8 best water sports and activities in the Philippines

We point you to eight adventures on and around the Philippines' water reserves

Standup paddleboarding in Batangas

Standup paddleboarding in Batangas

The country’s rivers, lakes and seas check all the boxes for the environmentally aware adventurer. Fun for any budget or skill level? Full contact with the best that nature has to offer? Minimal ecological footprint? Stay cool in the summer heat? The adventures in this list give you all these benefits and more. Badian’s canyons, El Nido’s coves and Lake Sebu’s culture (among others) feed you all the adventure you can stomach with little or none of the guilt.

Canyoneering in Badian (Photo: Kenn Cagot)
Canyoneering in Badian (Photo: Kenn Cagot)

Canyoneering in Cebu

Four hours’ canyoneering down the rapids of Matutinao River feels like an eternity: starting at Kanlaob River in the town of Alegria, Cebu and heading downstream, you’ll negotiate jungle trails, take long leaps down cliff faces into clear water and swim under rocky overhangs until you make your way to Kawasan Falls in Badian.

You’ll need stamina and a quick mind to successfully negotiate swift running water through jungle and canyons. The Matutinao River’s depth varies from place to place — it’s shin deep in parts, and too deep to try without a flotation device in others. Safety equipment is an absolute necessity when canyoneering around these parts: the rocks are too slippery for bare feet, and the rapids can overwhelm even experienced swimmers if they’re not wearing a life vest. Aqua socks and other light and snug footwear are highly recommended.

Also read: Canyoneering in Cebu

Whitewater rafting in Davao (Photo: Davao Wildwater Adventure)
Whitewater rafting in Davao (Photo: Davao Wildwater Adventure)

Whitewater rafting in Davao

Don’t be fooled by the placid river delta at the heart of Davao City; further upstream at Marilog District, the Davao River’s chaotic waters provide bucking-bronco-like fun for rafters who can hang on to their rides.

The Davao Wild Water Adventure begins at Barangay Tamugan, about an hour’s drive from the city center. The whitewater rafting experience takes boaters through about 24 rapids bearing evocative names like “Monkey Wall”, “Washing Machine” and “Drop & Suck”, until you come splashing to a stop at Calinan District about a dozen kilometers downstream.

Whitewater rafting in Davao takes teamwork: rafters are briefed on commands and safety regulations, drilled on proper paddling and rescue techniques, then paired up with a boat buddy to maximize safety while negotiating the rapids.

Abadan River in Bohol
Abadan River in Bohol

Cruising the Abatan River in Bohol

The Abatan cuts through Bohol’s heartland, and lays its countryside culture bare through a single leisurely boat that connects five riverside towns. Guests of the Abatan River Community Life Tour start at a wharf in Cortes town, where they hop onto a traditional bandong paddleboat and proceed through a four-hour journey down nipa-lined waters and verdant farmland.

Bohol’s limestone geology ensures the Abatan has a near-constant clarity — a far cry from the polluted river waters we’ve come to expect closer to civilization. At each stop, music and a series of activities welcome guests, who then engage in activities — from weaving in Maribojoc to basket-making in Antequera — that reflect the local way of life. At the last riverside stop at Kawasan Falls, guests may either head back to Cortes or proceed to an adrenaline-filled diversion with the Green Recreational Eco-Adventure Tour (G.R.E.A.T.) in Catigbian Park.
+63 917 010 599; riverlife.ph

A sunset in Manila
A sunset in Manila

Soaking up sunsets in Manila

We’ve often suspected that the Spaniards didn’t take Manila to open up trade with China, but for the gorgeous sunsets. As the September-to-June “Amihan” season brings clear weather to the Philippine capital, visitors to Manila Bay get treated to an end-of-day spectacle that would not look out of place in a Vincent van Gogh painting: splashes of orange, gray, red and blue fill the sky as the sun retreats beyond the western horizon.

This daily show can be viewed anywhere around Manila Bay, so choose your spot freely. Lovers of luxury can watch the sunset from the lawn, sparkling wine in hand, at the Sofitel Philippine Plaza or the soon-to-open Conrad Manila. Romantics might book a sunset viewing cruise of the bay. Or you can just enjoy the view from the Baywalk, proving that the best things in life don’t cost a cent.

