Island adventures are the main activities in the Philippines
The Philippines is rightfully known for its beaches, but the country doesn’t just find an isolated piece of sand and sinks into sun-kissed amazement. The more than 7,000 islands of the Philippines offer a range of more adventurous activities that can increase the heartbeat of any adrenaline junkie. Here are half a dozen ideas for finding the right island for your adventure.
Luzon for trekking
The rugged terrain of all stripes makes the Philippines’ large main island a delight for hikers. The trekking is best in the mountains of the northern Cordillera. Settle into peaks such as 2922m Mt Pulag or Mt Napulawan (2642m) overnight and wake up to watch the sun rise over the sea of clouds – a magical spectacle. Safe driving and camping gear before setting off and dressing warmly, with temperatures dropping to the single digits. Trekking among the rice terraces recognized by UNESCO in Banaue, in the province of Ifugao, is an experience not to be missed; while the remote Mountain Province and Kalinga Province are ideal places to visit hill tribes on village-to-village excursions.
South of Manila, volcanoes are the name of the game. With its perfect cone, Mount Mayon (2462m) in southeastern Luzon is the headliner. ‘Mayon’ means ‘beautiful’ in the local dialect, but it is an angry and active beauty. If it’s a rumbling or threatened by a typhoon, don’t climb it, as there have been accidents – consider all the warning and exclusion zones that are in place (see the Philippine Institute of Volcanology and Seismology, phivolcs.dost.gov.ph, for the volcano notices). Numerous additional volcanoes line the nine-hour route between Manila and Mount Mayon along the Ring of Fire.
Luzon has loads of additional adventures – surfing on the east and west sides of the island, wakeboarding, mountain biking, white water rafting and kayaking, to name a few. North Luzon Outdoor Center in hippie paradise Sagada, Mountain Province, organizes rafting and other tours in the Cordillera.
Samar for caving
Any mention of the island of Samar is usually preceded by the word “robust”. Surfers speak with awe of the barely accessible waves on the east coast, while the dense inland forests offer a rare opportunity to spot the Philippine national bird, the endangered Philippine Eagle. But caving is by far the biggest attraction.
Trexplore operated tours on Catbalogan will blow your mind. Don your canvas spelunking suit and helmet equipped with a calcium carbide gas lamp and follow your tour leader into the abyss. For the next five hours, you will swim through underground streams, diving into karst tunnels and crawling under low-sloping stalactites. It is the latest Indiana Jones adventure. Multi-day underground odysseys are also available.
Mindoro for diving
The Philippines is well known as a first-class dive destination, but the best dive spot in the country is somewhat off the radar of the average visitor. It would be Apo Reef, a glorious, mostly sunken atoll just two hours off Mindoro’s west coast.
While most of the Philippines is known for its colorful (macro) marine life, Apo Reef is a smorgasbord of macro life and larger creatures. On some dives you may lose track of how many sharks, rays and sea turtles you find. For years it has been difficult to access Apo Reef due to the poor roads leading to the main departure town, Sablayan. Now smooth highways and improved air links from Manila to nearby San Juan mean you can depart Manila in the morning and be on the cliff at noon with Apo Reef Club, an hour north of San Juan.
Mindanao for rafting
While some parts of Mindanao are off-limits due to safety concerns, the northern part of the largest island in the Philippines is considered safe – not to mention scenically gorgeous and ripe for adventure.
While the great rapids are found in North Luzon, the rafting window is short. In the northern city of Mindanao, Cagayan de Oro, it is possible to raft the Cagayan River all year round on rapids that can reach Class IV. Equal parts are exciting and scenic, and longer trips involve lunch and a get-together with the fantastic Filipino rafting guides – CDO Bugsay River Rafting is one of several operators. From Cagayan de Oro it is only a couple of hours of sailing to another wonderland, Camiguin dotted with volcanoes.
Palawan for sea kayaking
Palawan is best known for the spectacular limestone formations of the Bacuit Archipelago off El Nido, but several hours north of El Nido by boat is Coron’s adventure paradise. Divers flock to the area to explore several dozen WWII wrecks at Coron Bay, near Busuanga Island. The bay is dotted with idyllic islands that offer shelter and good camping spots and some of the best snorkelling in the Philippines. Sea kayaks can spend up to a week hopping around the islands here, fishing for their food and basking in the serene aura of isolation. Tribal Adventures has quality kayaks and can tailor a trip to your taste and skill level.
Bohol for stand up paddle boarding
The South Visayan island of Bohol is best known for its diving, but has recently emerged as the place to try a newer type of activity: stand-up paddle boarding (SUP). The emerald green Loboc River flows through a deep canyon shrouded in tropical forest – exposed in the early morning when the rich birdlife is most active. One way upstream of a waterfall provides a perfect backdrop for SUP yoga, which sees practitioners going through yoga poses on their boards.