A complete travel guide featuring the 10 best islands in the Philippines to visit (not including Boracay). Includes comprehensive guides and travel tips for each Philippines island including the best places to visit.
The islands of the Philippines, also known as the Philippine Archipelago, is one of the richest and most beautiful tropical destinations on earth. In total, there are over 7641 islands in the archipelago, however, only around 2000 are inhabited.
With so many beautiful Philippines islands, how do you choose the best ones to travel to? In this Philippines travel guide, I’ll outline the 10 best islands you need to travel to on your next visit. I’ll include reasons why I’ve picked them as the best based on my experience island hopping in the Philippines on several occasions!
Should You Travel to The Philippines?
Before we get into the list of the 10 best islands in the Philippines, let’s break down why I think it’s one of the best places to visit in Asia!
The islands of the Phillipines are rich in culture and natural beauty. Here, you’ll find some of the best snorkeling and diving locations on earth, endless tropical jungles, milky-blue waterfalls and incredible white-sand beaches.
The people of the Philippines are some of the nicest I’ve ever met, especially on the smaller islands away from the hustle-and-bustle of Manila.
The Philippines is also one of the cheapest countries to travel in and most islands are very interconnected. As a result, one of the best ways to travel in the Philippines is to island hop to explore the diverse cultures and landscapes of the archipelago.
10 Best Islands in the Philippines To Travel To
With that said, let’s jump into the 10 best islands in the Philippines that you definitely will want to visit. Below I’ve embedded a Philippines island map to help you orientate yourself when planning your travels.
1. Cebu Island
Cebu Island is a large Philippine island located in the Central Visayas region. Its capital city; Cebu City, is the oldest city and the first capital of the Philippines.
Cebu is one of the best islands in the Philippines to travel to. Here, you’ll find a rich culture and some of the most incredible jungle landscapes in the world. Many people recognise Cebu from the milky-blue watered Kawasan Falls, but the truth is that there are actually over 1000 waterfalls on this island!
Furthermore, Cebu is one of the best places to visit in the Philippines for best scuba diving and snorkeling due to its incredible coral reefs. The tourism infrastructure on Cebu is well-established and you’ll find loads of excellent resorts and hotels in tourist hubs like Moalboal, Oslob, and Mactan.
2. Palawan Island
Palawan Island is known as the Philippines’ “Last Ecological Frontier” due to its incredible biodiversity. In fact, much of its forests and marine parks has been an environmental reserve since the 1990’s. Palawan is also the fifth-largest island in the Philippines but is only home to just under 1 million people.
Many people chose Palawan for their Philippines travels for its spectacular nature, pristine coral reefs and vibrant jungles. Palawan is often rated as one of the most beautiful islands in the world, making it a dream place to visit for everyone from backpackers to luxury travelers!
If you choose to travel to this Philippine Island, make sure to go island hopping in El Nido, kayaking in the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River, and scuba diving in Port Barton.
3. Malapascua Island
Malapascua Island is a tiny island of just 2.5 by 1 kilometres (1.55 by 0.62 mi) in size. It’s located just 6.8 kilometres (4.2 mi) across the shallow strait from Maya, on Cebu Island (number 1).
Malapascua is famous for its incredible scuba diving, and there are dive shops all around its shores. The most famous dive on Malapascua is the thresher shark cleaning station. This is one of the only places on earth where you can reliably swim with the incredible thresher sharks every day of the year.
If you’re planning to travel to the Philippines and looking for the best islands to visit, add Malapascua to your list!
Coron is the third-largest island in the Calamian Islands in just north of Palawan (number 2). This incredible Philippines island is one of the best places to visit and is best known for it’s several World War II wreck dives, prehistoric limestone karst landscapes, rich coral reefs and white-sand beaches.
Ecotourism is one of the main draws to the island of Coron, with its three famous lakes; Kayangan, Luluyuan, and Twin Lagoon being amongst the biggest attractions.
If you’re looking to travel to the Philippines to experience first hand those incredible jungle lagoons and crystal-clear water lakes, then you’ll need to visit Coron!
