Thoughts of tropical beaches, exotic fruits, and lush scenery come to mind at the mention of the Philippines. You immediately conjure images of a laid-back island vacation in nipa huts, sipping coconut water straight from the fruit and getting that glorious tropical tan everyone dreams of. Guess what? You can definitely experience island life in the Philippines!
To someone who lives where the climate is generally cold, the Philippines is considered a paradise. It’s sunny almost every day in the country and even when it’s rainy in some places, there’s always an island where you can soak up in the sunshine.
So is the Philippines an island? The fact is that the Philippines has more than just one island, it has over 7,000 islands! These islands are grouped into three main clusters: Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao. And you can take your pick from most of these islands, pack your board shorts, hammock and sunscreen and have the best island getaway of your life!
The Philippines is an archipelago in Southeast Asia, with Taiwan and Japan in the north, Cambodia in the west, Malaysia and Indonesia in the south, and the large expanse of the mighty Pacific Ocean in the east.
According to the CIA Factbook’s page on the Philippines, the country has a total of 22,549 miles of coastline. That’s plenty of beaches to explore!
The main island clusters of Luzon, the Visayas, and Mindanao offer plenty of pursuits for travelers of all interests. There’s the ultra-modern life in Metro Manila complete with nightlife, casinos, and entertainment centers, the charming life in the highlands of the Cordilleras, and of course, the idyllic life in the islands like Palawan, Bantayan, and Samal Island.
Best Islands in Luzon
Coming from overseas, you will most likely land on the island of Luzon where the country’s main international hub is located. Luzon is home to the country’s capital where most government and foreign embassies are located. Manila is the perfect springboard for exploring the outlying islands surrounding the mainland. Here are some of the best Philippine islands in Luzon:
The Hundred Islands National Park in the Lingayen Gulf in Pangasinan is one of the natural wonders of the Philippines. With 124 (123 during high tide) islands scattered over azure waters, it is indeed a sight to behold!
Best time to visit: Pangasinan is in the west-central part of Luzon so the weather is generally pleasant year-round. However, typhoons and depressions cooking in the Pacific still affect this area. It’s okay to visit any time of the year but it’s best to avoid the typhoon season (June to October).
Things to Do
- Take panoramic photos of the archipelago from Governor’s island. Time to make good use of your phone’s wide-angle lenses!
- Take the kids swimming and kayaking in Children’s Island. The surrounding shallow waters will give you peace of mind while the kids splash around.
- Imagine you are in Rio, Brazil for a moment while on Pilgrimage Island where you can find the Philippines’ version of Kristo Redentor — Christ the Savior towering over the surrounding islets.
- Have a picnic in Quezon Island and enjoy some modern amenities while you’re there. The island is one of the most developed in the area so expect to find resorts and small shopping centers.
- Explore the underwater scenery if Lingayen Gulf. The Coral Garden will not disappoint.
Because of the fact that Batanes is the northernmost province in the Philippines, this cluster of islands is one of the most coveted destinations for adventurers. Even getting there is an adventure! Batanes is made up of 10 volcanic islands and the terrain is simply breathtaking — rolling hills culminate in rocky cliffs caressed by the mighty waves of the surrounding waters. Only three of the 10 islands are inhabited and modern amenities, although available, are quite scarce in these parts.
Best time to visit: Being very small islands closer to Taiwan than to the northernmost tip of Luzon island, Batanes is prone to storms and strong winds. Visit during the summer months to ensure that you enjoy the scenery and the locals.
Things to Do
- Befriend an Ivatan. Locals are quite friendly in these islands and they’re very interesting people.
- Buy from the Honesty Coffee Shop where you can take merchandise and the owners trust you to leave payment even when no one is around. Batanes has a low to nil crime rate!
- Relive World War II while visiting the Basco Lighthouse and sipping coffee at Bunker’s Cafe.
- Try wearing the traditional garb called vakul (headgear for women) and kanayi (vests for men).
- Visit Racuh A Payaman, also known as Marlboro Country and let the views take your breath away!
The province of Romblon is often overlooked as a tourist destination but not for lack of beauty and interesting things to do. Romblon is divided into three main islands: Romblon, Tablas, and Sibuyan, each with its own characteristics and unique attractions. The archipelagic province is located in southern Luzon, closer to the Visayas than the mainland.
Best time to visit: This part of the Philippines also experiences typhoons so it’s best to go when the skies are clear. Between February to April is a good bet for visiting Romblon.
