Encompassing as many as 7,641 islands – each promising a unique, wonderful, and unforgettable experience – the Philippines truly lives up to its name as the Pearl of the Orient Seas. Here are all the BEST REASONS you need to know why it certainly is MORE FUN IN THE PHILIPPINES!
1. THE PEOPLE
Take a trip to the Philippines, home to a happy and hospitable people.
Filipinos are a warm, winsome and welcoming people. Their friendliness is inherent, their generosity is instinctive, and their homes are always open to any and all guests – family, friends, or strangers. From this genial nature stems the Filipinos’ flair for hospitality, a trait that has earned the Filipinos the trademark as the most hospitable people in the world.
Filipinos are a social people. Like in most Asian societies, Filipinos recognize the values and virtues of upholding and nurturing familial and communal relationships, which is why Filipinos typically have close-knit families and communities.
Filipinos are a festive people. They love to celebrate – so much so, in fact, that it seems they never run out of reasons to host a party one after the other. Indeed, more than forty thousand festivals are celebrated in the country yearly – not for nothing is the Philippines called the Capital of the World’s Festivities!
Filipinos are a jolly people. They love to smile, to laugh, and to indulge in jokes every so often. Their brand of humor is rich and diverse, with a touch of optimism given to finding the comic and the humorous in even the most difficult of situations.
Filipinos are excellent English speakers. Despite having well over 180 predominantly indigenous languages, the Philippines is actually one of the largest English-speaking nations in the world. English, as one of the two official languages of the country (the other being Filipino), is taught to children the moment they begin schooling.
Filipinos love to sing, and they sing well, too! Indeed, it has been so often remarked by many that the Filipinos’ penchant for singing is simply legendary. No wonder karaoke is so popular in the Philippines – too popular, in fact, that it has become one of the nation’s best-loved pastimes.
2. THE BEACHES
If you’re dreaming of the perfect beach vacation to a tropical island paradise – white sand beaches, crystalline waters, coconut palms, and plenty of sunshine – take a trip to the Philippines, the ultimate destination for all beach lovers.
Ask any tourist who’s been to the Philippines, and they’ll tell you that this country’s beaches are some of the finest in the world, if not altogether the best. Indeed, nature has endowed this tropical nation with an array of the most spectacular beaches, making it a veritable paradise for beach enthusiasts.
Virtually the country’s entire coastline, which measures 36,289 km (22,499 mi) in total, offers a beach at one point or another. And with 7,641 islands, many of which are dotted with a beach or two, the Philippines has a beach to satisfy any whim and fulfill every dream.
The beaches, depending on the local minerals and geology, vary in composition. Some are strewn with rocks, some are covered in pebbles, and some are caked in mud, but most are finely-sanded. And the sands come in a stunning palette of colors – milky white, golden brown, light grey, rich black, and even vivid pink.
Here are some of the more famous beaches in the Philippines:
Some 310 km (193 mi) south of the capital Manila, off the north-western coast of Panay is Boracay, a veritable tropical island paradise regarded as one of the world’s premier tourist draws. A recipient of numerous awards and accolades, the island is famed for its spectacular white sand beaches and crystalline turquoise waters. Boracay is the ideal destination to relax and unwind, or to rave and party. A host of establishments have set up shop here, offering various amenities and countless activities to the island’s visitors – casual beachgoers, sun worshippers, water sports enthusiasts, divers and snorkelers, among others.
PROVINCE: Camarines Sur
Approximately 322 km (200 mi) southeast of the capital Manila, on the eastern tip of the province of Camarines Sur is Caramoan, a secluded tropical Eden replete with breathtaking white sand beaches, a number of islands and islets, sheltered coves, pristine lakes and lagoons, deep caves, lofty limestone cliffs, and a rich and wondrous biodiversity. Untamed, unspoiled, and until recently somewhat unheard of, Caramoan rose to prominence after hosting several versions and editions of the competitive reality television show Survivor. Caramoan offers a wealth of worthwhile distractions to adventurers, including beach combing, island hopping, swimming, diving, snorkeling, and spelunking.
Roughly 297 km (185 mi) southwest of the capital Manila, off the northern tip of the island of Palawan is Coron, a sheer paradise sprawled among a cluster of islands (including Coron Island) and islets. Coron is a serene and tranquil setting, far removed from the tumults of the metropolis. Every isle in Coron is a pocket of beauty, and ensconced within are shores of soft white sand, secluded lagoons, pristine lakes, fascinating limestone cliffs, towering rock formations, and luxuriant forests. The crystalline waters that lie between the isles hold a vast wealth of marine life.
About 412 km (256 mi) southwest of the capital Manila, in the island province of Palawan is El Nido, widely regarded and awarded as among the top beach and island destinations in the world. This tropical paradise is endowed with a majestic landscape of about 50 white sand beaches, a number of islands and islets, hidden coves and pristine lagoons, marine reserve parks, towering limestone cliffs, lush jungles, mangrove forests, beautiful and diverse flora and fauna, and a pervading ambiance of peace and tranquility. El Nido, without doubt, fully justifies its appellation as Heaven on Earth.
Great Santa Cruz Island
PROVINCE: Zamboanga City
More than 863 km (536 mi) south of the capital Manila, in the city of Zamboanga lies Great Santa Cruz Island. Though its name belies its actual size, this little island is famed worldwide for its beautiful pink sand beach – one of a handful of pink sand beaches in the world. The rosy hue of the beach comes from red organ pipe corals that have been crushed to powder over millions of years, washed ashore and mixed in with white sand. Until recently unheard of, the island is now seeing a surge of visitors owing to its burgeoning popularity.
PROVINCE: Ilocos Norte
Over 444 km (276 mi) north of the capital Manila, in the province of Ilocos Norte is Pagudpud, best renowned for its fine white sand beaches and sparkling turquoise waters. Pagudpud, which has been aptly dubbed as the Boracay of the North, has all the postcard perfect views of Boracay but with less of the crowd and traffic owing to the rather long and difficult journey to get there. But with plenty of enjoyable distractions to be had, and plenty of remarkable sights to be seen, a trip to Pagudpud is well worth it, indeed.
More than 630 km (392 mi) south of the capital Manila, off the south-western coast of Bohol is Panglao, another top tourist draw in the Philippines. This tropical island is a favorite of beach enthusiasts worldwide. But Panglao is famed not only for its white sand beaches, crystal-clear waters, numerous islets, deep caverns, springs, and waterfalls, but also for its hoard of marine biodiversity, which makes this island an absolute diving paradise. Plus, Panglao’s proximity to the larger island of Bohol brings all of Bohol’s treasures and wonders – including the Chocolate Hills – within easy reach.
PROVINCE: Oriental Mindoro
Roughly 122 km (66 mi) south of the capital Manila, in the province of Oriental Mindoro is Puerto Galera, listed as one of the Most Beautiful Bays in the World. This stunning beach destination is nestled between warm, tropical seas and lofty, verdant mountains. Besides boasting shores of fine white sand, Puerto Galera is also a trove of sheltered bays, islets, waterfalls, mangrove parks, towering mountains, and an impressive array of spectacular dive sites. Tourists gather in Puerto Galera to delight in its natural sights and attractions, as well as to partake in its vibrant nightlife.
PROVINCE: Davao del Norte
More than 982 km (610 mi) southeast of the capital Manila, in the province of Davao del Norte lies the Island Garden City of Samal, the largest resort city in the Philippines. Samal encompasses Samal Island, the smaller Talikud Island and several other nearby islets, all of which abound with picturesque beaches of fine white sand and are ringed by crystal clear waters. Numerous resorts line the shores. Besides beach bumming and swimming, other worthwhile distractions are plentiful: from water-based recreations such boating, cruising, snorkeling, and scuba diving, to land adventures like cycling, spelunking, and mountain climbing.
