So you’re in “Philippines bucket list building” mode, are ya?
If so, you’ve come to the right place.
As you’ve probably realized, the Philippines is made up of TONS of islands, each with its own charm.
You could spend years exploring all it has to offer and still only scratch the surface.
That’s why today I’ve rounded up a handful of experienced Philippines travelers to share their absolute favorite bucket list experiences around the country.
Your job is to note down which ones look the most interesting and figure out how you can fit them into your itinerary.
(I wish I would’ve had this list before I went to the Philippines, as there are many incredible activities that I didn’t even know existed!)
Alrighty, let’s hop to it!
Got your Philippines packing list ready yet? If not, I got you covered…
Click here for a list of all the things you should (and SHOULDN’T) take with you…plus a free downloadable checklist!
Also, don’t make the same mistakes I did during my trip, check out this list of Philippines travel tips to avoid having to learn them the hard way.
Table of Contents
- #1 – Canyoneering in Cebu
- #2 – Firefly Kayaking in Bohol
- #3 – Island Hopping in Coron
- #4 – Island Hopping in Port Barton (Without the Crowds)
- #5 – Hiking Mt. Pinatubo
- #6 – Surfing Cloud 9 in Siargao
- #7 – Sardine Run in Moalboal
- #8 – Village Exploring in Sibaltan
- #9 – Adventuring in the Secret Balabac Islands
- # 10 – Swimming with Whale Sharks in Oslob
- #11 – Swimming with Whale Sharks (Ethically) in Donsol
- #12 – Snorkeling in Panglao
- Philippines Bucket List TLDR
#1 – Canyoneering in Cebu
So you’re looking for an amazing travel experience in the Philippines, are you?
Not to worry…I’ve got you covered!
In Southern Cebu, in a city (municipality) called Badian, you can partake in an outdoor activity called Canyoneering.
What is Canyoneering?
Think of it as extreme hiking but in reverse. It’s a combination of repelling, swimming, hiking, and cliff jumping. You start by trekking (or zip-lining) through Cebu’s scenic outdoors and eventually start jumping off cliffs (into the water) anywhere between 10 feet to 65 feet in distance. It’s the perfect outdoor activity for any adventure-seeking adrenaline junkie.
But here’s the deal:
There no chickening out! Once you make the first jump there’s no way to get back. Not unless you’ve figured out an easy way to climb up a cliff or cave.
Once you begin your journey, the jumps will escalate to larger distances down as you progress. The best part, however, is that the last jump is right into one of my favorite waterfalls in Asia: Kawasan Falls.
So how do you organize this epic adventure?
It’s quite simple really.
Most people go through a tour company to organize transportation and sort things out ahead of time. But here’s a little insider tip:
If you cut out the middleman, it’ll be cheaper for you. Not only that, but you’ll be supporting local businesses as opposed to big tour companies and you’ll be stimulating the Filipino economy.
There are a handful of companies to chose from. The one I recommend is MCM Badian Canyoneering Services. They are a fun group and will gear you up with all the proper equipment. There are other options, but in my opinion, this is the best one for the price.
What about transportation?
If you’re going from Cebu City, you can take a Grab (rideshare app), Jeepney, or Taxi to Cebu South Bus Terminal near Elizabeth Mall.
Once there you can take the Yellow (Ceres) bus to Bato. It’s important to note that there are two bus routes to Bato. One via Barili and one via Oslob. You MUST take the one via Barili since the other bus doesn’t pass by Badian.
It should cost you around 150 PHP ($3 USD). The total trip time should be between 2.5 to 3 hours.
The cost of the tour itself is 1500 PHP ($30 USD) each or 1200 PHP ($24 USD) each for 3 or more people. You can either Hike for 35 minutes or Zipline for 1 minute to get to the starting point.
The course is 4-5 hours including equipment, food, locker room, showers, clean towel, and a hefty meal.
I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.
~Ron Tuch, Red Pill Rebellion
#2 – Firefly Kayaking in Bohol
When planning a trip to the Philippines, the first activities that typically come to mind are visiting the country’s pristine beaches and hopping to far-flung islands for the day. But if you’re feeling adventurous and keen to do something a little different, consider booking a nighttime kayak excursion on the island of Bohol.
