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Four dream destinations to discover in the Philippines

Ease back into travel in an island paradise where natural spaces and “new normal” guidelines aim to ensure a safe experience for visitors.

Nathan Allen, Alamy Stock Photo
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Panglao Island, perched off the southwest coast of Bohol Island, is one of the best sunset-watching spots in the Philippines.
Nathan Allen, Alamy Stock Photo
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In El Nido, Palawan, ziplines connect Las Cabanas Beach to Depeldet Island, turning island-hopping into an adventure sport.

The Philippines is nature made for adventure and fun. With 7,641 islands flanked by crystalline waters, the Pacific Ocean archipelago boasts a wealth of amazing activity options. Whether you dream of lounging on a secluded beach, diving among dazzling marine life, or experiencing natural wonders found nowhere else on the planet, you’ll discover what you’re looking for in these four postcard-perfect places.

Along with offering unforgettable experiences, all of the destinations have implemented “new normal” tourism guidelines to prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Measures such as mandatory face masks, body temperature checks at hotel entrances, testing before travel, and reduced capacity in resorts and restaurants help to create as safe an environment as possible for rediscovering the joy of travel.

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Bohol Island’s legendary Chocolate Hills regularly top the travel bucket lists of visitors to the Philippines.

BOHOL

Eco-friendly Panglao-Bohol International Airport is the gateway to Bohol, the island province famous for its conical Chocolate Hills. Golden brown in dry season and luxuriantly green much of the year, the grass-covered limestone domes dot nearly 20 square miles of pancake-flat plains. Climb up to the viewing platform for Instagram-worthy shots of the legendary, rounded mounds.

Close to the hills, catch a glimpse of one of nature’s most adorable creatures, the tiny Philippine tarsier. Weighing only up to five ounces, tarsiers are nocturnal primates with gigantic eyes. Rarely seen in the wild, these cool creatures can be spotted sleeping at the Tarsier Conservation Area.

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Sugar-white sand and a peaceful vibe draw beachgoers to Panglao Island’s palm- fringed Dumaluan Beach in Bohol.

White-sand beaches and vibrant coral reefs beckon on Bohol’s Panglao Island, departure point for water adventures like dolphin and whale-watching tours and dive trips in Balicasag Island Marine Sanctuary. Go into the deep to swim among the sanctuary’s sea turtles and explore colorful coral gardens and steep submarine cliffs.

Back on Bohol’s main island, kayak through mangrove tunnels, plunge into otherworldly cave pools, and wind along jungle waterways on a stand-up paddle board. For over-water views, cross the turquoise Sipatan River via the bamboo-and-steel Sipatan Twin Hanging Bridge. As with all Bohol tourism establishments that have reopened, the bridge has earned the Ultimate Bohol Experience Seal of Excellence indicating strict adherence to COVID-19 health and safety protocols.

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Bohol’s Sipatan Twin Hanging Bridge is made up of two parallel bridges, one for crossing over the Sipatan River and one for walking back.

BORACAY

Measuring only four square miles, pocket-sized Boracay is big on powdery sand and shimmering azure waters. Between the resorts dotting world-famous White Beach and off-the-beaten-path gems like Balinghai and Ilig Iligan, there’s no shortages of places to discover your perfect beach.

Protecting Boracay’s natural resources is a top priority. Recent shoreline restoration efforts; new sustainable tourism practices like limiting the number of daily visitors; and COVID-19 health and safety measures, such as a “no mask, no boarding” policy on local transport, make the island a better-than-ever choice for an idyllic sand and surf getaway.

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The silhouettes of traditional double outrigger boats dot the horizon as a skim boarder glides along the shore of Boracay’s White Beach.

Wind, waves, and paddle strokes power Boracay’s impressive lineup of watersport activities. Learn how to ride the wind at breezy Bulabog Beach, one of Asia’s premier kiteboarding and windsurfing destinations. At laid-back Puka Shell Beach on the north shore, go kayaking and stand-up paddling by day, then stay to watch the glowing sunset.

For a taste of traditional water travel, climb aboard a paraw, or double outrigger boat. Crafted from wood and bamboo and outfitted with signature blue sails, the boats cruise close to the coast—the perfect vantage point for photographing Boracay’s palm-fringed beaches.

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An aerial view of Willy’s Rock, Boracay’s famous volcanic formation, shows how sand surrounds the island at low tide.

BAGUIO

While the beach scene in the Philippines is rightfully celebrated, one of the country’s coolest hotspots is Baguio City, perched high in the Cordillera mountains. Located at 4,500 feet above sea level in northern Luzon, the largest island in the Philippines, lofty Baguio was built in the early 1900s as a colonial summer capital.

The historic city and surrounding countryside enjoy comfortable temperatures and misty conditions—ideal for exploring on foot. Hike through the woods on the winding Camp John Hay Eco Trail to soak up the pine-scented mountain air. Wherever you go in Baguio, use the new Visitor Information and Travel Assistance (VISITA) platform to get coronavirus-related information, read QR coupons, and make contactless payments.

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Established in 1903 as a relaxation retreat for U.S. servicemen, Camp John Hay is now a recreation hub for Baguio City residents and visitors.

This high-elevation Cordillera Region is the ancestral homeland of indigenous peoples collectively known as Igorots, or “people of the mountain.” To preserve, support and showcase indigenous weaving traditions and other regional crafts, UNESCO named Baguio a Creative City of Crafts and Folk Art.

The city regularly hosts festivals and exhibits celebrating the region’s multicultural artisan traditions. To shop for original hand-crafted works—including colorful textiles, silver jewelry, and carved wooden figurines—visit the Baguio public market and neighboring Maharlika Livelihood Center.

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With its high-elevation location in the Cordillera Mountains of northern Luzon, Baguio City enjoys comfortably cool temperatures year-round.

PALAWAN

Extraordinarily emerald green and ringed by coral reefs, Palawan is an unspoiled archipelago province in the westernmost Philippines. Named for its largest island, Palawan ticks all the right boxes for a tropical paradise: hidden beaches and lagoons, lush jungle vegetation, low-key vibe, and crystalline seascapes teeming with marine life.

Palawan’s mind-boggling marine biodiversity is on full display in Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Accessible only by live-aboard boats, the pristine underwater world harbors at least 11 species of sharks and rays, 600 species of fish, and about half of all coral species in the world.

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Sea turtles are among the protected species divers can see in Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park, a UNESCO World Heritage Site in Palawan.

With 1,780 islands, Palawan is best experienced by water. At the northern tip of the Palawan mainland, snorkel and swim in El Nido’s enchanting lagoons, where otherworldly rock towers majestically rise from emerald waters.

El Nido is the launch pad for island-hopping in the stunning Bacuit Bay archipelago. Small, eco-friendly outrigger boats called bangkas ferry passengers around the watery dreamscape without disturbing shallow coral reefs or wildlife. Book an outrigger tour to visit deserted white-sand beaches, explore cathedral-like caves, and photograph Bacuit Bay’s fantastical limestone formations. As part of Palawan’s enhanced cleanliness and hygiene standards, the El Nido Resorts have implemented strict guest protocols, such as requiring a negative COVID-19 test result before arrival and undergoing a sanitation procedure (including a temperature check and foot bath) before taking the boat transfer to the resort.

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