Kayaking in El Nido (Photo: El Nido Boutique & Cafe and Al Linsangan III)
Kayaking in El Nido (Photo: El Nido Boutique & Cafe and Al Linsangan III)

Kayaking in El Nido, Palawan

The sheltered waters of Bacuit Bay off the seaside Palawan town of El Nido offer perfect kayaking conditions for paddling enthusiasts. Wherever you turn, you’ll glimpse dazzling blue-and-white beaches, soaring cliff walls and the wide expanse of the sea, free from boat engines and pesky crowds, as if you have El Nido all to yourself.

In calm conditions, kayakers can hop from island to island, marvel at the alien-looking karst jutting out of the sea, and dip into the many caves and lagoons carved out of the cliffs by millions of years of natural erosion. Stable sea kayaks can be rented from a number of providers around El Nido; in excellent kayaking conditions, paddlers can spend a whole day picking their way around the 20-odd islands in Bacuit Bay, from Cadlao Island and its eponymous lagoon to the big and small lagoons on Manioc.

Standup paddleboarding in Batangas
Standup paddleboarding in Batangas

Standup paddleboarding in Batangas

Standup paddleboarding enjoys a tamer reputation than its sporting forebears. You don’t need to be as fit as a sea kayaker, or as steady as a surfer, but you’ll still enjoy the full benefits of these watersports — SUP provides a great workout for your leg, arms, back and core muscles, as well as a fun way to soak up the sea breeze. If you can keep your balance while standing and paddling on a broad board, then you’re good to go.

Just a few hours’ drive from Manila, Anilao provides calm waters for SUP enthusiasts, who can paddle around the protected bay without being overwhelmed by breakers. It’s easy to feel at one with the elements on a paddleboard as you enjoy full immersion in the sun, water, wind and scenery. In fact, the biggest danger is enjoying the sport too much — resulting in paddling so far away that you can’t be rescued!

A member of the T'boli tribe on Lake Sebu (Photo: Paolo Tiong)
A member of the T’boli tribe on Lake Sebu (Photo: Paolo Tiong)

Tribal encounters in South Cotabato

Life around Lake Sebu had changed little since the T’Boli and Manobo settled around its shores, until tourists took note of this placid South Cotabato lake, its temperate climate and natural beauty. The lake is fed by springs in the nearby Roxas-Matulas and Daguma mountain ranges; travelers can hike to the area’s seven waterfalls, or confront their agoraphobia at the local zipline, one of Asia’s highest.

Real travelers know that culture trumps adventure in these parts. The T’Boli tribespeople in particular have become master weavers of t’nalak: their most accomplished artisans find inspiration in their dreams, and translate their visions into magnificent woven artworks. Tourists can take a canoe to any of the local artisanal communities and fetch a cloth-bound dream or two to take home.

Maria Cristina Falls
Maria Cristina Falls

Chasing waterfalls in Iligan City

As part of a network of hydroelectric facilities that draw energy from the rapid flow of the Agus River, the Agus VI plant supplies power to a large part of Mindanao. Any doubts about Agus VI’s capacity fade when faced with the full force of nearby Maria Cristina Falls: a twin waterfall that cascades almost 100m from cliff to pool. Depending on the needs of the plant, the falls can be turned off like a switch — the water is diverted to the plant to ensure its continuous operation.

Weekend visitors can see Maria Cristina in full flow from a viewing deck on the third floor of the hydroelectric plant. Mindful of tourists coming in from Iligan City, the National Power Corporation has converted part of the Maria Cristina Falls’ grounds into a nature park, complete with picnic spots, rock climbing walls and zippiness.

Also read: 8 natural wonders you must visit in the Philippines

This article originally appeared in the May 2016 issue of Smile magazine.

Written by

Mike Aquino

We use cookies for a number of reasons, such as keeping Smile website reliable and secure, personalising content and ads, providing social media features and to analyse how our Sites are used.