With over 7,100 islands, it might seem like an impossible task to narrow it down to the best 25 islands- but we like a challenge. Here are the islands that have the most to offer. You’ll find easily accessible islands with airports and well-oiled public transportation systems and then you’ll find islands where there are no more than dirt paths filled with potholes which you can only hope don’t bust the tire on your motorbike.
There are islands with huge shopping malls filled with cinemas and food courts, then there are islands where the only place to buy a soda is a dude’s cooler on the beach. Tap into the culture of the Philippines with a visit to a Catholic church for Sunday mass or jump in on a game of pickup basketball with a bunch of smiley barefooted kids. Island hop around the country to discover how vast, beautiful, and unique this country really is.
Let’s explore the best islands to visit in the Philippines:
1. Palaui Island
Palaui Island perfectly represents why most travelers come to the Philippines- to find a paradise where it feels like you’re the first human to ever step foot. That’s what it feels like on Palaui Island. You can find deserted beaches, eerie caves, crystal clear waterfalls, endless rice fields, and some of the cleanest air you’ve ever breathed.
As if Scotland had a baby with South East Asia, you’ll find bright green grass lying flat atop steep cliffs overlooking the sea. The terrain here is vast and varied. One day you could spend hours hiking through vibrant green rice fields and jungle paths only meeting water buffalo along the way; the day after you could beach hop all day from one patch of white shore to the next. For nature lovers, there are no limits here.
Situated at the northeastern tip of Mindanao, 800 kilometers south of Manilla, is a dream-come-true island called Siargao.
You’ve got a couple options of where to stay when you visit. The most popular option is General Luna Beach. This lively little island town is filled with restaurants, resorts, shops, and people- yet still encapsulates that small beach town charm.
This island has got it all- exotic wildlife, mangrove forest reserves, mesmerizing lagoons, and of course, perfect white sand beaches. But there is one more element that brings travelers to Siargao- surfing. There are great waves, swells, and shops that attract surfers who were lucky enough to find out about this gem!
3. Cebu Island
Everything you could ever want in a dream vacation is right here on Cebu Island.
Cebu is such a convenient spot for a holiday as you can fly into nearby Mactan-Cebu International Airport located close to beaches, restaurants, and accommodation.
You can get local by visiting family-owned watersport companies that will take you out parasailing, jet skiing, and banana boating. You can go on an island hopping tour to snorkel and even each raw sea urchin from the bottom of the ocean.
Down south you’ll find Tumalog Falls, a 5-story natural waterfall that has created a clear pool of water where the sun shines through the trees.
Best of all, off the coast of Oslob Beach on Cebu Island, you can go swimming with wild Whale Sharks.
Odds are, you’ve never even heard of Malapascua. It’s small, remote, and doesn’t offer much in terms of nightlife- but if you want a once-in-a-lifetime diving experience, this is where to get it.
Off the shores of Malapascua, you have the opportunity to swim with schools of Thresher Sharks. With its long, distinctive tail that cuts through the water as it gracefully hovers over the ocean floor, swimming with a Thresher Shark can be a thrilling experience.
After you dive, head back to the island of Malapascua for some of the most impressive scenery yet. Like I said, there isn’t much development here- just untouched, raw beauty.
The mother of all things magical and mystical in the Philippines is Palawan. It is home to El Nido (which deserves a rank of its own on this list) and many more mysterious Disney-esque destinations that attract travelers from all over the world.
It’s capitol, Puerto Princesa is a UNESCO World Heritage Site as if this island wasn’t already impressive enough.
Everyone knows that you can find El Nido and Coron in the North with breath taking cliffs that wind together to create crazy waterfalls, passageways and landscape, but what about further south?
Check out Brooke’s Point that is home to Bakbakan Falls and Mainit Hot Springs where you can bath in hot pools of medicinal water. Also check out Rizal which is home to some cool eco houses where you can kayak, surf, and snorkel.
