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The 13 best beach destinations in the Philippines

·12 min read
The beaches of Dimakya, Bantayan and Panglao in the Philippines.  (Photos: Getty, Unsplash)
The beaches of Dimakya, Bantayan and Panglao. (Photos: Getty, Unsplash)

The Philippines is an island nation, with a staggering 7,640 islands, of which about 2,000 islands are inhabited. That makes for a cornucopia of coastlines, and an abundance of beautiful beaches.

Almost empty clean paradise White Beach of Boracay Island with many coconut trees at a sunny day with blue sky, Aklan, Visayas, Philippines,
White Beach on Boracay Island. (Photo: Getty Images)

The country has long had a reputation for its natural beauty and gorgeous white sand beaches, which draw flocks of tourists to shores all around the archipelago, which stretches from Luzon in the north to Mindanao in the south. In between, there are a host of tropical paradises on various island groups such as Palawan, Mindoro, and the Visayas. Just last month, Boracay, Palawan and Cebu were ranked among the 25 Best Islands in the World by Travel + Leisure magazine.

Clear water of Dimakya Island.
Pristine waters off Dimakya Island. (Photo: Getty Images)

We list for you below our pick of the top 13 destinations in the Philippines to live the beach life. No matter if you just want to lie back on a deck chair with a cocktail in hand, or pursue exciting water sports, or see amazing marine life underwater, there's something for everyone.

El Nido in Palawan, Philippines.  (Photo: Eibner Saliba from Unsplash)
El Nido in Palawan. (Photo: Eibner Saliba from Unsplash)

El Nido

The area around the town of El Nido in Palawan is a mini archipelago of about 45 islands dotted around Bacuit Bay. The Bacuit Archipelago has arguably the best beaches in the Philippines. It’s also known for its towering karst limestone cliffs.

There are scores of beautiful white sand beaches, both on the mainland and on the offshore islands. You'll need to hire a banca boat to reach and explore the various islands.

You can choose to stay at mainland resorts near El Nido such as those in Corong Corong and Caalan Beach. There are several luxury resorts on some islands like Matinloc, Miniloc, Pangalusian, and Lagen Island. A more affordable option for sleeping on the islands is overnight camping trips.

Air Swift, owned by El Nido Resorts, operates flights to El Nido from Manila, Caticlan, Cebu and Clark. However, many people take cheaper flights to Puerto Princesa or San Vicente, then take van transport to El Nido.

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The beach on Boracay, Philippines. (Photo: Ramon Kagie from Unsplash)
A beach on Boracay. (Photo: Ramon Kagie from Unsplash)

Boracay

Boracay, although a tiny island, is the Philippines’ top tourist draw. It’s famous for White Beach, a great stretch of sand around which a little town has grown, consisting of resorts, restaurants, bars and shops. However, there are other beaches here to explore, like Diniwid Beach and Puka Beach.

Boracay was closed for six months in 2018 for a clean-up as it had suffered great stress to its environment from the tourism influx. It was re-opened in October 2018, and leisure travellers are allowed again following Covid-19 pandemic curbs.

Note that there are some new restrictions in place to protect Boracay's environment. For example, tourists must book accredited hotels whose sewage systems are approved by the government, and alcohol, deck chairs, and umbrellas are currently not allowed on the beach. There are still a ton of water activities like snorkelling, scuba diving, helmet diving, jet-skiing, windsurfing, and parasailing.

The closest airport to Boracay is Caticlan Airport, recently renamed to Boracay Airport, located not on Boracay itself but on the mainland of Panay, which receives flights from Manila and Cebu via Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines. From there, it’s a 10- to 15-minute boat ride to Boracay.

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Cebu, PHILIPPINES:  A family of Russian tourists take the opportunity to bask in the sunlight as it briefly appeared amid cloudy skies over the Shangri-La Mactan hotel -- the main venue of the 12th ASEAN Summit -- in the central Philippine resort island of Cebu, 11 January 2007.  Philippine officials postponed twin Asian summits scheduled in December because of foul weather while five countries issued travel advisories on concerns over possible terrorist attacks. The summits, involving 16 Asian leaders, will be held as scheduled this week at the resort island.   AFP PHOTO/ROMEO GACAD  (Photo credit should read ROMEO GACAD/AFP via Getty Images)
The Shangri-La Mactan resort in Cebu. (Photo: Getty Images)

Mactan

Mactan Island is the main tourism hub of Cebu City, the capital of the Visayan region. It sits just off the coast of Cebu, connected to the mainland by three bridges. The Mactan-Cebu International Airport is located right on the island, so if you’re flying in, reaching your resort by road will be very convenient.

Mactan’s beaches are not really special compared to other beach attractions in the Philippines, but it makes up for it with amazing facilities at the hotels and resorts. The best of these resorts is the Shangri-La Mactan Resort.

This island is historically significant as the site of the Battle of Mactan in 1521, in which the local king, Lapu Lapu, killed Ferdinand Magellan, the emissary of the Spanish colonizers.

