Guide to Traveling Philippines

Philippines has everything you can want in a tropical paradise, and much much more. It’s like a combination of Thailand and Central American beach paradises, with the world’s most friendly people sprinkled in. The big difference however, is that there are many many islands and destinations around the Philippines that are hardly touched by tourism.
 
There are over 7100 islands in Philippines, so you can imagine how many tropical paradise locations, as well as mountains and waterfalls and crazy critters there are to discover.
 
And lets not forget the scuba diving. Philippines offers some of the best diving on the planet, so if you are an underwater explorer or rare critter lover, this is the place to go. And what makes it even better, is that you wont run into the crowds you will see in Thailand or the Caribbean.
 
This is the ultimate guide to Philippines travel, where we will break down information by the 3 provinces, Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao, and show you how to get around, the top attractions, prices, and much more.
 
This guide is all you’ll need for the ultimate Philippines trip!


General Travel Information:

Currency: Philippines Pesos PHP are used here, and at the time of writing this guide, the exchange rate is about 50PHP to 1USD

Visas: For most passport holders, visas are issued on arrival, and you are allowed to stay up to 28 days. To renew your tourist visa without leaving the country, Philippines has the easy system in Asia.

Languages: Philippines first language is Tagalog, which is mostly spoken in Luzon in the north province. Visayan is also widely spoken. But for an Asian country, English is very prevalent in Philippines, and you will have no problem with only that.

Luzon Travel Information:


philippines travel guide

Luzon is the largest island in the Philippines. It’s home to the capital city, Manila, as well as some beautiful mountains, beaches, small islands. Most tourists just come to Manila and use it as a base to hop to other, more popular islands in the Philippines.

However, those who are willing to spend a little more time to explore will find plenty to see and do in Luzon. Need some inspiration? Here are the top things to do in Luzon. 

Related: Packing Tips for Philippines

Where to Visit in Luzon:

Banaue Terraces

Probably the best known rice terraces in Luzon are the Banaue Rice Terraces. It’s busier than those of Batad, however they are quite stunning. Banaue is great for hiking or walking (no guide required).

Sagada

The town of Sagada has a very interesting burial tradition that has attracted plenty of curious visitors. Instead of burying their coffins in the earth, they suspend them to the sides of the cliffs where they hang forever.

Manila

Manila is the capital city of the Philippines and you are sure to hit it at least once. It is worth exploring for a day or two, especially for the historical Spanish-Colonial landmarks. Check out our guide for the top 40 fun things to do in Manila.

Adams

If you are looking for an authentic local experience, then head to the village of Adams. This small community is made up mostly of fishermen and their families who open their homes as homestay experiences. The area is also incredibly scenic with 18 waterfalls nearby.

Mayon Volcano

Mayon Volcano National Park has plenty of great activities and adventures for those looking to explore the area and its namesake, Mt. Mayon, itself. Hike around the base of the mountain which is covered with rice terraces and rivers, take in the views from the observation decks

Pagudpud

This popular beach town is a favourite escape in Luzon. It can be reached by bus (12 hours from Manila) or by flying into Laoag Airport. Expect beautiful beaches with plenty of restaurants lining them. It’s a great spot for a beach break. Pagudpud is considered one of the best beaches in Philippines.

There are way to many great attractions around Luzon to list here, but we did make a guide just for that. To see a much bigger list of sites and attractions you should see, check out 15 Best Places to Visit in Luzon.

Diving Puerto Galera
Diving Puerto Galera By Oksana Golubeva/Shutterstock

Getting around Luzon:

Luzon is really the only province of the three in Philippines, where flights are not required to get nearly everywhere, so this makes ground transportation relatively easy. There are loads of bus options from all major cities, particularly from the main hub of Manila where you will surely start.

If you are on the extreme budget, there are always the famous jeepnies that locals take, that are extremely cheap. You can stand on most roads and flag one down going your way. There are also tricycles, especially in smaller cities.

If you are not the budget travel type, I recommend getting a rental car at the airport, or taking taxis. For just getting around cities, there is always Uber, but Grab Car is the Philippines Uber alternative, and since it’s more popular there will be more cars available.

