Ask anyone who’s been to the Philippines to describe it, and chances are they’ll draw a comparison with that other traveler magnet in Southeast Asia, Thailand. And the similarities are plenty: tropical jungles, beautiful beaches, and excellent food. In general, though, the island nation of the Philippines is significantly less prone to tourist crowds and offers a lot more opportunities to take the road less traveled.
The Philippines comprises more than 7,000 islands bordered by the South China Sea on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other, but most of the population is concentrated on Mindanao and Luzon. The country was under Spanish rule for more than 300 years, up until the late 19th century, and you can still see the European influence in the architecture, particularly the churches and cathedrals.
While the main two cities—Manila (the capital) and Cebu—are worth visiting for their brilliant hotels, restaurants, and lounges, for many, the biggest appeal of the Philippines is its beach life. You might be tempted to make your way straight to the coast after touching down and catching a ferry to your island paradise.
Each island destination in the Philippines has its own appeal. Boracay is the best known; a tiny island with a big reputation, it’s a favorite among those looking for the buzziest restaurants, lounges, beach parties, and nightlife venues outside the big cities.
For the ultimate snorkeling and diving destination, there’s nowhere better than Palawan. Commonly described as the Last Frontier, thanks to its largely untouched islands and ecosystems, this chain of islands on the west of the Philippines is rich in marine life. The best part is El Nido, a tiny fishing town where you’ll find the spectacular Bacuit Archipelago. This collection of islands is home to towering limestone cliffs, crystal clear waters, and some of the most beautiful and secluded beaches in Southeast Asia.
There’s also surfers’ paradise Siargao, whose challenging waves are a magnet for the bravest surfers from all over the world. If you’re feeling really bold, head off the beaten track to visit fascinating Siquijor.