Best islands of the Philippines
Want to truly immerse yourself in idyllic tropical island life? With myriad breathtaking islands, reefs and tropical forests, the Philippines offers a perfect blend of exhilarating nature encounters, unspoilt beaches and friendly local culture. Whether you’re on a kayaking safari around the sparkling tropical islets of El Nido, whale-watching at pristine Panglao Island, spotting sunbirds and blue paradise flycatchers in the ‘last frontier’ of Palawan, watching the unmistakable tarsiers in Bohol or simply going for a snorkel around one of the many beautiful reefs – looking out for sea turtles and thresher sharks – a holiday in the Philippines comes packed with once-in-a-lifetime wildlife experiences.
The best time to travel to these wonderful islands is in the dry season between January and April. This period enjoys hot yet pleasant temperatures and avoids the humidity of the summer months. Within the dry season the months of January and February tend to offer coolest temperatures with an average daily temperatures of 25C in January, rising to an average of around 28C in February. After February temperatures rise until May when the rainy season starts to emerge.
There are 7641 islands in the Philippines so to narrow down your choice a little we have put together a selection of our favourite islands with ideas for what you can do and where you might like to stay.
Known as the ‘Last Frontier’ due to its untouched landscapes and huge biodiversity, Palawan is actually an archipelago within an archipelago. The main Palawan Island is surrounded by smaller tropical islands, each in turn ringed with white sand beaches and coral reefs, and several boasting their own private island resorts. Palawan is a complete destination in its own right - offering dense virgin rainforest, unique natural wonders such as Sabang’s Underground River, truly stunning beaches and coastline, and top-class accommodation to rival anywhere in the world.
Palawan is best for:
- Palawan is the ultimate destination for luxury seekers searching for that exclusive private island experience. The snorkelling around Palawan is also exceptional, so much so that the El Nido Marine Reserve made our list of the top 10 snorkelling spots in Asia!
Where to stay on Palawan:
We love the rustic charm and picturesque setting of the El Nido Resort: Miniloc Island, and the house reef has some of the best snorkelling in El Nido.
- The exclusive El Nido Resort: Pangulasian Island is the most luxurious of the El Nido Resort properties, with top level service and facilities, and a truly spectacular private island location.
- The upscale Dos Palmas Island Resort & Spa is located on a private island just off the coast of Puerto Princesa, and is a great base for island hopping trips around Honda Bay.
One of the true gems of the Philippines, Bohol is the perfect mix of beautiful natural wonders, amazing wildlife, fascinating history and culture, and incredible beaches. The instantly recognisable Chocolate Hills are one of the island’s most distinctive features, and there are many legends as to how they came to be. Wildlife lovers will adore coming face to face with the tiny tarsier, one of the world’s smallest primates, as well as heading offshore to explore the exceptional marine life to be found in the warm waters around Bohol. Those looking to get away from it all will find some lovely small resorts on Bohol’s peaceful coastline which are particularly great for divers.
Bohol is best for:
- Come to Bohol for some of the Philippines’s most easily accessible and impressive natural beauty spots, and for unforgettable wildlife encounters with tarsiers and the region’s diverse marine life.
Where to stay on Bohol:
- Anda White Beach Resort, located right on the beautiful and tranquil Anda Beach, is a small and very friendly resort and a fantastic base for divers and snorkellers.
Just over the bridge from Bohol, Panglao Island is where most of the area’s top beach resorts are located, and we like to use it as a comfortable base from which to explore the delights of the larger Bohol Island. Bustling Alona Beach is the main tourist hub, with hotels, bars, and restaurants set along its length of white sand. However, there are quieter resorts on less busy beaches for those looking for a more relaxed vibe. Panglao Island also has some exceptional diving and snorkelling opportunities, and is well placed for whale and dolphin watching boat trips out to Pamilacan Island.
Panglao Island is best for:
- The extensive range of accommodation options available here makes Panglao is the perfect place to kick back and relax, but still with very easy access to adventures in Bohol. Panglao is also a jumping off point for many dolphin and whale watching tours.
