A luxury travel guide to the Philippines
The picturesque Philippines, with its breath-taking white sand beaches and crystal clear waters, is made up of a whopping 7,107 islands – yet despite its world-class surfing and incredible snorkelling opportunities, it is still relatively untouched – and remains an untapped destination when it comes to British travellers.
In 2019, however, that could all be set to change, with the central and northern islands fast gaining a reputation for being a cheaper and less touristy alternative to over-run Thailand and Vietnam. If a quieter getaway is what you’re looking for, then the Philippines could be just the place.
Perhaps most famed for its beautiful beaches, the long stretches of powdery sand are dotted with lush green palm trees and border seas so clear that you can see straight to the bottom. Even during the peak season, which runs from March to June, crowds remain at a minimum – a luxury rarely afforded to travellers elsewhere in the world, and one that should be enjoyed while you can.
The problem with visiting the Philippines is that you’re spoilt for choice; 2,000 of its islands are inhabited, and knowing which of them to visit can be a tough call. Each has its own distinctive identity, and plenty of its own to offer. Whilst all inclusive vacations in the Philippines are only just starting to take off, some companies offer luxury multi-centre holidays, providing a great opportunity to take in more than one – or you can island hop independently if that’s more your bag.
Where to go
For sheer luxury, head to Boracay, where you will find a range of elegant five-star accommodation choices and pristine white sands. Along the west coast, White Beach is lined with bars, restaurants – and of course, plenty of palm trees. Over to the east, strong winds make Bulabog Beach a water sports lover’s paradise. Nearby, the observation deck on Mount Luho offers panoramic views over the island, while offshore, coral reefs and shipwrecks are home to diverse marine life. A top choice for party lovers, the nightlife here is unrivalled – though still remains more civilised than the likes of Koh Samui or Phuket.
Where to stay:
Experience World-class Service at Shangri-La’s Boracay Resort and Spa, surrounded by a lush hillside overlooking the ocean. This place provides the ultimate luxury accommodation set on a 1148 foot private beachfront, with 2 stunning outdoor pools and spacious guest rooms and villas.
The islands of Palawan stretch between Mindoro in the northeast and Borneo in the southwest. When visiting, many people fly into the capital, Puerto Princesa City – though there are smaller airports in El Nido and Busuanga.
The Palawan archipelago is the place to be if untouched beauty is your bag – the jungle beach town of El Nido was Alex Garland’s inspiration for The Beach.
Head to Port Barton – still quite the hidden gem when compared with El Nido and Coron. Island-hop around the tranquil beaches, snorkel with sea turtles, or kayak to unspoilt islets for that ultimate desert island experience.
Where to stay:
The opulent five-star Busuanga Bay Lodge is nestled in the tranquil south-western part of the island, and features an outdoor infinity pool, a private dove centre and in-house wine cellar, with breath-taking ocean views. Diving and fishing activities are a daily occurrence here, making it the perfect base for water lovers.
Cebu has a lot to offer, and its many islands are well worth a visit. The tiny Coahagan island is a mere dot on Olango chain, but offers an unusual insight into traditional Filipino life. In this sleepy fishing village, fishermen sell their catches of the day on the beaches, and will have it cooked up on the grill for you, there and then.
Marine life enthusiasts should take a trip to Oslob, where you can live a once-in-a-lifetime experience of swimming with whale sharks. These gentle, awe-inspiring creatures can be found in Donsol Bay or Luzon island.
Bantayan, meanwhile, has remained relatively untouched by modern life, although a small smattering of foreigners have taken up residence here after being lured in by the island’s white sands, crystal-clear aqua waters and breath-taking sunsets.
If you’re in search of luxury accommodation, however, then don’t plan to base yourself here – there are no five-star hotels on Bantayan, as it’s all about rustic charm. Even so, it is well worth a day trip for those in search of yet another slice of paradise – as let’s face it, in the Philippines, there are a few.
Where to stay:
Plantation Bay Resort and Spa, in Mactan, boasts one of the world’s largest privately-owned lagoons, With colonial-style rooms on landscaped grounds, it offers 5-star amenities, free scheduled round-trip airport transportation and an endless choice of activities.
Bohol is home to the iconic Chocolate Hills – 1,200 dome-shaped mounds of coral deposits, which turn brown in the dry season. Get to them by quad bike, then make your way over to the picturesque Loboc river and take a boat trip over lunch.
A 10-hour overnight bus ride might not scream luxury, but if you’re willing to compromise on comfort just this once then Banaue’s impressive green rice terraces are well worth a visit.
Where to stay:
After a long day exploring, check in at the five-star Hennan Resort Alona Beach, over on nearby Panglao Island.
Featuring several outdoor pools and a spa center, here guests can enjoy the lap of luxury. Delicious Filipino meals are served up at the hotel’s own restaurant, followed by drinks at the bar – and free WiFi is available throughout the property.