Published on February 12, 2020
PHILIPPINES: Beach Connoisseur’s Delight
by Dave Stamboulis
Beach lovers can rejoice when coming to the Philippines. With 7,641 islands, not only is there a beach for everyone, but you could probably spend a lifetime or three here and still never discover them all. Whether you’re after suave resorts, empty stretches of white sand, or for that matter even black or pink sand, the Philippines delivers on all fronts. Start packing your swimsuit now.
Even a dense book a la War & Peace wouldn’t do justice to the number of sandy getaways on tap here, and on a single web page, it’s almost pointless even trying, but here’s an attempted overview of some of the best, most unique, most famous, and most hidden spots to put on your bucket list.
Starting in the far north, sleepy Luzon flies way under the radar when it comes to beach escapes, and yet offers a wealth of attractions. Pagudpud and its beautiful Saud Beach and nearby Maira-ira Beach, known as the Blue Lagoon, lead the way, offering powdery white sand, turquoise water, overhanging coconut palms, and even an emerging vibrant surf scene and dolphin-watching trips during certain months. Nicknamed “Boracay of the North,” Pagudpud also boasts sleepy fishing villages, hundreds of windmills turning in the sunset, and a glimpse at what Boracay might have looked like a few decades ago. Set in the charming Ilocos Norte Province, you can spend your days here tanning, saunter through colonial UNESCO Heritage Vigan, and eat from the Philippines most distinctive cuisine. Speaking of Vigan, just outside the charming town you’ll also find the strange black sand beach of Mindoro. The black color of the sand here is due to a heavy concentration of magnetite that is brought down during the rains by rivers. Further south in the Bicol region near Legazpi, you’ll find Santo Domingo, the country’s most famed black sands, where volcanic erosion from Mount Mayon’s ground lava creates moody dark beaches that contrast with the lush tropical green surroundings.
Moving further south into the Visayas, comprised of islands like Bohol, Negros, Iloilo, and Cebu are where you’ll find a mass concentration of some of the country’s most picture postcard-worthy beaches, not to mention plenty of quieter escapes. Vintage white sand tropical is the dominant theme here. Everyone knows world renowned Boracay and its jewel in the crown White Sand Beach, which certainly is not an escape from the crowds. However, after being closed for half a year for a much needed cleanup, you can now see Boracay in a more eco-friendly mode (you’ll need advance resort reservations in order to be let in, and the beachfront bars have all been moved well back from the white sand).
Other gems here include sleepy Panglao Island, home to brilliant Dumaluan Beach that offers one of the best diving spots in Southeast Asia, and you’ll also find plenty of reefs and diving off of Moalboal’s White Beach on Cebu. A perennial favourite amongst backpackers, beachcombers, and lovers of all things tropical is Malapascua Island, just off Cebu’s northern tip. Eco-tourists flock here as well, to swim with whale sharks off of the idyllic island’s Bounty Beach. If you really want to get away from it all, Sugar Beach, so named for its sugary-brown sand, is an old-school escape-the-mainstream retreat, accessed via Sipalay in southern Negros, and only reachable by boat.
Heading further south towards massive Mindanao Island, jump off to the east to visit the teardrop-shaped Siargao, a small island home to Cloud Nine Reef, the Philippines best surf break, as well as to plenty of powdery paradise bays such as found at Burgos up in Siargao’s northeast.
The southern parts of Mindanao and Zamboanga have gotten a bad rap over the years due to terrorism and lack of security, but Great Santa Cruz Island, just off of Zamboanga City has been making a comeback after being named one of the 21 Best Beaches in the World by National Geographic. It’s famed for being home to one of the only pink sand beaches on the planet, with a shoreline made up of eroded red organ pipe coral that has been mixed with sand by surf erosion over the years, giving the entire beach a pink coralline sheen. Another southern gem to explore is Camiguin, a small isle just off the Mindanao north coast that has more volcanoes per kilometer than any other island in the world. Hikers and explorers will love this nature-filled paradise, and if you want to see the most beautiful strip of sand in the Philippines, head to White Island, an uninhabited sand strip set off Camiguin’s northern shore that boasts soft powdery sand surrounded by turquoise water, with views of Camiguin’s volcanoes in the background.
Last on the list, but most certainly not least, is Palawan, one of the world’s most beach-saturated places on earth. Between El Nido in the north and its northern neighbour Coron Island, you’ll find more emerald and azure water, blinding white sand, and epic photo ops than perhaps anywhere else in Asia. Highlights include three-kilometre Nacpan Beach, the pristine Seven Commandos Beach (reached by boat tour only), and the crystal clear water Banol Beach found on Coron. All the small islands in the Bacuit Archipelago off the El Nido coast can be explored by kayak, and offer superb opportunities to have a slice of white sand paradise all to yourself.
With so much choice, the biggest question in Philippine beach planning may be, “When am I coming back?!”