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Lonely Planet Philippines

Lonely Planet Philippines

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Lonely Planet Philippines

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Jun 1, 2018


Lonely Planet: The world's leading travel guide publisher

Lonely Planet's Philippines is your passport to the most relevant, up-to-date advice on what to see and skip, and what hidden discoveries await you. Pick your strip of pearly white sand, snorkel with gentle whale sharks at Donsol or dive at Puerto Galera, and cruise through the reefs and islands of the Bacuit Archipelago - all with your trusted travel companion. Get to the heart of Philippines and begin your journey now!

Inside Lonely Planet's Philippines:

  • Colour maps and images throughout
  • Highlights and itineraries help you tailor your trip to your personal needs and interests
  • Insider tips to save time and money and get around like a local, avoiding crowds and trouble spots
  • Essential info at your fingertips - hours of operation, phone numbers, websites, transit tips, prices
  • Honest reviews for all budgets - eating, sleeping, sightseeing, going out, shopping, hidden gems that most guidebooks miss
  • Cultural insights provide a richer, more rewarding travel experience - covering history, wildlife, landscapes, arts, daily life, food, people
  • Covers Manila & Around, Mindoro, Palawan, Boracay, Western Visayas, Mindanao, Cebu, Eastern Visayas, Southeast Luzon, North Luzon, and more

The Perfect Choice: Lonely Planet's Philippines is our most comprehensive guide to the country, and is designed to immerse you in the culture and help you discover the best sights and get off the beaten track.

About Lonely Planet: Lonely Planet is a leading travel media company and the world's number one travel guidebook brand, providing both inspiring and trustworthy information for every kind of traveller since 1973. Over the past four decades, we've printed over 145 million guidebooks and grown a dedicated, passionate global community of travellers. You'll also find our content online, and in mobile apps, video, 14 languages, nine international magazines, armchair and lifestyle books, ebooks, and more.

'Lonely Planet guides are, quite simply, like no other.' - New York Times

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Important Notice: The digital edition of this book may not contain all of the images found in the physical edition.

Jun 1, 2018

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Top citazioni

  • Book a bangka through the Sabang Information Office (P1120 for up to six people, 15 minutes) to get you from the wharf to the cave entrance, or walk 5km via the Jungle Trail ( GOOGLE MAP ; P200 incl guide).

  • Sabang Information Office ( GOOGLE MAP ; %048-723 0904; h8am-4pm) Your first stop for visits to the underground river. If you're not on a group tour, this is where you pay all fees and arrange your boat.

  • Lexus Shuttle (0915 347 9593) vans connect Sabang and Puerto Princesa five or six times daily in either direction (P200, 1½ hours, last trip 6pm).

  • Climbing the local taraw (cliffs) is an option, albeit not one for the faint of heart. Expect marvellous views from the top.

  • The last 'minor' eruption, in which ash spewed for half an hour, occurred in June 2016.

Anteprima del libro

Lonely Planet Philippines - Paul Harding

The Philippines


Plan Your Trip

Welcome to the Philippines

The Philippines' Top 15

Need to Know

First Time Philippines

What's New

If You Like...

Month by Month


Diving in the Philippines

Outdoor Activities

Eat & Drink Like a Local

Regions at a Glance

On The Road


Manila Highlights




Festivals & Events



Drinking & Nightlife



The Philippines in Colour

Around Manila

Around Manila Highlights


South of Manila

Tagaytay & Lake Taal




Mt Banahaw




North of Manila

Angeles & Clark Airport

Subic Bay & Olongapo

Mt Pinatubo Region

North Luzon

North Luzon Highlights

Zambales Coast

Southern Zambales Coast

Iba & Botolan

North of Iba

Lingayen Gulf

Bolinao & Patar Beach

Hundred Islands National Park

San Juan (La Union)




Pagudpud & Around

The Cordillera



Mt Pulag National Park

Sagada & Around


Around Bontoc

Kalinga Province


Around Banaue


Northeast Luzon


San Jose

Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park


Santa Ana

Batanes Islands

Batan Island

Sabtang Island

Itbayat Island

Southeast Luzon

Southeast Luzon Highlights


Daet & Bagasbas


Mt Isarog National Park

Caramoan Peninsula



Around Legazpi


Bulusan Volcano National Park & Around






Around Catanduanes


Masbate Town

Around Masbate Island

Ticao Island



Gasan & the West Coast

East Coast


Puerto Galera


Roxas & Around


San Jose

Mt Iglit-Baco National Park


Boracay & Western Visayas

Boracay & Western Visayas Highlights





Antique Province





Mt Kanlaon Natural Park



San Carlos

Sugar Beach

Punta Ballo

Apo Island



Valencia & Around

Bais City & Around



San Juan & Around

Lazi & Around


Romblon Province

Tablas Island

Romblon Island

Sibuyan Island

Cebu & Eastern Visayas

Cebu & Eastern Visayas Highlights


Cebu City

Around Cebu City

Malapascua Island

Bantayan Island



Lilo-an & Sumilon Island

Camotes Islands

Pacijan Island

Poro Island

Ponson Island



Panglao Island

Balicasag Island

Pamilacan Island

Cabilao Island

Chocolate Hills Loop








Padre Burgos

Panaon Island

Biliran Island


North of Naval

East & South of Naval

Higatangan Island

Maripipi Island



Biri Island


Dalupiri Island





Calicoan Island


Cagayan de Oro





General Santos

Lake Sebu

Mt Apo

Samal Island

Talikud Island

Zamboanga City


Puerto Princesa

Sabang & The Underground River

Southern Palawan

Port Barton

San Vicente


El Nido

Busuanga & the Calamian Islands


Understand the Philippines

The Philippines Today


People & Culture



Directory A-Z



Customs Regulations


Embassies & Consulates

LGBT+ Travellers


Internet Access

Legal Matters



Opening Hours


Public Holidays

Safe Travel




Tourist Information

Travellers with Disabilities



Women Travellers



Getting There & Away

Getting Around


Before You Go

In the Philippines


Behind the Scenes

Our Writers

Welcome to the Philippines

The Philippines is defined by its emerald rice fields, teeming megacities, graffiti-splashed jeepneys, smouldering volcanoes, bug-eyed tarsiers, fuzzy water buffalo and smiling, happy-go-lucky people.

A Land Apart

The Philippines is a land apart from mainland Southeast Asia – not only geographically but also spiritually and culturally. The country’s overwhelming Catholicism, the result of 350 years of Spanish rule, is its most obvious enigma. Vestiges of the Spanish era include exuberant town fiestas (festivals) and centuries-old stone churches. Malls, fast-food chains and widespread spoken English betray the influence of Spain’s colonial successor, the Americans. Yet, despite these outside influences, the country remains its own unique entity. The people are, simply, Filipinos – and proud of it. Welcoming, warm and relentlessly upbeat, it is they who captivate and ultimately ensnare visitors.

