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More than 7000 islands make up the Philippines, where travellers can lose themselves in any number of magical adventures. Lush landscapes, sprawling cities, gorgeous beaches and underwater gardens are all on offer, meaning divers, hikers, sun-chasers and culture lovers will all find much of value.
For their part, Filipinos are warm and welcoming to a degree that more than justifies the country's tagline, 'where Asia wears a smile'. The same holds true throughout the Philippines, from bustling Manila to rural villages that lack running water.
That said, travellers should consult current safety advice before visiting the country, which has suffered high-profile terrorism and kidnapping incidents, and has a reputation for political turbulence. Tourists will also encounter unsafe ferries, poor infrastructure and dilapidated roads.
Still, the mix of festivals, friendly people, glorious food, natural beauty and Spanish colonial architecture is irresistible. The destination is a must if travellers are cautious enough when planning their visits.
Thousands of islands make up the Philippines, where bustling cities, underwater gardens and lushly beautiful landscapes await travellers who seek a textured Southeast Asian adventure. Lovers of surfing, world-class dive sites and the perfect setting for carefree, beach-flopping days can expect all of the above, along with the richest of cultural experiences.
Manila is the gateway to the country, and is home to a fascinating urban energy, as well as marvellous, Spanish-colonial buildings and cathedrals. Visitors will also find wonderful museums. Island hopping around the archipelago carries a storybook feeling, brought on by the delight of sailing teal seas to gorgeous, jungle-like beaches. The country's many remote, unspoilt regions have a different sort of magnetism, and will speak to hikers and adventure seekers.
All things considered, the Philippines has much to offer, though tourists should follow the safety advice of travel experts when visiting.
Intramuros is one of the oldest parts of Manila. Located on the southern bank of the Pasig River, the walled Spanish enclave is a feast of historic buildings and churches, many of which are being or have been restored. Tourists can enjoy several parks, restaurants, art galleries, and souvenir shops in the attractive area. They may also find the area's history interesting. For instance, political prisoners were held, tortured and sometimes executed at Fort Santiago. Today, it is a lush park full of homing pigeons and flowering trees, where visitors can ride along the promenade in a horse-drawn carriage. History lovers should stop at the beautifully restored colonial residences in the Barrio San Luis as well. The area has a festive atmosphere and is full of street artists and stalls selling food.
Rizal Park is named for the Philippine writer, philosopher and anti-colonialist, Dr Jose Rizal, whose execution is 1896 sparked the Philippine Revolution. The country held its Declaration of Philippine Independence from American rule in the park in 1946, and has always favoured the venue for political rallies. In many ways, it remains a symbol of Filipino pride and independence. It's also one of the largest parks in Southeast Asia, and a favourite outdoor venue for Manila's residents. The area features a chess plaza, a skating rink, a children's playground, an aquarium, a planetarium and many ornamental gardens. Visitors will also find some museums and a miniature, recreated Philippine archipelago. A sound and light exhibit of Dr Jose Rizal's martyrdom is displayed after sunset. Martial arts classes and various fitness groups use the area every morning, while Sundays involve a free concert in the open-air auditorium. All in all, Rizal Park is a wonderful place for tourists to soak up a little of Manila's everyday life, in a lush and beautiful natural setting.
San Agustin is Manila's oldest church and stands within Intramuros. Completed in 1607, it has survived the ravages of time and successive invasions. In fact, it was the only public building left standing after a terrible earthquake in 1863, and it has withstood a number of devastating tremors since then. Regarding its design, the church has a Baroque pulpit, an 18th-century pipe organ, and a magnificent and intricately-carved door. It's one of four churches in the Philippines to be designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and is also a National Historical Landmark. Visitors will find a monastery alongside the church. It holds paintings of saints and other religious art. The Sacristy houses a collection of richly embroidered vestments, and Philippine notables are buried in the crypt. San Agustin is an active church with regular services and is a very popular wedding venue. Visitors can view the interior of the church for free during mass.
