The rugged coastline of Apo Island in the Philippines

8 remarkable places to visit in the Philippines

The Philippines, an archipelago of over 7,000 islands, is a land of contrasts and surprises. Beyond its bustling cities and popular beach resorts lies a world teeming with natural wonders, from azure lakes nestled in volcanic craters to mysterious caves echoing with tales of the past.

Below, we delve deep into some of the Philippines' lesser-known treasures, unveiling the stories they hold and the unique experiences they offer.

Whether you're an intrepid traveller seeking your next adventure or a curious soul yearning for tales of beauty and wonder, keep reading to explore some of the most remarkable places in this beguiling country.

The beautiful waters of Hinagdanan Cave in the Philippines

1. Hinagdanan Cave, Bohol

Tucked into the heart of Panglao Island in Bohol, Hinagdanan Cave is a naturally lit cavern known for its stunning limestone formations and a pristine underground lagoon. The cave's entrance is a hole in the ceiling, through which sunlight filters in, illuminating the cave's interior and giving the water its shimmering appearance.

Local folklore tells of a farmer who discovered the cave when he dropped a stone down a hole and heard a splash. The word "Hinagdanan" translates to "laddered" in English, referencing the makeshift ladder used to access the cave initially.

To reach Hinagdanan Cave, take a tricycle or rent a motorbike from Tagbilaran City. You can also visit as part of a day tour of Panglao Island.

The turquoise Enchanted River, Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur Philippines

2. Hinatuan Enchanted River, Surigao del Sur

As you approach the province of Surigao del Sur, you'll find the Hinatuan Enchanted River, known for its deep turquoise waters that seem to belong to another realm. While the exact depth of the river remains unknown, divers have explored its depths, revealing underwater caves and tunnels.

The striking turquoise hue is attributed to its great depth, mineral content, and the purity of its waters. However, local myths whisper tales of fairies who paint the river with sapphire and jade hues at dawn.

To reach this enchanting spot, you can take a bus from Butuan City to Hinatuan and then hire a habal-habal (motorcycle taxi) to the river. While there, don't miss the "Hymn of Hinatuan," a daily fish-feeding show accompanied by a song.

Hanging coffins in Sagada, Philippines

3. Hanging Coffins, Sagada

Journey to the serene town of Sagada in the Mountain Province, and you'll be greeted by the sight of coffins hanging from the cliffs. This age-old tradition, practised by the indigenous Igorot tribe, involves placing the deceased in wooden coffins, which are then suspended on the sheer cliffsides or lodged within cave crevices.

The practice is rooted in the tribe's belief that elevating the dead brings them closer to their ancestral spirits and deities, ensuring a faster journey to the afterlife. It also protects the bodies from scavengers and natural elements. The coffins are often carved by the elderly themselves before they pass, a testament to the tribe's acceptance and reverence for death.

Visitors to Sagada can observe these coffins at Echo Valley, a short trek from the town center. As you walk through the lush pine forests, the sight of these coffins, some of which are centuries old, offers a profound connection to the cultural heritage of the Igorots. The trek also provides insights into the tribe's rituals, such as the unique positioning of the deceased in a fetal position, symbolizing the return to Mother Earth.

While in Sagada, engage with local guides who can share the rich oral histories, legends, and practices associated with the Hanging Coffins. Their stories add depth to the experience, making it a visual spectacle and a journey into the heart of an enduring tradition. You can also do a multi-day tour which includes Sagada and the secluded Batad rice terraces.

A view of the Chocolate Hills in Bohol, Philippines.

4. Chocolate Hills, Bohol

The iconic Chocolate Hills of Bohol are a geological marvel, consisting of over 1,200 perfectly cone-shaped hills spread over 50 square kilometres. These grass-covered limestone mounds turn a chocolate brown during the dry season, giving them their delectable name.

The hills are believed to have formed from marine limestone over a million years, with erosion sculpting their unique shape. Local legends offer more whimsical explanations, including tales of two feuding giants who hurled rocks at each other, leaving the hills as remnants of their battle.

The Chocolate Hills Complex in Carmen offers the best panoramic views. Visitors can reach the viewpoint by climbing a stairway, and once at the top, they're rewarded with a 360-degree view of this natural wonder.

