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Top 20 Places to Visit and Things to Do in the Philippines
With its 7,107 islands spread across 300,000 square kilometers of space, the Philippines can hardly run out of must-visit places.
In these places, cheerful Filipinos put in even more fun to their lives in the island tropics and do things that any visitors should not miss doing as well when travelling in the Philippines.
You bet, there are more than 20 places to see and things to do when travelling in the Pearl of the Orient.
In fact, the list should be 50. No, 100.
Still, below are the top 20 ways to spend your vacation in the warm and lovely Philippines.
1. Swim with the Butanding or Whale Sharks
If you go to Donsol, Sorsogon in the Philippines, you might just as well be in for a pleasant surprise: the sight of butanding or whale sharks feeding on planktons or krill.
Some of these whale sharks are really big, as long as 18 meters.
Underwater, you can see even more surprises – manta rays, hammerhead sharks, corals, and rock formations that are home to diverse marine animals.
You may want to visit Donsol from January to May, when whale sharks are usually found swimming in the local sea.
2. Dive in Tubbataha Reef and Other Scuba Diving Sites
A UNESCO World Heritage Site, Tubbataha Reef is a paradise for the diver in you.
Secluded from the many islands of the Philippines, it has a staggering amount of marine life and impressive formations – two reefs, three atolls and a deep sea spread in a marine space measuring 130,000 hectares.
Want to try even more scuba diving sites?
The options are plenty.
Some of the great ones include:
- Coron Bay, Palawan
- Donsol, Sorsogon
- Negros Island
- Islands of Cebu
- and so many more dotting Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao, the three largest island groups of the Philippines.
3. Hop Islands in Hundred Islands and Other Island Destinations
Two-million-year-old islands that total to 124, Hundred Islands in the Philippines is over a hundred forms of excitement rolled into one.
You can explore each island and experience its unique flora and fauna.
You can also cruise in the Lingayen Gulf where these islands are found.
Perhaps you would want to hop islands outside of the gulf?
Then you may visit the other really lovely ones:
- Apo Island
- Batanes Islands
- Bohol Island
- Boracay Island
- Coron Island
- Pamalican Island
- Siargao Island
- and so many more across the country.
4. Stroll in White-Sand Beaches of Pagudpud and El Nido
Clear blue water and powdery white sands, nothing beats the beauty of the Philippines’ countless beaches.
You will see for yourself when you pay a visit to any of its breathtaking coasts:
- Mactan Island
- Honda Bay
- El Nido
- and many more that await either discovery or commercialization.
5. Trek the Ifugao Rice Terraces
Colossal stairways to the sky, the Ifugao Rice Terraces is a collective term for terraces of rice paddies that were created by the hands of the Ifugao people for over two thousand years.
It is an imposing UNESCO World Heritage Site comprised of mountain ranges harnessed and contoured to serve as the local people’s rice paddies.
Lucky for all of us, we can experience the ingenuity of the Ifugao Rice Terraces by trekking.
Its five most gorgeous rice terraces are the ones in Nagadacan, Hungduan, Mayoyao, Bangaan, and Batad.
6. Go Back in Time in Vigan
In Ilocos Sur, Philippines, you can find a 16th century town that seems to have been frozen in time.
This town is called Vigan, a former stronghold of the conquering Spaniards in northern Philippines and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Colonial urban designs, roomy ancestral houses, and cobblestone streets make this town exquisite and reminiscent of the old times, when Filipinos traded with China, Mexico, North America and Europe from this town’s port.
7. Wind Through the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River
Inside an ancient karst cave in Palawan, Philippines, you can find an 8.2-kilometer underground river that empties into the South China Sea called the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River.
It is one of the longest of its kind in the world and a recognized UNESCO World Heritage Site.
What would make your passage through the underground river unforgettable is the incredible amount of flora and fauna inside the cave.
You would also see up close the stumping stalactites, stalagmites, and large chambers during your boat ride.