The National Museum and Art Gallery of the Philippines showcases the cultural, natural and historical heritage of the islands. The large and comprehensive institution categorises its exhibits in five divisions, namely art, botany, zoology, geology and anthropology. Visitors will find the archipelago's oldest human remains in the museum's collection. They can also view the remains of the San Diego Spanish galleon, which sank in Philippine waters in 1600. Though reportedly short on funding, the institution is clean, well-kept and has good facilities. Photography is permitted, but not with flash. All things considered, the deeply interesting museum is a worthwhile stop for travellers of all ages.
The Malacañan Palace is the seat of government and official residence of the Philippines head of state. Situated on the north bank of the Pasig River, the villa has been a noble residence since the 1800s, when it was built for a Spanish aristocrat. Before that, it was a humble place for fisherman. The Spanish Government bought the property as a summer house for its Governor General in 1825, though it later became the head of state's permanent seat. Today, visitors will find a museum in the palace. The institution features national treasures, historical artefacts, and mementos from each of the Philippines' presidents, including the notorious Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos, who ruled as authoritarian dictators. The building itself is very attractive and the rooms are furnished beautifully. Visitors can enjoy great views over the river from some of the windows. Guided tours are compulsory and very informative. Photography is permitted, though visitors are obliged to register their cameras at the entrance. Also, the number of cameras per group is sometimes limited. Visitors may have to go through security checks.
Located near the Makati commercial centre, the American Cemetery is a quiet oasis in bustling Manila. The hillside burial ground contains thousands of white marble crosses, which mark the graves of those who died in battle. A tour of the site will reveal a circular memorial, where visitors can read the names of people who went missing in action, as well as mosaics depicting battle scenes from the Second World War. They will also find a small memorial chapel. Travellers who are interested in military history should note that the cemetery has the world's largest number of American military dead from World War II. Most of them died in New Guinea and the Philippines. The site's extensive maps and memorials will give visitors some insight into the how the war unfolded in the region. A staff member is always on duty during opening hours, and will give tours, answer questions, and escort visitors to particular graves and memorials. All things considered, the beautifully landscaped memorial is rightly one of the most popular attractions in Manila.
Las Pinas neighbours Manila on Luzon Island, and is a popular stop among visitors to the Philippines. Its bamboo organ is one of its best attractions. Housed in the charming San Jose Church, its unique sound continues to draw international organists to the city's annual Organ Festival. Travellers can also visit the Sarao Jeepney Factory, where they can view these iconic vehicles being assembled. Indeed, these gaudy, public buses have come to represent Philippine art and culture. Otherwise, Las Pinas is celebrated for being clean and eco-conscious, and is a fun area to explore. Visitors will find some fantastic guesthouses and restaurants in the village.
Tagaytay is one of the most-visited tourist destinations in the Philippines. Located just south of Manila, the town's most famous attraction is the Taal Volcano, which sits on an island in a lake. The volcano has another lake within its vast crater. Filipinos regard Tagaytay as their 'summer capital', with many of them heading there to escape Manila's challenging summer heat. The area provides many recreational opportunities, and has some top hotels and restaurants. Travellers can also visit the 'Palace in the Sky': an unfinished complex that was originally meant to be a home for former president Marcos. Instead, it serves as a park and viewpoint. The area's huge flower farm is worth stopping at, too. Golfing, diving, horse riding, snorkelling and ziplining are among the activities on offer.
Subic Bay is located on the site of a former United States Naval base. The eruption of Mount Pinatubo in 1991 buried the area in ash, and it has since been transformed into a buzzing eco-tourism and commercial hub. It's only five minutes away from the Philippines International Airport. Dense forests cover most of the area, which is enclosed by a security fence. Visitors will find forest trails and unspoiled beaches, and can explore shipwrecks and coral reefs in the bay's dive sites. They can also enjoy sports facilities and duty-free shopping centres. The area's attractions include Ocean Adventure, which is an open-sea marine park where tourists can scuba dive and swim with dolphins, Pamulaklakin Forest and the wildlife-rich Zoobic Safari Forest Adventure Park.
