Affectionately referred to as the Pearl of the Orient, the Philippines has so much to offer to those looking to find their own small slice of tropical escapism. This rich, biodiverse archipelago has 7,641 islands (depending on the tide) and is undoubtedly one of the most alluring destinations in South-East Asia.
While Boracay, Siargao and Palawan have been recognised as some of the most beautiful islands in the world – the Philippines does have plenty of fascinating, underrated islands off the beaten track that are worth exploring too.
In many ways, Sorsogon is the best place to discover the Philippines’ vibrant wildlife, which is one of the richest in the world. It is perfect for those looking to add a bit of adventure to their Philippines sojourn. Here, you can swim with manta rays and giant ‘Butandings’ (whale sharks), hike the Bulusan Volcano National Park or sail along the Donsol River. Ye to be discovered by tourists, the Donsol River is a wonderfully ethereal boating experience, as its idyllic rural landscape gets transformed by hundreds of thousands of fireflies that illuminate the riverbank once night falls.
San Juan, La Union
San Juan is another surfing paradise in the province of La Union in Luzon, the Philippines’ largest land mass. Just a few hours’ drive away from Metro Manila, San Juan has become a popular weekend getaway for locals looking for a sun-soaked escape from the busy capital. This laidback town has plenty to offer those looking for a more relaxed stay and boasts a string of quirky cafés and hidden gastronomic gems. Sawadeeka is an excellent restaurant for authentic Thai cuisine, while Sabong FC (a reference to the Filipino sub-culture of rooster fighting) serves delicious fried chicken. CleanBeach Co. and El Union are two of the surf town’s beloved coffee spots, while L’Osteria serves delicious pastas and pizzas.
Beyond all the incredible surf spots that San Juan has to offer, visitors can head to Tangadan Falls for cliff-diving, bask in the infinitely blue views of the Luna Pebble Beach or visit the wonderfully eccentric, sculptural museum-cum-ancestral home ‘Bahay na Bato,’ which translates to House of Rock. Bahay na Bato, a reference to the stone houses that characterised Spanish colonial architecture, is home to an eclectic collection of art, sculpture and historical artefacts and can also be booked as a B&B.
Calaguas, Camarines Norte
Within driving distance from the capital of Metro Manila, Calaguas is an uninhabited group of islands perfect for those looking for a more rustic island experience. ‘Mahabang Buhangin’, which translates to ‘long sand’, is the most popular atoll and is known for its two-mile stretch of pristine beach. With not a single hotel on these islands, camping under the stars is your only choice for accommodation, which may discourage travellers looking for familiar creature comforts.
Getting to Calaguas is no walk in the park either. You can book a transfer with numerous local operators and the journey entails an eight to ten hour car journey, then a three hour boat ride, which is rustic to say the least.However, for those willing to brave the wilderness and total lack of any amenities, a visit to this wild, untouched island is well worth the discomfort.