Tourism in the Philippines: 20 Reasons to Visit

With around 7,640 islands, 24 active volcanoes, 182 ethnolinguistic groups, 6 UNESCO Heritage Sites, and 2,000-year-old rice fields, the numbers speak for themselves: the Philippines is a fascinating country with plenty to explore.

Tourists from all over the world come to see the Philippines each year. The nationality most commonly represented by visitors to the Philippines is South Korea, followed by China, the United States, Japan, and Australia.

Tourism in the Philippines

Tourism in the Philippines is an important part of the country’s economy and contributes around 10% to the national GDP.

In 2019, there were 8.26 million foreign tourist arrivals, the highest number the country had seen. That number fell dramatically in the subsequent two years due to the COVID-19 Pandemic, but is expected to rise in the future.

A bar graph describing the number of international tourist arrivals to the Philippines from 2012 to 2021.
Total number of international tourist arrivals to the Philippines from 2012 to 2021, Source: Statista

As detailed in the bar graph above, less than 1.5 million tourists arrived in the Philippines in 2020, and that number dropped to just 160,000 in 2021 — that’s less than 2% of the tourist arrivals in 2019.

The different sectors of the tourism industry in the Philippines have responded to and are recovering from the COVID-19 Pandemic at different rates. In 2020, all types of tourism saw dramatic declines in growth, of which accommodation-related services saw the most dramatic decline.

In 2021, nearly all areas of the Philippine tourism industry saw a positive growth rate; country-specific tourism services had the highest growth rate at 36%, and accommodation services for visitors had the only negative growth rate at -10.4%.

A graph showing the growth rates of various types of tourism in the Philippines during 2019, 2020, and 2021.
Annual growth rate of the gross value added generated from the tourism industry in the Philippines from 2019 to 2021, by sector, Source: Statista

20 Reasons to Visit the Philippines:

1. Manila

A view of the Manila skyline at night.

Manila is the capital of the Philippines and the largest city in the country, with a population of 1.78 million. It’s located on Luzon, the largest island in the country.

As a country with one of the longest coastlines in the world, the Philippines may be better known for its beaches than its cities. But that doesn’t mean visitors to the country should overlook the vibrant capital of the Philippines. It is the second-most populous city in the country and an important economic and cultural center.

For tourists interested in shopping opportunities, Manila is the place to be in the Philippines. Divisoria in Tondo is a shopping center with several malls in Manila that is referred to as “the shopping mecca of the Philippines.”

Other things to enjoy in Manila are the cosmopolitan cityscape, vibrant nightlife, and landmarks such as the Walled City of Intramuros, the National Museum Complex, and Rizal Park, which is the largest urban Park in Asia.

For visitors looking to avoid too much rain, it’s best to visit between the months of December and May.

2. Banaue Rice Terraces

Bright green rice terraces in the sun at Banaue.

Also located on the island of Luzon are the Banaue Rice Terraces. This incredible site is a favorite among tourists; the rice terraces are thought by some anthropologists to have been constructed by the ancestors of the Igorot people over 2,000 years ago.

The terraces are massive, and construction is thought to have been done mostly by hand, with very little help from equipment. Added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1995, tourists visit the rice terraces for their beauty and history. Today, the terraces are still used to grow rice and other vegetables, but they are also used frequently for tourism purposes.

The best time to visit the Banaue Rice Terraces depends on what you’re looking for. If you’d like to experience the terraces at their greenest, it’s best to arrive during April, May, October, or November.

If you’re interested in seeing the terraces during harvest time when they take on a golden hue, visiting between June and December is your best bet.

3. The Chocolate Hills of Bohol

The Chocolate Hills can be seen extending into the distance near Bohol.

The hills here aren’t actually made of chocolate, but they are a captivating geological formation that attracts tons of tourists each year. The Chocolate Hills consist of at least 1,200 small, cone-shaped hills spread over 50 square kilometers (20 square miles) that get their name for the brownish color they take on during the dry season.