Where to stay on Panglao Island:
- The charming Amarela Resort is one of Panglao’s few real small boutique beach hotels, with lovely characterful rooms, amazing panoramic views over the Bohol Sea, and a direct pathway to the private white sand beach. A Bamboo favourite!
- The Amorita Resort is perched at the north end of buzzing Alona Beach. Direct access to all the beach has to offer, but with a secluded clifftop location, means guests here can enjoy the best of both worlds.
Heralded as one of the world’s most famous beach resorts, Boracay’s collection of breath-taking beaches make it difficult to argue against the claim. The jewel in Boracay’s crown is the two mile long White Beach which has been hailed as the ‘finest beach in the world’. This led to the beach, and the island, becoming overdeveloped and a victim of over-tourism. Since 2018, the island authorities have undergone a project of rehabilitation to clean up and redevelop the island in a more sustainable fashion. While the beauty of White Beach still attracts the lion’s share of visitors, there are plenty of lesser-known beaches for those looking to avoid the crowds. Puka Beach in the island’s north is a quiet, idyllic beach still largely ignored by overseas visitors much to the delight of local shell collectors.
Boracay is best for:
- Snorkelling and diving: Boracay Island is surrounded by thriving coral reefs home to a plethora of colourful marine life. It’s possible to snorkel straight off some of the quieter beaches, but the best snorkelling and diving can be found around outlying islands such as Crocodile Island.
- Surfing: Bulabog Beach is a mecca for surfers and kiteboarders. This shallow warm lagoon is blessed with seemingly constant perfect wind conditions and home to several surfing and kiteboarding schools.
- Nightlife: The evening entertainment is a big draw for White Beach. The restaurants, bars and clubs along the main strip become a hive of activity once the sun sets.
Where to stay on Boracay:
- Fridays Boracay prides itself as the first luxury resort on the island. Over time more luxurious rivals have opened their doors on the island, but Fridays is a Boracay icon with an unrivalled position on White Beach.
- Shangri La Boracay enjoys a secluded location and stunning private bay making it the natural choice for those looking to relax in utmost luxury.
Cebu has long been a gateway to the Philippine islands. Chinese traders, Ferdinand Magellan, and tourists in search of winter sun all began their journey in the Philippines on the island of Cebu. Cebu City itself is a bustling urbanized area, but white sand beaches and crystal blue waters are only a short drive away. Nowadays, the island is renowned as a destination for diving, snorkelling and soft adventure.
Cebu is best for:
- Food: Lechon – whole roast suckling pig – is served all over the Philippines but the tastiest can found in Cebu, a claim which was backed by Anthony Bourdain. And there are many tasty delights beyond lechon. Cebu is a great foodie destination, so good in fact it beat some stiff competition and made our list of the top 10 foodie cities in Asia.
- Bird watching: While more famous for its snorkelling and diving, Cebu is one of the best places in the Philippines for bird watching. The Olango Wildlife Sanctuary lies about three miles east of Cebu City and provides refuge to thousands of migratory birds.
Where to stay in Cebu:
- The Henry Hotel Cebu is a characterful boutique hotel located in Cebu City. Its quirky modern art and spacious rooms make this one of the most memorable hotels on the island.
- Shangri La Mactan Island Resort is just a short drive from Cebu airport. Its extensive facilities and private beach make it a great option for families.
Siquijor is famed as an island of mystery and intrigue due to the resident folk-healers, known as Mananambals, a continued practise spanning centuries. Beyond the supernatural the small island is ringed by perfect beaches and home to several prime dive spots. The island remains one of the most magical islands in the Philippines.
Siquijor is best for:
- Stepping back in time: From the continued practise of shamanic healing to the Lazi Convent, the oldest and largest convent in the Far East, travelling to Siquijor is to step back in time. The quiet pace of life and rustic beaches are a world away from the more developed beach resorts of its neighbouring islands.
Where to stay on Siquijor:
- Coco Grove Beach Resort offers peace and isolation on an unspoilt stretch of beach while its onsite dive centre provides access to the excellent offshore dive sites.
Off the north-west coast of Cebu, Bantayan Island boasts beautiful crowd-free beaches, some interesting local fishing villages and a charming lack of development. Indeed, Bantayan is famous for fishing and you’ll find some of the best seafood in the Philippines on this laid back island – both for value and taste! The main village on Bantayan is Santa Fe which is in the south, but any visitor should definitely take time to explore the rest of the island and explore the authentic Filipino communities and beautiful coastline.
