It is, if you’re looking for an island party place. But if you’re after indulging your senses and clearing your mind and just having a good old-fashioned nature trip, there are hundreds of other options. Maybe more. We have more than seven thousand islands after all. There’s a great beach for every taste and inclination in a country blessed by year-round summer interrupted only by rains and occasional typhoons.
Here’s a to-go list for those who hanker for the not-too-crowded spots where nature still reigns.
1. Isla Reta
First on my list – a getaway that is so easy to get to, but so far away from it all.
Isla Reta Beach Resort is in Talikud Island, behind (sa likod) the much larger Samal Island where everyone coming from Davao City usually goes. The accommodations are spartan, but you know you’re in a special place the moment you get off the boat.
You step on turquoise water so clear you want to take a dip right away; but the creamy soft sand is just as inviting. The beach isn’t flat but sloping. There’s fine grass where the sand ends, and majestic acacia and full-grown talisay trees lining the entire length of the place. You sprawl on the sand or sit on one of the rustic wooden benches and just take in the beauty of it all. Mostly, you swim to your heart’s content in water so clean and nurturing. Or snorkel to explore the aquatic sights. You can spend the rest of the time just walking around and enjoying the picturesque setting from different angles. And you might want to give a nod to Mother Nature for being so generous.
To get to Isla Reta from Davao City, start at Sta. Ana wharf located just beside the Magsaysay Park (where the durian vendors hold forth) and walk to where the Talikud-bound boats are waiting. It’s a 50-minute trip; fare is P80 ($2) per head. Upon reaching the wharf in Talikud, walk towards the resort, about 10 minutes away.
Entrance fee for a day trip is P75 ($1.80) for adults and P35 (80 cents) children. An overnight stay is P150; P75 for children. You can rent a tent for P150 ($3.35) per night and closed cottages for P800 ($18). The staff can cook for you, or you can bring your own food. Small prices for a slice of paradise.
2. Paliton Beach
Forget all the bizarre tales you’ve heard about Siquijor. The province is easily one of the loveliest destinations you can visit in the Philippines. It is peaceful, pretty, almost enchanting, a feast for the eyes anywhere you pause as you drive around the coast, which you can complete in a few hours; this makes Siquijor one of my favorite destinations.
Paliton is one of the most inviting in the island province that has beaches galore. It is tucked away from the main road in the town of San Juan in the westernmost part of the province. Quiet and undeveloped, the sand is white and powdery soft. And the pristine waters are so clear you can see clusters of coral and tiny fish in the sea bed while swimming.
At Paliton Beach you can spend hours just staying in waters so relaxing, yet invigorating. And there is no crowd of bathers to intrude on your privacy.
The area has a marine sanctuary, which makes Paliton an excellent diving spot, its clear waters offering great visibility. There are three submarine caves, the biggest of which is cathedral-like whose surface is covered with soft corals and fans. Here, divers are treated to a visual feast of marine life. One can chance upon reef sharks and barracudas in the area.
There are no resorts on the beaches, which makes it an ideal getaway. You can pitch a tent (your own), or stay in one of the inns and resorts in the town.
There are daily ferry rides from Dumaguete to Siquijor (another port in the island is in Larena). The Fast Craft fare for the one-hour trip is P160 ($3.60) one way; P109 ($2.40) for the Ro-Ro ferry which takes almost two hours. San Juan is located just after Siquijor town, traveling southwest. Tricycle tours can be arranged with the locals.
3. Maniwaya White Beach
Another pleasant, off-the-usual-route surprise is Maniwaya White Beach in Sta. Cruz, Marinduque. It lies in the Mongpong passage — the body of water between Marinduque and
General Luna in Quezon. Expect a long stretch of white sand beach, still unexploited and non-commercialized. There are few visitors even during peak season, so you can have your fill of the quiet hideaway; hopefully it will stay that way.
Added treats are the rich marine life and some bird-watching, a hop to the wonderful Palad Sandbar, a few kilometers off Maniwaya Island at the northeastern end, that is fully visible only during low tide. It’s a sight to give you pause – a 500 meter- to one kilometer (depending on the time of the day) stretch of pure white sand in the middle of the sea, with clear, shallow waters ideal for swimming. This alone is worth a return trip, maybe more, to Marinduque.
Some food trip tips in Sta. Cruz: At Helen’s Eatery at the wet market you can enjoy a stew of pig’s intestines. Or smoked pig’s feet boiled till tender, an exotic variant of the bulalo. You can also ask around for Ka Ambo Reynoso’s home to try her fabulous take on the crispy pata.Embrace the cholesterol fix this once; you don’t often find crispy pata this good.
The easiest way to get to Maniwaya is via a three-to-four hour ferry trip from Dalahican port in Lucena (a bus ride from Manila) to Buyabod port in Sta.Cruz, Marinduque. Then get on a boat for the 30-minute ride to Maniwaya Island. You can arrange for a boat to take you to Palad Sandbar and other nearby islands.
