Made up of over 7,000 islands, you would be right in thinking that there is plenty to do in the Philippines. With some of the most stunning beaches and landscapes Asia has to offer, the Philippines is simply one big bucket list for outdoor adventure enthusiasts. With a plethora of adrenaline-filled experiences to be had on land, sea and sky, you certainly won’t be stressing about how to spend your days holidaying here!

After spending over two weeks hunting down the best things to do across 5 of the most popular tourist islands, here are my ‘must-do’ activities in the Philippines to add to your bucket list!

 

Meet the Endangered Tarsier – Bohol

The Tarsier is a small carnivorous primate with adorable goggling eyes. Although they were once found across mainland Asia, North America and Africa, they now only reside in densely vegetated forests in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines. Their numbers in the wild are sadly still declining though and so they have been declared vulnerable to extinction. But there’s some good news: conservation projects are now the main reason for their successful breeding and you can see a Tarsier during your trip to the Philippines.

One such conservation reserve can be found near the town of Corella on the island of Bohol. It’s a semi-wild enclosure that you can walk around and see the cute Tarsiers clinging to the trees only a few feet away from you. As they’re nocturnal creatures, they’ll be pretty sleepy and you’ll need to whisper to make sure you don’t disturb them.

The Tarsier sanctuary is a ‘must visit’ stop on any tour of Bohol as you are unlikely to witness this cute creature anywhere else in the world again.

 

Submerge Yourself In The Great Sardine Run – Moalboal

The Philippines is famous for its incredible underwater experiences. One of the most popular activities for tourists is swimming with whale sharks in Oslob, although the ethics of doing so are questionable. The tours operators feed the sharks meaning that they stay in one place, interfering with their natural migration pattern. For an equally awe-inspiring but more natural and ethical experience, dive or snorkel with millions of shimmering sardines as they migrate through the ocean to nearby islands.

Huge clouds of silver fish flicker and dart around you in unison, creating an other-worldly experience that may just be one of your most enchanting underwater memories, ever.

 

Admire the Chocolate Hills – Bohol

The Chocolate Hills are an intriguing geological formation of over 1,200 grassy mounds scattered near Carmen in the Bohol Province. During the dry season, the grass on the cone-shaped hills is singed and consequently turns brown, giving the Chocolate Hills their rather unique name.

Although the most common way to see the hills is by climbing atop a viewing platform, in reality the site is completely overrun with tourists and only gives you one perspective of this amazing natural phenomenon. To experience the hills properly, I would instead recommend hiring quad bikes (known here as an ATV – ‘all terrain vehicle’) to bomb around them on the ground. Even better, if you have the budget, take a 10 minute helicopter ride so you can marvel at the beauty and scale of them from above!

A trip to the Chocolate Hills is often included as a quick pit-stop on a one day Bohol island countryside tour. On this tour (often called ‘Tour A’) you can also visit the Tarsier sanctuary, a historic shrine and Baclayon church, a man-made forest, a bamboo suspension bridge, go zip-lining and take a lunchtime boat trip on the Loboc River. These day tours will drop you off at either the helicopter pad or the ATV centre and collect you again if this is your preferred way to see the Chocolate Hills.

 

Float Around Limestone Towers – El Nido

Vine-clad limestone towers jutting out of aquamarine-coloured water are an iconic image of the Philippines. The images you see online aren’t edited – the scenery of El Nido is just as crazily beautiful in reality! There were many times on a boat tour of El Nido that I really had to pinch myself at this real-life natural beauty!

Agencies in Palawan offer many different island hopping tours (they are conveniently named A, B, C and D). Each tour has its own twist and takes you to different locations. For example, Tour B is generally known for its caves and islands and Tour A; for the lagoons and beaches. Although Tour A is often the most popular, it is one of the best for exploring some really beautiful spots.

Regardless of which tour you choose, make sure you pick a company that provides you with free snorkels and kayaks so you can go off and explore the breath-taking scenery yourself.

 

Cruise a UNESCO Listed Underground River – Puerto Princesa

Awarded the title of the ‘7th wonder of the world’, the planet’s longest navigable underground river has to make an appearance on any Philippines bucket list!

The 8.2km long cave system is located in the protected Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, on the Western coast of Palawan. The limestone stalagmites and stalactites create one of the world’s most complex cave systems and you can explore it by boat with a head torch.

Inside the cave system geologists have discovered another ‘floor’ which means there are even underground waterfalls. Also, some parts of the river are also so deep they have never been explored!

It can be a bit of a mission to get here as it’s about 50 miles from Puerto Princesa city centre, but experiencing this UNESCO wonder up close is totally worth it.