PROVINCE: Surigao del Norte
Over 763 km (474 mi) southeast of the capital Manila, in the province of Surigao del Norte is Siargao Island, hailed as a genuine surfers’ Utopia for its perfect waves year-round, especially those at the world-renowned Cloud 9. But beyond being the Surfing Capital of the Philippines, the island is also a favorite among beach enthusiasts. After all, Siargao is a cornucopia of white sand beaches, forest-clad islets, picturesque sand bars, coral and rock reefs, sheltered coves, secluded lagoons, pristine rock pools, enchanting waterfalls, beautiful caves, towering cliffs, and vast coconut palm and mangrove forests, among others.
3. THE DIVE SITES
Swim up close to a whale shark, frolic alongside frisky dolphins, come face to face with the bashful dugong, dive inside an underwater cave, explore a sunken shipwreck, and plumb the depths of the sea and probe its hidden wonders – if you’ve always wanted to do all these things and more, then take a trip to the Philippines, one of the best diving destinations in the planet.
While the Philippines is bestowed with spectacular overland sights and attractions, many of which are world renowned, this island nation boasts an even more impressive array of sceneries within its warm tropical waters.
The Philippines’ nearly eight thousand islands are set within the Coral Triangle – that region of the Earth that encompasses the tropical marine waters of Indonesia, Malaysia, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Solomon Islands, and Timor-Leste. The Coral Triangle is the global center of marine biodiversity, so-called the Amazon of the seas for its vast wealth of marine life.
But the Philippines is not merely a part of the Coral Triangle; rather it is the very center. Notable studies have proven that the Philippines hosts a greater concentration of species per unit area than elsewhere in the region. Such findings establish the Philippines as the center of the Coral Triangle, and effectively, the center of the center of global marine biodiversity.
Thousands upon thousands of species of fish, mollusks, crustaceans, echinoderms, corals, and other marine animals, along with hundreds of species of marine plants and algae, flourish in the warm tropical waters of the Philippines, making for an exceedingly colorful and truly spectacular diving environment.
Besides its vast wealth of marine life, the Philippines has a variety of natural and man-made environments that indulge every manner of scuba diving – cave diving, deep diving, drift diving, muck diving, night diving, and wreck diving, among others – fully justifying its distinction as one of the most amazing dive destinations on Earth.
Here are some of the more famous dive sites in the Philippines:
More than 94 km (58 mi) south of the capital Manila, in the province of Batangas is Anilao, a sleepy little village with a great reputation among divers both local and worldwide. Beneath the waters that surround this coastal village is a marine sanctuary teeming with an exceedingly diverse underwater flora and fauna, dotted with spectacular facets and features perfect for diving, and endowed with a wealth of varying environments that satisfy every diver’s whim. Anilao plays host to a wide range of divers – novices, macro photographers, muck divers, and night divers, among others.
PROVINCE: Negros Oriental
Around 663 km (412 mi) south of the capital Manila, off the southern coast of the province of Negros Oriental is Apo Island, a world-renowned diving destination. The vast marine habitat around the island, which includes well over 650 species of fish and more than 400 species of coral, is rigorously protected by the local community. Apo Island is best known for its sea turtles, but reef sharks, rays, and other pelagic fish are also common sights here, as are numerous other fishes, smaller marine vertebrates and invertebrates, and corals and sponges of various shapes, sizes and colors.
Apo Reef Natural Park
PROVINCE: Occidental Mindoro
Over 216 km (134 mi) south of the capital Manila, off the western coast of the province of Occidental Mindoro lies one of the best dive sites in the country – Apo Reef (not to be confused with Apo Island). Encompassing an area over 34 sq km (13 sq mi), it is the largest contiguous coral reef in the Philippines and the second-largest in the world. Marked by three islands on the surface, Apo Reef is a veritable cornucopia of beautiful and diverse marine life. Apo Reef and its surrounding waters are altogether known as Apo Reef Natural Park.
Some 310 km (193 mi) south of the capital Manila, off the north-western coast of Panay is Boracay, the tropical island paradise best known for its fine white sand beaches and crystalline waters. But the island is as much of a haven for divers as it is for beachgoers. Underneath the turquoise waters are a number of stunning dive sites replete with fascinating features and abundant marine life that draw crowds of divers across the globe. The more popular dive sites include the Angol Point, Camia II Wreck, Cathedral Cave, Coral Garden, Virgin Drop, and the Yapak dive sites.
More than 308 km (191 mi) southwest of the capital Manila, underneath the waters off Coron Island in Palawan lie the remains of 11 Japanese Imperial Navy ships (many of which were auxiliary vessels) that were sunk by aviation elements of the U.S Navy in 1944. Divers from across the globe troop to this serene watery graveyard to explore the fascinating World War II shipwrecks, which host an incredibly rich and colorful marine biodiversity. The more popular wrecks are that of the Irako Maru, the Okikawa Maru, the Olympia Maru, the Morazan Maru, and the Akitsushima Maru.
Around 380 km (236 mi) southwest of the capital Manila, in the waters of Ticao Pass is Manta Bowl – a vast bowl-shaped underwater depression so named because of the massive schools of manta rays that gather here to feed off the plankton-rich waters and afterwards get cleaned by remoras (suckerfish) and cleaner wrasse. Hence, this manta ray feeding and cleaning station is dubbed as the Manta Ray Capital of the Philippines. Besides manta rays, this world-renowned dive site also plays host to whale sharks, hammerheads, thresher sharks, and other pelagic fish.
Some 580 km (360 mi) south of the capital Manila, in the island province of Cebu is Moalboal, another top diving destination in the Philippines. The more popular dive sites are clustered around Pescador Island, which houses an underwater cave known as the Cathedral, colorful coral gardens, and myriads of the smaller marine wildlife. A must-see spectacle is the famed Sardine Run – schools of sardines, numbering in the hundred thousands, form a massive bait ball that moves here and there in perfect sync. Also popular are the house reefs and steep coral-covered walls along Moalboal’s coastline.
About 505 km (314 mi) southeast of the capital Manila, off the coastal town of Malapascua in Cebu is Monad Shoal, a sunken island renowned to be the only place on Earth where thresher sharks – elusive sharks with unusually long tails – can be sighted consistently just before and during sunrise. Monad Shoal is a natural cleaning station for fish, and thresher sharks frequent this place to get cleaned by bluestreak cleaner wrasses. Besides thresher sharks, the Shoal also has other interesting clients – devil rays, eagle rays, and to a lesser extent, manta rays and hammerheads.
More than 630 km (392 mi) south of the capital Manila, off the south-western coast of Bohol is Panglao Island. Although more popularly known as a favorite of beach bums and sun worshippers, Panglao is also a world-class diving destination. Around the island are a number of spectacular dive sites, including Balicasag Island, a marine sanctuary known for its sea turtles, jacks, barracudas, and coral reefs, among others; Cervera Shoal, locally known as Snake Island for its teeming sea snake colonies; and Pamilacan Island, another marine sanctuary famed for its dolphins, whales, manta rays, and barracudas.
PROVINCE: Oriental Mindoro
Around 122 km (66 mi) south of the capital Manila, in the province of Oriental Mindoro is Puerto Galera, a designated UNESCO Man and Biosphere Reserve owing to its incredible hoard of marine biodiversity – one of the richest in the world – which enthrals divers across the globe. This famed diving destination offers about 40 dive sites, the more popular of which include the Canyons – three impressive canyons mantled with corals and teeming with colorful marine life; Shark Cave, a favorite resting spot of whitetip reef sharks; and Pink Wall, a massive overhang coated with pink soft corals.
Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park
Roughly 650 km (404 mi) south of the capital Manila, off the south-eastern coast of Palawan is Tubbataha, a UNESCO World Heritage Site widely regarded as the diving Mecca of the Philippines and ranked among the greatest diving destinations on Earth. Tubbataha lies in the midst of the Coral Triangle – the center of the world’s marine biodiversity – and hosts no fewer than 600 fish species, 360 coral species, 11 shark species, 13 dolphin and whale species, 100 bird species, and nesting marine turtles. Tubbataha is so isolated it can only be reached through liveaboards from March to early June.
PROVINCE: Verde Island
Approximately 117 km (73 mi) south of the capital Manila, between Luzon and the smaller island of Mindoro lies Verde Island, a world-class diving destination set between Anilao and Puerto Galera. The island sits in the midst of the Verde Island Passage – reputed to be the center of the center of global marine biodiversity. For advanced divers, the two premier dive sites are the Pinnacle or the Drop Off, a massive underwater reef jutting above the surface and teeming with marine life; and the Washing Machine – powerful currents sweeping into a maze of canyons brimming with colorful aquatic wildlife.
4. THE MOUNTAINS
Bones of the earth, pillars of the sky, roofs of the world – mountains have long stirred the human imagination, and goaded the human spirit into feats of daring. If you are in search of peaks to scale and pinnacles to conquer, then take a trip to the Philippines, where hundreds of mountains await the brave and the adventurous.
The Philippines is home to a vast array of landscapes – white sand beaches, rolling hills, tropical rainforests, verdant flatlands, mangrove swamps, rocky outcrops, and desert dunes, to name but a few. But towering above all these, in the most spectacular manner imaginable, are majestic mountains.
Hundreds of mountains are to be found anywhere in the Philippines. Many of these are massed together to form long and lofty mountain ranges, among which include the Cordilleras and the Sierra Madre. A few others rise in solitary fashion as lone peaks dominating the surroundings.
Among the mountains in the country are a number of volcanoes. This is unsurprising enough, considering that the Philippines is set within the Ring of Fire – that region of the Earth along the Pacific Ocean where more than three-fourths of the world’s volcanoes are nested, and where many earthquakes and volcanic eruptions occur. Some of the volcanoes in the Philippines have lain dormant for years, while a few others have been exceedingly active, often to devastating effect.
For the most part, the vast majority of the peaks in the Philippines are accessible to climbers and hikers. Driven by whatever reason – whether in search of an adrenaline-inducing dare, the adventure of a lifetime, the perfect photograph of the perfect view at the summit, or simply a relaxing weekend getaway – numerous mountaineers take on the challenge of scaling and conquering these towering landforms.
Here are some of the more famous mountains and volcanoes in the Philippines:
Almost in the midst of the province of Albay stands majestic Mayon, an active stratovolcano renowned worldwide as the most perfectly formed volcano because of its perfectly symmetrical conical shape. Rising to an imposing height of 2,462 m (8,077 ft), Mayon towers above everything else in the province and in the entire Bicol Region (which encompasses Albay).
This “perfect cone” is a premier tourist draw, riveting thousands of admirers from across the globe with its sheer splendor and majesty. Mayon, however, is no innocent beauty, as it is given to a fiery and capricious temperament. Its violent fits of anger have been well recorded throughout history; over 47 eruptions in the past 500 years have made it the most active volcano in the Philippines. Its most devastating eruption was in 1814, which buried an entire town and more than a thousand people with it.
LOCATION: Cotabato, Davao del Sur
Between the provinces of Cotabato and Davao del Sur sits venerable Apo, the Grandfather of Philippine Mountains, and the highest point in all the country. This potentially-active stratovolcano rises 2,956 m (9,698 ft) above sea level, affording an unrivaled view of the surrounding lands.
The mountain is revered as sacred ground by its indigenous tribal inhabitants. It is also a veritable cornucopia of flora and fauna, among them the Philippine eagle – the largest eagle in the world and the Philippine’s national bird.
Apo’s preeminence as the highest mountain in the Philippines goads numerous mountaineers from around the world to take up the challenge of scaling and conquering this towering landform. Many trails, interspersed with campsites and checkpoints, lead through a diverse array of landscapes – luxuriant rainforests, mossy swamps, verdant grasslands, refreshing pools, rocky terrains, and volcanic structures – all the way to the summit.
LOCATION: Benguet, Ifugao, Nueva Vizcaya
Where the borders of the provinces of Benguet, Ifugao and Nueva Vizacaya meet rises Pulag, the tallest peak in the island of Luzon and the third highest mountain in the Philippines. Soaring to a height of 2,922 m (9,587 ft), Pulag is the uncontested pinnacle of the Cordilleras – the long and lofty mountain range in Northern Luzon that encompasses several provinces.
Owing to its high elevation, the climate on Pulag is extremely cold and damp, and temperatures are wont to drop below 0 °C (32 °F) during the frosty months of December to February. Nonetheless, thousands of mountaineers take to the pine-clad trails and brave the frigid conditions to reach the grass-covered summit. There, the determined are richly rewarded with resplendent and otherworldly views of the “sea of clouds” rolling beneath the mountain’s peak, or of the vast and starry expanse of the Milky Way Galaxy unfurled in the skies above.
LOCATION: Pampanga, Tarlac, Zambales
On the trijunction of the provinces of Pampanga, Tarlac and Zambales rears Pinatubo, an active stratovolcano with an infamous name and a haunting past. Pinatubo earned worldwide notoriety for its cataclysmic eruption in 1991. Before then, the mountain lay dormant for almost 500 years, forest-clad, obscure, and rather unremarkable despite standing 1,745 m (5,725 ft) above sea level.
Its eruption devastated the surrounding lands and was felt worldwide. It was the second-largest terrestrial eruption of the 20th century and by far the largest eruption to affect a densely populated area. The eruption reduced the volcano’s height to 1,486 m (4,875 ft). It obliterated the volcano’s summit and replaced it with a caldera that has since then filled with rainwater, forming what is now Lake Pinatubo.
Today, numerous sightseers troop to Pinatubo to visit the caldera, the crater lake, and the seemingly alien and apocalyptic landscape formed after the fateful eruption.
In the province of Batangas lies Taal, an extremely fascinating geological wonder and one of the premier tourist draws in the Philippines.
Taal is a rather low volcano, rising to a height of only 311 m (1,020 ft) above sea level. Its short stature, however, belies its exceedingly violent disposition. Having had 33 recorded eruptions since 1572, Taal is the second most active volcano in the country, and is the world’s smallest active volcano.
Taal is classified as a complex volcano and fittingly so, too, since it has an island (Vulcan Point) within a lake (Main Crater Lake), that is on an island (Volcano Island) within a lake (Taal Lake), that is on an island (Luzon) within the sea (Pacific Ocean). Taal’s curious formation is part of its endearing appeal, as evidenced by the thousands of tourists that flock to the volcano to marvel at its unique and intricate beauty.
5. THE RICE TERRACES
Take a trip to the Philippines, and visit the Rice Terraces, known as the emerald stairways to heaven.
Over 250 km (155 mi) north of the capital Manila, in the highland province of Ifugao are built ancient engineering wonders that have stood the test of time – the world-renowned Rice Terraces.
The terraces are carved into the exceedingly precipitous slopes of the Cordilleras – the long and lofty mountain range in Northern Luzon that encompasses several provinces, including Ifugao.
Soaring to heights of 1,500 m (4,900 ft) above sea level, the terraces resemble emerald steps ascending into the skies, or “stairways into heaven”, as many sightseers who have gazed upon the engineering marvels would afterwards fondly recall.