6. El Nido
Unlike Malupascua, everyone knows of El Nido. Yet, this stretch of island has managed to keep its pure beauty in tact. El Nido is considered to be a world of its own and has some of the most breathtaking natural landscapes and scenery in the Philippines- and perhaps, in the world.
Take the 4-island tour on a classic catamaran to gain the full perspective of how paradisiacal this place really is. Nothing like you’ve ever seen before, the islands here are comprised of jagged grey cliffs sporadically covered in lush green overgrowth next to bright white sand beaches and turquoise water. Genuinely breathtaking and awe-inspiring, your time spent in El Nido will feel like you’re been transported onto an Avatar-like planet which you’ll never want to leave.
The number one travel tip to get the most out of your Bohol experience is to find a local tour guide(s) to hire and befriend for your time spent on the island. This island is filled with hidden nature spots including secret waterfalls, fisherman-only rivers, off-the-beaten path piers with handicraft markets, local grilled seafood spots, and more that you won’t find on your own.
The local motorbike tour guides here draw a blurred line between tour guide and friend. They will open up to you, welcome you, and go the extra mile to make your time unforgettable. Get ready for a homegrown experience full of natural adventures on this surprisingly underrated island.
Come to Dumaguette where you can take a day trip across to Aple Island which translates into ‘Turtle Island’. You’ll see big sea turtles constantly surfacing for air all around you. Jump off the boat and go for a swim with them. These turtles are actually quite used to have tourists splashing around them so they will let you get pretty close for photos and experiences that make time go super slow- just respect their space.
Don’t forget to check out Cassaroro Falls- you won’t be disappointed.
From Dumaguette, consider taking a quick 2-hour trip up to Manguete- what is often called “the Maldives of the Philippines”. On this little detour, you’ll find a warm sand bar in the middle of the open water with free-standing huts that are what Instagram goals are made of.
The island of MoalBoal is home to Badian Canyon- a winding canyon of waterfalls, rock formations, and fluorescent blue water that looks like someone has been pouring food coloring in drop by drop. One of the most memorable experiences you can have in the Philippines is to take a full-day guided trip that involves jumping from high places and getting wet. More specifically, you’ll be guided through narrow crevasses filled with waterfalls, tropical foliage, natural pools of water and natural waterslides. At the end of your day-long journey, you’ll come to Kawawan Falls- a waterfall that you have to see to believe. You’ll wear a helmet, life jacket, and be sure to bring a pair of tennis shoes.
The definition of exploring, getting lost, and reconnecting with mother Earth- a trip to Bantayan is nothing short of life changing. As we speak, Bantayan Island is a sprawling island at the northern end of Cebu whose land has not yet been overdeveloped. Visit groves of tropical trees in their natural form, go cliff jumping at your leisure, play with some free-roaming goats, rent a motorbike and get lost on the island- this place is your playground. Hurry up and visit Bantayan now, because it’s only a matter of time before land developers grab hold of this piece of paradise. At least you’ll be able to say, “I was there when…”
It’s not the easiest to access, but utopia never is. While every island might claim to be the most beautiful, the most pristine, the most memorable- Coron actually takes the cake. It’s magical.
Getting there will involve either a 5-hour ferry from El Nido or you can take a (slightly expensive) puddle jumper flight from Manilla- but once you arrive, every penny and every second of travel spent will be immediately worth it.
First thing to do is to rent a scooter and go. Wind through golden fields, dusty roads, and rolling hills to discover the most incredible views. The contrasting colors of dry landscape to lush jungle next to white sand and crystal blue water cannot be described in words.
Spend the entire day feeling like a pioneer who is discovering an island for the first time. No tourists, few villages, and certainly no big development.
The perfect sunset exists on Cambari Island, just off the coast of Palawan’s Araceli. Go for the day where you can investigate the unique rock formations that create a fantastic collection of caves to explore. You’ll find several caves filled with pools of water where you can swim in what feels like your own private swimming pool.
The turquoise water sparkles with soft white sand on the bottom clearly visible from the surface. Go snorkeling and discover the gorgeous corals and all the biodiversity which they hold, including monster lobsters and graceful manta rays.
