5 Popular Ecotourism Destinations in the Philippines

With the creation of the National Ecotourism Development Council (NEDC) of the Philippines in 1999 came greater accessibility to the incredible ecotourism sites which have contributed to the healthy growth of tourism in the country. Many tourists will now come to the Philippines to better enjoy our trendy hotspots. Tourists from all over the world can now enjoy our top destinations and take home their travel photos with them. Lets explore five popular ecotourism destinations in the Philippines that are making its marks in the travel industry.

Loboc River

Loboc River

Siargao

The NEDC has been very aggressive in promoting ecotourism in the Philippines. One such site which has been greatly influenced by the efforts of the NEDC is Siargao, one of the main ecotourism destinations the country has to offer. Siargao has steadily become known as the surfing capital of the Philippines and even of Asia. Best known for the surfing wave nicknamed “Cloud 9,” this tropical paradise is now a major surfing destination, thanks in part to a series of photo-essays published by American photographer John S. Callahan which began in 1993, but what really placed Siargao in the surfing map of the world is the annual Siargao International Surfing Cup supported by the local government of Surigao Del Norte. The island paradise was also named recently by Travel + Leisure Southeast Asia as among its A-list of “Ultimate Islands,” calling it a surfing paradise that “defines raw charm.” It was also named the 8th best surf spot in the world by CNNGo, the Cable News Network’s travel website.

Composed of 48 islands and islets, Siargao is divided into 9 municipalities, namely: Burgos, Dapa, Del Carmen, Gen. Luna, Pilar, San Benito, San Isidro, Santa Monica, and Socorro. It has the largest mangrove forest reserves in Mindanao, located in the municipality of Del Carmen. Its eastern coastline is a succession of reefs and white sand beaches that offers a holiday retreat that is laid-back and perfect for beach bumming. Siargao is also popular for its deep sea game fishing event which is held annually during the months of April and May in the municipality of Pilar. Aside from surfing, the Siargao group of islands is also perfect for kayaking, diving and snorkeling.

Other tourist destinations in Siargao include the Sohoton Cave in Socorro, the Magpupungko Pool, the Guyam and Del Carmen Mangroves, the Bukas Grande and Taktak Falls, Del Carmen Caub Lagoon and the Naked Island.

Sohoton Cave is half-submerged in water and can be accessed only during low tides. Indeed, this treasure of a lagoon hidden by nature is perfect for kayaking, swimming and snorkeling. The breathtaking stalagmites and stalactites are a pleasure to behold and experience.

The Magpupungko saltwater lagoon and rock formations have become a local tourist wonder. The clear jade waters of the natural pool expose the amazing corals and marine life underneath. Perfect for swimming and snorkeling, this natural pool is a must-see when in Siargao.

The mangroves of Del Carmen and the Guyam Island are sanctuaries of marine life and home to rare and endangered species of flora and fauna.

The Caub Lagoon, also in Del Carmen, has crystal waters that are also perfect for snorkeling peppered by limestone islets which complete the ecotourism package the islands have to offer.

Bohol

Touted as the 10th largest island of the Philippine Republic, Bohol is said to be the home of the last group of settlers in the country known in history as the pintados which means “the tattooed ones.” The island is located in Central Visayas, 803 km south of Manila and is composed of 47 municipalities with a total land area of 4,117.26 square kilometers.

Best known for the Chocolate Hills and the tarsier, Bohol is an island of adventures which include rappelling, spelunking, kayaking, trekking, and diving. The one adventure that Bohol has come to be known for is scuba-diving. This is largely due to the fact that Bohol has a multitude of dive sites that are gaining popularity among diving enthusiasts worldwide. Among the most popular diving spots in Bohol are those at Cabilao Island, Balicasag, Pamilacan, and Panglao Island.

Balicasag Island in particular is not only a diver’s paradise. Large whales and dolphins also abound in and around its waters. Snorkeling is also a popular activity that tourists engage in when visiting this bountiful island with waters that are a marine sanctuary that has become famous for its diverse and exotic marine life.

Pamilacan Island, which lies at the heart of the Bohol Sea is frequented by whales and dolphins. It is said to be a jump-off point where seven species of marine mammals frequent. Bryde’s whales and sperm whales have been sighted in the area as well as dolphins. Thus, locals earn a livelihood by acting as spotters for tourists who come to see the whales and dolphins that abound in its waters.

