With the inclusion of its islands in world lists, such as that of New York-based magazine Travel + Leisure, the Philippines has gained greater popularity as a holiday destination. And why not? This Southeast Asian archipelago is rich in terrestrial and marine biodiversity. Its people are generally warm and welcoming—and can speak straight English.
Even when you are traveling with the whole crew, with toddlers and elderly to consider, you will easily be able to find attractive vacation hot spots that can cater to every member’s needs. Many can be reached via the biggest local airlines. Some require a car or ferry ride instead. Or it’s a combination of air, land, and water transportation. Costs are also relatively cheap.
Here are the top 10 best places to visit in the Philippines for your entire family.
1. El Nido, Palawan
Sure, its photogenic beaches, crystalline waters, and idyllic scenery can be seen on the pages of Condé Nast Traveler. But nothing can be more revitalizing than seeing all that beauty firsthand. So take the whole family to El Nido, an enchanting town off the northern shores of Palawan.
You can’t go wrong with island hopping tours, a popular first choice among local and foreign tourists alike. Starting at around $25 per head, they’re packed with activities both adults and children can enjoy. Guides will take guests on a bangka (outrigger canoe) ride to secret beaches and hidden lagoons, huge caves and impressive limestone cliffs, and splendid snorkeling sites. Other kid-friendly activities to try are kayaking, paddle boarding, visiting a mangrove forest, and ziplining.
Bring your own life vests and swim gear, mosquito repellent, sunscreen, medicines, and enough cash (there are some areas with few ATMs or none at all) for the trip duration. This may be applicable to other destinations on the list.
This province in central Philippines has two sides known to outsiders. There’s the countryside with its heritage and natural treasures: the churches, the tarsiers, and Chocolate Hills. Then there’s Panglao Island. With kids in tow, you might as well kickstart the holidays at Alona Beach in Panglao. Relax at the white-sand beach, and swim in the beautiful waters. From here, it is just one boat ride to the Virgin Island, a kilometer-long sandbar that offers a most captivating seascape.
Still, the ideal Bohol experience goes two ways. If you are flying out of Tagbilaran City anyway, schedule a day trip to see the Chocolate Hills. Sagbayan Peak offers a stunning, 360-degree view of these geological wonders. Alternatively, you can book a tour package that includes observing the hills in Carmen; dining at a floating restaurant while cruising along the Loboc River; meeting tarsiers and butterflies; and learning about the churches that have been standing here since the Spanish era.
3. Boracay, Aklan
Though many other beaches in the Philippines are on the rise, the White Beach in Boracay continues to draw crowds from all walks of life. Part of its allure is the well-established local tourism industry. There is something here for everyone, from solo travelers to couples and families. Riding the glass-bottom boat and banana boat is perfect for your tykes. To make more happy memories with your teens, try parasailing and buggy racing together.
If you’re looking for a quiet, slower-paced break, rent at Station 3. But wherever you’re based, venture out. Taste Jonah’s yummy fruit shakes and the savory chori burgers at Station 1. Shop for souvenirs and fashion finds at Station 2. Tour nearby islands early in the morning or afternoon while stopping over at Puka Beach. Lastly, see for yourself why the Boracay sunset is dubbed one of the world’s best. Peak season is from November to May, but going here around November means no algae buildup on the shore.
Want more than sunny beaches? Head for the Queen City of the South. Cebu, which also refers to the island province, is technically in the Visayas island group—about an hour away via ferry from Bohol. Without missing modern comforts, you get out of it an exciting mix of culture, history, nature, and adventure. In Cebu City, there are enough attractions to keep the family running around. Some of them are the Sky Experience Adventure, Casa Gorordo, Cebu Westown Lagoon, the Magellan’s Cross, and the Temple of Leah. Make sure you try the famous lechon (roasted suckling pig) and the seafood options at Larsian.
Fill your itinerary with marine activities such as snorkeling and fish feeding on Mactan Island, where the airport is. But if you have more time, these are your choices: immerse in nature at Medellin up north, at Danasan Eco Adventure Park, Danao City in the middle, and at Oslob down south, where whale shark watching is famous. Cap your vacation off with a visit to one of the shops that sell truly world-class guitars.
