Made up of over 7,000 tropical islands, you would be right in thinking that there is plenty to do in the Philippines. With unique wildlife and some of the most stunning beaches and landscapes Asia has to offer, outdoor adventure enthusiasts will struggle to whittle down their Philippines bucket list.
After hunting down the best things to do across the most popular (and easy-to-access) tourist islands, here are my recommendations of 12 ‘must-do’ activities in the Philippines. They’re ideal for those outdoorsy people who hate being stuck inside or sat baking on a beach.
How many of these adventure activities are on your Philippines bucket list?
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Submerge Yourself In The Great Sardine Run – Moalboal
The Philippines is famous for its incredible underwater experiences. One of the most popular activities for tourists is swimming with whale sharks in Oslob, although the ethics of doing so are questionable. The tours operators feed the sharks meaning that they stay in one place, interfering with their natural migration pattern.
For an equally awe-inspiring but totally natural and ethical experience, dive or snorkel with millions of shimmering sardines as they migrate through the ocean to nearby islands.
Huge clouds of silver fish flicker and dart around you in unison, creating an other-worldly experience that may just be one of your most enchanting underwater memories, ever.
If you’re a keen diver or would like to get certified, this is one dive to add to your Philippines bucket list.
Meet the Endangered Tarsier – Bohol
The Tarsier is a small carnivorous primate with adorable goggling eyes. Although they were once found across mainland Asia, North America and Africa, they now only reside in densely vegetated forests in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Philippines.
Their numbers in the wild are sadly still declining though and so they have been declared vulnerable to extinction. But there’s some good news: conservation projects are now the main reason for their successful breeding. Not only that, you can see a Tarsier during your trip to the Philippines!
One such conservation reserve can be found near the town of Corella on the island of Bohol. It’s a semi-wild enclosure that you can walk around and see the cute Tarsiers clinging to the trees only a few feet away from you.
As nocturnal creatures, they’ll be pretty sleepy so you’ll need to whisper to make sure you don’t disturb them.
The Tarsier sanctuary is a ‘must visit’ stop on any tour of Bohol as you are unlikely to witness this tiny cute creature anywhere else in the world again.
Admire the Chocolate Hills (on an ATV) – Bohol
The Chocolate Hills are an intriguing geological formation of over 1,200 grassy mounds scattered near Carmen in the Bohol Province. During the dry season, grass on the cone-shaped hills becomes singed and consequently turns brown, giving the Chocolate Hills their rather unique name.
Although the most common way to see the hills is by climbing atop a viewing platform, in reality the site is completely overrun with tourists. Plus it only gives you one perspective of this amazing natural phenomenon.
To experience the hills properly, I would instead recommend hiring quad bikes (known here as an ATV – ‘all terrain vehicle’) to bomb around them on the ground. Even better, if you have the budget, take a 10 minute helicopter ride so you can marvel at the beauty and scale of them from above!
A trip to the Chocolate Hills is often included as a stop on a one day Bohol island countryside tour. On this tour (often called ‘Tour A’) you can also visit the Tarsier sanctuary, a historic shrine, Baclayon church & museum amongst other points of interest. You’ll also take a lunchtime boat trip on the Loboc River.
These day tours can drop you off at either the helicopter pad or the ATV centre and collect you again, if this is your preferred way to see the Chocolate Hills.
Explore Limestone Towers – El Nido
Vine-clad limestone towers jutting out of aquamarine-coloured water are an iconic image of the Philippines. The images you see online aren’t edited – the scenery of El Nido is just as mesmerizingly beautiful in reality! There were many times on a boat tour of El Nido that I really had to pinch myself at this real-life natural beauty!
Agencies in Palawan offer many different island hopping tours (they are conveniently named A, B, C and D). Each tour has its own twist and takes you to different locations.
For example, Tour B is generally known for its caves and islands and Tour A for the lagoons and beaches. Although Tour A is often the most popular, it really is one of the best for exploring some really stunning spots.
Regardless of which tour you choose, make sure you pick a company that provides you with free snorkels and kayaks so you can go off and explore the breath-taking scenery yourself.
Cruise a UNESCO Listed Underground River – Puerto Princesa
Awarded the title of the ‘7th wonder of the world’, the planet’s longest navigable underground river has to make an appearance on any Philippines bucket list!
The 8.2km long cave system is located in the protected Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, on the Western coast of Palawan. The limestone stalagmites and stalactites create one of the world’s most complex cave systems and you can explore it by boat with a head torch.
Inside the cave system geologists have discovered another ‘floor’ which means there are even underground waterfalls. Also, some parts of the river are also so deep they have never been explored. Crazy!
It can be a bit of a mission to get here yourself as it’s about 50 miles from Puerto Princesa city centre, but experiencing this UNESCO wonder up close is a once-in-a-lifetime experience. A full day tour from Puerto Princesa is the easiest way to visit.
Go on a Firefly Night Kayak – Bohol
As dusk sets in, glide through the mangroves of the Abatan River as glittering fireflies dance and dart around you during their mesmerising nightly mating ritual. It’s one of the most magical and serene nature experiences to have in the Philippines.
Kayaking is the most eco-friendly and peaceful way to explore the riverbank. You’ll be serenaded by the sounds of the nighttime jungle – the crickets, the frogs and the lapping of the water.