The Basilica Minore de Santo Nino (Basilica of the Holy Child) houses an icon of the infant Jesus. Distinguished as the country's oldest religious relic, it has miraculously survived fire and numerous catastrophes since the Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan first presented it to Queen Juana of Cebu in 1521. The church itself was originally built in 1565, and rebuilt in 1602 after a fire. Its façade is a striking blend of Romanesque, neo-classical and Islamic architecture, while its interior is sumptuously decorated. Visitors will find the Santo Nino in the chapel. They can also purchase souvenirs and religious articles at a small shop, and view church artefacts in a small museum, which is located in the Pilgrim Center's basement.
Located in Cebu City's wharf area, Fort San Pedro was the centre of the country's first Spanish settlement. Established in 1565, it began as a single triangular bastion, and was expanded and fortified over the next 200 years. The fort has also served a variety of purposes, seeing use as a watch-tower to counter pirate attacks in the 1700s, a prison for local rebels during the Philippine Revolution, and a US army barracks. Today, the fort has been turned into a museum park, where visitors can encounter the island's history. The small, well-preserved site often hosts cultural events, and student guides are usually on hand to show travellers around and provide background. Tours are free, though tips are appreciated.
The late lepidopterist, Professor Julian Jumalon, created this private institution, which is part museum, art gallery and miniature nature reserve. It houses his impressive butterfly collection, as well as the art he produced. Visitors usually gravitate towards the collection of unusual mosaics, which are made up of butterfly wings and depict scenes and people from Cebu. That said, the outdoor section is ordinarily rated as the attraction's highlight, where many live specimens flit about. The garden is full of plants that attract butterflies. Some species have been released into the grounds, while others have been bred in captivity. Travellers will find guides on hand. Tours are free, though tips are appreciated.
The Casa Gorordo Museum was originally the home of the first Filipino Bishop of Cebu. Four generations of the Gorordo family lived in the house between 1863 and 1979. Today, the restored abode is a recreation of a typical, well-off Filipino home of the mid-to-late 19th century. Its furnishings include paintings, household items, antique furniture, and religious relics. Almost everything is authentic to the period. Most items lack labels, though this actually deepens the sense that visitors are exploring a genuine home, rather than a museum. Guided tours are sometimes available at the museum, but visitors should arrange their own if they'd enjoy a guide's commentary and they want guarantees. That said, just wandering the old house is fascinating. Visitors can buy small souvenirs on site.
Travellers can easily reach a number of beaches and islets from the Cebu metropolitan area. Mactan Island is one of the best options. It links to Cebu City via a bridge and is home to many resorts, most of which offer full scuba services and watersports facilities. Divers will relish exploring Kansatik's underwater mountain, and should also try Sogod and Moalboal, which are world-renowned dive destinations. Kalanggaman Island and Capitancillo Islet have tremendous coral reefs as well. Travellers should certainly visit Argao's picture-perfect beaches, given that they're only around two hours' drive outside Cebu. Animal lovers can venture to the sea-snake breeding ground, Gato Islet. Travellers should note that while the snakes are not aggressive, they are highly venomous. They should seek immediate attention if bitten. Bird watchers will enjoy Olango Island's pristine white sandy beaches.
The Philippine Eagle (also known as the monkey-eating eagle) is one of the world's largest and most powerful eagles. Tragically, it's also one of the rarest and is critically endangered. The only remaining members of the subspecies soar above the mountains of eastern Luzon, and the heavily forested areas of Mindanao. Animal lovers should visit the Philippine Eagle Center. Located in Malagos, which is near Davao City, the centre is home to a fair number of eagles, as well as mammals, reptiles and other bird species. The animals live in a simulated tropical rainforest. The centre is popular with tourists and allows them to see these rare and impressive creatures in their natural environment. Visitors must pay an entrance charge, though guided tours are free. They should also call ahead and book in advance, as the centre sometimes hosts large school groups.