Island-Hopping Paradise

With thousands of tropical islands to choose from, the Philippines is a beach bum's delight. There's an island to suit every taste, from marooned slicks of sand in the middle of the ocean, to volcanic fantasy-scapes concealing hidden lagoons, to sprawling mega-islands such as Luzon and Mindanao. Sun worshippers and divers should head straight to the Visayas, where island-hopping opportunities abound and the perfect beach takes many forms. More adventurous travellers can pitch a tent on a deserted stretch of coastline in Palawan and play solo Survivor for a few days.

Life in the Tropics

We've all had it happen: your trip to paradise is ruined by torrential monsoon rain. Rather than let the weather defeat them, in the Philippines travellers can embrace meteorological uncertainty and use it as an excuse to go with the flow. This is a place to dispense with advance bookings and, when the going gets rough (or wet), migrate to fairer climes. Domestic travel is cheap and fun, and is best done spontaneously. Do your homework too – Palawan and the western seaboard are pretty darned wet from July to September, so go east during this time (unless there's a typhoon brewing).

The Great Outdoors

The Philippines is justifiably famous for its beaches, but sporty types need not feel left out. While surfers are just catching on to the tasty (if fickle) waves that form on both coasts, divers have long been enamoured of the country’s underwater charms. Northern Palawan is perfect for sea kayakers, and Boracay and Pagudpud (North Luzon) are world-class kiteboarding destinations. Back on terra firma, trekking can be done just about anywhere, while mountain-bike and canyoneering tours are gaining popularity. And the Philippines is also, unofficially, the zipline capital of the world.

Man in traditional dress, Ifugao | OLEGD/SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Why I Love the Phillipines

By Greg Bloom, Writer

With 7000 tropical islands on my doorstep, I find the Philippines easy to love. But as much as I like perfect beaches, it's subtler things that keep me planted here. It's those long rooftop jeepney rides through the mountains of North Luzon, followed by a round of gin shots with indigenous elders in the da-pay (meeting area). It's that fresh-fish lunch on an interminable bangka journey through Palawan. It's a frosty San Miguel at sundown. It's friends with names like Bing and Bong, and phrases like 'comfort room'. It's – dare I say it – karaoke. Now that's love.

The Philippines' Top 15

Bacuit Archipelago

Cruising through the labyrinthine Bacuit Archipelago of northern Palawan, past secluded beaches, pristine lagoons and rocky islets, is an experience not to be missed. Only a short bangka (boat) ride from the easygoing coastal town of El Nido, Bacuit Bay presents a thrilling mixture of imposing limestone escarpments, palm-tree-lined white-sand beaches and coral reefs. Overnight island-hopping trips in the bay or further north through the Linapacan Strait toward Busuanga offer an opportunity to bed down in remote fishing villages where the daily catch is grilled for dinner.

Secret Lagoon | R.M. NUNES / SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Top Experiences


Nothing defines the Philippines more than a remote strip of pearly white sand – there’s at least one made-to-order beach on each of the country’s 7000+ islands. Want to be far away from everybody? It’s almost too easy – your own private island awaits off Busuanga in Palawan's Calamian Islands. Seeking a good dive spot with plenty of additional diversions and a great beach? Dial up El Nido or Sipalay's Sugar Beach. Want action with your beach experience? Take kitesurfing lessons on Boracay or surf lessons in San Juan, La Union.

Malcapuya Island, Palawan | KENNETH DEDEU / SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Top Experiences

Bicol Adventures

Southeast Luzon, geographically defined by the Bicol peninsula, is becoming adventure-travel central for the Philippines. Besides boasting the best regional cuisine in the islands, Bicol is a top draw for adrenalin junkies via the CamSur Watersports Complex, where wakeboarding rules the roost. Daet, Camarines Norte, is a burgeoning surf and kitesurfing destination. Near Legazpi you can climb the perfect cone of Mt Mayon or ride an ATV around its base. Or head to the edge of Luzon and snorkel alongside the gentle whale sharks of Donsol – an unforgettable highlight.

Snorkelling with whale sharks, Bicol peninsula | SOFT_LIGHT / SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Top Experiences

Bohol Nature & Wildlife

While most visitors to Bohol are divers bound for touristy Alona Beach, the real charms of this central Visayan island lie deep in its interior. Perhaps no island in the country is better suited for a half-week romp by motorbike. Perfectly paved roads lead through jungle to peacock-green rivers, chocolatey hills, dramatically placed ziplines and cuddly little tarsiers. The island took a gut-punch with the 2013 earthquake, which toppled many of its centuries-old Spanish churches. Bohol bounced right back though, and is better than ever.


Top Experiences


It wasn’t that long ago that Boracay was a sleepy, almost unknown backwater. Oh, how times have changed. The world has discovered Boracay, elevating the diminutive island into a serious player in the pantheon of Southeast Asian party beaches. Yet for all that’s changed, Boracay remains generally mellower than the likes of Kuta Beach or Ko Samui. And solace can still be found, in particular at the southern end of Boracay’s signature White Beach, where the spirit of the old Boracay lives on.


Top Experiences

Cebu Sand & Sea

Cebu is your quintessential beach-lovers' paradise. Around the island, sandy coves and dramatic cliffs abut an unbroken ribbon of turquoise water. Off the west coast, coral walls attract rich marine life and scores of divers to places such as Moalboal, where schooling sardines present an unmissable spectacle. Offshore, Malapascua and Mactan Islands are dive meccas known for thresher sharks and turtles, respectively, while Bantayan is the place to get catatonic on the sand. At the heart of it all is the fun and frivolous Visayan capital, Cebu City.


Top Experiences

Fiesta Time

The Philippines just isn’t the Philippines without the colourful fiestas (festivals) that rage across the country throughout the year. Even the tiniest little barangay (village) holds at least one annually. The granddaddy of them all is the Ati-Atihan Festival in Kalibo. At Bacolod’s MassKara Festival and Marinduque’s Moriones Festival, mischievous masked men stir the masses into a dancing frenzy. The Easter crucifixion ceremony in San Fernando, north of Manila, produces a more macabre tableau, with Catholic devotees being physically nailed to crosses.

Dinagyang Festival, Iloilo | FROLOVA_ELENA / SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Top Experiences

Ifugao Rice Terraces

It’s easy to look at a map of North Luzon and assume the Cordillera is all untamed wilderness. And yes – there’s rugged jungle. But what really strikes a visitor to Banaue, Batad and the other towns of Ifugao is how cultivated the mountains are. Even the sheerest cliffs possess little patches of ground that have been tilled into rice paddies. Take all those patches together and you get a veritable blanket of upland-tilled goodness, an unending landscape of hills rounded into rice-producing lumps of emerald.


Top Experiences

Climbing Volcanic Camiguin

From the northern coastline of mainland Mindanao, the rough-hewn landscape of volcanic Camiguin is camouflaged by its lush silhouette. To truly grasp this island’s inspiring topography, veer into the interior on roadways that carve through dense forests and culminate in rocky pathways that trail further up into the highlands. Made for do-it-yourself adventurers, Camiguin’s peaks and valleys offer streams and canyons for scrambling, mountains for scaling, and pools at the base of thundering waterfalls in which to cool off.

