The archipelago of the Philippines is comprised of over 7,000 islands. With heritage towns, mountains, rainforests, and beaches, it’s hard to get any better than the Philippines if you’re looking for a perfect getaway destination in Asia. The plethora of islands available to discover make this beautiful country a must-visit if you are looking to explore the alluring world of underwater dive sites.
Forget Cebu and Boracay, we have put together a list of five of the most scenic hidden gems in the Philippines, all tucked away from large crowds and throngs of tourists. The Philippines is currently open for domestic travel. For a convenient way to keep updated on ever-changing travel restrictions due to COVID-19, check out our free guide before embarking on your dream beach vacation. Be safe and have fun!
El Nido is a hidden secret that only the locals know about. Located on the island of Palawan, El Nido is an untouched tiny town that features breathtaking natural rock formations and emerald waters. This slice of paradise is home to over 30 dive sites that attract dugongs, manta rays, sea turtles, and a large variety of fish species.
Discover El Nido’s nooks and crannies, from secret lagoons to unblemished beaches. The Secret Lagoon is located on a small island only accessible through a small hole that fits only one. Enter this mystical land to find yourself in a stunning collapsed caldera surrounded by karst cliff formations. This hidden gem must not be missed if you are looking for an exciting enclave that only the adventurous can enter.
Right around the Secret Lagoon, feast your eyes on Shimizu Island, an island of limestone cliff forms that swiftlets nest in. Fun fact: El Nido translates to “nest”! Dotted all across Shimizu Island are stretches of sand, caves, and beautiful coral reefs perfect for snorkeling. Taking a dip? Remember to pack a dry bag so that you can keep your electronic devices protected while you enjoy the turquoise waters.
Flight: Catch a flight to El Nido from Manila, Cebu, and Coron. The flights land directly at Lio Airport, 4 kilometers from midtown.
Cheapest way: Fly into Puerto Princessa Airport from Manila. From there, the road trip to El Nido is 5 to 6 hours. Remember to stop over at villages along the way to enjoy the serenity of the countryside!
Like El Nido, Coron is a pristine and tranquil wonder located on Palawan. Relatively undiscovered by tourists, the sleepy fishing town of Coron has transformed into the thriving island paradise that it is today. Make your way through one of the most stunning dive sites in the Philippines, which features underwater shipwrecks, hidden lagoons, and a breathtaking world of coral reefs.
Coron Bay is a must-see when you visit the Philippines. It is home to a fascinating fleet of well-preserved World War II Japanese ships resting below the water. Today, a wealth of marine life and corals have found a home on these treasured wrecks. Be mesmerized by the amount of detail preserved underwater — keep your eyes peeled for peeks of machinery, ladders, engine rooms, and even a full bicycle. Diving between this wreckage requires a specialty license and be sure to find a reputable guide that will be able to skillfully lead you around these waters.
Another must-visit is the mystical Barracuda Lake. The lake comprises of a crater filled with glistening emerald waters, enclosed by limestone cliffs. The water in this lake is crystal clear, half saltwater, and half spring water that pours into the lake. This makes Barracuda Lake a diver’s heaven because of its comfortable temperature of 36 to 38 degrees Celcius. Reflecting the secrets hidden in its depths, this lake was named after a giant barracuda fish skeleton that was once discovered in it. Be sure to pay a visit to this underground wonderland and be enthralled by the mysteries of the Barracuda Lake.
Flight: Catch a flight to Coron from Manila to Busuanga Airport, Palawan. Drive or take a jeepney to reach Coron Town in an hour.
Cheapest way: Take a SuperFerry from Manila to Coron. The trip takes about 12 hours and departures happen every Friday.
Looking for a tranquil retreat? Anawangin Cove is the perfect one for you. Featuring relaxing beaches of golden sands, Anawangin Cove is the best place to disconnect to relax. Stroll along the shallow inlet that spans across the cove. If you do stay overnight, be sure to download a stargazing app (we recommend Sky Guide) to catch a glimpse of the enchanting glittery sky that comes to life at night.
If you have some spare time on your hands, hop on a boat to the nearby islands of Capones and Camara. The bone-shaped island of Capones is surrounded by crystal blue waters. Here, you’ll also find a lighthouse. This island is truly untouched and makes a great place for a picnic lunch or a snorkeling expedition.
Flight: The nearest commercial airport is Clark (Diosdado Macapagal International Airport). From there, take a shuttle to Dau Bus Terminal where you will ride a bus to Olongapo. From Olongapo, take another bus to San Antonio, Zambales. Take a tricycle to Pundaquit and from there, rent a boat to Anawangin Cove.
Cheapest way: Catch a Victory Liner bus from Manila bound for Iba or Santa Cruz, Zambales and get off at San Antonio Public Market. Take a tricycle to Pundaquit and from there, rent a boat to Anawangin Cove.
Nagsasa Cove is Anawangin’s sister cove, located in San Antonio, Zambales. Like Anawangin Cove, you’ll want to spend some time strolling along the scenic inlet of soft sands, which you’ll find along the southern end of the cove. Cliff diving and hiking are activities popular here, making Nagsasa Cove the perfect place for thrill-seekers!
An hour away from Nagsasa Cove lies Nagasasa Falls, an oasis of small waterfalls that cascade over steep rocks. The trek to the falls is incredible. Make your way through tall grass, rocky trails, and bamboo-like forests as you venture toward the falls. This hidden sanctuary is well worth the trek as you will be able to enjoy soaking in the cooling waters after a long day. The pressure from the waterfall makes the pool at the feet of the falls akin to a jacuzzi. Remember to rent a life vest if you aren’t a good swimmer!
Flight: The nearest commercial airport is Clark (Diosdado Macapagal International Airport). From there, take a shuttle to Dau Bus Terminal where you will ride a bus to Olongapo. From Olongapo, take another bus to San Antonio, Zambales. Take a tricycle to Pundaquit and from there, rent a boat to Nagsasa Cove.
Cheapest way: Catch a Victory Liner bus from Manila bound for Iba or Santa Cruz, Zambales and get off at San Antonio Public Market. Take a tricycle to Pundaquit and from there, rent a boat to Nagsasa Cove.
Located near the main city of Cebu is stunning Kawasan Falls. The water at Kawasan Falls is an eye-catching deep blue, so intense and rich that you must see it to believe it. After paying the small entrance fee of 40 pesos, take a 10-minute hike to discover a trail of waterfalls dotted along the path, the first being the largest. For the adventurous, go further up the hiking trail to visit the second and third waterfalls. These waterfalls are less crowded and are often used for canyoneering or bamboo rafting.
Hiking up the trail to Kawasan Falls with canyoneering in mind provides you with a thrilling and unforgettable experience. With drops of up to 60 feet, Kawasan Falls is one of the best places for cliff jumping in the Philippines. Keep your eyes peeled for a rope swing and a natural rock slide along the way for a day of wet and wild activities. Canyoneering should be accompanied by a skilled guide so be sure to make reservations before embarking on the trip. Have fun and be safe!
Flight: From Cebu International Airport, take a taxi to the South Bus Terminal and then take a bus to Badian.
Cheapest way: From Cebu city, ride the Ceres Bus to Bato via Barili.
Know anymore hidden gems in the Philippines? Share them with us! We hope that you’ve enjoyed exploring the secrets of The Philippines. If you’re planning to go elsewhere, remember to bookmark our handy resource, The Ultimate Guide to COVID-19 Travel Restrictions, to remain up-to-date with regulations across the globe!