A First-Timer’s Guide to the Visayas region of the Philippines

In the heart of the Philippines lies the Visayas region, a mesmerizing tapestry of six major islands and a multitude of smaller ones. It is one of the three major island groups in the country, namely, Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. It boasts of some of the world’s finest beaches, awe-inspiring landscapes, delectable cuisines, and warm-hearted locals. Truly, this island group is a dream destination for first-time travelers.

Philippine map
Image by Vectorportal.com, CC BY

However, navigating this diverse paradise can be a challenge for newcomers. Often, it leads to unexpected detours to the bustling capital, Manila. But fear not, as we unravel the secrets of the Visayas to ensure a seamless and unforgettable journey for all.

Visayas, Philippines
The Visayas areas: Western Visayas (in red), Central Visayas (in blue), and Eastern Visayas (in green). Photo By Howard the Duck at English Wikipedia, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8668453.

The Visayan Tapestry: Where Rich History Meets Tropical Beauty

The Visayas region holds a special place in Philippine history, being the first landing point of the Spanish conquistadors. That is to say, they set foot on the eastern shores and made their way to the central hub in Mactan and Cebu. Along the way, they left behind a legacy of some of the country’s oldest and most magnificent churches.

Separated into three regions (6 – Western, 7 – Central, and 8 – Eastern Visayas), it comprises 16 provinces, each with unique charm.

Western Visayas: A Symphony of Sugarcane Fields and White Sands

In Western Visayas, sugarcane plantations, ancient churches, and pristine beaches shape the landscape. Meanwhile, they speak the melodic language of Hiligaynon.

Ilonggos, known for their friendly nature, hail from the Western Visayas region, comprising six provinces on Panay and Negros islands.

Six airports in Caticlan, Kalibo, Roxas City, San Jose, Iloilo City, and Silay-Bacolod serve the region.

Mararison Island
Mararison Island in Antique.


Aklan lies at the northwestern part of Panay Island with Kalibo as its capital. In fact, it is one of the top destinations in the Visayas and even the entire Philippines. Specifically, tourists find their way to the famous Boracay Island. Additionally, visitors often flock here in January for the vibrant Ati-Atihan Festival.


Antique is at the western stretch of Panay Island with San Jose de Buenavista as its capital. The province is home to the notable Mount Madja-as. It features various mountains, rivers, waterfalls, and minor islands like Mararison Island. Moreover, the town of Tib-iao offers exciting adventures for explorers.


Filipinos dub Capiz as the “Seafood Capital of the Philippines” due to its delicious sea catch. To note, it is situated in the northeastern part of Panay Island with Roxas as its capital.


Accessible by boat from Iloilo City in around 15 minutes, Guimaras is an island-province with Jordan as its capital. Moreover, locals refer to it as the “Mango Capital of the Philippines” because of its sweet mangoes. Besides, the Taklong Island National Marine Reserve adds to the province’s appeal.


On the other hand, Iloilo lies at the southern and southwestern part of Panay Island. Its capital is Iloilo City, recognized as one of the UNESCO Creative Cities of Gastronomy. Known for its excellent eateries and popular markets like the  La Paz Market, Iloilo City hosts the annual Dinagyang Festival in January. The province, especially its southern part, boasts of numerous old churches and heritage sites, including the Miag-ao Church, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Negros Occidental

Negros Occidental is at the western half of Negros Island, with Bacolod City as its capital. Locals dubbed it as the “Sugarbowl of the Philippines” due to its vast sugarcane plantations and sugar factories. Consequently, it has the second-highest number of cities after Metro Manila, with 19 municipalities and 13 cities. Furthermore, travelers make their way to Silay City for its historical houses or to Sipalay City in the south for its beautiful beaches.

Sugarcane plantations are found everywhere in the Negros Island.

Central Visayas: Diving into Paradise and Rich Heritage

A favorite among divers and history enthusiasts, Central Visayas is a treasure trove of natural wonders. It stands out as a beloved destination in the Philippines. In particular, locals and tourists love its captivating diving sites, unspoiled beaches, rich historical tapestry, and breathtaking natural wonders.

Cebuano serves as the primary language in Central Visayas, making it a linguistic focal point in the region. Moreover, this region encompasses four provinces from three major islands, namely, Negros, Cebu and Bohol. Additionally, travelers can access these islands through airports located in Mactan-Cebu, Bohol-Panglao, and Dumaguete.

Chocolate Hills, Bohol, Visayas, Philippines
The Chocolate Hills of Bohol.


With Tagbilaran City as its capital, Bohol is an island-province renowned for its island resorts and the iconic Chocolate Hills. Notably, Bohol is the habitat of the tarsier, the world’s smallest living primate.


Cebu is an island-province with Cebu City as its capital. Interestingly, it holds the distinction of being the oldest city in the Philippines, affectionately called the “Queen City of the South.” Moreover, tourists travel to Cebu City annually for the vibrant Sinulog Festival held in January.

Mactan Island is a gateway to Cebu’s diverse attractions. For instance, the island is the site of the historical battle between Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan and local hero Lapulapu.

Adventurous travelers come to Cebu to experience various adventures. For example, they seek the thrill of whale shark encounters in Oslob and canyoneering in Badian. Similarly, travelers enjoy exploring the underground caves in the Camotes Islands and other enticing diving spots across the province.

