The Philippines' best beaches and islands
If white sands aren't your thing, this isn't the country for you. Otherwise, bust out your flip-flops and follow us
By Candice Lopez-Quimpo 30 April, 2012
Picking a favorite beach in the Philippines is like trying to pick a favorite child. Challenging, but not impossible.
With more than 7,000 islands edged by white sand buffering turquoise waters filled with some of the world's most diverse marine life, not everyone will agree on which one is best.
Disagree with our picks? Share your favorite Filipino island or beach in the comments box below.
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1. El Nido, Palawan
Hollywood loves El Nido. Scenes for the upcoming final installment of the "Bourne" series were shot here. The island was also the setting of a pit stop on "The Amazing Race."
If Palawan is indeed "the last frontier" of the Philippines, as it's been dubbed, the coastal town of El Nido is the gateway to wild adventure.
Sure, it's got powder-fine beaches and gin-clear waters. But the views are what really sell the place.
Off the coast of El Nido are majestic karst limestone formations, empty lagoons, marble cliffs, prehistoric caves and waterfalls. All are easily explored.
Wet your fins: El Nido is a popular base for divers. Surrounding waters contain more than 50 species of coral, and attract whales, whale sharks, sea cows, manta rays, dolphins and endangered turtles.
2. Boracay, Aklan
Sundowners, anyone? Just another perfect day in Boracay.
White Beach is the place most frequently associated with Boracay, the most popular holiday destination in the Philippines.
Its four-kilometer stretch welcomes everyone from beach bums to adventurers. At night, the beach comes alive with candle-lit sand castles, cozy restaurants and bars that stay open til dawn.
Away from White Beach are calmer resorts. There is a less boisterous side of Boracay and it still offers secluded strips of sand, coves, caves and cliffs.
Come with the wind: During the early months of the year, Boracay attracts hundreds of kite-boarders and windsurfers who compete in the International Funboard Cup. The rough waves and strong winds make Boracay an ideal destination for water sports fanatics.
3. Palaui Island, Cagayan Valley
Getting to Paluai's best beach is a challenge, but the rewards make the hassle worthwhile.
This isolated island is a natural secret -- only the brave and persevering bother to visit.
Glorious white sands surrounded by volcanic rocks on one side kiss blue-green waters on the other. Snorkeling and diving brings you face to face with coral gardens and a rich marine reserve.
Palaui is all about raw beauty. But it takes some work to get there.
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Treks should be blessed with clear blue skies, patient companions and trusted local guides.
Getting to the island's most prized stretch of beach requires battling thorny grass, muddy ground and a mangrove forest.
Uncharted Philippines offers a three-day Palaui Island Photography Tour for US$240 that includes transportation, accomodation, food and guides. Visit Unchartedphilippines.com.
Sleep with stars: With no resorts or hotels, Palaui has only one real option -- camping under the stars. Otherwise, visitors are left to explore homestay options.
4. Panglao, Bohol
Just your average Panglao beach. Tired of looking at white sands yet? We're not even halfway through.
Once a sleepy island, Panglao is being roused by travelers in search of gorgeous beaches.
It’s a refuge for those who appreciate a diverse menu of aquatic attractions.
Options include dolphin watching, whale spotting, diving with barracudas, jackfish, sea snakes and brilliant coral formations.
Natural charms: In addition to its beaches, the island of Bohol is famous for its Chocolate Hills, an unusual rolling terrain of more than 1,000 dome-shaped hills. The hills are named for their brown color during dry season, when grass dries up.
The “world’s smallest primate” -- the endangered Philippine tarsier -- also inhabits the island.
Multi-language edge: Years ago, a number of foreigners came to Panglao on holiday and never bothered to leave. Locals picked up their languages to better converse with the tourists. In addition to English, in Panglao you have a good chance of meeting a local with a handy grasp of German, Swiss or Japanese.
5. Bantayan Island, Cebu
If the crowds of Boracay turn you off, Bantayan Island has luxury comforts minus the action.
Bantayan has remained relatively untouched by modern life, save for a smattering of foreigners who have taken up residence, sucked in by the island's white sands, aqua-colored waters and red-gold sunsets.
Beers are cold and cheap, townsfolk are hospitable and the dreary troubles of the outside world are easily forgotten.
Holy crowds: If you're after peace and quiet, don't plan a stay during the Holy Week before Easter. The island is crowded with Filipino travelers during this period, with rooms and services booked months in advance.