Panglao Island is home to world class diving spots and tourist resorts. Two of the most popular beaches in Panglao are the Alona Beach and Doljo Beach. The most popular dive sites around the island of Panglao are the Alona Reef, Arco Point, BBC Reef, the Danao-Habagat Wreck Site, Doljo Point, the Kalipayan Wall, the Momo Reef, Napaling Point and Puntod Point.

Aside from its dive sites, Bohol has several inland adventure sites where visitors can enjoy other activities. The Danao Adventure Park offers a variety of inland adventures a traveler can choose from such as river trekking at the mighty Wahig River, cliff rappelling, kayaking, or exploring the caves of the islands. Spelunking can be enjoyed at Sierra Bullones and Antequera. Exploring the many caves of the island such as the Lamanok Cave in Anda is also a popular adventure in Bohol. It is also a popular destination for bird watchers. The favorite spots for this inland adventure are the Olango Island and the Rajah Sikatuna National Park which is the largest remaining natural forest in Bohol.

El Nido

A world-famous destination and major tourist attraction in the Philippines is the small municipality of El Nido. This would be a five-part series on this amazing municipality as there are so many things that it has to offer. Located in the equally famous province of Palawan, El Nido is roughly 420kms southwest of Manila. It is composed of 45 islands and islets each of which has its own unique geological formation. Being part of the Eurasian Plate, the islands are dotted with limestone cliffs similar to those found in Vietnam, China, and Thailand.

El Nido has come to be known as a top destination site for tourists. Given the number of islands that belong to this municipality, it is perfect for island hopping. It is also a marine and wildlife reserve which is the main reason why it is also a major ecotourism destination. A popular activity in the municipality is scuba diving. El Nido offers over 30 dive sites for varying skill levels which visitors can enjoy according to their diving expertise.

The municipality also has over 50 beaches that visitors can enjoy. Lagoons that are almost fantasy-like in their beauty and tranquil waters, caves that lead out to hidden beaches, and the sheer diversity of marine life that one can expect to find at every step are just some of the multitude of reasons why every traveler should take a visit to these islands. The astounding limestone cliffs of El Nido that were carved out of the thick coralline deposits that abound in the area is also another reason why these breathtakingly beautiful islands deserve the attention it has received from tourists worldwide. Formed 250 million years ago, these layers of coralline deposits rose from the sea as a result of a collision between India and mainland China about 60 million years ago, giving birth to the limestone structures that form part of the El Nido islands.

With its scenic landscapes, its crystal-clear waters, the myriad attractions each of the 45 islands offers, and the relatively-isolated location of the municipality, El Nido’s islands and the waters that surround them, presents a wide selection of activities, attractions and adventures for any traveler. Mountain trekking and climbing are two activities one can surely enjoy in the islands where the trails can be rough and dirty but provides breathtaking views and exciting opportunities to observe Palawan’s wildlife up close. Schools of fish that abound in its waters make them perfect for snorkeling and diving. The lagoons that dot the islands are perfect for swimming and kayaking. El Nido is one of the best sites for communing with nature at its finest. Indeed, El Nido is a paradise lost and a peaceful retreat in this sometimes harsh planet called Earth.

Tubbataha Reef National Parks

Another popular ecotourism destination in the Philippines is the Tubbataha Reef National Parks which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in December 1993. Located within the municipality of Cagayancillo in Palawan arising from the depths of the Sulu Sea, the reef is made up of two atolls between which are an eight-kilometer wide channel. The North atoll is larger16 kilometers long and five kilometers wide while the South atoll is five kilometers long and three kilometers wide. It was declared the Philippines’ first national marine park in 1988 by Pres. Corazon Aquino, five years before the UNESCO declaration. The World Future Council recently recognized the site as a model in coral reef conservation.

The Park is an underwater sanctuary that supports an unparalleled number of marine creatures and is of particular global importance which makes it necessary for it to be preserved for future generations. Its undisturbed property encourages the continued presence of large marine creatures such as tiger sharks, cetaceans and turtles, barracudas. Sharks, whales, dolphins, Napoleon wrasse and other pelagic organisms that are normally found in open seas. Its role in the whole Sulu Sea ecosystem is that it supports the process of reproduction, dispersal and colonization by marine organisms in the area and helps support fisheries outside its boundaries.

