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Philippines: Off-the-beaten-path backpacking destinations

By Manasee Joshi 11 November 2020

Header image courtesy of @travelphotographer (via Pixabay)

The best part about travelling is coming face to face with the unknown and getting lost in the beauty of a place on the very brink of discovery. Despite the travel boom, our glorious planet never fails to astonish us with untapped destinations that make even the most intrepid travellers swoon in awe-struck delight.

Welcome to the Philippines, one of the archipelagic nations in Southeast Asia with over 7,000 islets under its belt. It’s no wonder that the country is packed with surprises and places of uncharted wilderness with new trails to tread, miles of unexplored sandy strips to cover, and vast swaths of impenetrable mountains that only a few endeavours to scale. Here are some of the best unspoiled spots in the country that will make you want to pack your bags right away, before everyone else catches on.

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Siquijor

For most Filipinos, Siquijor might not be the first thing to come to mind when thinking of off-the-beaten-track vacations, for the island has been long associated with witchcraft, enchantments, and sorcery. Yet its tropical landscape is as authentic, pristine, and dreamy as you can get in the Philippines. This tiny islet located off the Central Visayas region, and rewards its daredevil visitors with idyllic and clear rushing waterfalls that spill out into a turquoise basin below, hidden beaches with interesting rock formations, reef cliffs that not only make for fun climbing spots but also offer shade. 

Siquijor’s beaches are some of the Philippines’ best-kept secrets. Be it the diving-friendly Salagdoong beach, much famed for its out-of-the-world serenity to explore the sunken treasures, or a long drive and an enduring walk through rugged forests to reach Kagusuan beach—these scenic seafronts are where sure to impress.

Lugnason and Cambuhagay falls are, for sure, two of the must-sees on the island if you are looking to relax and calm your mind, body, and soul amid the melody of nature. Surrounded by luxuriant plains covered with green vegetation, these waterfalls are known for their clean and unpolluted water gushing down the heights of the hills, making for one of the prettiest and most exciting swimming spots on the island. You could either do a quick dip or go diving off the large rocks, Tarzan-style. Either way, a unique and fun experience is guaranteed.

While there’s a lot to see and discover on this little island, a visit to Apo Island is a must. The experience of swimming in sync with the graceful strokes of a sea turtle gliding through the deep waters is an awe-inspiring one, and the calm, turquoise water in the sheltered lagoon of Siquijor provides the perfect opportunity to come face to face with these magnificent leatherbacks.

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Batanes

Batanes may be the small, but it makes up for it by being the most scenic province occupying the northernmost part of the Philippines. Jungles and breath-takingly pristine scenery can be found throughout the region, filled with many small villages whose population live a life far different than those in big cities. It’s an area primarily filled with mountainous scenery, scenic lakes, and waterfalls, often set against a backdrop of swirling mists and fog. Here, a majority of accommodation options are modest yet fully equipped homestays, and the best way to get around this rugged landscape is by renting a motorbike.

Without a speck of doubt, your first stop must be Racuh a Payaman. In a place as spectacular as this, nothing can come close to ruining your mood. Here, you could choose to simply lie on the vast pastures, take in the oceanic breeze of the Pacific, sunbathe while enjoying the panoramic views of verdant rolling hills covered with tall trees and shrubs, and gaze endlessly at the carabaos and horses feasting on lush grass and yet have the most incredible time of your lifetime!

Another unforgettable journey would be to Vayang Rolling Hills, where the skies are a deep blue and strong winds sweep through the landscape, making the grass and hedgerows bow down in submission. The slopes of the rolling hills rise and dive gently, forming a crumpled terrain that is covered by grass—making a perfect resting spot for grazing cows, goats, and water buffaloes. Among the many things that add beauty to this postcard-perfect place are the boulder-filled coastlines that embrace the waves of the gushing South China Sea and an inspiring lighthouse that makes for a photogenic landmark.

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Are you an outdoor enthusiast craving for adventure? Take a choppy boat ride to Sabtang Island and hop aboard a tricycle to see the iconic landmarks of this tiny islet that boasts undulating hillocks and pretty stone houses. A historic 20 feet lighthouse, set against the lush greens of the mountains, offers commanding views of the sun that shines across emerald green slopes and golden beaches. A visit to the iconic Nakabuang arched beach called the Morong Beach, where the warm sand and relatively calmer waves envelop grass-carpeted small hills, will provide the perfect photo-op to cap off your day trip.

Bulusan

Home to huge volcanic mountains and forests that are the habitat of numerous species of flora and fauna, Bulusan’s ecosystem is intriguing yet underexplored. Its sleepy town is sheltered by the tropical lushness of its forest, and soaring mountain ranges has long been a local favourite, but have yet to be discovered by foreigners. Bulusan is usually taken as a side trip by those who prefer a beach vacation in Matnog or the hot springs of Irosin. However, this off-the-beaten-path destination is an excellent destination in its own right, and it is time we give it the attention it deserves.

The cold, refreshing, and tranquil Bulusan Lake is the place to go when visiting this peaceful town. The soothing air from the still waters refreshes any wandering mind and weary body. The best way to explore Bulusan Lake is by following the cemented trail around it which leads to one the lake’s prime attractions—the canopy walk, which is a 340-metre-long hanging bridge offering visitors a monkey’s eye view of the calm emerald green waters.

Calm, until the Mother Nature takes over and then, she explodes with giant plumes of billowing smoke—Bulusan Lake resides at the foot of the fourth most active volcano in the world. The volcanic eruptions here are frequent, sometimes catastrophic. Rising at around 1565 metres above the sea level, the volcano has four craters each with hot springs of varying sizes and depths. While it is important to always be alert when visiting this site, renting a kayak to paddle around the clear waters really is the perfect way to begin and end your journey.

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Manasee Joshi

Contributor

Manasee is a Hong Kong-based freelance writer by profession and lover of fascinating cultures, lip-smacking cuisines, and a vibrant social life. Having worked as a travel guide all across APAC, Manasee has dug deep into historical fun facts, architectural styles, and the best places to eat and drink in the places she visited. As a travel writer, Manasee aspires to inspire readers to follow in her footsteps. After a long day of work, you can find her binge-watching Netflix shows with a glass of crisp wine.

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