A short ferry ride separates the island of Samal from Davao City. The destination is part of an archipelago of islets, which together provide a getaway from city life. Its calm waters, coral reefs and lovely beaches draw crowds of tourists, though the island has managed to retain its charm despite the influx. Visitors will long remember its sunsets, sunrises, rolling hills, mangrove swamps and tiny fishing villages. The island also has some gorgeous waterfalls and natural swimming pools. Regarding activities, hikers and spelunkers will find lots to keep them occupied. Tourists can enjoy a variety of watersports as well.
Travellers who seek 'off the beaten track' eco-adventures should head to Lake Sebu. Located on the island of Mindanao, the destination is surrounded by rolling hills and forested mountains, and is home to the T'boli: a highland tribe famous for their colourful costumes and intricate beadwork. Visitors will also encounter the Tasadays, who are a cave-dwelling people. The area's springs, waterfalls and natural caves are a delight. Thrill seekers should visit the Seven Falls Zipline too, as it's said to be the highest zipline in Southeast Asia. It takes travellers high above the region's thick jungle and beautiful waterfalls. Visitors who prefer to stay on the ground can choose from many wonderful hikes around the lake and to the falls. There are also many enticing boat trips, which allow travellers to explore the picturesque area and see how the locals live.
Situated on the north coast of Mindanao, the tiny island of Camiguin is renowned for the friendliness of its people. It's also distinguished for having more volcanoes than municipalities. Regarding its attractions, the destination is a relaxation seekers paradise, where hot springs and stunning beaches are the order of the day. Visitors can climb Mount Hibok-Hibok, and snorkel through a sunken cemetery too, reading gravestones that were submerged in a volcanic eruption. Culture lovers should stop at some of the island's remaining colonial homes, buildings and churches. Santa Rosario Church in Sagay, and the San Nicolas de Tolentino Church in Mambajao are among the island's best churches.
The Chocolate Hills are Bohol Province's most famous tourist attraction, and are widely regarded as one of the top 10 things to see in the country. Nature lovers will enjoy the area's conical hills, which number somewhere between 1200 and 1800. The geological marvels were formed from grass-covered limestone and turn chocolate-brown near the end of the dry season (April or May). At this time, they start to resemble enormous molehills. The UNESCO World Heritage Site is among the most alien landscapes travellers will encounter on earth. An excursion to the Chocolate Hills is a must for anyone on holiday in the Philippines. Travellers should note that climbing up to the viewing platform means scaling a steep stairway, which may be tiring for the unfit or the elderly. It's well worth the effort, though. The hills are particularly lovely in the early morning hours or at sunset.
Binondo is the world's oldest 'Chinatown', and remains one of its largest, most authentic and culturally intriguing. The Spanish established it at the end of the 16th century, when they gave tax-free land outside Manila to Catholic Chinese immigrants, along with self-governing privileges. The immigrants were mostly from China's Fujian Province, and soon established a bustling community. Today, Binondo is among Manila's most vibrant areas, where visitors can shop for a range of goods, and sample exotic cuisine. Foodies should definitely stop at the enclave's converted movie theatres, which now house fine, traditional Chinese restaurants. On a cautionary note, visitors should watch out for bag snatchers and pick pockets as they explore the crowded district.
The island province of Bohol lies southeast of Cebu and is one of the loveliest destinations in the Visayas island group. Travellers will find tremendous natural attractions, such as the world's rarest seashells. Animal lovers should look out for the tarsier, which is a huge-eyed, insect-eating monkey. When fully grown, it's roughly the size of a fist. Visitors will also enjoy the world-famous Chocolate Hills. The surreal series of between 1200 and 1800 hills resembles scoops of chocolate ice-cream and is Bohol's greatest natural attraction. The weathering of coral deposits formed it many millennia ago, when the land was still beneath the sea. Otherwise, visitors can look forward to the region's glorious beaches and top-class scuba-diving sites. Indeed, Panglao Island frequently graces lists of the world's top ten diving destinations.
