The Philippines is a vast archipelago of well over 7000 islands, so there’s no doubt that there are a lot of great things to do across this underrated Southeast Asian nation.
Known for its white-sand beaches, beautiful lagoons and excellent dive sites, this is a destination where you can simultaneously relax and adventure every day of your trip.
You can hike to the summit of active volcanoes, snorkel with huge shoals of sardines, or take in the local history and culture.
Explore Cebu for beaches and mountains, sit back on the beaches of Boracay or Bohol, or venture into the Rice Terraces of Banaue.
There are so many great things to do in the Philippines, and to inspire your next journey, here are the best of them!
Don’t leave home without: Lonely Planet Philippines (Country Guide)
21 Best Things to Do in the Philippines
1. Wander the Intramuros in Manila
Often overlooked by travelers making a quick beeline to the beaches and islands, it’s still impossible to escape the capital city of the Philippines, Manila.
This is the admittedly chaotic and at times the overwhelming heart of the nation, but take the time to explore the historic district of Intramuros before you escape.
Intramuros is where the modern history of the Philippines begins because this is the old walled Spanish city, from where the country was ruled for more than 300 years during the colonial era.
Walk along the ramparts, visit Manila Cathedral, ride around the cobbled streets in a rickshaw, and soak up the heritage of Manila’s most historic area.
Soak up the sights, discover the history, and even ride along the walls on this small-group bicycle tour with a difference: bamboo bikes.
After choosing a style and size that suits you, tour sites including Fort Santiago, Plaza Roma, and the Puerta del Parian gate, then finish with some Filipino snacks.
2. Go to Coron
But you won’t stay in Manila for too long, and when you leave, take a short flight or a long overnight ferry to Coron Town, the hub for a small archipelago that has quickly become one of the best things to do in the Philippines.
Barely known even just a decade ago, Coron is now one of the most popular places in the country, and for good reason.
This is the classic Philippines, but it’s yet to be totally overrun by mass tourism. There are white sand beaches on far-flung, remote islands.
There are freshwater lagoons shrouded in local folklore and surrounded by tall limestone karsts. There are hot springs, shipwrecks, coral reefs and much, much more waiting to be discovered in Coron.
Visit Coron and take this great tour of all the island’s highlights, including snorkeling at the Siete Pecados Marine Park and Coral Eden, a boat cruise around Kayangan Lake, and swimming at the Twin Lagoons, plus a delicious seafood lunch on Calachuchi Beach.
3. Discover Palawan Island
Located to the south of Coron, Palawan was once known as the last frontier of the Philippines.
It’s not quite so untouched these days, but it’s still a great mix of rustic beach destinations and tourist sites that make Palawan the perfect place for a first time trip to the Philippines.
Most travelers will start in Puerto Princesa, Palawan’s largest city, where you’re just a short journey away from the beautiful Underground River, a UNESCO World Heritage Site of subterranean rivers.
Journey north and you’ll find the party beaches of Nacpan or island-hopping adventures around El Nido.
Journey south and you’ll find a relatively unexplored part of the Philippines, with rustic beach bungalows set along the isolated coastline.
Visit the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, and paddle down the Puerto Princesa Underground River on this 8-hour tour. This underground river is one of the longest underground rivers in the world.
Board a boat at the mouth of the cave at Sabang Wharf, and stop at the Buenavista viewpoint for views of the Ulugan Bay.
You can also choose to upgrade to include a group or private trip to a ziplining experience at Ugong Rock Adventure Zipline and Spelunking.
4. Climb Volcanoes
This is a country set along major faultlines, which means that one of the best things to do in the Philippines is to explore the many, many volcanoes that are found across the islands.
Just south of Manila, you can find the epic Taal Volcano, where you’ll see the curious natural phenomenon of a crater lake in a volcano, which is inside another lake.
Head south, and in Bicol, you can hike or ride quad bikes up the slopes of Mount Mayon, one of the most active volcanoes in the country.
Discover the natural beauty of Taal Volcano, one of the Philippines’ most active volcanoes, on this 8-hour tour.
You’ll take a boat ride to the volcano island and admire the setting of the crater and surrounding Taal Lake on a horseback ride with a guide.
5. Go Snorkeling and Diving
With so much coastline and ocean, one of the best things to do in the Philippines is snorkeling and diving.
On every island, you’ll find beautiful spots where you can explore the rich biodiversity of the underwater world, and the fact that this is one of the cheapest places in the world to dive makes things even easier.
Head to Coron to snorkel or dive shipwrecks, or travel to Moalboal where you can snorkel with huge shoals of sardines just a few meters off the beach.
Apo Reef is one of the largest, yet almost unknown coral reef systems on the planet, while on Malapascua Island you can dive with friendly Thresher Sharks. The options are quite literally endless.
Discover the underwater world of the Philippines’ Nalusuan Island Marine Sanctuary on a snorkeling tour from Cebu.
