Forget about white-sand beach bumming, chilling in a man-made infinity pool, or going on a water sports adventure in a private resort somewhere. This list will introduce you to places in the Philippines that take travel and adventure to a different level – one that makes it more purposeful.
Ecotourism doesn’t just allow us to see beautiful destinations, it tells us how important sustainable tourism is in keeping these places alive and thriving.
From making sure that natural ecosystems, biodiversity, and culture are preserved to getting the local community in that particular area involved, ecotourism makes sure that everything is not just enjoyable for travelers but also sustainable for its community and the environment.
Let us change the way you define vacation and head to these 10 Philippine ecotourism destinations, a “win-win” way to travel and explore the country. The list includes officially recognized ecotourism hot spots and some unofficial areas as well.
1. Sohoton Bay
Bucas Grande Islands, Surigao del Norte
Perched in the southwest portion of Bucas Grande Island, Sohoton Bay features raw beauty where the edge of the earth meets the majestic sea. When you visit, you’ll think of words like calm, enchanted, and maybe even otherworldly. The islands are perfectly viridescent while the water shade is everything in between blue and green.
One of the “fairies” that live in Sohoton Bay are the spotted jellies (Mastigias Papua). They are friendly, stingless, and at the same time, vulnerable. These jellyfishes swarm on the surface of Tojoman Lagoon every June, when mating season starts, to find potential partners. Touching them should be avoided as much as possible, and lifting them out of the water is a big no. This is a simple gesture to return the favor of their hospitality.
You may also visit Makukuob Cave where you can swim, spelunk, and cliff-dive all in one pass. Going back and skipping one activity is not an option. Other areas of interest include boating under Sohoton Cave, snorkeling, and listening to the stereo-quality snoring sounds inside Hagukan Cave.
How To Get There
From Manila (MNL), you can take any Philippine airliner to Surigao City (SUG). Take a local transport to the main terminal and hop on a bus or van to the Municipality of Claver. There are pump boats available for hire for your Sohoton Bay sojourn at Claver port.
Another option is to take a Socorro-bound ferry from Surigao City’s Dapa port. Then from Socorro, you can rent a pumpboat to Sohoton.
2. Lake Sebu South Cotabato
Lake Sebu is situated on the highlands of South Cotabato. Though located in Southern Mindanao, the town is utterly peaceful. Home to the indigenous T’Boli, Ubo, Tiruray, and Manobo tribes, Lake Sebu is known for its seven majestic waterfalls, three stunning lakes, and a lush rainforest.
Visit the Seven Falls zipline, one of Asia’s highest ziplines, and and get a unique birds-eye perspective of the gorgeous land. Trekking, on the other hand, will give you a chance for a close encounter with each falls, so take your selfie sticks with you and do the pose.
Kayaking and fishing in Lake Sebu, the lake of which the town is named after, should not be missed. If you are lucky enough, you might see the beautiful lotuses bloom.
How to get There
General Santos City Airport (GES) is the closest Airport to Lake Sebu. Most airlines have daily flight from Manila, Cebu, and Iloilo to General Santos (GenSan). From GenSan’s Bulaong Terminal, take a bus or van to Marbel (Koronadal City) then transfer to a Surallah-bound public utility vehicle. Then, you can take a jeepney, van, or habal-habal from Surallah’s Integrated Terminal to Lake Sebu.
Moving around Lake Sebu is easy with habal-habals which are present in almost every resort and attractions within the town.
3. Batad Banaue, Ifugao
With Batad at an elevation over 1000 meters (3,280 ft.) above sea level, you will not forget the kiss of the morning chill. Batad forges memories, sprouts bliss, and awakens curiosity. Its richness is as massive as its surrounding mountain ridges that you will quickly forget about the effort needed to reach this place.
Batad, along with the five other rice terraces in Banaue (Ifugao), is listed in UNESCO World Heritage Sites. But what make this wonder different among the other places on the list is its amphitheatre-like contour whose size is colossal – truly a masterpiece of the first Filipino engineers and builders.
Walking along the edge of this seemingly natural marvel is the reason why most adventurers flock the sleepy highland village. Trekking down to the stunning Tappiya Falls is also a must-do. Just make sure that you have reserved enough energy for your climb back up.
