You may have heard that the Philippines boast an underground river, rice terraces and sandy islands with pristine waters. Not only are the sites worldly appreciated, meaning many protected by UNESCO, they are spectacular. The views of the massive limestone cliffs, great snorkeling sites and churches with history! Paired with this, the amazing way in which Filipinos protect and value their natural wonders. And also their culture and the value they give to historical landmarks and sanctuaries. By the way, if you were wondering when to visit the Philippines, opt for the drier period, between December to May.
Here are the top 15 things to do in the Philippines!
1. Embark on an Island Hopping Adventure in the Philippines
There is only so much space to write about all the magical islands, which are the best places to visit in the Philippines! For example, Palawan, dubbed the most beautiful island, is the home to the popular El Nido. This gateway for island-hopping attracts a lot of tourists. With limestone formations towering above beautiful lagoons and pristine waters, no surprise! Exactly 45 islands surround El Nido, and a several-day package tour is an ideal solution. The best part is kayaking in the Big and Small Lagoon and visiting the enchanting Secret Lagoon on Miniloc Island. On the other hand, the mystical island in the Central Visayas, Siquijor, offers guided tours to the Small Lagoon. It boasts turquoise waters bounded by cliffs, opening just for the view of the mountains.
2. Admire the Majestic Banaue Rice Terraces
Dubbed locally as “stairs to heaven”, Banaue Rice Terraces are one of the best tourist spots in the Philippines. These green steps are set 1,500 meters up on the Cordillera mountains in Ifugao. Adjacent to other rice terraces, they are around 250 kilometers north away from Manila. Moreover, the terraces are the work of the ancestors of the Igorot people. Namely, they neatly hand carved them around 2,000 years ago. It is the two millennia-old synergy of landscape and humankind. That is why it now a part of the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites. Furthermore, this National Cultural Treasure is still central to the survival of the Ifugao people. They maintain the crops with activities sometimes followed by religious rituals. You can visit the rice terraces with guided tours which include tricycle rides to the viewpoints, picnicking and hiking.
3. Witness the Power of Nature at the Active Mayon Volcano
Mayon Volcano stands as one of the most exciting Philippines’ destinations. Therefore, no surprise the volcano in the southeast of Luzon is a popular tourist spot. This cone-shaped volcano in Albay Province provides a backdrop for Legazpi City. It stands at a height of 2,462 meters and is fairly popular with adventurers. Those visiting the volcano can opt for several activities. For example, ATV tours to the volcanic base or visiting the church remnants which have the Mayon volcano as a backdrop. However, the volcano has erupted 50 times in the last 500 years. Therefore, the experts keep an eye on its activity. You can no longer hike the volcano because it is yet again active. Unfortunately, since May 2023, Mayon Volcano has maintained a state of unrest. It saw hundreds of rockfalls and earthquakes, causing the evacuation of people and animals within an area of six kilometers.
4. Step Back in Time at Historical Fort Santiago
This significant historical site in the capital is one of the best tourist spots in Manila. It is located inside the Intramuros walled structure. Namely, Fort Santiago with its gardens and plazas, is what’s behind the majestic arched Gate of St James. Interestingly, the Gate is adorned with wooden relief carvings and guarded by two ramparts from the 1600s. But, more importantly, the fort is of great historical importance. Namely, it was built as a defense structure for trading spices during the Spanish reign and later became a war prison. It’s also the place where they imprisioned Jose Rizal for rebelling against the Spanish government. He was later executed in 1896 and in his honor the museum bears his name, Rizal Shrine. Recently, even the dungeon cells where Filipino and American soldiers were being tortured have been opened to the public.
5. Relax and Rejuvenate in the Serenity of Rizal Park
If you were wondering where to go in Manila after sightseeing, look no further. Namely, Rizal Park in the Ermita district of Manila is the city’s green oasis. The park is close to the old walled city of Intramuros. Moreover, this historic urban park played a significant role in Philippine history. Therefore, the park has a monument in dedication to the national hero, Jose Rizal, who got executed here in 1896. Besides the obelisk, the huge park is full of greenery and attractions, as well. Check out The National Museum, Musical and Dancing Fountain, and take a moment by the lake at Chinese and Japanese Gardens. While the rest of the park is free of charge, a small admission fee is required (5 PHP) for the Chinese and Japanese Gardens.