Bantyan Island is best for:
- Exploring by bike: Bantayan Island stretches around 20km from north to south and a fun day trip can be had circumventing the island and exploring the local fishing villages and stunning beaches by bicycle (or motorbike).
- Getting away from the crowds: Bantayan is a peaceful island and is less visited than some of the larger islands so you are likely to see relatively few other tourists and blissfully uncrowded beaches.
- Exploring by boat: Take day trips to neighbouring islands like Hilantagan, Virgin and Kintarkan Islands are also a great idea. The snorkelling and diving opportunities are good and School of SEA in Santa Fe is worth a visit to learn more about the island’s coral reefs and the importance of preserving them.
Where to stay on Bantayan Island:
- Coral Blue Oriental has just six rustic and simple beach villas and suites a well-stocked bar and a prime beach location. This is our kind of place!
- The Amihan Breach Cabanas is another fantastic small beachfront resort with just six wooden cabanas. It is in a peaceful spot but also an easy stroll into Santa Fe.
Even by Filipino standards, the island of Siargao is oozing with remote tropical island vibes. Development and mass tourism have yet to reach this southern corner of the archipelago and you will find very few shops, bars and restaurants, just a few local villages, a small selection of upscale resorts and pristine beaches. Siargao has also become famous as one of the best places for surfing in the Philippines.
December 2021 saw Siargao devastated by a super typhoon and many of its locals have had their simple wooden dwellings destroyed. You can currently donate to help Siargao here.
Siargo is best for:
- Surfing: Renowned as the best surf spot in the Philippines, Siargao is the perfect island to learn to surf
- Cloud 9 Boardwalk: Cloud 9 is a famous surf break with a wooden walkway leading to a small hut out in the ocean where get sit and great view of the surfers.
- Kayaking: Hiring a kayak to explore Siargo Island’s coastline and the adjoining mangroves channels is highly recommended activities for all age-groups.
Where to stay on Siargo:
- Nay Palad Hideaway is a luxurious boutique beach resort in a heavenly spot on a beautiful private bay. You’ll need a good budget to stay here but it is a really special place.
- Kalinaw Resort is a small resort with well-equipped private beach bungalows, just five minutes walk from Cloud 9.
Located some 500km due south of Manila, between the larger islands of Paluwan and Panay in the Sulu Sea, the tiny island of Pamalican is the archetypal paradise island ringed by powdery white sands lapped by calm azure seas. This idyllic spot has not gone unnoticed, and the island is the private reserve of those staying at the uber luxury Amanpulo Resort. Measuring just 2.5km long and less than 500m wide, the island is protected by an offshore reef that breaks the surf and creates a serene aquatic playground for water sports and laid-back beach life.
Pamalican Island is best for:
- Diving and snorkelling: Pamalican island is blessed with a beautiful coral reef located some 300m from the beach, providing spectacular snorkelling and diving in water with exceptionally high visibility. There is a PADI Dive Centre attached to the Amanpulo Resort which offers guided snorkelling and scuba diving excursions catering to all abilities.
- Island hopping cruises: The Cuyo Archipelago consists of around 45 small islands, some less than 200m in diameter and uninhabited. The Amanpulo has a fleet of boats for exploring the island located close to Pamalican. The resort also offers sailing lessons and deep-sea fishing expeditions.
- Water sports: Surrounded by calm azure water, Pamalican Island is a haven for water sports. The resort also offers sailing lessons and has a selection of sail boats, kayaks and wind surfs for the use of guests.
- Kite Surfing: Amanpulo has a Kite Surf Centre open between December and March when conditions are ideal for this exhilarating sport. Expert instruction is available for those wanting to kit surf for the first time.
Where to stay on Pamalican Island:
- Amanpulo is the only resort on this private island, a barefoot luxury retreat that has been nominated as one of the best island resorts in the world.