It is thought that the terraces were first devised more than 2,000 years ago as an ingenious solution to the scarcity of suitable land for farming in the rugged and mountainous province of Ifugao.
The terraces were built by the ancestors of the Ifugaos – the indigenous tribes who inhabit the namesake province – largely by hand and using only primitive tools and equipment. The terraces were masterfully carved following the contours of the hills and mountains, a remarkable illustration of perfect harmony between nature’s designs and human engineering.
To sustain these terraces, the ancient Ifugaos also devised an elaborate irrigation system by harvesting the water of the springs and streams issuing from the rainforests atop the mountains and channelling it downhill through the terraces.
As it has been during its creation, the upkeep of the rice terraces requires intensive collaboration and cooperation among the Ifugaos. To ensure the survival of the rice terraces, the indigenous farming knowledge and practices which have kept the terraces alive for so long are passed from one generation to the next. Thus, to this day, the Ifugaos still tend to the rice terraces in much the same way as their ancestors did millennia ago.
The rice terraces sprawl across several towns and villages in Ifugao. The most famous of these terraces is the cluster found in the town of Banaue. This cluster, known as the Banaue Rice Terraces, has been declared a National Cultural Treasure of the Philippines.
Other remarkable rice terraces in Ifugao are the Batad Rice Terraces and the Bangaan Rice Terraces (also in the town of Banaue), the Mayoyao Rice Terraces (in the town of Mayoyao), the Hungduan Rice Terraces (in the town of Hungduan), and the Nagacadan Rice Terraces (in the town of Kiangan). These five clusters, collectively known as the Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras, are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
There are pathways across the paddy fields by which adventurers can trek through the terraces. However, ascending the “stairways into heaven” is no easy matter. The terrain is difficult, the paths are demanding, and the climb is long and arduous, often taking hours and hours to finish.
Nonetheless, those who are willing to brave the difficult hike and endure the taxing climb are rewarded with breathtaking views of the terraced valleys. Moreover, along the paths are pools and streams of cold water where the weary can take a refreshing dip, and ease the strains and aches of the hike.
A trek through the terraces is akin to a journey through history. The old pathways through the terraced paddies, the vivid green of the rice fields, the wild flowers along the banks, the flowing streams and gushing fountains, the towering mountains, the culture, and the people – all speak of a two-thousand year old tale of harmony between man and nature.
- The Most Amazing Places to Visit in the Philippines – PART 1
- The Most Amazing Places to Visit in the Philippines – PART 2
6. THE CHOCOLATE HILLS
Take a trip to the Philippines, and visit the Chocolate Hills, a natural landscape as delightful as its name.
More than 630 km (392 mi) south of the capital Manila, in the midst of the island province of Bohol lies an awe-inspiring geological wonder – the famed Chocolate Hills.
Though the name alone is enough to excite the imagination, the landscape itself is surreal – hundreds of hills perfectly formed in the likeness of haycocks, sprawled over an area some 50 km (31 mi) wide, each seemingly an absolute copy of the other. Exactly how many of the hills there are is disputed, though figures range anywhere from 1,268 to 1,776 hills.
The conical or mound-shaped hills are formed from limestone. These are clad in grass, which grows green in the rainy season, and then withers and turns brown, or chocolate, throughout the summer heat, thus earning the hills their delightful name.
Indeed, the brown hills resemble an assortment of chocolate bonbons – a sight enough to excite the senses and stir the imagination.
The hills, which have been declared as a National Geological Monument, vary in size. Most stand anywhere from 30 m (98 ft) to 50 m (164 ft) high, while the tallest measures 120 m (394 ft) in height.
The hills are not meant to be scaled. Rather, these must be viewed from galleries or decks especially designed to afford a commanding outlook of the entire scenery. From these observation decks, the whole view is absolutely as delightful as the hills’ name.
Fanciful tales abound as to the origin of the hills. One such tale imagines that the hills are the aftermath of a battle between two giants who hurled massive rocks and boulders at one another until, in their exhaustion, they finally made peace between them. They then departed the place, but forgot to tidy up the mess they have created.
Another tale surmises that the hills are the tears of Arogo, the handsome and youthful giant who fell in love with the beautiful mortal maiden Aloya. When Aloya died, the giant wept bitter tears, which thereafter formed the hills.
A more bizarre tale supposes that the hills are the dung, or excrement, of a colossal carabao (water buffalo). As the story goes, a nearby village was plagued by a massive carabao which devoured all the villagers’ crops. To rid themselves of the beast, the villagers gathered all their rotten food and lured the giant carabao into eating all of it. The carabao suffered a terrible stomach ache from all the rotten food, and tried to ease the pain by excreting all the contents of its stomach. The troublesome beast eventually fled, but not before leaving behind huge mounds of dung, which dried up and became the hills.
Geological evidence, however, asserts that the hills are actually marine limestone uplifted above sea level and subjected to weathering and erosion by rainfall and groundwater throughout a long period of time.
If you choose to go with the fanciful legends over scientific fact, then you may be forgiven, but just this once. After all, when you see the delightful Chocolate Hills, you will be swept back in time – to an age when people believed that giants walked among them.
- The Most Amazing Places to Visit in the Philippines – PART 1
- The Most Amazing Places to Visit in the Philippines – PART 2
7. THE CITIES
A labyrinth of skyscrapers, a maze of streets, and a crowd of people – if you love the city and all its urban charms, then take a trip to the Philippines, where each city is a sight to behold and an experience to remember.
Close to a hundred and fifty cities dot the Philippine archipelago, some of which date back to the 1500s, while others are only recently founded. Serving as hubs of commerce and industry, centers of technology and innovation, and pivots of culture and education, these cities are host to the greater part of the Filipino population.
Favorable climate, winsome people, rich culture, intriguing history, succulent cuisine, or impressive architecture – each city in the Philippines has a beauty of its own that sets it apart from all others, a charm that merits a trip or two.
Here are some of the more famous cities in the Philippines:
PROVINCE: Negros Occidental
Bacolod is a highly urbanized city ranked as one of the best places to live in the Philippines. It is recognized as the capital of the province of Negros Occidental, where it is geographically situated but governed independent and separate from it. Bacolod is widely regarded as the friendliest of all cities in the Philippines, and is aptly called the City of Smiles for its warm, winsome and welcoming people. This city boasts fine local delicacies such as the piaya and the chicken inasal. It is also home to a number of festivals, most popular of which is the MassKara Festival, a spectacular Carnival-like celebration with colorful masks and costumes, street dancing, and vibrant music.
Baguio, the City of Pines, is a chartered city nestled high in the Cordilleras some 1,540 m (5,050 ft) above sea level. Its high elevation affords it a cool climate not unlike those in temperate countries, earning it the appellation Summer Capital of the Philippines. Established by the Americans in 1900 as their only hill station in Asia, Baguio has evolved into a highly urbanized city recognized as the most important city in Northern Philippines. It is a center of commerce, industry, and education, as well as a major tourist draw owing to its amazing sights and attractions. Baguio is steeped in ethnic history and culture, and rich in folk arts and crafts, earning it a coveted place among UNESCO’s Creative Cities.
Cagayan de Oro
PROVINCE: Misamis Oriental
Cagayan de Oro is a highly urbanized city along the northern coasts of Mindanao, the second-largest island of the Philippines. Although the geographic capital of the province of Misamis Oriental, Cagayan de Oro is a chartered city and is thus governed independent and separate from the province. A center of commerce and industry, Cagayan de Oro is Mindanao’s most important city after Davao. It is also swiftly evolving into one of Mindanao’s premier tourist destinations, earning local and global fame for its white water rafting or kayaking adventures, as well as its admirable collection of parks, museums, and natural attractions.
