The Philippines may not be as popular as our neighboring countries when it comes to backpacking, but it doesn’t mean you have to skip it. Discover the classic and under-the-radar destinations for backpacking Central Visayas. This stunning region in the Philippines composed of Bohol, Cebu, Negros Oriental, and Suquijor, is an ideal backpacking destination. Pack your sense of adventure and explore its palm-fringed coastline lapped by turquoise sea, mesmeric diving and snorkeling sites, pristine waterfalls with Tiffany Blue basins and jungle-clad canyons, stunning cave formations, mountains hemmed in by wilderness, and ancient historical churches and sites. Only intrepid backpackers who dare to explore this region can unravel its hidden beauty.
Here’s my handpicked list of the best backpacking destinations in Central Visayas to help you plan your backpacking trip.
BACKPACKING CENTRAL VISAYAS: BOHOL
There are a handful of truly holistic destinations in the Philippines, and Bohol is one of them. If you fancy history, pastoral scenery, forest roads, tropical beaches, adventures, and snorkeling or diving, then this island is for you. Despite its popularity, Bohol remains blissfully protected by dense wilderness.
Let’s start with the most obvious one in Bohol – Panglao. Bohol’s well-loved island is the usual destination of first-time visitors here. It is bursting with dive sites and snorkeling sites, such as Puntod, Arco Point, Napaling, Doljo Beach, and Kalipayan. But non-divers flock to Panglao due to its tropical beaches and island-hopping activity, and Alona Beach is the common base for all kinds of travelers here. Concentrated in Alona Beach is varied accommodations for all types of travelers, including backpackers and budget travelers. There’s a handful of trendy hostels that won’t empty your wallet. It’s a convenient base because everything you need is here – restaurants, tour agencies, island hopping, souvenir shops, dive shops, and nightlife. Alona Beach is a tropical beach cliché. Its palm-fringed, powdery, coastline is hugged by aquamarine water, ideal for swimming, lounging, and sunbathing. But if you want a quieter location, head to Dumaluan Beach, the area is more laidback. It has a charming beach with lesser crowd. The downside here though is, there’s not much restaurants and eateries in the area, so you still have to go to Alona if you want more options for dining.
Whether you are staying in Alona or Dumaluan Beach, Tagbilaran, or the other side of Panglao Island, joining group tours is a practical way to explore Bohol. But with the recent pandemic, make sure to wear your face masks and practice the minimum health protocols. You can start the day by joining the half-day island hopping tour, which includes an early morning dolphin watching, snorkeling in Balicasag, and lounging in the picturesque Virgin Island, a sandbar that rises during low tide.
Enjoy the rest of the day by venturing out to the countryside. You can join the inexpensive Bohol Countryside group tour or rent a motorcycle to explore the province. The typical trip itinerary includes the Loboc River Cruise where you’ll ride a floating restaurant and bask in the scenery of the emerald green Loboc River while enjoying a buffet meal and being serenaded by the local choir. And of course, a visit to Bohol wouldn’t be complete without seeing the tarsiers and Chocolate Hills. These world-famous hills that changed its colors depending on the season is formed by coral deposits millions of years ago, spread across the towns of Valencia, Sierra Bullones, Batuan, Sagbayan, Bilar, and Carmen. The hills in Sagbayan and Carmen are developed for tourism, you can pay a minimal entrance fee and relish the unobstructed view of the celebrated Bohol Chocolate Hills.
ALSO READ: BOHOL TRAVEL REQUIREMENTS
There is more to Bohol than Panglao, this province is bursting with underrated tourist spots that will surely surprise you. Take for example Candijay, Bohol, another ideal backpacking destination in Central Visayas. If you have more time, explore this sleepy province that is home to the scenic Cadapdapan Rice Terraces, the towering Can-Umantad Falls, the turquoise Canawa Spring, and a mangrove forest with a floating restaurant.
ALSO READ: CANDIJAY BOHOL TRAVEL GUIDE
While you are at it, also make time for nearby Anda, where you can relax and momentarily adapt to the slow rhythm of life. Anda, Bohol exudes white, powdery shoreline that is blissfully devoid of luxury trappings, such as Quinale Beach and Talisay Beach.
But perhaps Anda’s most interesting asset are its caves and cave pools scattered around the town. Don’t miss the enchanting Cabagnow Cave Pool! Swimming in its roughly 12- feet cobalt water will surely be an unforgettable experience.