4. Siargao Island
Long regarded as a prime travel destination, Siargao has never seen a heavy influx of local visitors, owing to its distance from Manila and the relatively hefty cost of going there. The island gets more traffic from foreigners, particularly surfers who regularly come to ride its challenging big waves.
But serious beachcombers simply have to take the trip to Siargao for the “wow” experience. A few minutes from General Luna town by motorized banca are three scenic spots named Naked Island, Daku Island and Guyam Island. There are day tours to the islands, but it’s less expensive to rent a boat, which you can book from the town’s public market.
The usual first stop is Naked Island, which is really more of a sand bank – a 200 meter-long stretch of blindingly white sand with the bluest, clearest water on both sides. The Philippines is blessed with an abundance of sandbars that never fail to gladden your heart, and this one is a good as it gets.
Next in line is Daku Island, shaded by countless coconut palm trees. The beach beckons with its powdery white sand. There are simple beachfront huts where you can stay the night. There is no electricity, but who needs it in a place where nature overwhelms! A small fishing community of 300 residents live on the island; you can have them prepare a meal of fresh seafood.
Offering the same delightful experience is Guyam Island, uninhabited except for fish, sea snakes, and shells, nature’s haven that’s all your own. You can never have enough of these unspoiled haunts.
The jump-off point to Siargao Island is Surigao City in Surigao del Sur where ferries will take you to Dapa, the island’s main port. The trip can take between two to four hours, depending on the size of the ferry. You get on a van, tricycle, or habal-habal (motorbike) for your final destination. Surigao City can be reached by car or bus via the Ro-Ro ferry boat from Manila. You can also book a direct flight from Manila.
5. Virgin Island
Travelers who are used to breathtaking nature spots still can’t help being impressed by Virgin Island, a 20-minute banca ride from the popular Panglao Island in Bohol. From the boat, your feet into soft, white sand. It’s the tail of a long stretch of sandbar that curves into a giant crescent-moon shape, like an arm embracing the water. Simply stunning!
The water is pristine and shallow, its color taking on different shades of blue. Starfish rest on the sand and the marine life is to be seen. The sandbar envelops an islet in the middle, the whole area spanning one hectare during low tide. The islet is privately owned, but the owners allow visitors to walk the length of the sandbar. It’s a journey not to be missed.
There are nine daily flights to Tagbilaran, Bohol from Manila. By sea, comfortable Fast Ferries from Cebu City will get you there in about an hour and a half hour; four hours if you take the bigger but slower ships. From Tagbilaran you can hire a tricycle to Panglao Island for at least P250 ($5.60), or a taxicab for about P500 ($11.15). It is easy to get a boat ride to Virgin Island from numerous points in Panglao.
6. Potipot Island
It’s not a spectacular island, smaller than most, but Potipot has its own charm. Easy to reach – it’s a mere five minutes by boat from Barangay Uacon, Candelaria, in the northern end of Zambales. The beachfront has off-white sand (puti po, eventually potipot) and a lot of trees to stave off the burning sun. The island can be explored in less than an hour. It is covered with lush vegetation, making the walk pleasant.
The unique thing about Potipot is that the sandy beach goes all around the island. I’ve never seen anything like it. Usually, the beach is on one side, while the opposite side
(or at least one portion of the island) is rocky and not ideal for swimming. In Potipot, the stretch of sand is unbroken and you can jump off from any point to frolic in the water.
There are simple amenities -- restrooms, basic cottages, grill stations, no electricity. It’s a good idea to camp out under the trees.
Getting There: From Cubao in Quezon City, take the bus bound for Sta. Cruz, Zambales via Olongapo. Ask to be let off at Dawal in Bgy. Uacon, Candelaria, where you will find the boats to Potipot. Tip: This region of Zambales is home to some of the sweetest mangoes in the country. Make sure you get your fill.
7. Palaui Island
If you must take just one trip this year, make it Palaui. It would be a departure from the usual. Located in the northeastern tip of Luzon, Palaui Island is a sanctuary for many species of migratory birds and its waters are a protected marine reserve.
Geographically, the island is distinct from the rest of Luzon. It is made up of volcanic debris, suggesting that it could have joined the mainland from the Pacific Ocean.
The allure of Palaui can best be savored with a two-hour hike highlighted by striking vistas of magnificent forests, mountain peaks, rugged cliffs and gorgeous beaches. A centuries-old lighthouse, the Faro de Cabo Engano, stands on top of a 90-meter cliff, from where you get a panoramic view of the coast.
You can then let yourself be seduced by the spotlessly clean waters. Chances are, you will just be by yourself.
Palaui Island is a 2 1/2 hour drive from Tuguegarao City in Cagayan Province. Victory Liner buses run daily 11-12 hour trips to the city; an hour if you opt to go by plane. From Tuguegarao, you can reach San Vicente fish port in Sta. Ana town by bus or van, a two-hour ride. From there, you can hire a fishing boat for the half-hour ride to Palaui Island. Visitors can stay overnight in a homestead, or camp on the beachfront. There are affordable resort-hotel accommodations in Sta. Ana.
