The most epic spots in a land of more than 7,000 isles.
I was a 16-year-old college student when I met the man I would marry years later. After graduating from college and getting jobs, we decided to keep the romance going with yearly trips to the picturesque islands that our native Philippines is known for. Having been born and raised in a mountain city up north, I was eager to explore as many of the country’s 7,107 islands as possible. Of course, we’ll never get to all of them, but here are our Top Five so far:
Our first plane ride together was to Bohol, an island province in the Philippines’ Central Visayas region. We stayed on Panglao Island, just off the coast of Bohol, spending an entire day lounging around the powdery white sand beach and swimming in its clear blue waters. Then we toured the province, visiting the Chocolate Hills, limestone hills that turn brown during the summer; taking a cruise down Loboc River’s green waters; and stopping by the Tarsier Sanctuary to catch sight of the cuddly, wide-eyed Philippine tarsier, one of the world’s smallest primates. We loved Bohol so much that we ended up returning for our honeymoon eight years later.
Where to stay: Amorita Resort, overlooking Alona Beach on Panglao Island, where you can choose among spacious suites and villas and enjoy modern amenities and impeccable service.
Where to eat: Payag Restaurant in Tagbilaran City serves flavorful chicken inato, a local grilled chicken delicacy. Gerarda’s Restaurant, also in Tagbilaran City, dishes out authentic Filipino cuisine.
We scheduled our trip to Boracay, a small island in the Western Visayas, during the rainy season, hoping to avoid the summer crowds that flock the island. We took the risk and braved the impending storm, which was well worth it. Boracay’s White Beach, a three-mile stretch along the island’s western side, is often named one of the most beautiful in the world. It’s divided into three sections from north to south: the manicured, pristine sands and high-end resorts of Station 1; the bustling shops and restaurants of Station 2; and the more affordable but still dazzling vistas of Station 3. Take a glass-bottom boat ride to view Boracay’s teeming marine life before settling in to view the island’s iconic sunset.
Where to stay: Henann Regency Resort & Spa, a Mediterranean-inspired resort with poolside and beachfront rooms as well as three swimming pools and a Jacuzzi.
Where to eat: Deco’s Original La Paz Batchoy in Station 2 is a modest restaurant serving delicious batchoy, a Filipino noodle dish made with pig organs and topped with crushed pork cracklings. Epic Boracay is a hip beachfront bar and restaurant where you can cap off the night with a drink or two.
We headed for Cebu during a rough patch and used the getaway as a chance to rest and reconnect. The most densely populated province in the Philippines, Cebu is also its first Spanish settlement, so there’s lots of history to explore when you’re done sun-bathing. We snorkeled and lazed around in hammocks tied to palm trees. But we also walked around Cebu City, also known as the Queen City of the South, visiting sites such as Magellan’s Cross, Fort San Pedro, and Basilica Menor del Santo Niño, the oldest Roman Catholic church in the Philippines.
Where to stay: Shangri-La’s Mactan Resort & Spa is a plush resort in Mactan Island, Cebu where you can go on a garden tour or take a relaxing spa date.
Where to eat: Larsian Barbecue, a food court in Cebu with stalls offering skewered chicken partnered with pusô, rice wrapped in woven palm leaves. Zubuchon serves one of the best lechon, or roasted suckling pig, in Cebu.
Busuanga Island and Coron
Our trip to Coron, part of Busuanga Island in Palawan, was memorable for lots of reasons. We climbed more than 700 steps to reach the summit of Mount Tapyas, where stunning views of the surrounding islands more than made up for the tiring uphill journey. We visited Kayangan Lake, often called the cleanest lake in Asia, and were amazed by its crystal clear waters surrounded by limestone formations. We went island hopping on a banca, or outrigger boat, stopping by different beaches for a quick swim. And on our last day, my husband proposed.
Where to stay: Busuanga Island Paradise is a quiet retreat in the middle of Busuanga Island, where you can rent a private casita.
Where to eat: Lolo Nonoy’s Food Station is lined with bamboo huts where diners take refuge in Filipino comfort food. Tita Esh Eatery is where you can cool down with halo-halo, a sweet treat made with shaved ice and evaporated milk, topped with sliced local fruits, sweet beans, ube (purple yam), leche flan (milk flan), and a scoop of ice cream.
We celebrated our first wedding anniversary on Samal Island in Davao. It was our first trip as a married couple and our first time in the southern region of Mindanao. We decided to splurge and stay at a luxurious resort. Our private cottage was built on stilts above water, with a balcony opening up to views of the horizon. We spent an entire day enjoying the sun, sand, and sea. We also took a day out in the city, strolling around People’s Park; viewing the endangered Philippine eagles at the Philippine Eagle Center; and visiting the Davao Crocodile Park, which houses crocodiles as well as a butterfly sanctuary.
Where to stay: Pearl Farm Beach Resort is a deluxe resort in Davao’s Samal Island, where you can have a quiet candlelight dinner on the shore followed by drinks at Parola Bar.