I had only known a couple of people that had ventured to The Philippines, until my daughter and her friends holidayed here last year. Apart from the honeymooner’s island destination of Boracay and the metropolis of Manila, I had heard very little about this South East Asian country. The Philippines is in fact made up of over 7,000 islands of paradise, so why on earth wouldn’t we put it on our travel agenda?
In the past we have stuck with the Thailand-Vietnam-Laos-Cambodia itinerary because we felt this was a safer option. However I’ve recently discovered that The Philippines is an incredible travel destination with islands and beaches that are virtually untouched and pristine, incredible nature, flora and fauna, world class surfing and diving and lovely friendly locals that speak English.
One thing that sets the Philippines apart from its neighbours like Indonesia or Malaysia is its predominant Spanish influence, seen in crumbling colonial villas and their staunch Catholic faith. You can spend your time here hopping from one blissful island to another or you can experience adventure. Try things such as trekking through the jungles, scaling volcanic landscapes, scuba diving into tropical waters, swimming with whale sharks, surfing on epic waves, cruising down teal-green rivers and visiting tiny villages brimming with friendly locals.
So if you are a first-timer travelling to The Philippines here is where I suggest you go:
El Nido is the “new” go to place in The Philippines, even though it is relatively unchanged since before the Spanish colonisation. Located on the northern tip of Palawan island, there are many tiny islets to be explored within a boat ride away in the Bacuit archipelago. You can basically find your own island paradise and have it all to yourself.
El Nido is cited as having one of the world’s best beaches at Nacpan Beach, with a 4km long stretch of sand, fringed with beautiful palm trees. You will also discover spectacular ancient limestone cliffs that tower over crystal clear water lagoons teeming with innumerable species of tropical fish, coral and sea turtles. Lush jungles surround the beach town with more than 100 species of birds.
For diving enthusiasts the area has many dive sites, including Dilumacad Island’s long tunnel leading to an underwater cavern. El Nido is a truly exotic destination with so much to offer holidaymakers. You can select from either lying on a beach doing nothing or having a holiday full of water activities and adventure.
I remember thinking that Koh Samui and Nusa Dua were the ultimate dream holiday destinations. However that was before I’d heard about Boracay. Sometimes referred to as the party island, Boracay has endless beaches of powdery-white sand that are lined with resorts to suit every budget.
In fact Boracay has 12 beaches, White beach and Bulabog, being the most popular. You can spend your days lying around on one of these gorgeous beaches or you can get your heart pumping by indulging in some of the water sports available on the island. There is windsurfing, kiteboarding or scuba diving, to name a few.
After dark, the nightlife in Boracay is pumping with beach parties, bars with live music and full moon parties. No wonder tourists have been flocking here for decades.
For a complete change of scenery I would head to North Luzon, the biggest island of The Philippines, to Banaue and Batad to experience the majesty of the 2,000-year-old rice terraces. The 20,000km UNESCO-listed terraces are etched along plunging ravines and still provide a livelihood for many Filipinos. You can get on one of the organised tours and trek along the rice terraces to various villages and waterfalls exploring this mystical mountainous region, and experience village life that has barely changed in 2,000 years.
You will be amazed at the lush greenery and will enjoy the cooler climate which is a great break from the hot temperatures that the rest of The Philippines experience. The crops are watered by an ancient irrigation system from the rainforests above the terraces. Trekking further than the Banaue rice terraces is Batad, a tiny remote village that is only accessible by foot. The rice terraces at Batad are stunning and lush but are a little harder to reach.
Another place to get off the beaten track, is the island of Bohol located just off Cebu. Bohol’s natural attributes of a jungle interior, pristine white beaches and rice terraces are overtaken by the famous attraction of the Chocolate Hills. These comprise of over 1,500 mounds formed by coral deposits sculpted by a millennia of erosion. Depending on the season, they will either be green or brown.
You can also see if you can catch a glimpse of the Bohol’s famous resident, the camera-shy tarsier, the world’s smallest monkey. Visit them in their protected enclosure at The Philippines Tarsier Foundation. Get to Bohol by catching a ferry from Cebu and then either hire a motorbike or book a tour from a local company.
It is not surprising that for a country located on the Pacific Ocean, that it would also offer some great surfing locations. One of these spots is Siargoa just north of the island of Mindanao, with the famous Cloud 9 surf break. The town sees a steady stream of dedicated surfers who arrive to challenge themselves on the island’s famous reef break. It also hosts a number of international surfing competition, which make it busy during surf season, but completely deserted when the waves aren’t there.
As an island, Siargao’s coastlines vary from beautiful coves of white sand beaches to rocky black limestone tidepools. Or you can head to the picturesque Taktak Falls, the only waterfall in Siargao located in Santa Monica. Siargao Island can be reached by boat from Surigao City.
A trip to The Philippines would not be complete without visiting the bustling Capital city of Manila. A densely populated metropolis with multi-storey buildings, roaring traffic and very friendly locals, you can have your fill of heritage sights in the district of Intramuros. The walled ancient city built by the Spaniards in the 16th century, is located on the banks of the Pasig River and is one of Manila’s oldest districts.
You can spend, spend, spend in Manila’s bustling shopping district, packed with mega-malls offering bargain prices on luxury brands. Manila boasts three of the world’s largest shopping centres and the sheer volume of choice is astounding.
But if you really want an authentic Filipino experience you must visit a Karaoke bar. It is without doubt that most Filipino’s love to sing. The hugely popular karaoke booths in Manila are outfitted with high tech sound systems and an evening sing-off with a crowd of friendly Filipinos will be a highlight of your trip.
In a nutshell, The Philippines is a wonderful place to travel to. It is so much more than just beautiful beaches. It is incredibly cheap to stay here with bamboo bungalows right on the beach, fresh seafood straight off the fishing boat and friendly locals who are always willing to help you. There are many great tour packages to The Philippines that are just waiting for you to explore. Why not consider it for your next holiday?
Kathy Shade is a 50 something year old who is married with 2 children who has spent most of her life being a housewife, mother and working as an Accounts Administrator in the public school system. She enjoys living life to the fullest and loves to keep fit and active by maintaining a healthy diet and exercising regularly. Some of her interests include reading, movies, travelling, cooking and blogging! Her friends would describe her as being a 'have a chat' with an outgoing personality and zest for life. Kathy also has a great love of shopping and is known for her bargain hunting prowess!