5. Baguio City, Benguet
This charming urban hub in the island group of Luzon is a mainstay on the list of best places to visit in the Philippines. Located in the highlands, Baguio’s chill vibes provide a respite from the tropical heat to Filipinos and foreigners alike. Catch the Panagbenga Festival, an annual flower festival held in February. The typical tourist route will have you horseback riding at the Wright Park, boating on the lake at Burnham Park, and strawberry picking at a farm in La Trinidad.
If you prefer the off-the-beaten path, journey to the BenCab Museum, named after and owned by Filipino national artist BenCab. Or book your accommodation at Cafe in the Sky, a bed-and-breakfast and coffee place, for the ultimate Baguio lookout. Meanwhile, the Manor at Camp John Hay is an old favorite among those seeking a luxury holiday experience. Every family member can feel refreshed just by being surrounded with pine trees and the cool mountain air while getting access to exclusive areas such as the golf course.
6. Alaminos, Pangasinan
Home to the Hundred Islands National Park, Alaminos lies off the western coast of Pangasinan, a province in Luzon. Though there are 123 islets during low tide (less one during high tide), the only developed islands include the Governor’s Island, Marcos’ Island, Romulo’s Island, Quezon Island, and Children’s Island. The forms and shapes that these islands take can be fodder for the imagination.
There are day tours that allow you to rent a bangka with a guide starting at approximately $26 per person. The packages also offer guests a chance to explore the hidden gems of Bolinao, a neighboring beach town. Discover its cerulean waters, the Enchanted Cave, and the historical lighthouses. Afterward, you can choose to spend the night in Bolinao or back in the Hundred islands. The national park has designated spots for camping, if you fancy an evening counting stars.
7. Siargao, Surigao del Norte
The country’s Surfing Capital is found down south, in the Mindanao island group. Here, riding the waves that go as high as nine feet isn’t just for the pros and grownups. Beginners and kids can learn it on the spot. The hourly rate for an adult, with an instructor, costs $10. And even if your gang is not up for some wave-catching, watching surfers do it can be fun. What better way to chill than joining other spectators on the famous Cloud 9 Resort boardwalk.
Swimming and snorkeling in a rock pool also sounds like a cool thing to do when you’re in Siargao. And so is hiring a tricycle for a ride in the countryside. Consider it your introduction to the rural life of Filipinos.
8. Taal Lake, Batangas
Considered one of the beautiful spots in the Philippines, Taal Lake is not only a must-see for local weekend warriors. It can also be a part of a foreigner’s Philippine starter pack. Why? It’s just a short drive out of the Manila airport. And it’s really stunning. Just ask those who have seen the panoramic view from Tagaytay, the nearby highland/holiday city.
To start, book a boat ride to Taal Volcano, arguably the smallest active volcano in the world, which is found within the lake. Places such as the Taal Lake Yacht Club have amenities and programs for day stops and overnight stays.
9. Tagaytay City, Cavite
As mentioned, it sits at a high altitude, and thus is the reason for its cooler climate. Aside from finding a spot to get the best view of Taal Lake (hint: Taal Vista Hotel is a longtime front runner), you can eat the Filipino way by ordering bulalo (beef marrow stew) and pork liempo dipped in soy sauce with calamansi and chili pepper.
For your day out, visit the Sky Ranch, the Puzzle Mansion, the Chapel on the Hill on the outskirts, and the Bag of Beans restaurant.
10. Metro Manila
Called Imperial Manila by its citizens, the capital region has gained quite a reputation for being chaotic and messy. There is no way to sugarcoat it. But this has also led to some of its tourist-friendly areas being overlooked.
The Bonifacio Global Center, a quick Uber ride from the airport, is a commercial center where your family can witness Western influence on the country. Stroll along Bonifacio High Street, the Philippines’ first main street retail concept. Take the kids to the Mind Museum, where they can learn science and interact with the exhibits.
Makati City, the financial center, is also a great base. The Ayala Triangle Park has a nice layout with paths for jogging and lawns for playing. Go kart racing at Circuit Makati, discover Philippine culture and heritage at the Ayala Museum, and dine and taste the finer things in life at Greenbelt 5.