More Luzon resources & articles:

40 Fun Things to do in Manila
Guide to Scuba Diving Subic Bay

Visayas Travel Information:

philippines guide

There are a ton of islands and places to cover in the Visayas, way more than we  can name here. But we will list a bunch of our favorite locations throughout the province, that you won’t want to miss. 

Palawan is also technicaly part of the Visayas, but since there are so many great locations there, we wont include it here, and have a section just for Palawan. If you want to, you can skip to the Palawan section by clicking HERE, but believe me, you wont want to miss what the Visayas have to offer. 

Where to Visit in Visayas:

Puerto Galera

Just a short ferry ride from Batangas, Puerto Galera offers a lot of awesome beaches, island day trips, and of course, great scuba diving. Read more about scuba diving Puerto Galera.

Bohol

Bohol is a large island just couth of Cebu, and most famous for it’s iconic Chocolate Hills. This is also the only place in the world you can see the tiny tarsiers (photo above). Read about Scuba diving Bohol

Moalboal

Moalboal also has some great beaches, but the scuba diving is world class. Make sure to check out the Sardine Run as well as Pescador Island. Read our guide to scuba diving Moalboal

Cebu City

You are sure to hit Cebu City at least once on your Visayas travels, so if you are interested in exploring the city or doing day trips from there, check out our list of top things to do in Cebu City

Romblon

Romblon is a beautiful island close to Tablas and even Boracay, that offers great beaches, cliff jumps, and of course some great scuba diving. We definitely mentioned Romblon in our Guide to Scuba Diving Philippines

Tablas Island

Tablas Island is located between Boracay and Romblon, and has some amazing beaches of it’s own. If you are  not into partying backpackers and crowds of Boracay, head over to Tablas, Romblon or even Sibuyan

Boracay

Boracay is the most famous and well known party beach location in the country, so if you are into that, check it out. There are short flights from most main cities. Or check out scuba diving Boracay

Bantayan Island

Bantayan island is in the north of Cebu, just south of Malapascua. It offers some pristine beaches, and small desert islands off shore. Be sure to check out virgin island. 

Malapascua

Malapascua is a tiny and beautiful island in northern Cebu, and really popular for divers. You are almost guaranteed to see thresher sharks! See our guide to Scuba Diving Malapascua

Leyte

Leyte is one place adventurers should definitely check out .You can rent a scooter and explore north to south, dive with whale sharks, and see some beautiful jungles and beaches. 

Siargao

Siargao is a huge favorite for surfers and beach lovers, and it is pretty remote. Be sure to also do day trips to Sugba Lagoon. There are definitely some of the best beaches in Philippines

Siquijor

This island is small enough that you can rent a scooter and ride the whole ring road in half a day, exploring the many beautiful sites. Be sure to read about scuba diving Siquijor

scuba diving visayas
Visayas has some of the best scuba diving in the Philippines, which means it has some of the best in the world. You wont be disappointed.

There are so man more amazing places to visit in Visayas, that you could never visit them all. A few more of the highlights would be: Dauin, Dumaguete, Oslob, Donsol, Guimares Islands, Concepción Islands and many more.

Getting around Visayas:

Getting around the islands is pretty simple, although with maybe more steps than Luzon. There are plenty of flights between major cities, decent roads and bus routes, and countless ferries.

Cebu: The main hub and airport is located in Mactan Island, just outside of Cebu City. From there you either rent a car, get a taxi or take public transport north or south. A car can take about 4 hours all the way south and 4 hours all the way north.

Bohol: The main city and airport in Bohol is in Tagbilarin City, and there are lots of daily ferries to it from Cebu and even Siquijor and other islands. There are lots of taxis or buses that go around the island or to the popular Panglao Island.

cebu ferry

Negros Oriental: The airport and main ferry port is in Dumaguete, which has lots of flights from Cebu and Manila and others, as well as ferries from Santandar in Cebu, Siquijor and more. Taxis are kind of hard to get at the ferry port, but there are tons of big tricycles to take you around, especially to the great diving in Dauin.

Leyte: Most visitors to Leyte will arrive by plain into Tacloban, but there are a few other little cities with airports. It is also possible to take ferries from neighboring islands, or local boats from small places like Malapascua, or Kalanggaman.

Panay: The main city and airport is in Iloilo in the south, but if you are heading to Boracay, which most people are, then you can take a flight straight there, or a cheaper flight to the nearby Kalibo, and a taxi one hour the rest of the way. Kalibo is a much more popular route to get to Boracay, as it has more flights and is cheaper.

