At first glance, the more than 7,100 islands that make up the Philippines may appear to be similar.
Those islands — of which some 2,000 are inhabited — differ by history, culture and religion, meaning they draw tourists for different reasons.
Here are six — some well-known, some not — and the types of travelers that gravitate to each.
Boracay was once known as the Philippines’ quintessential party island. That changed following a six-month closure in 2018.
Along with an intensive environmental cleanup, the island freshened its image. It now caters to family-friendly experiences over hedonistic beach raves.
Boracay’s sudden closure in 2018 cleaned both the environment and reputation of the popular island.
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Boracay is divided into three “stations,” or areas.
Station 1 is home to White Beach, an area famous for its sunsets, white sands and gentle waves where little ones can frolic and splash. To eat, drink and shop, travelers can walk down the beach or hop on a “tricycle” — a motorcycle with an attached passenger cab — to reach the busier Station 2.
“Station Zero” is home to some of the island’s most luxurious hotels, including the Shangri-La Boracay.
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Station 3 is generally less busy but those looking for the most secluded escape can consider the northwest part of the island — an area locals call “Station Zero.” Home to three luxury resort companies — Crimson, Movenpick and Shangri-La, it’s for travelers who want a quiet cocktail while their kids build sandcastles on the beach.
With beach shacks giving way to resorts, some travelers may say the soul of the island has changed. Boracay is different now, for sure, but some may say for the better.
The province of Palawan comprises one main island and more than 1,700 other islands and islets. Limestone rock formations descend into turquoise waters, and some islands house luxe resorts.
The municipality of El Nido attracts people who want beach culture, restaurants and small resorts. It’s also where travelers will find Pangulasian Island, an eco-luxury resort in Bacuit Bay, an area popular with divers.
Palawan, a needle-thin archipelago in west Philippines, has been dubbed the most beautiful island in the world by various media outlets.
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Further north are the more rustic islands of the municipality of Coron. Operated by Discovery Resorts, Club Paradise has a Robinson Crusoe vibe, with thatched beachfront huts and breakfast that can include unexpected visitors — think monkeys rifling through your fruit basket. It’s a starting point for wreck divers to explore sunken ships from World War II.
A diver explores World War II Japanese wreckage near Coron, Palawan.
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Luxury holidaymakers can fly east to the Cuyo Islands and indulge in Amanpulo’s top-notch service. Opened in 1993, the private island hotel remains one of the country’s most exclusive beach resorts.
For a blend of Philippine culture and beachside serenity, Bohol may be the place to go.
The island is home to historical and natural attractions. Tourists can explore the Chocolate Hills, paddleboard through the green-hued Loboc River, or visit a tarsier sanctuary to learn about this big-eyed primate.
Tarsiers are tiny and can fit inside a human hand, though tourists are cautioned not to touch them.
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Rice paddies carpet the countryside amid a backdrop of colonial-era churches and watchtowers. Avid divers can take a day trip to Balicasag Island to explore its coral reefs.
Most resorts are concentrated on Panglao Island, which while usually crowded, can still provide pockets of relaxation. Donatela Resort & Sanctuary, though not quite beachfront, has hillside villas and ocean views from the main lawn. Travelers can consider Eskaya Beach Resort & Spa for a luxury spa stay while Amorita is popular with families.
Bohol’s Chocolate Hills are named after the browning that occurs when the grass dries during the first half of the year.
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The Anda Peninsula is quiet, as is the secluded, family-run Amun Ini Beach Resort & Spa, which means “this is ours” in the local dialect.
Famous for its surf break called Cloud 9, the laid back island of Siargao attracts surfers from all over the world. The tides control much of the islands’ activities, with many locals heading out to surf at dawn and dusk.
Siargao is known as the surfing capital of the Philippines.
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Though not the place for soft sands and gentle waves, Siargao has ocean activities such as cocktails on a sand bar and trips to Naked Island — so named for its bareness. Beyond the surf, travelers can swim in the Magpupungko Rock Pools or go cave diving at Sohoton Cove.
Most action is concentrated around the town of General Luna. There travelers can find cafés serving cappuccinos and smoothie bowls by the sea. There are also tapas joints with local craft beer and motorcycle pubs with live music and ceviche.
Accommodations range from one-room beach shacks to yoga retreats and villas. Harana Surf Resort is a classic spot and a favorite hangout for local surfing legends.
Guyam Island is a small island near Siargao that is popular among island hopping tourists.
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Kalinaw Resort is a boutique hotel in the heart of General Luna. Run by two Frenchmen, the resort has large sea-facing villas, many with their own swimming pools.
The Nay Palad Hideaway is a more luxurious destination. Guests are encouraged to go barefoot and leave their worries at the door.
Known as the island of witchcraft and sorcery, Siquijor remains largely untouched by outside influence.
Some locals are too frightened to visit, and few international travelers know about it. That’s slowly changing due to a slow influx of curious foreigners and adventurous local visitors.
Villagers in Siquijor gather ashes from a cemetery to use in rituals to protect their homes and livestock.
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Visitors can ride bicycles around its circumference, then stop to snorkel in the ocean. Further inland is a network of rivers, waterfalls and lagoons, ensconced in jungle. The most popular is Cambugahay Falls, where rapids flow into a crystal pool, making it the island’s most photographed spot.
Cambugahay Falls is a three-tiered waterfall and popular swimming hole on Siquijor.
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Siquijor’s mystical traditions are still alive, as evidenced by a healing festival celebrated once a year. The mix of ancient beliefs, shamanistic practices and Christian faith is an emblem of the complexities of Philippine culture and history.
Mindanao’s Zamboanga Peninsula has rich history and beautiful beaches, particularly the pink sands of Santa Cruz Island.
The culture mixes influences from indigenous tribes, local seafarers and the Spanish — the latter reflected in the area’s dialect called Chavacano. The result is a city with colonial buildings, locals in vibrant handmade clothes and an ocean dotted with traditional boats.
Two boys fish against the sunset sky in Zamboanga, Philippines.
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The cuisine is complex. Curacha, a local delicacy, is grilled spanner crab that is usually eaten with Alavar — a sauce of crab roe, coconut milk and spices. Grilled skewers called satti are served with a fiery blend of chilies, called ta’mu.
True to the area’s Spanish roots, paella is a favorite, and it’s often prepared with fresh seafood. The Muslim Malay influence is also present, particularly with dishes such as beef rendang and chicken pianggang. While those dishes are common across Southeast Asia, Zamboangeños use extra coconut and lemongrass.
Travelers who want a white sand experience can take a boat to Once Islas, or Eleven Islands — an eco-tourism attraction that opened in 2018.