The archipelago of Philippines owing to its volcanic nature and tropical location is home to so many gorgeous sights and rich adventurous experiences. While most of the tourists to the Philippines head to Manila for its night life and shopping malls, to Boracay and nearby islands for its beach parties, white sandy beaches and emerald waters, to Bohol for its chocolate and green hills and to Cebu for a larger island experience, I prefer a slightly different trail in the Philipiines. My favorite 3 islands in the Philippines are Luzon, Palawan and Mindanao, but as Mindanao is not considered very safe, I am listing below my top 5 favorite things to do from the islands of Luzon and Palawan.
1) Hiking in the Rice Terraces of Banaue
A fantastic tropical atmosphere, dense greenery, misty mountains, cooler climes, tribal culture and lots of hidden beauties…that is Banaue for you. This is one of my favorite places to hike in the Philippines. I absolutely love hiking over the rice terraces from village to village, coming in close contact with the local people, understanding the Ifugao traditions and seeing a natural wonder up close. And the rice wine here is something special and a perfect way to relax after a long hike in the mountains.
2) Exploring the world’s longest underground river at Sabang
It is believed that millions of years ago, the island of Palawan was connected to Borneo and hence the nature, flora and fauna bear more similarities to Borneo than to the rest of the Philippines. A fairly under-developed part of the country, Palawan has many special attractions. One of its more famous ones is the Puerto Princesa underground river, which has been classified as one of the seven natural wonders of the world. Located near Sabang, this river is the world’s largest underground river and offers everything from an awesome cave experience, rich jungle experience, fantastic birdlife, a remote beach and the absolute awe of one of mother nature’s special creations.
3) Island Hopping off El Nido
Located in the northern part of the Palawan island, El Nido is a perfect destination for off-beat adventure. Dirt biking, mountain biking, jungle trekking, ATV rides, remote waterfall hikes, island hopping, cave diving and so much more is on offer here. While Nacpan beach, Duli beach and Dagmay beach are three remote pristine beaches located in this region, the highlight of an El Nido experience is its island hopping. Located a short boat ride away from El Nido are stunning limestone karsts, blue lagoons, underground cave systems, blow holes, remote beaches with nothing but a green mountain around it and basically things that all adventure lovers and water babies will drool over.Snorkeling, Scuba diving, discovering underground caves, fishing, eating the fresh catch, climbing misty mountain tops on these remote islands and lots of swimming are on the menu here. While the days are loaded with activities and things to do, EL Nido nights are more laidback parties with great food and alcohol. They are the more subdued version of the Boracay parties.
4) Tropical Trekking near Batad
The stone walled rice terraces of Batad are like the eighth wonder of the world for me. While most travelers see these rice terraces and then leave, the best option is to stay here for a longer while as this region has so many rich tropical sights that will blow your mind away. You have tropical treks, green horse shoe bends, mighty waterfalls in the middle of dense green mountains, misty mountain top trekking trails and many other jungle trails for all kinds of hikers. And to top it all, the countryside experience is way more different than the rest of the more touristy places. The locals here are real friendly, but they take some time to warm up to strangers, so it might be prudent to spend some time here for a thorough experience.
5) Scuba Diving off Coron Island
Located north of Palawan Island, Coron island is known for its colorful coral reefs and rich marine life. One of the underwater biodiversity hotspots of the Philippines, scuba diving enthusiasts and researchers used to frequent this island many years back. Today, more mainstream scuba diving organizations are present to enable regular travelers to experience this rich underwater beauty. Be it wreck diving (from the world war days), cave diving (this is a specialty here), coral reef diving or lake diving, this place has all the secret ingredients to blow the minds of even the most accomplished of scuba divers.