5. Negros Oriental
Number 5 on this list of the best islands in the Philippines is Negros Oriental. Negros is the Philippines’ fourth largest island and is located in the Visayas, just beneath Cebu.This is a very underrated island offering plenty of things to do and see including a rugged mountain interior, beautiful beaches, and incredible coral reefs.
The best region to visit on Negros is its southern coast, which stretches from Danjugan to Bais. There are also many other islands dotted along the coast of Negros, including Apo Island (number 6) and Siquijor Island (number 7).
6. Apo Island
Apo Island is one of the most mind-bendingly beautiful islands in the Philippines. This one is quite a small island with only 74 hectares of land area. But, what makes it so incredible is its 106 hectares of surrounding pristine coral reef. However, don’t confuse Apo Island with Apo Reef. Apo Reef is the largest coral reef in the Philippines and it’s located off the coast of Mindoro in the Philippines.
Apo Island is a marine protected area and the longest-lasting community-run initiative of its kind in the Philippines as of 1982. As a result, the coral and sea-life is absolutely thriving! If diving and snorkeling are high on your list of priorities when choosing an island in the Philippines for travel, then consider stopping by at Apo!
Read More: Apo Island Guide
7. Siquijor Island
Siquijor Island is approximately 34300 hectares in size, making it a fairly small island but one still large enough to spend a while exploring. Similarly to Apo Island (number 6), Siquijor is located off the coast of Negros. The main tourist area is San Juan, which is a long stretch of coastline on the southwest side of the island. Here, you’ll find some of the most popular Siquijor tourist attractions, hotels, beaches and resorts.
While Siquijor Island does have tourism infrastructure, it’s much less developed than what you might expect to find on Cebu. This Philippines island is famous for its waterfalls and palm-lined white sand beaches. The island is nicknamed “Isla del Fuego,” which means, “Island of Fire.” It’s said that this name came from the Spaniards, who noticed the mysterious glow of fireflies that came each dusk.
8. Siargao Island
Dubbed the surfing capital of the Philippines, Siargao is home to some of the best surf breaks in the world. In fact, Cloud 9 is highly acclaimed as a top big-wave surf destination with an annual event drawing thousands of the best surfers in the world. Even if you’re not a pro, there are also great beginner breaks and abundant surf-schools and resorts in its main tourist hub of General Luna.
Even if you’re not a surfer, there’s so much to do on this island– especially if you like adventure. Some of the best highlights include the iconic palm tree road, Magpupungko Rock Pools and Sugba Lagoon.
Read More: Siargao Island – 21 Epic Things to do
2022 Update: Siargao was devastatingly impacted by the category 5 Typhoon Rai. This has destroyed much of the tourism infrastructure and has greatly impacted the lives and livelihoods of locals on Siargao. There is an ongoing GoFundMe to help support the island’s recovery.
9. Bucas Grande
Here’s an island in the Philippines you might not have heard of. Bucas Grande is a small island located just to the south of Siargao (number 8). Its main hub is called Socorro. While this island certainly doesn’t attract the same amount of crowds as some of the bigger names, this is a great island destination to travel to in the Philippines and one of the best places to visit if you want to get off-the-beaten-path.
The easiest way to reach the island is via neighboring Surigao Del Sur. There are some great surf breaks on the coast and quite a few resorts and hotel options. The main attraction by far is the iconic Sohoton Cove, which is truly breathtaking.
10. Daku, Naked, & Guyum Islands
Okay, the last island isn’t really one, but three islands located off the coast of Siargao. I’ve mentioned these three because the rest have been large hubs to explore and many travelers want to find out about the small hidden paradise islands as well.
You’ll find Daku, Naked, and Guyum Island located directly off the coast of General Luna in Siargao. You can reach these islands on a short island hopping trip for under $20! These three islands are examples of the amazing hidden gems typical of the islands in the Philippines. Tiny, sandbar islands with dense coconut palm interiors and crystal-clear calm waters await!
Philippines Islands Travel Guide
And that’s a wrap for the list of the 10 best islands in the Philippines. I hope that I’ve inspired you to travel to at least one of these amazing destinations. Before you jet off, make sure to read my detailed Philippines travel guide below which will give you the on-the-ground knowledge to get you going.