Mactan is also famous for guitar-making. You can see guitars being made at the factories, and even buy one home straight from the workshop.

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Common thresher sharks are pelagic and live in the deep ocean. However, Malapascua offers a unique chance to see these incredible sharks at close range while they are cleaned. Monad Shoal, Philippines, November.
Malapascua offers a unique chance to see thresher sharks at close range. (Photo: Getty Images)

Malapascua

Malapascua Island is another island beach gem of Cebu, lying off the northern tip of the mainland. The island’s southern part has hotels on gorgeous sandy beaches.

Malapascua is famous for its world-class diving, most of all for the chance to spot thresher sharks, which congregate at Monad Shoal. Manta rays can also be sighted here.

There is no way to reach Malapascua from the mainland by road. Bangka boats ferry passengers between Maya village on the mainland and Logon Beach on Malapascua. Maya can be reached from Cebu City via a 3.5-4.5 hour ride by van or bus.

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Amanpulo Resort on Pamalican Island in the Philippines. ((Photo: Unsplash)
Amanpulo Resort on Pamalican Island. (Photo: Unsplash)

Amanpulo Resort

Amanpulo Resort on Pamalican Island is an ultra high-end luxury resort that’s one of the most expensive destinations in the Philippines. Prices range from US$1450 per night for a hillside casita to upwards of US$7,000 for a four-bedroom villa. The entire island in the middle of the Sulu Sea is dedicated to Amanpulo Resort.

The island features powdery white sand beaches and beautiful turquoise waters, while resort facilities include a spa, gym, yoga studio, dive centre and tennis courts.

The resort can only be reached by private jet from Manila – Amanpulo staff will pick guests up from Ninoy Aquino International Airport and bring them to a private hangar, from where a 70-minute flight connects to Pamalican.

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The Philippines, La Union, San Juan, Urbiziondo Beach, a popular surfing beach with Filipino surfers and visitors
Urbiztondo in San Juan, a popular surfing beach with Filipino surfers and visitors. (Photo: Getty Images)

San Juan

This beach town is a surfing mecca located on the west coast of North Luzon. Most travellers here stay in the Urbiztondo barangay, or village, but those who seek solitude instead of the surf can head to the smaller village of Montemar 1km to the north. Restaurants and services are concentrated in Urbiztondo, but tourists in Montemar can travel easily between both barangays via tricycles at P50 per ride.

The beach at San Juan is rather unassuming, but the town serves as a base for surfers, including learners and those more experienced. The surf season is from November to March, and local instructors provide lessons for beginners for as cheap as P400 an hour.

To reach San Juan, you can take a seven-hour ride to San Fernando from Manila on buses operated by Partas; from the bus station in San Fernando, take a tricycle into Urbiztondo.

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BALER, AURORA, PHILIPPINES - 2015/05/31: Local young tourist visiting Baler as the famous birthplace of surfing in the Philippines. It is located some 230 kilometres (143 miles) northeast of Manila, described by Yahoo! Southeast Asia in March 2013 as one of the
Very few are too young to surf in Baler, the famous birthplace of surfing in the Philippines. (Photo: Getty Images)

Baler

Baler on the east coast of Luzon is another surfing hotspot, as well as being one of the rare beach locations in the Philippines that face the Pacific Ocean. The town was famously featured in the 1979 movie Apocalypse Now.

As in San Juan, most travellers to Baler are there to surf, but there is a place for non-surfing visitors at the Costa Pacifica Baler, a large, upmarket resort for those who’re simply there to enjoy the beautiful coastline.

Baler can be reached by bus from Cubao in Manila via Cabanatuan (six or eight hours), or from Baguio via San Jose (seven hours).

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Blue nudibranch with black stripes and rhinophores and yellow branchial tuft, Chromodoris elisabethina, Puerto Galera, Philippines (Photo by Cristian Umili/Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images)
Nudibranchs on a coral reef in Puerto Galera. (Photo: Getty Images)

Puerto Galera

Puerto Galera is a resort town facing a gorgeous collection of bays and islands on the northern tip of Mindoro. It’s an attractive beach destination for those who don’t want to travel too far from the Manila hub – it’s only a 20-minute sea plane ride via Air Juan from Manila, and one to 1½ hours by ferries from Batangas in Luzon.

There are many beaches around Puerto Galera which vary widely in crowdedness and classiness, so choose carefully. The popular White Beach gets crowded during high season. Lonely Planet recommends Aninuan and Talipanan as quieter and classier beaches to the west of White Beach. To the east of Puerto Galera there are the beaches of Sabang, Small La Laguna, and Big La Laguna. To the south are Tabinay and Dulangan.

Diving and yachting trips are options here, and nature lovers can check out the waterfalls nearby. You can venture further to Apo Reef off the west coast of Mindoro to swim with turtles, sharks and stingrays.

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A dugong near Coron Calamian Busuanga Island in the Philippines. (Photo: Ray Aucott from Unsplash)
Dugongs can be spotted around the Calamian islands if you're lucky. (Photo: Ray Aucott from Unsplash)

Dimakya

Dimakya, a small island to the north of Busuanga in the Calamian group of islands, is where probably the best beach in this area is found. The comfortable Club Paradise resort lies on the western side of Dimakya, where a magnificent beach runs along the shore.