Mindoro: You can get to Mindoro from Luzon without flying, by taking the ferry that gets you near Puerto Galera. If the traffic is decent, the drive from Manila to the port might only take a few hours.

More Visayas resources & articles:

Top Things to do in Cebu City
Top 16 Locations for Diving in Philippines
Awesome Things to do in Oslob
Awesome Things to do in Moalboal

Mindanao Travel Information:

philippines travel guide

Mindanao is the least visited of the provinces, so has a ton to be discovered. Maybe because media has portrayed Mindanao as a hotspot for terrorism and unrest, but for the hard core travelers who want to get off the beaten path and see something new, we highly recommend Mindanao. 

Where to Visit in Mindanao:

Hinatuan

Hinatuan Island, Philippines An amazing place that’s unique positioned between Mindanao, Siargao, and Dinagat, Hinatuan Island is one of those places that you’ll never want to leave. Its filled with gorgeous nature from coast to coast with the Enchanted River being the most visited spot on the island.

Cagayan de Oro

Cagayan de Oro, Philippines Sometimes affectionately called the City of Golden Friendship, Cagayan de Oro is a large city and the capital of the Province of Misamis Oriental on Mindanao Island. It’s also one of the most progressive cities in the Philippines

Siargao

Known as the surfing capital, Siargao is an island located in the southeast, just east of Leyte. While it’s most known for its perfect waves all year round, it’s a destination which is filled with beautiful natural rock pools, mangrove swamps, as well as waterfalls, forests, and much more. Don’t miss Sugba Lagoon.

Tawi-Tawi

Tawi-Tawi, Philippines Being so close to Malaysia makes the island of Tawi-Tawi a somewhat different experience from the rest of the Philippines, both from the community and gastronomy to the sights and activities available.

Samal Island

The Island Garden City of Samal is part of the province of Davao del Norte of Mindanao. Known as a “resort city” for being populated by dozens of beach resorts, from economic class to luxurious ones, Samal is one of the best places in Mindanao for pristine beaches. 

Bucas Grande Islands

Bucas Grande is famous for its white sandy beaches, friendly locals and most notably the Sohoton Cove. You can get there by boat from either Siargao or Surigao, but however you do it, be prepared for paradise. 

Mount Apo

Mount Apo is a stratovolcano located in Mindanao. It’s the highest mountain in the Philippines at 2954m and is potentially active. It was declared a national park back in 1936 and is a popular climbing and hiking destination.

Cabgan Islet

Cabgan Islet, located in the municipality of Barobo in Surigao del Sur is a tiny island that seems to have escaped the attention of most tourists. It’s rustic- bring your own food, water, and anything else you may need, but offers pristine white beaches and beautiful clear waters for swimming.

Pinacanauan River

Pinacanauan River is considered to be one of the most scenic places in the Philippines. This river runs through the Penablanca Protected Landscape and Seascape which includes karst rock formations, underground chambers, forest, and wildlife, and is located in the Cagayan province.

There are so many more amazing destinations waiting to be explored around Mindanao aside from the ones mentioned above, you just have to get there and find out for yourself. I promise you wont be disappointed.

Getting around Mindanao:

Getting around the islands is pretty simple, with pretty good public transportation. The hardest places to get to would be The far south islands around Tawi-Tawi, but if you are resourceful you’ll be fine.

To get started in Mindanao, most will fly to Surigao, Siargao, Cagayan De Oro or Davao in the far south. These locations have lots of daily flights from Visayas and Luzon, and are your gateway into the area.

More Mindanao resources & articles:

101 Best Beaches in Philippines
62 Most Amazing Places to Visit in Philippines
Best Places to Visit in Davao

Palawan Travel Information:

Palawan Islands
Aerial of Palawan Islands By R.M. Nunes

I am giving Palawan its own section in this Philippines travel guide, because there are just so many highlights and attractions that it would be a crime not to try and mention some. When I think of “tropical paradise”, Palawan instantly comes to mind.

Tubbataha
Tubbataha By Sabangvideo/Shutterstock

Although places like El Nido are starting to get more and more popular and easier to get to, there are still countless hidden lagoons, secret beaches, unknown dive locations and more, yet to be haunted by mass tourism.