Simplicity is key: Action-packed it ain't. There are no five-star hotels, no malls, no fashion-forward shopping centers.
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6. Caramoan, Camarines Sur
Krabi who? The Philippines might not bring in the tourist numbers of Thailand, but its beaches can easily go toe-to-toe with the kingdom's best.
Named after the local sea turtle, Caramoan is as scenic as it is secluded.
Stretches of white sand run between huge boulders and rock formations. Scuba divers, island hoppers and beach bums all converge here.
Complementing the beaches are caves, waterfalls, freshwater pools, underground streams and lagoons.
Adventure site: The "Survivor" reality show series and similar international programs have used Caramoan as a shooting location.
Despite the locale's popularity with TV production companies, there are enough beaches to go around for everyone.
Top view: Mountain climbers can trek to Mount Caglago’s summit and take in a terrific view of the Caramoan islands and islets. The mountain is a pilgrimage site for some, thanks to its gigantic statue of Our Lady of the Holy Rosary.
7. Samal, Davao
Off the coast of Samal lies Buena Vista Island, with its blindingly white beaches. Pretty lady sunbathing not guaranteed.
A burgeoning tourist destination, Samal is on a mission to get the word out on its 118-kilometer coastline of white sandy beaches.
You know the highlights: pristine waters, lush greens, rock formations, mangrove and coconut palms. Numerous resorts provide a range of choices for visitors, from luxurious resorts to backpacker options.
The vanishing island: This curious moniker is the nickname of Shanipaan Shoal, a tiny island that literally disappears from sight during high tide. The only thing visible at high water is a single, elevated cottage poking out of the sea.
Underwater garden: The vast Coral Garden Marine Park, a fish sanctuary filled with diverse marine life, makes Sambal a favorite among divers and snorkelers.
8. Siargao Islands, Surigao del Norte
Beyond this pier is Cloud 9, one of Siargao's most famous surf breaks.
Known as the top surfing island in the Philippines, Siargao is often overlooked as a beachcomber’s paradise.
There are breaks for beginner surfers, moderate ones and even pros looking for three-meter-high waves. For those with zero surf skills -- and no desire to acquire any -- there are also pristine beaches with milder waves, perfect for sunning and swimming.
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Surf’s up: Ideal days for surfing are between mid-August and mid-December, when the swell is most consistent. Beginners should visit when waves are smaller, around April or May.
9. Great Santa Cruz Island, Zamboanga
Great Santa Cruz Island is famous for its pink corralline sand, the only beach of its kind in the Philippines.
On Great Santa Cruz Island, pulverized red coral washed up from the sea floor mixes with white sand to produce a pink-hued beach.
It’s a different version of perfection: the powdery beach competes with the blue and green shades of the sea. Some parts of the beach are lovely in their undeveloped state. There are signs of civilization -- souvenirs, nipa huts and restrooms.
Beach visits are limited to day trips, so you have to squeeze everything into a few hours: swim, sunbathe, snorkel, dive, even fish for your lunch. Just don’t mistake serenity for safety -- there’s a deep drop in the sea just meters from shore.
Armed guards: The island is just a boat ride away from the city proper, but getting there requires extra precautions, due to local threats.
Only those with a tourist permit from the Department of Tourism in Zamboanga City can visit. The permit fee includes armed security escorts.
Why the need for security? According to the Department of Tourism’s regional office, it's a preventative measure: “On the security situation in Zamboanga City, there are no militant or terroristic activities recently. Although there were reported shooting incidents, these were intended to specific victims due to personal grudges. The city is very vibrant and relatively peaceful.”
As a precaution, check with your embassy for security threats before traveling.
10. Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte
Nothing says "I'm on vacation" like an Instagram of yourself sunning next to a giant windmill.
Along the northern tip of the island of Luzon sits the coastal town of Pagudpud. It’s a quiet, sleepy and rural community, with little overt commercialism.
Perhaps because it takes time and effort to reach Pagudpud, the wide and inviting beaches are usually empty, making them ideal for those who enjoy mixing solitude with sun, sand and surf.
A row of windmills down the coast from Pagudpud makes for a picturesque if not unusual backdrop for a Filipino beach.
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Wind and waves: Parts of Pagudpud are exposed to winds that blow in from both the South China Sea and Pacific Ocean, making the waves ideal for surfers, especially from July to October. Windsurfers and kiteboarders are starting to take notice of this northern getaway.