Katibawasan Falls | TOMASITO / GETTY IMAGES ©

Top Experiences

Manila Culture & Nightlife

Contrary to popular belief, there's more to this megacity than just traffic and noise. Manila's nightlife is second to none. From the bongo-infused hipster hang-outs of Quezon City and Cubao X to the sizzling bars and chichi nightclubs of Makati and the Fort, there's something for everyone. The museums are world class, and in contemporary art and design circles Manila is Asia's rising star. Eternally classy Intramuros oozes history. Even the long-maligned culinary scene is finally emerging, as cutting-edge restaurants open alongside earthy cafes and craft-beer bars.


Top Experiences

Puerto Galera

Puerto Galera on Mindoro is well known as one of the Philippines’ greatest dive sites. Lesser known is that it’s also among the most beautiful places on the planet. Serpentine roads leading out of town afford bird's-eye views of gorgeous bays and little islands offshore, while jungle-clad mountains provide a dramatic interior backdrop. Trek to isolated hill-tribe villages by day, then return to base and enjoy a sumptuous five-course Italian meal by night. It's the perfect 'wow' setting for the must-attend Malasimbo Music & Arts Festival in February.


Top Experiences


Sagada is the Philippines' cradle of cool, a supremely mellow mountain retreat deep in the heart of the wild and woolly Cordillera mountains of North Luzon. It has all the elements of a backpacker Shangri La: awesome hikes, eerie caves, hanging coffins, strong coffee, earthy bakeries, and cosy and incredibly cheap accommodation. Fuel up on granola and head out in search of adventure, or chill out in a fireplace-warmed cafe all day, reading books or swapping yarns.


Top Experiences


It may be best known for healers and witch doctors, but this Visayan island's real magic lies in its ring road – 72km of nearly traffic-free coastal bliss. Experience Siquijor by motorbike, taking in blazingly white sand beaches, centuries-old churches, mysterious banyan trees and natural fish spas. Detour inland to explore caves, get rubbed by a healer and cool off in refreshing falls before returning to the coast to cliff-jump into turquoise waters. Pack your snorkel and enough cash for a seafood lunch and sunset cocktails.


Top Experiences

The Batanes Islands

The Batanes, where women still wear haystack-like headgear and folks live in traditional stone-and-cogon-grass houses, are far removed (both geographically and culturally) from the rest of the archipelago. You can sample the islands’ unique dishes and overnight in simple homestays to experience the daily rhythms of the farming and fishing life. Feeling more active? Cycle the pristine, strikingly beautiful coastlines of Batan and Sabtang Islands and hike the hills, rolling pastureland and extinct volcanoes of the interior.

Couple in traditional dress | LEXTER YAP / SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Top Experiences


A chill-out vibe and friendly breaks for both experts and novices make this island the Philippines' top surf destination. The legendary Cloud Nine break is the hub but waves abound elsewhere; head to tranquil Pacfico in the north for an undeveloped experience or take a surf safari to seldom-visited spots. The island is booming on the back of newly introduced direct flights from Manila, with nonsurfers now arriving in droves. They have plenty to do, from island-hopping to beach-bumming to some of the country's best deep-sea fishing.


Need to Know


Philippine peso (P)


Tagalog (Filipino), English


Tourists of most nationalities receive a free 30-day visa on arrival. You can extend your visa for a fee, but be sure to check the current rules and fees before you travel.


ATMs are widely available. Take some cash if travelling in remote areas; otherwise, credit cards are accepted at hotels, restaurants and some shops.

Mobile Phones

Local SIM cards are widely available, and data and phone credit is cheap. Roaming is possible but expensive.


Asean common time (GMT plus eight hours)

When to Go

High Season (Dec–Apr)

A High season is dry season for most of the country; December to February are the coolest, most pleasant months.

A Many resorts triple rates around New Year and before Easter.

Shoulder (May & Nov)

A Rising May temperatures herald the onset of the wet season around Manila and elsewhere.

A November sees high-season rates kick in.

Low Season (Jun–Sep)

A Accommodation prices drop 30% in resort areas.

A Passing typhoons can cause days of torrential rain.

A Eastern seaboard is usually dry, if susceptible to typhoons.

Useful Websites

Philippine Newslink ( Thorough pile of news, views, links. ( A great listings site for happenings in Manila and around the country.

Lonely Planet ( Destination information, hotel bookings, traveller forum and more.

Experience Philippines ( Tourism authority site; good for planning.

National Commission for Culture & the Arts ( Arts listings and articles on all things Filipino.

Important Numbers

Dial 0 before area codes when calling from a mobile phone or a landline outside that region.

Exchange Rates

For current exchange rates see

Daily Costs

Budget: Less than P1750 (US$35)

A Dorm bed or single room: P400–800

A Local meals and three beers: P600

A Medium-range bangka or jeepney ride: P80

A Tricycle ride: P10

Midrange: P1750–5000 (US$35–100)

A Air-conditioned double room: P800–3000

A Restaurant meal with drinks: P700

A Group van or bangka tour: P1000

A Daily motorbike rental: P500

Top end: More than P5000 (US$100)

A Boutique resort: P3500–10,000

A Meal and drinks at a resort restaurant: P1500

A One-way domestic plane ticket: P2000

A Private island-hopping trip: P3000-6000

Opening Hours

Offices and banks are closed on public holidays, although shops and malls stay open (exception: Maundy Thursday and Good Friday, when virtually the entire country closes down).

Banks 9am to 4.30pm Monday to Friday (most ATMs operate 24 hours)

Post Offices 8am to 5pm Monday to Friday, to 1pm Saturday

Public Offices 8am to 5pm Monday to Friday

Restaurants 7am or 8am to 10pm or 11pm

Supermarkets 9am to 7pm or 8pm

Arriving in the Philippines

Public transport from both the Manila and Cebu international airports requires changing jeepneys several times and isn't advisable given that taxis are so cheap.

Ninoy Aquino International Airport (NAIA; Manila) Yellow metered taxis are the best option for getting into town. They are cheap (P225 average to most hotels) and usually plentiful at all four NAIA terminals. Uber is another option, with fares averaging P150 to P200 (off-peak). Check carefully which terminal you arrive at (and, especially, depart from) – you'll need up to an hour to switch terminals.

Mactan-Cebu International Airport (CEB; Cebu) You’ll find a taxi rank of regular metered taxis (P40 flag fall) on the right as you exit. Uber is also an option. Either costs about P300 to the city centre.

Getting Around

Air Several discount carriers link a vast range of destinations, primarily with Manila, Clark and Cebu.

Boat Bangkas, 'fastcraft', car ferries and large vessels with bunk beds and private cabins link the islands.

Van Often the quickest overland option and generally shadows the same routes as buses.