Busuanga is the largest of the Calamian group of islands located to the north of Palawan, measuring approximately 100km in length. These limestone-clad islands are a magnet for adventure seekers in pursuit of deserted white sand beaches, lush rainforests and to explore the dazzling seas. The Calamian islands are arranged in a tight-knit cluster, which makes it easy to explore the archipelago on day trips. Most of the tourist infrastructure on Busuanga Island is based around Coron town, located in the south, which is a good jumping off point for boat trips to the less-developed outer islands.
Busuanga Island is best for:
- Wreck diving: Coron Bay’s wreck diving is considered the best in Southeast Asia, and enthusiasts flock here from around the globe for a true underwater adventure. Around six Japanese supply vessels were bombed and sank in relatively shallow waters just off the shore of Busanga in 1944. The largest of these measures around 170m, and all are in excellent condition.
- Kayaking: With protected waters and many deserted islets the Calamian Islands are an ideal location for sea kayaking. Paddling between islands at your own pace is one of the best ways to escape the crowds and explore otherwise inaccessible parts of these stunning islands. Kayaking trips range from half day paddles from the comfort of your resort, to multi-day seafaring adventures that requires camping on remote beaches.
- Exploring Coron Island: Located a short boat ride from Coron Town is the dramatic shoreline of Coron Island, home to the Tagbanua who are the oldest ethnic groups in the Philippines. The main highlight of a visit to Coron Island is for the crystal-clear waters of Kayangan Lake and the geothermal Barracuda Lake, both of which offer an alternative snorkelling experience. These locations are included on the popular ‘Island Hopping Around Coron’
- Stay on a private island: If you are planning something exceptional with a group of family or friends, and have a healthy budget to play with, you can book an entire island for a once in a lifetime experience. Ariara Island can accommodate groups of 2-19 adults, or up to 25 guests including children, and includes a team of over 30 staff to take care of your every need.
Where to stay on Busuanga Island:
- Club Paradise is a superior private island resort located on the soft sands of Dimakya Island, lying to the northeast of Busuanga. The island is in a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, and a sanctuary for wildlife including turtles, monitor lizards and many bird species.
- Two Seasons Resort is located on a secluded white sand beach on the tip of Bulalacao Island, a 40 minute boat ride from Coron Town. There are 42 luxurious Palawan style bungalows, and ocean views that few places in the world can compete with.
Negros is blessed with beautiful natural scenery, unexplored waterfalls and mountains, crystal clear springs and white sandy beaches like those found at Sipalay on the southwest corner of the island. Negros was once the major sugar producer of the Philippines and its historic buildings are a reminder of this profitable era. These days Negros provides visitors with a chance to discover lush countryside, picturesque forested hill stations, breathtaking caves, magnificent lakes, scenic beaches, world-class marine reserves, alluring dive sites, and even playful dolphins and whales. Here you will find the internationally acclaimed dive site of Apo Island, the Negros Oriental Marine Conservation Park and Canlaon Volcano, one of the tallest peaks in the Visayas, which makes for a fascinating visit.
Negros is best for:
- Negros is perhaps best known for its aquatic experiences which include snorkelling and diving, in particular a visit to the reef at Apo Island, and trips to see dolphins swimming in the surrounding waters.
Where to stay on Negros:
- Atmosphere Resort combines boutique and luxury in a beautiful in a deeply relaxing setting. Its beachfront location offers a very comfortable stay for divers and non-divers alike.
The Batanes Islands are located in the most remote corner of the Philippines and consist of 10 small, windswept islands, only three of which are inhabited. Located some 100 miles north of Luzon, and just 120 miles south of Taiwan, their appearance is in total contrast to the rest of the Philippines with rolling emerald hills, sheer cliffs, picket fences, dry stone walls, and dairy farming...more Irish sea than South China sea! Accessible only by flight from Manila, Batanes is only just appearing on the tourist radar, and sees just a few dozen foreign tourists a year.
The Batanes are best for:
- Tourist infrastructure is understandably very simple, given the remote location, but those who come will find alluring natural scenery, fantastic walking, an intriguing (and isolated) tribal culture, and a feeling of true discovery.
Where to stay on Batanes:
- There are a few accommodation options on the main island of Batanes and our favourite at the moment is the Fundacion Pacita a quirky hotel in the former home of a local artist.