2019 bucket list: 6 stunning nature destinations in the Philippines

When it comes to breathtaking natural scenery and beaches, the likes of Palawan and Batanes usually come to mind. The Philippines, though, with its thousands of islands and mountains, has far more to offer.

Here are some not-so-usual destinations you might want to consider for your next nature trip. 

Catanduanes

Once known as the “Land of the Howling Winds” as it lies along the pathway of typhoons, Catanduanes is now known as “Happy Island,” with its windswept rolling green hills, storm-sculpted gray cliffs, and white beaches with waves perfect for surfing.

QUIET BEACH. The province is also blessed with quiet white beaches. Photo by Potpot Pinili

QUIET BEACH. The province is also blessed with quiet white beaches.

Photo by Potpot Pinili

You can start off early in the morning to trek up to Binurong Point, one of the province’s scenic viewpoints in Baras muncipality, then go surfing at Puraran, Catanduanes’ beach famous among international surfers.

VIEWPOINT. Get up early in the morning to trek up to Binurong Point. Photo by Potpot Pinili

VIEWPOINT. Get up early in the morning to trek up to Binurong Point.

Photo by Potpot Pinili

SURFING. Puraran Beach is famous for its waves. Photo by Potpot Pinili

SURFING. Puraran Beach is famous for its waves.

Photo by Potpot Pinili

South of Baras, meanwhile, in Bato municipality, is a picturesque lagoon, or tidal pool, enclosed by rock formations known as Poseidon’s Rock.

BLUE LAGOON. Poseidon'u0080u0099s Rock in Bato stands over a lagoon perfect for swimming. Photo by Potpot Pinili

BLUE LAGOON. Poseidon'u0080u0099s Rock in Bato stands over a lagoon perfect for swimming.

Photo by Potpot Pinili

Meanwhile, up north in Pandan municipality, you will find the bright greens of the Cagnipa Rolling Hills. From there, you can walk to another clear tidal pool perfect for swimming – the Tuwad-Tuwadan Lagoon.

GREEN HILLS. Cagnipa Rolling Hills is perfect for just walking around and taking in the scenery. Photo by Potpot Pinili

GREEN HILLS. Cagnipa Rolling Hills is perfect for just walking around and taking in the scenery.

Photo by Potpot Pinili

TIDAL LAGOON. After walking around the hills, you can go for a dip at the Tuwad-Tuwadan Lagoon. Photo by Potpot Pinili

TIDAL LAGOON. After walking around the hills, you can go for a dip at the Tuwad-Tuwadan Lagoon.

Photo by Potpot Pinili

The above are just some of Catanduanes’ nature spots.

How to get there: Take a flight to Virac. Alternatively, you can take a flight to Legazpi (more flight schedules) then take a van to Tabaco then a ferry to Virac. If going by land, you can ride a bus to Tabaco, Albay from Cubao, Pasay, or Alabang then take a ferry to Virac. From Virac, you can take a multicab or jeepney to neighboring towns like Baras then hire a tricycle or van to take you around. You can also go with a local tour group to cover more ground in less time.

Gigantes and Sicogon Islands, Iloilo

While Iloilo is more known for its century-old churches and other heritage structures, it has its share of scenic beaches, karsts, and lagoons. Gigantes Islands and neighboring Sicogon Island are perfect for a day or more of island hopping tours.

GIGANTES. Iloilo also has stunning beaches and sweeping views. This is Gigantes' iconic view at Cabugao Gamay Island. Photo by Rhea Claire Madarang/Rappler

GIGANTES. Iloilo also has stunning beaches and sweeping views. This is Gigantes' iconic view at Cabugao Gamay Island.

Photo by Rhea Claire Madarang/Rappler

North of Iloilo is Carles municipality, and from this mainland is the jump-off to Islas de Gigantes, or Gigantes Islands. Walk along the white strips of sand, swim in the clear waters of Tangke Lagoon, and don’t forget to go up Cabugao Gamay Island’s rock formation to take in the view of the island. These are just among some of what Gigantes has to offer.

CLEAR LAGOON. Tangke is a crystal-clear lagoon perfect for swimming. Photo by Claire Madarang/Rappler

CLEAR LAGOON. Tangke is a crystal-clear lagoon perfect for swimming.

Photo by Claire Madarang/Rappler

ROCK FORMATIONS. Gigantes has towering karsts amid turquoise waters. Photo by Claire Madarang/Rappler

ROCK FORMATIONS. Gigantes has towering karsts amid turquoise waters.

