Philippine island escapes that are not Boracay
Boracay is one of the most popular holiday destinations in the Philippines. But while the island’s fine white shores and vibrant nightlife have been going strong, there’s a great deal of pollution in its waters and surrounding seas due to a sewage problem. Thus an order for a much-needed, 6 month long cleanup starting from late April this year.
While Boracay is busy recuperating, fear not - there are other islands in Philippines for a short getaway. And even after it re-opens in October, these less touristy alternatives are worth a visit. All of them come with beautiful beaches and plenty of things to do, including snorkelling, cave exploring, and cliff diving.
Siargao is said to be the best place for surfing in the Philippines, with large rolling waves throughout the year.
Rent a surfboard and ride some waves at Cloud 9
Image credit: @mati.oliveri_surf
You can’t go to the surf capital of the Philippines without riding some waves, or at least, attempting to. One of the most popular surf breaks in Siargao is Cloud 9, where you can enjoy watching seasoned pros shredding through the water. If you’re more of a novice, Jacking Horse nearby will be more suitable with its baby waves.
If tackling walls of water is too much for you, take a leisurely stroll along Cloud 9 Pier and watch the sunset instead
Image credit: @baldwincsantos
Savour a creatively plated smoothie bowl at Shaka Siargao Cafe Gallery
Image credit: @hilambloom
We have our fair share of affordable acai bowls in Singapore. But with fruit toppings beautifully arranged to look like flowers, the ones at Shaka Siargao Cafe Gallery are basically edible art. Each Power Bowl costs P250 (~S$6.35), but Bowl & Coffee Combos go for just P300 (~$6.72), so you might as well go for the latter.
The cafe is housed in a cosy little hut
Image credit: Shaka Siargao
Address: 8419 General Luna, Surigao Del Norte, Philippines
Opening hours: Daily, 6.30AM-5PM
Telephone: +63 929 422 8956
Cliff jump at Magpupungko Rock Pools
Image credit: @thenaturesbest
Magpupungko Beach has beautiful rock pools with clear turquoise waters which you can wade around in. If you’re feeling adventurous, go ahead and cliff jump in the the deeper areas - the lagoon is lined with rock formations, some of which are easy enough to climb on and leap from.
The largest rock formation of this beach is Magpupungko Rock - a giant boulder balancing atop a flat stone.
Image credit: @ohgoodlawrd
For safety reasons and an optimum view of the rocks, it’s best to visit during low tide when the waters are at their most tranquil.
Entrance fee: P50 (S$1.27)
As a hotspot for wreck diving, Coron is slowly but surely gaining in popularity, especially dive enthusiasts. Head down before it gets overly touristy!
Dive down to the WWII shipwreck at Coron Bay
Image credit: @guillaumecb
Coron Bay is best known for Skeleton Wreck, an old Japanese WWII shipwreck that’s now an iconic dive location. It’s not huge, which makes it suitable for divers of all proficiency levels. Now encrusted with corals and barnacles, the ship is teeming with marine life.
Don’t worry if you’re not certified in diving, as Coron Bay is also a great snorkelling spot.
Image credit: @gelboidotcom
Other nearby dive sites worth visiting are Barracuda Lake and Twin Lagoon for their otherworldly limestone caves.
Soothe your tired muscles at Maquinit Hot Spring
Technically, this one’s not on Coron Island, but rather, within Coron municipality which the island is a part of. However, it’s just 30 minutes away and simply too good to pass up.
Image credit: @pietropavlo
As one of the few natural saltwater hot springs in the world, Maquinit Hot Spring sure gives the onsens in Japan a run for their money. The saltiness in question comes from the hot spring being directly connected to the sea - which means that you’ll have a direct view of the vast waters as you bask in the comforting 40-degree water.
Image credit: @lsbrennan
Further out there’s a wooden boardwalk which will take you through the mangroves to the edge of the water. Relax under the shade at one of the huts and watch the water sloshing beneath your feet - but as much as it looks inviting, do avoid jumping in as the currents can get quite strong.
Image credit: @lily_ryeon
Telephone: +63 917 819 5327
Entrance fee: P$200 (S$5.12)
Hike up Mount Tapyas
Image credit: @fedacarr
When you’re all energised from the toasty hot spring waters, get up and going again with a hike up Mount Tapyas, roughly 20 minutes away by car. The journey up isn’t particularly arduous, as there’s a paved path. Just be prepared to cover over 700 steps, one-way.