Things to Do
- Enjoy the sands of Boracay without going to Boracay. Go to Carabao Island instead where the quality of the white sand is the same but waaaaay cheaper than the famous island.
- Awaken your inner adrenaline junkie and jump from heights into the depths of Kuding-Kuding Island and Cantingas River.
- Trek up to the summit of Mt. Guiting-guiting on Sibuyan Island. The errie forest of the island might scare you a little but it’s worth the trip.
- Free-dive in the Philippine’s only hole dive site, Blue Hole. The experience is said to be one-of a-kind.
- Go on an island hopping your to experience the best of what these Philippine islands have to offer.
Part of Palawan, the Philippines’ last frontier, El Nido has been named one of the best island destinations in the world by various travel publications. El Nido is the gateway to the 45-island Bacuit Archipelago characterized by limestone karst cliffs, blue-green lagoons, and teeming underwater seascapes.
Best time to visit: El Nido is popular among local and foreign tourists. Filipinos mostly vacation between March and May when school’s out so if you want to enjoy El Nido sans the crowds, best come between January to early March.
Things to Do
- Rent a motorcycle and go off the beaten path. Who knows what you might discover?
- Binge on the local seafood which is abundant in Palawan’s waters.
- Charter a boat and go on a personalized island hopping tour. It might cost you more but you get to enjoy the sights a little longer.
- Get certified as a diver and explore the underwater wonders of El Nido’s azure waters.
- Explore the inland attractions and find enchanting waterfalls, streams and endemic animals.
Also in Palawan, Coron is a diver’s Nirvana. With numerous World War II underwater wrecks, this group of islands is a very popular destination for those who like a mix of history and adventure. Coron’s landscape is also highlighted by limestone karst peaks, coral reefs, and its unique freshwater lake with crystalline waters.
Best time to visit: much like El Nido, the best time to enjoy Coron is early summer when the local tourists have not arrived yet. The dry season which begins in November is also a great period to visit the islands.
Things to Do
- Take a dip in the cool waters of Kayangan Lake.
- Join an island hopping tour to discover hidden lagoons and lakes. Make sure your tour includes lunch to complete the experience.
- Go wreck diving! There are dive sites as shallow as 1o feet and as deep as 140 feet so there’s plenty to discover.
- Go on a safari adventure in Calauit.
- Enjoy a relaxing dip at Maquinit Hot Springs.
Best Islands in the Visayas
The Visayas is the most archipelagic among the three main island clusters. It is sandwiched in between Luzon (north) and Mindanao (south). The Visayas’ topography makes for a great island to island adventure and fast crafts make it even more possible. These parts are also home to charming retirement towns so keep an eye out for what just might be your forever home in the Philippine islands.
When going to Cebu, you will land on Mactan, a historical island east of the mainland. The island was the site of Ferdinand Magellan’s death, having been killed by chieftain Lapu-Lapu during the battle of Mactan 500 years ago. Mactan is home to amazing resorts, excellent dive sites, and a deep history enshrined in its parks and monuments.
Best time to Visit: The dry months between December and May are perfect although you can expect minor storms from time to time. People celebrate the victory during the Battle of Mactan in April and Sinulog in January so if you’re up for some culture, these months are great for a visit.
Things to Do
- Visit Mactan Shrine and imagine the Battle of Mactan as you gaze at the paintings and monuments. The area is also littered with souvenir shops so don’t forget to pick some up.
- Buy an Alegre guitar. Mactan-made guitars are the best in the Philippines.
- Sample the quintessential SUTUKIL (sugba, tuwa, kilaw) and experience authentic Cebuano dining.
- Live in luxury in one of Mactan’s high-rated resorts like the Shangrila and Plantation Bay. It’ll be worth every buck.
- Cross the bridge to Cebu City and experience the Sky Adventures at the Crown Regency.
Bantayan Island is located west of the northernmost tip of mainland Cebu, quite remote from the rest of the towns and cities of Cebu province. Bantayan Island boasts of virgin beaches, fishing towns and inland attractions. And the best part? No crowds! Bantayan Island is becoming quite popular but because of it’s location, it has kept the tourist crowds generally at bay.
Best time to Visit: After you experience the merriment of Sinulog in Cebu City, hop on a north-bound bus to Bantayan Island. The months between January and May are the best times to enjoy the beaches of Bantayan.
Things to Do
- Enjoy the day’s freshest catch. The waters around Bantayan island are rich with blessings from the sea which are supplied to neighboring islands.