Photo by Claire Madarang/Rappler

LONG BEACH. Antonia is just one of Gigantes' many beaches. Photo by Claire Madarang/Rappler

LONG BEACH. Antonia is just one of Gigantes' many beaches.

Photo by Claire Madarang/Rappler

Meanwhile, south of Gigantes is Sicogon Island, where you can easily spend the night in one of its rustic resorts. The island has stretches of white sand, hills, and cliffs ideal for leisurely exploring. (READ: 6 underrated, stunning Visayas destinations)

SICOGON. View of the island and one of its rustic resorts. Photo courtesy of Las Islas Travel and Tours

SICOGON. View of the island and one of its rustic resorts.

Photo courtesy of Las Islas Travel and Tours

WHITE BEACH. Just one of Sicogon's fine stretches of sand. Photo courtesy of Las Islas Travel and Tours

WHITE BEACH. Just one of Sicogon's fine stretches of sand.

Photo courtesy of Las Islas Travel and Tours

How to get there: Take a flight to Roxas City (nearer to Carles) or Iloilo City (has more flight schedules). If coming from Roxas City, take a bus or van to Balasan in Estancia, then a tricycle to Bancal Port in Carles, the jump-off to the islands. If coming from Iloilo City, take a jeep to Jaro then a van to Carles. When traveling solo or in small groups, you can go on a joiners’ island hopping tour with a local tour group.

Tinagong Dagat and Danjugan Island, Negros Occidental

At the south of Bacolod, Negros Occidental’s capital, you will find some unspoiled islands and islets.

Tinagong Dagat (Hidden Sea) in Sipalay is a quiet cove fringed with lush green rocky islets. The area can be explored via a wooden bridge. Sipalay’s rocky islets can also be taken in while lounging in a pool at a private resort.

ISLETS AND SEA. Sipalay's rocky green islets dot the blue-green sea. Photo by Alberto Gadia

ISLETS AND SEA. Sipalay's rocky green islets dot the blue-green sea.

Photo by Alberto Gadia

POOL VIEW. The islets can also be enjoyed from a private resort. Photo by Alberto Gadia

POOL VIEW. The islets can also be enjoyed from a private resort.

Photo by Alberto Gadia

Conservation efforts are well and alive in this island salvaged by a group of divers who wanted to protect it from poaching, and environmental awareness camps are regularly held here.

COLORS OF THE SEA. Some of Danjugan Islandu00e2u0080u0099s marine life. Photo by Claire Madarang/Rappler

COLORS OF THE SEA. Some of Danjugan Islandu00e2u0080u0099s marine life.

Photo by Claire Madarang/Rappler

TRANQUILITY. One of the islandu00e2u0080u0099s quiet lagoons. This is perfect for morning walks, and for kayaking. Photo by Claire Madarang/Rappler

TRANQUILITY. One of the islandu00e2u0080u0099s quiet lagoons. This is perfect for morning walks, and for kayaking.

Photo by Claire Madarang/Rappler

LEARNING CENTER. Danjugan Island has regular environmental awareness camps in its learning center u2013 part of it is the roofed facility in this photo. Photo by Claire Madarang/Rappler

LEARNING CENTER. Danjugan Island has regular environmental awareness camps in its learning center u2013 part of it is the roofed facility in this photo.

Photo by Claire Madarang/Rappler

How to get there: Take a flight to Bacolod. From the South Bus Terminal, take a bus to Sipalay (if going to Sipalay first) or to Hinobaan (if going to Danjugan first). From Sipalay City Hall, you just need to take a tricycle to the jump-off to the island hopping tour. Danjugan, meanwhile, is accessible via a ten-minute boat ride from Purok 3, Barangay Bulata, in Cauayan. Tours in Danjugan need to be booked ahead.

Samar

One of the underrated provinces in an already underrated region, Samar is a haven for outdoor adventurers with its numerous caves (the Philippines’ largest is here), rivers, and waterfalls. (READ: Exciting Samar destinations for thrill seekers)

Don’t miss taking a river cruise and exploring the caves and karsts at Sohoton Caves and Natural Bridge Park in Basey municipality. (READ: Pineapples, caves and angel wings)

SOHOTON. Sohoton'u0080u0099s natural stone bridge is massive and can be explored from beneath. Photo by Potpot Pinili

SOHOTON. Sohoton'u0080u0099s natural stone bridge is massive and can be explored from beneath.

