Did anyone say beach? With a total length of 36,289km, the Philippines has the fourth-longest coastline in the world, so it’s no surprise that the country has all you sea-and-sand lovers spoiled for choice. Here, travel journalist Edgar Alan Zeta-Yap, who’s been to all 81 provinces spanning the entire archipelago, demonstrates how a little detour — or a big one involving a boat trip and a motorcycle run — can turn a great trip to the beach into an epic journey to a secret paradise. If you’re up for it this summer, check out these idyllic off-the-grid beaches in the Philippines.
Also read: 10 best beaches in the Philippines
Carved along a thumb-shaped peninsula on the north-eastern corner of Luzon island, Anguib Beach is a deserted crescent of white sand with pine-like casuarina trees and glorious sunsets over the Babuyan Channel. After the long drive from Tuguegarao City, it’s a perfect spot for making like a willing castaway, setting up camp on soft sands and falling asleep under the sparkling night sky. Palaui Island is a protected nature reserve nearby that offers a lot of great hiking and birdwatching.
How to get there: Santa Ana is three to four hours by van or bus from Tuguegarao City. From the town proper, charter a 20-minute tricycle ride to Anguib Beach.
Brgy San Vicente, Santa Ana, Cagayan
Sandwiched by the Sierra Madre mountain range and the rough fringes of the Pacific Ocean, coastal Isabela is cut off from the rest of Luzon, making it one of the last frontiers of the archipelago. The Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park contains not only the country’s largest rainforest but extends to virgin shorelines like the 3km Dicotcotan Beach, which rewards the intrepid travelers who make the long and arduous journey to get there.
How to get there: From Manila, travel by bus to Dingalan, Aurora via Cabanatuan City in five hours. From Dingalan, a ferry journey to Palanan takes roughly seven hours.
Brgy San Isidro, Palanan, Isabela
Looking for a peaceful seaside retreat in Palawan’s capital? Veer away from the droves of tourists that flock to Honda Bay and take a motorbike instead to Nagtabon Beach along the western coast of Puerto Princesa City. Set against lush mountain ranges, this broad stretch of cream-colored sand offers dramatic sunsets over the West Philippine Sea, skim-boarding along its shallows, and even surfing on moderate swells between the months of October and February.
How to get there: From Puerto Princesa, take a northbound van or bus to Brgy Bacungan, where you can hire a tricycle or habal-habal (motorbike) to Nagtabon Beach. The total travel time is roughly an hour.
Brgy Bacungan, Puerto Princesa City, Palawan
Hermit’s Cove (Kantabogon Cove)
Flanked by limestone headlands, Hermit’s Cove is a hidden crescent of coralline beach in the little-known town of Aloguinsan along the mid-western coast of Cebu island. The beach was named after a hermit who had lived on this once-isolated beach. Now Hermit’s Cove can be reached via a wooden stairway built along the southern cliff. With the tranquil atmosphere of a sleepy fishing village, it’s a perfect place for pitching a tent, and the tidal flats that stretch away to the depths of the Tañon Strait offer great snorkeling along its coral walls.
How to get there: From the Cebu South Bus Terminal in Cebu City, take a bus to Aloguinsan, where a habal-habal can transfer you to Hermit’s Cove. The total travel time is around three hours.
Brgy Kantabogon, Aloguinsan, Cebu
Besides its geographical isolation, a history of ethnic unrest has prevented travelers from discovering the pristine coastline of Kalamansig in southern Mindanao. That’s likely to change now that peace has recently been restored in the area. Of the series of mainland beach coves facing the Celebes Sea, Tayandak Beach is the most beautiful with its fine white sand and palm trees. This west-facing coast also has spectacular sunsets and serves as a jump-off point to even more stunning beaches and snorkeling sites on Balet Island.
How to get there: From Cotabato City, take a two-hour van ride to Lebak. From town, ride 20 minutes on a habal-habal to Poral Beach, where you can hire a bangka (outrigger boat) for the final 10-minute hop to Tayandak Beach.
Brgy Dumangas Nuevo, Kalamansig, Sultan Kudarat
A “secret beach” in Boracay? Located just south of Shangri-La Boracay Resort & Spa is the small turquoise cove of Balinghai Beach Resort, sheltered from the rest of this touristy island by limestone rocks. Accessed by a steep path down a limestone wall, this hidden corner has pockets of white sand that offer that sought-after privacy and tranquility away from the crowded shores of the island’s more popular beaches.
How to get there: Balinghai Beach Resort (balinghai.com) is 15 minutes away by tricycle from White Beach on Boracay Island, which is linked to Caticlan by frequent ferries.
Brgy Yapak, Boracay Island, Malay, Aklan
Sugar Beach (Langub Beach)
The five-hour bus ride alone from either Bacolod or Dumaguete keeps most tourists away from Sugar Beach, along the “heel” of the boot-shaped island of Negros. Low-key resorts line this cream-colored coastline, but an unpretentious village atmosphere still prevails. Gorgeous sunsets over the Sulu Sea, short hikes to nearby caves and hilltops, and snorkelling at a nearby sunken cargo ship called Julien’s Wreck make this paradise such a sweet escape.
How to get there: Sipalay is five hours by bus from Bacolod or Dumaguete. From the city proper, outrigger boats can be chartered to Sugar Beach in 15 minutes.
Brgy Nauhang, Sipalay City, Negros Occidental
In the 1970s this horseshoe-shaped beach caught the eye of American aviator Charles Lindbergh, who, while flying over Surigao del Sur’s coastline on a wildlife expedition, compared it to Hawaii’s Waikiki Beach. Though it might seem far-fetched, the rolling Pacific surf and dense row of palm trees justify the comparison. While locals flock the broad shorelines of Cagwait Beach during the town’s Kaliguan Festival in late June, it remains pretty laid-back for most of the year.
How to get there: Cagwait is an hour by bus or van from Tandag City. From the town proper, take a 10-minute habal-habal ride to the beach.
Brgy Poblacion, Cagwait, Surigao del Sur
Beach-loving travelers gravitate to the south-western coast when visiting Bohol, but little do most people know that the municipality of Anda, on the eastern side, harbors one of the province’s best-kept secrets. Fronting the town church and plaza, Quinale Beach is a 3km stretch of bone-white powder that melts into shallow turquoise waters, delighting even the most discerning of beach aficionados. Plus, nearby coral reefs offer spectacular diving with marine turtles, multicolored nudibranchs and pygmy seahorses.
How to get there: Anda is two to three hours by van or bus from Tagbilaran City.
Brgy Poblacion, Anda, Bohol
Despite being the third-largest island in the country, Samar still remains off the radar for most travelers. The town of Marabut in Samar province has recovered its rugged beauty three years after the wrath of Typhoon Haiyan. While its sand may not be as white as the country’s premier beaches, Caluwayan Beach still wows visitors with its karst landscape and jagged offshore islands that are reminiscent of northern Palawan.
How to get there: Caluwayan Beach is one to two hours by van or bus from Tacloban City.
Brgy Caluwayan, Marabut, Samar
This article originally appeared in the April 2016 issue of Smile magazine.