Given the multiple holidays and long-weekends every year, it is always conducive to pull-off that overdue travel plans and spare some extra time and savings to get to know our very own country. Given the fact that competition among local air carriers has so far pushed air fares down to more affordable rates brings this quest closer to reality. New destinations have also expanded and new routes were opened which make the islands more accessible both to locals and foreign tourists. Save for the more popular and usual tourist stops such as Cebu, Davao, Palawan and Bohol, many unpopular and underrated destinations are still waiting to be explored and become acquainted with.
However, flight frequency in some of the domestic destinations sometimes keep the fares high, not to mention local conditions like peace & order and climate, hinder many travelers to try them. The catch, however, comes during seat sale when most of the popular destinations are quickly saturated. So, the next time you’re in for that sought-after super low sale, why not try some of these overlooked but equally beautiful destinations worth visiting:
Bongao (Tawi-Tawi). Little known to many, there is a commercial plane that flies to and from this country’s southernmost province. Perhaps the distance and the relative peace and order situation that we hear make this southernmost domestic airline destination not so appealing to tourists. There are also no direct flights to and from Manila, so one has to take the flight to Zamboanga City then take the daily flight to Bongao, the capital town. Visiting this province of some 100 islands is not complete without conquering the sacred Bongao peak and visiting Simunul Island, the birthplace of Islam in the Philippines. Cebu Pacific operates this route daily.
Calbayog City (Province of Samar). This progressive city in Eastern Visayas and one of the largest in the country in terms of area, is host and jump-off point to some of the underrated but world-class caves and beautiful waterfalls of Samar island. It also boasts of its best-tasting tinapa (smoked fish) and pili nut delicacies. Philippine Airlines flies 3x week direct to/from Calbayog while Cebu Pacific has daily flights via Cebu.
Catarman (Northern Samar). This quaint town and provincial capital of Northern Samar is an emerging gateway to neighboring Samar provinces. Better known as a University Town being host to one of the region’s premier universities, it also serves as the jump-off to the awesome province’s geological and historical wonders such as the Biri Rock Formations, Pink Sand Beach of San Vicente, the historic Capul Island and the pristine cave systems and waterfalls scattered around the island. Philippine Airlines is the only carrier that plies the route 4x a week to each of these destinations.
Cauayan City (Isabela). This destination is serviced by Cebu Pacific and is understandably not so popular due to its proximity via regular land travel but this is a faster alternative en route to the provinces in Cagayan Valley, particular as jump-off to off-the-beaten-path adventures along the Sierra Madre mountain range. The city is also the gateway to the underrated and undiscovered beauty of Isabela, Quirino and Nueva Vizcaya which are teeming with natural wonders. Cebu Pacific operates this route daily except Sundays.
Cotabato City. Amidst some negative perception of the city, Cotabato is actually a safe and bustling city that also serves as the regional center of the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM) and a strategic gateway to Central Mindanao. The city is home to the country’s largest mosque, the Sultan Haji Hassanal Bolkiah Masjid (Grand Mosque) and the jump-off to a range of underrated attractions that include its very own Kuta Wato Cave, the Blue Lagoon and Pink Mosque of Maguindanao and the breathtaking Asik-Asik Waterfalls of North Cotabato. Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific have daily flights to this city.
Dipolog City (Zamboanga del Norte). Truth to tell, Dipolog City is actually the official capital of Zamboanga del Norte. It is also the jump-off to the famous Dakak Beach Resort and the Rizal Shrine in Dapitan City. When in Dipolog, it is possible to take a boat trip to Cebu and Dumaguete via Dapitan. Don’t leave the city without bringing home their locally-produced sardines. Cebu Pacific and Philippines Airlines plies this route daily.
Masbate City (Masbate). Known for its vast forage lands, Masbate is popular as a Rodeo Country and hosts an annual rodeo celebration. The province also boasts of its rich protected marine resources and mangrove forests. From Masbate City, negotiate for transportation going to Ticao Island for manta ray and whale shark watching or island hop in Burias Island. One can also proceed north and explore the Buntod sandbar and Catandayagan waterfalls. Daily flights to/from Masbate is being serviced by Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific.
