10 of the Philippines’ best beaches...that you've probably never heard of

From the stunning white sand beach of Apo Mayor to an icing sugar beach in Calaguas said to beat Maldives' finest, our local insiders tip their dream beaches

By Monica De Leon 

Apo Mayor, Apo Island, Mindoro
Chosen by Yvette Lee, diver and underwater photographer
Apo Reef. By Yvette Lee

Apo Mayor is part of Apo Reef, a dive destination off Occidental Mindoro, south of Manila, the second largest atoll reef, next to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef.
“It’s pure white sand maybe about 1.5km to 2km long. At low tide, you get a lot more beach to walk on. The water’s so clear since there’s no siltation. It offers fantastic snorkeling and diving. You’ll see turtles, mantas, white tip sharks and hammerheads usually from December to February, and schools of barracudas and jacks, and soft and hard corals. It’s suitable for all levels of diving. There is a light house on the beach, which you can climb to get a 360 degree view of the ocean. Remoteness is one of Apo Mayor’s attractions. It’s in the middle of the West Philippine Sea and at night there’s no light and you can see the Milky Way so close you feel you can almost touch it. There are no facilities on the beach, no running water.”

Where to stay
Pandan Island Resort has open air bungalows with a private bathroom as well as budget rooms with a communal bathroom. From P1,800 (US$40) for a standard bungalow. Club Paradise is one of the top tier resorts in Busuanga, Palawan. It’s a good basecamp, offering day trips to Apo Island. It only takes one- to one-and-a-half hours to get to the island from the resort by speedboat. From P6,210 per night for two with breakfast on Agoda

How to get there
Take a Jam Liner bus from Buendia terminal in Makati for a two-and-a-half hour land travel from Manila to Batangas port from where you can take a Montenegro ferry to Abra de Ilog in Occidental Mindoro. From Abra de Ilog, take a San Jose bound Dimple Star bus and get off at Sablayan terminal; and then take a tricyle to take you to Sablayan Tourism Office, a required stop if you'd like to go to Apo Reef. Boat hire is P8,500 for up to 10 people, with an additional P1,000 for an overnight trip. From Sablayan terminal, you can also take a tricycle to Sablayan port and take a 15-minute boat ride to Pandan Island Resort, which can arrange a day trip to Apo Reef, which costs P9,000 for a whole day’s use of a boat for up to 10 people, picnic lunch (P260 per person), and entrance to Apo Reef (P350 per person).
The easiest route is to take a Philippine Airlines flight from Manila to Busuanga; hop on a jeep from the airport to Coron town; and take a boat from Coron town to Club Paradise. The resort can make your life a little easier by arranging all the transfers from the airport. From Club Paradise, Apo Mayor is a one to 1.5-hour speedboat ride.

Sabang Beach, Baler, Aurora
Chosen by “Byahe Ni Drew” producer Bea Rodriguez
By George Tapan

“To me, Sabang Beach, located 274km northeast of Manila, is one of the best beaches because of its unique feature — you get enormous swells, perfect for surfing. Early morning just before sunrise is the best time to see the beach at its best and to catch sight of surfers getting ready for the great morning swells. The next best time of day to ride the waves is usually in the late afternoon. The seabed is sandy and gently sloping. Sabang now has lots of restaurants, many appealing to hipsters and millenials.”

Where to stay
Costa Pacifica for the sea view and good service. It’s located right by Sabang Beach. It has bright and airy aircon rooms with Wi-Fi in public areas and a pool. From P3,105 for two on Agoda

Aliya Surf Camp is a good affordable alternative. From P2,400 for an overnight stay for two in an aircon room with en suite bathroom with hot and cold running water.

How to get there
Take a Genesis bus from its Cubao terminal to get to Baler, a five- to six-hour ride. From Baler town proper, you'll find tricycles, the usual mode of transport in the area, to help you get around town or take you straight to your resort.