Photo by Potpot Pinili

GIANTS. The towering rocks at Sohoton can leave one feeling small. Photo by Potpot Pinili

GIANTS. The towering rocks at Sohoton can leave one feeling small.

Photo by Potpot Pinili

CRYSTALS. Sohoton also has Panhulugan Cave, a cave with cathedral-like caverns and crystal-like formations. Photo by Potpot Pinili

CRYSTALS. Sohoton also has Panhulugan Cave, a cave with cathedral-like caverns and crystal-like formations.

Photo by Potpot Pinili

One of Samar’s most beautiful waterfalls is Lulugayan in Calbiga. At 50 meters, it is one of the widest waterfalls in the Philippines.

LULUGAYAN. This is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Samar and also one of the country's widest. Photo by Potpot Pinili

LULUGAYAN. This is one of the most beautiful waterfalls in Samar and also one of the country's widest.

Photo by Potpot Pinili

For an adrenaline rush, go torpedo-ing in a canoe in Ulot River in Paranas. It is similar to whitewater rafting only you ride and splash through the rapids in a baroto, the local canoe.

ULOT RIVER. Riding a baroto through a quiet part of the river. Photo by Potpot Pinili

ULOT RIVER. Riding a baroto through a quiet part of the river.

Photo by Potpot Pinili

ADRENALINE RUSH. This is where the splashes and the waves come! Itu00e2u0080u0099s not all quiet in the river. Photo by Potpot Pinili

ADRENALINE RUSH. This is where the splashes and the waves come! Itu00e2u0080u0099s not all quiet in the river.

Photo by Potpot Pinili

How to get there: Take a flight to Tacloban. From Tacloban New Bus Terminal and other parts of the city are jeepneys and vans going to Basey and other municipalities in Samar. Each of the adventures above can take at least half a day. For caving adventures, you can contact a local tour group.

Misamis Occidental

An underrated province that is easily accessible via a flight, Misamis Occidental has both mountains and beaches among its picturesque scenery.

Accessible from Ozamiz City is Tangub’s Fertig Hills with its cool air and pine trees, and from the viewpoint Belvedere, the majestic peaks of Malindang’s mountain range, a protected area, can be seen, along with the waters of Panguil Bay.

MAJESTIC. Malindang is a mountain range with dense virgin forests that can be seen from Belvedere viewpoint in Tangub. Photo by Claire Madarang/Rappler

MAJESTIC. Malindang is a mountain range with dense virgin forests that can be seen from Belvedere viewpoint in Tangub.

Photo by Claire Madarang/Rappler

VIEWPOINT. At Belvedereu00e2u0080u0099s viewpoint, Malindangu00e2u0080u0099s mountain range looks gigantic. Photo by Claire Madarang/Rappler

VIEWPOINT. At Belvedereu00e2u0080u0099s viewpoint, Malindangu00e2u0080u0099s mountain range looks gigantic.

Photo by Claire Madarang/Rappler

SUNSET COLORS. The sunset is also worth catching here. Photo by Claire Madarang/Rappler

SUNSET COLORS. The sunset is also worth catching here.

Photo by Claire Madarang/Rappler

Up north from Ozamiz, over two hours away, is Baobawon Island in Plaridel municipality. There's a coconut-lined white beach and a bay with a lush mangrove forest that you will most likely have to yourself when you get there.

BEACH RETREAT. If you want to enjoy a beautiful white beach minus the crowds, Baobawon is the perfect island. Photo by Potpot Pinili

BEACH RETREAT. If you want to enjoy a beautiful white beach minus the crowds, Baobawon is the perfect island.

Photo by Potpot Pinili

RELAX. At Baobawon, you can likely enjoy the beach on your own. Photo by Potpot Pinili

RELAX. At Baobawon, you can likely enjoy the beach on your own.

Photo by Potpot Pinili

MANGROVES. You can also cruise amid the mangrove forest in the island. Photo by Potpot Pinili

MANGROVES. You can also cruise amid the mangrove forest in the island.

Photo by Potpot Pinili

On the way back to Ozamiz, you can soak in a hot kawa herbal bath in Tudela to soothe your muscles after a long tour.

HOT BATH. Relax in hot water infused with flowers and herbs in this kawa bath. Photo courtesy of Potpot Pinili

HOT BATH. Relax in hot water infused with flowers and herbs in this kawa bath.