This isn’t just any ordinary kayaking trip—and it’s a must-do for any Bohol itinerary. You’ll paddle through the darkness on a river until you see a spectacular sight, unlike anything you’ve ever laid eyes on. The mangroves lining the banks of the Abatan River will suddenly appear as if they are glowing, like a Christmas tree.
It is at this spot where you can witness a phenomenon that is as uncommon as it is astounding: these sparkling mangroves are covered with hundreds of thousands of fireflies dancing about in their nightly mating ritual. As cliché as it sounds, it truly is a sight that can’t be described in words other than to say it is magical.
Kayakasia is an eco-friendly tour operator that takes measures like keeping group sizes small, using only a single red light, and using kayaks instead of motors to ensure they are not harming the fireflies or their ecosystem. Some other companies take motorized boats through this area, disrupting the fireflies and their habitat. If you do plan to include this once-in-a-lifetime adventure on your Philippines trip, be sure you’re going with a reputable tour operator, like Kayakasia.
An added bonus is that this activity is very budget-friendly. At just 2,450 PHP ($48 USD), this excursion, which includes 2-way transportation, a guide, all equipment, and a delicious home-cooked dinner is an absolute steal!
~Katie, Two Wandering Soles
#3 – Island Hopping in Coron
Just mention Coron to Filipinos as you travel around the island nation and watch as their eyes light up with beaming smiles. That’s because Coron is arguably the most beautiful place in Palawan, which was voted Best Island in the World by Travel + Leisure readers several years in a row.
There are dozens of awesome things to do in Coron, Palawan, from climbing 723 steps to the summit of Mount Tapyas and soaking your aches and pains away at Maquinit Hot Springs (both of which are on Busuanga Island) to snorkeling with Dugongs (a cousin of the Manatee) and scuba diving WWII shipwrecks. But the best way to explore this magical region’s countless remote islands, pristine beaches, and extraordinary coral reef systems is via an island-hopping tour, which can be arranged through any of the decent Palawan resorts and hotels.
We took two island-hopping tours during our week in Coron. The first was through our resort, Club Paradise, which is located on its own private island just off the coast of Busuanga (about 35 minutes by boat). Included in the resort’s cost, this half-day tour took us to three different islands in the area, which change depending on the day.
We started on uninhabited Diatoy Island, whose pristine white beach didn’t have a single footprint on it when we arrived in the morning. The scenery was spectacular both above and below the water, where we snorkeled and saw Angelfish, Clownfish, and Parrotfish right offshore. Then we moved on to Dimalanta Island, whose gorgeous corals were teeming with marine life, including an intensely colorful Mantis Shrimp. We ended our tour on Malpagalen Island, a.k.a. the Island Without Trees, which offered dynamic rock formations, dramatic limestone cliffs, and a small sea cave.
You can also book independent full- or half-day island hopping tours through a variety of local companies for 1600 to 1700 PH ($30 to $40 US). These vary from operator to operator, but typically include highlights such as Kayangan Lake (which is widely regarded as one of the world’s cleanest and most beautiful), Twin Lagoons, Malwawey Reef & Coral Garden, Siete Pecados Marine Park, CYC Beach and more.
Note that most Coron island hopping tours do not include mask and snorkel gear, towels, or insect repellant, so you’re best off bringing your own. We also highly recommend bringing some sort of underwater camera, because snorkeling in Coron’s crystal-clear waters is otherworldly.
~Bret Love & Mary Gabbett, Green Global Travel
#4 – Island Hopping in Port Barton (Without the Crowds)
Yes, it’s true that El Nido and Coron offer the most spectacular island hopping tours in the Philippines, but they are LOADED with tourists.
That’s way, if you’re looking for more peace and quiet, I highly recommend fitting Port Barton into your Palawan itinerary. It’s nearly as gorgeous as it’s more famous neighbors, but has essentially zero crowds (at least not yet…better hurry!)
And unlike El Nido and Coron—which don’t have nice beaches in the towns themselves—the beach in Port Barton is awesome.