The country's tropical climate divides clearly into a rainy season and a dry season. The summer monsoon brings heavy rains to most of the country from May to October, and the winter monsoon brings cooler and drier air from December to February. The hottest time of year is April and May, although there is little variation in temperature all year round. Manila and most of the lowland areas are hot and dusty from March to May, when temperatures can rise to around 99°F (37°C).
However, there are variations in climate according to region, such as along the eastern seaboard, where the rainy season generally runs from December to March. Also, it's generally dry when the rest of the country is at its wettest. Average sea-level temperatures rarely drop below 80°F (27°C) so swimming is possible year-round, providing the ocean is calm. Tropical storms and typhoons are possible between July and October.
The best time to visit the Philippines is between November and April. However, this is also the peak tourist season, meaning flight and accommodation prices will be higher. The country is particularly crowded during Easter. Travellers should note that weather has become less predictable in the Philippines in recent years.
The currency of the Philippines is the Peso (PHP), which is divided into 100 centavos. Major credit cards are widely accepted in cities and tourist destinations. ATMs are available in the major cities and in main centres on some islands. US dollars are widely accepted in Manila and other tourist areas, and are the easiest currency to exchange. Otherwise, euros and pounds sterling can also be exchanged in banks and hotels. Most banks in the Philippines are open from 9am to 5pm, Monday to Friday, but their ATMs are open 24 hours. It is best for travellers to carry pesos when travelling outside of major centres.
The official language of the Philippines is Filipino (a standard variant of the Tagalog language), but English is widely spoken. Tagalog is the most predominant of the many dialects or local languages spoken throughout the islands.
Electrical current is 220 volts, 60Hz. Two-pin flat blade attachments and two-pin round plugs are used, with round two-pins being the most common.
US nationals: United States citizens must have a passport valid on arrival. No visa is required for a stay of up to 30 days. Stays can be extended by 59 days multiple times, for a maximum stay of one year. No visa required for former nationals of the Philippines with proof of former Philippines nationality (old Philippines passport, birth certificate or foreign naturalization papers showing former Philippines nationality), for a maximum stay of 1 year.
UK nationals: British citizens must have a passport valid on arrival. No visa is required for a stay of up to 30 days. Stays can be extended by 59 days multiple times for a maximum stay of one year. No visa required for former nationals of the Philippines with proof of former Philippines nationality (old Philippines passport, birth certificate or foreign naturalization papers showing former Philippines nationality), for a maximum stay of 1 year.
CA nationals: Canadians must have a passport valid on arrival. No visa is required for a stay of up to 30 days. Stays can be extended by 59 days multiple times for a maximum stay of one year. No visa required for former nationals of the Philippines with proof of former Philippines nationality (old Philippines passport, birth certificate or foreign naturalization papers showing former Philippines nationality), for a maximum stay of 1 year.
AU nationals: Australians must have a passport valid on arrival. No visa is required for a stay of up to 30 days. Stays can be extended by 59 days multiple times for a maximum stay of one year. No visa required for former nationals of the Philippines with proof of former Philippines nationality (old Philippines passport, birth certificate or foreign naturalization papers showing former Philippines nationality), for a maximum stay of 1 year.
ZA nationals: South Africans must have a passport valid for six months after date of arrival. No visa is required for a stay of up to 30 days. Stays can be extended by 59 days multiple times for a maximum stay of one year. No visa required for former nationals of the Philippines with proof of former Philippines nationality (old Philippines passport, birth certificate or foreign naturalization papers showing former Philippines nationality), for a maximum stay of 1 year.
