15 Top-Rated Tourist Attractions & Things to Do in the Philippines
The Philippines is a tropical paradise in the Pacific Ocean made up of more than 7,000 islands that offer a natural playground for your inner explorer. Collectively, its landscapes feature an array of natural wonders, from volcanoes and rice terraces to underwater rivers and limestone caves, along with beautiful beaches.
Individually, the islands each offer something unique, whether you are looking for the best place to dive and snorkel or prefer to take in the historical sights in cities like Manila or Vigan, which have deep colonial roots.
Since the country is so spread out, a trip to the Philippines requires careful planning so that you can connect with the proper guides and find the most convenient lodging as a base for your favorite activities. Some destinations, like the Chocolate Hills in Bohol or the Hanging Coffins in Sagada, are remote, but getting there is well worth the effort.
Plan your travels with our list of the top tourist attractions and things to do in the Philippines.
1. White Beach, Boracay
There is no shortage of pristine beaches in the Philippines, but if you are looking for a more active beach scene, one of the best places to visit is White Beach in Boracay. This is the most populous beach on the island but where you will find ample opportunities for boating and other water sports.
Plenty of chairs and hammocks are beneath the palm trees, so you can relax and enjoy the pure white sand. You can even book a beachside massage. Snorkeling is a popular activity at White Beach, but if you do not want to put in so much work, take a banana boat ride or book a trip on a glass-bottom boat.
Accommodation: Where to Stay near White Beach
2. Manila Historical Sightseeing Tour
Manila is an exciting and vibrant city that is a thriving metropolis surrounded by centuries-old churches and colonial history. It is easy to walk around Manila on your own, or take a guided sightseeing tour of the oldest district, the Intramuros or walled city, where you'll find some of the most significant tourist attractions and important landmarks and monuments.
This will give you a better appreciation for Manila. You can see the famous San Agustin Church and monuments at Rizal Park and Fort Santiago, each bearing a significant influence on Manila that is best shared by a guide. Some tours are offered by coach, and others are available as walking or biking tours around the city.
After your tour, stop by one of the local restaurants for lunch and enjoy modern-day Manila as you watch the colorful jeepneys flying by on the streets.
Accommodation: Where to Stay in Manila
3. Shipwreck Diving, Coron
The sunken ships to explore on Sangat Island in Coron are some of the best diving sites in the world. The wrecks are at varied depths that are suitable for both deep water scuba divers and shallow water snorkeling. The shipwrecks, many from WWII, have become habitats for diverse fish species. The clear water makes for easy viewing of the shipwrecks and underwater wildlife.
Many of the shipwrecks are from an attack on the Imperial Japanese Navy in 1944. Deep divers will want to view the Akitsushima Maru warship, Irako Maru, and the Kyokuzan Maru. There are so many shipwrecks to explore that you may want to consider staying for several days. A resort like the Sangat Island Dive Resort caters to divers who stay multiple days, and it is a five-minute boat ride to many dive sites.
If you are new to the island, you may want to consider booking a dive or snorkel trip that can get you to the best spots.
4. Mayon Volcano, Albay
The Mayon Volcano in the Albay province on Luzon Island is a must-see in the Philippines. It is an active stratovolcano with an elevation of more than 2,400 meters. The Mayon volcano has a perfect cone peak.
Most visitors will want to enjoy the volcano by viewing it from the ground. Nature trails in the national park grounds surround the volcano, where you can also see wildlife like parakeets and other birds.
Extreme hikers can apply for a permit to climb the volcano, but it is a difficult trek through forest, and dangerous gases are emitted near the peak, so caution is advised. The ideal time to visit is March through May, outside of the rainy season. You can take an organized trip from Manila to get here.
5. Chocolate Hills, Bohol
The geological wonder on the island of Bohol known as the Chocolate Hills is a unique natural phenomenon. This UNESCO World Heritage site is a protected area that features more than 1,200 small mountains that emerged above the ground over several centuries. The area was once under the ocean, and these unique hills expand in every direction.
They are green during much of the year, but during the dry season, they turn to a chocolate-brown color, thus the name, chocolate hills. A convenient path leads to the top of a lookout area, which provides the best view. Be sure to observe the many delicate flowers along the walkway that are unique to this area.
6. Underground River Tour, Puerto Princesa
Taking a river tour of the Underground River in Puerto Princesa is one of the most awe-inspiring things to do in the Philippines. The underground river on Palawan Island is inside the Subterranean River National Park, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The boat tours take you to experience the majestic five-mile river that runs below ground. The trip takes you through an intricate cave system surrounded by vertical limestone cliffs.
You can observe ancient stalagmite and stalactite formations as the coolness of the cave balances the tropical heat outside. As you float through the dark caves on emerald water, your guide will identify points of interest and tropical wildlife that lives along the river, which flows into the South China Sea. A full-day Underground River Tour from Puerto Princesa, includes hotel pickup and drop-off and a buffet lunch.
