The Philippines is popular among locals and tourists for its sandy beaches, marine wildlife and affordable scuba diving, but the archipelago, which comprises more than 7,000 islands, also has a ton of inland greenery to take in. You’d be remiss to skip out on hiking its hills and volcanoes as well as its animal sanctuaries.
The Southeast Asian country has hundreds of protected areas, dozens of which are classified as national parks. In addition to impressive geographic formations, you can spot native wildlife!
1.) Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park
Located north of Puerto Princesa, Palawan, this park features an “underground river” that flows for more than eight kilometers underneath a mountain range into the South China Sea. Visitors can book boat tours to see the incredible limestone and karst formations inside the caves, which are also home to a number of different bat species.
As a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the park is very conscious about preserving its pristine beauty: Swimming is prohibited as the waters are a marine sanctuary, and only 1,000 daily visitors are allowed to tour the underground river. Outside on dry land, you’re likely to see monkeys (don’t feed them!), monitor lizards, white-bellied sea eagles, and more.
2.) Banaue Rice Terraces
Carved into lush mountainside approximately 2,000 years ago by the indigenous people of the Ifugao province, the Banaue Rice Terraces look minuscule from far away but are actually quite massive. For millennia, the rice terraces allowed farmers to cultivate rice and other agriculture in the steep mountains.
The terraces are made of stone and mud and require constant maintenance to preserve the irrigation system as well as to plant and cultivate the nearby forest canopies. Recent reports indicate that contemporary generations of Ifugao residents are less interested in the hard farm labor required to keep the terraces in shape, so if you’re interested in seeing them, you should make plans to visit soon!
3.) Taal Volcano
The picturesque Taal Volcano is located on the same island as Manila and is less than two hours’ drive from the capital city. The volcano’s crater is filled with water, creating its own lake, while Taal Volcano sits in the the middle of an actual lake (Taal Lake), which is surrounded by the Tagaytay ridge, which some say is part of the volcano system as well. So, a lake in a volcano in a bigger lake in a bigger volcano.
After taking a boat across Taal Lake, tourists can access the top of Taal Crater by hiking or horseback riding. Though the water inside the crater might look serene in photos, it’s actually quite sulfuric and very hot — if you bring a couple of raw eggs, you can boil them in the lake for a snack! Adrenaline junkies might be heartened to learn that Taal Volcano is one of the world’s deadliest active volcanoes.
4.) Chocolate Hills
Almost comical (and definitely conical) in form, the humps of the Bohol Province are the region’s most famous natural geological formation. The origin of these unusual and unique hills is still up for debate, but we like the one about legendary giants throwing rocks at each other. (That or aliens.) The Chocolate Hills get their name from the color that their grasses turn during the dry season.
The entire 20-square-mile area is home to more than a thousand of these perfectly formed domes. The Chocolate Hills aren’t accessible for hiking, but there is an observation deck on one of the larger hills for visitors to get the perfect vantage point.
5.) Philippine Tarsier and Wildlife Sanctuary
While you’re in Bohol checking out the Chocolate Hills, be sure to swing by the Philippine Tarsier and Wildlife Sanctuary and make friends with the tiny primates. Tarsiers grow to only about four inches tall and have enormous eyes — each eye is the size of its brain.
The sanctuary provides 20 acres of forest and natural habitat for the animals, which are on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and are sensitive to light, noise and physical contact. These irresistibly cute tarsiers are also extremely delicate; they are solitary and territorial, requiring a lot of space as well as a specialized insect diet.
What are your favorite natural attractions in the Philippines? Let us know in the comments!