What did old Filipino cities look like?

Philippines going astray: 15 travel destinations and insider tips for explorers

The island world of the Philippines offers wonderful beaches and landscapes. In addition to the hotspots, there is still a lot to discover. A Philippines insider reveals his favorite places as well as some real insider tips.

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The article was written by John Rüth. For many years he has been exploring the Philippine islands intensively and, together with his travel-loving team, runs www.philippinen-tours.de.

In the meantime, this passion has even become a small travel agency that wants to help all those who are curious to discover the diversity of the country and its people.

Together with Fascination Southeast Asia, Philippinen Tours has created an attractive Philippines group tour.

15 insider tips for the Philippines

Boracay Island, Alona Beach, El Nido - these are names with which most backpackers and many individual travelers can somehow relate. And maybe with the Banaue rice terraces. But what about the other travel destinations among the 7,107 Philippine Islands?

It feels like every second blog article on the Internet is primarily about Palawan. But this article is intended to inspire you to go on a journey of discovery a little off the beaten track. It is worth it!

Camiguin Island

... is still one of my favorite islands because it is incredibly varied. Snorkelers and divers get their money's worth here, adventurers can hike the »Hibok Hibok« - one of the seven volcanoes on the island - there are also »hot springs« and »cold springs« as well as the Katibawasan Water falls. The sporty have the opportunity to rent a bike and cover the approx. 65 km around Camiguin Island in one day.

Tip: Fresh coconuts are a very good thirst quencher on the go - Buko juice is an excellent alternative to commercial isotonic drinks.

Hotspots such as the "sunken cemetary", an underwater cemetery, or White Island with a magnificent view of Camiguin should not be missing during a visit, I can also recommend a trip to Mantigue Island to everyone.

How to get there:
The easiest way to get there is from Cebu City, either by night ferry or by plane. Otherwise there are also connections from Jagna (on Bohol) or from Balingoan and Cagayan de Oro (both on Mindanao).

Tip: A very special highlight is the Lanzones Festival, which takes place every year in October.

Siargao Island

The island is now very popular with surfers and backpackers in particular. And rightly so. With the famous »Cloud 9«, one of the most interesting surf spots in Asia awaits surfing fans, and the international Surfing Cup in September / October attracts more and more people to Siargao every year, which has its very own “vibe”.

Further highlights are the »Magpupungko Rock Pool«, the mangrove forests near Carmen, the Caob lagoon, some dreamy and also quite deserted beaches, island hopping, the boulevard of General Luna and, last but not least, the people who are particularly curious and friendly on Siargao seem to be.

How to get there:
The easiest way to get there is by plane (Cebu Pacific Air) from Cebu. Otherwise you have to cross over from Surigao City (in the north of Mindanao) by ferry or Filipino Bangka.

Tip: If you have a little more time, you should definitely take a trip to Bucas Grande. Sohoton Cove, the jellyfish grove and the sleepy town of Socorro await adventurous visitors here.

The east coast of Mindanao: Mati, Tinuy-an Falls and Enchanted River

The truly daring adventurers work their way south along the east coast of Mindanao. This is certainly more for "more advanced" travelers to the Philippines, who are best to have local contacts. But it is precisely here that you will find beaches, waterfalls and rivers (such as the »enchanted river«) that are second to none.

How to get there:
The journey is made from Surigao City or Davao City, preferably with local guides in a privately rented van with a driver.

Vigan City

Probably the most attractive and most beautiful city in the Philippines for tourists is located in the northwest of Luzon. It is no coincidence that Vigan is now a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Here you can follow the traces of Spanish colonial history (the Philippines was a Spanish colony for over 300 years and was named after the Spanish King Philip II), admire old buildings and let yourself be driven across the cobblestones in a calesa in proper style.

How to get there:
You can get there either by bus or by plane from Manila. The closest airport is in Laoag City, which is also worth seeing. From there the bus continues to Vigan City.

Tip: Both in Vigan and Laoag there are delicious “empanadas” on the “public markets” - a snack that you shouldn't miss out on.