- Work on your tan on the white sand beaches. The Cebu sun can be quite notorious during summer so don’t forget to slap on some sunscreen.
- Go spelunking and explore Ogtong and Sto. Niño Caves.
- See Bantayan and the surrounding islands from the sky! Skydive Cebu offers thrilling adventures if you’re up for it.
- Explore the untouched beauty of nearby islands during an island hopping tour.
Just east of Mactan is the island province of Bohol. Bohol has, for the most part, developed into a modern destination and yet it has retained its provincial charm, making for a unique Philippine island experience. Bohol’s history, beauty, and breathtaking beaches are something you should experience at least once.
Best time to visit: Do not visit Bohol during the wet months. Like most island destinations in the Philippines, it is best to plan your vacation around the dry months of November to May.
Things to Do
- Sip your favorite cocktails and watch the world go by in Alona Beach on Panglao Island.
- Visit the old churches of Bohol. Some of them were damaged during an earthquake but most have been restored.
- Go on the Loboc River Cruise.
- Marvel at the world’s smallest primates, the tarsiers which are endemic in the province.
- Check out the world-famous Chocolate Hills. They’re green during the wet season but turn into a tempting rich chocolate shade during the dry months.
This island just off the coast of the town of Palompon, Leyte is shaped like a bird (langgam in the native dialect), hence the name. It is actually just a sandbar with lush vegetation surrounded by creamy white sand beaches and blue-green waters.
Best time to visit: The province of Leyte became known to the world as the worst victim of Super Typhoon Haiyan (Yolanda in the Philippines) before Christmas of 2013 so it’s definitely not a good idea to visit during typhoon season. Visit during the summer months to enjoy the best of this Philippine island.
Things to Do
- Swim in the azure waters but beware of the riptides along the sandbar. Ask a local where it’s safe to take a dip.
- Check out the coral gardens surrounding the sandbar.
- Explore the nearby islands of Digyo, Mahaba, Apid, and Himokilan. There are boats you can hire to take you around.
- Camp out. You can pitch a tent and enjoy the island life for a night or two. There is no electricity on the island so bring a powerbank.
- Take a longer trip to Malapascua Island, another beautiful island with virgin beaches and a laid-back vibe 2 hours away by boat.
Islas de Gigantes
When locals found abnormally large skeletons on these islands, they assumed they were of giants and so named them Islas de Gigantes. Whether or not the legend holds true is up for debate but the beauty of these remote islands definitely isn’t. Islas de Gigantes is located off the northeastern coast of Iloilo Province and features sandy beaches, caves, rock formations, and all the seafood you can stuff in your face.
Best time to visit: You guessed it! Summertime is the best time to visit this enchanting place.
Things to Do
- Splash around in Tangke Lagoon.
- Binge on seafood galore on Antonia Beach.
- Explore the Pawikan and Bakwitan Caves.
- Take that iconic Islas de Gigantes selfie from the vantage point at Cambugao Gamay.
- Sample Ilonggo delicacies like pancit molo, batchoy and bangus inasal.
Special Mention: Boracay Island
Conde Nast Traveler’s Best Beach Island in the World #2 spot in 2020 was awarded to the newly rehabilitated White Beach on Boracay Island. The world-famous party island has drawn in millions of visitors annually and that contributed to its near-demise. In April 2018, President Duterte ordered the temporary closure of Boracay Island from tourism activities to rehabilitate and redevelop it. It was reopened in October of the same year to reveal the Boracay of the old days: pristine shores, clear waters, happy locals, and the most breathtaking sunsets.
Best Islands in Mindanao
As a Mindanawon, I am pretty biased to the islands in Mindanao. I live 10 minutes away from the Island Garden City of Samal and the beaches of Glan, Cateel, and Dahican are a scenic (albeit long) drive away. You might cower at the mention of Mindanao because of terrorism and kidnapping news but trust me, it’s not a horror show out here.
Let start with Conde Nast Traveler’s #1 Best Island in Asia for 2021. Siargao used to be a low-key island known only to the world’s surfing circuit. With social media and local celebrities making their way into the swells and beaches of the island, Siargao’s reputation blew up and it’s now one of the most popular and sought-after islands in the Philippines.
Best time to visit: If you’re into surfing or just ogling at surfers, go between the surfing months July and November. If you’re just there to experience the local vibe and get some great beach photos, you can go as early as March.
Things to Do
- Rent a motorcycle and feel like a local exploring the island.