IR nationals: Irish citizens must have a passport valid on arrival. No visa is required for a stay of up to 30 days. Stays can be extended by 59 days multiple times for a maximum stay of one year. No visa required for former nationals of the Philippines with proof of former Philippines nationality (old Philippines passport, birth certificate or foreign naturalization papers showing former Philippines nationality), for a maximum stay of 1 year.
NZ nationals: New Zealand nationals must have a valid passport. No visa is required for a stay of up to 30 days. Stays can be extended by 59 days multiple times for a maximum stay of one year. No visa required for former nationals of the Philippines with proof of former Philippines nationality (old Philippines passport, birth certificate or foreign naturalization papers showing former Philippines nationality), for a maximum stay of 1 year.
Everyone entering the Philippines must have a passport that is valid for at least six months beyond the date of arrival in the country. All visitors must have return or onward tickets, documents necessary for further travel, as well as sufficient funds. A visa is not required for a stay of up to 30 days provided these criterion are met. Extensions for visas are possible and should be made with the Bureau of Immigration. Visas may be issued on arrival for stays of up to 59 days for a fee, and multiple extensions up to one year total are possible.
No special vaccination certificates are required for the Philippines, except by travellers arriving from an area infected with yellow fever. Vaccinations are recommended for typhoid, hepatitis A, and hepatitis B. Those who will be spending more than a month in rural areas should consider a vaccination for Japanese encephalitis, and those who may be at risk of animal bites should consider a rabies vaccination.
There is a malaria risk in parts of the Philippines and visitors should seek medical advice before travelling. Urban areas are generally considered risk-free. Dengue fever is a risk throughout the country; the best prevention is to avoid mosquito bites. Tap water is not safe to drink and ice in drinks should be avoided. Cholera is a risk in the country and precautions are advised. Sea snakes can be highly venomous. Travellers should be cautious in remote coastal waters, lakes and rivers, as anti-venom may not be readily available.
The Philippines is now also a risk area for contracting the Zika virus, meaning pregnant women should avoid travel to the Philippines. Travellers should also take steps to avoid contact with the virus through sexual interaction and mosquito bites.
Medical care is good in Manila, although very expensive, while outside of the capital it can be difficult to receive adequate care. Comprehensive medical insurance is advised. Travellers should take along any prescription medication they require, in its original packaging, along with a signed and dated letter from a doctor detailing what the medication is and why it is needed.
Tipping is expected for most services in the Philippines. The standard practice is 10 percent of the total bill, although in some cases it can be only PHP 20-50. Tipping is optional on bills that already include a 10 percent service charge.
The Philippines is a big country and most of it is perfectly safe for travelling. Filipinos are also among the world's most hospitable people. Visitors should be wary of certain regions, though, as they host criminals and terrorist groups.
Cebu City and Manila are big cities where travellers may encounter scams and petty theft. Hold ups and violent crimes are rare. Central and southern Mindanao and the Sulu Archipelago have less government control, and are consequently more open to crime, kidnappings and a terrorist presence. Travelers should avoid the Sulu Archipelago and the Zamboanga Peninsula in particular. Southern Palawan can also be risky, though the rest of the island is safe for travelling.
The concept of 'shame' is very important in Filipino culture and visitors should avoid offending or embarrassing anyone in public while visiting the country. Failure to live up to accepted standards of behaviour brings shame not only on themselves, but also on their family. Any food or drink offered should be accepted, as this is a sign of hospitality.
Third party introductions are useful when conducting business in the Philippines and face-to-face communication is key. Emphasis is placed on building good working relations and getting to know each other. Business is conducted formally, and although punctuality is important, meetings may not begin on time. Dress should be conservative: suits and ties are the norm, although many Filipino men wear a shirt known as a barong tagalog, which is a far cooler option in the humid environment. English is widely spoken in business circles and business hours are usually from 8am to 5pm, Monday to Friday.
The international access code for the Philippines is +63. Pre-paid sim cards can be bought at the airport and at convenience stores. However, different networks have better coverage on certain islands so visitors are advised to choose a network best suited to their destinations. Wifi access is increasingly common, even on the islands.