Cagayan de Oro ("CdO")

Cagayan, the "city of golden friendship", has developed into one of the most dynamic cities in the Philippines. The city is not only considered the gateway to Camiguin Island, but is also a good starting point to set off for the local Talaandig in the beautiful province of Bukidnon or to visit the legendary Tinago Waterfalls in Iligan.

With the Mapawa Nature Park, White Water Rafting on the Cagayan River and the waterfalls, »CdO« also offers enough highlights to spend a few days there.

How to get there:
The easiest way to get there is by plane from Manila or Cebu. Cagayan is also served by some large ferries and can be easily reached by bus on the mainland of Mindanao (e.g. from Davao City or Surigao City).

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The province of Leyte has attracted more attention in recent years, mainly because of the terrible typhoon, but it also offers some beautiful destinations that make a visit worthwhile. The small islet Limasawa Island, for example, is such a sleepy and completely unspoiled gem. It is here, and not on Mactan Island (Cebu), for example, that Ferdinand Magellan is said to have landed for the first time in the Philippines when he "discovered" the Islas Filipinas on behalf of the Spanish Crown.

Padre Burgos is a popular destination on Leyte, especially with divers, and at the right time of year you can spot whale sharks there.

How to get there:
You can get there by plane via Tacloban, for example. It is easier to cross over from Surigao or to take a ferry from Cebu towards Maasin to reach the destinations mentioned.


When it comes to whale sharks, however, my first choice is Donsol and not Leyte or Oslob. Donsol has been known as the "capital of whale sharks" for several years, although the place is a little more difficult to travel to than Oslob near Cebu. In Oslob, however, the world's largest sharks are fed, which among other things leads to them changing their behavior and sometimes swimming upright.

The consequences of this are that they sometimes injure themselves on boat rotors and no longer go hiking. Most travelers to the Philippines don't seem to care, because they don't want to miss this "incomparable experience" on their trip. In the meantime sheer crowds of people are carted to the whale sharks in Oslob, in order to then go on "whale hunt" in the turmoil.

Tip: Better plan your trip to Donsol and combine that with a stay in Legazpi, where Mount Mayon is also a very beautiful volcano to see (and climb). The best chances of seeing whale sharks are between January and April.

How to get there:
By plane, for example from Manila or Cebu to Legazpi. Continue with the minibus.


I discovered one of the most beautiful beaches in the Philippines by chance in the north of Luzon. When the Icelandic volcano "Eyjafjallajökull" erupted in 2010 and "forced" me to extend my trip to the Philippines, I just got on the bus and chugged from Manila to Pagudpud. Lo and behold: miles of white sandy beach at Saud White Beach and the best swimming conditions.

Tip: If you take a trip to Vigan City, you can include a trip to Laoag and Pagudpud. In this area the country has a particularly “Spanish” feel to it, there are some colonial-style buildings and other stone houses that are not so common in the rest of the island state.

How to get there:
For example by bus or taxi from Laoag.

Bantayan Island

The island is another backpacker's dream that has already inspired some visitors to "get out" completely. Here you will find expats who are making their South Seas dream come true. On my bike tour around Bantayan, in addition to white carabaos and many nice locals, I also discovered beautiful beaches on which isolated resorts have settled.

The main town of Santa Fé is absolutely picturesque and invites you to take a break in one of the beautiful cafes.

How to get there:
From Cebu City by bus to Hagnaya (approx. 3-4 hours), then take the ferry (approx. 1 hour). There are also connections from Cadiz to Negros.


To the west of Negros Oriental is the brown Sugar Beach of Sipalay. Snorkeling, diving, chilling - besides Bantayan a real highlight, especially for backpackers.

How to get there:
Both from Bacolod City and Dumaguete by bus in about 3-4 hours.

Tip: If you have a little more time and are traveling from Dumaguete, you should definitely make a detour to Tambobo Bay - a natural harbor where daring world sailors from all over the world come together.

Your individual Philippines dream trip

Would you like to have your trip organized by professionals? Whether beach vacation, cultural sights, nature experiences or honeymoon: With Fascination Southeast Asia you can book your very own dream trip. It is organized and carried out by local experts who have worked in the Philippines for many years and know the best destinations, accommodations and insider tips. The itinerary is designed on the basis of your wishes, expectations and ideas. Basically, (almost) anything is possible.