8. Pray and Be at Awe in Filipino Baroque-Style Catholic Churches
Most Filipinos are a spiritual and religious bunch and you would see that this is true when you visit the country’s many Baroque-style Catholic churches.
You read it right, Baroque style.
Don’t skip these churches just because you have already seen Europe’s grandiose versions.
Philippines’ Baroque-style churches are actually distinct, with impenetrable walls and foundations, huge buttresses, and even underground passages.
They were built by local Filipinos of old to stand the country’s cruel typhoons, dreadful earthquakes, and even rebel assaults.
Thus, they make up the architectural style that has evolved into today’s Earthquake Baroque.
It is best for you to visit these churches on Sunday, when they are packed by devout Catholics and their premises echoing with religious songs.
9. Swig Taho and Sample Other Filipino Street Foods
Chow on street foods in the Philippines and rub elbows with the friendly locals.
Just about every other street corner is dedicated to banana cue, camote cue, calamares, tokneneng, kwek-kwek, and fish balls, the most liked street foods in the country.
Pay heed though, you might let pass the taho, binatog and iskrambol vendors who roam the streets to peddle their goods.
Taho is off-white silken tofu made sugary with syrup. It has small yummy pearls.
Binatog is steamed corn kernels made tasty with either salt or sugar.
Iskrambol is a sweet-toothed woman’s delight. It is shaved ice with chocolate syrup and caramelized brown sugar.
10. Slurp Scores of Pancit Noodles
Fine or fat, sautéed, deep-fried, or double-cooked, served dry or with broth, pancit is the most widely eaten noodles in the Philippines that you should not miss having for your mid-day snacks in the country.
The choices are plenty:
- La Paz Batchoy
- Pancit Canton
- Pancit Habhab
- Pancit Luglog
- Pancit Malabon
- Pancit Molo
- Pancit Palabok
- Pancit Puti
- Pancit Sotanghon…
- and many more.
Head for the nearest restaurant, fast food chain stores, and eateries to get your late afternoon pancit fix.
11. Surf in Siargao and Other Surfing Havens
With waves curling as high as 12 feet and coasts unspoiled by commercialization, Siargao can easily top the list of preferred surfing sites in the country.
But Siargao is not the only choice for surfing when you are in the Philippines.
There are several:
- Eastern Samar
- Ilocos Norte
- La Union
- Ilocos Sur
- Camarines Norte
- and many more.
12. Learn to Say “Mahal Kita” and Other Romantic Filipino Expressions
Filipinos are romantics and they would definitely love it for you to talk to them about love in their very own language.
Just say “Mahal kita!” for “I love you!”
Ready to pop the big question?
Just drop the line “Pakasalan mo ko!” for “Marry me!”
Now, that is one perfect way to propose marriage.
13. Know How to Say “Kamusta” and Other Everyday Filipino Expressions
Impress your Filipino friends, loved ones, or hosts and greet them in their native language one day.
It would be fun and they would be pleased to know that you took the effort to learn a line or two in the Filipino language.
Just say “Kamusta?” for “How are you?” or “Salamat!” for “Thank you!”
You can also say “Magandang araw!” for “Good day!” or “Pasensiya” for “Sorry.”
14. Treat Yourself to Halo-Halo and Other Philippine Desserts
Filipinos could barely bear the scorching summer days in the Philippines without halo-halo, the queen of Filipino desserts that is icy and mouthwatering from its top layer down.
This heavenly goodness is packed with sweetened fruits –bananas, garbanzos, sugar palm, kidney beans, jackfruit, and purple yam – and shaved ice before being topped with pounded young rice and poured with milk.
Not visiting the Philippines in summer?
Not to worry, halo-halo is so loved in the country that it is available in many food stores all year round.
You can also try other blissful Philippine desserts:
- leche flan
- pastillas de leche
- ube halaya
- bukio pie
- sans rival
15. Eat Filipino-Style Spaghetti and Know Why Filipinos and Non-Filipinos are Crazy About It
Sweet, zesty, loaded with hotdogs, and topped with cheddar cheese, the Filipino-style spaghetti is a staple food for special occasions in the Philippines that has a cult following.
