The Philippines rarely, if ever, comes to mind when you think of luxury travel. But this sprawling assemblage of more than 7,000 tropical islands has several jewels strewn along one of the longest coastlines in the world.
Naturally, the best destinations are found on its white sand beaches, fronted by sparkling turquoise waters and flanked by lush, deep forests where a variety of endemic flora and fauna unknown to the rest of the world abounds.
On a seven-kilometer stretch of vibrant corals east of Palawan lies Pamalican Island, an 89-hectare ribbon of dazzling, sugar-white sand beaches and deep verdant jungles surrounded by the clear, blue waters of the Sulu Sea.
Set in the midst of it all is Amanpulo, more a picturesque Filipino village fringed with coconut and white orchid trees, less a cosmopolitan resort. The goal of its inhabitants—the staff—is to keep you happy every passing moment you’re there.
There are 40 casitas, each one modelled after the thatched-roof dwellings of natives with its pitched roof, vaulted ceilings, and natural timber interiors.
You may choose a casita above the island’s canopy of trees for the most majestic views, or you may opt for one by the beach so that the shore is just a few steps away from your front door.
For larger groups, there are 11 villas housing up to four bedrooms, a private swimming pool fronting the sea, and your own chef and butler.
The best time to go is from December to March, when the weather is a bit more agreeable than the scorching summers of this tropical island nation.
It’s the perfect time to snorkel and dive with colorful marine life. If you’re lucky, you’ll get to see marble rays, reef sharks, parrot fish, and a slew of coral fishes. The star of the show, though, are the hawksbill sea turtles, who have chosen the island their nesting ground before their hatchlings are released to the sea.
You can also explore the surrounding islands via kayak, windsurf on the north shore’s calm waters, enjoy a sunset cruise with a loved one, or swim to the Kawayan Bar, a floating bamboo bar where you can sip on your refreshments right in the middle of the secluded sea.
While you’re doing all that, you can rest assured your kids are taken care of and are having a grand old time making pizza, gathering shells, or taking a nature walk under the supervision of a highly-trained babysitter.
Near sundown, pay a visit to the treetop Aman Spa, where the seashell-lined ceiling has won many a patron’s admiration. The centerpiece, however, is the hilot massage, a traditional massage that uses locally harvested, cold-pressed coconut oil, homegrown herbs, and banana leaves to bring harmony to the body, mind, and soul, while you take in the breathtaking light show from the pale pink and marigold sky. The best sunsets, they say, are seen from this place on Earth.
Less than two hours away from the Chocolate Hills, a world-famous formation of perfectly rounded limestone mounds, is understated luxury waiting to be discovered.
There are no tourist traps or noisy street hawkers selling their wares here—only a small piece of paradise where you can rest your soul amidst the music of the sea crashing on the shore and colorful birds chirping throughout the golden afternoon.
This is Eskaya, an upscale boutique resort frequented by well-heeled travelers from all around the globe.
A handful of villas are scattered along the 16-hectare property. Families are always welcome, but the seclusion of Eskaya makes it a romantic sanctuary for couples, whether you’re on a honeymoon or looking for the perfect tropical venue for your beach wedding.
Each of the 11 villas is tastefully decorated in traditional Filipino designs, with the thatched roofs and high ceilings reminiscent of the native nipa hut and locally-made, handcrafted wooden décor placed in artful arrangements in the interior.
Villas are enclosed in their own pocket gardens brimming with coconut trees, Chinese bamboo, and bougainvillea vines exploding in vibrant crimson, magenta, and tangerine.
There is an open-air bath hidden among a grove of palm and bamboo trees so you can luxuriate in the warm, bubbly waters of your Jacuzzi in peace after splashing around on the beach or in your private pool.
Food is, of course, to-die-for. You can enjoy the best seafood the island province has to offer—Hint: Try their succulent grilled squid and steamed crabs—or feast your palate on their wagyu ribeye steak seared to your liking.
Even the complimentary native delicacies will have you craving for more. Their lemongrass-infused rice cake and bibingka, a traditional Christmas treat made from glutinous rice, coconut milk, and sugar and cooked in banana leaf-lined clay pots, are a must.
