Coastal Pleasures of the Philippines

The Philippines are generating a buzz as a less-discovered alternative to southeast Asian beach hotspots like Bali and southern Thailand. It is not hard to see why. The country has more than 7000 islands, most boasting at least an idyllic beach or two. It is easy to navigate — English is widely spoken — and increasingly affordable to get to, as regional budget airlines add Manila to their route maps. With such a wealth of coastal pleasures on offer, it can be tricky to pick your spot. Here are a few areas to hone in on.

Southern Negros: If travellers want to sample several world-class beaches in one short trip, they need look no further. Fly into Dumaguete, the regional capital of Negros Oriental, and you are within an hour of Apo Island, a top dive site with backpacker-friendly accommodation on an utterly isolated stretch of sand – escapist paradise Tambobo Bay, and dreamy Siquijor Island, rung with bone-white beaches and exceptional value accommodation. Further afield one will feel as though they have reached the end of the Earth at Sugar Beach.

El Nido: The dramatic limestone formations of the Bacuit Bay Archipelago keep the postcard vendors in business, but unless you are a serious rock-climber you will spend more time on the archipelago’s beaches. Most are within an easy pump boat ride of this laid-back North Palawan town. And there are enough that you can usually find one to have all to yourself.

Boracay: The crown jewel of Philippine beaches has experienced a surge in popularity as travel publications rush to add it to their world’s-top-beaches lists. Boracay’s 5 km signature White Beach has been dropping jaws for decades. All that publicity has spurred development and turned Boracay into a big-time party beach. Still, the island remains mellow compared to regional luminaries like Kuta Beach and Ko Samui, and you can escape the crowds without too much trouble. Kite surfers love it too.

Cebu: This banana-shaped island has accessibility going for it — international flights from Asian hubs like Hong Kong and Singapore fly right into the Visayas’ largest city, Cebu City. Near the airport on Mactan Island one can find a variety of high-end, familyoriented resorts such as Shangri-La’s Mactan Resort & Spa. Travelers can also travel three hours by car to the northern tip of the island, where pump boats make the 10-minute trip to dreamy Malapascua Island, home to blinding-white Bounty Beach and, for scuba divers, thresher sharks.

Pagudpud: Easy to access it is not, but those with a sense of adventure are well advised to travel to this town on the northern tip of the Philippines’ main island, Luzon. The highway up here is the Philippines’ answer to the Great Ocean Road or the Pacific Coast Highway. It zigzags around dramatic headlands and skirts seemingly endless beaches such as Blue Lagoon, where Luzon’s whitest sand and bluest water conspire majestically to be situated in one place.

Siargao: It is best known as the Philippines’ top surf spot, but an all-day loop around this island brings visitors up close and personal with beaches equal to any in the South Pacific. Cloud Nine is ground zero for surfers, but to escape the crowds one needs to head offshore to any number of uninhabited islets, or drive up to Burgos near Siargao’s northeastern tip, where coconut palms back a three-kilometer crescent of powdered soft sand, and perfect waves peel off in several directions in the bay. Other good bets for beaches include Baler (Luzon), Anda (Bohol), Coron (Palawan) and Camiguin Island (off Mindanao). Just check out a map of the country, point to an island, and go. You will inevitably find a lonely stretch of sand that few tourists have trod on before — your own private patch of paradise.