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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 enjoy several parks, restaurants and galleries in the attractive district, along with learning about its intriguing past as a site of political imprisonment and execution. Today, it's a lush park full of pigeons and flowering trees, where visitors ride along the promenade in horse-drawn carriages. History lovers should stop at the beautifully restored colonial residences in the Barrio San Luis too, which is filled with street artists and food stalls amid a festive atmosphere.
Rizal Park is named for the Philippine writer, philosopher and anti-colonialist Dr Jose Rizal, whose execution in 1896 sparked the Philippine Revolution. The country held its Declaration of Philippine Independence from American rule in the park in 1946, remaining a symbol of national pride and independence. It's also one of the largest parks in Southeast Asia, and 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 Philippine archipelago. A sound and light exhibit of Dr Jose Rizal's martyrdom is displayed after sunset. Sundays involve a free concert in the open-air auditorium.
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. The church has a Baroque pulpit, an 18th-century pipe organ and an 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 with notable Filipinos buried in the crypt. Visitors will find a monastery alongside boasting religious art, with the Sacristy housing a collection of richly embroidered vestments.
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, as well as the remains of the San Diego Spanish galleon, which sank in Philippine waters in 1600. The institution is clean, well-kept and has good facilities, with photography permitted but not with flash. It remains a deeply interesting museum that is a worthwhile stop for travellers of all ages.
The Malacanang 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. Today, visitors will instead find a museum, featuring national treasures, historical artefacts and mementos from each Filipino ruler, including the notorious dictators Ferdinand and Imelda Marcos. The building itself is attractive and the rooms are furnished beautifully, with visitors enjoying great views over the river from some of the windows.
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, marking the graves of those who died in battle. The circular memorial contains names of soldiers who went missing in action, as well as mosaics depicting battle scenes from the Second World War. They will also find a small 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. Staff is always on duty during opening hours, and will give tours, answer questions and escort visitors to particular places of poignancy.
Las Pinas neighbours Manila on Luzon Island, and is a popular stop among visitors to the Philippines. Housed in the charming San Jose Church, the unique sound of its bamboo organ 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. Las Pinas is celebrated for being both clean and eco-conscious, with visitors finding 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. It sits on an island in a lake, with another lake in the vast crater. Filipinos regard Tagaytay as their summer capital, with many of them heading there to escape Manila's challenging seasonal heat. The area provides many recreational opportunities, top hotels and restaurants. Travellers can also visit the 'Palace in the Sky'; an unfinished complex originally built for former president Marcos. Instead, it serves as a park, viewing point and flower arm. 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. 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. Subic Bay'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 del Santo Nino 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 facade is a striking blend of Romanesque, neo-classical and Islamic architecture, while its interior is sumptuously decorated. Visitors may view church artefacts in a small museum, located in the Pilgrim Center's basement.
Located in Cebu'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 over the next 200 years. It has served a variety of purposes, such as being a watch-tower against 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, hosting cultural events, and student guides are usually on hand to show travellers around and share the fort's history.
The Jumalon Museum contains a museum, an art gallery and a miniature nature reserve, housing the eponymous lepidopterist's butterfly collection and artwork. Visitors usually gravitate towards the unusual mosaics, made up of butterfly wings and depicting scenes and people from Cebu. The outdoor section is usually rated as the highlight, where many live specimens flit about and the garden is full of plants attracting 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, antique furniture and religious relics. Guided tours are sometimes available at the museum but that said, just wandering the old house is fascinating. Visitors can also buy small souvenirs on site.
Travellers can easily reach a number of beaches and islets from Cebu. Mactan Island is one of the best options; home to many resorts offering scuba and watersports facilities. Divers will relish exploring Kansatik's underwater mountain, and should also try world-renowned diving destinations Sogod and Moalboal. Kalanggaman Island and Capitancillo Islet have tremendous coral reefs too. Travellers should visit Argao's picture-perfect beaches, while animal-lovers can venture into the sea-snake breeding ground of Gato Islet or the bird-watching paradise of Olango Island's pristine white sands.