RELATED TRAVEL BLOG: ANDA, BOHOL ITINERARY
BACKPACKING CENTRAL VISAYAS: CEBU
With its abundance of site and affordability, it’s going to be a challenge to be bored in Cebu. This vast province is mind-bogglingly diverse and a favorite destination of local and foreign backpackers. Backpacking Cebu means, you’ll have the option to explore the city itself, Northern Cebu, and Southern Cebu.
Bask in the sand, sea, and deep blue water of Malapascua Island. Another popular backpacking destination for locals and foreigners alike. Malapascua is a well-known dive destination because of its mesmeric coral gardens and impeccable dive spots like Kemod Shoal, Monad Shoal, and Gato Island. But it is best known for the thresher sharks and manta rays residing in Monad Shoal. But if you’re not into diving, you can rent a motorbike to explore the quiet island. Or just swim and get a tan at Bounty Beach.
ALSO READ: MALAPASCUA TRAVEL GUIDE + ITINERARY
If you are searching for immaculate beaches devoid of noisy crowd, then Bantayan Island is for you. It is another recommended backpacking destination in Northern Cebu. This tropical island is speckled with sandy coastline, caves, and eco-tourism site. To fully enjoy Bantayan, rent a motorbike and explore the beaches here such as Paradise Beach and Kota Beach. Or take a dip in the refreshing pool caves of Ogtong and Sto. Niño. If you still can’t get enough of the beaches, rent a boat and go island hopping and visit Hilantagaan Island and Virgin Island. End the day by watching Bantayan’s dramatic sunset.
Backpacking Central Visayas wouldn’t be complete without a visit to the budget-friendly Camotes Island in North Cebu. This ruggedly enchanting island devoid of luxury trappings rarely sees tourists. The best way to see its beaches and caves is to rent a boat for island hopping. To save on the cost of boat rental, best to join other travelers or join a group tour. Island and cave hopping in Camotes Island typically includes a visit to Amazing Island, Santiago Bay, Mangodlong Rock Resort, Tulang Diot, Lake Danao Camotes, Heaven Cave, Timubo Cave, and Bukilat Cave.
BACKPACKING CENTRAL VISAYAS: SOUTH CEBU
Dalaguete is waiting to be discovered, so, when you visit this town, you will know that this is your discovery, your path and your own adventure. It’s an ideal destination for backpacking Central Visayas. Get ready to ride a habal-habal (motorcycle) to reach the jumping off point of these mountains, since the local bus that runs here waits for local passengers and tons of vegetables to get full before leaving. Test your endurance by scaling up the gorgeous peaks of this town.
Osmeña Peak is the destination that put Dalaguete on the tourist radar, but it’s not the only one that deserves recognition. You can also climb the equally stunning Casino Peak, which is an easy short trek from the base with a dramatic view of the rolling, green mountains. If you are fairly fit, trek Mt.Kandungaw and enjoy its stunning vista. Hire a trained local guide for your safety and to help the local community. It’s a more tedious hike compared to the two peaks, but somehow the locals have managed to improve the trail here to a concrete path, which makes the ascent a lot easier. Going down, ask your guide for the “easy” route, and discover the fairly small, hidden cave under the peak.
If you think Dalaguete is only for mountain seekers, you’ll be surprised that this sleepy town known for its windswept, undulating peaks and verdant jungle is also bordered by azure beaches. Head to the Dalaguete Beach Park (Casay Beach), a public, white sand beach that is perfect for sunbathing and swimming open from 7:00 AM – 5:00 PM, with a minimal entrance fee.
The famous yet controversial whale shark watching in Oslob has fast garnered the attention of travelers around the world and a famous destination for backpacking Central Visayas. The activity is available from 6:00 AM to 12:00 PM only and lasts up to 30 minutes. Nowadays, marine biologists are monitoring the activity to prevent the whale sharks from being harmed. They are wild animals that come and go as they please. So, do not touch, chase or ride the whale sharks.
Few people have heard of Samboan, and even fewer visits. Although bursting with natural attractions, it sees lesser travelers compared to other tourist destinations in Cebu. This largely uncharted town is teeming with immaculate beaches and majestic waterfalls tucked in its verdant woodlands, perfect for backpackers who want something new.
Aguinid Waterfalls is a gorgeous 8-tiered waterfalls in Brgy.Tamboan is slowly rising as one of the best eco-tourism destinations in Cebu. Backpackers will surely enjoy exploring this mystic waterfalls with the help of a guide. You can jump and swim in some of deep basin overflowing with beautiful tiffany blue water.
