Explore The Philippines
Explore The Philippines an archipelago in South-East Asia of more than seven thousand islands located between the Philippine Sea and the South China Sea at the very eastern edge of Asia.
Many wonderful beaches are just part of one of the world’s longest coastlines and it takes about 20 years to spend a day on every island. Since Spanish colonial times, the country has been Asia’s largest Catholic country. Over a hundred ethnic groups, a mixture of foreign influences and a fusion of culture and arts have enhanced the uniqueness of the Filipino identity and the wonder that is the Philippines.
Several thousand years ago, the first settlers in the Philippines crossed shallow seas and land bridges from mainland Asia to arrive in this group of islands. These were the Negritos or Aetas related to Melanesians, Australian Aborigines and Papuans. Direct descendants of these people can still be found, especially in Negros Oriental.
The climate is tropical, with March to May being the hottest months. The rainy season starts in June and extends through October with strong typhoons possible. The coolest months are from November to February, with mid-January to end of February considered the best for cooler and dryer weather.
The culture of the Philippines is very diverse. There is the native Melanesian and Austronesian culture, which is most evident in language, ethnicity, native architecture, food and dances. There is also some influence from Japan, China, India, Arabia, and Borneo. On top of that there is a heavy colonial Hispanic influence from Mexico and Spain, such as in religion, food, dance, language, festivals, architecture and ethnicity. Later influence from the US can also be seen in the culture.
Philippine laws and court decisions, with extremely rare exceptions, are written solely in US English.
With seven thousand islands, the Philippines have many cities. Listed below are the nine most important cities for visitors, some of which are provincial capitals and centers of commerce and finance, as well as culture and history.
- Manila – the national capital is one of the most densely populated cities in the world – with all of that implies in terms of pollution, crime, urban poverty and traffic jams – with few parks. However, the smiling, stoical and resourceful people themselves are its saving grace, rather than the relatively few surviving monuments, historical landmarks and sights widely scattered around the city and its surrounding metropolitan area of Metro Manila!
- Iloilo City – is a tourist hub where the best restaurants, museums, hotels, shopping districts, and heritage sites in the city await. It is most known for the annual Dinagyang Festival. Apart from its own collection of tourist attractions, Iloilo serves as a gateway to Western Visayas region and a favored stopover for tourists heading to the beaches of Boracay and the nearby Guimaras , Antique, Capiz, Aklan,Bacolod , and Negros Occidental.
- Baguio – the country’s summer capital because of its cool weather, it boasts well-maintained parks and scenic areas, as well as being the home of the “Igorot”, the indigenous peoples of the Cordilleras.
- Cebu – It is the first city founded by the West in the Philippines and is a major center for commerce, industry, culture and tourism.
- Cagayan de Oro – known as the “City of Golden Friendship”, it is popular for whitewater rafting and is the gateway to Northern Mindanao.
- Davao – one of the largest cities in the world in terms of land area, it is known for its durian and for being the home of Mount Apo, the Philippines’ tallest mountain.
- Tagbilaran – known as the site of the Sandugo (blood compact) between Spanish conquistador Miguel López de Legazpi and Rajah Sikatuna representing the people of Bohol.
- Vigan – the capital of Ilocos Sur and a UNESCO World Heritage Site, its well-preserved city center is the finest example of Spanish colonial architecture in the Philippines. Declared as one of the new 7 wonders (cities)
- Zamboanga- known as “La Ciudad Latina de Asia” (Asia’s Latin City), it is the melting pot between the Philippines’ Christian and Muslim cultures, boasting old mosques, grand churches and historic colonial structures.
- Banaue, home to the 2000 year old Rice terraces. People are fascinated at how the Igorots have made this, hence the Filipinos calling it as the 8th wonder of the world. It is a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
- Batangas, home to the birthplace of scuba diving in the Philippines boasting of world class dive sites and famous for its beaches. It’s accessibility by land about 2 hours from the Manila airport makes it a popular destination. It is home to Taal Volcano and the Taal heritage town.
- Boracay is 10km island featuring white sands.
- Camarines Sur has beautiful coral reefs, and shorelines of Black and white sands. Visit the Camarines Sur Watersport complex and go water skiing.
- Coron is the place for wreck diving in the Philippines. Several Japanese ships were sunk here during World War II. Other dive attractions include nice reefs, good macro life, and a very unique geothermal lake dive. Island hopping is another popular activity here.
