The Philippines are a beautiful, contrasting country, with something to do and something to see for everybody. This archipelago in South-East Asia is full of life, with both rural and urban attractions providing their own charm – whether you’re interested in beaches, culture, mountains or even night life, traveling to Philippines is definitely something you want to consider.
This article is part of a series, and it isn’t meant to be an exhaustive guide to visiting Philippines, and is meant just to give you an idea of what you can expect visiting the archipelago.
Geography, climate, and people
The country has a population estimated at 93 million and growing very rapidly – it is by far the biggest Catholic Asian country – a result of the 377 years during which it was dominated by Spain; it was also under the Americans for 49 years. This blend of eastern and western culture is still very present to this day, and contrasts are a part of daily life.
Up until the 1960’s, the Philippines was second only to Japan in terms of development in Asia, but after a disastruous rule, the country plunged into debt and many problems started erupting – most notably corruption. If you travel to the Philippines, you’ll almost certainly encounter corruption, so keep an eye out for that.
The country has 80 provinces categorized into 17 regions, and can be loosely spread into 3 areas:
– Luzon (Metro Manila, Cordillera Administrative Region, Ilocos Region, Cagayan Valley, Central Luzon, Calabarzon, Mimaropa, Bicol) – the northern part, economic and governmental center, which is also very rich in history and home to the capital.
– Visayas (Western Visayas, Central Visayas, Eastern Visayas) – here there be beaches. The most spectacular natural sights are here; biodiversity, mountains, beaches – all at their finest.
– Mindanao (Zamboanga Peninsula, Northern Mindanao, Davao Region, Soccsksargen, Caraga Region, Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao) – the southern part of the archipelago is the most rich in culture, and here you can see the indigenous people.
The main city and capital: Manila
Manila is the capital and one of the most densely populated cities in the world – with everything that comes along with it: traffic jams, urban poverty, increased criminality, and teeming nightlife. However, for a city of this magnitude, most people are surprisingly pleasant and will likely positively contribute to your experience. Attractions are scattered across the entire city, and even outside it.
Two of the most notable attractions are actually outside Manila – the Taal Volcano (some 60 km to the South) and Corregidor Island are definitely two sights you don’t want to miss.
Other notable attractions include Mabuhay Restop (a Travel Cafe & Museum offers unique shows, exceptional tours, and delicious food, and is perfect for people who want to experience a pleasant, authentic experience), University of Santo Tomas (the oldest University in Asia, which still keeps a very authentic, historic Spanish look), the Bahay Tsinoy (a one of a kind museum of the Chinese influence and their vast contributions to the country), the San Sebastian Church and San Agustin Museum.
Of course, there are many, many more things to see in this beautiful city, but it would take a book to get into all of them.
Natural attractions in Luzon
Again, it would take far too long to describe even half of all the natural attractions, so I’m just gonna focus on a few ones. While in Luzon, natural, non-urban things are definitely what you want to go for.
Sumaguing cave is definitely one of the biggest attractions in the Philippines. It’s simply fantastic! As I’m writing this, it has 89 out of 110 five star rating on TripAdvisor, and that’s really a rare accomplishment. It’s really hard to describe this experience, just go and visit it, you’ll be happy you did!
The Mayon volcano is overwhelming – the grandeur, perfect cone-shaped, the smoke puffing from the top… it’s magnificent. No matter what angle you see it from, it’s a sight to remember, and even though you’ll probably have a long trip, the volcano and the surroundings will definitely be worth it. Unless you know what you’re doing, you should probably hire a guide.
Rice Terraces in Batad a.k.a Banaue Rice Terraces – it’s a long bus ride, but you’ll pass through some wonderful places, and when you reach it… wow! These rise terraces were built by the inhabitants of the island over 2000 years ago! Spending a few hours or even a few days walking around and wondering how the terraces were built are a great experience. The locals are also very friendly, and for a small “tip”, they’ll be more than happy to show you around and tell you stories about how they were created. The Hapao Rice Terraces are in the same area, and are just as beautiful to behold. Also, while in Banaue, be sure to visit the Tappiyah Falls, one of the hidden gems in the Philippines.
The Hanging Coffins Of Sagada. Cut through the jungle walk your way through the overgrowth of the Valley of Echoes to discover the mysterious hanging coffins of Sagada. Hanging coffins are an ancient funeral custom of some minority groups, especially the Bo people of southern China – it was said that this tradition would provide eternal bliss to the buried and prevent the body from being taken by mythological beasts. Feast your eyes and your soul on this ancient, almost extinct tradition.