After traveling by boat to reach the location, you’ll have the chance to swim over the tropical reef to look for fish and other marine life.
6. Swim with Whale Sharks
One of the best reasons to visit the Philippines though is for the Whale Sharks.
These majestic creatures – the world’s largest fish – are only found in a select few locations, but in the Philippines, head to the right place at the right time of the year and you can be almost guaranteed to spot them.
Now, don’t go to Oslob, the destination in Cebu that’s best known for whale sharks. The ethics here are dubious, as the locals have been feeding the whale sharks for years to attract them to the coast.
Head instead to Donsol, off the coast of Bicol, where between November and April the Whale Sharks head through the area on their own accord.
Go whale shark watching off the scenic coast of Oslob, Cebu on this day tour. Undoubtedly, one of the most popular, talking about worldwide recognition, tourist attractions in South Cebu!
7. See the Chocolate Hills
One of the most famed things to do in the Philippines is to visit the iconic Chocolate Hills.
Found on the island of Bohol, in the Visayas, the Chocolate Hills are so-called because in the dry season this endless range of distinct hilltops looks remarkably like chocolate.
You can visit the Chocolate Hills viewing area, where on elevated platforms you’ll have incredible views across the landscapes, where Chocolate Hills literally stretch towards the horizon.
Enjoy a full-day tour of Bohol Island from Tagbilaran, traveling with an informative guide around the stunning island.
Relax during a lunch cruise on the Loboc River, then take in the Chocolate Hills from several vantage points. You’ll also see daily life in villages and farms for a comprehensive island experience.
8. Catch a Sunset in Panglao
Connected to Bohol by a short bridge, is the popular getaway island of Panglao. This is an island that can satisfy the cravings of any traveler because there’s so much to do here.
You can find beach resorts and high-end hotels or rustic beach bungalows and cheap hostels. Visit Alona Beach to relax on the white sands or to party the night away.
Take an island-hopping trip to explore turtle sanctuaries or remote dive sites. Explore caves, go snorkeling, or head to Bohol in search of the fabled Chocolate Hills.
Spare yourself the hassle and expense of self-drive and relax as a professional takes the wheel on this half-day door-to-door tour of beautiful Panglao Island.
Besides Instagram-worthy beaches, including Alona Beach, see the dramatic stalactites of Hinagdanan Cave, savor an organic ice cream at the Bohol Bee Farm, tour island churches, and visit the Nova Shells Museum.
9. Enjoy the Beaches in Boracay
Boracay has changed a lot since it was first ‘discovered’ by backpackers a few decades back. It was recently closed for a massive cleanup and overhaul, as visitor numbers were through the roof.
These days, it’s a more relaxed and quiet place to visit and perfect if you’re looking for a traditional beach holiday, as there are plenty of resorts and loads of great restaurants and bars.
Despite most people visiting to relax on the beach, there are plenty of other things to do in Boracay.
You don’t need scuba to experience Boracay’s underwater world. In fact, you don’t even need to get your face wet.
Discover the tropical paradise that lies just offshore from White Beach with an Aquanaut helmet diving experience.
Your guide will equip you with a helmet, complete with air hose, and lead you below the surface into a world of color and life.
10. Tour Around Cebu
Cebu is another classic Filipino travel destination, and if you’ve only got a short time in the country it’s a great place to get a real feel for what the Philippines has to offer.
Snorkel with shoals of sardines at Moalboal, visit the crashing waterfalls and beautiful canyons of Kawasan Falls and explore endless beaches and islands along the coast.
The Queen City of the South is rich in history and culture, but exploring on your own can be a hassle and costly. Learn about Cebu’s heritage in this easy and inexpensive shared tour of 12 people or less.
Highlights include Magellan’s Cross, Basilica Minore del Santo Nino, Colon Street, Philippine Taoist Temple, and the Heritage of Cebu Monument.
11. Visit the Hanging Coffins of Sagada
If you’re looking to escape the heat and humidity of the coast, then take a trip to Sagada, one of the best things to do in the Philippines.
This charming mountain town is found at fairly high altitude, ensuring that it’s much cooler than most of the lowlands.
Found in the Cordilleras of Luzon, Sagada is home to wonderful hiking and trekking opportunities, but it’s perhaps best known for its Hanging Coffins.
This unusual custom sees the locals hanging their deceased in coffins from the cliffs.
12. Hike the Rice Terraces of Banaue
Also located in the Cordillera Mountains of central Luzon, are the spectacular Rice Terraces of Banaue.
This is one of the best places to visit in the Philippines because few destinations in Asia can match these rice terraces for their beauty.
For thousands of years, the locals have been shaping the steep hillsides into terraces, where they continue to grow rice and to farm to this day.
You can hike through the endless terraces or simply watch ut across the mountains from the high viewpoints above.
The 2000-year-old Banaue rice terraces are among the largest and most beautiful terraced fields in the world, and you’ll see them up close on this four-day trek. But, they are just one highlight of the Ifugao region.