The Chocolate Hills are located on the island of Bohol, and buses or vans can be taken to Carmen Town or Sagbayan. To witness the brownish color that gives the hills their name, it’s best to visit between December and May. April is the month with the least rainfall.

4. Cebu City

Buildings in Cebu City glow with multi-colored lights at night.

Cebu City is the largest city on Cebu Island, the capital of Cebu province, a major travel hub, and a popular tourist destination. In addition to shopping opportunities and interesting nightlife, the city has a rich history as the oldest city in the Philippines. It was the first Spanish settlement in the country and was the country’s first capital.

For history buffs, there are some must-see historical buildings related to Filipino-Spanish heritage: Fort San Pedro, Magellan’s Cross, and the Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral are just a few. The city also hosts museums and a Taoist Temple.

Also see: Political Map of the Philippines

5. Dive With Whale Sharks

A man is snorkeling above a whale shark in the ocean near Donsol.

Whale sharks are some of the most fascinating creatures on earth. They’re giant, can live up to 130 years, and are totally harmless to humans. Don’t let the name throw you, whale sharks feed on plankton and small fish, and their teeth aren’t big enough to actually bite or chew anything.

One of the best places to ethically swim with whale sharks is in Donsol in the Philippines. The best diving with these animals happens between November and May, and you’ll want to book your accommodation ahead of time.

6. Baguio

A hillside covered in trees and colorful buildings in Baguio.

At roughly 1500 meters above sea level, a visit to Baguio can make for an excellent respite from the heat of the lowlands in the Philippines. Famous for its plentiful green spaces and tree-covered hillsides, the city is both peaceful and beautiful. Some of the most popular tourist attractions here include Burnham Park, Wright Park, and the famous Mines View Park.

7. Palawan Island

Limestone rocks come out of turquoise water around Palawan Island.

Simple pictures are enough to entice many travelers to check out Palawan Island, the largest island in the Palawan Province. With magnificent white beaches, pristine forests, and crystal clear waters, it’s one of the most popular destinations in the Philippines. The incredible biodiversity here makes for world-class diving, and accommodation options from budget to luxury cater to all sorts of travelers.

8. Vigan

A street with plants and colorful buildings in Vigan.

Vigan is a tourist town on the western shore of the large island of Luzon overlooking the South China Sea.

This city was founded in the 16th century and features colonial-period architecture, preserving the appearance of the Spanish-founded town. Unlike many other cities, Vigan was not destroyed during World War II. For a glimpse into the past, Vigan is a unique experience.

9. El Nido

Boats can be seen parked in a cove at El Nido.

In the northeastern region of Palawan Island lies El Nido, one of the most famous tourist spots in the Philippines. Partially eroded limestone rocks emerging from picturesque turquoise waters are the trademark attraction at El Nido, in addition to white beaches, colorful coral reefs, and a range of outdoor activities.

El Nido is also the gateway to the Bacuit Archipelago, a cluster of 45 islands and islets boasting unique geological formations.

10. Bacuit Archipelago

Panoramic aerial view of tropical Palawan island with unique Pinagbuyutan island on horizon. El Nido-Philippines Southeast Asia Bacuit archipelago
Panoramic aerial view of tropical Palawan island, part of the Bacuit archipelago.

If island-hopping searching for the best secret beach is your idea of a vacation well spent, the Bacuit Archipelago might be heaven on Earth. There is a variety of island-hopping tour options that run all day and include lunch as well as chances to do some snorkeling.

Of the many islands and islets in the archipelago, some not-to-miss spots are the Big Lagoon, the Small Lagoon, and the islands of Cadlao and Mantiloc.

11. Boracay Island

An aerial view of Boracay Island, a central part of Tourism in the Philippines.

There are so many islands in the Philippines that many of them have yet to be named. But one of the most beautiful, it is widely agreed, is Boracay Island.

There are plenty of reasons to visit this island, and all manner of beach and water activities are available. For some, a particularly exciting feature of the white sand beaches on Boracay is that they never become hot to the touch. This is because the white sand does not contain iron, meaning beach activities can last all day.

