One of the most disappointing travel experiences is to arrive at a ‘secluded paradise’ only to discover it’s swarming with people. Although it requires more work and a little bravery, I believe seeking out lesser-known slices of heaven is more than worth it.
With a number of islands on this list located on what is quite a handy travel route to and from each other, I hope this guide will help you to get off the beaten track and explore these hidden gems within the Philippines.
1. Ticao, Masbate
I can only describe Ticao as my personal definition of paradise. With a total land area of 129 square miles, this humble island has so much to offer that it’s likely you’ll extend your stay to take advantage of the adventure on your doorstep. For the mermaids among us, Ticao presents the incredible opportunity to both snorkel with the gentle giants of the ocean, whale sharks, and undertake an advanced dive to the breathtaking Manta Bowl. This area is comprised of five different dive sites, and is an established cleaning and feeding station for the majestic manta ray. Depending on weather conditions the peak month for both of these experiences overlaps in April. Taking a day trip to Halea Nature Park from the northern tip of Ticao island is also an absolute must. An environmental conservation fee of 25 pesos per person and a ‘leave no trace’ policy ensures the park truly is a pristine haven.
The most convenient way to get to Ticao from Manila is to fly to Masbate City with an airline such as Cebu Pacific Air or Philippine Airlines for around 40 USD. From there make your way to Masbate City Port and board the ferry to Lagundi, Ticao Island.
2. Kalanggaman Island, Leyte
Kalanggaman Island is about as simple as it gets. With the two beautiful sandbars being the island’s main, and arguably only attractions, you should arrive here ready to entirely switch off and enjoy the sound of nature. There are some small cottages available to rent for around 250-500 pesos per day, as well as the option of camping out for roughly the same price. There is no electricity on the island, only solar powered string lights that provide some light at nighttime, and no restaurant; all visitors are responsible for bringing their own food and water for the duration of their stay.
There are tour package options available to take the stress out of planning your journey, but you can easily save money by doing this yourself. From Ormoc, Leyte take a van towards Palompon Port. At the port you will need to register with the Department of Tourism for 150 pesos, and you can share the price of a boat to Kalanggaman with the other travellers who have registered. If you are lucky and your boat is at capacity (around 20 people) you can expect to pay just 180 pesos per person.
3. Malapascua, Daanbantayan
Close to Kalanggaman lies its big brother island, Malapascua. With more creature comforts and a mix of locals and expats, spending time here is a great way to experience a more heavenly version of the typical backpacker paradise.
The main pull of this island is its proximity to the easily accessible Cebu, it’s chilled out vibe and the beautiful balance between deserted island and modern world. The diving on Malapascua is also breathtaking. The coral blocks and vegetation at many local sites make for great muck dives, with plenty of opportunity for macro divers to get their cameras out too.
Even more exciting is the abundance of thresher sharks in the area with schools offering dive packages that take you right to where the action is. This has been described as some of the best diving in the Philippines, so enthusiasts won’t want to miss out. For travellers who prefer to stay on dry land, this island has something that many others on this list are in short supply of – bars. So you can enjoy this secret island getaway with a cocktail in your hand. Aim to visit between February and May to catch the dry season and calm waters.
You can reach the island via Cebu by landing at Mactan Airport and travelling with bus companies Ceres and Rough Riders from the North Bus Terminal. After a three and a half to five hour journey you will reach the port, Maya, from which you can catch a boat to Malapascua. If you are already on the island to the north, Masbate, you will also need to pass through Maya’s port to reach Malapascua. You can do this by catching a ferry from either Cawayan or Cataingan, with a roughly six hour long journey.
4. Apo Island, Negros Oriental
If you’re travelling in a group that can be a little hard to please Apo Island has a little something for everybody whilst still maintaining that secluded, secret paradise feel. You can hike, dive or spend all day on the beach. The island’s slow paced vibe is all the more delightful given that it’s relatively easy to get to, being so accessible from the popular island of Cebu. To make the most of your trip, why not take the longer route and land at Mactan Airport to enjoy all that Cebu City has to offer, before making your way to the South Bus Terminal. Board a bus to Liloan Port and then a ferry to Dumaguete. Apo is so small that Dumanguete is a necessary stop off point. There are a fair amount of tours running day trips to the little island so the easiest way to get there is to purchase a one way ticket, or organise to hop back on with the boat within the next few days when it returns with the day trippers.
Electricity only runs for around three hours in the evening so prepare to be jumping in the sea to cool off every five minutes. Although even with air con you’re likely to spend most of your time in the ocean anyway, as the absolute highlight of Apo Island is the abundance of friendly sea turtles in even shallow water. Hire a snorkel and head to the south-west coast near Liberty Resort for a surefire encounter, or opt to scuba dive for an even more intimate turtle experience.
5. Camiguin, Northern Mindanao
The volcanic island of Camiguin is home to some awesome activities, all based in the beautiful surrounding nature. With hot and cold springs, a sunken cemetery, and the chance to visit the tiny neighbouring island of Mantigue for the day, there’s just enough to keep always-on-the-move travellers content. An absolute must while visiting the island is hiking up the main mountain of Camiguin, Mt Hibok-Hibok, to experience stunning views and a refreshingly cool micro-climate. There’s even the option of hiring a guide and leaving in the early hours of the morning to beat the heat, and learn about the animals and plants you pass along your way.
The island has it’s own little airport in Mambajao, meaning that it’s possible to fly directly from Cebu City with Cebu Pacific. There’s also the option of arriving from Butuan or Cagayan de Oro and making your way to Balingoan Port, to catch a two-hour long ferry ride that departs almost every hour from 5am to 5pm.
6. Palaui, Cagayan Valley
This island is truly for the brave traveller intent on quenching that thirst for wild, barely touched land. The island can be described as a community based eco-tourism adventure that places the health of the land and local people before tourism comfort. There is no electricity at night and only solar power available during the day. With gorgeous fresh seafood available, a beautiful hike to the 19th century Spanish lighthouse, and hidden waterfalls, you’ll leave the island feeling healthy and grounded.
The journey to Palaui is a little challenging, starting by landing in Tuguegarao City via plane and travelling around four hours to St Ana by van. From there it’s a 45 minute boat journey to the island with some rather large waves, however the local boatmen are very trusted and the coastguard will cancel departures if the conditions are questionable. Palaui Island has the potential to quench that thirst for genuine, rugged nature off the backpacker trail, so the destination is well worth the journey.
7. Jomalig, Quezon
Similar to Palaui, this island is not for the lazy backpacker who’s only partially committed. There is a word you can definitely use to describe this island; pure. Lingayen Cove will make your heart melt with its incredibly clear turquoise waters and long strip of golden, untouched sand. Climb up onto the rocks for a killer view that will make you never want to leave. The area of the island lovingly dubbed by visitors as Little Boracay shows more signs of civilisation, but only a few more. There is a 30 pesos entrance fee onto the beach, and you’re likely to see no more than a few other groups of tourists during your visit. For those who want to totally unwind without the distractions of everyday life, Jomalig could be the place for you.
If your journey starts in Manila seek out the Raymond Bus Company on Legarda Street who offer daily trips to Real, Quezon. On arrival in Real ask a tricycle driver to take you to Ungos Port where boats depart for Jomalig (pronounced Hu-ma-lig). Expect a five hour boat journey for around 400 pesos with a very simple meal included, and to then pay 170 pesos to step foot on to the island.
About the author
Thea is a British adventurer with a particular interest in the strange and unusual. Her life goals include spending more time in the sea than on land, and eating enough pineapple that she eventually turns in to one.