THE huge archipelago of the Philippines has 7, 107 islands for you to dive, snorkel, pitch a tent, be a beach bum, get a sun tan and wallow in aquamarine waters. But with so many islands where to start? Here are five to put on the list to get you started on your very own cast away adventure.
El Nido, Palawan
El Nido is best known as a setting for the game show Survivor, although it’s not really that remote and isolated. But some effort is required in getting there (flights to Coron and then 6-7 hours to El Nido, or flights to Puerto Princesa and a 4-5 hour drive) and that means it doesn’t get the crowds of equally attractive resorts such as Phuket in Thailand. While the main beach at El Nido is nice enough, the beaches on the islands off shore are simply stunning and where you really want to spend your time. These cliff backed islands are wonderful for swimming, snorkelling or kayaking through beautiful lagoons in crystal clear waters. North of El Nido are the Calamian islands reputedly good for wreck diving.
From one Survivor location to the next–well a rumoured one anyway for the British TV series–comes Cagayan on the north east tip of the Luzon mainland. With mountainous volcanic islands, rugged coastland, thick jungle, wonderful waterfalls and spectacular coastline Cagayan begs for exploration. Among some of its spectacular natural sites are the Callao Man cave system, the scenic Pinacanauan River, the superb Iguig Calvary Hills with massive life sized statues of the 14 Stations of the Cross, and the Philippine’s longest river Rio Grande de Cagayan. Cagayan also has a number of centuries old churches to complete the culture side of the equation.
Zambales is one of the provinces of Central Luzon and faces the West Philippine Sea and that means you’re in for a reef break, a wreck dive and some great beaches — Zambales delivers on all fronts. There are plenty of beachside towns to choose from such as Pundaquit where there are numerous picturesque coves. There are islands off the coast such as Potipot or Camara where you can surf or visit lighthouses. There are mountains to hike inland and indeed the superb Sierra Madre mountain range in Zambales plunges right down to the sea. Zambales is also known for its Mango Festival held in April and the religious festival Fiesta Poon Bato in January.
Iloilo, Panay, Western Visayas
The island of Boracay is probably best known in this region, but those wanting something quieter with equally resplendent beaches may wish to visit Iloilo instead. Some of the best beaches include Balaring with its multi colored stones and the off shore islets in Northern Iloilo such Gigantes Island and North Gigantes Island with their towering limestone cliffs and superb shores and caves. Concepcion is another good offshore choice with 16 islets. Pan de Azucar is the biggest and most popular of these and dominated by Mt Manaphag and popular with climbers. There are many places to stay here in the north of the province that are undeveloped with just a handful of small resorts. If you can tear yourself away from the beach for any length of time Iloilo also has UNESCO World Heritage listed churches to visit and great trekking routes in the south.
For those that enjoy a bit of solitude and a great beach or two, this tiny island just 2.5 kilometres wide by one kilometre wide, is the place to go in the Philippines. It’s located just across from Cebu Island and thankfully tourism is still of the low key kind. It’s also renowned for diving thanks to the Monad Shoal where thresher sharks are regularly sighted along with devil rays, evil rays and hammerheads. Other venturesome divers also head to Gato Island where an underwater cave with various holes reveals all sorts of marine life. There’s plenty of wreck diving to be had here too. Otherwise sit back and enjoy the sunsets, sands and island views from places like Bounty Beach. There’s also a lighthouse, a cemetery and lookout to check out and local villages.