Bus Comfort and reliability runs the gamut from hobbling skeletons way past their expiration date to long-haul, modern vehicles with air-con and wi-fi.

Tricycle The Philippine version of a rickshaw, these sidecars bolted to motorcycles are everywhere and will transport you several blocks or kilometres. Being replaced with quieter e-trikes in Boracay, Manila's Chinatown and elsewhere.

Jeepney Workhorse of the Philippines, both within cities and towns, as well as between more far-flung destinations.

For much more on getting around, see Transport

First Time Philippines


A Print out your onward ticket – airlines won't allow you to board a Philippines-bound flight without it.

A Make sure your passport is valid for six months past your arrival date.

A Check airline baggage restrictions.

A Inform your debit-/credit-card company.

A Arrange for appropriate travel insurance.

What to Pack

A Sunglasses and plenty of sunscreen

A Earplugs – roosters and karaoke operate at full volume

A Headlamp – brownouts, blackouts and no electricity are common

A Cash is king so bring a waist-belt to keep it secure

A Sarong or pullover for those ridiculously cold air-con buses and ferries

A Dry bag

A Mask, snorkel, rash guard and reef booties for snorkelling

A Water bottle

Top Tips for Your Trip

A If you're comfortable on a motorbike, it's a great way both to overcome unreliable bus schedules and to experience the sights and sounds of ordinary rural life.

A Stay flexible so you can reroute if a typhoon is approaching your projected path. Advance transport and hotel bookings usually aren't a necessity outside of 'superpeak' periods.

A Keep track of weather-related disturbances through and .

A Bring a water bottle and fill it up for P5 (or for free) at ubiquitous water-refilling stations.

A Basketball players rejoice: nearly every village, no matter how small and remote, has a court. Call 'next' and be ready to compete.

A Schedule at least half a day for connecting flights back to Manila or Cebu, to account for possible delays.

Basketball game in a village in El Nido | STEPHANE BIDOUZE / SHUTTERSTOCK ©

What to Wear

Because of the tropical climate, the Philippines by necessity is a casual place. That being said, despite the heat most Filipinos look fairly unfazed – of course they're used to it – and tend to wear trousers in urban areas (offices of course) and for trips to the mall.

In beach towns, flip-flops or sandals, shorts, T-shirts or tank tops, and a bathing suit (bikinis are fine) are all you'll need. Outside of beach settings, lightweight and comfortable is the way to go. In rural areas and villages, locals tend to avoid overly revealing clothing – although again, shorts and flip-flops are the norm for both sexes.

In Muslim areas of Mindanao, locals dress more conservatively and women, especially, avoid wearing revealing clothing.


During the high season, reservations are recommended at popular tourist areas such as Boracay or El Nido. At other times, you should do fine walking in.

A Resorts These range from ultraluxurious, the rival of any in Southeast Asia, to basic fan-cooled bungalows.

A Hotels Many cater to the domestic market, which means generic concrete construction and air-con. Five-star hotels in Manila are truly sumptuous affairs.

A Pensionnes Sort of a catch-all term referring to less expensive, independently owned hotels.

A Hostels Those that target foreign travellers tend to be more comfortable and stylish, but also more expensive, than ones for primarily young Filipinos.


A Anger Management Don't lose your temper – Filipinos will think you're loco-loco (crazy).

A Food Abstain from grabbing that last morsel on the communal food platter – your hosts might think you’re a pauper.

A Transport For transport frustrations, smile and adopt the Filipino maxim – bahala na (whatever will be will be).

A Karaoke When engaged in karaoke (and trust us, you will be), don’t insult the person who sounds like a chicken getting strangled, lest it be taken the wrong way.

A Jeepneys Don’t complain about neighbours getting cosy with you on jeepneys – space is meant to be shared.

A Restaurants Filipinos hiss to gain someone's attention, often in restaurants to signal the waiter. It's not considered rude.


English is widely spoken in urban centres and areas frequented by tourists. Even in the most rural areas, a few basic expressions might be understood. Along with English, the other official language is Tagalog (Filipino). The country's unique colonial history means Spanish speakers will recognise many words. While Filipino is the lingua franca, there are 165 other languages spoken throughout the archipelago – Cebuano (Visayan) and Ilocano are two of the most widespread.


Modest haggling is expected at many outdoor markets, particularly if those markets cater to tourists. Note, though, that prices for food and drink are usually set.

Bargaining is the rule when renting motorbikes or hiring tricycles, bangkas or taxis for the day. It is also possible to negotiate with hotels if you don't have a booking, especially in resort areas in the low season.


A Restaurants 10% service charge added to bill in cities, tourist hotspots. Otherwise leave 5% to 10%.

A Taxis Round up taxi fares, but consider tipping more (P50 to P70) for honest taxi drivers who turn on the meter.

A Hotels Not expected, but slide P50 to porters or leave a few hundred pesos in the staff tip box at resorts.

A Guides Always tip your guides; they can really use it.

For more information, see Survival Guide

What's New

Poblacion Rises

Makati's red-light P Burgos district has reinvented itself as Poblacion: a hip neighbourhood awash in poshtels, craft breweries and streetside eateries.

Air Juan Soars

Air Juan's six-seat puddle-jumpers ( have revolutionised provincial travel, as dozens of new direct routes between tourist hubs eliminate the need to fly through Manila or Cebu.

Boracay Newcoast

Boracay's last untouched beaches, on the northeast of the island, have been turned into Newcoast, a colony of resorts, condos, shops and restaurants.

Panglao Ups the Ante

Developers are digging in to turn Bohol's Panglao Island into a serious player in the pantheon of global beach resorts. First step: an $8-billion-or-so international airport to open by 2019.

Tacloban's Comeback

Devastated in 2013 by Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda), Tacloban, Leyte, has its buzz back, driven by the Burgos St bar scene and trendy eateries such as What the Fork and Pop-up Kitchen.

Siargao Arrives

Direct flights from Manila, oodles of freshly laid asphalt and hot new hostels and resorts are fuelling the meteoric rise of this island playground, which is no longer just about surfing.

Lio Beach

The well-heeled Ayala group has built a major resort village from scratch on this once-deserted beach (Airport Beach; GOOGLE MAP ) near the airport in El Nido, Palawan. It's aimed at a higher-end clientele as El Nido hits the big time.

San Vicente Open For Business

A small municipality on the west coast of Palawan, San Vicente has opened a disproportionately large airport. It potentially becomes the closest major airport to El Nido, but will the airlines bite? Long term, the airport ties in with plans to develop San Vicente's own Long Beach into a high-end resort area.

Vegas East

With the opening of the ginormous Okada casino in 2017, Manila now has three legitimate Las Vegas–style casinos to compete with Macau.

For more recommendations and reviews, see

If You Like...


The world’s second-largest archipelago is, naturally, an island-hopper’s dream. Little clusters of islets abound off all of the main islands, and in any coastal community you’ll find a boatman with a bangka ready to take you exploring.

Bacuit Archipelago This labyrinthine waterworld should be top of the list for any island nut.