- Surf or learn how to surf at Cloud 9.
- Channel your inner daredevil and jump from the rickety looking diving plank into Sugba Lagoon.
- Dive into the depths of the Blue Cathedral just miniutes from Cloud 9.
- Swim with jellyfish in Bucas Grande. They’re stingless and harmless so there’s no need to fret.
The island borne of fire is also one of the best destinations among all islands of the Philippines. Camiguin is located in Northern Mindanao, a boat’s ride away from Cagayan de Oro and Bohol. This minuscule Philippine island is teeming with natural attractions: waterfalls, hot springs, beaches, coral gardens, and even an ASEAN Heritage Park in Mt. Hibok-Hibok.
Best time to visit: Locals say you should visit during the Lanzones Festival in October but Camiguin is actually a great year-round destination. December to March may be a bummer as storms tend to pass through the island during this period.
Things to Do
- Dive into the eerie depths of the Sunken Cemetery.
- Choose between hot or cold springs around Mt. Hibok-Hibok.
- Eat lanzones to your heart’s content if it’s in season.
- Visit the numerous waterfalls located all over the island.
- Spend a glorious day in the sun on White Island’s sandbar.
Just across the Davao Gulf from Davao City, Samal Island is a very popular local tourist destination. The island’s proximity to Davao’s international airport has also brought in thousands of balikbayans and foreign visitors to its shores. Samal has its share of long stretches of white sand beaches, pebble beaches, rocky cliffs, and lagoons. Despite its popularity, it has maintained its off-the-beaten-path vibe but the proposed Davao-Samal bridge might just change that soon.
Best time to Visit: This area of Mindanao is protected from strong typhoons so Samal Island is a legitimate year-round destination. March to May might have larger crowds because of local tourists.
Things to Do
- Island hopping is a must in these parts. Tours can include stops at the coral garden, clam sanctuary and the elusive Vanishing Island.
- Take at peek at the sleeping bats at the Monfort Bat Sanctuary, a gaping hole in the ground that scares the living daylights out of me.
- Take a bath in a giant wok called a kawa with water legit simmering over open fire. You won’t get scalded, I promise!
- Chance on a dugong swimming by Isla Reta in the wee hours of the morning.
- Spend the night at the luxurious Pearl Farm Beach Resort. The food there is to TDF!
Grande Sta. Cruz Island
Everyone likes a pristine white sand beach but I would not say no to a pink one, either! The pink sands of the Great Sta. Cruz Island of Zamboanga is actually pulverized red corals that have mixed in with the island’s white sand. It’s an interesting sight for sure! Access to the island is controlled by the local government and overnight stays are not allowed.
Best time to visit: Zamboanga does not get hit by typhoons often so you can visit any time of the year. It is best to check the weather forecast, though, just to make sure that rains don’t dampen your plans. October is also a good month to visit if you want to experience the local festivals Hermosa and Regatta de Zamboanga.
Things to Do
- Spend a day sunbathing on the pink sands.
- Snorkel or scuba dive in the rich waters of the Basilan Straight.
- See Onse Islas (Eleven Islands) on an island hopping tour
- Spend an idyllic afternoon watching people at Paseo del Mar in Zamboanga City
- Watch Yakan women weave colorful fabrics the traditional way; you can even buy their merchandise.
This destination is definitely not for the faint of heart because of its proximity to Moro country. The region’s history has brought a security stigma that will not soon go away but peace is becoming achievable through the establishment of the Bangsamoro Autonomous Region. Without sounding too political, this new Moro-run government is working with the national government to bring back peace and development in Mindanao’s war-torn provinces. Basilan is safe for travelers but caution should always be exercised.
Best time to visit: Like Zamboanga, this area does not experience a lot of typhoons so you can plan your visit any month of the year but check weather forecasts in advance of travel. Coordinate with the local tourism office as well.
Things to Do
- Marvel at the majestic Bulingan Falls.
- Sample local delicacies such as panyalam and lokot-lokot at local public markets.
- Visit Basilan’s answer to Zamboanga’s Pink Beach located on Langgas Island.
- Explore the capital city of Lamitan.
- Buy locally woven fabrics as souvenirs.
Now that the question “is the Philippines an island” has been answered, you can start planning your island holiday. The lists above have barely scratched the surface; there are over 7000 Philippine islands after all. But any one of the islands listed are great jump-off points to other islands in the Philippines. Your tour guide or friendly local boat man should be able to tell you where to go next. Travel safe!