8. Kalanggaman Island
It’s the magic of sandbars once again. Kalanggaman Island in Palompon, Leyte also boasts white beaches, dramatic rock formations, fine white sand beaches, dwarf coconut trees and azure waters. One sandbar is magic enough, but Kalanggaman has two, which is something short of miraculous. Walking on sandbars is always a thrilling experience. Their shapes are never the same, sculpted every minute by the wind and waves.
The tranquility of Kalanggaman is broken only by an occasional flying fish, or dolphin, leaping out of the water. Floating on the still water, one can only marvel at how the Philippines can be gifted with such a wealth of nature’s bounties.
Visitors can camp overnight; there is no electricity, but lamps and torches are provided.Kalanggaman Island has been named by travel advisory website Skyscanner as the best of nine “amazing sandbars” in the Philippines.
Kalanggaman is about 15 nautical miles from Palompon, a town on the western coast of Leyte.
It’s a three-hour van/bus ride from Tacloban City or an hour van ride from Ormoc City, followed by a 45-minute boat ride. Entrance fee to the island is P150 ($3.35) for a day tour and P250 ($5.60) for an overnight stay. A boat trip for a maximum 20 passengers costs P3,500 ($80).
9. Pandan Island
Pandan Island Resort in Sablayan, Occidental Mindoro bills itself as a place “for people who like to spend time in tropical surroundings without cars and television. A place where you are woken up by the singing of colorful birds, where there is only a palm tree between you and the sea, and where you may even meet a sea turtle before having your breakfast.”
My bias has always been for undeveloped beaches. Pandan is the only resort you’ll find on this list, but it is unlike other resorts you’re familiar with. They have merged comfort with roughing it up. There is no electricity, but you get solar-powered lights in the evening. The food is simple and fresh from the sea but with a gourmet flair. Native cottages are right smack on a beach-forest setting, with trees and flowering plants around and soft white sand under your feet.
You start the day bird watching – black-naped orioles, tabon scrub fowl and emerald doves – and proceed to swim off the long, curving white sand beach. There’s trekking in the lush rainforest, phenomenal diving, vegetating in one of the many hammocks and stargazing on the beach where the night sky seems closer than you’re used to.
From Manila, take a bus to the Batangas City Pier, then a ferry to Abra de Ilog in Occidental Mindoro (2.5-hour trip). From there get on a bus to Sablayan, another three hours; and look for the Pandan Island Info Center. The boat ride to Pandan Island will take about 30 minutes. Dimple Star Bus offers daily trips from Cubao in Quezon City to Sablayan. The P800 ($17.85) trip takes between 8 -10 hours. You can also fly to San Jose in the southern end of Occidental Mindoro, followed by a three-to-four hour bus trip to Sablayan.
10. Kagusuan Beach
We backtrack to Siquijor to visit another of the island’s attractions. This time, we head east for the town of Maria to in search of Kagusuan Beach. A few minutes after passing through a small man-made forest, there’s a paved parking area beside a cliff, leading to concrete steps that go down to the beach.
The first thing you notice are the imposing coral sculptures that protect the unsullied shore. You really don’t have to do anything here; just enjoy the white sand, the gentle splashing of the waves against the rocks, the postcard-pretty seascape all around.
You fall into a stupor as you drift in the tranquil waters, the rest of the world just a blur.
The best route to Siquijor is from the port of Dumaguete City where you take a one-hour ferry ferry ride to the port in Larena. Going to Kagusuan, you can rent a motorbike, hire a tricycle, or take a multicab ride.
Anawangin in Zambales was virginal the first time we went there. It has since gained some popularity, no longer unspoiled, but its unique features can still be appreciated. Going there, your boat skirts the coast and you are treated to an eyeful of rock formations, a splendid design job by nature, throughout the 30-minute ride.
Your destination is a quarter-moon cove framed by boulders and surprisingly backdropped by a lush pine forest. The off-white sandy beach is so soft on your feet, and deep, reaching all the way to the pines. The water is clear, you can see fish swimming as you walk to the sea. Anawangin is a photographer’s delight, from its entirety to the details.
On the way back to town, you can take a pleasant side trip to Capones Island where a lighthouse stands proud, and with a shifting sandbar beach on one end. The lighthouse was restored by famed violinist Coke Bolipata, whose Casa San Miguel in Pundaquit trains local kids to be accomplished classical musicians. It’s worth a visit.
There are no accommodations in Anawangin but campers are welcome. Bancas can be rented most anywhere in Barangay Pundaquit, San Antonio, Zambales. Victory Liner offers daily rides from Cubao and Pasay in Metro Manila.
So much to see, never enough time. This is just the tip of the iceberg; there are enough great beaches in the Philippines to last a compulsive nature tripper’s lifetime. We haven’t even covered Tawi-Tawi yet, that’s where you’ll find the true meaning of unspoiled, and its crowning glory – the Turtle Islands. That won’t be part of a list but is a full story.