Calamian Group Isolated fishing villages, magnificent coral reefs and mysterious inland lakes abound.

Caramoan Peninsula The karsts around this wedge of land in eastern Bicol rival those of the Bacuit Archipelago.

Port Barton A gaggle of offshore paradises awaits day trippers from this chilled-out but rapidly emerging beach town.

Mactan Island Escape Mactan's mad traffic with a day of snorkelling and eating seafood on offshore islets.

Romblon Bounce around by bangka in this diverse province in the Sibuyan Sea, north of Boracay.

Beach Resorts

Whoop it up in a party-mad mecca, lose yourself on a private island or pursue underwater pleasures at a low-key dive resort. With thousands of islands, there’s a patch of sand for everyone.

Boracay Most widely known and visited, White Beach is ground zero for the Philippines' beachfront party scene.

El Nido The mix of exquisite luxury resorts on private islands and down-to-earth backpacker beach bungalows is unprecedented.

Siargao There’s no hotter island, as boutique properties appear on dreamy beaches lapped by perfect waves.

Panglao Island The Philippines' next world-class resort island is an extension of Bohol, with divine beaches.

Dumaguete It’s not a resort per se, but it’s within range of several of the best: Siquijor, Sipalay, Dauin and idyllic Apo Island.

Malapascua Island A laid-back diving resort on the verge of big things in northern Cebu.

Camiguin Resorts on this Jurassic Park–like island, still relatively undeveloped, offer seclusion in range of adventure.


Ecofriendly Experiences

Travelling green in the Philippines is easy but you need to do your homework. Start by travelling independently, as many domestic tour operators don't give a hoot about conservation, although there are notable exceptions.

Donsol Avoid hand-feeding programs and snorkel with the butanding (whale shark) here – a more natural and invigorating experience.

Pamilacan Island Spot dolphins and other cetaceans from boats once used by manta-ray and whale fishermen.

Tubbataha Reef Hop on a live-aboard for a dive safari to this protected sunken atoll in the middle of the Sulu Sea.

Philippine Tarsier Sanctuary The only place to go for responsible viewing of Bohol’s iconic primate.

Mt Iglit-Baco National Park Observe the annual tamaraw (endangered wild buffalo) count and hike to remote indigenous Mangyan villages.

Bohol Bee Farm ( GOOGLE MAP v) This vast organic farm offers accommodation, food and tours, all sustainably served.

Philippine Eagle Center Working to ensure the survival of the Philippines’ national bird – the world’s largest eagle.

Tao Philippines The quintessential Palawan island-hopping adventure has plenty of green cred.


Scores of historic stone Spanish churches and elegant colonial-era ancestral mansions are the highlights.

Vigan Its Old Town is a remarkably well-preserved district of buildings with Mexican, Chinese, Filipino and Spanish influences.

Silay Essentially an open-air museum of sugar mansions and heritage homes from a bygone age.

Escolta St Fascinating Manila neighbourhood showcases American-era art deco and beaux arts.

Iloilo The Jaro district north of the centre is a fascinating timepiece, while not far outside the city lies mesmerising Miagao Church.

Taal Well-preserved 19th-century ancestral homes and one of the largest basilicas in Southeast Asia.


WWII History

Few countries endured more pain, suffering and damage than the Philippines in WWII and sombre memorials across the archipelago commemorate key battles, historic landings and gruesome death marches.

Manila The capital has several poignant memorials such as the moving Manila American Cemetery.

Bataan Peninsula Kilometre markers retrace the Bataan Death March; Mt Samat is a must for military-history buffs.

Leyte Make like MacArthur and waltz ashore on Red Beach, where a statue re-creates his ‘return'.

Corregidor Island Only Bataan is more synonymous with WWII; visit on a day or overnight tour from Manila.

Puerto Princesa Embraces its strategic role in Pacific theatre with a clutch of thoughtful testaments.

Month by Month

Top Events

Ati-Atihan Festival, January

Moriones Festival, April

Crucifixion Ceremonies, April

Rodeo Masbateño, May

MassKara Festival, October


New Year is a ‘superpeak’ period, and hotel rates can quadruple in resort areas. Away from the eastern seaboard, the weather is usually pretty good – relatively cool and dry, although rain can linger into January.

z Ati-Atihan Festival

The Philippines’ most famous and riotous festival is this weeklong mardi gras in Kalibo on Panay, which peaks in the third week of January. Other towns in the region, such as Cadiz on Negros and Iloilo, hold similar festivals on the weekend nearest 26 January.

Ati Atihan Festival, Kalibo | BRUNO MORANDI / GETTY IMAGES ©

z Procession of the Black Nazarene

A life-size and highly revered black image of Christ in Quiapo Church (Manila) is paraded through the streets in massive processions on 9 January and again during the week before Easter (Holy Week).

z Sinulog Fiesta

The granddaddy of Cebu’s fiestas sees celebrants engaged in sinulog dancing, a unique two-steps-forward, one-step-back shuffle meant to imitate the rhythm of the river.

What the Fiesta is Going On?

Nearly every barangay (village or neighbourhood) has one. And there's one nearly every day. Fiestas, an integral part of Filipino life and identity, are generally associated with celebrations during the feast of the patron saint. However, like other facets of the culture, some are best understood as the result of syncretism; older rituals and beliefs related to bountiful harvests and abundant seas have been blended into a Catholic architecture, often at the behest of missionaries centuries ago. There are still festivities strictly concerned with planting and indigenous, pre-Hispanic traditions. Regardless of the origins, they're jubilant affairs, with entire towns spruced up for loved ones' homecomings.


It’s peak season for foreign travellers, so book ahead. The Christmas winds continue to howl, thrilling kitesurfers, while surf season continues in San Fernando (La Union) and butanding (whale shark) activity picks up in Donsol.

z Chinese New Year

The lunar new year in late January or early February is popular even among non-Chinese Filipinos. Dragon dances, street parties and huge fireworks displays take place in Manila.

z Panagbenga Flower Festival

During the last week in February, the streets in the northern mountain city of Baguio come alive with song, dance and a grand floral parade with spectacular floats.


Temperatures begin to rise in March but it's still dry throughout the country. Holy Week sometimes falls at the end of the month.


Everything shuts down during Holy Week, which leads up to Easter, when sinakulo (passion plays) and pasyon (a recitation of the Passion of Christ) are staged throughout the country. Resort prices again hit ‘superpeak’ levels.

z Crucifixion Ceremonies

The Easter crucifixion ceremony in San Fernando (Pampanga), north of Manila, presents a macabre tableau, with devotees literally being nailed to wooden crosses. Similar re-enactments of Christ’s suffering occur in several towns.

z Lang-Ay Festival

In Bontoc, deep in the heart of the Cordillera of North Luzon, surrounding communities come together for parades, decked out in traditional tribal dress.

z Lenten Festival of Herbal Preparation

On the ‘spooky’ island of Siquijor, faith healers and witch doctors gather around a big pot on Black Saturday hBlack Saturday; day before Easter), chanting and preparing a medicinal concoction some say cures all that ails you.

z Moriones Festival

Marinduque’s colourful Moriones Festival is a weeklong sinakulo (passion play) during which the streets are overrun by masked locals engaging in mock sword fights and playing pranks on bystanders.


