There are 7,109 islands in the Philippines, some quite large, while others are the size of a small Buick.
Most islands are safe for us, and all foreigners in general. Most. I was told by many locals don't venture down to Mindanao, the southern large Province. Though we did, but to north Mindanao, Cagayan de oro City. A small and beautiful city, clean, light traffic, good shopping, (and cheap!) great sight seeing. I'd plan on visiting there again in the future. But do not venture further South, especially to Zamboanga City. Many many foreigners have been kidnapped there and held for ransom. A few have lost their heads. Do not go near there! Don't go to Palawan island either, a few have been nabbed there and taken to Zamboanga. Its wise not to travel any farther south then Bohol, just south of Cebu.
You can take a Supercat, a twin hulled, air conditioned ferry down to Bohol, then hire a truck or tricycle cabs to take you to Carmen and the Chocolate Hills, a real sight to see. It is so beautiful. You climb a whole lot of steps to the top of the tallest one, and you see an endless landscape of hills that shaped alike, and roughly the same size. No one is sure exactly how they were formed. "Chocolate Hills," is the name, because during the dry season, it looks like a huge landscape of chocolate drops, or upside down Hershey Kisses. Fantastic place.
If a true tropical paradise is what you want, visit an island called Borocay. We took a small commuter flight from Cebu to to a small town called Kalibo, then from there, a van across the island, then finally onto a small boat which took us to Borocay. No docks, so you have to wade onto the shore. It is a beautiful, picturesque island, no crowds, no pollution, and no traffic. No cars or trucks on the island, only tricycles. Small motorcycles, mainly 150cc or so with sidecars on them. We stayed at Willy's Beach Resort in a deluxe room for $50 a night, but there are much cheaper places to stay then that; we splurged. We hired a boat to take us around the island, including a picnic on a completely deserted beach. The two-man boat crew even prepared the food while we swam in the cool clean water. The boat tour took just two hours or so, excluding the picnic and swim stop, that is how small Borocay is. Worth going to, it is spectacular.
Cebu has good places, like Kawasan Falls for instance. Hire a van or small Jeepney to drive you there for the two hour drive, and a mile or so hike to the actual falls. It is a good swimming place also, plus you can hike up beside the falls to the source, a natural spring. A beautiful day trip for swimming and enjoying nature.
Paradise Mountain is another good place to go. It's a mountain resort with beautiful views and you can't starve there. We wandered a little into the forest as you can everywhere in the Philippines, and pick mangos, papayas, bananas, and many other fruits. You get hungry exploring the Province; you can just pick your own lunch from the forest.
In the city, a must-see is the appropriately named Tops. The top of the mountain overlooking Cebu City. I proposed to my wife up there, as I'm sure thousands upon thousands of propsals have taken place up there! The only way to get there is by taxi, and have the driver wait. Otherwise its a long walk down. No tricycles or Jeepneys go up to Tops. Only taxies and private cars. But having the driver wait isn't expensive, and neither is the small fee to get to the viewing area. Nearly100% of the city can be viewed from Tops, and of course its best to go at night. But don't worry, even the most nutty maniac taxi drivers take it slow up the windy narrow road leading to Tops. Some may try and drive like A.J. Foydt through town, but on those little windy roads, they all drive like an old granny. Which is good, going splat over a cliff isn't my idea of a good time. Tops is the perfect romantic spot to take a nice girl to.
Be careful of hotel prices. You can pay $15 a night with AC, or you can pay $100+ per night in Cebu Plaza Hotel, the Marriott at Ayala, or the new Sheritan next to the SM Mall. On Mactan, directly across the street from Gaisano Mactan, there is a department store and mall, and next to the mall there's the Mactan Pension House. (The name for motel, I guess). Approximately $15 per night with air conditioning, which you will want. A roof top restuarant, to catch a taxi, just walk out the door, and within probably 20 seconds you'll be in an air conditioned taxi. Most have AC, its called "air-con" there. Another is right down the street, the HR Tourist Inn. About $15 or so per night with AC. Though they don't have the nice pool they once had, my wife informs me they've filled it in. And there are other numerous places to stay that cost very little. Most are not fancy, but are clean, and decent.
Higher on the scale but still not expensive, is the Philippine Dream. It is an old Japanese cruise liner turned hotel, casino, disco, and nightclub. Nice place. The Captain will gladly give you a personalized tour, great guy. He'll also work with you on rates for an extended stay. You have to walk a little ways to the highway to hail a taxi. Not too far, but a slight inconvenience in the rain. Carry an umbrella.
On the far side of Mactan is the resort area. Most resorts are expensive, Blue Water, the Shangra-la, etc. One isn't, the EGI. I have no idea what that stands for, but I don't care; its a nice place. It has a 10-story tower, and bungalows. We paid about $40 a night in the bungalows; we had our honeymoon there. We could have had a sixth floor one bedroom condo overlooking the beach for $200 per month. I was foolish for not taking it. Two restuarants, one you can eat inside, or outside, and the other is a tiny Italian place, with out-of-this-world food. Great prices too, by the way.
Excerpted and updated from "Two Years In The Philippines" in Escape From America Magazine, Issue 59.