The Philippine 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 soar above the mountains of eastern Luzon and the heavily forested areas of Mindanao. Animal lovers should visit the Philippine Eagle Center in Malagos, home to a fair number of eagles, as well as mammals, reptiles and other birds. The centre is popular with tourists and allows them to see these rare and impressive creatures in their natural environment. 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 and rolling hills, as well as its mangrove swamps and tiny fishing villages. The island also has some gorgeous waterfalls and natural swimming pools. Hikers and spelunkers will find lots to keep them occupied, while there is a variety of watersports available too.
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. It's home to the T'boli, a highland tribe famous for colourful costumes and intricate beadwork, and the cave-dwelling Tasadays. The springs, waterfalls and natural caves are a delight, while Seven Falls Zipline is said to be the highest zipline in Southeast Asia, taking travellers high above the 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, as well as many enticing boat trips.
Situated on the north coast of Mindanao, the tiny island of Camiguin is renowned for having more volcanoes than municipalities. It's a relaxing paradise, where hot springs and stunning beaches are the order of the day and visitors can climb Mount Hibok-Hibok or snorkel through a cemetery submerged in a volcanic eruption. Culture lovers should stop at some of the island's remaining colonial homes, buildings and churches, with Santa Rosario Church in Sagay and the San Nicolas de Tolentino Church in Mambajao among the island's best.
A beautiful landscape of hills and fertile valleys surrounds Davao, with Mount Apo towering above all else. The potentially active volcano is the country's highest mountain. Many tribes still inhabit the valleys outside Davao, such as the Bilaan, Bagobo, Mandaya and Manobo. Davao is also in the centre of the country's fruit and flower-growing zone. Travellers who visit in August can enjoy the annual Kadayawan Festival, which celebrates life and gives thanks for a bountiful harvest. Otherwise, the region is home to gorgeous dive sites, remote islands and tropical beaches. Nature lovers may see the endangered Philippine Eagle and the rare Vanda Sanderiana Orchid.
The island-province of Cebu is a good springboard for island-hopping in the Visayas. Located in the centre of the Philippine archipelago, it offers travellers easy access to the caves, lagoons and dive spots, as well as Carmen, Oslob and Argao beaches. Travellers will find casinos, golf courses and sandy beaches, alongside resort hotels. They should consider visiting in January, when Cebu stages the dazzling Sinulog Festival. Cebu is also the country's oldest Spanish colonial city and has several historic landmarks, such as the original cross planted by Magellan in 1521. Downtown Cebu is dominated by Colon Street, which is the country's oldest street and dates back to the 16th century.
The Chocolate Hills are Bohol Province's most famous tourist attraction, widely regarded as one of the top ten things to see in the country. Nature lovers will enjoy the area's conical hills, numbering 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). The UNESCO World Heritage Site is among the most alien landscapes travellers will encounter on earth, with the hills particularly captivating at dawn and dusk. Travellers note that climbing up to the viewing platform means scaling a steep stairway, which may be tiring for the unfit or the elderly.
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-governance. 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 exotic cuisine. Foodies should definitely stop at the enclave's converted movie theatres, now housing traditional Chinese restaurants.
The island province of Bohol lies southeast of Cebu and is one of the loveliest destinations in the Visayas. Travellers find tremendous natural attractions, such as the world's rarest seashells, as well as 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; a surreal series of between 1200 and 1800 hills resembling scoops of chocolate ice-cream. The weathering of coral deposits formed it many millennia ago, becoming Bohol's greatest natural wonder. Otherwise, travellers can look forward to the region's glorious beaches and top-class scuba-diving sites, with Panglao Island frequently gracing lists of the world's top diving destinations.
Manila has hot, humid weather all year round and the city's proximity to the equator ensures that the temperature range is small, rarely dropping below 68°F (20°C) and seldom rising above 100°F (38°C). It is a little cooler between November and February. The hottest month is May, when the temperature averages 83ºF (28ºC). The rainy season is between June and October, although some precipitation is possible throughout the year. The driest period is between December and May.