6. Explore the Rich History of San Agustin Church
San Agustin Church, situated inside the walled city of Intramuros, is the oldest stone church in the Philippines. More importantly, it is the first one that helped the Spanish spread Christianity in the Philippines. Moreover, the construction of the church started during Spanish colonial rule in 1607 under the Augustinian order. Fully named Immaculate Conception Parish, it survived many natural disasters. With a vaulted ceiling painted with trompe l’oeil frescoes, it is today one of three Baroque churches in the Philippines. Its fusion of European styles with Filipino motifs and materials earned it the status of a UNESCO World Cultural Heritage Site in 1993. Interestingly, the church is also a National Historical Landmark. Alongside the church, there’s also a museum with statues, paintings, church ornaments and other artifacts.
7. Experience Spiritual Grandeur at the Head of All Churches
The Minor Basilica of the Holy Child of Cebu is located on Cebu Island in the Central Visayas. It was constructed on the site where a small dark statue of Child Jesus was found by Miguel Lopez de Legazpi. Namely, Magellan originally gifted it to the King and Queen of Cebu on the occasion of the couple’s christening. The statue is revered by the Filipinos and thought to be miraculous. It is the oldest Christian artifact in the country that motivated the Christianisation of the Philippines. Interestingly, pope John Paul VI called it “the symbol of the birth and growth of Christianity in the Philippines.” Not only that, but he referred to it as the “Mother and Head of all Churches in the Philippines”. It is a National Historical Landmark and a National Shrine. The complex contains a convent, pilgrim center, museum, and the original image of the Holy Child of Cebu enshrined in the Santo Nino Chapel. The dancing feast of Sinulog takes place on the 3rd Sunday in honor of the holy statue.
8. Encounter the Enigmatic Chocolate Hills
Rounded brown hills reminiscent of chocolate truffles are a huge natural attraction on the island of Bohol. What’s more, the hills are considered a National Geological Monument. The 1,776 hills are scattered over an area of 50 square kilometers. Moreover, they are 30-50 meters high and can be seen from the surrounding towns. In Batuan, Bilar, as well as Sagbayan and Carmen you can find observation decks and resorts for staying overnight. Carmen also offers ATV rides and an adventure park with lots of activities. They is an abundance of them on an island, so the easiest is to fly into Bohol-Panglao Airport or by ferry from Cebu, Dumaguete or Siquijor. It is best to visit them from around December to May which is the dry season when the hills turn brown.
9. Journey to Volcano Island: Nature’s Fiery Marvel
Volcano Island in Luzon Island is a true natural phenomenon! It is literally ‘an island within a lake within an island within a lake’. Namely, Taal Lake is a freshwater lake in Batangas that partly fills a caldera created by prehistoric eruptions. Within the lake is Volcano Island, the active part of the volcano with 47 craters. Its main crater Binintiang Malaki is the most popular one, while Main Crater Lake is the biggest crater. It is full of water and it used to even have a tiny rocky island on it, called Vulcan Point, which disappeared following the 2020 eruption. That’s because the Taal Volcano is very active, the second most active one in the country. Therefore, a much safer option would be to check out this attraction when in Tagaytay City. However, getting a boat ride across the Taal Lake sounds very fun!
10. Discover the Underground Wonders of Puerto Princesa Underground River National Park
Situated on the western side of Palawan Island is one of the most popular eco-tours in the Philippines. Namely, the underground river boasts an enchanting cave system with stalactites and stalagmites. Just the entrance featuring massive cliffs is something you shouldn’t miss. The national park is usually reached from Sabang. Then, travelers and locals use kayaks to explore what’s behind the limestone cliffs while protecting the site. Also, there’s a no-talking policy inside not to let any outside influence this isolated world. The site is only a two-hour ride from the Puerto Princesa Airport. It’s also 76 kilometers away from the city center. But also, if you’re visiting Puerto Princesa, island hopping to islands in Honda Bay could be a good option for other days of your stay.