- El Nido is a coastal settlement and major tourist destination on the Philippines island of Palawan. El Nido comprises 45 islands and islets; limestone cliffs are also found here, which form a Karst backdrop similar to those found in Ha Long Bay, Krabi and Guilin. El Nido is a popular destination for locals during the long holidays of Holy Week but, until recently, has been relatively unknown to foreign tourists. Beaches, clear waters (away from the main town), jungle, steep limestone cliffs and stunning inlets make for beautiful seascapes.
- Donsol is the Whale Shark Capital of the world, dive and see whale sharks.
- Malapascua Island just like other islands in the Philippines, the island features a beautiful white sand shoreline and coral gardens.
- Palawan offers beautiful beaches that are often inhabited and waters which have coral reefs that are home to a large variety of fishes, not only coral reefs but also animals such as dugongs and manta rays. Not only white beaches and tranquil water but see the Puerto Princesa Subterranean Park, a cave with beautiful rock formations as well as an underground river.
- Puerto Galera, a favorite getaway for people during Holy Week because of its white sand shorelines and it’s amazing flora.
- Sabang is a municipality in Puerto Galera, dive its beautiful waters and be amazed at the fauna that you will see.
- Sagada is a small town in the mountain province of Luzon in the Philippines, famed for its cool and refreshing climate, beautiful caves, hanging coffins, and serene mountains.
- Tagaytay, tired of the old scene of the noisy metropolis of Manila? or missing the cool weather? Head to Tagaytay, it provides a view of Taal Volcano, the weather is cool and often a getaway for Filipinos tired of warm tropical weather during the Holy Week.
International driving licenses are valid in the Philippines for up to 30 days after arrival, after which an International Driver’s Permit or a Philippine driving license is required. Vehicular traffic in the Philippines moves on the right, and the vast majority of road signs are in English. Most signs conform to design guidelines used in the United States but all units used are metric. Filipinos mainly use manual transmission in their cars; however, if you’re visiting the Philippines, and you’re used to driving an automatic transmission, automatic transmission is available for rental cars, though, it’s typically more expensive.
The Philippines has two official languages: English and Filipino
What to see. Best top attractions in The Philippines.
UNESCO World Heritage Sites: See the spectacular Banaue Rice terraces in Batad and be fascinated at how it was built, see the only successful laid out plan of a European colonial town in Asia; Vigan. The Baroque churches (the Inmaculada Concepción in Manila, Nuestra Señora in Ilocos Sur, San Agustín in Ilocos Norte and Santo Tomás in Iloílo) of the Philippines will amaze you about the European Baroque architecture.
Churches and religious sites: See the Basílica de San Sebastián in Quiapo; the only all steel church or basilica in Asia. A visit to a city’s cathedral is worth it.
Historical Sites: Intramuros, Rizal Park and Blood Compact site in Bohol are worth seeing and will give you a glimpse of the history of the country.
Metro Manila offers plenty of Museums worth visiting and is considered among the bulwarks of culture in the Philippines.
Beaches: Swim through the blue waters of Boracay and El Nido, sunbathe at the beaches of Puerto Galera and Pagudpud or on the remote and very picturesque beaches of Botolan, Zambales.
Coral reefs: Dive the Tubbataha Reefs National Park and see the spectacular collections of marine life and corals. Anilao also offers good options. Best time to dive is late March – June
Wildlife and Plants: Rare animals that can only be found in the Philippines and most of them are endangered and threatened. Philippine Monkey Eating Eagle; The largest eagle, Tarsier; a small animal that looks like an alien and can be found in Bohol, Carabaos and Tamaraws; water buffaloes only endemic in the Philippines, aside from these animals, some species of rats, bats and water pigs are also endemic in the Philippines. Endemic plants like orchids like the Waling-Waling one of the rarest flowers in the world as well as one of the most expensive in the world.
Eco tour and sustainable tourism: There are various organizations offering that kind of trips. Be aware that because the trip name contains words like Eco/sustainable or responsible do not mean it should be more expensive. It should even be cheaper, considering the fact that local products and services should be promoted. Before booking such trips it is recommended to call the promoter/agency to know where the money go and how local products and services (e.g Local tour guides) are involved. There are various trips organized around the Philippines such as: International Coastal Clean-up, Bataan Pawikan Conservation, Culion & Coron Island Hopping & Clean-up, Sagada Coffee & Eco Tour, Banaue Volunteer & Eco Tour.
What to do in The Philippines.
