There's so much more to the Philippines than just diving
The Philippines is a tropical paradise that offers a wide range of activities for travellers. From surfing at some of the world's best beaches to exploring its natural wonders, there’s something for everyone. Since the Philippines are an island nation with a lot of water and marine life, diving is one of the most popular activities around.
But we want to show you that there are plenty of other things to do that will make your trip unforgettable. In this article, we’ll take a look at some of the best things to do in the Philippines besides diving. Whether you’re an adventure seeker or a beach lover, you’re sure to find something that will make you want to pack your bags right away!
Explore the island of Palawan
One of the most popular islands in the Philippines is Palawan. And not just for diving, but also to enjoy stunning beaches and great food, which makes it an awesome place to relax and reload your energy. There is, however, a lot to explore as well! Let's take you through some of our personal highlights here.
We'll start off with Puerto Princesa, a cosy town located in the middle of Palawan with plenty to see and do. The town has a cute food market and a really nice waterfront that is packed with people during the evenings. Here you'll find everything from restaurants to bars. Locals playing basketball and street vendors create a chill atmosphere making you feel right at home. During the days there's not so much going on, but it seems like half the town hangs out here in the evenings. There are also some decent bars in town with quite a nice nightlife. If you're up for it, you'll be dancing with the locals all night long!
On the northern side of Puerto Princesa, there's a small local Vietnamese community called Vietville. The Vietville community is known for its hospitality and has a great sustainable restaurant. Even the straws are produced from the grounds of coffee and the shells of corn. They're also using bags produced from an interesting material that decomposes when it touches warm water, leaving almost nothing behind. The bags look like regular plastic bags you put your vegetables in in the supermarket, but they are fully compostable. Pretty cool, and further cementing the Philippines as an eco-tourism destination. The food is amazing here, and it's cool to walk around the small Vietnamese village in the middle of nowhere.
Just a short drive north of the town, you'll find Mt. Magarwak. It's a good 45-60 minute hike to the top, overlooking the bay with beautiful islands. If you look the other way, you'll see the green hills of Palawan. The view is absolutely amazing. Our recommendation is to do the sunrise trek, which means you start the hike in the dark using a flashlight to see the track. Once you reach the top, the sun will start to rise from the bay, which is a seriously stunning sight. We can't imagine a better breakfast spot, that's for sure! Besides the great sunrise view, the benefit of a morning hike is the more comfortable temperatures compared to later in the day when it's much, much warmer and sweatier.
Checking out the best beaches near Puerto Princesa
If you’re looking for a secluded beach, Nagtabon Beach is a great option. It’s located on the opposite coast and is a 1-1.5 hour drive from Puerto Princesa. The beach is huge and has pure sand in the water, so you don’t have to worry about stepping on rocks. There are also lots of small open huts where you can enjoy some food - somehow everything tastes better on a beach!
The best part is that it’s almost only locals here, so you can get a real feel for the culture. If the weather allows, there are some really great surf breaks. You can rent a surf board from the small surf cabin on the beach, and if you want they can also provide surf lessons. All the locals either surfed or chilled by the open huts, eating food and drinking beer. It’s an amazing spot that we almost feel bad writing about because we dearly want to keep this one to ourselves for the next time we're visiting.
If you can get away (we're sure you don't want to!), you’ll find the small cosy village of Sabang a bit further up north. It’s another great place to visit if you’re looking for amazing sandy beaches with no rocks in the water. Just a little outside the town is where you can experience the Underground River. It’s a bit of a touristy thing, but also pretty cool. You sail in a small longtail boat into a huge underground cave system with a very spectacular eco-system. If you're there, we suggest trying it out anyway!
Visit the Big Lagoon in El Nido
If you're looking for a fun and scenic destination in the Philippines, you want to check out El Nido. It's a small town on the northern tip of Palawan island, where you can find plenty of things to do and see. El Nido has a lively atmosphere, kind of like Kuta in Bali, but less crowded. You can go island hopping and snorkelling in the clear blue water, and admire the colorful fish and coral reefs. For a more spectacular underwater experience, you can also take a boat trip to Coron island, which has some of the best snorkelling spots in the country.
One of the must-visit places in El Nido is the Big Lagoon on Miniloc Island. It's part of all island-hopping tours and is a touristy thing to do, but for good reason. Once you arrive, you get into kayaks from the boat and make your own way into the lagoon. The lagoon is surrounded by 50-metre-high limestone cliffs and the water is crystal clear. You can especially see this when kayaking through some of the shallower areas. It's a great place to relax and enjoy the scenery.
