Escape the City: My Top 9 Places for the Adventurous Traveler in the Philippines – including coffins, crater lakes, underground rivers, mini monkeys and throwbacks to the Chinese

The Philippines is often know for WW11, the crystal beaches of Boracay, and the loud and boisterous nightlife of Manila. But the more than 7,000 islands that make up the nation have a whole lot more to offer, especially for the adventurous type who enjoys trekking, diving, snorkeling and general wandering on the road less traveled.

Here are my top 9 places to explore outside of Manila for a truly authentic and epic trip:

Mt. Mayon – The World’s Most Perfectly Formed Volcano

Although the Philippines has a multitude of breathtaking hikes, Mt. Mayon stands out. The perfectly cone-shaped volcano is the most active in the country and rises more than 8,000 feet (2,400 meters) above sea level. Hiking up this cone takes 2 days, passing grasslands and ravines on the way up to the summit for 360-degree views of surrounding peaks and the nearby archipelago.

Want to book a knowledgeable local guide and travel with a group? I suggest the social enterprise – Trail Adventours. Baldon Baldon

Mount Pinatubo – Crater Lake

The devastating story of Mount Pinatubo’s eruption in 1991 has come to a peaceful close, leaving a striking landscape for the Filipinos to enjoy, that is completely different from Mt. Mayon’s cone. Valleys and boulders created from the lava cover a wild area before coming upon the crown – its crater lake. Steep cliffs rise from its rims and depending on the season, it changes color from turquoise to sapphire.

Trail Adventours offers a day hike that is suitable for beginner hikers that I highly recommend as well.

Mount Pinatabo

Flickr – Eric Goldberg

Malapascua Island – Total Seclusion

Although many guide books may tell you to head to Donsol to swim with whale sharks, smaller more remote islands will ensure you see more marine life. Malapascua Island is an isolated locale made up of quiet fishing villages and is ideal for diving – in fact, it’s the only place in the world to spot thresher sharks on a regular basis, as well as manta rays and hammerheads. Sadly, this beats the increasing chance that Donsol will not meet your expectations.  And, the photography opportunities alone are worth a trip to this secluded escape.

Apo Island – Sea Turtles

Next on the list for diving and snorkeling, but certainly not least is Apo Island. Apo is rated as one of the top diving destinations in the country. It is also extremely good for snorkeling with sea turtles. I love the fact that it is a protected marine reserve – so you know that your impact will be lessened here.

Palawan – The World’s Longest Subterranean River

The Archipelago of Palawan provides a sort of ying and yang experience – serenity and adventure. Journey along the underground river of Puerto Princesa to view karst formations and fluttering bats, then retire to El Nido, a charming town squished between towering limestone cliffs and a clear bay.


Thinkstock/istock/ ViewApart

Bohol – Chocolate Hills and Tiny Monkeys

Over 1,268 symmetrical and almost-identically shaped mounds cover the interior of the island of Bohol. These strange formations (now protected as a UNESCO World Heritage Site) are a certainly a site to behold. While you’re in Bohol, make a stop at the tarsier sanctuary where you can see several of the world’s smallest monkey species relaxing in the trees. I suggest staying at Bohol Organic Bee Farm on the sea, for excellent organic food and lovely accommodations.

Flickr- Paolo Martini

Flickr- Paolo Martini

Batad and Baneau – Ancient Lands

High up in the Philippine Cordillas mountain range are the indigenous Infuao tribes in Batad and Baneau. They have shaped their landscapes for thousands of years – cutting their rice terraces into the mountainside. On a trek in this area, you will encounter local tribes that have retained their traditions for generations. Check out Remote Lands co-founder Jay Tindall’s story of his encounter with the Ifugao – his pictures are wonderful.

If summit hiking is more your style: The Bakun Trio (which includes Mt. Kabunian, Mt. Tenglawan, and Mt. Lobo)  is also thrilling… so I guess I will squeeze it into this list as well as a side note to this area!

Sagada – Above and Below Ground

Located just north of Baneau, Sagada is sometimes missed by tourists after their brief “photo stop” at the rice paddies. The mystery of Sagada is seen both above and below ground. High up on the cliffs – the mountainside Ifugao people have for thousands of years hung their deceased in coffins suspended for all passerby’s to see. The coffins are also often seen at the openings of the over 60 caves that lie beneath Sagada. The “Cave Connection” is about a three-hour trek between the famous Lumiang and Sumaguing Caves. (I really love Alex and Wonderland’s humorous account of the trip with great photos.)

Flickr - Martin Lewison

Flickr – Martin Lewison

Vigan – Colonial fusions

Every well-rounded active trip should take in the full historical culture. So, after hanging out with the Ifugao tribes, travel further north to Vigan. During the Colonial times, this town prospered because of their gold and beeswax trade with China. Still today, horse-drawn carts pass on cobblestoned streets, and mansions still stand tall long after their glory days. The Mestizo district, meaning “where the Chinese live” has unique Spanish-Chinese colonial architecture that can’t be found elsewhere.

Flickr - kin0be

Flickr – kin0be

Photo Credits (in order):
Feature Photo: paramitaAttribution 2.0 Generic Baldon
Flicker – Eric Goldberg, Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic
Flickr – Allan Ascaño, Attribution 2.0 Generic
Flickr – 
Lisa and AlecAttribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic 
Thinkstock/istock/ ViewApart
Flickr- Paolo Martini, Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic
Flickr – Andrew and Annemarie, Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic
Flickr – Martin Lewison, Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic
Flickr – kin0be, Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic


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