Aerial Sports – An annual Hot Air Balloon festival is held in Clark, Angeles in Pampanga, other than Hot Air balloons on display, people gather in this event to do sky diving, many activities are also held other than sky diving and hot air balloons. The Festival is held between January and February.
Bentosa and Hilot are Filipino alternative ways of healing, Bentosa is a method where a cup cover a tea light candle then it flames out and it drains out all the pain on the certain part of the body, Hilot is just the Filipino way of massaging.
Board Sailing – Waves and winds work together making the country a haven for board sailors. Boracay, Subic Bay and Anilao in Batangas are the main destinations.
Caving – The Archipelago has some unique cave systems. Sagada is one popular destination for caving.
Dive – Blue, tranquil waters and abundant reefs make for good diving. Compared to neighboring countries, diving in the country is cheaper. You can explore either on SCUBA or just snorkeling and free diving.
Festivals – Each municipality, town, city and province has their own festival, either religious or in honor of the city or a historical reason.
Golf – Almost every province has a golf course, it is a popular sport among the elite, rich and famous.
Medical Tourism – The Philippines supplies the world with many medical professionals with large numbers leaving the country every year for a better future abroad. This is indicative of the quality of medical education and medical tourism is on the rise too. Most come from America and Europe as compared to their home countries, healthcare here is much cheaper; as much as 80% less than the average price abroad. Most of the hospitals suggested for medical tourism are in Metro Manila. Alternative medicine is also popular with spas, faith healing and other fringe therapies widespread throughout the archipelago.
National Parks – National parks number around 60-70, they include mountains and coral reefs.
Mountain Biking – The archipelago has dozens of mountains and is ideal for mountain bikers. Bikes are the best mode of transportation in getting around remote areas. Some options include Baguio, Davao, Iloilo, Banaue, Mount Apo and Guimaras.
Rock Climbing – Apo Island, Atimonan, El Nido, Puting Bato, Wawa Gorge have the best sites in the archipelago for rock climbing.
Sea Kayaking – Caramoan Islands in Camarines Sur, Palawan, Samar and Siargao are popular.
Spas are popular, with many options, Spas are found near beaches, financial capitals etc.
Trekking – Mountain ranges and peaks offer cool weather for trekking and it might give you a sight of the beautiful exotic flora and fauna of the country. Mt. Kanlaon and Mount Pulag are good trekking spots.
Visita Iglesia – Visita Iglesia (Visita is Spanish for Visit, Iglesia is Spanish for Church; Visit Churches) is the practice done by mostly Filipino Roman Catholics to Churches, holy sites, shrines, basilicas etc. If you are religious try this, if you love art and architecture; churches are the best way to define what Filipino architecture.
Whitewater Rafting – One of the best, if not the best, whitewater rafting experience can be had in Cagayan de Oro City, a city in the northern part of Mindanao. Also, Davao is emerging as the Whitewater rafting capital in Mindanao, if not in the Philippines.
What to buy
Money changers are not so common in the Philippines outside some heavily touristed areas. A rule of thumb: the more currency you wish to exchange, the more favorable the rates can be. Banks on the other hand are widely available to exchange currency but usually impose a minimum amount (usually around US$100) and have limited hours of operation, usually 09:00-15:00 on weekdays.
Be aware that no person is allowed to enter or leave the Philippines carrying more than ₱50,000 (since september 2016) of coins and banknotes without prior authorisation by Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas. Those who have not gained prior authorisation will have to declare the excess money at the customs desk. However bringing-in any amount in foreign currency is legal but anything in excess of USD10,000 (or its equivalent) must be declared.
Visitors can also use the 6,000 ATMs nationwide to withdraw funds or ask for cash advances.
Credit (and debit) card holders can use VISA, MasterCard, American Express and JCB cards in many commercial locations in the Philippines but merchants would usually require a minimum purchase amount before you can use your card.
Drink the readily available bottled water. Buko (young coconut) juice is also safe if they have not added local ice to it. Be wary also of Buko juice vendors, some usually just add sugar to water.
A little courtesy goes a long way. Filipinos are a very friendly and hospitable people, sometimes even to a fault. Take the time to smile and say “thank you”, and you’ll receive much better responses. You will receive an even better response if you throw in a little Tagalog, such as “salamat”, which means “thank you”. When talking to the people who are usually old enough to be your parents or grandparents in Filipino, it is greatly appreciated to include po in your sentences such as salamat po, thought it also commonly used in formal situations between age peers and brings out the smiles.