You can visit the Chocolate Hills independently or as part of a Bohol countryside day trip.

Healthy fish and coral in the Apo Reef in the Philippines

5. Apo Reef Marine Natural Park, Negros Island

Situated off the west coast of Mindoro Island, Apo Reef is the Philippines' largest coral reef system and a diver's paradise. This UNESCO World Heritage Site is renowned for its rich marine biodiversity, including vibrant coral gardens, diverse fish species, and majestic sea turtles.

The reef encompasses two lagoons, the larger North Lagoon and the smaller South Lagoon, separated by a narrow channel. Divers and snorkelers are often left in awe of the underwater landscapes, with drop-offs, overhangs, and caverns waiting to be explored. You can also visit Apo Island, a mangrove forest that serves as a sanctuary for birds and marine life.

To get to Apo Reef, one can take a boat from Sablayan in Occidental Mindoro. The journey offers a chance to witness dolphins and, occasionally, whale sharks.

People at the Asik-Asik Falls in Alamada, North Cotabato, Philippines.

6. Asik-Asik Falls, North Cotabato

Hidden amidst the verdant jungles of North Cotabato lies the enchanting Asik-Asik Falls, a natural wonder that remained undiscovered until 2010.

Unlike most waterfalls fed by a river or spring, the waters of Asik-Asik cascade gracefully down a 60-meter-high moss-covered wall, creating a curtain of water that seems to emerge directly from the mountainside. The name "Asik-Asik" is derived from the local dialect, meaning "sprinkle-sprinkle", aptly describing the gentle sprinkle of water droplets as they dance in the air.

Reaching Asik-Asik from Cotabato City requires a bit of adventure, with a trek through dense forests and local farmlands. However, the journey is well worth it, as visitors are rewarded with the mesmerizing sight of the falls and the refreshing coolness of its waters.

Mt. Pinatubo crater lake surrounded by greenery

7. Mt. Pinatubo, Zambales

Mt. Pinatubo, located on the island of Luzon in the Philippines, is a testament to nature's dual power of destruction and creation. Its eruption in 1991 was one of the most powerful in the 20th century, causing significant devastation and dramatically altering the landscape. However, in the years since, nature has reclaimed the area, turning it into a breathtaking destination.

Today, the journey to Mt. Pinatubo's crater lake is a popular trek among adventurers. The lake, with its azure waters set against the backdrop of rugged terrain, offers a serene beauty that belies the mountain's violent past. The contrast between the tranquil waters and the stark, ash-gray surroundings creates a surreal and captivating landscape.

Reaching the crater involves a combination of 4x4 rides through lahar-covered valleys and trekking, making it an exhilarating experience. Along the way, you'll witness the resilience of nature and the local Aeta community, who have adapted to the transformed environment. Organized treks are available from Manila or Angeles City.

A panoramic view of Taal Lake in the Philippines.

8. Taal Volcano, Batangas

Taal Volcano, often referred to as a "volcano within a lake within a volcano," is one of the most iconic and unique geological wonders in the Philippines. Located just a few hours away from Manila in the province of Batangas, Taal Volcano is the second most active volcano in the country and has had 33 recorded eruptions.

Despite its active status, Taal Volcano is a favourite destination for both local and international tourists. The panoramic views from the ridge overlooking the volcano and its surrounding lake are nothing short of spectacular.

The lake itself has a unique greenish hue and is home to the endemic tawilis, a freshwater sardine found nowhere else in the world. Local legends speak of a giant who once lived here, and how his heartbreak led to the volcano's formation.

To truly experience the beauty of Taal, many visitors opt for a tour to the volcano. As well as admiring the views from afar, you can take a boat across the lake for a closer look at the volcano.

Apart from its natural allure, Taal Volcano plays a significant role in Philippine history and culture. The nearby town of Taal is known for its well-preserved ancestral homes and centuries-old Taal Basilica and is also well worth visiting.

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Annalisa Franceschini

Author - Annalisa Franceschini

Annalisa Franceschini is an Italian language teacher with a passion for nature and travel. She can't wait until her little girl is old enough to travel with her to faraway places. You can read Annalisa’s travel guides at Travel Connect Experience.

Last Updated 10 August 2023

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