Cebu, dating back to the 1500s, is the oldest of all cities in the country. It is the first settlement to be founded by the Spanish conquistadores in these shores, and the first to function as capital of the Philippines. Today, the city has evolved into one of the chief cities of the Philippines, second only to Metro Manila in significance and popularity. It is the most important city in the Visayas, and the center of Metro Cebu – a metropolitan area encompassing Cebu City itself along with a number of nearby cities and towns. A hub of commerce, industry, culture, education, and tourism, Cebu lives up to its appellation as the Queen City of the South.
PROVINCE: Davao del Sur
Davao is a highly urbanized city along the coasts of the Davao Gulf, and the main hub of trade, commerce, and industry of Mindanao. It is the center of Metro Davao, a populous metropolitan area comprised of a number of surrounding cities and towns across two provinces. Davao is known as the Land of Plenty – abundant in people, natural wealth, culture and heritage, and not least in awe-inspiring sights and attractions to which numerous tourists are drawn. Visitors especially flock to Davao in the month of August to take part in the city’s premier festival, Kadayawan sa Dabaw, a vibrant and colorful celebration of life, culture, and the bounties of nature.
The City of Iloilo is a highly urbanized city built along the southern coasts of the province of Iloilo, itself a part of the island of Panay. The city, founded in the 1500s by the Spaniards, was once the Second Spanish Royal City in the Philippines, after Manila. Iloilo is known by many names: The Heart of the Philippines for its location, which is almost in the geographic midst of the country; (Asia’s) City of Love for its gentle-hearted, good-natured, and soft-spoken people; Emerging Museum City of the Philippines for its collection of museums of art, history, and science; and City of Mansions for its splendid array of some 240 mansions built during the Spanish and American colonial eras.
Metro Manila, the National Capital Region, is a vast, sprawling, and exceedingly populous metropolis encompassing 16 cities (and a municipality). It includes the City of Manila, the capital of the Philippines; Quezon City, the most populous city, and once the country’s capital; and Makati City, the financial center of the nation. Metro Manila is the nexus of the country; the center of economy, culture, and education; and the seat of political power from where the national administration governs the nearly eight thousands islands of the Philippines. The veritable heart of the nation, Manila sets the pace for the rest of the country to follow.
PROVINCE: Ilocos Sur
The City of Vigan is a living reminder of the Philippines’ colonial past. It is the country’s most extensive and only surviving historic city. It dates back to the 1500s, among the first settlements to be founded by the Spanish conquistadores in the Philippines. Vigan to this day has retained much of its original structures – sett pavements, stone houses, plazas, a lone cathedral, and other buildings – the architecture of which is hailed as a unique meld of Native Philippine and Oriental designs with Spanish colonial construction. Enduring the ravages of wars and calamities, and weathering the test of time, the Historic City of Vigan fully justifies its inscription as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- The Most Amazing Places to Visit in the Philippines – PART 1
- The Most Amazing Places to Visit in the Philippines – PART 2
8. THE COUNTRYSIDE
If the chaos of the metropolis has worn you down, and the strain of urban living has left you exhausted, then a change of scenery away from the city might be just what you need. Take a trip to the Philippines, and fall in love with its countryside and all its rural charms.
To most people, life in the city, with all its comforts and conveniences, is preferable to a life in the countryside. To them, rural living have come to mean nothing other than labor, hardship, and poverty. While there is some measure of truth to this impression, it is not always the case.
The countryside has a beauty of its own. If you happen to pass by the rural areas, perhaps on a long bus ride to the next city, take a look out your window and be mesmerized with picturesque glimpses of the countryside.
Far removed from the chaos of the city, the land is unmarred by unsightly structures of steel and concrete; the view of the sky is unobstructed by looming skyscrapers.
You’ll see flooded rice paddy fields stretching in every direction – verdant in the planting season, golden come harvest time. Fields of corn, sugarcane, abaca, and tobacco spread into the distance. Groves of coconut palms grow tall beneath the tropical sun. Orchards of trees bring forth abundant fruit.
You’ll watch farmers hastening to the paddy fields at the onset of the planting season, even as the sky has yet to take off the dark cloak of night and sunrise is still some hours away. You’ll see them wading knee-deep in the flooded paddies, planting rice seedlings in orderly ranks, and you’ll marvel at the speed and sureness of their rhythmic movements. Listen closely, and you’ll even hear snatches of them singing in unison the stirring lyrics of beautiful folk songs as they set to work.
You’ll observe herds of cattle grazing in green pastures, flocks of goats calling to passing vehicles, and the lone carabao (water buffalo) wallowing in the mud.
You’ll spot thatched huts fashioned from bamboo and nipa standing in ranks on either side of the road, or besides ponds and rivers, or alone in the midst of green fields. You’ll see woven hammocks fixed between two coconut palms and tire swings hanging from the sturdy branches of trees.
You’ll overtake rough-hewn wooden carts drawn by plodding carabaos; rumbling farm tractors bearing laborers to the fields; motorized tricycles, in varied designs and hues, spouting blue smoke; and colorful jeepneys, heavily laden with people and products, straining their engines from the burden of their loads.
You’ll glimpse golden sunlight filtering through the leaves of the acacia, tendrils of blue smoke curling from a bonfire lit beneath the mango tree, and glittering fireflies convening in the summer dusk.
You’ll pass by small churches with pealing bells, humble barrios stirring in sleep on a misty dawn, little villages lighting up to ward off the gathering night, and the occasional town getting ready for a celebration of some sort.
But the charms of the countryside lie not only in scenic landscapes and picturesque glimpses of idyllic living. If you have the opportunity, take a trip to the rural areas and discover for yourself what else the countryside has to offer.
9. THE FOOD
Gastronome, bon vivant, connoisseur, gourmand, epicure, foodie – however you want to call yourself, so long as food is your passion, take a trip to the Philippines, a country well known for its ‘East meets West’ cuisine, excellent foods, and exotic gastronomic adventures.
Filipino cuisine, much like Filipino culture, is rich, diverse and multi-faceted. It encompasses not only all of the native cuisines of the numerous ethno-linguistic groups throughout the archipelago, but also the mixed cuisines drawn from various outside influences.
The Philippines, after all, is where East meets West. From this crossroads, the country is enriched by Eastern and Western influences – in history, in culture, and especially, in cuisine.
Centuries of trade, commerce and other dealings with the Arabs, the Chinese, the Indians, the Indonesians, and the Malays have enhanced native dishes and styles of cooking with Eastern influences.
Likewise, Spanish and American colonialists have brought with them Western culinary traditions that have intermingled with Filipino cooking.
Today, Filipino cuisine boasts of a vast wealth of dishes and recipes. Every town has a delicacy, every province has a particular product, and every region has a specialty. Nonetheless, for the majority of Filipinos, certain foods have become more or less ubiquitous on the dining table.
Some of the most common dishes in the country tend to be the viands. In all other countries where the English language is spoken, the term “viand” simply indicates an item of food. Not so in the Philippines, where “viand” specifically refers to the meat, seafood, and vegetable dish that accompanies rice in a typical Filipino meal. The local term for viand is ulam.
Here are some of the more popular viands, or ulam, in the Philippines:
- ADOBO | A popular Filipino dish made with chunks of meat, typically chicken or pork (or both), stewed or braised in a marinade of soy sauce, vinegar, oil, garlic, bay leaves, and black peppercorns. Other variants of this recipe prepare seafood or vegetables instead of meat. Due to its widespread popularity, adobo is sometimes referred to as the unofficial national dish of the Philippines.
- AFRITADA | A Spanish-inspired dish made with chunks of meat, typically chicken or pork, potatoes, carrots, peas, bell peppers, onions, and garlic stewed in a tomato-based sauce.