When you’ve had your fill of fun, sit on the shore and wait for the sun to set.
Luzon Island is one of the most important islands as it is home to the capitol of the Philippines, Manilla. Most travelers skip over Manila completely as they expect that it’s just another Asian city with traffic, shopping, and bars, which is true. But what most travelers don’t know is that there are some spectacular hiking opportunities just a bus ride away from the capitol.
Health freaks and workout rats will love the hiking that surrounds this city. Take a mini bus to Pico de Loro to hike Mt. Palay 664 meters above sea level. You can camp out on the mountain in various campsites where you’ll meet other travelers.
Also accessible from Manila is Mt. Batuloa 811 meters above sea level and just an hour away from Manila. This trail is perfect for beginners who want a day hike to capture amazing views.
14. Siquijor Island
Rent a motorbike and tour the entire perimeter of the island within a couple days. Stopping by waterfalls, swimming holes, and white sand beaches, you’ve never felt so free. Go cliff jumping into the clean and clear water, trek into the jungle, and eat until you’re stuffed.
You’ll also have a chance to get in touch the history of the Philippines on this island by visiting tons of Spanish-influenced landmarks such as St Francis de Assisi Church and the thought-provoking (and dilapidating) St. Isidore de Labrador Church.
You really get the best of both worlds on this little island off the coast of Bohol.
15. Guimaras Island
Here are a handful of white sand beaches hiding in plain site! Guimaras Island is home to three pristine beaches: Nagarao, Inampulogan, and Nauway. These tranquil beaches rarely see any foreign visitors and occasionally get visits from playful groups of Filipino friends looking for an adventure.
You’d think an island that is home to a mango tree plantation, marine reserves, lighthouses, catholic churches, caves, a sea turtle conservation center, incredible restaurants, waterfalls, and undisturbed photo opportunities that there would be more visitors- but this island hasn’t hit the holidaymaker map…yet.
16. Calaguas Islands
In the Province of Camarines Norte lies a group of untouched virgin islands that should be on every Eden-lover’s bucket list. When you want to get away from the world, wifi, and reality TV stars, these dots in the ocean are where to go. Most tourists spend with day swimming at Long Beach, a sprawling piece of white sand with volcanic rock at both ends, while having a picnic on the shore.
While there are resorts on these islands, consider camping! For a small park fee, you and your friends can set up camp on the beach. Just imagine watching the sun fade away into a glittering star-filled sky and falling asleep to the sounds of waves crashing on the shore. You then get to wake up in paradise. Is there any better feeling than that?
17. Batan Island
Take a break from the beaches and bathing suits and step into the country.
This dumbbell-shaped volcanic island is a sprawling landscape of farming plots, rice fields, and forests, all neatly separated with natural fences that create a quilt-like design.
It’s a different world out here as you’ll learn via the honesty system at Honesty Coffee Shop. With no store attendants, you are free to pick up your goodies as you please, leaving the right amount of money as you check out.
Fun fact: Located at the most northern tip of the Philippines’ chain of islands, Batan was the first island to be inhabited during the Japanese invasion.
18. Bucas Grande Island
Swimming with jellyfish, exploring underground caves and tunnels, enjoying winding boat tours through mountainous passageways, and fishing with locals- that’s what you can expect on a trip to Bucas Grande Island.
You’ve never experienced anything like swimming in clear water surrounded by jellyfish of all kinds. You’ll find yellow baby jellyfish about the size of your palm, and bigger brown spotted jellyfish about the size of your forearm. It’s such a fascinating phenomenon that you’ll certainly want to bring your underwater camera. Oh, and don’t worry- they’ don’t sting!
19. Malalison Island
Activities, activities, activities! Malalison Island is perfect for the travelers who love to trek, snorkel, and discover local culture.