Travellers to the Philippines over 18 years of age do not have to pay duty on 400 cigarettes or 50 cigars or 250g tobacco, and 2 litres of alcoholic beverages.
Prohibited items include firearms or parts thereof, explosives and ammunition; printed material that contains subversive, obscene or pornographic content; drugs, gambling machines, lottery sweepstake tickets, or coin-operated video machines; gold, silver and other precious metals that do not have authentication of quality; non-identifiable brands of medicines or foodstuffs; coca leaves and any prohibited drugs, plants or parts thereof; as well as fruits and vegetables.
Philippine Department of Tourism, Manila: +63 2 459 5200 or www.tourism.gov.ph
Philippines Embassy, Washington DC, United States: +1 202 467 9300.
Philippines Embassy, London, United Kingdom (also responsible for Ireland): +44 20 7451 1780.
Philippines Embassy, Ottawa, Canada: +1 613 233 1121.
Philippines Embassy, Canberra, Australia: +61 2 6273 2535.
Philippines Embassy, Pretoria, South Africa: +27 12 346 0451.
Philippines Embassy, Wellington, New Zealand: +64 4 890 3741.
United States Embassy, Manila: +63 2 301 2000.
British Embassy, Manila: +63 2 858 2200.
Canadian Embassy, Manila: +63 2 857 9000.
Australian Embassy, Manila: +63 2 757 8100.
South African Embassy, Manila: + 63 2 889 9383.
Honorary Consul of Ireland, Manila: +63 2 896 4668.
New Zealand Embassy, Manila: +63 2 234 3800.
Shaped like a tadpole, this small island is a memorial and open-air museum that commemorates the Filipino and American troops' victory against Japanese forces. Corregidor is also the largest of several islands at the entrance to Manila Bay, and lies off the tip of the Bataan Peninsula. Its strategic position made it a good location for the last stand against the Japanese in the Pacific War, and its land remains littered with the detritus of battle. Travellers can arrange guided tours through the Corregidor Visitor's Information Centre, as well as many tour operators in Manila. Attractions include the Pacific War Memorial, the Japanese Garden of Peace, the Filipino Heroes Memorial and the Malinta Tunnel, where visitors can view an audio-visual presentation of the island's history.
The island of Palawan stretches from Luzon towards Malaysia. Thickly forested and accented by coves, beaches, lagoons and limestone cliffs, the gorgeous region is a must for nature lovers. Puerto Princesa is the primary gateway to the island. Most travellers head north after arriving in the coastal city. That said, the Puerto Princesa area has many hiking and spelunking opportunities, and the underground river near Sabang is certainly worth visiting. Travellers will find El Nido in the north. The small, lively beach town is Palawan's most popular destination, and is geared towards island hopping. It also has plenty of places to eat out and buy local handicrafts. From El Nido, travellers can choose to take a boat to the neighbouring island of Busuanga and the town of Coron. They will find fewer niceties than on Palawan's main island, but can explore the island's gorgeous aquamarine lakes, and experience some of the best scuba diving in the region. Indeed, the island's Tubbataha Reef is extremely important to the Philippines from an ecological point of view, given that it's a feeding ground and nursery for marine life. The area is archaeologically significant too, as palaeolithic remains have been discovered on the island. They date back approximately 22,000 years.