How to Get There
From Manila, take a bus to Banaue. There are only two bus lines that offer the Manila-Banaue route as of this writing. I suggest that you book in advance since buses are limited and they usually get full especially during peak seasons.
To buy your tickets in advance, visit Ohayami Trans at J. Fajardo St. cor Lacson Ave., Sampaloc, Manila or Dangwa Tranco at Dimasalang Street (near Dangwa Flower Market), Sampaloc, Manila.
From Banaue town proper, you can wait for jeepneys to Saddle Point. Take note that there are only two trips daily and the schedule is not regular. If you are a big group, you can hire one for less than ₱2,000 and that can fit up to 20 individuals.
The northernmost province of the country is the real stunner. Batanes offers exquisite terrains at par to that of subtropical countries. The prairie-carpeted rolling hills, the stone-made dwellings, and the tide-crafted cliffs are postcard-perfect.
The erratic weather and the expensive transport, however, make a trip to the tip of the country elusive for some. Good thing that some airlines offer occasional promos which helps a lot of dreams come true.
How to Get There
Philippine Airlines’ budget arm, PAL Express, flies twice from Manila (MNL) to Basco (BSO) daily. From Basco, you can coordinate with your hotel on how to get around. You can also hire a bike if you want to see the island all by yourself.
5. Minalungao National Park General Tinio, Nueva Ecija
Being nestled in a remote location of Nueva Ecija and wrapped with infamous urban legends, many are discouraged to experience Minalungao National Park. However, persuading testament of eyewitnesses about its picturesque charm are slowly making a visit harder to resist.
The emerald water of the Peñaranda River cutting through the towering karst cliffs of the national park emanates a very tempting beauty. You will surely have your shutter button ready.
The Minalungao National Park got its name from the words mina which literally means mine and lungao which translates to cave. With that being said, you should expect spelunking as one of the things to do. To complete the experience, bring your friends and set up camp, float on a raft, dive off a cliff, climb on a boulder and hike a trail.
How to Get There
Take a bus to Cabanatuan City from any major bus terminals in Manila. If you ride the “via SCTEX” route, get off at Cabanatuan City Terminal and transfer to another bus for Gapan.
If you choose the “via San Miguel/Bulacan” route, tell the conductor to drop you off at Tinio Street junction in Gapan and wait for a Papaya- or Gen Tinio-bound PUJs. From Gen Tinio market, you can ask for a tricycle that’ll bring you to Minalungao.
6. Sagada Mountain Province
Sagada became a tourist destination after several features from pop culture. Just recently an Angelica Panganiban-starred film featured the captivating charm of Sagada. Movies like these expose Sagada to a new generation of tourists and help drive more visits to the heart of the Cordilleras.
Sagada offers a relaxing atmosphere, a temperate weather, towering massifs, overwhelming caverns, and of course, a warm hospitality. These things work perfectly to cultivate visitors’ addiction to the small town above the mountains.
Start your day by enjoying the enthralling sunrise at Kiltepan Viewpoint, then get a cardio workout by trekking to Northern Sagada Rice Terraces and Bomod-ok Falls or challenge your claustrophobia by spelunking. Local guides also offer a walking tour if you want to know more about their culture.
How to Get There
Catch any Baguio-bound bus from Metro Manila. From Baguio, proceed to Dangwa Bus Terminal and Board a GL Bus to Sagada.
Another option is to take the Manila-Banaue bus. Then take a Sagada-bound van from Banaue.
Siquijor is an island province that floats in Bohol Sea, exactly south of Cebu Island and east of Dumaguete City. This island, like Minalungao, has long been subjected to urban legends. The infamous stories of sorcery and witchcraft have spread incessantly among the neighbouring provinces. These tales, however, do not hinder travelers from exploring the island.
Strolling under the archway formed by the trees in Salagdoong’s man-made Molave forest will make you feel like a royalty. The forest that took 60 years to make will lead you to the gorgeous Salagdoong beach. The beach isn’t the real stunner though. The cliffs are. With heights up to 20 feet, you can dive into the perfectly-clear, turquoise water beneath.
If you visit during Holy Week, take part in the Folk Healing Festival, which is held at Bandilaan Mountain View Park. Folk healers and herbalist from around the country gather to witness the locals’ medical potion preparations and healing rights demonstrations.
Lastly, don’t forget to check out the island’s diverse marine parks, centuries-old churches, enchanting caves, and majestic cascades.
