Cover Also known as the “Happy Island”, Catanduanes is home to verdant rolling hills like the scenic Binurong Point

There is no doubt that the Philippines is one of the most beautiful countries in the world. This summer, venture off the beaten path and explore its most underrated destinations.


Famous for its Chocolate Hills, the iconic tarsier and colonial churches, Bohol is one of the country’s top tourist destinations. While most people flock to the popular beaches of Panglao, try taking a road trip up north to Anda Peninsula, located 99 kilometres from Tagbilaran Airport. The winding coastal road is scenic and peaceful. To the right you have deep blue waters dotted with colourful bancas, fishermen casting their nets, hopeful for a good catch. To the left, are quaint picturesque towns sandwiched between lime-green rice paddies and lush verdant hills. The drive alone is special. Quinale Beach is a long stretch of pure white sand that melds into clear blue waters.

Mostly known only to locals, it’s quiet and pristine. Not too far away are secluded coves and bays from which you can take a boat to go dolphin watching. Lamanoc Island offers a unique and spiritual experience. After a short stroll on bridges through a mangrove forest, a canoe will take you across to the mystical island. Lamanoc boasts several large caves, some of which are adorned with primitive art and ancient burial jars and coffins dating back to pre-colonial times. The Shaman’s Cave is still sacred to the locals, where once a year, the babaylan performs his ritual offerings. If you are looking for an off the beaten path experience, Anda is an excellent choice, with the right balance of tropical farniente (leisure) and magical discovery.

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2. Bacolod, Negros Occidental—CULINARY HAVEN

Patawhay is probably what would best describe the capital of Negros Occidental. In the local vernacular, it means chill and peaceful, embodied by the relaxed pace of the City of Smiles. True to its other moniker, Sugarlandia, the economy is mostly driven by sugar- cane and its subsidiary businesses, therefore most of the action takes place during harvest season. The rest of the year is dedicated to the favourite pastime of café and cucho-cucho—coffee and gossip. Most locals will meet at different terraces, coffee shops, restaurants and bars throughout the day to stop and chat with their friends and relatives. Bacolodians take their leisure time and their meals very seriously. Most restaurants and cafés are family-run businesses, where dishes are made with love from secretly guarded, abuelita-created recipes, making it a prime destination for a fantastic food trip.

From savoury delicacies like the finger-licking chicken inasal and the comforting batchoy to sweet delights such as napoleones, there is something for everyone to enjoy. Take the opportunity to experience a glimpse of the glamourous days of yore by visiting some of the stunning heritage homes of the great plantation dons. Balay ni Tana Dicang, Daku Balay and The Ruins are great examples. Bacolod is also home to the vibrant MassKara Festival. Every October, the city is bursting with colour and alive with music and dance as people celebrate and parade in bright, kaleidoscopic costumes on the streets. For those looking to combine a city visit with the beach, one can explore the nearby islands of Sicogon (in northern Iloilo), Lakawon or Danjugan for some white sand beaches, island hopping and glamping.

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3. Catanduanes—THE HAPPY ISLAND

Situated in the Bicol region, east of Camarines Sur across the Maqueda Channel, the island province is a spectacular destination for nature lovers with its windswept hills, craggy cliffs and deep emerald seas. Binurong Point is a striking landscape of grassy stone ridges that plummet into the ocean, looking very much like a scene out of Wuthering Heights. The circumference of the island is lined with gorgeous white sand beaches and hidden coves and lagoons with stunningly clear waters. Tuwad-Tuwadan Lagoon and Soboc Cove are both worth the excursion. Further inland, nestled in the rainforest, are stunning waterfalls such as Solong Falls and Hicming Falls.

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Catanduanes is a hotspot for biodiversity with a plethora of endemic and rare species both in flora and fauna. For a more active visit, one can surf at Puraran Beach, home to the “Majestic” break, dive in one of the numerous coral gardens, go spelunking in the island’s extensive cave system, or plan an excursion to the paradisical Palumbanes Island. A true Robinson Crusoe experience of unspoilt, undeveloped beauty is found one hour and a half by boat from the port of Caramoran. One thing is certain, Catanduanes is a treat for all those who love nature and seek an authentic and immersive natural escape.