Scorching heat, beaches packed with vacationing locals and light winds can make this an uncomfortable time to travel, although flat seas ease boat travel. Consider cooler highland destinations such as the Cordillera of North Luzon.

z Magayon Festival

A street party lasting the entire month of May in Legazpi, Bicol region, with nightly street markets, pop-up bars, music stages, dance performances, chilli-eating contests and more.

z Pahiyas

This famous fiesta h15 May) takes place around 15 May in the town of Lucban, south of Manila, where houses are decked out with colourful kiping (leaf-shaped rice wafers) decorations, which are later eaten.

z Rodeo Masbateño

Cowboy up for Masbate’s electric weeklong rodeo in late April or early May, with bull-riding, lasso contests and other events that will have you clicking your spurs.


The onset of the wet season brings welcome respite from the heat. June also marks the start of typhoon season, so check the radar and reroute if necessary.

z Baragatan Festival

In the third week of June, residents of Puerto Princesa, Palawan, flood the grounds of the Provincial Capitol Building in a massive display of merrymaking.

z Hugyaw Silay Kansilay Festival

This weeklong festival in Silay, Negros, celebrates the founding of the city, culminating in gaudily dressed dancers parading down the main street and a ‘dance competition’ in the main plaza.

z Pintados-Kasadyaan

This ‘painted festival’ in Tacloban on 29 June celebrates pre-Spanish traditional tattooing practices, albeit using water-based paints for the festival’s body decorations.


It’s the rainiest month (except for on the eastern seaboard, where it’s the driest), so you’ll get fabulous discounts on accommodation. Durian season begins in Mindanao and surf season launches in Siargao.

z Kadayawan sa Dabaw Festival

Davao’s big festival showcases its Muslim, Chinese and tribal influences with parades, performances, and fruit and flower displays. It’s held in the third week of August.


Things start to dry out after the heavy rains of August and September, but typhoons are still common. High-season prices kick in towards the end of the month. Christmas music is already ubiquitous in the malls.

z Lanzones Festival

The northern Mindanao island of Camiguin goes crazy for this small yellow fruit, with parades, dance contests and of course a pageant.

z MassKara Festival

Mischievous masked men stir the masses into a dancing frenzy on the streets of Bacolod, capital of Negros Occidental, during the weekend closest to 19 October.

MassKara Festival , Bacolod | CPAULFELL / SHUTTERSTOCK ©

z Todos los Santos

Families laden with food gather at the local cemetery to spend All Saints Day (1 November) remembering their departed loved ones. It’s a surprisingly festive occasion.


The Christmas music reaches a crescendo, and the northeast Christmas winds ramp up, launching kitesurfing season in Boracay and surf season in northwest Luzon.

z Shariff Kabungsuan Festival

This festival in Cotabato on Mindanao from 15 to 19 December celebrates the arrival of Islam in the region and includes river parades of decorated boats.


Greatest Hits

2 Weeks

Fly into Manila, worth a one-day stopover to tour historic Intramuros and its nearby museums.

On day two fly to Busuanga in Palawan's Calamian Islands. Visit majestic Coron Island, dive the WWII wrecks, do a kayak tour and camp overnight on an idyllic offshore island such as Calumbuyan, Pass or North Cay.

Next, take a ferry to Palawan's other crown jewel, El Nido, home to some of the world's prettiest beaches and jumping-off point for island-hopping trips in the spectacular Bacuit Archipelago. Enjoy El Nido's burgeoning drinking and dining scene, then hit Boracay, where the party never stops.

Fly back to Manila and take an overnight bus to Banaue, jumping-off point for the rice terraces of Ifugao. Enjoy the Zen-like peace and quiet of Batad for a day before taking a bus back to Manila to catch your flight home.



North–South Traverse

4 weeks

Spend your first three days in Manila getting acclimatised, reserving one day for a journey outside Manila – climbing moonlike Mt Pinatubo, whose eruption shook the world in 1991, would be our first choice. Scenic Tagaytay, which has some of the best restaurants in the country, is a mellower option.

Next, take a night bus (or fly) to the Bicol region in Southeast Luzon. It's an adventure hub with surfing, wakeboarding and volcanoes on offer. Around Legazpi you can snorkel with the whale sharks off Donsol or climb the symmetrical cone of Mt Mayon.

Proceeding south, cross the San Bernardino Strait to the rugged islands of Samar and Leyte in the eastern Visayas. Along the way, have the spelunking adventure of a lifetime in Catbalogan. Stop off in Tacloban, Imelda Marcos’ home town. It was devastated by Typhoon Haiyan (known locally as Typhoon Yolanda) but has reinvented itself as a hip provincial centre. Head to nearby Red Beach for a dose of WWII history. Then take a ferry to the Visayas’ gritty capital, Cebu City, for modern comforts and nightlife.

You’ll be approaching week three of your trip by now, and possibly ready for some serious beach time. Take the fast ferry to Tagbilaran, the capital of Bohol and gateway to the beach resorts of Panglao Island. From Panglao you are well positioned to enjoy all Bohol has to offer: go diving, snorkelling and dolphin-spotting offshore, then head inland to stand-up paddle the Loboc River, view the Chocolate Hills, kayak with fireflies on the Abatan River and spot palm-sized primates at the Philippine Tarsier Sanctuary.

Next, move north from Panglao and catch a classic back-door ferry: 3½ hours from Jagna, Bohol, to Camiguin Island. Camiguin can keep both adventurous travellers and beach bums satisfied for days. Spend at least several here, then make the short hop over to mainland Mindanao by ferry. For your last few days, choose between Cagayan de Oro, a buzzy university town with white-water rafting, and Siargao, the Philippines' top surf spot as well as an idyllic island with lagoons and mangroves galore.


Voyage to the Visayas

4 Weeks

Beach-lovers and dive buffs need look no further than this central group of idyllic islands.

Kick things off in Cebu City, soaking up some history during the day before partying it up at night. Then it’s time to hit the islands: divers will want to head straight to Malapascua Island, where you'll have a good chance of encountering thresher sharks; while sun worshippers should check in on laid-back Bantayan Island. Double back to Cebu City and continue south to adventure mecca Moalboal, where waterfalls abound and you can go freediving with schooling sardines.

Continue to Cebu's southern tip and cross the narrow Tañon Strait to Negros and Dumaguete, which is all about promenading on the scenic boulevard, great seafood, rowdy nightlife and superb diving at Apo Island. Next, take a detour to the mellow island of Siquijor, just 1¼ hours away by ferry. Spend a day or three here and be sure to visit one of its famed folk healers.