 

Surf World Famous Breaks at Cloud 9 – Siargao

Siargao is said to be one of the best places for surfing in the whole of the Philippines – in fact, it is home to ‘Cloud 9’ one of the top 10 surf spots in the entire world! Hollow barrel waves roll off the reef and unlike somewhere like Bali, the ocean isn’t packed, so there’s no dodging people to catch them!

The best time to surf here is late August to late November when the monsoon generates awesome offshore winds. If you’re around in September, you may even catch the annual international surfing competition, the ‘Siarfao Surfing Cup’.

This year Siargao was voted the number one island in the world by Conde Naste Traveler readers. So even if surfing isn’t for you, you should head to Siargao to just be a beach bum!

 

Live It Up In a 5* Resort – Cebu/Mactan


It’s true that accommodation in the Philippines isn’t exactly cheap for the quality you receive compared to other parts of Asia, but you can still find some incredible resorts that are worth splashing out on for a night or two. For a truly unique VIP experience, I was fortunate enough to spend two nights in the Shangri-La Resort in Mactan, a small island in Cebu. If you’re thinking about living it up somewhere during your trip, I’d totally recommend coming here. I found a lot of hotels, even the expensive ‘big name’ ones, are in dire need of a bit of a revamp, but Shangri-La was the most modern and luxurious hotel I stayed in.

The beauty of this resort is that it’s so well thought out – you don’t feel compelled to leave its confines at all. It has a marine eco reserve for snorkelling, a spa, multiple restaurants serving a range of cuisines, heaps of activities (most are free), water sports and your own private beach to chill out on. For someone who doesn’t like your typical resort holiday (sometimes I feel like they can be a bit trashy and I hate being stuck in one place), I loved it and felt like a real-life celebrity.

You can read about my stay here!

 

Chase Waterfalls – Bohol


You can find stunning waterfalls all over the Philippines, but my favourite two from my trip would have to be located in Bohol, the more jungle-like tourist island.

Pahangog Twin Falls is one of the most picture-perfect waterfalls, tucked away in a little jungle oasis in the South. The water cascades from a height over two rock faces, tumbling into a gorgeous, large emerald blue-green pool. It’s like something out of a Herbal Essences advert!

Ingkumhan Falls is more of an unpretentious locals’ spot, especially enjoyed by school kids. It’s a really fun place to hang out as the small, smooth waterfall rock face means that you can slide down it into the pool. There are also loads of rope swings tied to trees so there are hours of entertainment to be had at Ingkumhan!

You can read more about these two waterfalls (including how to get there) on my personal blog.

 

Hike Ancient Rice Terraces – Banaue

The Banaue Rice Terraces were carved into the contours of the mountains by the ancestors of the indigenous people, dating back over 2,000 years.

As they are an outstanding example of an evolved, living cultural landscape, the terraces have been given a UNESCO heritage status. Passed on from generation to generation, the descendants have shunned modernisation and persisted with ancient practices that are keeping Filipino traditions alive.

Not only is their history fascinating, the terraces are a truly beautiful imprint on the landscape that you can appreciate best whilst hiking.

 

Jump in a Jeepney – Anywhere

You can’t leave the Philippines without having jumped into one of the country’s most iconic and popular modes of public transport – a jeepney! ‘Upcycled’ from leftover US jeeps used in WW2, you will now find them adorned with gaudy accessories and painted in rather bright kitsch designs.

Although they’re often overcrowded (which of course isn’t so pleasant in the heat), Jeepneys are a widespread symbol of Filippino culture and art. If you’re not in a hurry (but who is in the Philippines anyway?) they are quite an experience! If you’ve been to Sri Lanka and caught the public buses there, I’m sure you’ll know what I mean!

Simply flag them down from the road if they’re going your route and hop off at your destination. Jeepneys are an extremely affordable transport option and you’ll no doubt meet some interesting locals to boot!

 

Explore Picture-Perfect Lagoons – Coron

Just like El Nido, Coron is an incredibly beautiful part of Palawan and the perfect destination if you’re a water-lover. It’s one of the most photographed parts of the Philippines as the scenery and crystal clear sea is stunning. In my opinion, it’s a slightly more rugged take on El Nido’s landscape.

The ‘Ultimate Coron Tour’ is an 8 hour boat trip that takes you to all of the areas main points of interest. Highlights are definitely diving a sunken Japanese shipwreck from the 1940’s and the lagoons, such as the magical Twin Lagoon. At low tide you can swim under a rock arch that separates the lagoons or at high tide, there’s wooden steps to go over. If you’re lucky, you may even stop at the Hidden Lagoon – a sheltered bay that you can only access through a small hole!

 

Have you been to the Philippines? What else would you add to this list? Or if you’re going, has this list been useful? Let me know by leaving a comment below!