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Sometimes, the world’s greatest luxuries are not fancy hotels and champagne, but rather space and exclusivity. The Philippines delivers all in spades, in locations you might not have heard of. Here are some to add to your travel itinerary.

Oriental Mindoro

The island of Mindoro is known for its incredible dive sites. In fact, Puerto Galera has been hailed as a mecca among marine enthusiasts. Duck your head below the surface and you’ll discover an astounding array of hard and soft corals, home to turtles and moray eels, sweetlips and snappers. Popular dive sites include The Wall, Coral Cove and The Canyons, among many others. Back on land, dry off on Puerto Galera’s postcard-perfect White Beach, a powdery cove lined with colourful shophouses. Small wonder the region has been designated a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve as well as being named the ‘Most Beautiful Bay in the World’.

You don’t have to cool off in the ocean. Hiking through Mindoro’s hinterland, you’ll hear Tamaraw Falls before you see them. These twin waterfalls thunder through the rainforest, running below a bridge before swirling in two manmade swimming pools, where you can take a refreshing dip. Bring a picnic lunch, or pick up snacks from the small stalls that surround.

Bulalacao is known as the gem of Mindoro – for good reason. It’s the gateway to at least 11 dreamy islands and islets, which are ideally explored on a boat trip dropping you between them. Visit Target Island for its opaline lagoon and powdery beaches, where your footprints will likely be the only ones in the sand; linger in the turquoise waters of Suguicay island; pause at Pocanil Island, known for its dramatic rock formations; and explore the lush tropical rainforest of Buyayao Island.

Beach at Pandan Island. Photo by Peter Treadwell on Unsplash.

Occidental Mindoro

The western side of the island of Mindoro is known as Occidental Mindoro. And it offers attractions that complement the beautiful Oriental province. Top of the list is Pandan Island, home to an eco-conscious resort that is your starting point for exploring Apo Reef – the largest coral reef in the Philippines, and the second-largest connecting coral reef in the world, after Australia’s Great Barrier Reef. It’s hailed as one of the best dive spots on the planet, with close to 300 marine species recorded here.

Back on land, Mt Iglit-Baco Natural Park feels like it has dropped out of the pages of a fairytale. This immense swathe of forest nurtures everything from hardwoods to the endangered jade vine, home to the endemic (and endangered) tamaraw, as well as wild Philippine brown deer, the Mindoro scops owl, bleeding-heart pigeons and scarlet-collared flowerpeckers.

Romblon, Philippines. Photo by pixmike on Unsplash.


To the east of Mindoro lies the heart-shaped island of Marinduque, a postcard-worthy volcanic droplet laced with powdery beaches and coconut groves. Case in point the aptly named Torrijos White Beach, a kilometre-long stretch of sand backdropped by dramatic Mt Malindig and with views over the Bundok Peninsula and Romblon Island.

From here, it’s easy to reach the town of Gasan, the gateway to the Tres Reyes Islands and home to the impressive St Joseph Spouse of Mary Parish Church. Crafted by local artisans, the building features glorious fan carvings and mosaic tiles made from polished coconut shells.

Just off the northeast coast of Marinduque lies the palm-fringed Maniwaya Island, a place that you will find hard to leave. The sand is blindingly white and the water gin-clear, and at low tide you can wade out to Palad Sandbar, a stretch of centuries-old crushed coral in the middle of the sea.

Mt. Guiting-Guiting National Park, Sibuyan Island, Philippines. Photo by Emmanuel Maceda on Unsplash.


An archipelago province in the middle of the Sibuyan Sea, Romblon regularly takes home accolades as travellers’ favourite place in the Philippines. Nature rules here, with uninterrupted rainforest covering 75 per cent of the island – it’s also blessed with 34 waterfalls, not to mention the country’s cleanest body of water, the Cantingas River. The aqua water is crystal clear, and the banks are lined with diving boards, making it a popular place to splash about and cool down.

Also in the archipelago is Mt Guiting-Guiting, the highest mountain in Romblon at 2,058 metres above sea level. It’s located on Sibuyan Island (get the early-morning ferry there from Romblon), and it’s a challenging hike to the top. But the effort is worth it, as you traverse ethereal landscapes of jungle and palms before peaking with incredible 360-degree views over the island and rest of the archipelago.

After this immense feat, you’ll likely need some downtime. Welcome to Cresta de Gallo, a petite island paradise with a long white sandbar linking two jungle-clad islets. The water is so many shades of blue you’ll think someone has taken the glasses off your nose and polished them for the first time.

Alimanguan beach, San Vicente, Palawan, Philippines. Photo by Michael Maga-ao on Unsplash.


Another archipelagic province, Palawan is a slice of heaven, uniting World Heritage Sites with powdery beaches, charming fishing villages, epic dive sites and towering limestone cliffs. One of those UNESCO destinations is the Tabon Cave Complex on the island’s west coast, located on a limestone promontory that is honeycombed with more than 200 caves and rock shelters, separated by deep chasms. Aside from being stunning – fronted by turquoise water and surrounded by jungle – it’s the most anthropologically significant site in the Philippines, preserving the remains of some of the oldest homosapien fossils evidenced in Asia that have been discovered. The only way to get here is by boat from Quezon, Palawan, a three-hour journey from the provincial capital, Puerto Princesa.

North of Quezon you’ll find Port Barton, a sun-kissed coastal village lined with colourful fishing boats that bob in water that you’ll soon be swimming in. Pootle about with turtles and starfish, cool off in waterfalls, stroll along White Beach, then enjoy a barbecue on the sand.

Balabac. Photo by Cris Tagupa on Unsplash.

Further north still, San Vicente is a marine haven that is one of the best places in the Philippines to spot Pawikan (sea turtles). Strap on a mask and flippers and glide through coral-rich reefs on the lookout for green sea and hawksbill turtles, both of which thrive here.

Palawan’s islands are as diverse as they are delightful. Visit Busuanga for its thriving coral reefs and rich WWII history (you can dive a number of wrecks); nearby, discover Black Island, with its caves and unpeopled beaches and impossibly turquoise water.


Then linger on Onuk Island, a crescent of white sand and palm trees with a sandbar that appears at low tide. It’s part of the Balabac archipelago, at the southernmost tip of Palawan and one of the Philippines’ last travel frontiers. This is what Instagram was made for.

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