Retreat to Dumaguete and take the long bus ride around the southern horn of Negros to delightfully laid-back Sugar Beach on the west coast. It's a divine sweep of fine golden sand in range of quality diving and mangrove kayaking. From here another long bus journey north takes you to Bacolod, where you can revel in great food and bar-hopping, and take a side trip to Silay for a fascinating journey through haciendas and sugar-cane plantations.

From Bacolod it's an easy fast-ferry trip over to Iloilo City on the island of Panay. Check out the colonial architecture of the Jaro District and have a night out in Smallville. A short boat ride away is Guimaras, a gem of an island with low-key resorts, mountain-biking and famous mangoes. Return to Iloilo and meander north via Antique Province, where hidden beaches await, before alighting on Boracay to whoop it up on White Beach.


North Luzon

3 Weeks

Not a beach person? The mountains of the Philippines' main island delight inland explorers with rice terraces, trekking and hill tribes.

Head north from Manila to Baguio, the gateway to the Cordillera Mountains. A few of the city's museums provide worthwhile introductions to the region's fascinating ethnographic make-up.

From Baguio, take a bus to relatively untouched Kabayan, centre of Ibaloi culture and base for hikes in Mt Pulag National Park. Next, Sagada beckons. This tranquil backpacker village with cool temps, a laid-back vibe and top-notch hikes is tough to leave.

Take a jeepney to Bontoc and explore the amphitheatre-like rice terraces of Maligcong on a day trip. Continue north to Tinglayan, a base for treks into indigenous Kalinga villages where the contemporary world feels far away.

Head back to Bontoc, then continue to Banaue and Batad, site of Luzon’s most famous rice terraces. Stunning hikes will keep you busy for days. Try to spend at least a night or two in a homestay.

With a little R&R in mind, catch a bus south to San Jose (you might have to overnight here) to connect to another bus to the surfing town of Baler.


Water world: Palawan

2 Weeks

The Philippines' star attraction lends itself to easy south–north (or north–south) exploration.

Spend an evening in Puerto Princesa checking out the city’s culinary scene and a day exploring the surrounding countryside on a motorcycle. From Puerto, organise a ride to Sabang, a laid-back beachfront village and the base for trips through the famous Underground River.

From Sabang, hightail it further north to Port Barton, a beautiful and relaxing retreat with limited electricity, chilled-out beach bars and excellent island-hopping. Heading north again, reserve at least a day for undiscovered Taytay before rejoining the tourist masses in El Nido, sandwiched between limestone cliffs and the fantastically picturesque Bacuit Archipelago.

From El Nido, take a boat to Busuanga Island. If you have time, the trip to Busuanga can be done as a five-day island-hopping expedition through the heavenly Linapacan and Calamian archipelagos. From Busuanga, venture out to the striking lakes of Coron Island ( GOOGLE MAP ) and some of the best wreck diving in the world. Flights and ferries are available to usher you back to Manila and reality.

Busuanga Island, Palawan | SEAN HSU / SHUTTERSTOCK ©

Plan Your Trip

Diving in the Philippines

Whether you’re more comfortable diving on a shallow coral garden or are looking for deep technical dives, the Philippines is one of the world’s best diving destinations. Its varied underwater landscape includes remote reefs, extinct volcanoes, magnificent walls, caves and shipwrecks, while its marine biodiversity is second to none.

Best Dives

Best Reef Diving

Tubbataha Reefs and Apo Reef are in another league, but don't overlook Padre Burgos, Apo Island and Camiguin (Mantigue Island and Jigdup Reef).

Best Wall Diving

Verde Island (Puerto Galera), Moalboal (Pescador Island or White Beach) and Samal Island's Mushroom Rock.

Best for Sharks

Tubbataha Reefs (white-tips, grey reef sharks, leopard sharks and hammerheads) are again in another league, followed by Apo Reef and Malapascua (thresher sharks).

Best Beginner Diving

Boracay, Alona Beach and El Nido.

Best Macro

Anilao and Siquijor.

Best Snorkelling

Snorkelling with Donsol's whale sharks is hard to beat, though Coral Gardens at Puerto Galera is a fantastic place to see reef fish.

Planning Your Dive

When to Go

Many parts of the country boast year-round diving, but the Philippines is affected by the annual cycles of the northeast (amihan) and southwest (habagat) monsoon winds that create a dry season (November to May, with some regional variations) and a wet season (June to October), as well as by typhoons that visit the country periodically from June to December.

Dry Season

The amihan winds that affect the country from November until April dispel much of the remaining rain. The sea can be quite choppy and turbid from December to March; many dive centres have alternative sites to visit if weather disturbances are affecting specific areas. Mid-November is generally regarded as the start of the ‘tourist season’ and Christmas and New Year see most dive centres and resorts overflowing with divers, so reservations are recommended. The amihan dies down in late March and the sea becomes flat and calm, with incredible visibility that peaks during April and May.

Wet Season

The height of the rainy season for most of the country (June to October) corresponds with the height of the typhoon season; this results in major tropical downpours. While heavy rain can cause lower visibility, many of the diving areas have sheltered spots in the lee of the prevailing winds that afford reasonable diving and adequate visibility. Still, remote live-aboard and safari diving are rarely offered from July through to October, and many dive operators close during this period.

What You'll See

The Philippines’ amazing diversity of marine life is mostly of the small- to medium-sized variety. Divers who have travelled the world recognise the Philippines as one of the world’s best macro (small marine life) diving locations. Outside of Tubbataha, Apo Reef and a handful of other locations, you rarely get the big pelagic (open-sea marine life) action that characterises neighbours such as Palau in the south Pacific. However, the sheer range of marine life and the diversity of coral here is among the world’s best.

Sadly, that coral remains under constant threat, as destructive fishing methods such as cyanide and dynamite fishing are still widely practised and pollution also takes its toll. The best Philippines dive sites have been given marine-protected status and have thus been spared such ravages.


Following these guidelines will help ensure a safe and enjoyable experience.

A Be aware of local laws, regulations and etiquette about marine life and the environment, and don't feed fish.

A Practise proper buoyancy and avoid touching or standing on living marine organisms or dragging equipment across the reef.

A Be conscious of your fins. Even without contact, the surge from fin strokes near the reef can damage delicate organisms.

A Resist the temptation to collect or buy corals or shells or to loot marine archaeological sites (ie shipwrecks).

A Ensure that you take your rubbish – and any other litter you may find – away from dive sites. Plastics, in particular, are a serious threat to marine life.

A Minimise your disturbance of marine animals. Never touch whale sharks or ride on the backs of turtles. Avoid hand-fed whale-shark interaction programs.

What to Bring

Dive centres are typically well stocked with a wide variety of well-maintained and reasonably new hire equipment. Technical divers will find what they need at dive centres offering technical diving, including reels and accessories, mixed gas and, in many cases, rebreathers. Many operators also sell equipment, and most internationally recognised brands can be bought and serviced throughout the islands.