Pangulasian Island, El Nido, Palawan
Chosen by travel blogger Ferdz Decena, Ironwulf.net

“I pick Pangulasian in El Nido in northern Palawan, 612km southwest ofManila, because to me it has everything in one place. Pangulasian has an excellent stretch of white sand beach, is teeming with reefs just a few meters offshore, offers short nature treks around the island’s hill, and the resort situated on the island has top-notch facility and accommodation.”

Where to stay
Pangulasian resort has 42 deluxe contemporary Filipino cottages and villas, all built to take advantage of the stunning beach views. You have to be a guest at the resort to gain access to the island. Rooms and villas from P25,000, www.elnidoresorts.com/pangulasian-island.


How to get there
Airswift has daily direct flights from Manila to El Nido for about P11,000 round trip. A cheaper option is to book a Cebu Pacific flight from Manila to Puerto Princesa, Palawan, for about P3,000 roundtrip, and take a five-hour El Nido bound shuttle van for P700 per person. Lexxus Shuttle Services’ vans can pick you up at Puerto Princesa Airport, or you can ride a tricycle from the airport and go to San Jose Bus Terminal to take the Cherry Bus to El Nido.

Palawan Explorers offers island hopping tours in El Nido, from P1,200 to P1,400 per person, which includes packed lunch, drinking water and use of snorkeling gear. Bespoke tours can be arranged for P6,000 per person, tel +63949 390 3224.

Matawe, Dingalan, Aurora
Chosen by “Byahe Ni Drew” producer Bea Rodriguez
By Erick Dantoc

“Matawe Intertidal Pool located in the village of Matawe in Dingalan, Aurora, 274km northeast of Manila, is most attractive at low tide. When the water recedes, it exposes rock formations and tidal pools big enough for you to swim in. It’s such a fascinating sight to be surrounded by dramatic rock formations as you swim in the pool. The water is so clear and you can spot lots of fish. There are no tourists and it’s a really a nice place to go for a day out.”

Where to stay
Matawe Bay Ocean front Resort is a sprawling beachfront property with native style cottages with airconditioned rooms and private bathrooms. Cottages from P3,000 a night.

How to get there
Take a Baliwag Transit bus from its terminal in Cubao, Manila to Cabanatuan, Nueva Ecija. From Cabanatuan City's bus terminal, take a Dingalan-bound Danilo Express bus or jeepney. In Dingalan town proper, hire a tricycle to take you to the village of Matawe.

Kota Beach, Bantayan Island, Cebu
Chosen by backpacker and multimedia artist Julian Rodriguez
By Vera Venus

“What strikes me most about Kota Beach, at the southeastern most tip of Bantayan Island in Cebu, 778km southeast of Manila, is that it’s the only 'changing beach' that I’ve ever seen. The main beach, which is about 100m long, faces a curving sandbar, which at low tide exposes a huge bowl of sand, like an empty swimming pool. And then as the tide rises, you'll see the water slowly filling in the bowl, quite a magical sight to see. The bowl is a wondrous place for a swim. If you walk from the shore to the middle of the bowl, you'll find you're only in chest-deep water. The sand is powdery white, the water, gin clear, vibrant with marine life. This island has come to embrace the backpacking culture well. The locals are very friendly to foreigners and see them as equals."

Where to stay
Coucou Bar Hotel & Restaurant located in the main town is a homey three-star native theme resort with villas and cabanas and private airconditioned rooms with en suite bathrooms with hot and cold running water. The hotel has Wi-Fi, a bar and restaurant, and bicycle rental. From P1,017 for two on Agoda.