ALSO READ: HOW TO GET TO AGUINID FALLS
Dao Falls is another waterfalls that you can visit in Samboan, you can hire a habal-habal (motorcycle) to take you there. It’s is believed to be tallest waterfalls in town, you can swim in its dark turquoise water when the flow isn’t crazy. There are local guides that can help you navigate the falls, as some trail can be slippery and you have to wade through the water and canyon. It’s one of the most Instagram-worthy waterfalls in Cebu because of its Tiffany blue water and verdant ferns and plants covering the canyon walls.
Tired of chasing the water falls? After an adventure-filled day chasing the waterfalls in Samboan, end the day by taking a dip in an enormous kawa bath, originally used for cooking brown sugar.
Sit inside the gigantic cookware filled with boiled water, herbal plants, flowers, and essential oil, and enjoy an exceptional bath.
If you’re going to backpack South Cebu, make Moalboal your base because it is packed with hostels that won’t empty your wallet. Many of the best waterfalls in South Cebu can be accessed from Moalboal and there’s plenty of restaurants and eateries here too.
Moalboal has idyllic beaches but its real treasure lies under the water. In fact, for me, it’s still the best snorkeling site that I’ve visited to date. Snorkel in Tuble Marine Sanctuary and gawp at the rainbow-like plethora of fish and sea turtles. Experience the celebrated sardine run just off the coast of Panagsama Beach. For diving in Moalboal, head to Pescador Island.
BACKPACKING CENTRAL VISAYAS: NEGROS ORIENTAL
Dumaguete’s most important asset is its people, that is why it is dubbed as the “City of Gentle People”. No wonder its draws many foreigners to retire here. It is also known as the “University Town”, because many residents here are students. While there’s very little to see in the city itself, Dumaguete is an ideal base for backpackers who wish to explore Negros Oriental and Siquijor. Almost everything you need is here – cheap accommodations, restaurants, eateries, souvenirs shops, and transportation to other towns of Negros Oriental, including the neighboring Siquijor province, Cebu, Bacolod, and Negros Occidental. You can even cross to Mindanao from Dumaguete via ferry to Dapitan in Zamboanga del Norte.
You need a day or at least half day to explore the tourist spots of Dumaguete, which are mostly walking distance from Rizal Boulevard, named after Dr. Jose Rizal, the country’s national hero. You can start exploring Siliman University, which is an attraction in itself. Inside the sprawling university that is sheltered by massive trees and greenery, you will find Siliman Hall, believed to be the oldest standing American building in the Philippines, and now houses Siliman University Heritage Museum. There are actually 5 more museums inside the campus – the Anthropology Museum, the Ariniego Art Gallery, the ROTC Museum, the Gonzalez Museum of Natural History, and the Marine Mammal Museum. Visit one whenever you can as museums speak volume of our history.
From Siliman University you can ride a tricycle or walk to St. Catherine of Alexandria Church (Dumaguete Cathedral), whose original structure was completed in 1776. Beside it is one of the 4 original bell towers of the church – the Companario de Dumaguete (Dumaguete Belfry), which was used to warn the residents of impending attacks from raiders. Facing the cathedral is Quezon Park where you can take a rest and people-watch. While you are at it, also check out the Dumaguete City Hall nearby.
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12.DAUIN & VALENCIA
Just south of Dumaguete is Dauin, its scenic coastline is peppered with marine sanctuary and dive sites that is home to different types of fishes like frogfish, ghost pipe fish, cuttlefish, and more. Famous dive sites here include Dauin Norte, Dauin Sur, Mainit, and Sahara Reef. It’s a perfect place to add to the backpacking Central Visayas destinations.
Dauin is also home to natural hot springs like Baslay or Red Rock Hot Spring and Malmag Falls and Cave-like Rock Formations.
While you are at it, also visit the neighboring town of Valencia, home to pristine waterfalls like the towering Casaroro Falls and the unique Pulang Bato Falls with water cascading down stream through red rocks.
If you are looking for an off-beat destination in Negros Oriental head to Zamboanguita, about 45-minute drive from Dumaguete City. It is known for its famous Malatapay Market, a traditional market where local fishermen and farmers trade goods every Wednesday morning. This is a good side trip before heading to Apo Island if you’re doing a DIY trip, because located nearby is the port for public boats to the famed island.
