With 7107 different islands, the Philippines are truly one of the most diverse nations in Southeast Asia. People from all over the world come to the Philippines every year to relax on stunning white, sandy beaches, explore the incredible landscape and rice fields in the north and to experience the rich underwater world the country has to offer.
While there are hundreds of things to see and do around the Philippines that may also be experienced in other Southeast Asian countries, I wanted this post to focus on travel highlights and real bucket list experiences, which you can only have by traveling the Philippines.
In this post, 15 travel writers reveal their favorite activities and spots, some of which are still total hidden gems and will make for a magical travel experience off the beaten path. Be sure to add some of these to your bucket list and include them in your next Philippines itinerary.
Witnessing the Zamboanga Hermosa Festival In Zamboanga City (Mindanao)
By Katherine from Tara Lets Anywhere
The Philippines has a unique culture, and one way of experiencing that first-hand is attending one of its traditional festivities. One that you should definitely see is the Zamboanga Hermosa Festival.
The Zamboanga Hermosa Festival is a month-long celebration held in Zamboanga City in Mindanao area, in honor of Our Lady of Pillar. It’s considered one of the oldest festivals in the country. Here you can mingle with locals, eat your way through local food with Filipino and Spanish influence, and have fun in various activities. Some of these include a boating competition amongst colorful vintas, food gatherings such as the Asao Lechon Festival, exhibition featuring local products such as woven fabrics, fashion and music competitions, and – finally — the Street Dance where Filipinos bring the streets alive with costumes and dance movements inspired by those of the indigenous groups in Mindanao.
There are many things to see and do in Zamboanga Festival, and it’s guaranteed to make your visit to the Philippines much more memorable!
Getting A Tribal Tattoo From Whang-Od (North Luzon)
By Nikki & Michelle from If you want to get a tribal tattoo by Whang-Od
A famous destination in the Philippines is Buscalan, home to the legendary Whang-Od, a 101-year old Kalinga tattooist who still inks intrepid tourists using a traditional tribal backhand tap technique.
A trip to Buscalan involves a long journey into the Cordillera region of the Philippines, followed by a trek to the village of Buscalan, which is not accessible by vehicles. If you want to get a tribal tattoo by Whang-Od, contact a local guide beforehand, but be sure to make an informed decision about whether getting a tattoo in a less-than-hygienic-environment is something that you would like to experience! An element of risk, which should be taken into consideration, is involved.
Even if you are not interested in getting a tattoo, spending a few days with the ex-headhunting Butbut tribe and experiencing their lifestyle is an experience which should not be missed! The areas surrounding Buscalan are spectacular, and it is perfectly possible to hike to other nearby villages, for an even richer tribal experience!
Exploring Duli & Mariposa Beaches (Palawan)
By Patrick from Adventographer
While it might be only one of the islands in the Philippines, Palawan is made remarkable by its rugged beauty juxtaposed against perfect beaches. But after island hopping & exploring around El Nido, you might simply be looking to get away from it all. For some travelers, this means a trip to Nacpan beach, but if you’re really looking for some solitude I can do one better…
By renting your own scooter in El Nido and traveling north, through rice fields and rolling hills and bypassing the Nacpan Beach turnoff, you’ll find yourself in another world. Duli & Mariposa beaches are easily as beautiful as the world renown Nacpan Beach, but unlike Nacpan you’re likely to be the only person enjoying it.
Here, away from the tourist trail you can sit on the beach and take it all in, the only visitor may be a local dog who wanders out of the forest looking for petting. If you’re looking to find some real Philippines within a stone’s throw of El Nido, this is the place!
Seeing The Fireflies On Loboc River (Bohol)
By Cerise from Enchanted Vagabond.
Planning a trip to Bohol is the perfect way to check off a bucket list experience of watching the twinkling swarms of fireflies along the mangroves of the Loboc River. Every evening, these rare fireflies gather in the tops of the trees, one of nature’s true natural phenomena. You can book a night tour through several of the resorts nearby, such as the Loboc River Resort.
Quiet, mysterious and mesmerizing, you’ll cruise down the river at night looking at the tops of the trees in the moonlight. What looks like stars up close are really blinking lightning bugs making the evening magical. Flashing lights are the fireflies way of communicating with each other in a dance of flittering gold flashes lighting up the night.
Tour operators offer different options including small motorized boats, kayaks or combination tours. On your next visit to Bohol, make sure to visit the fireflies and witness this amazing show of nature in the beautiful Philippines.
Discovering Kalanggaman Island (Leyte)
By Ellie & Ravi from Soul Travel
There are possibly few spots in the world as appealing as Kalanngaman – an idyllic looking sandbar just off the coast of Leyte, one of the Philippines least visited islands. Kalanggaman is open for day trips: you can spend a few hours here enjoying a fresh seafood lunch (usually provided by tour operators or your dive company) and snorkeling in the aquamarine waters. You probably won’t want to leave, but you’ll have to as there are no permanent structures on this island.