11. Immerse in the Pristine Beauty of Mactan Island through Island Hopping
One of the popular attractions in Cebu is Mactan island hopping. If you’re a fan of sunbathing paired with scuba diving, snorkeling, windsurfing, parasailing, island hopping in Mactan is for you. Namely, Olango, Gilutungan, Caohagan, Nalusuan, Panganon or Sulpa Island are tropical paradises. All of them have pristine waters and sandy beaches. You can choose between renting boats to one island or, even better, going on a one-day organized tour to see more. Interestingly, Gilutungan and Nalusuan both have marine sanctuaries with colorful fish and corals. Therefore, snorkeling and diving are a must when visiting, alongside jet skiing, renting a kayak or a boat. The islands also have cottages to take a break or stay overnight. After snorkeling, try out the seafood from locals that maintain the islands’ cleanliness and pristine state.
12. Escape to Paradise at Malapascua Island
Malapascua Island is 10 kilometers off the northernmost tip of Cebu Island. It offers peaceful sandy beaches with not so many tourists. Namely, you can reach the island by a boat from New Maya Port, also a favorite amongst divers. Amongst other ones, it is one of few places where you can spot thresher sharks. Every single morning divers can spot the cleaning session of thresher sharks at the Monad Shoal site. Furthermore, when not swimming with the sharks (a license needed for some places) there are things to do here. Malapasacua boasts many beaches like Bounty Beach, Langub Beach and Guimbitayan Beach. Moreover, you can stop by a restaurant by the beach and enjoy your peaceful holiday in Cebu.
13. Indulge in Natural Beauty at the Lakes of Coron Island
Coron Island, north of Palawan is ideal for an adventurous vacation. The island, boasting beaches, lagoons and magnificent lakes, is situated 30 minutes from Busuanga Island. Whether with a group tour or on a private boat, Coron is a great scuba diving destination. The tours include a visit to Kayangan Lake, also called the Blue Lagoon. The lake is surrounded with probably the most magnificent limestone cliff you’ll see in the Philippines. There is also Ayuwuk Kayangan cave worth exploring nearby and a stunning viewpoint at the top of the hill. Tours usually include the beautiful white sandy Banul Beach, usually paired with snorkeling in Barracuda Lake. The extremely clean Barracuda Lake offers an underwater view of the cliffs. The beautiful cliffs have been carved by erosion and overgrown with tropical plants! Shipwreck diving and snorkeling attracts tourists here, as well.
14. Witness Devotion at the Shrine of the Black Nazarene
The Minor Basilica and Shrine of the Black Nazarene in Manila is the home to the miraculous statue of Christ. Called the Black Nazarene, the statue is the reason for thousands of devotees flocking to the church every Friday.
They gather here to emit their prayers during the novena. What’s more, millions of Catholics join the procession every year. Each 9th of June they commemorate the solemn translation of the statue from St. Nicholas Tolentino Parish. Moreover, Pope John Paul II declared the church a basilica in 1987 and officially named it the Basilica of the Immaculate Conception. In 2023, the basilica was declared an archdiocesan shrine because of its influence on strengthening devotion to Christ. Alongside this one, the basilica in Capalonga enshrines the statue of the Black Nazarene, as well.
15. Dive into the Vibrant Underwater World of Tubbataha Reef
Last of the things to do in the Philippines is perhaps the most enticing of all. The turquoise sea and vibrant magic coral reefs of Tubbataha are the most beautiful views in the Philippines. Situated in the heart of the Sulu Sea, between Palawan and the Visayas, Tubbataha coral reefs are every diver’s dream. Since it is one of the most biodiverse areas on Earth, of course, the majestic seascape was inscribed into the World Heritage Sites‘ list. Furthermore, Tubbataha Reefs contain three parts, North and South Atoll, and Beazley Reef. The three of them combined contain 75% of all coral species. While admiring the corals, you can see white and black tip sharks, schools of barracudas, big-eye travallies all passing by. The abundance of fish is what makes this world wonder so special, as well. Due to the protection, the site can be visited from March to June, only on lifeboats.