Zamboanguita is also lavished by natural resources, it is no surprise that you’ll find mesmerizing beaches here like Turtle Island, which is in a center of an ownership dispute between the towns of Siaton and Zamboaguita. It was named such because it used to be a hatching ground for sea turtles. You can enjoy lounging in its powdery sand and swim in its blue water. But Zamboanguita’s real gem is concealed off its coast. It is home to diverse natural and artificial reefs suitable for all levels of scuba divers. Popular dive sites here include Basak North and Basak South, Unity Point, and Well Beach House Reef.
And if you think this is all Zamboanguita can offer, next thing you know, you are drenched in sweat while desperately clambering up the windswept Najandig Peak and enjoying the scenic view on its summit. It’s more or less 3.5 km hike from the village center, long trek but a fairly easy one. Don’t forget to sign at the ranger station.
Mention a trip to Dumaguete and images of Apo Island immediately comes to mind. This volcanic island off the coast of Negros Oriental is a popular diving and snorkeling site. You can join group tours from Dumaguete to explore the island for a hassle-free tour. But you can also pull a DIY travel to Apo Island, but it can be time consuming, since you need to look for other tourists to share the boat ride, which is quite hefty. Just take a jeepney to Malapatay, and from there you can rent a boat to Apo Island. Wait for other travelers to share the boat rental cost if you are alone.
Apart from its resident turtles, what makes Apo Island special is its well-preserved coral garden. Home to a staggering variety of species of fish and over 400 species of corals, Apo Island is indeed a diving and snorkeling haven. Thankfully, the locals were convinced to turn this gorgeous island into a marine sanctuary and protect it. Today, they have successfully made a livelihood from the influx of travelers wanting to snorkel and dive in Apo Island.
15.BALINSASAYAO AND DANAO TWIN LAKES
Apart from Apo Island, a classic side trip when you’re in Dumaguete is the Twin Lakes of Balinsasayao and Lake Danao, sitting on Mt. Talinis range. Another relaxing Central Visayas backpacking destination. These emerald green crater lakes are separated by a small mountain range. On top you can enjoy the panoramic views of Mt. Guintabon, Mt.Guinsayawan, and the Tanon Straight. The verdant forest surrounding Balinsasayao Twin Lakes Natural Park is also home to a surprising variety of endemic and endangered animals. It’s also key birding area as it is a sanctuary of a wide variety of birds, including the critically endangered Visayan wrinkled hornbill and Negros bleeding heart pigeon.
16.MANJUYOD + BAIS
Exploring Manjuyod Sandbar in Manjuyod, Negros Oriental may hurt your backpacker budget, but it sure is well worth it. Manjuyod Sandbar as the name suggest is a sandbar that rises when the tide recedes. It is one of the most beautiful sandbars in the Philippines. To enjoy its beauty, you can rent a boat and time your visit during low tide. Best to do this with a group of fellow backpackers. Another activity included with the boat rental in Manjuyod is early morning dolphin watching in Bais. Yes, if you are lucky enough, you can watch the dolphins swimming freely in the open sea after sunrise. This activity is available from March to October.
ALSO READ: MANJUYOD SANDBAR TRAVEL GUIDE
The enchanting Siquijor will surely steal your heart. It is another backpacker’s haven with a good number of budget guesthouses. Siquijor is a tropical island cliché, peppered with powdery white sand beaches bordered by swaying palm trees. The most famous beach here is Salagdoong Beach, a public beach with crystal clear, turquoise water, perfect for swimming and cliff jumping.
You might be tempted to just swim and lounge on the pristine beaches here, but do take advantage of the island’s beauty. This chilled-out province, lavished with natural resources, remains an undiscovered gem for adventure travelers. You can rent a motorcycle or a tricycle to explore the rest of the island. Try the famous Tarzan swing at Cambugahay Falls and plunge in its refreshing emerald green water. Also check out Capilay Hot Spring, a public pool with deep green water in the town of San Juan. The over 400-year-old gigantic Balete tree in Brgy.Campalanas in Lazi is another traveler favorite. While you are in town, drop by at the 18th century San Isidro Labrador Church (Lazi Church) and the olden Lazi Convent, declared as a National Historic Shrine. And since Siquijor is known as the “Land of Faith Healing”, you can buy love potion souvenirs and even visit a village where traditional healing called “bolo-bolo” is still being practiced.