Best of all, Port Barton is one of the best places to visit in the Philippines on a budget. Not only are the island hopping tours here cheaper than those in El Nido and Coron, but they also include alcohol (at least they do at Coconutz Tours, which I recommend).
Overall, if you want a cheaper, less-crowded alternative to El Nido, Port Barton should be high on your bucket list for Philippines.
#5 – Hiking Mt. Pinatubo
Located in the boundaries of Zambales and Tarlac, Mt. Pinatubo is an active stratovolcano that has become a popular hiking destination in recent years. But who can forget its cataclysmic eruption in 1991 that is claimed by experts as one of the deadliest in history?
At present, climbers frequent the place for that unique and memorable experience. Mt. Pinatubo is not your typical trekking escapade as it involves venturing in an epic 4×4 ride, river crossing, scenic ascend, and immersing in a local community.
There are guided tours you can join for a cheaper and more convenient option that cost roughly USD 50.
The trail of Mt. Pinatubo is recommended even for newbie hikers. After a quick briefing at basecamp, the 4×4 off-road adventure commences – a very bumpy and dusty ride. This will be followed by a two-hour trek. You will see the remnants of the catastrophe that happened long ago, eccentric and alluring at the same time. You will also pass by an Aeta village, a good resting point where you can interact with the locals (don’t forget to bring extra trail food to share with the children – they will surely like it).
And the highlight of it all? The impressive crater lake with clear, blue waters. This is the main reason why you will hear people call Mt. Pinatubo a beautiful disaster. Inviting as the waters may seem, swimming is not allowed as the lake contains toxic substances such as sulfur.
If discovering a dangerously stunning volcano thrills you, then you should not miss hiking Mt. Pinatubo.
~Arrianne Guzman, Travel Habeat
#6 – Surfing Cloud 9 in Siargao
Siargao Island is famously known as the surfing capital of the Philippines – and for good reason! The Cloud 9 wave is one that surfers travel from all around the world to ride, and it’s a must-visit if you’re even remotely into surfing.
If you’ve never surfed before, it’s worth at least giving it a go while you’re in Siargao. Lessons cost as little as 10 US dollars per hour, including the board hire, so there’s really no reason not to try it out. Who knows—you may even pick up a new hobby to take with you around the world.
There are waves suitable for all levels, too, so you can go wherever you feel comfortable – and easily progress to harder waves when you’re ready.
The Cloud 9 wave is just a short drive or trike ride from General Luna, the main town on the island Siargao. There are plenty of resorts to relax at along the strip between Cloud 9 and General Luna and it makes for a relaxing break (even if you don’t surf!). If you prefer to be surrounded by the action though, you might want to consider basing in town.
When you’re ready to take a break from surfing, there are plenty of other things to do in Siargao. General Luna makes a great base for exploring all of the other amazing spots this island has to offer. Altogether, you’ll probably want at least three or four days to explore away from the surf.
~Jodie Dewberry, Alajode
#7 – Sardine Run in Moalboal
Snorkeling is always one of my favorite things to do when traveling. That’s why when I was in the Philippines, I knew I had to go to Moalboal in Cebu to see the sardine run!
The sardine run is phenomenal. You’ll get the chance to swim with MILLIONS of fish moving in harmony right below you.
The best part about this amazing Philippines bucket list activity is that it’s completely free!
Don’t forget to pack your snorkel set (this backpacking guide will make sure you have everything you need for your trip)! If you don’t have your own snorkel set, you can rent one.
To get to the sardine run in Moalboal, you just walk/swim out to the drop (where the reef starts and water gets deep). It’s only about 10m from the edge of the beach, so you don’t have to go far.
Once you make it to the drop, look down and you’ll see the fluid motion of silver fish moving in sync. It’s absolutely breathtaking and you can easily spend hours admiring these fish!
You can also scuba dive here, but if you’re on a budget, snorkeling is the better option because you can still see it all!
If you’re lucky, you may even get a curious sea turtle come by as well.
The sardine run in Moalboal was definitely one of the highlights of my trip to the Philippines, and if you go, I’m sure it will be for you too!