Your reward will be a gorgeous 360 degree view of the town and surrounding islands below, and if you come at the right time, you’ll be treated to a gorgeous sunrise or sunset.
Note: There’s only one small drink stall at the base of the hill and no other shops along the way up, so do stock up on water before you make your ascent.
Panglao Island is home to Alona Beach, as well as Virgin Island, a sandbar strip. But other than visiting these sandy areas, there are also non-beachy activities for you to keep occupied with.
Go spelunking in the mystical Hinagdanan Cave
Image credit: @rv_lakwatsiro
Cool story: Hinagdanan Cave was accidentally discovered when a farmer who was clearing his land dropped a stone into a hole and heard a splash. He then built a ladder leading down to the hole and uncovered the mystical beauty of the limestone cavern within.
Opening hours: Daily, 7.30AM-6PM
Entrance fee: P50 (~S$1.28)
Dine on a cliff by the sea at Bohol Bee Farm Restaurant
Image credit: @ron.lacanlale
For homeliness and good Pinoy hospitality, visit Bohol Bee Farm. They do have a resort if you’re keen on the full farm experience, but you don’t have to be a staying guest to dine at their cliffside restaurant. All the food here is organic, with some choices being the Cassava Tacos with various meat fillings (from P220, S$5.63) and Honeyglazed Chicken (P320, S$8.19).
There are more than 10 ice cream flavours here, ranging from Chocolate and Salted Honey to less conventional ones like Spicy Ginger and Pandan.
Image credit: @aldwinsy
For dessert, hop over to their in-house ice cream parlour, The Buzzz Ice Cream, for homemade ice cream in a gluten-free cassava cone (P60, ~S$1.53). These are made with fresh coconut milk instead of cow’s milk, so those who are lactose intolerant can indulge too. Health nuts will be glad to know that these are sugar-free and sweetened with the farm’s own honey.
You can also grab a drink at Kape Bee and Bar, their coffeehouse-cum-bar
Image credit: @ayenzkim
Address: Dao, Panglao Island, 6339 Bohol, Philippines
Opening hours: Daily, 5AM-10PM
Telephone: +63 38 510 1822
Marvel at the architecture of Our Lady of Assumption Parish
Image credit: @matchyu
Also known as Dauis Church, Our Lady of Assumption Parish is a Roman Catholic church dating back to the early 1860s with a mix of Roman and Gothic architectural styles. Even if you’re not an architecture buff, it’s easy to marvel at the grandeur of it all.
Image credit: @callmebutchie
It’s not quite the Sistine Chapel, but the main church hall has a dome-shaped ceiling with elaborate Renaissance-style fresco art which you won’t find at churches in Singapore.
Address: Circulado Street, Poblacion, Dauis, 6339 Bohol, Philippines
Perfect for weekend trips, this small island offers a therapeutic experience with white sand beaches sans the crowds.
Let butterflies land on you at Santa Fe Butterfly Garden
Image credit: Santa Fe Butterfly Garden
Santa Fe Butterfly Garden is dedicated to the conservation and breeding of 22 butterfly species. Take a walk through their netted garden and watch these delicate winged insects fluttering all around in a myriad of colours. Don’t be alarmed if they land on you - they’re completely harmless!
Image credit: Santa Fe Butterfly Garden & Butterfly Garden Cafe
You can also learn about the life cycle of a butterfly here, and see the creature in its different stages. If you’re lucky, you might even get to catch them hatching from their cocoons!
Image credit: Aleksander M on TripAdvisor
Address: G. Borraska Street, Santa Fe, Bantayan Island Cebu, 6047
Opening hours: Daily, 9AM-6PM (closed on Christmas Day and New Year’s)
Telephone: +63 916 274 2321
Entrance fee: Children under 3: free | Ages 3-17: P50 (S$1.28) | Ages 18-64: P100 (S$2.56) | Ages 65 onwards: P90 (S$2.30)
Visit the graffiti-filled German Ruins and cliff diving site
Image credit: @cesseuropa
When it comes to ruins in Bantayan, most people head to Kota Park for its fort - or what’s left of it. But we say, go to the German Ruins instead. We’re not sure of the history of this structure as little about it can be found online, but it’s interesting to see the grey stone columns coated in colourful graffiti - truly a harmony of old and new.
