While the gem of Philippine beach destinations is closed until August for a much-needed cleanup, the country has no shortage of alternative locales for sun, sea, and sand. Here are five that should be on your summer wish list.
This idyllic getaway on central Luzon’s east coast is known for its local surfing scene and rich Spanish-colonial heritage, but it has plenty of other tricks up its sleeve. If Sabang Beach is wave-rider central, Dicasalarin Cove is the non-surfer’s hangout with its white-sand shores, smaller waves, and a so-called “lighthouse,” a leaning monument that offers sweeping views of the rugged coastline from its cliff-top location. Make sure you drop by the Baler Museum, drive up Ermita Hill, and hike through the rain forest to take a dip below Ditumabo Mother Falls.
Surfers in the lineup are best observed from the veranda of a second-floor suite in Costa Pacifica (63-2/519-4249; doubles from US$88), a modern, whitewashed property on Sabang Beach.
Mindanao in the far south has its share of postcard-perfect sandy coastline, and up-and-coming Dahican is well worth the four-hour drive eastward from Davao. Dahican’s namesake beach is the main attraction with its uninterrupted seven-kilometer stretch of white sand that curls around the glittering waters of Mayo Bay. While the beach draws day-trippers from the neighboring city of Mati on weekends, you may well have the beach virtually to yourself outside of holiday periods. Thrill-seekers take note: besides surfing and skimboarding, another way to experience a rush of adrenalin is through a heart-stopping 15-minute ride aboard an ultralight plane that offers magnificent vistas of the coast.
With rooms spread across a pair of two-bedroom beachfront villas that each have a kitchen and alfresco dining area, Tropical Kanakbai (63/917-625-6301; doubles from US$87) offers peace, privacy, and the added perk of a dedicated cook.
3. San Narciso
Its vast, open beach lined with towering pine trees makes San Narciso a seaside retreat with enough real estate for everyone to soak up its quaint, unassuming appeal. While it’s frequented for surfing and camping, this otherwise sleepy town an hour’s drive from Subic Bay occasionally turns into a pulsating playground when it hosts events like the annual Summer Siren Festival. Visiting the nearby uninhabited islands of Capones and Camara for a day is a must to explore even emptier beaches, admire various rock formations and cliffs, and marvel at the vast expanse of the West Philippine Sea from a century-old lighthouse.
Zambawood (63/915-991-4715; family rooms from US$308) is a sprawling coastal estate where The Beach House accommodates up to 22 guests in a huge modern-industrial chalet tucked in a pine forest.
4. La Union
A favorite weekend haunt among yuppie Manileños, Luzon’s surfing destination du jour has miles of pale brown sand along with a thriving food and retail scene, giving even non-surfers plenty of reasons to linger. San Juan is the center of the action with a strip of restaurants and cafés lining the coast and extending across the other side of MacArthur Highway. Farther afield, cliff jumping at Tangadan Falls, sampling the local wine in nearby vineyards, and inspecting the newly restored 400-year-old watchtower at Luna are worthwhile excursions.
Away from the crowds, Lafaayette Luxury Suites (63/916-510-8287; suites from US$142) is a newly opened retreat in Bauang that looks out to the Lingayen Gulf, offering Balinese-inspired rooms built steps from the beach and a pool made for sunset dips.
Almost seven kilometers off the northernmost tip of the island of Cebu, Malapascua is, by some accounts, what Boracay was like 20 years ago. Most small-scale resorts here congregate around the powdery white sands of Bounty Beach in the south, though you can also head to the wilder stretch of Langob Beach in the north before hiking along the scenic cliffs of nearby Guimbitayan. Below the water’s surface, Malapascua is known as the only place in the world where thresher sharks can be regularly sighted in their natural habitat, with the most popular dive site being Monad Shoal, a cleaning station for these four- to six-meter-long creatures.
Opt for a mahogany- and abaca-furnished Sea View Deluxe room at Ocean Vida Beach and Dive Resort (63/917-568-5924; doubles from US$75), which has a restaurant, bar, and lounge area where you can indulge in a mango daiquiri right on Bounty Beach.
This article originally appeared in the June/July 2018 print issue of DestinAsian magazine (“Beyond Boracay”).