How to Get There
The closest airport to Siquijor is Dumaguete Airport (DGT). Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific fly from Manila (MNL) to Dumaguete City twice daily. From the airport, hop on a multicab or trike to the city’s port and board a fast craft (fast ferry) or RoRo (roll-on/roll-off ferry) to either the Municipality of Larena or Siquijor. There are multiple trips a day and travel is approximately one hour for the fast craftand two hours for the RoRo.
8. Southern Cebu (Municipalities of Badian and Alegria)
Canyoneering (or canyoning) is stirring quite a buzz in southern Cebu. This sports adventure started in the province in 2004 and became popular with the locals. Popularity exploded when Richard Gutierrez, Drew Arellano, and Dyan Castillejo featured the activity on their respective TV shows, sparking audiences’ interest to try it.
Canyoning (or canyoneering for the Americans) is traveling through canyons using a variety of outdoor techniques (some extreme) like trekking, climbing, rappelling, scrambling, bouldering, cliff-jumping, etc.
Because it involves traveling down streams, creeks, or waterfalls, you’ll have to swim, rappel, or jump down the rapids. If you are up for harder challenge, do it upstream where you’ll need to swim and rock-climb against the river’s current.
The jump off point if you want to go downstream is at Barangay Kanlaob (Alegria) and ends in Kawasan Falls of Barangay Matutinao (Badian), where a sumptuous meal is waiting.
Going upstream starts at Kawasan Falls and concludes in Kanlaob. If you need a canyoneering guide, you can contact Kuya Ronald Diluvio at +63 905 968 2225.
How to Get There
From Manila, you can fly to either Cebu (CEB) or Dumaguete (DGT).
From Cebu City, you can board a bus to Bato with a “via Barili” signboard and tell the conductor to drop you at Matutinao Church. It is important that you ride a “via Barili” route because this will take the west arterial road. Otherwise, it won’t pass Barangay Matutinao.
Another option is to take a GT Express (V Hire) to Badian from Cebu Citylink terminal. From Badian, you can wait for a bus to Bato or take multicabs to Malabuyoc or Bato and ask the conductor/driver to drop you at Kawasan junction or Matutinao Church.
From Dumaguete City, take a bus/trike/multicab to Sibulan and walk towards the port. Board a RoRo, fast craft, or pumpboat to Bato or Liloan. From Bato, you can walk to the terminal and hop on a bus to Cebu. If you take the Liloan-bound boat, hire a habal-habal to Bato terminal and board a bus to Cebu City. Make sure that you take the “via Barili” route.
9. Samal Island
Davao del Norte
Aside from the beautiful beaches that dot the island, Samal is also the home to the world’s largest group of pollinators. The flying mammals (Rousette fruit bats) of Monfort Bat Sanctuary fly all the way to Davao to pollinate the durian flowers which only bloom at night. Their colony has reached over 2 million in population allowing them to be listed in the Guinness Book of World Records.
If you don’t like the bats, you can chill under the cold water cascades of Hagimit.
Samal is also known for its rich marine life which is very ideal for snorkelling and scuba diving.
How to Get There
All local airlines have multiple fights to Davao (DVO). From Davao, you can take a taxi or multi-cab to Davao’s Sasa Port wherein Samal is just 15-minutes away.
10. Isla de Gigantes Carles, Iloilo
Like Coron, El Nido, and Hundred Islands, Isla de Gigantes is also an island hopping heaven. It features a picturesque tidal pool, stunning islands, amazing caves for spelunking, great sceneries, and an accommodating locality.
Viewing the sunrise at the top of the Northern Gigantes Lighthouse is an activity worth waking up early for. You’ll witness how the colors transform and dress the sky with tinge that goes from orange to red.
You should also try the multiple scallop recipes at Gigantes Hideaway Resort. They serve fried, barbecued, curried, and grilled scallops.
How to Get There
You can either board a Manila-Iloilo (MNL-ILO) or Manila-Roxas (MNL-RXS) flight. From Iloilo’s Tagbak terminal, ride a van to to Estancia. On the other hand, there are buses and vans for Estancia available at Roxas City’s Lawaan Terminal.
The Feeder port in Estancia is a tricycle away from the town’s terminal. The boat that leaves for Isla de Gigantes waits for passengers at the feeder port. The trips is daily and departs at 2PM.