7. Hanging Coffins, Sagada
It is a trek to get to the hanging coffins in Sagada, located deep in the northern Cordillera Mountains, but the sight is something most people in the world will never see. The hanging coffins, some centuries old, are suspended from the cliffs of the Echo Valley. These ceremonial burials were reserved for the wealthy tribesmen.
Getting to the mountainous region requires some travel time and physical endurance to hike the steep and narrow paths to the secluded coffins. You will want sturdy shoes, and you may want to train before your trip to adapt more quickly to the high altitude. The reward is a sight you will never forget and well-earned bragging rights.
8. Island Hopping
If you just cannot decide what to do or where to go in the Philippines, an island-hopping tour might offer just the right mix. You still have to whittle down choices, but an organized island-hopping tour allows you to see a collection of islands.
You can sample snorkeling, swimming, sightseeing, and dining on local food in multiple locations and eliminate the hassle of trying to plan it on your own. Many of the island hopping tours span several days. One of the most popular island-hopping tours is to the Caramoan Islands, which were made famous after being featured on the hit TV show Survivor.
9. Batad Rice Terraces, Banaue
Viewing the Batad rice terraces at sunrise in Banaue is an unforgettable experience. This is especially recommended for landscape photographers who want to capture compelling images of Philippine agriculture. Some of these terraces are more than 2,000 years old and represent a common form of farming in the country.
The stacked terraces are carved by hand into the mountainside, creating vertical farming fields in a region void of flat land. Workers commonly plant rice and vegetables. You are able to walk some roads above the terraces that give you the best view by looking below. Early morning and dusk provide the best light to illuminate the electric green color of the fields.
10. Historic Tour of Corregidor Island
A tour of Corregidor Island is a must-see for history buffs visiting the Philippines. The island played a significant role in World War II and was the location of several battles. The relics left behind from these battles include secret tunnels and bunkers used as hideouts during the war, as well as weapons, barracks, and historical artifacts.
Be sure to take some time at the Pacific War Memorial on-site. Regular guided tours leave from Manila to a ferry that takes you to the island. This requires a full day to visit, but it is well worth the time if you have an interest in WWII history.
11. Pagsanjan Falls, Laguna
The only thing more exciting than admiring one of the most notable waterfalls in the Philippines is traversing it in a dugout canoe. The Pagsanjan Falls waterfall is part of the Pagsanjan Gorge National Park.
Your trip along the falls will take you upstream through tropical landscapes, where you will be able to swim in natural pools and pass through caves. Once you get used to the leisurely ride, prepare for the main event, as you head downstream at a fast pace through large rocks and churning water for what the locals call "shooting the rapids." It is an exhilarating outdoor adventure, and you can take day trips from Manila.
12. Coral Garden, Coron
Coron Island in the Philippines is a popular diving and snorkeling location partly due to the abundant and thriving coral reefs. The Coral Garden is a specific site with particularly accessible coral and fish species. Snorkeling and diving tours to the Coral Garden often encompass stops to nearby shipwrecks.
If you are unsure where to snorkel to see some of the best coral, taking an organized trip to the Coral Garden is an easy introduction to the sport. Guides are able to point out sea turtles and fish and offer information about what kinds of coral you are viewing underwater.
13. Taal Volcano, Talisay
The Taal Volcano on the island of Luzon is one of the most active in the country. It is in the center of Taal Lake, so just getting to the crater is part of the adventure. The city of Talisay, where you will catch a boat to get to the crater, is less than an hour's drive from Manila. You will catch a boat to go across Taal Lake then hike to the rim of the crater.
There are a number of trails around the volcano. The Spanish Trail goes to the top of the volcano and has some of the most impressive views. The less popular Kenney Trail is a good option if you want to avoid potential crowds or if you think you might want to rest along the way. This trail has quite a few shade trees.
Due to the logistics involved in visiting Taal Volcano, you might want to consider an organized day-tour.
14. Jungle Training, Subic Bay
When the United States Navy had an active base on Subic Bay, their Navy Seals received training by indigenous Aetas on how to survive the jungle. Now, you can visit the former base on Subic Bay and even take Jungle Environmental Survival Training from the natives.
You can take a tour of the former Subic Bay Naval Base and tour the converted complex, which has a number of activities on-site. Subic Bay is located on the island of Luzon, so it is an easy day trip from Manila, or you can stay in the region.
15. Hanging Bridge, Sevilla
On the island of Bohol, a bridge made entirely of bamboo swings almost 40 meters in the air over the Loboc River. For those with a sense of adventure, or a desire to conquer a fear of heights, the hanging bridge walk will be a vacation experience you will never forget. The hanging bridge is in the town of Sevilla. It is easy to combine this experience with other excursions on Bohol Island.
Over the years, the bridge, which was was originally made with woven bamboo, has received some safety reinforcements due to its popularity with tourists. Not to worry though, it still creeks and swings and gives you butterflies in your stomach as you look down at the rushing river below you.