Trek through mountains, forests, native communities, and past waterfalls. Stay overnight in a village, where you can chat with locals and learn about their life and culture
13. Go Surfing in Siargao
Found in the south of the Philippines, Siargao has grown for an unknown and distant island into the Philippines’ premier surfing and Instagram spot.
Known for its big breaks and waves, this is the place to visit if you’re into your surfing. It’s also undeniably beautiful, and it’s attracting bigger and bigger backpacking crowds each year.
There are great beaches and hotels, wonderful, remote islands and lagoons, and plenty of snorkeling spots across Siargao and the surrounding area.
Siargao looks set to be one of the fastest-growing tourist destinations in the Philippines, so get in quick before things change too much and the rustic appeal is lost.
Visit General Luna, Naked Island, Daku Island, and Guyam Island on a tour of the Siargao Island area from Manila.
Learn about the culture, history, and ecosystem of each distinct island through guided commentary as you travel.
14. Learn About the Witchdoctors of Siquijor
Siquijor is somewhat of a treat for travelers, because not only do you find incredible beaches and waterfalls across the island, but the destination is home to a unique culture.
Siquijor is best known as the Witchdoctor Island because the centuries-old pursuit of shamanism still persists here.
You can lounge on beaches, go cliff jumping or snorkeling, and then learn about and see first hand the many local cults and rituals to explore a different side of the Philippines to just the scenery.
15. Take a Jeepney Ride
The Philippines has a huge array of whacky public transport options, but the most unique of them all is the Jeepney.
This iconic truck/bus can trace its origins back to the end of World War II when the USA left thousands of army trucks behind.
Resourceful locals kitted them out to be buses, a tradition that still continues today. One of the best things to do in the Philippines is to ride like a local and take a Jeepney ride.
16. Swim in Kayangan Lake
Kayangan Lake on the island of Coron is the most photographed and among the most famous places in the whole country. This makes it one of the best things to do in the Philippines.
Not only is this place beautiful, but it is also a way to get up close with the lands that belong to the native Tagbanua people. They occupy and own the entire island of Coron and to this day, maintain the legendary status of Kayangan Lake.
Luckily for us, they still allow visitors to see and swim in the lake. Personally, it is a fantastic place to snorkel and free dive. The topography underwater is otherworldly.
17. Island Hop the Calamianes
The Philippines has a lot of beautiful places, don’t get me wrong, but the untouched islands of the Calamianes Archipelago are what dreams are made of.
We’re visited this area three times and each time we have the pleasure of visiting a different variety of islands. While some have become super popular, like Pass Island and Malcapuya (pictured above), there are plenty that see no tourists to enjoy too.
This is what makes exploring this area one of the best things to do in the Philippines. This area is most commonly visited by booking one of the various island-hopping day trips from Coron Town.
However, the best way to see this part of the country is on a multi-day kayaking and camping trip. We’ve done it both ways but we certainly prefer the adventure and exclusivity of the later.
18. Take a Coron to El Nido Expedition
If you crave a true adventure, then look no further than the classic sea venture from Coron to El Nido, or vice versa.
Plying the waters between North and South Palawan will find you on uninhabited islands, remote beaches and camping under the stars. You can’t really go wrong, no matter where the expedition weighs anchor each day.
We’ve done this expedition twice and can highly recommend it for someone that seeks adventure and doesn’t mind roughing it a bit. You’ll see some incredible, pristine places which are more than enough of a trade-off.
19. Visit Sabang Beach in Puerto Galera
Sabang Beach in Puerto Galera is home to some of the best scuba diving in the Philippines. It features a large number of dive sites and diverse marine life, including being a prime spot for spotting nudibranchs.
Above water, there are some spectacular white sand beaches to relax on. As a small community, the area is also well-developed for tourism offering options for backpackers to all-inclusive beachside resorts.
20. Get Off the Beaten Track in Busuanga
Despite the fact that the frequently visited Coron Town is located on the island of Busuanga, very few travelers actually explore this forgotten paradise.
Known as the last frontier in the Philippines, you can expect to find small local villages, pristine beaches, lush forests and secluded reefs to explore.
This is the reason that we fell head over heels for Busuanga the first time we visited the Philippines and have continued to visit this island. We’ve found the hiking and kayaking here to be some of the best in the world.
You can also head to the far north where you’ll find the Calauit Safari Park, a place where African animals roam free.
21. Discover the Leper History on Culion
Continuing on our theme of undiscovered places, learning about the history of leprosy on Culion Island is one of the most unique things to do in the Philippines.
The island sees very little tourism, yet is both beautiful and fascinating. We’ve been three times in our Philippines travels and continue to recommend it for more intrepid explorers.
The town remains intact from the days when medical staff lived on one side and the infected patients on the other. The gate between the two sides still stands, as well as many medical buildings.
The town offers an intriguing museum and a walking tour to learn about the history of leprosy on the island. When you’re done with that, the snorkeling off the coast of Culion is some of the best to be found in the country.
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