Besides lazing by the beach, this area offers good coral-reef diving and snorkeling. Dimakya will also delight wildlife lovers; monitor lizards wander among the bungalows at Club Paradise and the island is home to a large and noisy fruit bat population. If you go diving off the northeast coast of Busuanga, you might see the endangered dugong, a gentle herbivorous marine mammal.

To reach Dimakya, take a flight from Manila to Busuanga Airport via Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific or Skyjet. From the airport, you can take a van or boat ride to Club Paradise.

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Paradise beach on the Bantayan island in Philippines
Paradise Beach on Bantayan island. (Photo: Getty Images)

Bantayan

The blinding white sand beaches on Bantayan Island are among Cebu’s best. The island has a relaxed, easygoing vibe, and most travellers base themselves in the peaceful town of Santa Fe on the southern coast.

Note that there are no nice diving sites around Bantayan and snorkelling is pretty limited, but there is plenty to explore, including the gorgeous Paradise Beach and the nearby Hilantagaan and Virgin islands.

There are a few options to get to Santa Fe. Air Juan flies twice weekly between Mactan-Cebu Airport and Bantayan airstrip, which is 4km north of Santa Fe. Ferries make one-hour trips from Hagnaya Port on Cebu to Santa Fe. Ceres buses ply a 3½ route between Hagnaya and Cebu City.

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Philippines. Panglao island. (Photo by: Giovanni Mereghetti/UCG/Universal Images Group via Getty Images)
Panglao island. (Photo: Getty Images)

Panglao

Panglao in Bohol is known for Alona Beach, a busy resort renowned for its nightlife that’s popular with both international tourists as well as Filipinos who cruise in for weekend vacations.

For those who prefer a quieter vacation, Danao Beach is far less noisy and provides an idyllic tropical setting complete with fine white sand and coconut palms.

Panglao experienced some damage from Typhoon Odette in December 2021, but tourism appears to have bounced back on Alona Beach.

Water activities are among the main attractions here – there’s very good diving and snorkeling around Alona Beach, as well as at the underwater paradise of Balicasag Island, which can be reached via a short boat ride. You can also book dolphin-watching tours from most resorts and dive centres.

Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines operate flights between Ninoy Aquino International Airport in Manila and the Bohol-Panglao Airport, which is a stone’s throw from Alona Beach.

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MANGROVE RESORT, SIQUIJOR ISLAND, PHILIPPINES - 2013/02/02: A view of the sea from the Mangrove Resort restaurant located on Siquijor Island. (Photo by Jonas Gratzer/LightRocket via Getty Images)
Siquijor Island. (Photo: Getty Images)

Siquijor

Siquijor is a tiny, rural island province off the southern tip of Negros that’s known for its mountain-dwelling mangkukulan healers who practise mystical, shamanistic traditions of treating ailments with herbal remedies and spells. Aside from the magic and mystery, however, the island’s main attractions are its beaches.

Most of Siquijor’s resorts are small, locally owned affairs centered around the beach village of San Juan, which have their own coziness and charm. There is another concentration of beach resorts in Sandugan, near the northern tip of the island. Attractions include diving, snorkeling, waterfalls, caves and forest walks in the hills.

Most travellers arrive in Siquijor by boat from Dumaguete on Negros. Ferries also ply routes from Cebu, Bohol and Mindanao. The island’s two main ports are in Siquijor Town, which is nearer San Juan, and Larena, near Sandugan.

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SIARGAO, PHILIPPINES - 2014/09/24: A surfer rides a wave in Cloud 9, Siargao a day before the Siargao Cloud 9 Surfing Cup on September 24, 2014. This year's Siargao Cloud 9 Surfing Cup, slated to run in the Philippines from September 24-28 will be the Cup's first to offer the Association of Surfing Professionals (ASP). (Photo by Mark Fredesjed R. Cristino/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images)
A surfer riding a wave at Cloud 9, Siargao. (Photo: Getty Images)

Siargao

Siargao is the premier surfing area in not just the Philippines but the whole of Southeast Asia, famous especially for its Cloud Nine surfing break on the southern coast, around which a resort village has grown, expanding into nearby General Luna as well.

Most tourists come here for the surfing, but there are some nice, small beaches at Cloud Nine; non-surfers can also take banca boats to explore more beaches on the small islands to the south, including Guyam and Daco.

Many parts of Siargao were heavily damaged by Typhoon Odette in December 2021, so you might still see damaged buildings and reconstruction going on around the island.

You can get to Siargao by air or by boat. There are daily flights to Siargao from Manila and Cebu. Once you reach the airport, transport options to your resort include habal-habal (motorcycle taxis) or mini-vans. You might also arrange transport in advance with your accommodation.

Boats to Siargao arrive at the port of Dapa from Surigao and Socorro. From Dapa, you can take tricycles or habal-habal to General Luna.

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