~Naomi Beemsigne, Eat Love Explore
#8 – Village Exploring in Sibaltan
One of the most amazing experiences that I have ever experienced was in El Nido, Palawan. While most people just stick to the main city and do the highlights, we decided to do a little bit more. Our adventure took us to a little village called Sibaltan. Situated a little distance away from the tourist area, the village isn’t the easiest to get to but any encumbrances that you may face on the way are well worth the quiet solitude that you will experience here.
We found ourselves riding our motorbike to Sibaltan early one morning. It was one of the most beautiful rides we have taken in the Philippines. After the hectic life that we had in city after city, this village was just the break we needed. With a beach walking distance away, great food at our accommodation and gorgeous sunrise after sunrise, we couldn’t have asked for more.
If you are looking for a place away from the hub-bub of the world than this is definitely the place for you. If you are worried that you will miss out on the popular attractions in El Nido, don’t worry, you can still head out on trips from here too. They may just take a little longer to get to. Take my word for it, Sibaltan is a little piece of paradise hidden away from the world.
~Penny Fernandes, Globe Trove
#9 – Adventuring in the Secret Balabac Islands
Palawan is one of the most popular destinations in the Philippines due to the fame of El Nido, located at its northern end. However, almost no one realizes that to the south, there is an equally beautiful destination with far fewer tourists. So if you’re looking to get off-the-beaten-path during your trip to the Philippines, head straight to the southern end of Palawan, to the Balabac Islands.
The Balabac Islands consist of 31 islands, many of which are uninhabited, that are connected by crystal clear water, miles of colorful coral, and a plethora of marine life. You’ll need to hire a guide/boat captain who will drive you around on a private boat to all of the secluded white and pink sand beaches. You’ll snorkel with sea turtles, watch as dolphins swim alongside your boat, and lounge on beaches with the softest golden sand. It’s the closest thing to a tropical island paradise that we’ve ever experienced!
You can expect to pay about $50 per person per day for your guided tour of the islands. They’ll provide you with simple accommodation, most likely a tent or rustic bungalow, and they’ll also provide all of your meals. You shouldn’t expect luxury in the Balabac Islands but that only adds to the appeal of this hidden gem.
Add the Balabac Islands to your bucket list now and visit them before the rest of the world discovers just how amazing they are!
~Nick & Val, Wandering Wheatleys
# 10 – Swimming with Whale Sharks in Oslob
The Philippines is one of the best places in the world to swim with whale sharks. Just off the coast of Oslob, a small town on the east coast of Cebu island, whale shark tours depart every morning. Being in the deep water with these magnificent gentle giants is undoubtedly a Philippines bucket list experience.
The first paddle boats from Oslob depart around 6 a.m., but all visitors are required to listen to a safety demonstration first, to help protect the whale sharks. It is forbidden to be in the water for longer than 30 minutes at a time, and offenses like wearing sunscreen, using flashing lights, or touching the whale sharks can result in severe penalties. The 1000 pesos entry fee (~$20 USD) per person covers snorkeling gear, a life vest, and 30 minutes with the whale sharks.
Before you book your trip to Oslob, be aware that swimming with the whale sharks here can’t be considered entirely ethical. The fishermen here feed the whale sharks, which encourages them to stick around instead of following their natural migration patterns.
On the other hand, depending on how you look at it, the positive effects of tourism are also helping this area.
Since tourists are so interested in swimming with the Oslob whale sharks, they have become well-protected and are no longer killed for their meat and fins like in the past. Tours like these also generate a lot of income from tourists, and profits help secure better futures for the Oslob fishermen and their families.
Make sure to educate yourself on the pros and cons of swimming with the whale sharks here before making your decision to visit or not.
Insider Tip: Stay at Sharky Hostel the night before you plan on swimming with the whale sharks. This hostel is located right next to where the tours depart, and the lovely hostel owners make sure their guests are on the first boats out into the water!
~Erika, Erika’s Travelventures
#11 – Swimming with Whale Sharks (Ethically) in Donsol
While Oslob has become the most popular destination for whale shark tourism in recent years, there’s an alternative, called Donsol, which sees fewer tourists and also fewer complaints about unethical animal tourism. Since Donsol is rather difficult to access in the far southeast corner of Luzon, not as many tourists choose to come here. It does have many benefits, though, especially if you are concerned about being an animal-friendly tourist.
The Whale Shark Interaction Eco-Tourism Project was set up in Donsol by the World Wildlife Fund and is monitored by marine conservation experts. While it’s not perfect, there’s definitely more of an effort made here to ensure that the whale sharks are not harmed.
Tourists are given a thorough briefing before boarding the boat and are instructed not to touch the whale sharks or get in their way, and not to use flash photography. A maximum of six snorkelers are allowed per boat, and in theory there should be only one boat per whale shark, although in my experience this was not strictly enforced.
The biggest difference between Donsol and Oslob, though, is that the whale sharks are not baited in Donsol. They come here of their own accord every year between November and June to feed on the plankton and krill that live in the Donsol River.
Of course, this means that sightings are not guaranteed, but you still have a very good chance of spotting the whale sharks if you come during the right season. It’s also a bit more expensive than Oslob, costing 3,500 PHP for a half-day boat rental, plus a registration fee of 300 PHP per person.
Coming face to face with a 9m (30 foot) long whale shark is an exhilarating experience that you will never forget. Just do your research first and follow the rules, so that you can enjoy the presence of these amazing creatures without causing them harm.
~Wendy Werneth, The Nomadic Vegan
#12 – Snorkeling in Panglao
Located in the center of the Philippines, Panglao is a great destination for those who are a fan of snorkeling. You can book a tour for just $15 which will take you to 2-3 snorkeling spots including lunch and drinks.
One of the highlights of the tour is to snorkel and swim with the turtles at the Turtle Sanctuary. The place exists to make sure that the turtles are at the healthy population rate, they allow tourists to snorkel here as long as they are accompanied by the licensed tour guides to make sure no turtle will be hurt.
In the same spot is a big reef where you can find loads of fishes, amazing corals, and other sea creatures like sea horses and starfishes. The big reef stands tall which means if you can, you can snorkel on the side for a better experience. While people can also go diving.
Before booking the tour, make sure to speak to other travel agents or the locals who sell tours on the streets and compare the prices. The price ranges from 500 to 1000 pesos. You’ll often see travel agency selling the tour for 1000 pesos, but you can always bargain or find another option for cheaper covering the same tour and features. I paid 800 pesos when I did my snorkeling tour and had an amazing time.
~Mary, Move to Vietnam
Philippines Bucket List TLDR
There you have it, folks! The top 12 activities everyone should have on their Philippines bucket list.
Let’s do a quick recap:
- Canyoneering in Cebu
- Firefly Kayaking in Bohol
- Island Hopping in Coron
- Island Hopping (Without the Crowds) in Port Barton
- Hiking Mt. Pinatubo
- Surfing Cloud 9 in Siargao
- Sardine Run in Moalboal
- Village Exploring in Sibaltan
- Adventuring in the Secret Balabac Islands
- Swimming with Whale Sharks in Oslob
- Swimming with Whale Sharks (Ethically) in Donsol
- Snorkeling in Panglao
These unforgettable activities are sure to keep you busy for at least a couple trips to the Philippines.
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Mitch is your typical nomadic backpacker. Or at least, he was. But after stopping in Colombia to take “one week” of salsa lessons, his life took a sharp left turn. He met a cute Colombian girl in dance class, fell in love, and got married. Over half a decade has passed since he left his career to travel the world as a digital nomad, and he’s never looked back.
Nowadays, he’s the blogger behind Project Untethered—where he runs an awesome email newsletter and Youtube channel teaching adventure-craved wanderlusters how to escape the rat race, earn money from anywhere, and build an “untethered life”.
Mitch's Travel Recommendations:
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Safetywing Insurance - This cheap travel insurance has saved me over $15,000 in medical bills.
Booking.com - Book accommodation without adding your credit card (in case you need to cancel).
Skyscanner - Find cheap flights.
Trusted House Sitters - Take care of pets in exchange for free (sometimes luxury) accommodation.
Flexjobs - Find remote jobs without having to sift through crappy ones.
Skillshare - Free trial to take unlimited classes that teach digital nomad skills.
Anytime Mailbox - Virtual mail service that can handle your mail while you’re away.
Wise - Send and receive money abroad cheaply (great for freelancers).