Ozamis City (Misamis Occidental). The capital city of Misamis Occidental, Ozamis is the commercial and education center of the province and a transit point of trade between mainland Mindanao and Cebu. Underrated attractions such as the Aquamarine Park, the Cotta Fort and local adventure parks are just nearby. For nature lovers, Ozamis is the gateway to the Mt Malindang Range Natural Park, an ASEAN Heritage Park. You can also checkout the second largest pipe organ in the Philippines at the Immaculate Concepcion Cathedral. This city can be reached via Cebu Pacific and Philippines Airlines daily.
Pagadian City (Zamboanga del Sur). Down south is another not so popular destination which is Pagadian City, the provincial capital of Zamboanga del Sur. It is also the regional center of the Western Mindanao (Region IX) and the gateway to neighboring Zamboanga Sibugay province. When in the city, don’t miss riding their unique and locally made tricycles that are inclined at 45 degrees. Fresh seafoods and good quality dried fish abound in the city. Taking a quick boat trip to Dao Dao Daku island gives you a beautiful view of what locals called “The Little Hongkong of the South”. Flights to and from Pagadian is being serviced by Cebu Pacific.
Tandag City (Surigao del Sur). This capital city is reachable through daily flights from Manila via Mactan Cebu Airport. Unknown to many, this is an alternative transit point to the famous Enchanted River of Hinatuan, Tinuy-an Falls, the so-called Niagara Falls of the Philippines and the Britania Island Group. Cebu Pacific have three flights operating this route on a weekly basis from Cebu.
Tablas Island (Romblon). This is one of Romblon’s biggest islands and hosts some of the province’s beautiful and underrated natural attractions, from towering peaks to white sand beaches. Romblon is also famous for its marble industry and host to the formidable Guiting-Guiting mountain. Cebu Pacific is the sole carrier that operates this route with 4x weekly flights.
Roxas City (Capiz). Best known as the birthplace of a former President, Roxas City is the capital of Capiz and is situated between the provinces Aklan and Iloilo. Its abundant marine resources has catapulted the city to be considered as the “Seafood Capital of the Philippines”. But beyond this title, Roxas is one of the convenient gateways to Gigantes Island Group, off Northern Iloilo. The province’s hidden waterfalls and cultural landmarks including the Pan-ay Bell touted, the largest of its kind in Asia are accessible from Roxas. Kalibo and Iloilo City are also just few hours away from the city. Cebu Pacific and Philippine Airlines serve this route daily.
San Jose (Occidental Mindoro). A few minutes flight down mainland Luzon’s western seaboard would bring you to San Jose town in Mindoro’s Occidental side. The airport is one of the most convenient gateways to reach the famous Apo Reef, one of the largest contiguous coral reefs in the world located off Sablayan town and a possible viewing of the critically endangered, Tamaraw among other island endemics. Explore the pristine beaches around its nearby islands such as Ilin and Ambulong. Cebu Pacific has 3x weekly flights to/from San Jose.
Surigao City (Surigao del Norte) – This capital city is an alternative gateway to the surfing haven of Siargao Island and the Caraga region. It is host to the unique pebble beach of Ipil-Mabua and the Bitaugan Whirlpool. It also serves as a transit point to Lake Mainit, the deepest in the country and Bucas Grande Islands. It is also the jump-off to the the mysterious Dinagat Island Province. Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific fly to Surigao City daily via Cebu.
Virac (Catanduanes) – Situated in Luzon’s Pacific seaboard, Catanduanes is previously synonymous to perennial typhoons due to its location. However, unknown to many, Virac is one of the quickest gateways to the famous Caramoan Islands. Its Puraran Beach is also fast becoming a popular surfing site in the country. Cebu Pacific has daily flights to and from Virac. [TBC]
Flight schedules reflected here are based on published travel timetable of Philippine Airlines (Updated as of May 20, 2017), Cebu Pacific (as of May 20, 2017). Please refer to their respective websites or call their hotlines for actual schedules and fees.