With a country that has over 7,000 islands, the Philippines is a destination where you'll have thousands of options on places to explore and things to do.
It's home to some of the best islands and beaches in the world like Palawan, Boracay, and Siargao. This is why a lot of travelers try to make the most of their time in the country by visiting the top destinations all in one trip.
However, the top tourist spots in the Philippines are usually scattered around the three bigger island regions of the country: Luzon (where you can find Palawan), Visayas (where you can find Boracay), and Mindanao (where you can find Siargao). Here's a Philippine map showing the top tourist spots in the 3 major island regions:
Exploring the Philippines requires careful planning and ample knowledge on what each island region has to offer to make the most of your limited time to travel. Here's a comprehensive travel guide on the geography of the Philippines to help you plan your trip:
The largest island in the Philippines, Luzon serves as the primary entry point for international travelers. Here, you will find the country’s bustling capital, Manila, further grouped with other major cities which is known as the greater Metro Manila.
While Manila is the economic center of the entire nation, Luzon also boasts of other notable spots that make the Philippines worth visiting and exploring.
Photo by the Philippine Department of Tourism
Start your journey with a visit to some of Manila’s famous historic sites including Intramuros, or the Walled City, a historically significant fortress that was once the center of power back in the Spanish era.
Here you’ll find some of the country’s oldest buildings including its oldest stone church San Augustin Church. Nearby Intramuros are other Manila tourist spots like the National Museum Complex, Rizal Park, Binondo Chinatown, and Roxas Boulevard where you can see the stunning Manila Bay sunset.
For your nightlife fix, head over to Makati City's Poblacion where you can find the hippest up and coming restaurants and pubs frequented by backpackers and travelers.
More than the charm of Manila’s busy streets and offerings, it’s the places outside of it that will bring you the most authentic Luzon experience. If you wish to have a longer road trip, travel to North Luzon and witness the breathtaking gifts of nature found in the Cordillera region.
Here, you can visit the Summer Capital of the Philippines, Baguio, hike the 3rd highest peak in the Philippines, Mt. Pulag, pick and eat the most delicious strawberries at La Trinidad, and explore the UNESCO World Heritage Site in Banaue, the Batad Rice Terraces.
Cordillera is also home to the quaint town of Sagada where you can check out the Hanging Coffins and watch the sunrise with its sea of clouds at Mount Kiltepan.
To get here, you can ride a bus from Manila to Baguio. But, if you wish to have a more comfortable travel experience, you can also drive a private vehicle or car rental, or arrange Baguio tours that have transfers from Manila.
Photo by the Philippine Department of Tourism
Travel back in time when you visit the Spanish colonial town, Vigan, located in northern Luzon in Ilocos Sur. This city’s well-preserved architecture dates back to the 16th century.
Buildings and structures are reminiscent of the Spanish era and you can even have a complete feel of the times back then by exploring its cobblestone streets through a kalesa or horse-drawn carriage in Vigan tours.
Go off the beaten path when you travel to Batanes, a small island in the northernmost part of Luzon. A lot of typhoons pass by the island that's why the best time to go here us during the dry and summer season, around March to June.
Batanes is the land of the Ivatans who have successfully preserved the island’s identity. Batanes tours will take you to luscious green mountains and endless hills perfect for relaxing and disconnecting from the world.
You can also trek a mountain called Mount Iraya or take a postcard-worthy photo with you at the Tayid Lighthouse. Due to its location, travelers have fewer and more expensive flight options going to its capital, Basco, but it will all be worth it once you set foot in this island province.
Palawan has been named one of the best, if not the best, islands in the world by different travel magazines. It's a constant top contender for international travelers' favorite destinations in the Philippines because it offers attractions that are truly paradise-like.
San Vicente is a less popular destination in Palawan compared to the first three but it's a must-visit since it's where you can find Long Beach, the longest beach in the Philippines.
A collection of islands in Central Philippines, Visayas is home to a rich and diverse culture and history. It is where you’ll find the oldest city in the country, Cebu, the world-famous Boracay Island, and Bohol, home of the Chocolate Hills.
This region is further divided into three parts: Central, Eastern, and Western Visayas. Festivals, bucket list destinations, and unique delicacies abound in this region.
