The Philippines is one of the last few undiscovered gems of south east Asia. The country consists of more than 7000 beautiful islands, many of which are uninhabited and completely undeveloped. It is also home to some of the most beautiful islands in the world, such as Cebu and Palawan.
A vacation to the Philippines typically consists of a mixture between relaxing at stunning beaches and taking on exciting adventures. Finding the right balance and choosing the specific activities that suit the entire family can be quite a challenge at times. This guide will hopefully allow you to plan your trip to the Philippines effectively and make sure you and your kids have a wonderful time.
Best Philippines islands for a family vacation
There are a lot of similarities between the different islands, so choosing the right one can prove tricky. Even though each has some unique features, they are all stunning and the focus at each of them is on beautiful white sand beaches. Everywhere you’ll go, the top activity is always the island-hopping tour, which takes you to nearby smaller islands and snorkeling or diving spots.
When taking a family-oriented viewpoint, the main difference between islands is their level of development. Generally speaking, they fall into one of two different categories – tourist hotspots and off the beaten path locations. Tourist magnets are typically better choices for families as they better developed, meaning they offer better accommodation options, places to eat and are much easier to reach.
Palawan province – the Philippines last frontier
Palawan is often named as the best island in the world, and the reason for that is that it really suits every type of traveler extremely well. Although it is still quite rural and undeveloped, families will not find this part of the country too difficult to handle.
The capital of Puerto Princesa is a fairly small town, but has plenty of shopping malls, restaurants and good options for hotels. The beaches there aren’t too impressive but the main attraction is the underground river – a UNESCO heritage site and one of the new 7 wonders of nature.
From Puerto Princesa, it is only a 4 hours van ride to El Nido. This place is less developed, but accommodation is still plenty and ranges all the way from backpacker dorms to 5 star all-inclusive private island resorts. El Nido is the main reason people bother to visit Palawan in the first place, as it offers some of the world’s most pristine beaches and breathtaking lagoons.
If you still didn’t have enough of Palawan, why not head further up north to Coron? This is the most rustic location at this province, and so is only recommended for those who are not spoiled. The reward is fantastic, raw nature and some of the world’s best diving spots.
Boracay island – The world’s best beach
Boracay is by far and large the most popular destination in the Philippines. In fact, this tiny island became such a tourist mecca that they had to shut it down completely for 6 months! Hopefully now, with new regulation and improved infrastructure in place, they will do a better job keeping this little paradise clean and beautiful as it once was.
There aren’t a whole lot of exciting activities in Boracay. You can go try out diving, island hopping and sailing for example, but these all pale in comparison to similar attractions at other islands. What really sets Boracay apart is the stunning stretch of White Beach which is often heralded as the best beach in the world.
The island is extremely well developed and you’ll have more than 400 different hotels to choose from. There are dozens of direct flights each day from many different locations, and the whole vacation will run very smoothly. If you do want to try some unique activity there, you could go kiteboarding at Bulabog beach.
Cebu and Bohol – perfect vacation for families
Last one the list, we have Cebu and Bohol which are by far the best choices for large families and groups, particularly those who travel with young children. These two islands are very close to one another and both offer an extremely well-balanced bundle of different activities, all packaged in the most comfortable and convenient manner.
Cebu Island is one of main islands of the Philippines, and home to Cebu city – the second largest city in the country. It is a major transport hub and a gateway to almost all of the smaller islands. Hotels in the city are good, but the best choice is to stay at nearby Mactan island, where you can find plenty of high-end resorts for very good prices. The main attractions are the Kawasan Falls and the Oslob Whale sharks experience.
Bohol is a separate island and you’ll need to take a 2 hours ferry ride to reach it from Cebu. The beaches over there are much nicer, and give even Boracay a decent run for its money. There aren’t as many resorts there, but the quality is very high and prices are relatively low. Taking the countryside tour to see the Chocolate hills and Tarsier Sanctuary is highly educational and enjoyable. Another great activity is the island hopping there, which includes a stop at Balicasag Marine Sanctuary where you can swim and snorkel with sea turtles.
Cool things do to in the Philippines with your family
Apart from everything mentioned above, the list of activities to try out is practically endless. It really depends on what you and your family like doing, and you choose to spend your time together. While the Philippines does not excel when it comes to culture and learning opportunities, you can still get plenty of these, mainly in the large cities such as Manila and Cebu.
These cities offer plenty of museums, which can easily enrich your knowledge of local culture and provide added value for the whole trip. A visit to the old districts and the historic landmarks is also highly recommend and can make for an interesting half-day tour.
One of the biggest highlights of the Philippines is its underwater world. Located at the center of the Coral Triangle, it is home to almost 90% of the worlds fish specimens and almost half the of our planet’s coral reefs. All island-hopping tour involve snorkeling, while diving sessions should be booked separately. For snorkeling, keep in mind most tour operators don’t provide masks at all sizes so if you have small children its better to bring your own.
The best diving spots are too many to list, as each island has at least half a dozen different locations you could check out. Generally speaking, Coron is best for wreck diving, Bohol and Cebu for marine life and coral reefs, and other smaller islands for specialized diving such as seeing Thresher sharks, Manta rays or Manatees.
If the waters aren’t your thing, there are also quite a few land-based attractions scattered throughout the country. North of Manila lies the Banaue rice terraces – a spectacular UNESO heritage site dating back more than 2000 years. It combines fantastic hiking options with a chance to observe the local tribes. The small island of Camiguin has no less than 7 different volcanoes and you could hike to the top of each and every one of those.
Best ways to get to and around the Philippines
There are two major transport hubs in the country – Manila and Cebu. Manila takes international flights from hundreds of different countries, including direct flights from LA, London and Paris. Cebu offers domestic flights to most of the smaller islands, but can also be reached directly from other Asian countries such as Hong Kong and Singapore for example.
Travelling between the different islands is much more complicated due to weather and poor organizational skills. Delays and cancellations are quite frequent, and you should generally allocate a full day to each transfer as these tend to drag out quite a bit. Whenever possible, try and prioritize flights over ferries, and always make sure you have a good plan B if itinerary suddenly shifts.
Weather and general info
Weather in the Philippines is tropical and quite fickle. This is another reason to try and minimize the amount of transfers between islands, as rainfall and even storms can occur even during the dry season. The best months to visit are between January and May. At those times you’ll mostly have sunny days and the chance of a serious storm is very low.
The wet season starts
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