- CRISPY PATA | The Filipino counterpart to the German Schweinshaxe, this dish is prepared by boiling pig trotters or knuckles (pata) until tender, and then deep-frying until the skin turns golden and crisp.
- BISTEK | A specialty of the Tagalog region, this delectable dish is prepared by marinating thin slices of beef in a mixture of soy sauce, calamansi (calamondin) juice, garlic, and ground black pepper for several hours. The beef is then braised in the marinade, and served with a garnish of onion rings on top.
- DINENGDENG | A classic dish of the Ilocos region, this soup is made with vegetables, root crops, and grilled fish (optional) stewed in bagoong (fermented fish or shrimp paste). Vegetables used often include saluyot (jute) leaves, malunggay (moringa) pods and leaves, ampalaya (bitter melon) leaves and fruits, and kalabasa (calabaza) fruit and blossoms, among others.
- KALDERETA | Another Spanish-inspired dish consisting of chunks of goat meat, potatoes, carrots, peas, onions, and garlic stewed in a tomato-based sauce. Other variants of this recipe use chicken, pork, or beef instead of goat meat.
- KARE-KARE | A thick, creamy stew made with oxtail, vegetables, onions, and garlic cooked in a peanut-based sauce. Kare-kare is typically served with bagoong. Other variants of this recipe involve the addition of other meat such as pork hocks, calves feet, pig feet, beef stew cuts, or tripe.
- LECHON | A national dish of the Philippines, and the centerpiece of any and all Filipino feasts and banquets, lechon is a whole pig roasted on a spit. Adult pigs are traditionally prepared, although suckling pigs, cattle calves (lechon baka), and chicken (lechon manok) may be prepared instead.
- LUMPIA | A local adaptation of the Chinese dish, lumpia is a fresh or fried spring roll typically filled with minced kamote (sweet potato), singkamas (jicama), bean sprouts, green beans, cabbage, carrots, and meat (often pork). Lumpia is usually served with various dipping sauces.
- MECHADO | Yet another Spanish-inspired dish made with chunks of beef or pork, potatoes, carrots, peas, onions, and garlic stewed in a tomato-based sauce. The traditional Spanish mechado is prepared with strips of pork fat threaded through thick pieces of beef. The larded beef resemble candle wicks, or mecha in Spanish, hence the name of the dish.
- PAKSIW | A sour and spicy stew made with fish poached in vinegar, siling haba (long chili), ginger, and black peppercorns. Other variants of this recipe include the addition of other ingredients such as vegetables, or are based around pork instead of fish.
- PINAKBET | Another specialty of the Ilocos region and cousin to dinengdeng, this dish is a medley of vegetables, root crops, meat or seafood, onions, garlic, and ginger stewed in bagoong. Vegetables used often include eggplant, tomato, okra, ampalaya, string beans, and kalabasa, while root crops typically include kamote.
- SINIGANG | Another popular Filipino dish, sinigang is a sour soup or stew of meat (or seafood), tomatoes, siling haba, vegetables, onions, garlic, spices, and tamarind – from which the soup acquires its distinct sour and tangy taste. Other variants of this recipe derive their sourness from ingredients such as guava, calamansi, kamias (bilimbi), santol (cottonfruit), unripe mango, seasoning powder, or bouillon cubes instead of tamarind.
- SISIG | This palatable dish is made with grilled (or fried) pork ears and jowls, which are then minced and seasoned with salt, pepper, vinegar, and calamansi. Sisig is served on a sizzling plate, usually with a fried egg on top and a garnish of chopped onions and chili peppers. This dish is traditionally a pulutan, or a snack consumed alongside alcoholic drinks.
- TINOLA | A hearty soup or stew of large chicken cuts, green papaya slices, chili pepper leaves, onions, ginger, and other spices. Other variants of this recipe prepare fish or pork instead of chicken; sayote (chayote) instead of papaya; and tomatoes, spinach, or malunggay leaves instead of chili pepper leaves.
The Filipinos’ passion for food extends to the sweeter flavors as well. In fact, aside from the main dishes, Filipino cuisine also encompasses a broad store of recipes for desserts and treats – more than enough to satisfy the Filipinos’ sweet tooth. Many of these sweet foods are made from rice and coconut, something that should come as no surprise since the Philippines, being after all a tropical country, is abundant in such ingredients.
Here are some of the more popular desserts in the Philippines:
- BIBINGKA | A cake prepared from glutinous (sticky) rice, coconut milk, and eggs baked using clay pots lined with banana leaves. Bibingka is often served hot with butter, kesong puti (white cheese made from carabao’s milk), and fresh coconut shreddings on top.
- CHAMPORADO | A sweet porridge made with glutinous rice cooked in cocoa powder, sugar, and milk. This chocolaty treat, which is often served at breakfast, is traditionally paired with tuyo (salted, sun-dried fish).
- HALO-HALO | A cold dessert especially popular during the summer, halo-halo is made with shaved ice, milk, sugar and a medley of fruits, root crops, and beans such as kamote, banana, langka (jackfruit), ube (purple yam), macapuno (coconut sport), kaong (sugar berry fruit), gulaman (seaweed gelatin), and tapioca pearls, among others. Halo-halo is often served with a topping of leche flan (caramel custard) or ice cream.
- KAKANIN | Native Filipino delicacies made with either glutinous rice or root crops which are cooked with sugar and coconut milk. Cassava cake, kutsinta, kalamay, maja blanca, sapi-sapin, palitaw, biko, suman, pitsi-pitsi, and even bibingka are all variants of kakanin.
- LECHE FLAN | Also known as crème caramel or caramel custard, leche flan is a smooth, rich and creamy dessert made with egg yolks and condensed milk, and topped with caramel. It is a staple dessert in most celebratory feasts in the Philippines.
- PUTO | A very common food in the Philippines, puto is a steamed cake made from rice flour, and is usually prepared in varying shapes, textures, flavors, and colors. Puto is often eaten with cheese, fresh coconut shreddings, or simply as is.
But perhaps the highlights of Filipino cuisine lie in its vibrant street food culture. Indeed, no gastronomic adventure in the Philippines is complete without at least once roaming and roving through the streets, stopping every now and then at a grill, cart, stall or stand to smell the wafting odors, and to sample the exotic local delicacies. From sweet treats to savory edibles, and from frozen desserts to fried or grilled skewered meats, Filipino street foods are many and varied.
Here are some of the more popular street foods in the Philippines:
- BALUT | A subject of global interest ranging from delightful fascination to outright disapproval, balut is a fertilized duck egg that has been allowed to develop for about 15 to 25 days, or until such time that the embryo within reaches a pre-determined size. It is then boiled, and eaten from the shell – egg white, fluids, partially-developed duck embryo, and all. It is usually peddled in the evening by vendors and hawkers yelling out the name of the food.
- BANANA-CUE | Whole bananas that have been coated with brown sugar, pan-fried, then skewered on a stick. A variant of this recipe, known as kamote-cue, uses peeled sweet potato slices instead.
- BINATOG | A sweet mélange of boiled white corn kernels, fresh coconut shreddings, milk, and sugar. It is often served warm.
- CHICHARON | Boiled pork rinds that have been deep fried until extremely crisp, and is typically served with a dipping sauce of vinegar spiced with chopped garlic and labuyo. Besides pork rinds, other foodstuffs such as pig intestines and chicken skin may also be prepared as chicharon.
- FISH BALLS | Small, round patties made from fish paste, which are then pan-fried, skewered on wooden sticks in the manner of kebabs, and served with a variety of dipping sauces. Note that the name belies the actual shapes of the food, which are flattish rather than balled in appearance. Other variants of this recipe use patties made from other foodstuffs, such as chicken paste (chicken balls) or squid paste (squid balls).