If you so prefer, the staff will happily set up a dinner by the beach either at a charming barbecue or a dreamy bonfire.
At Eskaya, you can simply laze around on your pool’s luxurious daybeds or at Handuraw Spa, or you can explore the outdoors as you please.
The resort goes out of its way so you can jet ski, kayak, snorkel, and dive with the whales and spinner dolphins at nearby Pamilacan Island.
Afterwards, go on a private countryside tour of the idyllic province and marvel at the architectural, natural, and cultural wonders it has to offer, including the centuries-old Catholic churches constructed during the colonial period, the peculiar Philippine tarsier—a primate no bigger than your hands—and a bucolic private cruise down the Loboc River, where you can devour a sumptuous lunch while locals serenade you with folk songs.
3. Pangulasian Island
Imagine waking up every morning to an awe-inspiring view of the sun casting its glorious rays across the Sulu Sea and capping off each day with the sun splashing the sky with bright, warm hues as it dips below the horizon—all from the same vantage point.
Pangulasian Island in El Nido, Palawan is not called the “island of the sun” for nothing. Every single day, except on the rainy months of June to October, you have the privilege of enjoying both the sunrise and sunset on this luxurious island resort.
Nestled on a secluded island that’s a 45-minute boat ride away from the El Nido town proper, Pangulasian boasts of a 750-meter strip of pearly white sand beach—the kind you won’t find lacking in this part of the country—and a wide stretch of sea adorned by a coral forest teeming with sea life that rivals that of the Maldives.
You can use the resort’s kayaks, laser jet sails, windsurf boards, Hobie cats, or snorkel equipment, or you can hop onboard the private boats to visit the mini beach paradises surrounding the area, including Pangulasian’s sister resorts Miniloc, Apulit, and Lagen.
Along the way, drink in the enchanting beauty of the massive limestone faces soaring up from the clear depths, the very same rock formations that led to the discovery of El Nido in the late 1970s.
On land, the local fauna embrace the human inhabitants with metaphorical arms wide open, so you do have to get used to living with hornbill birds, macaque monkeys, and the occasional monitor lizard slithering in and out through the coconut trees.
As the last ecological frontier of the Philippines, the natural treasures of El Nido are fiercely protected by those whose hearts are closest to it, the locals.
The staff and management of Pangulasian Island are no different. Sound environmental policies are put in place to ensure guests leave the place in the same pristine condition it was in when they arrived.
4. Nay Palad Hideaway
Barefoot luxury at its finest is what Nay Palad Hideaway, previously Dedon Island, is all about. It is a testament to the laidback, unhurried island life, which the inhabitants of Siargao Island fully embrace and embody.
Ensconced between a fine white sand beach fronting the Pacific Ocean and ancient mangrove forests that house a diversity of local flora and fauna, and hidden beneath a cover of coconut trees, orchid plants, and a host of garden palms, Nay Palad is a place where you never have to put your shoes on if you don’t want to; your bare feet or a pair of flip-flops will suffice.
Owned by a family of furniture makers, Nay Palad is a showcase of impeccable taste in design. Each of the nine villas are inspired by Thai and Balinese architecture, as can be seen in their multi-tiered thatched roofs.
But it’s the numerous little details here and there that make it truly a Filipino hideaway. From the wooden headboards carved with palm trees and sea creatures, to the hanging daybeds and the stone and wood bathroom floors, everything has been hand-built with care and precision by local crafters and artisans.
Even the slippers hand-woven from abaca to the herbal soaps swaddled in banana leaves and mat-woven beach totes are proof of Nay Palad’s painstaking attention to detail.
There are no menus here. Everything that is served depends on the day’s catch, be it micro-herbs and local flowers harvested from their own garden or freshly caught mahi-mahi rolled in homemade flour and organic chicken eggs before going into the oven.
Meals are served wherever you want to have them, whether on a thatched-roof nipa hut, a lantern-lit garden, or on a secluded island. Yes, the staff will even pack up a scrumptious picnic for you and your loved ones and will whisk you off in a private boat to a secret lair you can enjoy for yourselves.
And if you’ve got a bit of culinary flair, you’re free to waltz into the kitchen and work with the head chef himself.
