Island hopping in the Philippines

Floating off the eastern shores of Vietnam out in the Pacific Ocean, the Philippines is an archipelagic country made up of over 7,000 islands. The Philippines has been pegged as one of the most up-and-coming travel hotspots, thanks to its backdrop of serene natural habitats, UNESCO world heritage sites, relaxed local atmosphere, fabulous food and above all, the out-of-this-world beaches. We’re taking you island hopping to some of the county’s central islands.

Most international flights will take you in and out of the capital Manila; however, the Philippines is a country exceptionally well serviced for internal travel. Book an internal flight down to Cebu where your adventure will really set sail. Very much a city atmosphere, don’t get too attached to Cebu just yet, we’ll leave some time on our return to explore – but for now, jump in a jeepney and head to the pier, we’re taking our first boat over to Bohol – the largest island in the Philippines. 

Bohol

As the ferry pulls in you’ll be welcomed by plenty of locals to help with your bags. Hop into the back of a tuk-tuk and make haste for your accommodation, we’ve got a lot planned for the next few days. The Philippines is hugely accessible and a scooter is probably the preferred mode of transport to get around – but if you’re less confident on the back of a motorbike, there are plenty of public buses and local jeepneys to get you around. Arguably the biggest attraction on the island of Bohol is the area known as the Chocolate Hills. A geological formation of green hills that turn cacao-brown once the dry season arrives, the sight is magnificent, if the name is albeit slightly misleading to those with a sweet tooth. 

Chocolate Hills, Bohol. Image: Ella Davis

After taking in your fill of the hills, jump back on the bike and head to a little hideaway known as the Tarsier Sanctuary in Corella. Tarsiers are tiny nocturnal primates native to the Philippines. These palm-sized babies have abnormally large eyes, making them one of the darn cutest things you’ll ever see (it’s advisable not to try and put one in your backpack to bring home, however much you might want to). Before the sun sets, head to the coast for a cool off in the waves, then make your way to a local bar for an evening tipple. Situated high above the Loboc river, enjoy a well earned beer (you’ll find San Miguel Light everywhere) at the canopy bar of local hostel ‘Nuts Huts’. Surrounded by lush jungle, this is the perfect way to unwind after a day of sightseeing. 

Tarsier. Image: Getty/Andrea Blesakova

We’re not done with Bohol just yet – for day two, jump on a public bus and head down to Panglao, the southernmost tip of the island. Here you’ll be rewarded with stunning Alona Beach, the perfect spot for some scuba diving and snorkelling, and a buzzing nightlife scene. 

Alona Beach, Panglao. Image: Getty/holgs

Siquijor

Today’s the day we travel to a new island – we set sail for Siquijor. A tiny island about a 4-hour boat ride from Bohol, it’s undoubtedly worth making the trip! Indulge yourself here in some serious luxury and book yourself into the Coco Grove Beach Resort. This affordable slice of luxury laps a powdery white sand beach, making this part of your Philippines sojourn perfect for some R&R! If you’re lucky enough to be here during local fiestas, you’ll want to save up all that energy you’ve accumulated throughout the day, and get ready to party well into the night! For a delectable meal served in a treehouse-style restaurant, accompanied by mood-boosting acoustic music, make a pit stop at Baha Ba’r, where the seared sesame tuna might be the best we’ve ever tasted.

Baha Ba’r. Image: Facebook

Negros Island 

Now that you’re truly rested and rejuvenated, time to take to the seas again and hop over to Dumaguete, the capital of Negros Island. You’re going to use this tranquil and well-equipped city as your base, because from here you can take a day trip out to Apo Island Marine Reserve, which is home to a turtle sanctuary. Don your masks and fins because this is an incredible opportunity to swim with wild sea turtles amidst coral reefs and other tropical fish. Once back on dry land, make the most of Dumaguete’s nightlife and head out for a delicious meal by the coast and find some local bars to cheers to a great day of exploring.

Image: Ella Davis

Oslob (Cebu) and Sumilon Island

Underwater shot of a whale shark. Image: iStock/MaxTopchij

After partying the night away in Dumaguete, opt for a late-afternoon ferry back to Cebu Island and head for the area of Oslob. Take a lazy afternoon plodding along the beach and eat an al-fresco barbecue at the side of the road with the locals. Set your alarms for an early rise, because it is here that you have the opportunity to witness up-close one of the most majestic and gentle giants of the ocean: the whale shark. Just a few metres out from the shoreline, these gargantuan creatures feed from fishermans boats. Teams of tourists opt to take to the water to swim alongside the largest fish in the sea; but travelers should be mindful that even though this is part of the shark’s natural migration route, they tend to stick around here because they are being fed. Whether you decide to swim with these creatures or not, one thing is for sure – they deserve our utmost admiration and respect. Once you’re out of the water and have overcome the sheer awesomeness of what you’ve just witnessed, take a short taxi ride to the Kawasan Falls; a natural waterpark of waterfalls, pools, rafts and jungle terrain. Receive a ‘waterfall massage’ under the powerful spray of the falls, or thrill-seekers can opt to cliff jump into the turquoise lagoons below.

Kawasan Falls. Image: Ella Davis

For one final day of relaxation, Sumilon Island can easily be reached from Oslob by small private boat. Sumilon is famed for its white sandbar that is unearthed during low tide and the surrounding crystal clear waters that are perfect for a relaxing swim. This is a slice of paradise if ever we saw one. 

Sumilon Island. Image: Getty/Jacob Maentz

Cebu City

A bus ride back to Cebu City brings us to the end of this short island hopping tour around the central islands of the Philippines. Once you’re back in the bustling city centre, we highly recommend indulging in one final meal to round-off this sensational sojourn around what is ultimately one of the most beautiful countries we’ve encountered. For delicious seafood fare, head to STK ta bai! at Paolito’s Seafood House; be sure to try the crab curry – it’s sublime!