The Big Lagoon is not the only place to explore in Bacuit Bay, though. You can also visit other lagoons and beaches, such as the Small Lagoon and Snake Island, which are equally beautiful and peaceful.
Enjoy the lively atmosphere of Cebu
Cebu City, located in the Central Visayas region of the Philippines, is a popular tourist destination known for its pristine beaches, rich history, and vibrant culture. Most tourists visiting Cebu City stay on Mactan Island, which is connected to Cebu City by a few bridges. Mactan Island is home to some of the best beaches and places to stay in Cebu City. If you’re visiting Cebu, it’s recommended to spend at least a day or two on Mactan Island before moving southwards.
Cebu City itself is often compared to a “mini Manila” and is not everyone’s cup of tea. However, the city does offer some interesting sights such as the Taoist Temple, which provides a panoramic view of the city. Moalboal, located on the west side of Cebu Island, is a cosy town mainly occupied by dive centres and backpacker hostels. It offers some really nice snorkeling and diving spots, and is a great place to stay for a few days, even if it's just for the vibes.
Further south of Moalboal, you’ll find Kawasan Falls, a popular tourist spot known for its beautiful waterfalls and canyoning adventures. The zipline at Kawasan Falls is almost 1km-long and takes about 50 seconds to complete. After the zipline, you can start your canyoning adventure, which involves hiking through a river with cliff jumps of 5m, 7m, and 10m along the way. There are also some nice waterfalls along the way where you can jump through the waterfall itself and swim around.
Hike the Chocolate Hills on Bohol island
When you're ready to be a bit more active, explore the Chocolate Hills, which are a geological formation consisting of around 1,200 hills spread over an area of 50 square kilometres. The hills are named after their chocolate-like appearance during the dry season, and are Bohol's main attraction.
One of the best trails you can hike in the Philippines is in this area. The Chocolate Hills Trail is about 4.5 kilometres-long and takes about an hour to complete, not counting the numerous photo stops you're going to make along the way. The trail starts near Cabacnitan Elementary School along Loay Interior Road and offers picturesque views of the famous Chocolate Hills. If you want to continue hiking, we suggest the Banat-i Hill Trail in Tagbilaran. This trail isn't very long, as you can finish it in under an hour, but the scenic view overlooking the vast Bohol Sea, Islands of Mindanao, Negros and Siquijor and the strait of Panglao Island is simply mind-blowing.
Taking a break from all the trails, you can visit the Dimiao Twin Waterfalls, which are located in the town of Dimiao. These waterfalls are surrounded by lush greenery and offer a serene and peaceful environment. If you’re looking for a unique experience, then you should try the night kayaking tour, which allows you to explore the mangrove forests of Bohol at night. The tour is led by experienced guides who will take you through the narrow channels of the forest, where you can see fireflies and other nocturnal creatures.
The island of Bohol also features some of the best beaches in the Philippines. Our personal favourite: skip the touristy beaches on Panglao island and go for Anda beach on the southeastern side of Bohol. It's remote, beautiful, and the perfect place to relax and sunbathe under some swaying palm trees. Can you picture it?
Get off the beaten path in Mindanao
Even though it's the second biggest island in the Philippines, most travellers don't make a visit to Mindanao. A huge mistake, in our opinion, as there are some truly stunning places to visit. Take for example the Enchanted River in Hinatuan - this river is known for its crystal-clear waters and is said to be home to mystical creatures. It’s a great spot for swimming, snorkelling and diving, and there are some great waterfalls nearby too!
If you're looking for some adventure, you can also hike to the top of Mt. Apo, the highest peak in the Philippines. It's located in Davao City, on the southern coast of Mindanao. It’s a prime destination for hikers and trekkers, offering stunning views of the surrounding landscape. The climb to the summit is challenging but rewarding, and you’ll the breathtaking views of sunrise and sunset will have you feeling on top of the world.
Another stunning sight is Tinuy-an Falls in Bislig city, a waterfall that has three levels and a width of 95-metres. It's often called the "Niagara Falls of the Philippines", and we can see why. The water is quite powerful, and you can feel the spray on your face. You can also take a bamboo raft ride to get closer to the falls, or swim in the natural pools at the bottom.
Technically not on Mindanao, but certainly close enough, is Camiguin island. This island is home to several hot springs that are believed to have therapeutic properties. The most famous one is Ardent Hot Springs, which has a temperature of 40 degrees Celsius. It's very relaxing to soak in the warm water and enjoy the natural scenery. If you're looking for an island with more beaches we suggest Samal. Samal island is located just off the coast from Davao city, and has some of the most crystal-clear water we've ever seen. The beaches are great, and so is the snorkelling!