Surfing, of course, is a no-brainer. The teardrop-shaped island of Siargao is not called the surfing capital of the Philippines for no reason. Nay Palad’s adventure manager—yes, they have one—will insist on trying on a surfboard. Although secluded, this luxurious little hideaway is not far from Cloud 9, the world-famous surf spot known for its thick, hollow barrel waves.
Or you can take a dip and dive into the Blue Cathedral, an underwater rock formation frequented by tuna, barracuda, and jackfish, where you can marvel at the sun’s rays casting shafts of light from the cave’s holed ceiling, as from a cathedral’s high windows.
You may also want to explore all that the island has to offer, whether via paddleboard, canoe, kayak, bicycle, or an upscale jeepney, a local mode of transportation whose name is derived from the combination of the words “jeep” and “jitney”.
Or you can take a boat and visit the numerous fishing communities on the 47 islands surrounding islands. You’re bound to find one or two you will want to keep coming back to, with the quaint island villages surrounded by sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean.
Before you wind down at the end of the day, make your way to the spa, which is actually a collection of thatched-roof huts interconnected by a web of floating bamboo bridges.
Any time of the day is perfect to receive a healing hilot massage from one of the well-trained massage therapists, but going there at night, where the warm golden light of the huts glowing through the sheer white curtains can make it seem like a scene from a fairy tale.
5. Discovery Shores Boracay
Since being declared one of the best beaches in the world, Boracay’s White Beach has received much hype from travel magazines and agencies—and for good reason.
Boracay’s fine, white beach sand has the consistency of powdered sugar. Its crystal clear, calm, and shallow waters stretch on for hundreds of meters, mirroring whatever mood the sky has to offer on any given day.
Most days, the water is a mesmerizing cerulean, which turns into a fiery dance of gold, rose, and amethyst at sunset. Under overcast skies, however, the water is just as spellbinding as it morphs into a silvery, glass-like surface.
All the hype has made Boracay notorious as a hub for budget backpackers trying to pick up booze and babes on this four-kilometer stretch of beach. Fortunately, for the discerning traveler, you can still dig your toes into Boracay’s world-famous powder-soft sand while avoiding the sweaty crowds and noisy bars.
Discovery Shores sits on the far north of White Beach in an area called Station 1, where the crowds are thinner, the beach sparser, and the atmosphere much more peaceful without all the hotels, bars, clubs, dive shops, and souvenir stores frequented by tourists.
You can still find the serenity that used to blanket the entirety of this little island back in the 1980s while enjoying posh accommodations and state-of-the-art facilities.
Your stay at Discovery Shores begins with a refreshing concoction boiled from pandan leaves and a foot massage to ease your feet from your travels. The rooms are modern, bright, and airy, with floor-to-ceiling windows giving you expansive panoramas of the South China Sea and a spacious deck with its own outdoor Jacuzzi.
On the beach, you can ride a jet ski, enjoy the views from a parasail, cruise around in a paraw (the local sailboat), learn how to kitesurf (if you’re not already a pro), or swim like a mermaid (courtesy of the Philippine Mermaid Swimming Academy), among other water activities.
While you’re at it, your personal butler will gladly look after your things as you dip into the water and get you mouthwatering goodies for refreshment when you’re back. Don’t forget to try the halo-halo, a popular Filipino dessert served with shaved ice, sweet milk, and an assortment of beans, sago, jelly, and tropical fruits.
If you’re after something more spirituous, their signature mojito made from lychee, mango, and calamansi—a small citrus fruit that is slightly sweeter than lime—is a good pick-me-up.
And if you’re up for more than refreshments, head on to the Sands Restaurant, where local Filipino fare is best experienced. Try the kare-kare, a thick, savory stew made with ground peanuts and oxtail, tripe, and a variety of green vegetables.
For something with a crunch, pair up your stew with crispy pata, the Filipino version of Schweinhaxe. Crispy pata is pig trotters deep-fried to crispy perfection and eaten dipped in a concoction of garlic, cane vinegar, and soy sauce.
Finish your meal off with a cooling swig of the restaurant’s fragrant pandan-infused water before heading back off to the beach or your room.