This section will include the main island of Palawan, north to south, as well as tons of islands between El Nido and Luzon. Basically everything from Malaysia to Manila!

If you haven’t guessed yet, the theme for your Palawan travels will be all about white sand beaches, remote desert islands, world class scuba diving, caves and incredible rock formations. Or, Paradise. 

Where to Visit in Palawan:

El Nido

Lets just get this one out of the way. El Nido is gaining rapidly in popularity, and for great reasons. not only does it have magnificent white beaches, in town and a day-trip away, but it also has great diving. Be sure to read our Guide to Scuba Diving El Nido

Port Barton

Just travel a little bit south from El Nido, and you’ll hit the equally beautiful, yet less crowded, Port Barton. This place is also gaining in popularity, but you can still enjoy paradise with white sand beaches, lush jungles, and desert islands just off-shore.

Tubbataha

You didn’t think I would make the ultimate guide to Philippines, without mentioning Tubbataha National Marine Park, did you? This reef is a underwater UNESCO World Heritage site, and one of the best dive locations on the face of the planet. 

Coron

Coron is actually a huge area, with many islands and bays in the area, but what I am listing here is the bays that are littered with WW2 wrecks, just in range for scuba divers. There aren’t many better wreck opportunities in the world, so check out our guide to scuba diving Coron

Black Island

The black island is a popular day trip spot in Busuanga, Palawan. Impressive caves filled with clear waters and stalactites and walls that shimmer in the sunlight. Away from the caves, the black island has beautiful white sand beaches. See Busuanga on the map

Pandan Beach

Located on Palawan, Araceli is home to a stunning white stretch of beach called Pandan Beach. Powdery sand, idyllic blue waters, and, since this area is not considered to be a tourist destination, there probably won’t be anyone else around when you visit.

Puerto Princesa

You are likely to arrive in Puerto Princesa when traveling Palawan, so why not explore? The highlight is a day trip to the UNESCO underground river systems, so don’t miss that. You can read more about Top Things to do in Puerto Princesa

Quiminatin Island

A small island off the coast of Cuyo, is a tiny island called Quiminatin. It’s a popular destination with scuba divers as there is a small cave in the wall, and a small chance of seeing hammerheads. After diving,If you wanted truly remote, head here. Quiminatin Island on the map

Malcapuya Island

One of the highlights in Coron, Malcapuya Island’s beaches are compared to those of Boracay in terms of their beautiful powdery, white sand. Malcapuya Island is usually visited as a day trip from Coron, although with some advance planning you could camp here.

Palawan Islands
Aerial of Palawan Islands By R.M. Nunes

Getting around Palawan

If you really want to explore the best of Palawan, you are going to be taking some long bus rides and ferry trips. But if you are ok with that, you’re golden! My advice is to load up on dramamine, and take the journey. 

Most people arrive by flying to either Coron, El Nido or Puerto Princesa, the biggest and most options being the later. I took a cheap flight from Manila to Puerto Princesa ($25 at the time), took a shared van 5 hours overland to El Nido, then later a ferry to Coron. 

The ferry seems like the most convenient and cheap, but I no longer recommend it. It ended up taking 12 hours to get to Coron, and was a nightmare in that small craft. 

From Coron it’s just a short hop back to Manila, or even to Cebu City. At the time of writing this, more and more flights were opening up. 

More Palawan resources & articles:

Awesome Things to do in Puerto Princesa

Philippines is just to big and beautiful to make a complete and comprehensive guide here, but the location above will give you a great start. If you manage to visit even half of these locations, you are one lucky traveler. 

If you want even more information, or help planning your own Philippines trip, click on the resources above, or send us an email and ask anything you want! You can send questions to justin@artofscubadiving.com, and we will answer if we can!

In my opinion Philippines will one day soon be as popular as Thailand, with how many awesome attractions it has, so you need to go now!

Of course of all the attractions in the country, I of obviously have to say that scuba diving and the underwater critters are the highlight, with so many rare and incredible species and healthy corals that you wont find anywhere else. 

Every diver should have Philippines on their to-do list. 

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Justin Carmack
Justin is a dive master and world traveler on a mission to dive and document the top 100 dive sites in the world. In doing this he hopes to bring love for the marine environment to the world!

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