The northern reaches of Luzon Island draw travellers who crave adventure and an authentic taste of traditional Filipino culture. Lush, mountainous terrain characterises the region, though much is lacking by way of infrastructure. Still, its intriguing tribes and unspoilt landscapes are worth the extra effort needed to reach them. Banaue is one of the most popular tourist stops in northern Luzon. Visitors will encounter a string of villages around the municipality, where people still live according to age-old tribal traditions. The area's main attraction is the Banaue Rice Terraces. Constructed about 3000 years ago, the UNESCO World Heritage site comprises terraces that start from the base of the Cordillero Mountains and extend upwards for thousands of feet. They're cleverly irrigated by channelled springs and streams. Nature lovers can also enjoy nearby waterfalls, natural pools, and scenic hiking trails. The region's little town of Sagada is something of a backpacker's haven. Caving and hiking are among the area's drawcards, though its main attraction is a series of ancient burial caves in the mountainside. Travellers will see the remarkable 'hanging coffins' perched on limestone outcrops. Visitors will reach the coffins via a hike through jungle.
Villa Escudero is an old colonial plantation owned by the Escudero family. Located just south of San Pablo on Luzon Island, the property spans three municipalities in two provinces. Don Arsenio Escudero converted the original sugar cane plantation into a coconut plantation in the early 20th century, after inheriting the land from his father. The plantation went on to become hugely profitable and featured the Philippines' first hydroelectric power plant (to power the coconut factory). For their part, the Escuderos became pivotal to the battle for Filipino independence, as their wealth and resources allowed them to aid many independence fighters by way of shelter and supplies. The family's fortune also financed the construction of beautiful colonial-style Filipino haciendas, which Escuderos still live in. Visitors will find a museum on the property as well. It houses a fascinating collection of antiques and natural finds - the legacy of Escudero men, who travelled widely and were renowned for pursuing a variety of interests.
Vigan is said to be Asia's best-preserved example of a planned Spanish colonial town. The charming destination ranks among UNESCO's World Heritage Sites for this reason. Visitors will encounter cobblestone streets and buildings that fuse Spanish-Colonial architecture with Filipino and Oriental designs. Its list of attractions include the hugely impressive Baroque-style St Paul's Cathedral, a horse-drawn-carriage ride through the cobbled streets, and the chance to spend a night in one of the grand colonial houses in the city's 'Mestizo' district. Many of the streets are lined with shops selling clothes, trinkets, and souvenirs. January is the best time to visit, as the annual Fiesta celebrations bring parties, beauty contests, variety shows, and a carnivalesque atmosphere to the streets.
The Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park is located in the province of Palawan, and lies about 36 miles (58km) north of Puerto Princesa. Regarded as one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature, the underground river sees a significant number of tourist visits. Travellers can choose from many tour operators. The well-maintained National Park is part limestone karst mountain landscape, and the famed river follows a five mile (8km) course through a large cave complex. Ultimately, it merges with the South China Sea. Visitors will enjoy a guided boat ride through the cave complex, which includes fascinating rock formations and a lively bat population.
Located in the western Visayas, the tiny, butterfly-shaped island of Boracay is a major hotspot for international sun-lovers. Its powder-white, palm-studded beach is said to glow at night. Holidaymakers will appreciate the island's unspoilt beauty, along with its hotels, guesthouses, restaurants and fun nightlife. They can also enjoy an array of water sports, such as cliff diving, kiteboarding, snorkelling, windsurfing, and scuba diving. Boracay has rightly won multiple awards and deserves its place among the world's top beach resort destinations. The best time to visit is during the Amihan season (between October and May), when there is little to no rain, and the prevailing wind blows from the east, leaving the island's western region (the main tourist area) calm and sheltered.
Located on the island of Mindoro, Puerto Galera began as a refuge for Spanish traders in the 16th century. Today, the 'Port of Galleons' consists of several towns and beach resorts, which together form one of the country's largest urban areas. A UNESCO programme declared Puerto Galera a protected area in the 1970s. This put the area on the tourist map and helped the cause of its coral reefs and marine life - which had been suffering because of dynamite fishing. Puerto Galera is now one of the most sought-after scuba diving locations in the world. Travellers will find many sites within 10 minutes of the three main beaches, where they can explore wrecks, deep trenches and vibrantly colourful reefs. Sabang and White Beach offer an active nightlife. Visitors who want a less-crowded experience should head to one of the island's smaller coves or beaches.
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