Some companies go on a motorised boat that harms and disturbs the fireflies, and generally ruins the serenity of the experience. Opt for a company such as Kayakasia who support the community, has a knowledgeable local guide and finishes the nights activity with a mouth-watering meal.
Surf World Famous Breaks at Cloud 9 – Siargao
Siargao is said to be one of the best places for surfing in the whole of the Philippines. In fact, it is home to Cloud 9, one of the top 10 surf spots in the entire world!
Hollow barrel waves roll off the reef, and unlike somewhere like Bali, it’s quiet so there’s no extra hard working trying to dodge people in the ocean to catch them!
The best time to surf here is late August – November when the monsoon generates awesome offshore winds. If you’re around in September, you may even catch the annual international surfing competition, the Siargao Surfing Cup.
This year Siargao was voted the number one island in the world by Conde Naste Traveler readers. So even if surfing isn’t for you, head to Siargao to check out the best of Filipino island life.
Chase Waterfalls – Bohol
You can find stunning waterfalls all over the Philippines, but my favourite two from my trip would have to be located in Bohol, the most jungle-like island I visited.
Pahangog Twin Falls is one of the most picture-perfect waterfalls, tucked away in a little jungle oasis in the south. The water cascades from a height over two rock faces, tumbling into a gorgeous, large emerald blue-green pool. It’s like something out of a Herbal Essences shampoo advert!
Ingkumhan Falls is more of an unpretentious locals’ spot, especially enjoyed by school kids. It’s a really fun place to hang out as the small, smooth waterfall rock face means that you can slide down it into the pool. There are also loads of rope swings tied to trees so there are hours of entertainment to be had at Ingkumhan!
Read more about these two waterfalls in Bohol (and how to get there).
Hike Ancient Rice Terraces – Banaue
The Banaue Rice Terraces were carved into the contours of the mountains by the ancestors of the Indigenous Filipino people, dating back over 2,000 years.
As they are an outstanding example of an evolved, living cultural landscape, the terraces have been given a UNESCO heritage status. Passed on from generation to generation, the descendants have shunned modernisation and persisted with ancient practices that are keeping traditions alive.
Not only is their history fascinating, the terraces are a truly beautiful imprint on the landscape that you can appreciate best whilst hiking.
Jump in a Jeepney – Anywhere
So much more than just getting from A to B – you simply can’t leave the Philippines without having jumped into the country’s most iconic and popular modes of public transport – a jeepney!
Upcycled from leftover US jeeps used in WW2, you will now find them adorned with gaudy accessories and painted in rather bright kitsch designs.
Although they’re often overcrowded (which of course isn’t so pleasant in the heat), Jeepneys are a widespread symbol of Filipino culture and art.
If you’re not in a hurry (but who is in the Philippines anyway?) they are quite an experience! If you’ve been to Sri Lanka and caught the public buses there, I’m sure you’ll know what I mean!
Simply flag them down from the road if they’re going your route, and hop off at your destination. Jeepneys are an extremely affordable transport option and you’ll no doubt meet some interesting locals to boot!
Canyoneering at Kawasan Falls – Cebu
Canyoneering in the Gatorade blue waters of Kawasan Falls is one of the most popular activities in Cebu, and for good reason. For two adrenaline-filled hours, you’ll jump, float, repel, climb and slide into them! It’s an ideal outdoor activity in the Philippines for adventure sport enthusiasts.
There are multiple ways to go canyoneering at Kawasan Falls. For ultimate ease, book a full day organised tour in advance. You’ll be picked up from your hotel and be provided with a guide and safety equipment. Alternatively, you can skip the middle man and head to Badian independently on public transport and ask around for a qualified guide to take you.
Whilst you’re on the island, I’d also recommend checking out the nearby tourist spots in Cebu as well.
Explore Picture-Perfect Lagoons & a Shipwreck – Coron
Just like El Nido, Coron is an incredibly beautiful part of Palawan and the perfect destination if you’re a water-lover.
It’s one of the most photographed parts of the Philippines as the scenery and crystal clear ocean is simply magazine-worthy. In my opinion, it’s a slightly more rugged take on El Nido’s landscape.
I’d recommend the ‘Ultimate Coron Tour‘, an 8 hour boat trip taking you to the main points of interest. Highlights are definitely diving or snorkelling a sunken Japanese shipwreck from the 1940’s and the lagoons, such as the magical Twin Lagoon.
At low tide you can swim under a rock arch that separates the Twin Lagoons. At high tide, there’s wooden steps to go over. If you’re lucky, you may even stop at the Hidden Lagoon – a sheltered bay that you can only access through a small hole!
With a plethora of adrenaline and nature-filled experiences to be had on land, sea and sky, you certainly won’t be stressing about how to spend your days holidaying in the Philippines. Your biggest problem will be choosing.
I hope this list has proven just how incredible the Philippines is for adventure travel and has extended your Philippines bucket list!
Thinking about visiting soon? Make sure you read this post on things to know before you go to the Philippines to help prepare you.
PIN FOR LATER:
Heading to The Philippines Soon? Don’t forget these essentials!
Flights: compare and search using Skyscanner
Accommodation: hotels to hostels, glamping to apartments I always use Booking.com
Tours: to search and compare the best group tours and activities worldwide (with up to 20% off), use Viator
Visa: don’t forget to check the entry requirements for the passport you are travelling with