As a slightly overlooked vacation destination by some westerners, the Philippines holds some of the world’s greatest natural resources and most picturesque views on the planet.
An archipelago of 7,641 islands categorized under three main geographical divisions, the Philippines is situated in Southeast Asia in the Western Pacific Ocean. These diverse islands hold some of the greatest biodiversity on our planet, and its positioning on the Pacific Ring of Fire and proximity to the equator also make it one of the most active areas for earthquakes and typhoons.
From beaches to rainforests, caves to caverns, the Philippines is truly a distinctive destination, and you can travel to most parts of the Philippines by land, air, or sea. If you’re a Westerner looking to travel to the Philippines, here’s a quick suggested “guide” to get in some of the top attractions this country has to offer in around 10 days (and remember, from the east coast of the U.S., you’re looking at a 20 + hour flight, so take that into account for planning out your trip!).
Best Times to Visit
It’s best to visit The Philippines during their dry season. There are two main seasons: Habagat (wet season) and Amihan (dry season). The wet season runs May through October, with typhoon season from August through late October. The dry season will be from November through April, with December and January being two of the most popular months to travel because of the mild temperatures and dry weather. December is also very popular because of the Christmas holiday, which is a huge celebration in The Philippines.
As far as airfare goes, it’s cheaper to fly during the wet season of course, but it might be worth the extra money to visit when there’s less of a chance for rain, especially if you want to experience the beautiful beaches. December and April are typically the priciest times to travel because of Christmas and Easter holidays, so if you want to experience the dry season during February or March, sometimes the crowds aren’t as bad and the airfare slightly cheaper than peak seasons.
Start in Manila
Most international flights, especially if you’re coming in from the west, will head straight to the capital city of Manila, to Ninoy Aquino International Airport. This airport is known for being a bit difficult to navigate since the four terminals are not internally connected, so when catching your flight back home, leave lots of time. It’s also in such bad condition that a travel advisory was issued for Americans last year. However; if you stay vigilant and aware of your surroundings, it’s worth getting through the airport to experience the islands of The Philippines.
Once you’ve landed, there are a number of choices when it comes to ground transportation. The Jeepney is a staple in the city of Manila, and much cheaper than a taxi. If you’re brave, hop on one to get the full cultural experience. Routes are typically marked on the sides of the vehicle; don’t expect clearly marked “bus stops.”
The capital city is divided into 16 districts. As a traveler (and especially if you’re a westerner), the districts of Ermita or Malate are probably the safest and most enjoyable. Ermita, also home to the American Embassy, features a mini rendition of New York’s Central Park, a popular are of bars and pubs, and several museums. Malate is very similar, but in this district, you’ll also find Asia’s oldest zoo: the Manila Zoo.
And after a night in Manila, it’s time to head to the island of Panay, in the province of Capiz.
Check out Capiz and Roxas City
A 45-minute flight from Manila lands you in the Roxas Airport, in the capital city of Capiz: Roxas City. Known as the “Seafood Capital of the Philippines,” you’ll want to try the local fare for sure. Beyond the food, Capiz is known for their namesake: Capiz shells. Another famous site to see is the coral-stone Santa Monica Church in the town of Pan-ay.
If you have a few days to spare in this location, spend the first day exploring Roxas City and then try to visit the Northwest Panay Peninsula National Park. This park features indigenous species of plants and animals, as well as stunning natural views.
From Capiz, it’s on to a tropical paradise. To get to our next destination, a 3 to 4-hour van ride will take you from Roxas City to the Caticlan Jetty Port. From here, you’ll take a boat ride to Boracay. If you wanted to skip Capiz altogether, an hour flight from Manila will take you straight to Boracay.
Boracay, surrounding beaches, and Carabao Island
Known for its iconic white sand beaches, no trip to The Philippines is complete without seeing it. Named the #4 best island in the world and #2 best island in Asia by Travel + Leisure Magazine in 2012 (with many other awards to name), the beaches of Boracay have to be seen to be believed. Because this part of the trip involves several beaches, it’s recommended to spend a few days here.
To start, stay in one of the many resorts located on White Beach, on the western side of the island (most are surprisingly very affordable!). It’s probably the most popular stretch of coastline, rich with resorts, bars, restaurants, and spas, and it’s a great way to kick off your visit. From here, you can experience many other beaches, depending on what you’re looking for in a visit.
For a more quaint stay, the semi-private Diniwid Beach or Puka Shell Beach, that has no resorts, are excellent options. If you’re traveling with children, these options are also ideal. Many visitors also make their way to Bulabog Beach to the east, known for its kiteboarding and windsurfing (it’s best to visit this beach November through April for the best winds). You can take a day trip to many of these beaches since few offer coastline accommodations.
Another excellent day trip is to Carabao Island. This island is almost untouched by tourism and features relaxation and nature at its best. A short boat trip will take you to the island.
On your final day, you’ll need to factor in travel time to the Caticlan Airport to get to your next destination.
For this next destination, you’ll just catch one of the flights out of the Caticlan Airport to Cebu (Mactan Airport). From there, you can take a ferry to Bohol. Bohol offers a nice reprieve from the beaches of Boracay with a more lush landscape. The main attraction here are the world famous “chocolate hills” of Tagbilaran City. Just an hour from the port, there are over 1,000 of these perfectly formed little hills that create a unique scene like none other. It’s about 200 steps to the top, and there are countryside tours that are available if you want to see more of the area.
There are other adventurous feats to get into in Bohol that include zip lining, taking a walk on the bamboo hanging bridge, or renting a bike for a self-guided tour. Along the coast, there are also boat tours, scuba diving, and snorkeling.
Back to Manila
Since international air travel can be a bit spotty getting in and out of Manila, it’s a good idea to reserve a full day for traveling home. You can either head back from Bohol to the Caticlan Airport or take a direct flight to Manila and onward home. If you have more time to spend in Manila, there are a lot of museums and culturally diverse neighborhoods to explore.
If you want to extend your trip, there are of course quite a few islands to visit in The Philippines and even more natural wonders. Some top spots to add to your list if you want to go beyond these suggestions are the Mayon Volcano (“world’s most perfectly shaped volcano” and listed as one of the most incredible places to visit in The Philippines), Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, and the Tabon Caves.