If your modest backpacker’s budget won’t get you as far as Hawaii, the Philippines is an often-overlooked Asian destination of indescribable beauty that deserves your attention. The archipelago of 7000 islands is so full of natural wonders that you can spend a lifetime exploring them. If you find yourself in the Philippines with a backpack, here’s where you should go.
1. Go island-hopping at the Bacuit Archipelago
While Vietnam’s Halong is spectacular in brochure pictures, it’s overrun with tourists. If you’re hopeful of great natural beauty that you get to explore by yourself, the peaceful islands of the Bacuit Archipelago north of Palawan should be at the top of your list. It’s one of the few tropical paradises on earth where you still get to find secret, undiscovered beaches that you can call your own.
2. See the Hanging Coffins of Echo Valley
Photo: Rick McCharles
Backpackers will notice that the mountainous territory of Northern Luzon is different from anything that other parts of the country have to offer. As you walk up the mountain paths, the equatorial heat of the plains drops away, to be replaced by cool, pine-scented air that is reminiscent of European spring. Echo Valley, known for its echoey mountain areas, is easily reached on foot. The local tradition of putting their dead to rest in colorful coffins hung off the sides of mountains makes for an interesting sight.
3. Wild horse district
The wild horse district of Sagada is a remote area of the island that is home to hundreds of wild horses. It’s easy to see the area as right out of a Marlboro advertisement, which is the reason the district is also called Marlboro Country. To reach this location, you need to be willing to trek through dense, tropical forests – an enjoyable experience if you love nature.
4. Ifugao, a UNESCO World Heritage Site
The village of Ifugao in Northern Luzon can only be reached through a long track. The reward, though, is spectacular – a gentle slope of rice terraces in the middle of high mountains. It’s a site so impressive, the UNESCO has counted it worthy of world heritage site recognition.
5. The Chocolate Hills of Bohol
The Chocolate Hills National Monument is a geological curiosity in the Bohol district of the Visayas region, a collection of 75 or so islands. The national park is famous for its hundreds of strange, cartoon-like hills, all with symmetrical little slopes, rising no more than 100 m or so out of completely flat surrounding earth. The term Chocolate Hills comes from the appearance of the hills from a distance – that of a large tray of chocolate kisses.
6. The Puerto Princesa Subterranean River
Puerto Princesa is a national park in Sabang, Palawan, some 15 miles from the city of the same name. Chosen as one of the New 7 Wonders of Nature in 2012, the highlight of the park is its Subterranean River. It is a river whose course takes it entirely along unbroken stretches of caves, over great distances. You get to explore the mysterious river on guided boat tours, and to even get within hearing range of underground waterfalls.
7. Go swimming with whale sharks
Whale sharks are most often sighted in Oslob in Cebu and Donsol in Southeast Luzon. Despite its scary name and size, the giant whale shark is a gentle creature that eats nothing but plankton. A short day trip on a boat out to sea is all it takes to go snorkeling with one of these spectacular creatures.
Surigao del Sur is a district on the Mindanao island, a part of the Philippines that has great natural beauty. The Enchanted River and the Tinuy-Ann waterfalls here are some of the most beautiful sights in all of the Philippines.
9. The island of Boracay
Boracay is a small island paradise in Western Philippines that tourists usually make a point never to miss. The waters here are a spectacular emerald green, and the place offers excellent nightlife, as well.
10. Hike up a volcano
The Philippines is a volcano country – it has dozens of dormant volcanoes on its various islands. Even Manila, the capital, has several close by. You can pick any one to hike up. You may even feel a little volcanic rumble underfoot at times.
The islands of the Philippines can take a lifetime to explore well. With a top-10 list in hand, though, it can be easy to get a head start. What’s your favorite backpacking destination in the Philippines?