Interest? Check out some sample routes here.

Apo Island

The island is a real dream for snorkelers. A marine sanctuary was built and maintained here over many years, which is why there are particularly beautiful corals and many fish. The peaceful giant tortoises are always there and can be seen feeding on a snorkeling excursion.

How to get there:
The easiest way to get there is from Dumaguete City by bus or jeepney in the direction of Zamboangita and get off at Malatapay. From there you can hire a boat for around 1500 PHP there and back.

Tip: Every Wednesday there is a weekly market in Malatapay that you shouldn't miss. You can find out more about this in this post about Apo Island.

Siquijor Island

The magical voodoo island Siquijor Island or "isla del fuego" (island of fire) - probably going back to the blood-red sunsets that visitors here in the evening - is now very popular with backpackers. I have visited Siquijor about a dozen times since 2005 and, not without reason, have seen a significant increase in visitors over the past few years without actually being able to speak of a rush.

However, tourists are no longer uncommon there, and especially during the main travel season between December and May you have to share one of the many beaches with other people.

How to get there:
The easiest way is by ferry from Dumaguete City, otherwise there is also a connection from Plaridel (Misamis Occidental, Mindanao) to Larena on Siquijor.

Tip: Be sure to stop by the U-Story and stay there for a few nights (open between October and May). I don't say more, otherwise I'll get "nasty e-mails" again because I reveal too much.


Located on Bohol, it is a very good alternative to Panglao Island, which, along with Boracay and El Nido, has established itself as perhaps the most popular Filipino port of call for tourists from all over the world. From here, too, the excursion into the colorful underwater world is worthwhile for divers and snorkelers.

Waterfalls, the Chocolate Hills and numerous other sights, including small rice terraces, are also easily accessible from here.

How to get there:
The easiest way to get to Anda from Tagbilaran City is by van, bus or taxi in around 2 hours. Alternatively from Camiguin by ferry to Jagna on Bohol, then on to Anda. Or from Cebu by ferry over to Bohol (Tubigon or Jetaffe, and hire transport there to get further.

Baguio City

Strawberries in the Philippines ?! Yes there is. For some time, Baguio City was considered the summer seat of the Philippine government, as it is pleasantly cool in the higher elevations and the vegetation differs significantly from the flora of the rest of the country.

Well-known artists and musicians such as Kidlat Tahimik and Pepe Smith, who have made their homes under the pine trees, cavort in this student city. In terms of culture and cuisine, Baguio has a lot to offer, so that a stopover, e.g. on the way to the rice terraces of Banaue, is absolutely worthwhile.

Tip: Stop by for dinner at "Oh My Gulay" and enjoy a delicious vegetarian dish in an artistic setting.

How to get there:
Baguio can be reached by bus from Manila in about 6-8 hours.

Dinagat Islands

Finally, I would like to mention the Dinagat Islands. In some cases I have already been "reprimanded" because I am giving away one of the last "real insider tips" - but that is also my very personal mission somewhere.

Here you can find the counterpart to El Nido, except that Dinagat is on the eastern side of Mindanao and not on Palawan.

The lack of infrastructure does not make traveling easy, but it does ensure that a visit becomes a real adventure on which you also have to improvise. It is best to take at least five to seven days to explore and experience Dinagat.

How to get there:
From Surigao City by boat to San José in about 2 hours.

Tip: Be sure to visit the mayor »Dani« after arriving in San José and give him my regards. At the same time, he also heads the Bahay Turista, the province's tourism authority, and can help with initial accommodation and further travel planning.

Book a trip to the Philippines?

Would you like John and his people to organize a trip to the Philippines to the most beautiful destinations away from the crowds? In cooperation with Fascination Southeast Asia you can have your individual Phillipines tour created here.

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About the author

Stefan has been traveling to the countries of Southeast Asia since 2006 and often spends several months there. In 2013 he founded Fascination Southeast Asia and since then has also written several eBooks and books on the subject (including the insider travel guide “555 Tips for Bangkok”). Between his travels he lives and works in Düsseldorf.

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