- ISAW | Seasoned hog or chicken intestines skewered on a stick and then grilled. Isaw is always eaten dipped in vinegar which may or may not be spiced with chopped onions, garlic, and peppers.
- SORBETES | Traditional variant of ice cream in the Philippines. It is typically available in three flavors, and sold in small plastic cups, wafer cones, sugar cones, or bread buns, at varying prices.
- TAHO | A warm mélange of soft beancurd (taho) sweetened with arnibal (dark caramel syrup) and mixed with tapioca pearls. It is usually peddled in the morning by vendors and hawkers yelling out the name of the food.
- TOKNENENG | Hard-boiled chicken or duck eggs coated with orange-dyed batter, which are then deep fried, skewered on sticks, and served with a variety of dipping sauces. The smaller variants of this recipe, known as kwek-kwek, are made with quail eggs instead.
10. THE FESTIVALS
Drums beating in wild rhythm, trumpets blaring in excitement, people garbed in magnificent costumes dancing animatedly on the streets, brightly colored banners, spectacular floats, exuberant parades, and all manner of pomp and pageantry – if you love all these things and more, then take a trip to the Philippines, the Capital of the World’s Festivities.
Among the more remarkable things that Filipinos excel in is their passion and flair for celebration. Yes, Filipinos love to celebrate, and they do so in style.
After all, in the Philippines, there is always a reason to celebrate – so much so, in fact, that at any given moment, it is guaranteed that there is at least one festival being hosted somewhere in the country.
Indeed, there are literally thousands upon thousands of festivals in Philippines, both major and minor, as nearly every city, town, and village in the country has a reason to host at least one.
Most of the festivals are celebrated for no more than a day, some for a week, while still a few others last for even up to a month!
Festivals in the Philippines are better known as fiestas, and their cause for celebration vary.
For one, there are the religious fiestas, which make up a vast majority of the festivals in the Philippines. These fiestas are held in honor of the local communities’ Roman Catholic patron saints – a tradition that dates back to when the Philippines was still under Spanish colonial rule.
To expedite the spread of Roman Catholicism in the country, the Spanish conquistadores assigned patron saints to the communities they subdued, and enjoined the locals to revere these patron saints through solemn religious rituals punctuated with richly colorful festivities.
Thus, to this day, nearly every village, town, and city in the Philippines recognize a patron saint or two to whom they devote some form of religious celebration.
Then there are the fiestas that are held in commemoration of certain events in figures in local history, or in celebration of local culture and heritage.
These types of festivals foster pride in Filipino identity and country through celebration of cultural and historic heritage. Often, these are marked by vibrant displays of nationalism, along with cultural and historical exhibits; showcases of folk arts, crafts, songs and dances; and ethnic games, sports and other forms of amusement.
There are also the festivals that are hosted in promotion of particular goods and services that local communities are best renowned for. Literally hundreds of villages and towns in the Philippines celebrate these ‘pride-of-place’ festivals.
Still, some other festivals are hosted for various other causes. But no matter the reason, it is certain that each and every celebration in the Philippines is a sight to behold and an experience to remember.
With literally tens of thousands of festivals in the Philippines, you don’t have to worry when you miss a fiesta in one town. You can always travel to the neighboring one to see what they’re up to!
Here are some of the more famous festivals in the Philippines:
HOST: Cebu City
The Sinulog Festival is celebrated yearly in Cebu City, and elsewhere in the province of Cebu, every third Sunday of January to honor the province’s patron saint, the Santo Niño, or the Infant Jesus. Initially a strictly Roman Catholic feast predominantly marked by a traditional dance ritual, the Sinulog has since then evolved into one of the greatest and grandest celebrations in the Philippines. Alongside solemn religious rituals are festive activities such as street dance parades, pageants, and parties, among others. It ranks among the most popular festivals in the country, drawing millions of visitors each time.
HOST: Kalibo Municipality, Aklan
The Ati-Atihan Festival is held yearly in the town of Kalibo every January, with highlights on the third Sunday, in honor of the Santo Niño (Infant Jesus). The Ati-Atihan is The Mother of All Philippine Festivals, from which the Sinulog of Cebu, the Dinagyang of Iloilo, and other akin festivals are descended. Despite its Catholic association, the festival actually pays tribute to the Atis, the Aeta aborigines who first settled the land. For this reason, the festival features street dancers with blackened skins arrayed in Ati indigenous garb and gear gyrating to the rhythm of tribal beats.
HOST: Iloilo City
The Dinagyang Festival is hosted yearly in Iloilo City every fourth Sunday of January in honor of the Santo Niño (Infant Jesus) and in celebration of the rich local history and culture. In like manner to the Ati-Atihan of Kalibo, from which it is derived, the Dinagyang features parades of dancers with blackened skins, costumed in Ati (Aeta) tribal arms and attire, and staging tribal choreographies to the sound of drums and other ethnic percussions. Among the greatest and grandest festivals in the country, the Dinagyang also involves cultural presentations, beauty pageants, sports competitions, and various other side events.
HOST: Baguio City
The Panagbenga Festival, or the Flower Festival, is hosted yearly in Baguio in celebration of the city’s abundance of flowers and its rich ethnic history and culture. The festival, the name of which is derived from the Kankanaey word meaning “a season of blooming” or “a time of flowering”, is celebrated throughout the month of February. A consistent and infallible tourist draw, the Panagbenga is marked by a number of festive activities leading up to the highly anticipated grand parades of dancers garbed in colorful and creative flower-inspired costumes, and massive and spectacular floats overlaid with flowers.
HOST: Marinduque Province
The Moriones Festival, or Moryonan, is a Lenten rite observed yearly in the island province of Marinduque every Holy Week. The festival is one of the oldest folk-religious traditions in the Philippines. It derives its name from the Moriones – penitent men and women who don colorful costumes and masks depicting the attire of biblical Roman soldiers as interpreted by local folk. The masked and costumed Moriones re-enact the story of Saint Longinus, roving and roaming the streets in mock search for the blinded Roman centurion and at times engaging in colorful and conspicuous antics to the delight of onlookers.
HOST: Lucban Municipality, Quezon
The Pahiyas Festival is held yearly in the town of Lucban every fifteenth of May to honor the patron saint of farmers – San Isidro Labrador (St Isidore the Laborer) – for the bounties of harvest. The Pahiyas derives its name from the local term payas, meaning “decoration” or “to decorate”, since the festival prominently features rows of houses decorated with the rich yield of the harvest season. Elaborately overlaid on the facades of the houses are fruits, vegetables, and other produce; pottery, woven items, and other handicrafts; and colored rice wafers, locally known as kiping, which can be eaten afterwards.
HOST: Davao City
The Kadayawan Festival, or Kadayawan sa Dabaw, is held yearly in Davao City every third week of August in celebration of all good things in Davao – the abundance of nature; bounties of harvest; blossoming of flowers; wealth of heritage, tradition, and culture; and the virtues of good life and living. It is celebrated with a multitude of activities, including parades of numerous dancers in splendid tribal array dancing to ethnic-inspired music and spectacular floats bedecked with flowers, fruits, and vegetables; fascinating exhibits of folk arts, crafts, and music; and fairs highlighting the riches of Davao, among others.
HOST: Bacolod City
The MassKara Festival is celebrated yearly in Bacolod City every fourth Sunday of October. The festival draws inspiration from the Carnivals of Latin America. It prominently features parades of numerous dancers garbed in splendid costumes and wearing heavily embellished and exceedingly colorful masks, from which the name of the festival is conceived – a pun on the Filipino word for “mask”, which is maskara, itself from Spanish máscara. Millions gather in Bacolod to take part in the MassKara, which, besides street dancing, also features musical shows and contests, beauty pageants, sports tournaments, food expositions, and trade fairs, among others.