To explore this slice of heaven, you must hire a guide to take you trekking. You’ll spend the day on a moderately easy trek through the gorgeous mountains where the guide will point out wildlife, flora, and fauna. You will eventually make it to a small cave on the other side of the island where you can hop on a big bamboo swing and purchase snacks from the local shop. Take your snorkeling gear with you as there is a small wildlife sanctuary where you can snorkel with the fish. After your long hike, relax on a beautiful sandbar where boats will be waiting to take you back.
20. Panay Island
Getting off the beaten path is the most fruitful in the Philippines. Stay in the Kalibo area where you’ll find tons of beachfront guest houses that are not only less crowded, but also less expensive. I’m talking about beachfront villas for half the price that you would pay on Boracay.
Go without a plan and just wander. Discover local villages, meet local families and experience how they live. Hire a motor taxi to take you to look at properties with amazing views or to take you to the best local restaurant that he personally knows. Don’t hesitate to makes stops to get off the bike and have a beer with some locals. This is how the best adventures begin.
Take a step into the past as you visit the island of Corregidor. What was once a battle ground between American, Japanese, and Filipino troops during World War II is now a piece of history. You can visit this tiny island fortress where you’ll be able to picture the battles as they happened for yourself. See firsthand relics of the war as you go through a guided tour visiting the light hours, the barracks, and some humbling monuments.
When you want to lighten the mood, there are bird watching and boat tours around the island.
The easiest way to visit Corregidor is to join a tour group that will organize your transportation and offer lunch.
22. Great Santa Cruz Island
This little spec in the middle of the ocean could easily be a picture on a postcard. If you are a nature buff, here is home to some of the most diverse wildlife and marine life in the Philippines. Check out the mangrove forest where jungle trees have popped up while still half submerged in water. Grab your snorkel mask and head out into the corals where you’ll find colorful fish of all kinds. Bring your towel and a book to work on your tan on the beach. This is just the most peaceful place to explore for a day.
You can book your tours in Zamboanga City where everything will be arranged for you.
Tip: When traveling in the South, always stick with a tour guide who knows their way around conflict areas.
How far would you go for paradise? Tawi-Tawi’s location is quite surprising. This island is actually closer to Malaysia than it is the Philippines, which is why you’ve probably never heard of it. But I can guarantee you that after today you’ll never forget it.
Because of its location, this island is full of totally unique culture and traditions- almost like it’s own little country. Food is a blend of Malay and Filipino and the people speak with a unique accent.
While you’re there, you can climb the mountain called Bud Bongao which locals believe can heal disease. You can visit some mosques, as there is quite a large Muslim population here. You can also visit Sama Dilaut Village where you’ll find rows of wooden houses on stilts over water. Did I mention white sand beaches?
You’ve never seen anything like this island.
24. San Jose, Dinagat Island
A day won’t feel like enough when you visit San Jose on Dinagat Island. There is so much to see and so many people who want to share their hospitality. This is a chance to see how life is like outside of the big cities and popular tourist destinations while stepping into small town life.
As you come in by boat from Surigao City, you’ll pass unique rock formations that look like huge crystals popping out of the ground. At the top of the island, you’ll see castle built by a local islander who craved the best views. There’s a lighthouse, beautiful jungle hills, and as you approach the port, a quaint line of colorful boats all in a row.
As you disembark and head into town, it might feel like you’ve stepped onto a Caribean island with bright yellow and green houses lining narrow streets as locals sit on their porch watching the day go by.
Take a motorbike to tour the hills where you’ll see sweeping vistas with more islands in the distance. Just be sure to find a good spot to watch the sun go down.
25. Britania Islands
The aquatic version of Bohol’s ‘Chocolate Hills’ are right here in San Agustin. The Britania Islands are a collection of 24 “islets” or small islands that have popped up all over this narrow region. Take an Island hopping tour and you’ll visit the 4 main islands with the most to offer.
You’ll see the most serene contrast of colors out on these ‘middle of nowhere’ islands and you’ll also visit a ‘Cast Away’ style island with a small beach full of interesting limestone formations. The most enjoyable part of this island tour however, is cruising on a catamaran all day while living the tropical life.
Where to stay: Best Hotels in The Philippines
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