Photo courtesy of Potpot Pinili

How to get there: Take a flight to Ozamiz. Ride a bus or jeep bound for Tangub City. From here, you can ask a motorbike driver to bring you to Belvedere. Other points in Misamis Occidental like Tudela and Baobawon are also accessible via bus or jeep from Ozamiz. For convenience and to cover more areas in less time, go with a local tour group.

Zamboanga City

From waterfalls to beaches, Zamboanga City has many under-the-radar nature spots.

The city’s Merloquet Waterfalls, arguably one of Mindanao’s most beautiful waterfalls, is a must-visit, with its waters cascading over natural stone steps. The falls can be reached via a trek of less than one kilometer, which is well worth it.

BEAUTIFUL CASCADES. Merloquet Waterfalls is one of Mindanaou00e2u0080u0099s most beautiful waterfalls. Photo by Claire Madarang/Rappler

BEAUTIFUL CASCADES. Merloquet Waterfalls is one of Mindanaou00e2u0080u0099s most beautiful waterfalls.

Photo by Claire Madarang/Rappler

While it is not the country’s only pink beach, Zamboanga City’s pink beach on Sta. Cruz Island is the first that became known in the Philippines. It is also among the world’s 21 best beaches, according to National Geographic.

Here, the sands turn pinkish white because of the crushed red organ pipe coral mixed with the white sand. Also on the island is a clear lagoon fringed with mangrove forests and where stingless jellyfish can be found.

PINK BEACH. Zamboanga City'u0080u0099s Sta. Cruz Islands have a pinkish white hue because of the crushed red organ pipe coral. Photo by Claire Madarang/Rappler

PINK BEACH. Zamboanga City'u0080u0099s Sta. Cruz Islands have a pinkish white hue because of the crushed red organ pipe coral.

Photo by Claire Madarang/Rappler

LAGOON. You can sail in Zamboangau00e2u0080u0099s iconic vinta across Sta. Cruz Island's lagoon fringed with mangrove forests. Photo by Claire Madarang/Rappler

LAGOON. You can sail in Zamboangau00e2u0080u0099s iconic vinta across Sta. Cruz Island's lagoon fringed with mangrove forests.

Photo by Claire Madarang/Rappler

STINGLESS. The lagoon also has stingless jellyfish! Photo by Claire Madarang/Rappler

STINGLESS.

The lagoon also has stingless jellyfish! Photo by Claire Madarang/Rappler

Aside from Sta. Cruz, Zamboanga has other pristine beaches. Once Islas (literally “11 Islands”) was opened as an ecotourism destination last year. Here, you can walk across long stretches of white sand, take a dip in crystal-clear tidal pools, and lounge under coconut trees.

ONCE ISLAS. The island'su0080u0099 abundant white sand. This is Sirommon's sand bar. Photo by Glen Santillan

ONCE ISLAS. The island'su0080u0099 abundant white sand. This is Sirommon's sand bar.

Photo by Glen Santillan

CLEAR WATERS. The island's waters are clean and crystal-clear. This is Baung-Baung Island. Photo by Glen Santillan

CLEAR WATERS. The island's waters are clean and crystal-clear. This is Baung-Baung Island.

Photo by Glen Santillan

ROCK POOL. A crater in these rocks at Bisaya-Bisaya Island make a natural pool perfect for swimming. Photo by Glen Santillan

ROCK POOL. A crater in these rocks at Bisaya-Bisaya Island make a natural pool perfect for swimming.

Photo by Glen Santillan

UP CLOSE. Bisaya-Bisaya Island's waters up close. Photo by Glen Santillan

UP CLOSE. Bisaya-Bisaya Island's waters up close.

Photo by Glen Santillan

How to get there: Take a flight to Zamboanga City. To get to Merloquet Waterfalls, ride a bus or jeep to Vitali from the bus terminal, then a motorbike to Merloquet Waterfalls in Sibulao. To get to Sta. Cruz Island from the city proper, ride a tricycle to the city’s Paseo del Mar, the jump-off for island hopping tours. To get to Once Islas, take a bus to Pagadian or Ipil then get off at Panubigan Crossing then a tricycle to Panubigan terminal. As the destinations have a limit on vistors per day, island hopping tours to Sta. Cruz and Once Islas ideally should be arranged in advance. It is best to ask for the assistance of a local tour group. – Rappler.com

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Claire Madarang is a writer, researcher, and documenter whose work and wanderlust takes her to adventures like backpacking for seven weeks and exploring remote islands and bustling cities alike. Follow her adventures, travel tips, and epiphanies on her blog Traveling Light and on her Instagram.