Negros Oriental

At the eastern half of Negros Island, lies Negros Oriental, with Dumaguete City as its capital. Travelers come here to enjoy its tranquility. Specifically, they travel to see the distinguished landmarks like Silliman University and the scenic Boulevard. Additionally, the southern part of the province boasts Apo Island, a renowned diving destination. Also, Bais is not left behind as it is a haven for dolphin watchers.


Accessible by ferry from Dumaguete, Cebu, and Tagbilaran, the island-province of Siquijor exudes of mystique and beauty. Its capital is the municipality of Siquijor. Despite being a relatively less-traveled destination, tourists come to Siquijor for its tranquil beaches. Definitely, it is an ideal retreat for those seeking relaxation and serenity.

Siquijor, Philippines
A beach in Siquijor all to ourselves, thanks to the suggestion by a local tricycle driver.

Eastern Visayas: A Resilient Haven Facing the Pacific

Facing the mighty Pacific, Eastern Visayas always endures the brunt of typhoons, emerging as a testament to resilience. With Leyte and Samar as its major islands, this region invites adventurers to discover the region and traverse the longest bridge in the country connecting Leyte and Samar – the San Juanico Bridge.

Visayas, Philippines
San Juanico Bridge connects Leyte and Samar.

Waray stands out as the predominant language spoken in Eastern Visayas. Since it faces the Pacific Ocean, it always bears the impact of typhoons. In particular, the super typhoon Haiyan in 2013 caused extensive damage to the region. Eastern Visayas encompasses six provinces, with airports in Tacloban City, Calbayog, and Catarman.


Biliran is an island-province known for its numerous waterfalls. It lies at the northern tip of Leyte, with Naval as its capital.


The province of Leyte gained historical significance as the site of General Douglas MacArthur’s return to the Philippines, fulfilling his promise. You can find the province at the northern part of Leyte Island, with Tacloban City as its capital.

Southern Leyte

History buffs often associate Southern Leyte with Limasawa, believed to be the site of Magellan’s first landing. The province is at the southern part of Leyte island, with Maasin as its capital.

Eastern Samar

Eastern Samar faces the Pacific Ocean and boasts of numerous surfing spots due to its strategic location. For those interested on traveling there, it is on the eastern side of Samar Island, with Borongan as its capital.

Northern Samar

Northern Samar has a wealth of old churches, natural attractions, and picturesque beaches. Make your way to the northern part of the island towards Catarman, as its capital.


The province of Samar earns the nickname “The Caving Capital Province of the Philippines” due to its abundance of caves. Consequently, it lies at the western part of Samar Island, with Catbalogan as its capital.

The Leyte Landing is a historical landmark in the region.

Crafting Your Visayan Odyssey: A Traveler’s Guide

Roll-On Roll-Off (RORO)

Embarking on a Visayan adventure requires strategic planning. Specifically, begin from Manila or Cebu, the main entry points, and use ferries or RORO ships for island-hopping. Meanwhile, craft a well-thought-out route, exploring Boracay, Iloilo City, Bacolod, Dumaguete, Cebu, Bohol, Leyte, and more. Also, you can opt for sea travel strategically to avoid flight pitfalls, ensuring a direct and efficient journey.

Planning your Route

Traveling from Manila to the Visayas, you may start in Boracay via Caticlan airport. After you explore Panay, head to Iloilo City, then ferry to Bacolod. Next, a bus ride to Dumaguete follows, and a ferry to Cebu precedes exploration. Additionally, take another ferry to Bohol, return to Cebu, and then a flight or ship to Leyte concludes the journey.

For those starting in Cebu, explore the province first, then head to Bohol. After that, take a ferry from Ubay, Bohol, to Batu, Leyte, which opens up Eastern Visayas exploration. Afterwards, return to Cebu and continue to Siquijor and Dumaguete. Consequently, a land trip around Negros Island precedes a ferry to Iloilo City. Finally, explore Panay Island south to north.

However, avoid flights from Cebu to Tagbilaran or vice versa; opt for the ferry instead. Also, for Iloilo to Bacolod and vice versa, sea travel is easier and more direct. Similarly, avoid flights between Bacolod and Dumaguete; a land trip is more direct between these cities on Negros Island.

Siquijor Island

Tips for an Unforgettable Visayan Sojourn

  • Geography Matters: Familiarize yourself with the Visayan geography to optimize your route and minimize travel hiccups.
  • Festival Feast: Check festival dates to immerse yourself in the vibrant local culture and witness major festivities.
  • Cash is King: Keep cash on hand, as some areas may have limited ATMs and restricted credit card transactions.
  • Local Guidance: When in doubt, reach out to local tourism offices to avoid scams and ensure a smooth travel experience.
  • Language Love: While English or Tagalog might suffice, learning a few Cebuano phrases will undoubtedly enhance your connection with the locals.

Embark on Your Visayan Adventure

Now, with a well-laid plan and these insider tips, you’re ready to embark on an exhilarating journey through the enchanting Visayas. From the sugary shores of Boracay to the historic streets of Silay, let the Visayas weave its magic and create memories that will last a lifetime. So, pack your bags, embrace the sea breeze, and let the Visayas unfold its unparalleled beauty before your eager eyes.

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