Boracay is probably the most famous destination in the Philippines, and more than a million visitors visit the 7km long island each year. But for some hardy travellers, they might find the island overly touristic and gimmicky: McDonald’s and 7-Eleven chains sprouting amongst local shops, restaurants and bars with exorbitant prices above the country’s norm, flashy resorts constructed in between shabby villages, children building sandcastles for tips and over-congestion marring the natural beauty of the white sand beaches.
If you share these sentiments and crave a more local experience untainted by tourism, you can consider visiting these 3 islands in the Philippines instead:
1. Siargao (Mindanao)
How to get there: 45-minute flights ply the Cebu-Siargao route every 1-2days.
YAY: If you are a surfing enthusiast, Siargao is the place for you! The earliest surfers experienced such euphoria from riding the waves, that they dubbed the waves “Cloud 9”. If you are a non-surfer, don’t worry. You can visit the gorgeously green Magpupungko Tidal Pools which appears during low tide, or go for a boat-tour to the jellyfish lagoon (!!) in the Sohoton Cove National Park.
Nay..: There are island-hopping tours to the nearby beaches, but frankly, the beaches are nothing to scream about.
Interesting titbit: The airport is in the midst of expansion, with plans to connect the island to Manila by air travel. You can definitely expect more tourists (and developments) once the island is easily accessible from the bustling metropolitan city. So visit Siargao before the crowds flock in!
2. Caramoan Peninsula (Luzon)
How to get there: From Manila, take a 10-hour bus ride to Naga City (or if you can spare the extra cash, fly from Manila). Then, spend the night in Naga City before taking a 2-hour van ride to the port of Sabang, where another 2-hour boat ride awaits.
YAY: The main attractions are the island-hopping tours. There’s a short tour to the nearer islands (PHP 1500) or longer tour to the further islands (PHP 2500). I opted for the longer tour, and visited Guinahoan Island (with the award-winning pink sand triumphing over the white sand of Boracay), the tranquil beaches of Cotivas and Lahuy Islands and the beautiful Manlawi Sandbar cottages (which floats during high tide, and sits on the pristine sand during low tide).
Nay..: As you can tell from the directions above, it is not easy to reach the Caramoan Peninsula! Hence, it is definitely not for the faint-hearted travellers who can’t tolerate long hours on uncomfortable modes of transportation.
Interesting titbit: The islands of Caramoan could be grouped and re-named “Survivor Islands”. Many international franchises of the popular reality series Survivor have been filmed here (including US, France, Norway, Denmark and even India).
PS: Being the Survivor geek I am, that was the reason I decided to visit the island :) Imagine my pleasure when I discovered Survivor Norway was being filmed the same time I was there. Then, I was stoked to discover the hotel I was staying in hosted the ousted Survivor players (probably pre-jury?). And that’s not all, I nearly screamed out loud when my boat driver unwittingly approached one of the NO-GO islands for filming, and I saw a few cameramen and Survivor contestants in the distance!
3. Camiguin (Mindanao)
How to get there: 45-minute flights ply the Cebu-Camiguin route 5 times a week.
YAY: A circular road around the circumference of the island connects you to the various attractions: White Island (a barren white sandbar), Mantigue Island (fantastic snorkelling opportunities at the marine sanctuary), Katibawasan Falls (a 76-m waterfall in a serene lagoon), Mount Hibok-Hibok (an intensive 6-8 hour return hike with breathtaking views of Camiguin and Bohol on clear days), and Ardent Hot Springs (perfect for relaxing under the night sky).
Nay..: Jack of all trades, master of none. Though there are a variety of activities on offer, Camiguin can’t boast that it has the best beaches, best waterfalls, best summit views, and best marine life.
Interesting titbit: What? There’s a Sunken Cemetery as one of the tourist attraction? Yup! A large cross has been erected over the submerged ruins of Catarman, a town that was destroyed by numerous eruptions of Mount Vulcan. For a haunting experience, you can choose to snorkel/dive around the area.
Philippines is home to over 7,000 islands, so there are many outstanding island getaway opportunities in the country! Besides these 3 I visited, do you have any others to recommend? Looking forward to hear about your suggestions, and I will visit them on my next Pinoy adventure :)