To name just a few other things worth seeing: The BenCab Museum, Mount Pinatubo (only for the brave – it erupted in 1991), Matukad Island with its mysterious lake, the Ayala Triangle Gardens, the Kiltepans hiking trails, Calaguas Island with its wonderful beaches and the La Paz Sand Dunes.
The beaches of Visayas
The town of Cebu features magnificent beaches, stunning waterfalls and lots of hiking and biking trails. Again, you’ll probably want to stay off the beaten paths and the big cities, and head towards the beaches and the woods, which the central part of Philippines has plenty of. Kalanggaman Islet, Malapascua Island and Sumilon Island are all great places to sunbathe and swim around.
Also, if you want to mix in two things, you can just go swimming at a waterfall – no problem.
The area is also very culturally rich, featuring the Santo Nino Basilica, which lasts since the Spanish colonial period, Yap Sandiego Ancestral House, a country from the 17th century still inhabited by the original family’s descendants which also acts as a museum, the Taoist temple with its wonderful architecture and sights and Magellan’s Cross, originally planted there on 21st April 1521!
A day at the beach, an evening at the museum or a visit to a temple – it’s all there.
If you’re feeling a little adventurous, you can also go for a day at the marine sports center or a giant cave tourguide, which will definitely awaken your inner explorer!
Things to do in Mindanao
The southern area is fairly similar to the central one, but the small differences make for a big change! The Sohoton Lagoon for example, on the Siargao Island provides a unique experience, and a boat ride through it, or a swim, or just a chill day besides it will be something you won’t easily forget.
The Enchanted River is just as beautiful, with its bluer than blue waters! If you visit it, be sure to ask when fish feeding time is – this will treat you to quite a sight. At the ring of a bell, you’ll see all the people who are swimming and chilling in the water head for the shore, and their place will be taken by different colors of fishes wanting to eat the feeds. Snorkeling is also great there.
You’ll also want to make sure Davao City is on your “To visit” map – The Samal Island with its luxurious resort, Mount Apo and the Eagle Centre all provide great experiences.
For the more active, the Wakeboard park and the Zorb park are alternative options, if that makes you click. The town is tailored specifically for tourism, and you’ll find plenty of things to do around there.
The word “diet” doesn’t exist in the Philippines – they like to eat a lot, and they like to eat good food. The Filipino diet is a lot more similar to the west than the east, with Filipinos eating less vegetables and more meat, sugars and seafood. However, traditional cuisine is quite spectacular. Usually they eat one main course accompanied by rice for lunch and dinner. Here are some of the best foods you can enjoy:
Kanin and Kakanin
Kanin means Rice, while Kakanin means Rice cake – which are also popular. Sinangag is fried garlic rice, often mixed with vegetables and dried shrimp.
Bibingka is a rice cake with cheese and eggs traditionally eaten during the Christmas season. Despite what you’ll read on some websites, despite the name similarity, it’s not the same as the Indian cake – this is an original Philippine recipe.
Also on the sweet side, you should try the Champorado – a sweet chocolate rice porridge. Spanish cuisine is also very popular, including traditional recipes such as Paella.
Soups and stews
Bicol express is a fancy name for a fancy soup, made from long chilies, coconut milk, shrimp paste or stockfish, onion, pork, and garlic.
Batchoy is one of the most popular soups, a traditional noodle soup with numerous variations. A different type of noodle soup is the Mami.
Tinola is a soup/stew which also has numerous variations and can have all or some of green papaya, and chili pepper leaves, in broth flavored with ginger, onions and fish sauce.
You get all the type of noodles you can wish for. You can get the classic Pancit lomi or Misua, or go for the Filipino spaghetti, with a sweet sauce to go with the meat.
You can also enjoy a variety of pickled foods if that’s your thing, as well as numerous sauces (like a shrimp paste, fish sauce, or the ‘banana ketchup’ – banana fruit mashed, with sugar, vinegar, and spices).
So there you have it – hopefully, this gives you a small taste of what visiting the Philippines brings. For any questions and remarks, feel free to use the contact form. We’ll follow up with other, less general articles in which we’ll focus on various aspects on Philippine attractions.