Image credit: @jjustmayalittle
The German Ruins sit atop a small cliff overlooking the sea, so muster up some courage to cannonball into the blue. The drop isn’t too far, so it’s suitable even for daring children who know how to swim. But if you’re afraid of taking the leap, there are also stairs leading down to the water.
Grab a drink and affordable food MJ Square
Image credit: @mechellemay
MJ Square has been applauded by both tourists and locals alike as the best place to get food in Bantayan. Both aisles of the food bazaar are lined with numerous stalls selling affordable Filipino dishes, and we hear that cheap and good seafood is aplenty here. There are also restaurants of other cuisines like Greek and Mexican, as well as a few bars.
You can even get seafood like prawns and scallops at 1-for-1- prices here
Image credit: @imbringingsexyjac
Image credit: @xyzaigre
One of the most popular drinking holes here is Liquido, which sells cocktails like Bantayan Bujitos, Pina Coladas, and Mango Daiquiris for an unbelievable price of P130 (S$3.32).
Shake Me has a colourful wall of post-it notes - feel free to leave your mark!
Image credit: @sandraviaja
A more family-friendly favourite is Shake Me, for their refreshing tropical popsicles and fruit shakes (from P100, S$2.25).
If you really want to escape humans, head to one of the Batanes Islands at the northernmost tip of the country. This cluster of islands is closer to Taiwan than to the rest of the Phils, and only Itbayat, Sabtang, and the main island Batan are inhabited.
Bask at the sandless Valugan Boulder Beach
Image credit: @thejerminatorr
If getting sand stuck between your toes isn’t your idea of fun, Valugan Boulder Beach will be your answer to seaside chillin’ - instead of fine white sand, the entire stretch is filled with stones of varying sizes.
Image credit: @wanderlovepatti
Many have taken to stacking the tinier ones on top of each other for photos. See how many you can balance before your rock tower falls!
Interact with the locals at Sabtang’s stone house village
Image credit: @craftyzet
Get a peek into the lives of the locals at the stone house village in Sabtang. These houses with thatched cogon grass roofs are unique to Batanes, and although some of them appear to be in ruins, most of them have Ivatan people living in them - so do be respectful and keep your noise to a minimum so as not to disturb them.
Image credit: @kimcchiii
The villagers are generally welcoming and might even let you try a vakul - a type of traditional headgear made from palm fibres, meant to shield the wearer from sun and rain. Feel free to give them a small tip for their hospitality.
Frolic among cows at Vayang Rolling Hills
Image credit: @isaywhaaat
With seemingly endless spans of lush green grass, Vayang Rolling Hills can easily be mistaken for one of those meadows in New Zealand. But while the Kiwis have their sheep, these undulating hills in the Philippines are dotted full of grazing cows. Some might even get close enough to you to be touched - just be careful not to scare or provoke them.
Image credit: @i.am.gel
There’s not much else to do here, but that’s the beauty of this quiet spot. Lie back and admire the clouds above, or gaze out at the ocean below while breathing in the crisp air.
Take a dip in the Fountain of Youth
Image credit: @janinedlv
MBS can move over, because Batanes has its own unbeatable “infinity pool” amidst nature - with direct access to the ocean and a spectacular view of active volcano Mount Iraya in the distance.
Image credit: @acyjoy0825
Also known as the Spring of Youth, or Rakuh-A-Idi Spring, the Fountain of Youth can be reached via a 30-minute trek from Diura Fishing Village. Although it was humanly constructed, the cool water in this spring comes straight from mountains.
Best alternatives to Boracay Island in Philippines
A breathtaking sunset from when we visited Boracay in 2016
Boracay might be hailed as one of the most beautiful islands in The Philippines - and even the world - but there are so many other gems around it which make worthy spots for beachy vacays. Dare to venture to these less touristy areas and you’re sure to gain some unforgettable experiences.
That said, while you’re out having fun in the sun, remember this saying: “Take nothing but photos, leave nothing but footprints”. Make sure you don’t litter or pollute the waters, and do treat everywhere you tread with respect. Nature can only remain unspoilt if we humans take good care of it.
For more ideas on island holidays, check out our other guides below: