Boracay may be the Philippines’ most famous destination, but it’s by no means the only one. An archipelago of over 7,000 islands won’t run out of perfect beaches and secret hideaways. However, the country’s best beaches are far from the congested metropolises. This means getting there may not be a piece of cake, but the effort will pay off with captivating scenery.
Building on our first list of seven islands, here are eight more islands and islet groups that should be on your radar.
1. Bantayan Island, Cebu
It’s inevitable that Bantayan gets compared to the Boracay of old – the fine white sand, shallow beaches and the laidback vibe give beach bums a fair idea of how the party island used to be. To fully experience Bantayan, visit its 16th-century Sts Peter and Paul Church, Obo-ob Mangrove Eco Park, and the tiny but Instagram-worthy Ogtong Cave.
HOW TO GET THERE From Mactan-Cebu International Airport, take a bus or taxi to North Bus terminal. From there, it’s a three-hour bus ride to Hagnaya Port and an hour-long ferry ride to the island.
2. Balicasag Island, Bohol
Clear waters, rich marine life and relative accessibility makes Balicasag a recommended family day trip. Kids will enjoy dolphin watching and snorkelling to find Nemo the clown fish and sea turtles. Boat trips are often combined with a visit to Virgin Island close by. Divers are also in for a treat, as this small island off the coast of Bohol is ringed with dive sites.
HOW TO GET THERE From Manila, fly to the Bohol’s Tagbilaran Airport. Alternatively, fastcraft take 1.5 hours from Cebu City to Tagbilaran. From Tagbilaran, take a tricycle or van to your Panglao Island resort. Tours of Balicasag can be arranged by your resort or operators at Alona Beach in Panglao.
3. Isla Verde, Batangas
This rustic, unspoiled and budget-friendly getaway accessible from Manila has only become popular amongst Filipino backpackers recently. For foreign visitors, the main attraction here is the stellar diving. A journal article called the Verde Island Passage the “Center of the Center of Marine Biodiversity in the World”, which is no exaggeration, judging from diver reviews. The strong current, however, makes advanced diving experience essential.
HOW TO GET THERE Get on the bus to Batangas City (2hrs) from terminals of major bus lines in Metro Manila, then hire a tricycle for the 45-minute ride to Tabangao Aplaya. From there, it’s an hour-long boat ride to the island. Divers are advised to make Puerto Galera their base, as there are several dive shops there. To get to Puerto Galera, take a bus from Manila to Batangas Pier, then a ferry to either Sabang or White Beach, the top tourist areas of Puerto Galera.
4. Honda Bay Islands, Palawan
If you’re pressed for time and cannot make it to the incredible El Nido or Coron, there’s hope for you yet. Honda Bay near Puerto Princesa promises a full day’s worth of sea, sun and sand. Spend a couple of hours each at the tiny islands (Cowrie, Luli, Pandan, and Starfish), and you’re sure to get a great tan. Guests of Dos Palmas resort get the chance to visit Isla Puting Buhangin, a private sandbar that disappears during high tide, also in Honda Bay.
HOW TO GET THERE Tour operators pick up guests from their Puerto Princesa hotels for island hopping.
5. The Islands off General Luna, Siargao
Siargao in Southern Philippines is the country’s surfing capital but there’s more to it than big waves. Off the coast of General Luna town famous for its “Cloud 9” surf break are the islands of Daku, Naked, and Guyam, each one a picturesque scene of powdery sand surrounded by cerulean waters.
HOW TO GET THERE Domestic flights are available from Manila and Cebu. From Siargao Airport, General Luna is a 45-minute drive. Boats are available for island hopping tours in General Luna.
6. Islas de Gigantes, Iloilo
The Islands of Giants are named such as it is believed that giant bones were found in one of the myriad caves on this group of two islands and eight islets. Set in the northernmost point of Iloilo, these islands are considered the scallops capital of the Philippines and boast beaches, sandbars and the ruins of a Spanish-era lighthouse.
HOW TO GET THERE From Iloilo City, hail a taxi and head over to Tagbak terminal (30mins). From there, it’s a bus ride (4hrs) to Carles and a boat ride (1hr) to the islands.
7. Hundred Islands, Pangasinan
In most cases, the mention of 100 is hyperbole, but in this one, it’s not – there are 123 islands and islets here, of which only 4 are developed. But that doesn’t limit activities to the usual snorkelling and island hopping. There’s zip lining, rappelling, helmet diving, kayaking, parasailing and more, if you crave some action.
HOW TO GET THERE Buses from Manila take four to five hours to arrive in Alaminos. Once in Alaminos, get on a tricycle to Lucap Wharf. From there, boatmen can take you to the islands.
8. Kalanggaman Island, Leyte
No longer Leyte province’s best-kept secret, this narrow 753m strip is possibly the best sandbar in the Philippines. There is no electricity on the island and hardly any mobile signal, making it the ultimate digital detox. You can’t help feeling like a castaway as there are no establishments save for some thatched-roof huts where you can spend the night if you don’t want to camp out.
HOW TO GET THERE From Tacloban Airport, it’s a four-hour van ride to Palompon. Another option is to arrive from Mactan-Cebu International Airport and take a taxi to Pier 3. Take a SuperCat ferry to Ormoc (3hrs) and a van (1hr) to Palompon. Once in Palompon, hail a potpot (bike with sidecar) to Palompon Liberty Park to sign up for the Kalanggaman Eco Tour. The island is another hour away by boat. Take note of island holidays when Kalanggaman is closed to visitors.
GETTING THERE AirAsia flies to Manila and Cebu from various destinations, and from Manila to Cebu, Davao, Iloilo, Palawan, Tacloban and Tagbilaran. www.airasia.com