Splendid Pearl of the Orient Sea: More Fun in the Philippines
More Fun in the Philippines
It’s more fun in the Philippines. At least that’s what its tourism campaign slogan claims. Considering everything that the country has to offer, the claim is easy to believe.
An archipelago in Southeast Asia, the Philippines is situated some 800 km from Vietnam and is surrounded by the South China Sea, the Celebes Sea, and several other bodies of water. It’s divided into three regions—Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao—and has more than 7,100 islands and islets. It also benefits from a tropical climate and three different seasons: rainy from mid-May to November, cool and dry from December to February, and hot and dry (often incorrectly referred to by locals and tourists alike as summer) the rest of the year.
Because of its climate and position in the Pacific Ring of Fire, the Philippines ranks among the world’s richest nations in terms of biodiversity and natural wonders, with animal and plant species numbering in the thousands.
WHAT TO DO AND WHERE TO GO
With many gorgeous islands to visit, you’ll have no trouble finding things to do during your stay in the Philippines. No matter if you’re a history buff, a nature lover, a beach bum, or a foodie, the island nation has something for you—and more. Below are but a few examples of what you can do and where you can go in the Philippines:
Go swimming and get a tan
Does your idea of a perfect vacation involve lounging by the beach? If it does, the Philippines should be heaven for you because its beaches enjoy international renown for their fine, white sand and pristine waters.
Boracay, arguably the most popular among tourists, has received multiple awards and has been included in numerous best beaches lists, such as TripAdvisor’s Top 25 Beach Destinations in the World. Because of its popularity, Boracay can become crowded and is thus ideal for anyone who wants to party after taking in the island’s picturesque sunsets.
If you prefer a more tranquil atmosphere, choose the island of Palawan. French ecologist and filmmaker Jacques-Yves Cousteau described it as the most beautiful of all the places he’d explored and made it the subject of a documentary titled Palawan: The Last Refuge. Its beaches also served as inspiration for the Leonardo DiCaprio-starrer The Beach.
Bantayan Island, Siquijor, Camiguin, and Davao’s Pearl Farm are other beach destinations worth considering if you’re after clear, turquoise waters.
Landscape scenery of rock formations and a lagoon at Palawan Philippines
Dive or surf
Lazy afternoons by the shore are not for everyone. If you want an exhilarating and activity-packed time at the beach, you have your pick of dive and surf sites from all three regions of the Philippines.
La Union is a province in Luzon that can be reached by bus or by plane from Manila, the country’s capital. With beach breaks yielding 2-3 feet waves and reef breaks producing barrels as high as 15 feet, La Union is one of the foremost surf spots in the Philippines and attracts both amateur and professional surfers. It is also a favorite among divers, who appreciate its underwater caverns and wreck sites bearing World War II relics.
Pagudpud, another surfing destination in Luzon, has earned comparisons to Hawaii because of its strong winds and powerful waves. It is not as popular, however, as Mindanao’s Siargao Island. Recognized as the surfing capital of the Philippines, it draws surfers from all over the world and plays host to the Siargao Cup, an international surfing competition.
If exotic marine life and breathtaking seascapes are more your cup of tea, be sure to include a visit to Malapascua Island in your itinerary. Located in the Visayan province of Cebu, Malapascua is a prime diving spot with wreck sites and coral gardens. As an added draw, the island offers sightings of mantas and thresher sharks.
Marvel at Mother Nature
The Philippines is not all about water. It also has its share of volcanoes, caves, and mountain ranges. So if you’re into nature but opposed to spending all your vacation time at the beach, climb Mount Apo, the country’s highest peak, or hike up Mayon Volcano and get close to its symmetrical cone. You can also drive from Manila to Sagada in Mountain Province and try your hand at spelunking. Even if exploring caves doesn’t interest you, seeing the hanging coffins should still make the trip to Sagada worthwhile.
Bohol is another resource-rich island. It comes complete with sparkling blue waters, diving destinations, and historic sites. Bohol is also home to the tarsiers, an endangered primate species famous for their small size (3-6 inches long) as well as their distinctive features, which include a long tail and a pair of very large eyes.
Soak up history and culture
The Philippines was once a colony of Spain and the US, and was occupied by the Japanese during World War II. The impact of its colonization and occupation is still evident in many areas around the country.
If you want to load up on history and culture, be sure to drop by Corregidor Island, the walled city of Intramuros, or Fort San Pedro. Corregidor is a war memorial that bore witness to two bloody battles fought by American and Filipino soldiers against the Imperial Japanese Army. Intramuros and Fort San Pedro, located in Manila and Cebu respectively, were built when Spain reigned in the Philippines. Intramuros was the headquarters of the Spanish government, while Fort San Pedro served as a military defensive structure.
You may also want to schedule your visit in time for the local festivals, with two of the biggest and most colorful being Sinulog and Ati-Atihan. Both are held every January.
Shop and dine
Do you love to shop? If you do, you have something in common with the Filipinos. Their country has several large shopping malls, with a couple easily making it into the top 10 largest in the world. They are Manila’s SM City North EDSA and SM Mall of Asia. In those two and in many others, you can find both foreign and local brands, as well as restaurants serving—just to name a few—Chinese, Japanese, Korean, French, Italian, Indian, and Mexican cuisines. Don’t forget to also try local dishes, which have earned raves from food aficionados like food blogger Simon Majumbar and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain. In his 2009 visit, Bourdain declared the lechon (roasted pig) he had in Cebu the best he had ever tasted.
Party the night away
After a hard day spent exploring, unwind with a drink or go dancing. Makati, the business district of the Philippines, is dotted with bars and clubs. If you want to spend your night surrounded by expats and fellow tourists, Polaris Street gives you three options. Beers Paradise, as its name suggests, sells a large selection of beers from around the world. Heckle and Jeckle is equipped with a couple of pool tables and features live bands, while Handle Bar caters to sports enthusiasts and bikers with its biker-inspired décor and TV monitors fixed on sports channels.
For local music and more affordable beverages, try saGuijo Café + Bar in San Antonio Village. If clubs are more your style, make your way to Fort Bonifacio in Taguig, where some of the hippest and most stylish clubs can be found.
The Philippines, particularly areas within the Mindanao region, has been the subject of several travel bans because of terror activities from rebels and kidnapping cases involving foreigners. Therefore, make sure to take all necessary precautions and keep abreast of all news updates if you’re thinking of visiting the region.
Wherever you are in the country, watch your things because pickpockets and thieves are everywhere, even in places catering to upscale clientele. Refrain from wearing expensive jewelry and try not to go out alone, especially if you’re in a major city like Manila or Cebu, as criminals are prone to target tourists.
Major credit cards are accepted in most establishments, but you’ll need to have your money converted to the local currency if you want to use cash. Also, English is widely used in the Philippines and most Filipinos have at least a basic understanding of the language. This should make navigating around the island nation easier.
An underrated tourist destination, the Philippines does not attract as many visitors as other Asian nations like India, Indonesia, and Thailand. This, however, does not mean that the Philippines is less intriguing or delightful. In fact, it may just be the opposite. Blessed with sandy beaches, exotic flora and fauna, friendly people, an enviable climate, and a magnificent topography; the Philippines is an appealing mix of unspoiled nature and urban life, and has everything for every type of traveler. Rather than being inferior to its neighbors, the Philippines—one could say—might even be more fun.
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