At first glance, the Philippines’ more than 7,100 islands may appear similar.
These islands – about 2,000 of which are inhabited – differ in history, culture, and religion, which means that they attract tourists for different reasons.
Here are six – some known, some not – and the types of travelers who are drawn to each.
Boracay was once known as the quintessential party island in the Philippines. That changed after a six-month shutdown in 2018.
Together with an intensive environmental renovation, the island has refreshed its image. It now offers family-friendly experiences via hedonistic beach raves.
The sudden closure of Boracay in 2018 cleaned up both the environment and the popular island’s reputation.
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Boracay is divided into three “stations” or areas.
Station 1 is home to White Beach, an area known for its sunsets, white sand, and rolling waves where the little ones can frolic and splash around. For eating, drinking and shopping, travelers can walk along the beach or jump on a “tricycle” – a motorcycle with an attached passenger cabin – to reach the busier Station 2.
Station Zero is home to some of the island’s most luxurious hotels, including the Shangri-La Boracay.
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Station 3 is generally less busy, but those looking for the most secluded escape can consider the northwestern part of the island – an area that locals call “Station Zero”. Home to three luxury resort companies – Crimson, Movenpick, and Shangri-La – is for travelers looking to enjoy a quiet cocktail while their kids build sandcastles on the beach.
With beach huts giving way to resorts, some travelers may say the island’s soul has changed. Boracay is certainly different now, but some might say for the better.
The province of Palawan comprises a main island and more than 1,700 other islands and islets. Limestone formations drop into turquoise waters and some islands are home to luxury resorts.
The El Nido community draws people looking for beach culture, restaurants, and small resorts. This is also where travelers will find Pangulasian Island, an eco-luxury resort in Bacuit Bay, an area popular with divers.
Palawan, a needle-thin archipelago in the west of the Philippines, has been dubbed the most beautiful island in the world by various media.
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Further north are the rather rustic islands of the municipality of Coron. Run by Discovery Resorts, Club Paradise has a Robinson Crusoe vibe with thatched beach huts and breakfast that can include unexpected visitors – think monkeys rummaging through your fruit basket. It’s a base for wreck divers to explore sunken ships from WWII.
A resort called Flower Island is run by the family behind the pearl brand Jewelmer. Travelers can visit the company’s pearl farms there.
A diver explores Japanese WWII wreckage near Coron, Palawan.
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Luxury vacationers can fly east to the Cuyo Islands and enjoy the first class service from Amanpulo. The private island hotel, which opened in 1993, is still one of the most exclusive beach resorts in the country.
For a mix of Filipino culture and beach tranquility, Bohol might be the place for you.
The island is home to historical and natural attractions. Tourists can explore the Chocolate Hills, paddle through the green-hued Loboc River, or visit a Tarsier Sanctuary to learn more about this wide-eyed primate.
Goblin lemurs are tiny and can fit in a human hand, though tourists are warned not to touch them.
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Rice fields cover the landscape against the backdrop of churches and watchtowers from the colonial era. Avid divers can take a day trip to Balicasag Island to explore the coral reefs.
Most of the resorts focus on Panglao Island, which, while usually crowded, can still offer relaxation. Donatela Resort & Sanctuary, though not directly on the beach, offers hillside villas and ocean views from the main lawn. Travelers can consider Eskaya Beach Resort & Spa for a luxurious spa getaway, while Amorita is popular with families.
Bohol’s Chocolate Hills are named for the tan that occurs when the grass dries in the first half of the year.
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The Anda Peninsula is quiet, as is the secluded, family-run Amun Ini Beach Resort & Spa, which means “this is ours” in the local dialect.
The laid-back island of Siargao is famous for its surf break called Cloud 9, attracting surfers from all over the world. The tides control much of the islands’ activity, with many locals heading out to surf at dawn and dusk.
Siargao is known as the surfing capital of the Philippines.
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While Siargao isn’t the place for soft sand and rolling waves, it offers marine activities like cocktails on a sandbar and trips to Naked Island – so named for its baldness. Away from the surf, travelers can swim in the Magpupungko Rock Pools or dive into the Sohoton Cove caves.
Most of the actions focus on the city of General Luna. There travelers will find cafes serving cappuccino and smoothie bowls by the sea. There are also tapas bars with local craft beer and motorcycle bars with live music and ceviche.
Accommodations range from one-room beach huts to yoga retreats and villas. Harana Surf Resort is a classic spot and a popular hangout for local surf legends.
Guyam Island is a small island near Siargao that is popular with island hoppers.
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Kalinaw Resort is a boutique hotel in the heart of General Luna. The resort, run by two French people, has large villas with sea views, many with their own swimming pool.
The Nay Palad Hideaway is a more luxurious destination. Guests are encouraged to go barefoot and leave their worries at the door.
Siquijor is known as the island of witchcraft and sorcery and remains largely untouched by external influences.
Some locals are too scared to visit and few international travelers know about it. That is slowly changing due to a slow influx of curious foreigners and adventurous locals.
Villagers in Siquijor collect ashes from a cemetery to use in rituals to protect their homes and livestock.
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Visitors can bike along the perimeter and then snorkel in the ocean. Further inland there is a network of rivers, waterfalls and lagoons embedded in the jungle. The most popular is Cambugahay Falls, where rapids flow into a crystal pool, making it the most photographed place on the island.
With no noticeable hotel developments, accommodations on the island are modest. But there are comfortable options, like the Coco Grove Beach Resort and the Bermuda Triangle Bungalows.
Cambugahay Falls is a three tier waterfall and popular swimming hole on Siquijor.
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The mystical traditions of Siquijor are still alive, as evidenced by a healing festival celebrated once a year. The mixture of ancient beliefs, shamanistic practices and Christian belief is a symbol of the complexity of Filipino culture and history.
Mindanao’s Zamboanga Peninsula has a rich history and beautiful beaches, especially the pink sands of Santa Cruz Island.
The culture mixes influences from indigenous tribes, local sailors and the Spanish – the latter is reflected in the dialect of the region called Chavacano. The result is a city of colonial buildings, locals in vibrant handcrafted clothes, and an ocean of traditional boats.
Two boys fish against the sunset sky in Zamboanga, Philippines.
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The kitchen is complex. A local delicacy, curacha is a grilled tension crab that’s usually eaten with alavar – a sauce made from crab roe, coconut milk, and spices. Grilled skewers called Satti are served with a fiery mix of chilli called Ta’mu.
True to the region’s Spanish roots, paella is a favorite and is often made with fresh seafood. The Muslim-Malay influence is also present, particularly in dishes like beef rendang and chicken pianggang. While these dishes are common across Southeast Asia, zamboangeños use additional coconut and lemongrass.
Travelers wanting a white sand experience can take a boat to Once Islas or Eleven Islands – an ecotourism attraction that opened in 2018.