How to Travel in the Philippines: Island Hopping Guide
Most of the main tourist islands of the Philippines are well-connected by plane and ferry. Below is a breakdown of how to travel in the Philippines.
The Philippines have several international airports in the main tourist hubs. These are connected to several international destinations throughout Asia and the rest of the world. If you’re flying in to travel in the Philippines, then you’ll likely fly in via Manila, Palawan or Cebu.
Flying is easily the fastest and easiest way to travel in the Philippines. It’s also quite cheap, especially when choosing flights with budget airlines like Cebu Pacific.
Tip: Compare airfares on Skyscanner and CheapOAir to get the best rates on flights to get to the best place to visit in the Philippines. Set your destination and both will combine and compare the best air-fares.
By ferry and boats
Another popular way to travel within the islands of the Philippines is to take the many ferries. Islands that are quite close to each other like Cebu and Negros, you’ll find local ferry terminals making travel cheap and convenient. Otherwise, for long-distance travel over water, you can also compareRoll-on, Roll-off (RoRo) ferries. While this can sometimes work out cheaper, the distances are often very long and uncomfortable.
Travel Tips & Things to Know When Visiting the Philippines
Below is a Philippines travel guide with some more essential travel tips and things to know when traveling to the islands.
The best travel insurance for the Philippines is either Safetywing or World Nomads. Both cover all of the activities that you’ll likely be doing including hiking, snorkeling, swimming, canyoneering and beach-hopping.
Local currency – Philippine Peso (PHP)
This is the local currency used everywhere in the Philippines. The current exchange rate is roughly 50 PHP to $1 USD. There are ATMs available in most tourist towns. Besides the main resorts, many vendors and smaller shops do not accept credit cards. So, it’s a good idea to always carry some cash when traveling to the Philippines.
One thing you’ll notice when you go to the best places to visit in the Philippines is that there are nearly always roosters– everywhere! Cock-fighting is a big part of the culture in many of the islands and is usually a community event.
Internet speeds and accessibility will vary depending on the islands you travel to. The Philippines islands of Siargao, Palawan, and Coron are notoriously unreliable for wifi and LTE connections. The best sim card you can purchase is Globe– which has the widest network and works on most of the islands. Data is also quite cheap, at around $2USD per gigabyte.
Tours and Activities
Similarly to Indonesia, Thailand and most other South-East Asian countries, there is a barter-culture in the Philippines. Therefore you’ll need to barter for tours and activities as well. If you’d prefer not to, you can book the same tours at the local price using GetYourGuide, Viator, or Klook.
Accommodation varies greatly both across and within the islands of the Philippines. You’ll find 5-star luxury resorts in Cebu, Siargao, Palawan, and Coron, as well as budget guest-houses and backpacker hostels. The most-used booking website for accommodation when traveling in the Philippines is Booking.com, which always guarantees the best prices.
Languages of the Philippines Islands
Due to the scattered nature of the islands and a long indigenous and colonial history, there are now over 120 languages spoken in the country. The main language is Filipino, which is the standardized form of Tagalog. Filipinos will often refer to their language as Tagalog.
Filipinos have excellent English speaking abilit and usually speak with an Americanized pronunciation, as it is taught in school. As a result, the Philippines is one of the main countries were English-speaking nations outsource their tele-marketing and tele-support teams.
Tip: Filipinos are polite and will often refer to you as ma’am or sir, sometimes in the combined ma’am-sir when speaking to a couple.
Summary: What’s the Best Island In the Philippines to Visit?
And that’s a wrap for this comprehensive travel guide to the best islands in the Philippines! Did you make it all the way to the end to find out which place to visit in the Philippines I’d recommend as the number one?
If I had to pick one, I’d say that Cebu would be first, with Siargao a close second. I’ve visited Cebu several times and still feel like there’s so much there to explore! The waterfalls, diving and epic mountain viewpoints make this one of the best places to travel to in the world!
Before you go, make sure to check out some of my other travel guides to the Philippines below.