If you get the chance to spend time in the country, you would note that Filipino wedding, baptism, graduation, birthday, and anniversary parties held at homes are hardly complete without it on dining tables.
The secret of this massively loved dish is in its sauce, made of sweet banana ketchup, sugar, and Filipino-style tomato sauce.
Not attending a party in the Philippines?
That’s not a problem at all.
Filipino-style spaghetti is such a classic that you can also buy it in restaurants, fast food chain stores and even small eateries.
16. Ride the Jeepney and the Kalesa
Nothing symbolizes the Philippines as unmistakably as jeepney and kalesa, two vehicles that ply the roads of the country.
Jeepney is the Philippines’ take on the jeep of the United States.
But jeepney in the Philippines has a mass appeal.
It is the most common mode of transportation in the country and is fondly called the “King of the Road” by the Filipinos.
Kalesa or horse-drawn calash was very popular in the Philippines in the old times.
Today, they can still be found in historic places in the country or in the countryside.
17. Eat the Sweetest Fruit in the World – Mango from the Philippines
In a small enchanting island in the heart of the Philippines called Guimaras, you can taste the sweetest fruit in the world.
This fruit happens to be a mango and it is called Carabao Mango or Manginera Indica.
Carabao Mango was cited by the Guinness World Records in 1995 as the sweetest mango and the sweetest fruit in the world.
It was named after the large water buffalos or carabaos that plow the fields in the countryside of Guimaras.
It is large-sized, has golden-yellow color, and is packed with firm flesh.
Yummy Carabao Mangoes are made into a local favorite dessert – Mango Float!
18. Dance in the Fiesta or Festivals
Rain or shine, the fiestas or festivals go on in the Philippines.
The country has a host of them:
- Ati-atihan in Aklan
- Dinagyang in Iloilo
- Panagbenga in Baguio City
- Masskara in Bacolod City
- Lanzones in Camigiun
- Sinulog in Cebu
- Kadayawan sa Dabaw in Davao City
- and so many more.
Festivals happen all year round in the country so you see, each month is a good month for visiting Philippine cities.
19. Eat Puto Bumbong, Bibingka and Other Foods for Christmas
While you commonly think of Christmas solely in the colors of red and green, you can think of it also in the luscious shades of purple and yellow when you are in the Philippines.
The color purple is for the violet-colored puto bumbong and yellow for the golden yellow bibingka, two rice cakes that are all the rage in the country during the Christmas season.
Puto bumbong is sticky rice cake formed into log shapes and flavored with muscovado sugar and grated coconut meat.
Bibingka is a spongy round cake with salted eggs and grated coconut meat as well.
So soon after you attend the dawn masses or Simbang Gabi in the Philippines, make sure you buy puto bumbong and bibingka near the church gates for your yuletide breakfasts.
20. Watch Fine-looking People in Costumes in Santacruzan
In summertime in the Philippines, you can see beautiful Filipinas and their handsome escorts in a religious-beauty procession called Santacruzan, which marks the finding of the Holy Cross by Queen Helena and her son Emperor Constantine.
It is a colorful procession, with women dressed in regal gowns and men clothed in crisp traditional long sleeved shirts called barong tagalog.
Introduced by the Spaniards to the Filipinos a long time ago, Santacruzan is the Philippine emblem of religion, beauty, youth, and love in summertime.
Not sure where and when to spot Santacruzan?
Each Philippine city or even locality has one in the hot month of May.
Copyright © 2012 Kerlyn Bautista
All Rights Reserved
More About Travels in the Philippines
- 10 Best Island Destinations in the Philippines
- 5 Most Stunning Scuba Diving Sites in the Philippines
- 4 Most Exquisite Baroque Churches in the Philippines
- UNESCO Natural World Heritage Sites of the Philippines
- Priceless Cultural World Heritage Sites in the Philippines
- Top 10 Philippine Festivals that Filipinos Love