With the summer season and Holy Week upon us, quench your thirst for that ice-cold buko juice and wanderlust for non-touristy local destinations where you can dip your toes in crystal clear turquoise waters. The Philippines boasts 7,640 islands that offer untouched beauty and international-level grandiosity that are underrated and unfamiliar to many.
The most well-known Philippine beaches have been swarmed by foreign tourists and local wanderers alike. So, we understand the need for some serene quiet time while you lounge around for a suntan and get sand in between your toes as you explore the most beautiful secrets the country has to offer. Now with borders opening up to greater extents, whether you’re just stopping over for a quick visit to the capital or looking for adventure in unique islands, this guide shows some local hidden gems that shine all summer long for your much-needed vacation.
1. Kalanggaman Island
‘Kalanggaman’, Visayan for “bird”, looks like an animal from an aerial view. Perfect for day trips or spontaneous camping stays while you explore the undisturbed majesty it has to offer | (L-R): Wander Era, More Fun With Juan
If you’re staying in Cebu or Tacloban, you can get the chance to visit Kalanggaman Island, located in Palompon, Leyte with just a short boat ride from various ports. Opposite its famous counterparts of lush palm trees, powdery beaches, and the clearest of waters, this island does not have any fancy resorts and only has one sari-sari (general merchandise) store where you can get some necessities. Local tours are available for arrangement and are only allowing about 500 tourists daily, the island is uninhabited and allows beach camping, and some water activities, such as kayaking, snorkeling, and scuba diving.
Pro Tip! Pack your own camping/sleeping gear if you plan to stay for the night! Plus food and water supplies when you go on a day trip!
2. Canigao Island
Another Eastern Visayan hidden gem, Canigao Island is a little bit livelier than Kalanggaman if that’s more up your alley. Still uninhabited, but sure to interest you with the locals and their wonders | My Lens, Your Story
Hidden in the valleys of Matalom, Leyte, this island is frequented by locals, and for good reason. Surrounded by the finest white powder sand, this undeveloped island boasts its virgin waters where marine wildlife is still very much thriving. You can spot sharks, fishes, and vivid coral reefs when you go snorkeling, and even some wild monkeys on land too! Don’t step foot on Canigao Island thinking of 5-star resorts or full-serviced buffets, this is an affordable and truly local destination to explore in the country, armed with an island market (where you can try exotic fresh seafood dishes) and cottages where you can rest, all just a short boat ride away west of Matalom.
Pro Tip! Visit the Fish Sanctuary with the help of locals to view the thriving marine wildlife in Canigao’s untouched waters.
3. Sagada, Mountain Province
Not your usual summer destination but if you’re looking for a jam-packed activity spot in the Philippines, Sagada offers natural beauties and explorations of local culture and handicrafts | (L-R): The Queens Escape, Will Fly For Food
The Cordillera Mountain Province is a great way to (sort of) beat the heat and the swarms of beachgoers this summer. Sagada province is a great place to start your discovery of the varied wonders of the Philippines (Because we’re not just known for beaches!). From the famed Sugong Hanging Coffins to the Sumaguing Caves, the rich cultural background of the country is more than abundant in this part of Northern Luzon. But our best pick is to visit Blue Soil, locally known as Kaman Utek to revel in the thousand-year-old blue limestone grounds whose color is caused by its high copper sulfate content. You can also squeeze in Marlboro Hills at sunrise to watch the clouds roll over the mountainous province for a true bucket list experience.
Pro Tip! Try to go early in the morning at Blue Soil, Sagada’s best-kept secret to truly see it at its bluest – and quietest too!
4. Batanes, Cagayan Valley
Like our own tropical version of Iceland, the lush rolling hills, natural rock formations, and old-standing lighthouses, Batanes is a surefire way to explore a generally underrated side of the Philippines | (L-R): Rizanoia, May Gumangan / Instagram
The archipelagic province of Batanes at the Northern tip of the Philippines is known as the “Home of the Winds”, another destination to beat the summer heat in the city. This province promises you why the Philippines is one of the most beautiful countries out there that deserves more recognition for more than just its beaches. If you’re looking for mind-blowing, earth-shattering, only-man-in-the-world type of views, Racuh-a-Payaman or more commonly known as Marlboro Country is for you. There are also Wes Anderson-esque lighthouses littered all over the place and a never-ending array of rolling hills that go into the horizon. I’m sure you’ll never get tired of the views and would never get enough of this province’s blessed beauty.
Pro Tip! Besides its amazing views, Batanes offers amazing regional Ivatan cuisine, from humongous payi (lobster) to dibang (flying fish).
5. Samal Island
The Island Garden City of Samal is perfect for those who don’t want to stray too far from the city. Just 2km away from Davao, you can enjoy the extensive collection of natural wonders in Mindanao | (L-R): Bebsisms, Guide to the Philippines
Known as the largest resort city in the country, Samal Island is where the famed Pearl Farm Resort is located, but it also boasts more than its luxury accommodations. Hagimit Falls is a waterfall on an island known for its beaches. Don’t be afraid to wade in the shallow waters and stare in awe at the majestic background of nature. In Monfront Bat Sanctuary, you can witness the fruit-eating bats in their natural habitat while they’re sleeping in the daytime. You can also opt to go scuba diving around several local diving spots where World War II ships have sunk, giving way to winding reefs full of marine life. I swear the options are endless!
Pro Tip! Catch local festivals and immerse yourself in the vivid local culture. Caracoles Festival (April 28-29) celebrates the colorful marine life of the island, while the Kabasan Festival (last week of May) celebrates local products and talents.
Header image courtesy of Sunrise Express Cargo Travel and Tours