Each island in the Philippines' Visayas vies for your attention. After all, you'll pass sun-soaked beaches, lush palm jungles and aquamarine coves at every turn. Fortunately, transport links between the nine major island groups – Cebu, Bohol , Negros, Romblon, Siquijor, Panay, Guimaras, Leyte and Samar – are efficient, by way of flights, ferries and bangkas (traditional boats). Entrenched in history, blessed with natural beauty and bursting with epic experiences, here's our list of top things to do in the Visayas to help inspire your next Philippine island adventure.
Travel Back In Time
Cebu is rooted in Spanish history and Catholicism, thanks to ol' Magellan the explorer. Begin your Cebuano immersion with a tour of historical sites. Fort San Pedro is an architectural marvel, dating back to 1565. Having withstood a serious, bloody battle, it's a sombre reminder of the island's tumultuous past.
For a glimpse into Catholicism, marvel at the intricate interiors of Basilica del Santo Niño and take a peek at the Holy Child, a wooden image of Jesus who is said to have miraculously survived a fire centuries ago. You won't want to miss Yap Sandiego Ancestral House either. The house, built from wood and coral by Chinese merchants, is full of antiques and artefacts from daily life in the 17th century.
Snorkelling opportunities abound, no matter which island you land on. If you don't want to venture too far, you can simply hire a snorkel and flippers from your beachfront resort and see how many starfish you can spot. Don't forget your swim shoes as sea urchins are a common sight. If you're seeking something a bit more thrilling, try Malapascua. Sparkling blue seas reveal many large sea creatures. Discover manta rays – some up to six metres' wide – as well as a menagerie of sharks, including threshers, whitetip and even hammerheads!
See The Tiny Tarsiers
It's not just below the surface where you can find native creatures. On Bohol, you'll find one of the tiniest: the tarsier monkey. The Philippine Tarsier Sanctuary is dedicated to the conversation of these pint-sized primates – they're roughly the size of an adult man's fist! You'll trail an expert spotter whose keen gaze can spot the tarsiers even in the densest foliage. But hush those squeals of excitement. Though absolutely adorable, tarsiers are temperamental, to say the least!
Taste Some Chocolate
Move over Switzerland; sorry, Belgium. The Philippines are coming up in the chocolate ranks, and it's all thanks to Raquel Choa. This vivacious and passionate woman is the creative force behind Ralfe Gourmet, a chocolate company in Cebu. Having grown up understanding the health benefits of the cacao seed, she transforms this humble ingredient into a decadent array of chocolate treats at the Chocolate Chamber and Chocolate Boutique. Try everything from savoury meals, to rich chocolaty cakes and truffles showcasing cacao. Raquel is living proof that eating chocolate every day is good for you!
Cruise The Loboc River
For a different perspective of Bohol, you can't miss a cruise down the Loboc River. This milky green waterway snakes through a lush landscape of coconut palms and riverside villages. Given it's tropical climate, expect downpours. Though the rain is actually a bonus as it amps up the whimsy of the experience, yet clears quickly to reveal bright blue skies. Your cruise includes a traditional Filipino lunch spread and you'll stop off along the way to enjoy a music and dance number from local performers.
With thousands of islands in the Visayas group alone, it's easiest to get a snapshot of this tropical paradise with an island hopping adventure. You can explore a handful of islands in one day, on a traditional bangka boat, from wherever you base yourself . From Bohol's Panglao Island, it's an easy cruise to Balicasag Island, renowned for its scuba diving and snorkelling delights and Virgin Island, with its scatter of starfish and stunning sand bar.
Peddle Over The Chocolate Hills
Bohol is perhaps most famous for its Chocolate Hills, 1,260 grassy mounds that stretch as far as the eye can see. The Chocolate Hills are a sight to behold and you won't get better views than from a zip-line at the Chocolate Hills Adventure Park (CHAP). It's no ordinary zip-line either. CHAP's claim to fame is its 'Bike Zip' where keen (and daring) adventurers peddle across on repurposed bikes. The experience is completely exhilarating, even if you're not flying through the air. CHAP also offers more ways to indulge your penchant for sky-high fun, including a high ropes course.
Get Some Pork On Your Fork
A trip to the Visayas wouldn't be complete without sampling the famous lechon pig. The Philippine's answer to suckling pig is a national dish, but nowhere does it better than Cebu; specifically, Zubuchon. Their secret blend of herbs and spices and coconut creates a glass-like crispy skin when the pork is roasted, resulting in a mouth-watering dish. Anthony Bourdain himself declared it to be the 'best pig ever'.