How to get there
Philippine Airlines flies from Manila to Cebu City. From Cebu City, head to the North Bus Terminal to get on a Ceres Liner bus bound for Hagnaya port in San Remigio Cebu. The trip takes about two and a half to three hours. At Hagnaya port, catch a ferry bound for Sta. Fe port in Bantayan Island, about a one-hour travel. From the main port of Bantayan, flag down a tricycle or a habal-habal, motorcycle taxi with a sidecar for passengers, to Kota Beach.
Follow Rodriguez on Instagram and Facebook 

Pass Island, Coron, Palawan
Chosen by Coron Blue Lagoon Adventure Travel & Tours owner and general manager Mila Gamboa
By Christian Sangoyo

“Pass is one of the few remaining islands in Coron, Palawan, located 440km south of Manila, which you can really describe as virgin. Unlike the more famous Coron islands such as Malcapuya and Banana, Pass, a private island, is quite distant from all the other islands, and remains untouched. It’s where you can go if you want to spend a relaxing day on the beach without being bothered by tourists. Not a lot of people go there. The sand of Pass is really white; the water so clear; and the seabed slopes very gently. It has a lot of coral reefs, which are alive and thriving, offering excellent snorkeling. Here you can see all sorts of corals — soft, hard, brain corals, corals of all hues — and fishes like clownfish, trevallies, yellowtail scads. Migratory birds are often spotted on the island. The beach has hardwood trees like mango and cashew, and coconut trees, and mangroves.”

Where to stay
Casa Fidelis is a family-owned resort just 15 minutes from Coron town center. Rates are from P3,500 per person including three full meals and airport transfers. The resort also arranges tours for guests.

How to get there
Skyjet Airlines, Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific all have regular, direct flights from Manila to Busuanga. Your hotel usually arranges transfers from the airport. If you're staying in one of the islands off Coron, you most likely have to go to Coron Town, from where there are outrigger boats for hire to take you to any of the surrounding islands. For more information, contact Coron Blue Lagoon Adventure Travel & Tours.

Matincal Beach, Aroroy, Masbate
Chosen by “Culinaria Albay” project director Renato Jao

“Matincal Beach in Aroroy, Masbate, 580km southeast from Manila and about an hour’s drive from the main city center of Masbate, is essentially Boracay without the crowds, the structures and the mess. Picture Matincal as the old Boracay. The beach has a long shoreline, covering three villages in Masbate — Mataba, Tinigban and Calanay — and about 80m wide at low tide. Its sand is powder-fine; its water clear; and it gets the most glorious sunsets. Bring cool drinks and some food if you plan to hang out for the day.”

Where to stay
Stay at Masbate Novo Hotel in the heart of the bustling city, less than five-minutes’ ride away from Masbate City pier. It has airconditioned rooms with flatscreen cable TV, and private bathroom with hot and cold running water; strong Wi-Fi; a tricycle stand right outside the building; and local restaurants and eateries in the neighborhood. And there’s cold local beer sold cheaply at the ground floor lobby. From P900 per room per night, tel +6356 578 0687. 

How to get there
Book a flight on Cebu Pacific Air or Philippine Airlines from Manila to Legazpi City in Albay. Albay is less than an hour’s flight from Manila. From Legazpi Airport, take a tricycle to Legazpi City's bus terminal, and hop on a van to Pilar. From Pilar port, take a Montenegro fastcraft to the Port of Masbate. Go to the provincial tourism office located by the Port of Masbate for assistance in hiring a local guide and vehicle hire to Aroroy.

Halea Nature Park, Monreal village, Ticao Island, Masbate
Chosen by “Culinaria Albay” project director Renato Jao

“Halea Nature Park is a privately owned sanctuary off Ticao Island, Masbate, 580km southeast from Manila. It’s so far from civilization that you’ll totally enjoy the seclusion. Its main beach is not that long, maybe only about a kilometer, but it’s set in a beautiful pristine cove. The water is so clear you can see the bottom very clearly. The sand is white and fine, and the water is teeming with corals and marine life. Near the beach is a marine sanctuary where you can feed small fishes and sharks. There is an area for snorkeling, and a little farther out is a dive site where manta rays are the main attraction.”

