One of the most spectacular sights in all of Asia, the rice terraces of Banaue and Batad alone are worth the journey to the Philippines. The bus ride to the Banaue is a long and winding one, and beyond that it’s a several-hours hike by foot to Batad. The bulk of the stone terraces were started around 2,000 years ago, and seem to go on forever, in and around the villages of the region. None are as impressive as the amphitheater in Batad. Luckily for the visitor, there are a few simple guesthouses with balconies overlooking this spectacle of human engineering.
While big developed resort islands like Boracay attract foreigners in great numbers and Manila remains a major international sex-tourism destination, much of the rest of the Philippines lacks independent foreign travelers. It’s relatively easy to show up in a town and discover you’re the only traveler. People will definitely stare at you. A lot. But they’ll be eager to talk with you or invite you for a drink.
Malapascua Island has been touted as the next Boracay, but one look at this island and you’ll disagree. Development here is low-key and the vibe, relaxed. And the beach is outstanding—beautiful white sand washed by clear-blue water. Most people come to Malapascua to enjoy the beach in between their primary focus—diving. We tagged along with the divers at Exotic Dive and made our Malapascua base for five days at Exotic’s Resort. It was a fantastic way to end our trip to the Philippines.
What’s more romantic than a horse-drawn carriage ride through an old colonial town? In Vigan, to the north of Luzon, you can do just that. For about $4, a driver will take you around Vigan for an hour. His horse will wait patiently as you climb out and visit the different historic churches and mansions located around town.
Filipinos know English quite well. This is good news for the traveler, so he or she is less likely to get lost, and more likely to find out the ingredients in the mystery foods at the local café. Less superficially, English in the Philippines allows us a deeper connection with Filipinos. In general, Filipinos are open and friendly and willing to chat with foreign travelers. This makes for better travel experiences.
Bantayan Island has a great stretch of sandy beach and isn’t too crowded with tourists. It’s accessible primarily from Cebu Island and to a lesser extent from Negros Island, the way we came. You’ll see lots of fisherman repairing their nets each night before sundown on Bantayan and kids using the beach as their playground. We stayed at Ogtong Cave, which has extraordinarily clear ocean swimming as well as a beautiful property with gardens, a swimming pool, restaurant, and an actual cave to swim in! The sunsets from Bantayan are a magnificent mix of purple, pinks, oranges, and blues.
You’ll read a lot of literature encouraging you to go beyond the beaches of the Philippines and explore other aspects of the country. That is great advice, but it should be noted that beaches and diving are one of the country’s biggest assets. We’ve already mentioned Malapascua and Bantayan, but here are some other options for great beaches in the Philippines.