Kalanggaman Island has been getting more popular of late, and so authorities in Leyte have proactively put a daily limit on the number of visitors in place. Do your bit to protect this island by avoiding plastic and spending some time in neighboring Leyte – an island which could use more tourism.
Read more about Kalanggaman in this guide to the Philippines for conscious travellers.
Hiking To Casaroro Falls (Negros)
By Bilyana from Owl Over The World
Not far from Siquijor Island and Dumaguete City, you’ll find the Casaroro Falls, which are 30 meters high nature treasure. To get there, your best option will be a motorbike. In the beginning, you’ll drive through the mountain and this journey alone is extremely beautiful. Once you get to the starting point of the hike, you’ll need to walk down a 350-step stairway, and after about half an hour you’ll get to the waterfall.
The hike is not difficult at all, but you’ll be mostly walking in water or on wet rocks that are very slippery, so you need to be very careful. Getting back is more exhausting, as this time you’ll need to climb up the steps.
I highly recommend visiting the Casaroro Falls. Also, there are other cool and beautiful places to visit in this area. In a day, you can visit both the Casaroro Falls, and Pulangbato Falls. From Dumaguete, you can also go on a day trip to Apo Island and the white sandbar of Manjuyod.
Experiencing Banaue Rice Terraces (North Luzon)
By Verislav from Global Castaway
While tropical beaches and lush jungles are heavily associated with the Philippines, few people know that the island nation is also home to one of the most spectacular mountain sights in Asia. Located 500km (300miles) north of Manila, the Banaue Rice Terraces are not just something to be seen but an adventure like nothing else.
Situated 1500 meters (5000 ft) above sea level and covering more than 10,000 square kilometers (about 4000 square miles) of the mountainside, the terraces requires a lot of hiking to be explored, but you can be sure, this would be some of the best hikes of your life.
If you’re feeling adventurous, once you trek down the largest terrace in Batad, you can also enjoy a dip into the incredible Tappiya Falls. If you’re more into seeing and less into walking, the local guides can show you the best of the region via tuk-tuks and motorcycles and secret paths.
Carved by hand around 2000 years ago, the terraces are often called the “Eighth Wonder of the World” and are a must-have bucket list experience for anyone who wants to explore the best of the Philippines!
Snorkeling With Sardines In Moalboal (Cebu)
By Sam & Natalia from Something Of Freedom
If you’re looking for an unforgettable bucket list experience in the Philippines, head to the small town of Moalboal to witness the extraordinary sardine run. Millions and millions of sardines gather just a few meters from the shore of Panagsama Beach, and words cannot do justice to how incredible of a sight it is. As soon as you get underwater and see the sheer number of sardines there, you will instantly realize how impressive it is. The way they move together in unison when startled is mesmerizing and truly unforgettable.
Fortunately, the sardines are found in Moalboal all year round, so whatever time of year you visit you’re able to tick it off your bucket list. Better yet, if you have your own snorkel on your packing list for the Philippines, then you won’t have to pay a single peso to see the sardines. Just simply make your way to Panagsama Beach and swim out from the shore…it’s almost impossible to miss literally millions of sardines grouped together!
Canyoneering In Kawasan Falls, Badian (Cebu)
By Sandrina From The Wise Travellers
The Philippines are home to some of the clearest waters in the world but also plenty of amazing waterfalls. Canyoneering in Kawasan Falls is one of the best experiences you can have in Southwest Cebu Island, in a little town called Badian.
Kawasan Falls is a three-layered waterfall. Canyoneering in Kawasan Falls is so special because you will have the chance to be in contact with nature, to seek for adventure and to get personal with gorgeous landscaping. For this, you will need a professional guide, expect skipping, jumping and swimming through the turquoise waters.
I totally recommend Highland Adventures, they are local people and know the area well. The Canyoneering will start with a jungle trekking until you reach the first point to jump. In the middle of the adventure, there are some food stalls, it’s crazy because it’s in the middle of a canyon!
Do not try Canyoneering alone, bring only what is necessary like, grippy closed shoes and GoPro if you want to make some memories.
Having An Island All To Yourself (Palawan)
By Maria from Our City Travels
The beach is definitely a go-to for everyone wanting to relax and break the monotony of having to go to work 8 hours a day. One of Southeast Asia’s famous spots is Palawan in the Philippines. But, Palawan consists of a lot more islands, famous for its white sands, blue-green waters, and thriving marine life. Why not go overboard and have an island for yourself, just this once?
One of the many islands not known to many but is a real gem to beach lovers is Dimakya Island. There are very few cottages on the island, and the management doesn’t like overcrowding. It’s about an hour away from Manila by plane and another hour by jeep and boat to the main island. The whole of Dimakya can be explored within an hour walk, with the peak of the mountain in less than half an hour. The island itself has lots of activities and amenities that you can enjoy, but snorkeling and scuba diving are the more popular water sports. Sea turtles and dugongs can easily be spotted nearby. You can hop to another island called Islang Walang Tao (Island with no man), purely a sandbar; no trees, no establishments, just sand. It’s ideal for a bonfire accompanied by a guitar and songs to cap off the night.