Where to stay
Halea is privately owned so you will have to course your request to visit or stay the night through the provincial tourism office located by Masbate port. Or you can book a stay at Masbate Novo Hotel (Tel +6356 578 0687).

How to get there
Book a flight on Cebu Pacific Air or Philippine Airlines from Manila to Legazpi City in Albay. Albay is less than an hour’s flight from Manila. From Legazpi Airport, take a tricycle to Legazpi City's bus terminal, and hop on a van to Pilar. From Pilar port, take a Montenegro fastcraft to the Port of Masbate. From the port, it’s an hour and a half boat ride to Ticao Island. A boat hire for 10 people costs P8,000 for a whole day's use. Best to get in touch with the provincial tourism office prior to your visit to get a local guide. 

Mahabang Buhangin beach, Calaguas Island, Camarines Norte
Chosen by backpacker and travel Instagrammer Vera Venus
By Vera Venus

“Mahabang Buhangin beach is part of Calaguas, which is a group of islands in Camarines Norte, about 300km west of Manila. It’s really like Boracay — fine white sand, turquoise water clearer than Boracay’s — but without the crowds so it’s very relaxing. The beach stretches for about 500m — not too long — but it’s really beautiful. The seabed slopes gradually so you can walk far out into the sea and still find yourself in shallow waters, and there’s no undercurrent making it safe for swimming. My friend who has been to the Maldives says Mahabang Buhangin is even better. There is no phone signal so it’s really a place where you can totally detach.”

Where to stay
There’s only one resort on the island called Waling Waling Eco Village, which has 14 native themed cabanas, each able to accommodate six day trippers or four guests who are staying the night. Toilet and bath are communal, but clean. There are also split-level kubols (thatched cottages) with private bathroom and able to sleep up to six guests. From P3,500 per night for four people. 

How to get there
Take a Philtranco bus from its terminal in Cubao to Daet in Camarines Norte. Get off at Daet terminal, and take a Paracale-bound bus. From Paracale town proper, take a tricyle to the village port from where you can hire a boat for a two- to three-hour crossing to Calaguas. The best time to go is on weekdays so the crowds are less. It’s also ideal to do the boat crossing in the morning to avoid the big waves. Calaguas is an outlying island in the Pacific Ocean.

Tambobong Beach, Dasol, Pangasinan
Chosen by by travel blogger Christian Sangoyo, Lakadpilipinas.com
By Erick Dantoc

“Tambobong Beach lies near the western tip of the municipality of Dasol in the province of Pangasinan, 299km northwest of Manila. It has a two-kilometer-long fine white-sand shoreline. The beach is protected by a cove so the water is calm and clear, perfect for swimming and snorkeling. The seabed slopes gently and transitions from sand to grass to corals as you go further from the shore. Tambobong has a unique shape, curving upwards, so it’s possible to get a view of both the sunrise and the sunset.
“Being off-the-grid — one will need to endure a dusty and bumpy hour-long dirt road track from the Burgos main highway to reach Tambobong — the beach sees hardly any tourists during off season. You can rent any of the fishing boats docked on the shore to visit nearby islets Colibra, Crocodile and Balas Nagtaros, which have their share of pristine beaches, some sandy, some rough and rugged. Another attraction of Tambobong is the Balinmanok Wreck, a sunken ship you can explore by snorkel.”

Where to stay
Book at R Paradise Beach resort, which has basic airconditioned rooms with hot and cold private shower, refrigerator and TV. There are also cottages by the beach available for rent (P400 whole day) for day trippers. About P1,000 for an overnight stay for two, +63927 386 5246.

How to get there
Take a Victory Liner bus from its Cubao terminal and get off at Alaminos terminal in Pangasinan. From there take a Zambales-bound bus and alight at the Burgos Public Market. From the public market, rent a tricycle for a one-hour ride to Tambobong. R Paradise Beach resort usually arranges pick up for its guests.

Originally published in InFlight Traveller December 2016 to February 2017