Manila, the city of Vigan has been listed as a World Heritage Site because of its beautiful European layout and architecture. It was established in the 16th century when the Spanish arrived on the islands of the Philippines and began to colonize it – although it was actually mainly people of Chinese origin who filled the city of Vigan in the earlier years, so their influence can also be seen in the buildings here.

The easiest way to get to Vigan from Manila is by direct bus and there are a couple of companies running several services a day, although it’s a fairly long journey at about eight hours.

Once you’re in Vigan, the focus will first be on the two main plazas, Plaza Salcedo and Plaza Burgos, which are separated by one of the city’s most prominent buildings, St Paul’s Cathedral. From here, I recommend heading down the street called Calle Crisologo, which is cobbled and closed to traffic.

Full of boutique shops, heritage buildings, and cute cafes, you’ll be able to spend most of the day exploring, including a visit to the National Museum of the Philippines building here. The Spanish architecture makes visiting Vigan feel really different from many of the other places in the country.

For something to eat, try Casa Vincente Restaurant, which serves local dishes with a European flair (very fitting for Vigan) in a beautiful old mansion filled with antique furniture.

New Seven Wonders Cities

So you know about the New Seven Wonders of the World, and may be the New Seven Wonders of Nature, and then, the New Seven Wonders Cities is the third in a series of Internet-based polls operated by the New Seven Wonders Foundation. It was a global scale poll started in 2007 and a list of 77 cities selected by a panel was further narrowed to 28 cities. Eventually, seven winning cities were announced by the end of 2014. These cities are:

  1. Beirut, Lebanon
  2. Doha, Qatar
  3. Durban, South Africa
  4. Havana, Cuba
  5. Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
  6. La Paz, Bolivia
  7. Vigan, Philippines

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28 comments

  1. you definitely push the Philippines up my list! Each place is a pure gem. And I also like how versatile the list is, definitely each person can find something for them to enjoy

    1. Thanks for your support and glad that you are now putting the Philippines on your list!

  2. I went to Manila on an assignment and loved the calming vibes of Manila Old Town. Unfortunately, it was a short trip so I could not see more of the Philippines. Phillippines seems like a chilled country and I would love to visit all the other places you have described.

    1. The country is definitely not “one note” for sure. There are a couple of places to explore and you may be surprised outside Manila!!

  3. I only been to Manila of Philippines from your list here. After reading this story, I’m now tempting to visit the rest on the list especially Boracay island . Cheers SiennyLovesDrawing

    1. Oh wow, Boracay has been positively acclaimed and I am looking forward to visiting there too!

    1. Thank you and I am happy to know that you loved this ~ maybe you will visit there some day?

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