South of the Philippines, the Zamboanga Peninsula is a unique underrated destination that is rich in culture, history and culinary delights compounded with some incredible natural features, notably the world-famous pink sand beaches of Santa Cruz Island. A melting pot of cultures, it is home to several indigenous tribes— Subanon, Balanguingui and Tausug to name a few, the pan-Asian maritime Sama-Bajau—and a deeply rooted Hispanic heritage. Zamboanga’s Spanish heritage is most embodied by the local vernacular, Chavacano, an amalgam of several languages and dialects. It is said to be based on 80 per cent Spanish mixed with Tagalog, Hiligaynon, Portuguese and Italian. Numerous colonial buildings dotting the city earned for Zamboanga the reputation as Asia’s Latin City. Fort Pilar is the second largest fort in the country, only next to Intramuros and Fort Santiago. Built-in the 17th century by the Spaniards as a military defence fortress, it is now operated by the National Museum of the Philippines and is a must for visitors.

Outside the eastern wall is a Marian shrine dedicated to Our Lady of the Pillar, the patroness of the city. Take an excursion to the Yakan Weaving Village to experience the local indigenous techniques and support the master weavers and their mission to perpetuate their age-old craft. The local cuisine is a wonderful example of the unique Hispano-Malay melting pot culture. Satti is a grilled skewered meat dish akin to satay, served with ta’mu or chilli sauce and commonly eaten for breakfast. Curacha or the local spanner crab is also a local delicacy that is not to be missed. Try it grilled with the famous Alavar sauce, a Chavacano recipe made with crab roe and spices. Lastly, for the perpetual sun seeker, one can take a boat trip to Once Islas or Eleven Islands, blessed with natural pools, imposing rock formations and powdery white sands amidst crystal clear blue waters.

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There is a legend that a long time ago, a tremendous earthquake and a furious storm simultaneously wrought havoc in the region. Amidst the thunder and lighting, a mysterious island rose from the depths of the ocean. True to its moniker, “The Island of Fire” is known to be the home of witches, shamans and mystical creatures. Once shunned by local tourists out of fear, today Siquijor is gaining popularity, enchant- ing people with its natural beauty. The small coralline island is perfect for those wanting to embrace slow living by biking around the island, enjoying its coast-line of mostly white shores. Snorkelling is accessible by just jumping into the water, but avid divers can explore a coral wall that runs from Paliton Beach to Tubod Beach. Waterfalls and lagoons are hidden amidst lush green foliage, revealing itself to those willing to trek into the heart of the island.

Cambugahay Falls is the most popular, with three tiers and a sparkling turquoise swimming hole. The island’s mystical practices are still alive and strong, best embodied in the healing festival celebrated once a year. Most of the time, however, you can trade potions for alcoholic libations featuring a cocktail umbrella. Small boutique tourism has evolved organically, making Siquijor the perfect place for a magical escape. 

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6. Dumaguete, Negros Oriental—LAIDBACK LOCALE

Known as the “City of Gentle People”, the historic seaport juxtaposes cultural heritage with sumptuous food and a stunning natural environment. Walk in the footsteps of National Hero Jose Rizal and contemplate life as you admire the sea from Rizal Boulevard. Visit several stunning colonial churches and buildings such as the belfry and the town hall. The capital of Negros Oriental is also a vibrant student town, with a relaxed yet fun allure best embodied by the number of seaside bars and restaurants. Achingly fresh seafood delicacies such as diwal or angel clams have made Dumaguete popular among food trippers. It is also a perfect destination for people with sweet tooth.

Indulge in delicious homemade buttery sugared confections such as Sans Rival or Silvanas or try the local version of suman, budbod kabog made with millet instead of rice. For those looking for a more active holiday, you can hike Mt Talainis which towers behind the city, venture out to Bais to go sailing with dolphins and whales, or dive deep underwater and explore one of the country’s most rich and diverse coral reefs around Apo Island. The latter has over 650 types of documented fish species and 400 types of coral and is accessible to both beginner and advanced divers. If languishing under the sun with a cocktail in hand is more your speed, Dumaguete offers a few laidback luxe options nestled in palm-lined white shores or perched over the turquoise sea.

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