12. Puerto Princesa Subterranean River

A boat enters a cave in the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park.

This national park features an underground river and an impressive system of caves, and it has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1999. Tours via paddle boat will get you up close and personal with the caves and river, and a guide will be able to educate you on the rock formations.

13. Mayon Volcano

Tourism in the Philippines: 20 Reasons to Visit 1

If the prospect of being near the most active volcano in the Philippines isn’t too daunting, Mayon Volcano rewards visitors with views of its “perfect cone” and a beautiful surrounding landscape. The volcano is also considered sacred in Philippine Mythology.

Tours around the volcano are a popular way to explore the park, and you can even take an ATV tour where you drive your own ATV to the base of the volcano.

14. Tubbataha Reef

Colorful Tubbataha Reef with fishes and a diver.
Tubbataha Reef

The biodiversity and natural beauty of Tubbataha Reef are responsible for making it a world-class diving location and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Nesting grounds for birds and marine turtles, over 600 species of fish, 100 species of birds, and 13 species of dolphins and whales all contribute to the area’s biodiversity.

Given the reef’s remote location, it’s necessary to arrive via a liveaboard diving boat to dive here, but it’s well worth it.

15. Kayangan Lake

A view of boats parked on Kayangan Lake.

When you’ve had your fill of saltwater or are simply ready to see something magical, a trip to freshwater Kayangan Lake is hard to beat. It’s the most popular destination on Coron Island in the Palawan province because of its beautiful rock formations and clear waters.

The lake must be accessed by boat, and snorkeling, swimming, free diving, and hiking to a viewpoint are popular activities.

16. Pagsanjan Falls

Beautiful Pagsanjan Waterfall in Laguna, Philippines At Summer
Pagsanjan Waterfall

In the province of Laguna are the most famous waterfalls in the Philippines: Pagsanjan Falls. These falls have been popular for a while ⁠— written accounts of taking a boat ride come from as early as 1894.

It’s possible to hike to the top of the falls, but the most popular method of access is by canoe. The waterfall consists of three tiers and is 91 meters (300 feet) tall.

17. Filipino Food

A plate of fresh lumpia.

For many, food is as much a part of traveling as site seeing. In the Philippines, there is plenty of delicious, unique food to try. One thing that makes Filipino cuisine special is that it is a mix of different cultures. It takes inspiration from Japanese, Chinese, Malay, Spanish, and American dishes to create something totally new.

Some of the most popular dishes include lumpia, a Filipino version of egg rolls; Kwek-Kwek, a boiled egg battered in a bright red breading; Siomai, a version of Chinese dumplings; and fish balls of many varieties.

18. Siargao Island

A person paddles a boat down a waterway lined with coconut trees.

Popular with backpackers and surfers alike, Siargao Island is shaped like a teardrop and lined with reefs and white sandy beaches. In addition to being visually beautiful, the island has a developed tourism infrastructure with plenty of bars, restaurants, and shops.

Excellent surfing can be found just off the island, and some large surf competitions happen here in the month of October.

19. Hot Springs

Maquinit Hot Spring in Coron island
Maquinit Hot Spring (Coron Island)

Anyone looking for hot springs to enjoy in the Philippines will be spoiled for choice. There are plenty of fantastic hot springs, some of which are even too hot for bathing. It’s possible to enjoy hot springs as part of a trip to a spa with full services such as massages and saunas, and it’s possible to simply enjoy hot springs in nature.

The Maquinit Hot Spring is a saltwater spring in Coron that doesn’t get too much traffic and is great for a peaceful experience.

20. Hiking

A hiker stands on Mt. Pulag, looking into the distance.
Mt. Pulag

Tourism in the Philippines is mostly centered around beaches and water activities, but there’s more to the island nation. Hikers of any skill level will be able to find extensive trail networks suited to their abilities and preferences.

One of the most easily accessible hikes is Mt. Batulao, which isn’t far from Manila. More advanced hikes (with increasingly beautiful scenery) include Tarak Ridge and Mt. Pulag, the highest peak on the island of Luzon.