The Tubbataha Reefs National Park is an important habitat for threatened and endangered marine species. The diverse ecosystem in this natural marine reserve is rivaled only by the Great Barrier Reef of Australia. Its original 32,000 hectares size was increased to 96,824 hectares by Pres. Gloria Arroyo.

The Tubbataha Reefs National Park includes the coral cay, Jessie Beazley Reef. It is of particular importance because it is located within the Coral Triangle, the area which concentrates on coral biological diversity. With 374 coral species found and identified in its waters, the area can account for almost half of the coral species in the world. The reefs support eleven species of cetaceans, eleven species of sharks, and an estimated 479 species of fish. The Park is a very important nesting and development area for two species of endangered marine turtles: green turtles and hawksbill turtles. White tip reef sharks are found in great numbers within its waters. The no-fishing regulations within the protected sites ensure the continuation of the diverse ecosystems found in the park.

Home to nearly 600 species of fish, 360 coral species and also a breeding sanctuary for seabirds in the region, Tubbataha has become a popular site for seasoned scuba divers from all over the world. This resulted in the formulation of a Master Plan where dive sites are zoned and regulated. A fee is also collected which covers various conservation projects and monitoring activities that protects the Park. Trips to Tubbataha are booked years in advance because of its popularity during what has come to be known as “Tubbataha Season” which is from March to June annually. The seven breeding species of seabirds including the endangered Christmas Island Frigatebird has also made it an important site for bird watching enthusiasts but regulated trips for this type of tourists are not yet in place.

Camiguin

Last on our list is the island paradise of Camiguin, another popular ecotourism destination in the Philippines. Located in Northern Mindanao, Camiguin is a small volcanic island province where seven volcanoes can be found including Hibok-hibok, which is still active. It has earned the distinction of having the most number of volcanoes per square kilometer than any other island on earth. Because it is an island, the province boasts of kilometers of coastlines dotted with cold and hot springs. Fine beaches and clear blue waters surround this island paradise that makes it a favorite destination for beach-lovers from around the globe. Coral reefs found in the waters that surround it about which makes it a popular destination for diving enthusiasts. Trekking is a popular activity as enthusiasts flock to its volcanoes, discovering undiscovered mountain trails, caves and be enthralled by many of its waterfalls.

There are quite a few waterfalls in the small island of Camiguin but the two most popular ones that are accessible to travelers are Katibawasan Falls and Tuawasan Falls. Katibawasan Falls is very near the town of Mambajao, the provincial capital. It is 76 meters high and is nestled within a lush green forest. It cascades to a rock pool surrounded by tropical orchids, ferns, and trees. It is an ideal place for swimming and relaxing within the cold waters of the pool below it. The Tuawasan Falls found on the west coast of the island within Barangay Mainit is harder to reach as you need to pass through a wild mountain region to get to it. You also have to hike at the end of the trip to get to the falls, which can take up to 20 minutes. It is also a great place to swim and relax. The trek towards the falls provides great views of the island’s lush green forests and beautiful streams.

Whether hot or cold springs, it seems Camiguin has a lot of springs all around. Two of the more popular cold springs in the island are the Sto. Niño Cold Springs and the Macao Cold Springs.

The crystal clear waters of the Sto. Niño Cold Springs are about 20° and are so clear that you can look underwater from one end of the pool to the other. It measures 25m x 40m and springs from the pool’s sandy bottom. The Macao Cold Springs in Mahinog is an idyllic pool of crystal blue waters surrounded by century-old trees which makes it ideal for swimming. The Ardent Hot Springs is the most popular of Camiguin’s hot springs and boasts of waters that are 40° warm. The heated waters are a result of the volcanic activity of Mount Hibok-hibok. It consists f several large pools and a large recreation area where tourists can engage in fun activities. Another such volcanic hot spring is the Tangub Hot Spring where a pool is formed by sea stones and corals. This undeveloped pool has varying water temperatures turning from cold to lukewarm, warm then hot as the tides change. When tides are low, the water turns cold then warms as the seawater mixes with the springs’ hot waters.

A particular place of interest is the Bura Soda Water Swimming Pool which waters tastes like soda water. The scenery is great and its waters are perfect for swimming. The Mantigue National Park with its 6.9 hectares of evergreen forests fringed with white beaches makes this island paradise great for snorkeling on the one side and diving on the other side. White Island is also an ideal place for snorkeling, swimming and sunbathing. Dive spots dot the island of Camiguin noteworthy of which are the Burias Shoal and the Jicdup Shoal.

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