The rainy season tends to involve short, heavy downpours, punctuated by plenty of sunshine. Some travellers insist that a visit during the rainy season is ideal as it's cheaper and less crowded, and the downpours are refreshing. Typhoons can hit the city between June and September and can sometimes cause flooding. The hot weather and humidity is pleasantly tempered by sea breezes for much of the year.
Manila suffers from high levels of air pollution and smog is very common. The most popular time to visit is between January and May, when it is at its driest. That said, it is essentially a year-round travel destination. Tourists should be sure to bring plenty of sunscreen whatever time of year they visit.
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. There is a risk of malaria and dengue fever in more rural areas, while tap water is not safe to drink and ice in drinks should be avoided. There is also a risk of cholera and the Zika virus.
Medical care is good in Manila, although expensive. Comprehensive travel 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.
Tourists will find an enticing range of shops, restaurants, art galleries and performing venues in Manila, which is easily among the region's most buzzing capitals. History buffs should certainly visit the National Museum, where they'll find exhibitions of sunken treasure dating back to 1600, as well as the Ayala Museum, covering the history of the Philippines. They'll also enjoy exploring the ruins in Intramuros. Located on the Pasig Rivers south bank, it was founded in 1571 and was originally the capital of the Spanish East Indies.
Travellers will see many ornate churches across the largely Catholic city. A prime example is the San Agustin Church which dates back to 1606; surviving wars, earthquakes and invasions. Manila also has one of the largest Chinatowns in the world where visitors dine on delicious cuisine and purchase exotic goods. The Malacanang Palace, which is the residence of the Head of State, is well worth a visit too, while the peaceful American Cemetery and Memorial honours those who died during WWII.
Shaped like a tadpole, this small island is a memorial and open-air museum commemorating the Filipino and American troops' victory against Japanese forces. Corregidor is also the largest of several islands at the entrance to Manila Bay, lying 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, or through tour operators in Manila. Attractions include the Pacific War Memorial, the Japanese Garden of Peace, the Filipino Heroes Memorial and the Malinta Tunnel.
The island of Palawan stretches from Luzon towards Malaysia. A must for nature lovers, it's thickly forested and accented by coves, lagoons and limestone cliffs. Puerto Princesa is the primary gateway to the island, sporting hiking trails, spelunking opportunities and an underground river near Sabang. The small, lively beach town of El Nido is Palawan's most popular destination and is geared towards island hopping. 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. The area is archaeologically significant too, with palaeolithic remains from 22,000 years ago discovered on the island.
The northern reaches of Luzon Island draw travellers craving adventure and an authentic taste of traditional Filipino culture. Lush, mountainous terrain characterises the region, though much is lacking by way of infrastructure. Banaue is one of the most popular tourist stops, with villagers still living according to age-old tribal traditions. Constructed about 3000 years ago, the UNESCO World Heritage site of the Banaue Rice Terraces starts from the base of the Cordillera Mountains and extends upwards for thousands of feet. Nature lovers can also enjoy nearby waterfalls, natural pools and scenic hiking trails. Caving and hiking are among the area's draw cards near the local town Sagada, though its main attractions are ancient burial caves with remarkable hanging coffins perched on limestone outcrops.
Villa Escudero is an old colonial plantation owned by the eponymous family. Located just south of San Pablo on Luzon Island, the property spans three municipalities in two provinces. It went on to become hugely profitable and featured the Philippines' first hydroelectric power plant. 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. An on-site museum houses the Escudero family's fascinating collection of antiques and natural finds, collecting thanks to their wide variety of interests.
UNESCO-listed Vigan is said to be Asia's best-preserved example of a planned Spanish colonial town. Visitors will encounter cobblestone streets and buildings fusing 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 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 tourists who 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 that ultimately 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. Visitors will appreciate the island's unspoilt beauty, along with its hotels, restaurants and 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 island's main tourist area is calm and sheltered.
Located on the island of Mindoro, Puerto Galera began as a refuge for Spanish traders in the 16th century. Today, it consists of several towns and beach resorts, which together form one of the country's largest urban areas. Puerto Galera is 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, while visitors who want a less-crowded experience should head to one of the island's smaller coves or beaches.
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