11. THE JEEPNEY
A testament to the Filipino’s ingenuity and artistry are the unique and almost eccentric vehicles that ply the nation’s bustling thoroughfares, namely the jeepneys.
The jeepney, or simply jeep, is the most popular means of public transportation in the Philippines.
The term jeepney is thought to be a portmanteau of “jeep” and “jitney” in reference to the vehicle’s history. The jeepney was originally an American military Jeep left over from World War II. It was salvaged by enterprising Filipinos and refashioned for use similar to the jitneys (slang for American taxicabs) operating in the United States at the time. The result was a creative and inexpensive public transport that has rapidly grown in use and popularity, to the extent that the jeepney has become an icon of Philippine culture and art.
Jeepneys are designed with varying proportions, although the more common size is somewhere between a van and a minibus. These vehicles are painted in bright hues and colorful images, and adorned with numerous accessories and fixtures – the more riotous the design, the better. Hence, the nickname “art-on-wheels”.
Jeepneys, however, are remarkable not only for their unusual shape and their colorful and creative decorations, but also for the manner in which passengers ride them.
Jeepneys, being the most popular form of public transport, are ubiquitous. You can hail one on almost any and every major street in the country; just signal as you would when hailing a cab. Or you can also go to a designated jeepney terminal and ride from there.
Since jeepneys ply on fixed routes, make sure you ride a jeepney appropriate to your destination.
You get in (and out of) a jeepney through its conveniently designed open rear door. Inside the main body of a jeepney are two long parallel benches where passengers sit facing each other. Depending on its length, a jeepney can accommodate up to twenty passengers in its main body, and up to two more in the front beside the driver.
If it is your first time riding a jeepney, you might be surprised with the cramped seating arrangements. After all, it does get rather crowded inside, especially when the jeepney is filled to capacity. But don’t worry; you’ll get used to it.
Once you get in, you pay your fare by passing the money to the person next to you, who then passes it to the next person, and so on, until the money reaches the driver. The driver will then return the change (if there is), which is also passed from person to person until it gets to you.
You will notice that when passengers pay, or rather pass, their fare, they say a few notable Filipino words, specifically:
- bayad – “fare” (This word also means “fee”, “payment”, “price”, etc.)
- pakiabot – “please pass” (The prefix paki- is used to indicate that the given action is a formal or a polite request rather than a command, while –abot, which normally means “reach”, is used, in this context, similar to the verb “pass”.)
- pakisuyo – “please” (Note that the meaning of this word varies depending on the context of its use. In this instance, saying pakisuyo while passing your fare to the next person indicates that you are requesting that person to pass the money forward until it gets to the driver.)
Jeepneys will stop anywhere along their established routes to pick up or drop off their passengers.
To disembark from a jeepney, simply call the attention of the driver by saying the word “para” (stop). Say it in a loud and firm manner so the driver can hear you. Otherwise, the usual chatter within the jeepney and the clamor of the traffic outside might drown out your voice.
Once the jeepney screeches to a halt, you can now get off the same way you got in – through the open rear door. The moment you are on the ground, the jeepney roars back to life and continues along its route, picking up and dropping off passengers just as it has always done.
Riding a jeepney for the first time is certainly memorable, whether the experience is to your liking or not. The curious form, the flamboyant decorations, the distinctive rumble of the engine, the sudden jolts and jerks, the crowded seating, the manner in which fares are passed from hand to hand, the odd scents, and the various noises – all these things and more are guaranteed to leave a lasting impression on you.
In a way, jeepneys embody not only the Filipinos’ ingenuity, artistry, and practicality, but the Filipino culture as well. Colorful, creative, and convenient, jeepneys fully justify their designation as icons of Philippine culture and art.
So when you do get the chance to visit the Philippines, and you decide to ride a jeepney for the very first time, don’t think of it simply as a ride in an unusual vehicle. Rather, think of it as an experience of Filipino culture at its finest.
12. THE CLIMATE
If you’re looking for some respite from the cold wintry months, or simply want to get that gorgeous and natural sun-kissed skin, then pack your swimsuit, sunscreen, and suntan lotion, and take a trip to the Philippines, where it’s sunny year-round and summer just doesn’t end.
As it is typical of tropical countries, the Philippine climate is characterized by plenty of sunshine, warm temperatures, and high humidity throughout most of the year. Rainfall is abundant. There are only two seasons – the wet season and the dry season.
The wet season, from June to November, is better known as the rainy season because of the heavy rains brought by the Habagat, the southwest monsoon, during this period. Despite the rains, however, there is still plenty of sunshine to bask in. Temperatures are hot and humidity is high. Powerful storms cross the country at this time, often to devastating effect.
Naturally, the wet season is the low season. However, a trip to the Philippines during this time should be worthwhile if you’re willing to brave the capricious rains. Throughout these months, many of the popular tourist spots in the country are fairly free of visitors – the ideal time to visit if you’re looking to avoid the crowd and enjoy a bit of quiet.
Plus, because of scarce demand, airfare and hotel rates are often at their lowest – the perfect opportunity for you to get the best economical deals possible.
The dry season, on the other hand, occurs from December to May, and is split in two – the cool dry season, and the hot dry season. Understandably, the dry season is the high, or peak, season.
Throughout December to February, during the cool dry season, the rainclouds break for sunnier weather. Temperatures are cooler due to the Amihan, the frosty northeast monsoon issuing from Siberia. The coolest days are felt in January, with temperatures averaging at 25.5 °C (77.9 °F). Humidity remains relatively high. Storms, at this time, are sparse.
The mild, sunlit weather, coupled with the Christmas and New Year Holidays, prompt tourists, both local and foreign, to flock to many of the country’s popular sights and attractions. Airfare and hotel rates skyrocket due to increased demand.
From March to May – the hot dry season – the Amihan wanes, to be replaced by the warmer Easterly winds. Temperatures rise to sweltering levels – the hottest days are in May, with average temperatures at 28.3 °C (82.9 °F) – while humidity remains in the relative highs. Rainfall is occasional throughout the archipelago. Storms are rare.
While it does feel like summer year-round in the Philippines, it is the hot dry season that Filipinos actually refer to as “summer”. During this time, most of the schools are on their long break between academic years.
Because of the hot and dry weather, most people take to the beaches and the watersides to cool off. Other popular tourist attractions are also brimming with visitors. Airfare and hotel rates are often at their highest.
If you’re weary of the hot weather but doesn’t feel like saying goodbye to the Philippines just yet, then take a trip up north to Baguio City, the Summer Capital of the country.
Nestled deep within the majestic Cordilleras, with an elevation of 1,540 m (5,050 ft) above sea level, Baguio is a veritable mountain city best renowned for its pine forests, rugged terrain, and cool climate. Temperatures here average at 18.3 °C (64.9 °F) – comparable to those in temperate countries.
Even during the hottest months – March to May – temperatures in Baguio seldom exceed 26 °C (78.8 °F). Consequently, while the rest of the country reels from the sweltering summer heat, Baguio keeps its cool. Literally.
But Baguio’s mild climate is best experienced during the cooler months of December to February, when temperatures in the mountain city frequently dip below 15 °C (59 °F) and on occasion, below 10 °C (50 °F). The lowest ever recorded temperature in Baguio was 6.3 °C (43.34 °F) on January 18, 1961.
During these cooler months, hundreds of thousands of tourists converge on Baguio, many looking to celebrate their Christmas and New Year Holidays amidst the pine trees and the cold air of the city. As such, hotel rates and some other travel expenses are pricier.