Choosing a Dive Operator

The diving environment can often be deceptive in the Philippines. Clear water and great visibility can lead to disorientation and going below the planned depth. Currents can be a major factor on many dives, and the sea conditions and weather can change in a matter of minutes at certain times of the year.

Thus it is strongly advised that you dive with a highly professional dive operator. A PADI affiliation can be a good indication of a dive operation’s commitment to safety and customer service. In addition, check out operators' safety procedures and emergency plans. Do they have oxygen, is it brought along on dive boats, and are there personnel trained to administer it on board? Take a look at the hire equipment: is it relatively new and well maintained? Finally, find an instructor or divemaster that speaks a language you are comfortable with.


All dive centres in the Philippines require that a diver be certified by a recognised international training agency and should ask to see your card (many of them take your word for it if you forget your card). Operators rarely ask to see a log book to assess a diver’s experience. Most live-aboard trips require at least an advanced certification, but the good news is that all levels of certification training, from basic open-water to instructor, are widely available and great value throughout the country.

Technical Diving

Technical diving is big throughout the Philippines, and there is no shortage of deeper sites for technical training. The wrecks at the bottom of Coron Bay and Subic Bay make for outstanding technical diving, as do Coron Caves and caves near El Nido.

Qualified technical-dive training outfits include Tech Asia, the technical-diving arm of Asia Divers in Puerto Galera; Tech Divers (, also based in Puerto Galera; Cebu-based Kontiki Divers (; and PhilTech (, based in Makati.

Some live-aboards also offer technical diving, mixed gas and rebreather equipment and training to qualified divers on request.


Dive prices vary significantly from region to region. Provided you have a few people along with you, you can expect to pay as little as US$22 up to US$35 per dive with a divemaster, including all equipment and a relatively short boat trip. Prices go down a bit if you have your own equipment, and two- or three-tank dives usually cost less than single-tank dives. PADI open-water certification courses vary widely from resort to resort and can cost anywhere from US$350 to US$500.

A Budget destinations include Dumaguete, Moalboal, Puerto Galera and Padre Burgos in Leyte.

A Midrange destinations include Alona Beach (Panglao Island), Malapascua, Camiguin Island, Coron and Siquijor.

A Top-end destinations include Anilao, Mactan Island, Dauin (Negros) and Boracay.

Of course, safety is more important than price when choosing a dive operator. Often (but certainly not always) more expensive dive outfits have better equipment and service and/or more experienced guides.


Live-aboards (boats that divers sleep on during dive trips) are a popular way to visit the Philippines’ more remote dive sites, or to visit several sites in a week. They range from custom dive boats and yachts to converted fishing vessels and modified bangka boats.

Live-aboard dive safaris depart from and/or are organised by dive operators in Puerto Galera, Boracay, northern Palawan and throughout the Visayas. Live-aboards are the only way to visit the Philippines’ marquee dive site, the Tubbataha Reefs in the Sulu Sea. The window for diving Tubbataha is mid-March to mid-June.

Choosing a live-aboard boat should be as much or more a function of assessing the safety, seaworthiness and professionalism of an operation rather than the price. The following recommended operators all run Tubbataha trips from March to June, and focus on other areas the rest of the year.

A P/Y Atlantis Azores ( ) Luxury motorised live-aboard yacht with bases in Dauin and Puerto Galera.

A M/Y Discovery Palawan ( ; 7-day/6-night trip US$2000-3750 ) Large live-aboard cruise ship plies the El Nido–Coron–Apo Reef–Batangas route.

A Rags II ( ; per day US$285 plus marine park fees ) A large converted bangka specialising in the wreck, reef and cave dives around Mindoro and northern Palawan.

A Philippine Siren ( ) A luxury live-aboard schooner that patrols the Central Visayas when it's not in Tubbataha.

A M/Y Palau Sport ( ; 6-day/7-night trip US$2400 ) Focus is on Tubbataha and Palau, but does central Visayan trips from June to July.

Dive Sites


A Anilao Home to the nation’s unofficial scuba-diving capital, where many Manila-based divers make their first training dives. Anilao is busy most weekends with city-dwelling enthusiasts, as it is a convenient 2½-hour drive from Manila. The most famous dive site in Anilao is Cathedral Rock, a marine sanctuary just offshore. Nearby Sombrero Island presents a cavalcade of crevices and coral- and gorgonian-covered boulders which attract pelagic species such as rainbow runners and yellowtails. At Mainit Point you have a chance of seeing white-tip, black-tip and grey reef sharks, as well as schools of tuna and jacks.

A Subic Bay The former US Naval Base and current Freeport Zone has several wrecks to dive including the impressive USS New York .

A Batanes Way up north, this region is only just opening up to divers. The Kural Marine Sanctuary consists of coral-covered underwater pinnacles, while Blue Hole is for advanced divers only.

A Donsol In southeast Luzon, Donsol is popular for snorkelling with whale sharks. The season usually lasts from early December to late May or early June.

A Ticao Island The Manta Bowl is an outstanding dive site for spotting manta rays; dive outfits in Donsol or Ticao Island will get you there.


A Puerto Galera A major training centre with more than 20 dive operations along the two main beaches of Sabang and Small La Laguna. The isthmus that contains these beaches juts out into the Verde Island Passage, and consequently some of the sites, especially those off Escarceo (Lighthouse) Point, can experience unpredictable sea conditions and strong currents, so diving with an experienced local guide is an absolute necessity. But there are also plenty of less challenging sites, perfect for intermediate divers and the many divers who take their basic certification course here.

A Apo Reef Two hours off Mindoro’s west coast, this is the Philippines’ best dive site outside of Tubbataha. Here you'll likely spot more sharks than other divers. Some live-aboard trips head 20km west of Apo Reef to Hunter's Rock, an underwater pinnacle known for sea snakes.


The Visayas comprises numerous islands, large and small, encompassing some of the country’s most exciting diving. The list of dive sites around Bohol, Cebu, Siquijor and Southern Negros is practically infinite.

A Cebu Island Old-school dive mecca Moalboal has a spectacular wall that starts just offshore, plus turtle-laden Pescador island and a famous school of sardines. Malapascua offers close encounters of the thresher-shark kind on Monad Shoal, while Mactan Island , home to Cebu City's international airport, caters to weekend divers flying in from Manila and North Asia.

A Bohol The waters around Cabilao Island and Panglao Island are rich with marine life, and Balicasag Island is consistently rated among the best recreational dive sites in the country.

A Dauin In Southern Negros, Dauin, along with nearby Apo Island and Siquijor , are hugely popular dive areas. The sites are more spread out in these parts than at Alona Beach or Moalboal.

A Boracay This is a popular training spot with a few good dives of its own.

A Padre Burgos On Sogod Bay in Southern Leyte is reef diving on par with anything else in the Visayas, with possibility of spotting whale sharks from February to June.

More obscure, harder-to-reach sites include Maniguin Island off Panay, famous for its hammerhead-shark population; and Blue Hole off Romblon, an advanced diver favourite inside

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