Best Islands in the Philippines

The archipelago of the Philippines is made up of over 7,000 islands. So finding the best of them all is a lifelong quest that may never be finished.

Every island you can visit has a unique blend of culture, language, food and natural beauty.

Whether you are chasing the tropical party life of Boracay, or a secluded and isolated island experience in Calaguas.

There is an island to match all tastes, budgets, and appetite for adventure.

Best Islands in the Philippines

1. Caramoan

This tops the list due to the sheer variety of experiences on offer.

We stayed at the resort where Survivor Philippines was filmed and the waterfront digs made for a spectacular wake up call each morning.

It was hard not to smile the moment you looked outside.

The island hopping is as good as you will find anywhere else in the country with the exception of maybe El Nido.

It is a great day out and that is inclusive of some small hikes, lunch on a sandbar, and the impressive double sided beach on Matukad Island.

My favourite activity was an underground river/cave that put the more famous Puerto Princesa version to shame.

No boats, only life vests so you can float on your back in the areas where the river is shallow and the roof low.

We swam deep into this cave for at least 20-30 minutes. It was an incredible experience and one that is not widely advertised. You could drive past this cave and never know its there.

Aside from this there are rock climbing and hiking activities that are a lot of fun.

If you get a chance to try the local seafood then this was also a treat.

2. Calaguas

Easily the most beautiful place in the Philippines that I have visited. But, being a virgin island it doesn’t have the variety in activities that Caramoan offers.

But, if you are one for solitude and can kick back on an isolated beach for days on end then you will not find a better place to do it.

I am a city boy, so the deserted island thing wears thin on me at the 24-48 hour mark. Time really does slow down when you are here.

So while it is potentially good therapy for me to de-clutter the brain and slow down it wasn’t enough to land top spot.

What you will find though are mostly undisturbed beaches that have the clearest, bluest water you will encounter anywhere.

That aqua glow will make your jaw drop!

The clear water makes for some great snorkelling along the headlands, and if your venture out of the water there are some stunning views on offer at the top of <name> hill.

The tour operator that took us there set up tents next to the beach for us, and provided some high quality meals – which was unexpected, but very good!

But being one of very few people at the beach we ditched the tent and just slept on the sand next to the water under the stars.

3. Boracay

While this one is lower on the list, it is where I visited the most in my time in there… by far!

The thing with islands in the Philippines is that once the sun goes down there isn’t much going on except for the odd karaoke bar.

Boracay has a great mix of water sports, beaches, food, and at night time a fairly lively mix of beach bars and clubs.

It is a much more westernised destination and you can seek out everything from the full luxury experience to a seriously cheap stay.

Either way you are guaranteed to have a blast!!

Purists will tell you about the old Boracay when it was unspoilt. But go to one of the other islands on this list and you can find something closer to it’s original state.

Boracay ain’t it. But its awesome!!

My personal Boracay routine consists of a sleep in, followed by a morning swim to shake off the hangover.

Wander up to Jonah’s for a fruit shake and breakfast…. Followed by another swim.

For lunch head to the wet market where we would feast on lobster, prawns and whatever other seafood caught our eye while tucking into a few beers.

Then another swim.

Find a good spot to watch the famous sunset before a beach side dinner. Then off the famous pub crawl or one of the bars.

Of course there are the water sports too. Just about every aqua activity you can imagine:

  • Parasailing
  • Banana Boat
  • Jet skiing
  • Cliff diving
  • Paddle boarding
  • Underwater Scooter
  • Snorkelling
  • Helmet diving
  • Kite boarding
  • Scuba diving
  • Island hopping
  • Fishing

Back on land, you also have the ATV tours, golf courses, and a number of places with some incredible views of the island.

If you want to get away from the crowds then head over to <name> beach. This is on the opposite side of the island to white beach and is just as nice.

4. Bohol

I loved the mix of beaches and unique activities in Bohol…. And the convenience!!

There are not many island getaways that are suitable for a weekend getaway. Most places just take too damn long to get to! But with an airport in the middle of the island it is a quick trip from Manila.

In Bohol you will find a long list of well known tourist spots and activities:

  • Honey farm place
  • Zip line
  • Chocolate Hills

Activities aside, you can find plenty of cheap hotels on <name> part of the island. The sparking blue water will rival that of Boracay, but in a more tranquil setting.

Bohol has its own airport and all of these sites are just a short taxi, bus or tricycle ride away.

One of my more memorable bus journeys was in Bohol where the bus was a little full, so they told me to just get on the roof.

I climbed up and hung on while we dodged tree branches the whole way home. After a few people alighted (and a few close calls) they called out for us to climb down and take a seat…

5. El Nido

El Nido is the crown jewel of Palawan. Unfortunately direct flights there are very expensive and the drive from Puerto Princesa is about six hours.

But it is worth the trip.

The island hopping day trips are a stand out in the Philippines. Absolutely stunning!

But for me this was not enough to place it higher on the list – it frequently tops global rankings though so perhaps my opinion is misplaced.

For me this was bumped down because there wasn’t that much else to do. Island hopping can get a bit repetitive and with four different day tours on offer you may get tired of it before completing them all.

The nightlife is ok, but not a stand out. The food also just ok compared to other destinations.

So overall I think your time may be better spent elsewhere unless you are ok to spend a full week where you can alternate between island hopping and lazy days.

6. Cagbelete

For something off the beaten path there is a small island in Quezon province that will feel like a trip back in time.

I once came to this island for an organised party with busloads of attendees shipped in from Manila.

The majority had the sense to book accommodation where the party was being held. I just picked one randomly from the list of options provided.

Turns out this was on the opposite side of the island, had no roads or paths, and was only accessible in the following ways:

  • Via the coast at low tide
  • At high tide through the middle of the island which included walking through 10ft high grass fields.
  • By boat

There are some limitations to prepare for when visiting the island:

  • Bring food with you. There are no guarantees you will find vendors offering anything more than two minute noodles and chips.
  • Electricity is probably not available during the daylight hours in many places.

But what you will find are stunning clear blue waters, a very relaxed atmosphere, and some very friendly locals.

Islands that should be on the list

Other islands which I have not been able to visit but plan to in the near future:

  • Palaui
  • Coron
  • Bantayan

Southern Philippines

You may notice that there are no islands mentioned in the south of the country around the Mindanao area.

There are plenty of islands in Mindanoa that are safe visited frequently by tourists. Some of the best known are:

  • Siargao – well known for its surfing
  • Camiguin – famous sandbar and stunning beaches
  • Surigao del Sur – home of the Enchanted River

It is important to note that there are some regions that while beautiful are no go zones for tourists.

While many Filipinos have told me how safe they, you cannot get away from the multiple examples of western tourists being kidnapped in the region and any islands in and around the following regions should be avoided:

  • Southern Mindanao
  • Sulu Archipelago
  • Zamboanga Peninsula

Final Word

For those who have the time to explore you will never run out of smaller islands to take you off the beaten path.

It is a wonderful country to get lost in and with the cost of living relatively cheap it is viable for the average westerner (who has the time!) to undertake long term travel in the Philippines.

So if you find a hidden gem then share it with us here. I would love to add it to the to do list!

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