There’s a lot of talk about the Philippines lately, which can be a bit confusing since it’s really so contradicting. You read the latest news and it looks like a war zone over there, and then you notice the big banner on the side offering a dream vacation at the world’s best islands.
So which one is it? Should you go exploring the unspoiled islands there, or opt for a safer option such as Thailand for example? I personally didn’t feel any danger during my time there, but that’s maybe because I mostly stayed in the capital Manila.
Let’s be honest, travelling to 3rd world countries is never going to be 100% safe. Even Thailand, which is probably the most tourist-friendly destination, suffers from a ruthless military regime and severe political instability. These type of vacations are suited for adventurous people, and the risk involved is also what makes them exciting.
The Philippines is extremely safe, as long as you do your research well and know which places to go to, and which ones to avoid. Families and honeymooners can just go to the popular tourists spots such as Palawan and Boracay. Both have been named among the best islands in the world, and are tourist friendly and safe.
For those who would still like to stray off the beaten path, we compiled this list below. It’ll help you discover the less popular islands that are still perfectly safe to visit. That being said, some are quite hard to reach and there isn’t alot of information available online. So, booking them as part of a Philippines vacation package might be a good idea. That way, you are much more likely to experience everything those wonderful islands have to offer.
1) Batanas – the paradise of the north
If you ask the locals what is the best place in the Philippines, answers would probably be evenly split between this place and Palawan. The reason Batanes isn’t as popular is it’s so hard to reach – your only option is flying in from Manila and prices are quite high (around 300$ for a roundtrip).
The landscape in Batanes is completely different than any other island in the country, and so is its culture, history and general vibe. That’s a great thing, since it means you can combine it with other islands and get a more complete experience. However, since this isn’t a tourist spot, you’ll need to adjust your expectations – there are no fancy hotels or restaurants here, and no bars and commercialized tours.
The islands are a place of ultimate peace and tranquility, where people go to clear their minds and be one with nature. Batanes is the least populated province, and there’s a strong sense of community among its inhabitants. The people here are extremely friendly and helpful and would be glad to take you into their homes, or guide you around the island. If you wish to visit Batanes, it might actually be better to book a home-stay, and experience the local culture and way of life firsthand.
2) Malapascua – private beaches and stunning diving spots
Malapascua island is one the best hidden gems in the Philippines. Located in the Visayas region, it’s also quite close to other great locations such as Cebu, Bohol and Boracay. The island offers some of the best beaches you’ll see anywhere, and you’ll usually have them all to yourself.
The main attraction in Malapascua is the Monad Shoal dive site – considered the best place in the world to see thresher sharks. It’s not just sharks though, as you’d likely come face to face with a host of other fish and marine mammals during your dive. It’s a really exciting adventure, more suited for advanced divers – you should advance your PADI certificate first if you need to.
Conditions at Malapascua are also quite basic, so don’t expect any high end accommodation. Those of you who have high standards can still visit this place – there are a handful of nicer resorts, but you’ll need to book your stay early enough.
3) Siquijor – home of witches, ghosts and vampires
If you want a good laugh, tell Filipinos you plan to visit this island and watch as they try to save your life. Siquijor is a small island south of Cebu, with a rich history and folklore around it. As you might have already realized, the island suffered from quite a poor reputation in the past due to all those myths and horror stories. Luckily, it’s all starting to change now and more people come to visit and explore this beautiful place.
There’s a huge selection of beaches, mountains, waterfalls and caves at Siquijor, and you can easily spend a whole week there just trying to see everything. If you time your visit well, you could also catch one of the festivals which are held on a pretty regular basis. It’s a really cool opportunity to get a glimpse of local culture.
If your’e already visiting Siquijor you should consider spending a few nights in Dumaguete city as well. You’ll probably be one of the first tourists to do so, but trust me when i say it’s worth a visit. Dumaguete is the largest student city in the Philippines, and as such has a really young and dynamic vibe to it. It’s also the place where you can go on day tours to Apo island from – the best place to dive or swim with sea turtles.
4) Siargao – Possibly the ultimate island vacation
Most of you probably haven’t heard of Siargao island, but chances are high 5 years from now it’ll be mentioned in the same breath as Palawan and Boracay. The scenery there is amazing, especially the beaches which are some of the best in the world. The best thing about Siargao at the moment though, is that it still goes unnoticed by most tourists.
If you rent a motorbike, you won’t have to drive for more than 10-15 minutes at any direction to find a private beach. Cloud nine beach is the main one, since it’s considered one of the best surfing spots in the world. Siargao has always been a surfing mecca, so the hotel industry naturally evolved around that area. The fact that surfers from all over the world spend their time there, creates a young fun-seeking atmosphere and makes finding a nice bar or a nightclub very easy.
Siargao isn’t just surfing though, as there are plenty of other things do on the island. It’s recommended to stay for a few days, and explore the place with a motorbike. You’ll find countless caves, lagoons and waterfalls which are sure to leave you speechless.
5) Dinagat island – nature at its purest form
Dinagat is a place even most locals never heard of. If you try to search for information online, you’ll have a pretty hard time finding any. Still, those who were lucky enough to go there say it reminds them a lot of how Palawan was like 20 or 30 years ago – where Alex Garland stayed when he wrote his famous novel The Beach. If you watched the movie, then this is exactly what Dinagat is like – a perfect haven for nature lovers.
Dinagat island is very close to Siargao, so it’s also perfect for a day trip out of there. That might actually be a good idea, since there aren’t many hotels on the island itself. Once you arrive, there are two main things you must try. First, there’s the island hopping – you can easily spend a few days just exploring the many small islands. Secondly, make sure you visit Lake Bababu – one of the most spectacular places in the Philippines.
Exploring Dinagat on your own can be difficult – it’s a heavily forested island and you can quite easily get lost. If you go there, it’s highly recommended you use a travel agency to organize your tour, or at least book a local guide in advance. This island is truly the perfect place for adventure seekers who wish to wander into the wilderness of nature