Boracay is a must-visit for first-time Philippine visitors. It has been named multiple times by travel magazines as one of the best islands in the world.
This small island has drawn travelers to its shore because of its fine, white sand beaches (White Beach being the most popular), diving spots, cliff diving spots, stunning sunsets, thrilling water adventures like parasailing, and a vibrant nightlife.
Cebu is one of the most historically significant places in the Philippines and is also home to multiple destinations packed with must-visit tourist spots.
Check out stunning beaches and islands in Mactan Island and Bantayan Island, explore diving spots where you can swim with millions of sardines in Moalboal and thresher sharks in Malapascua, try exciting activities like canyoneering, and go on gastronomic food adventures to taste Cebu lechon and other local dishes.
Its capital, Cebu City, the “Queen City of the South,” is where you’ll find historical landmarks and remnants such as the Basilica Minore del Sto. Niño de Cebu and Magellan's Cross.
Cebu can also be an alternative entry point to the Philippines since it has the Mactan-Cebu International Airport that services international flights.
Chocolate Hills will treat your eyes to a wondrous view of hundreds of green mountainous hills. On dry season, they turn to brown, making them look like chocolates.
Bohol is also a top beach and diving destination since it houses Alona Beach, Balicasag Island, and Pamilacan Island to name a few.
Some must-visit attractions in Bohol tours aside from the Chocolate Hills include the Loboc River where you can feast on a Filipino buffet while on a boat, the Tarsier Sanctuary, and the Bilar Man-made Forest.
Another famous Visayan province is Iloilo, with its equally stunning beaches and islets that can rival the country’s best and historical landmarks that date back to the Spanish colonial period too.
For beach lovers, Islas de Gigantes or Gigantes Island tours deserve a spot in your itinerary. Iloilo tours won’t be complete without a taste of their famous La Paz Batchoy, a noodle soup mixed with chicken stock, beef, and pork cracklings among others.
Iloilo is also home to centuries-old historical churches Jaro Cathedral and Molo Church and other must-visit heritage spots such as Camiña Balay nga Bato, Iloilo Museum of Contemporary Art, and Calle Real.
Bacolod is also a great starting point to visit the famous The Ruins. To complete your Bacolod tours, make sure to feast on Bacolod’s signature chicken inasal (grilled chicken).
Other highlights in Bacolod include the century-old San Sebastian church, mansions of the rich families in Negros, and Lakawon Island.
Southern Philippines may be the least visited among the Philippines’ three major islands but that’s not to say it’s not as great. Mindanao has some of the country’s jaw-dropping natural attractions and unique culture and heritage.
The tear-drop shaped island of Siargao has gained increasing popularity over the years as the ultimate surfing destination in the country. It rivals even the best in neighboring countries Indonesia and Australia.
Surfers from all over the world flock to Siargao for the annual International Surfing Cup usually held at the most famous surfing spot called Cloud 9 in General Luna.
Siargao has also been named as the best island in the world multiple times, head-to-head with the more famous Palawan and Boracay.
Aside from surfing, Siargao island-hopping tours are also a must-try where you can visit Daku Island, Guyam Island, and Naked Island.
Other Siargao tours will take you to stunning natural wonders like Sugba Lagoon, Magpupungko Rock Pools, and Sohoton Cove to name a few.
Davao, also known as the “Crown Jewel of Mindanao,” can also be an entry point of travelers to the Philippines through the Francisco Bangoy International Airport.
Some of the city’s highlights included in Davao tours are Mount Apo, the highest peak in the Philippines, the Philippine Eagle Center, Eden Nature Park, Malagos Chocolate Museum, and the famous durian fruit which you may have a love-hate relationship with because of its potent smell.
If you want to get out of the city to lounge at pristine beaches, a trip to the nearby Samal Island may just be what you need which is just a ferry ride away.
Located in Misamis Oriental in Northern Mindanao, Cagayan de Oro (CDO) prides itself as “The Whitewater Rafting Capital of the Philippines”. Best enjoyed with friends, you’ll be splashed with water from all sides of your raft as you yell your heart out.
Other activities you can try in Cagayan de Oro tours are spelunking at Kweba de Oro or paragliding at Sierra del Oro. Cagayan de Oro is also known for being the jump-off point to get to Asia’s longest dual zipline at Dahilayan Adventure Park in Bukidnon.