Go Ziplining On Las Cabanas Beach (Palawan)
By Sion & Ben from The Globetrotter Guys
Most people spend time in and around the main town in El Nido, but there is so much more to explore!
There’s a beautiful long stretch of beach from Corong Corong beach (5 minutes from the main town) to Las Cabanas beach.
After a 45-minute walk (and in some parts a careful clamber) you’ll arrive at the beautiful Las Cabanas beach. High above your heads, you’ll see other travelers soaring through the air on a zip line…
Signposts in the area will lead you up a steep hill above the beach where the ziplining station is situated. For $15 you can get set up and fly through the air across to Depeldet Island which is about 80 meters out to sea. The views are spectacular, and you’ll be in complete awe the entire time.
Once on Depeldet Island, you can quite literally take a walk on water (it’s very shallow) back to Las Cabanas beach for a well-earned cocktail!
Exploring Nacpan Beach (Palawan)
By Karolina & Patryk from KarolinaPatryk.com
Everyone knows of the famous limestone rock islands off El Nido, Philippines with jaw-dropping beaches that made it one of the best islands in the world. However, there is a quiet, beautiful beach called Nacpan Beach, just a 30-minute drive from El Nido town, that deserves to be on every travelers’ bucket list.
Once named as one of the best beaches in the world by Tripadvisor, Nacpan beach as bucket list experience in the Philippines is truly a must-see with many things to offer.
Because of its popularity, the main town of El Nido can be overrun by tourists. The crescent-shaped Nacpan Beach with its long stretch of white sand 16 kilometers north of El Nido offers a more quiet and relaxing refuge away from the usual crowd. Its warm clear blue water is perfect for swimming while its soft powdery sand is great for long walks or just lounging around or sunbathing.
Walking to the left side of the beach will lead to a bushy hill which gives a gorgeous panoramic view of the small rock islands off Nacpan and also another beach, called Calitang just side by side with Nacpan. Together, they are called Twin Beaches.
While in Nacpan, be sure to stay over for the sunset. Watching the sun go down there will be one of the best things you have seen in your life.
Mountain Trekking Barlig to Moyoyao (North Luzon)
By Jess from hike up Mt. Amuyao
From Manila, it’s a 2-day journey by bus and jeepney to Barlig (rhymes with ‘barley’), a small town rising up the sides of a gorge. Wake up at 4 am and begin the steep and muddy hike up Mt. Amuyao in the blue pre-dawn light. Kids trot up it carrying jerry cans full of fuel making the average tourist feel a bit weak.
Lunch on the mountaintop offers 360-degree views with clouds blowing by at eye level. Then it’s time to head downhill to a tiny village for a few hours. The fixed price includes dinner, breakfast and a night’s accommodation. Dinner is quite delicious as it turns out that boiled frogs fresh from the river are flavorful and soft on the tongue. I ate them with my host family and was taught the method of breaking off a back leg placing the tiny limb into my mouth sliding the meat off while holding the slender bone. It’s not nearly as messy as eating fried chicken since you hold the leg between your thumb and forefinger.
After dinner, it’s time to go to bed in a windowless traditional wooden house on stilts. The bed consists of a thin reed mat on the wooden floor.
In the morning it’s best to start the 5-hour hike to Mayoyao or another town before the tropical heat sets in. Mayoyao has a fascinating World War II history, photogenic rice terraces, and is completely tranquil with very few foreign tourists visiting each year.
Dolphin Watching (Panglao Island)
By Jonny from Don’t Stop Living
When traveling in the Philippines, the range of activities can be varied and endless, keeping you occupied from dawn until dusk. So for the early morning risers, I suggest getting up at 5 a.m. for dolphin watching. Base yourself on Panglao Island, near Bohol (and reachable by ferry from Cebu) and organize a morning of dolphin watching.
You will board a catamaran style boat on the beach at Panglao island and will be taken on a 3-hour cruise, to search for dolphins. While of course, nature rules supreme and no dolphin sightings are guaranteed, they do their best to ensure you see dolphins. For those who are avid photographers, be ready for the dolphins as they jump out of the water fast.
Also, make sure you charge your cameras and bring some waterproof clothes and warm clothes in case it gets chilly. Overall a great experience!
Spending Time With Locals (North Luzon)
By Alejandro from Please Live Your Dream
Sometimes you get to have the most amazing experiences when you don’t plan for them to happen.
Spending time with locals should be on your bucket list when visiting the Philippines. While you can meet locals all around the Philippines, it is probably best to get to know the real Filipino culture in places that are not swamped with tourists.
In the east of the island of Luzon lies Baler, which, actually, is a surfing destination. However, there is much more than waves that make this place special.
Get away from the crowds on a day trip to the nearby Ditumabo Mother Falls, where you’ll likely get in touch with local villagers over some locally produced coconut wine. Even if you don’t speak the language, the universal language of smiles, laughter, and kindness does wonders to unite people. Be spontaneous and enjoy some drinks and a conversation, perhaps even some food with the locals. If you’re open-minded, socializing with local villagers might turn into the most wonderful and authentic experience you will have in the Philippines.