If you want to go to an island paradise that’s near Cagayan de Oro, then Camiguin is the best choice for you. Just a ferry ride away from Cagayan de Oro, Camiguin is also dubbed as the “Island Born of Fire” because it's home to seven volcanoes, with only one of them being active.
From waterfalls and natural springs to secluded beaches and heritage sites, you’d pretty much have a taste of everything in Camiguin.
Check out the iconic landmark Sunken Cemetery and enjoy the picturesque White Island sandbar. Take a relaxing dip at Ardent Hot Springs but if you want it cold, let the water from the Sto. Nino Cold Spring treat you during a hot afternoon.
Get a feel of Spain’s influence in the Philippines when you visit Zamboanga in southern Philippines, also known as “Asia’s Latin City”.
Remnants of the Spanish era can still be seen in Zamboanga tours when you visit tourist spots like Fort Pilar, a defense fort built in the 17th-century, and the Zamboanga City Hall where the whole street is lined with well-preserved buildings.
Take day tours to Great Sta. Cruz Island which is known for the Pink Beach and ride a colorful vinta boat while cruising along mangroves.
Photo by Philippine Airlines
The Philippines has several international airports that serve as gateways to the country and its different destinations. There are international airports for all three major island regions of Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. Aside from flights,
The country’s largest international airport is Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA) which can be found in the city of Pasay in Luzon. NAIA is the most common starting point to other airports in the country including connecting flights to Visayas and Mindanao.
Another international airport in Luzon is Clark International Airport in Pampanga which services flights that usually have less expensive fares to destinations in Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao compared to NAIA flights. Clark is around 90km away from Manila so you need to ride a bus or hire a transfer to get there.
For those wanting to hop from Luzon or Mindanao to Visayas, there are regular flights from Manila in Luzon and Davao in Mindanao to/from Cebu's Mactan-Cebu International Airport in Visayas. Cebu's airport also services international flights from Hong Kong, Singapore, Doha, and Quanzhou.
The airport in Cebu also services some international flights so you can fly here directly if you want to explore destinations in Visayas like Cebu, Boracay (take a connecting flight), and Bohol (ride a ferry from Cebu).
There are also connecting flights from Cebu airport going to Mindanao destinations like Siargao.
Mindanao's main entry point is the Francisco Bangoy International Airport in Davao City. There are also regular flights from Manila in Luzon and Cebu in Visayas to/from Davao. Davao's airport also services international flights from Hong Kong, Singapore, Doha, and Quanzhou.
It's best to fly here directly if you want to visit Mindanao destinations such as Davao City and Samal Island.
If you have more time to spare and would want a cheaper option, getting on a Roll-on/roll-off Terminal System (RoRo) or ferries is another option to get around. The RoRo system is an integration of roads and ports that connect the major islands of the Philippines.
You can board public buses that traverse the RoRo routes or drive your own car. The land vehicles will be boarded (roll-on) on the ferry and dock at the port of the destination where you can alight the ferry (roll-off) and drive to the next port or explore your next destination.
Take note of these important information to help you have a hassle-free trip in the Philippines:
The country’s currency is Philippine Peso (PHP). Some establishments, especially in Manila, Cebu, and Davao and other major tourist spots, accept cashless payments either via credit or debit card.
However, the Philippines is still a largely cash-based economy so make sure to have enough cash with you especially if you’re traveling to places frequented less by travelers as stores and transportation may still require you to pay via cash.
Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) are commonly found inside malls but it’s always safer to transact in ATMs in banks.
Aside from the vibrant culture, warm and hospitable people, and scenic spots, another advantage of the Philippines over its neighboring Asia countries is its English-speaking population, making it easier for foreigners to travel around the country.
The majority of Filipinos know how to speak and understand better English and so conversing with tourists isn’t such a big challenge. If you need anything or need to ask for directions, you’ll most likely get the answer you need and find Filipinos always willing to help.
Since the country is divided into islands, each region will most likely have a local language but the majority speak Filipino, the country's national language.
Start Planning Your Trip Around the Philippines
Wherever part of the Philippines you find yourself, the country will give you everything you crave for as an explorer. From picturesque beaches and spectacular landscapes to the warm smiles of its people and rich history.