The Philippine Islands are beautiful, but they're also under exposed and more-or-less undiscovered. If you thought a 21st century utopia was unattainable, think again.
The pursuit for paradise never ends. The Robinson Crusoe ideal, where the beach is desolate, silence dominates and the only chance of seeing another soul is in the water, and even then it’s your own reflection. Cast your eyes over the Philippines; boasting over 7000 relatively under-populated islands, there’s ample to go around.
Get out of Manila. There’s no love to be found here, see it only as the city where your first plane lands and your next one departs. Instead, fly 315 kilometres south into Boracay and discover the incomparable White Beach. With sand like talcum-powder, it’s as soft as sugar, as light as flour and brighter than both. Lapped by emerald water and shroud by sun, the entire stretch of beach runs parallel to a sandy pedestrian walkway – the White Beach Path. Cars are banned so kick your naked toes through sun warmed sand and weave your way to the nearest beach shack.
Indulge in a refreshing Philippine specialty; fresh Calamansi juice made from citrus fruit. Come nightfall, Boracay transforms from quiet and subdued to loud and vivacious so swap your juice for an aperitif and settle in for a bustling festivity of live music, fire dancers and illuminated palm trees.
Beautiful beaches aside, the Philippine’s urban areas are always an experience. If you’re seeking a good dose of city-fever, Cebu is as energetic as Manila, but served with an extra lashing of panache. Like all good cities, Cebu is fast-paced and exhaustive; radiating with an urgency that only exists in Asia’s most manic metropolises. This animated frenzy is heightened by the Philippine’s most popular means of public transport, the Jeepney. Big, crowded and frequently adorned with kitsch decoration, these over-sized Jeeps are a great experience, even if just the once.
Island-hopping is easy from Cebu and will allow you to call at Palawan’s UNESCO-listed Puerto Princesa Subterranean River. Dubbed one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature, at 8 kilometres in length, it’s the longest underground river in Asia. Explore pitch black chambers lit only by your head lamp, observing stalactites and stalagmites, hanging bats and a never-ending highway of spine-tingling chasms.
From Puerto Princesa, take the three hour drive to El Nido and you’ll be rewarded with the holy grail of travel – the gateway to paradise. Thailand stand down. The world’s most pristine beaches belong to the Philippines. In particular, The Secret Beach of Matinloc Island. A non-fictional Shangri-La, where a white sparkling beach nudges towering limestone cliffs and a sprinkling of coconut trees, it’s picture-perfect. Reading like a verse from a Utopian fairy tale, the secret beach leads to a secret lagoon – via a barely-visible split in the cliff. Reach the other side and you’ll find a deserted lagoon guarded by giant cliffs and blessed with emerald water. You’ll want to spend an eternity here, but with so much of the Philippines to discover, you’ll be compelled to leave.
Chocolate buttons – 400 feet in height and over one thousand in number. Sound like heaven? It is. But unfortunately they can’t be consumed. Bohol’s Chocolate Hills, so called because they resemble giant Maltesers, are huge conical mounds that turn brown during the summer.
For the best views of these bubbling cocoa-coloured droplets, Chocolate Hills Adventure Park offers famed views across the landscape, including vistas of Carmen’s limestone formations. Home to Bohol’s most exhilarating zip wire, you’ll need to swap your feet for a set of wheels to successfully complete this course. A zip wire like no other, here’s where you’ll find a bicycle zip wire. Elevated 45 metres above the ground, those with nerves of steel can pedal a modified bicycle across 225 metre-long cables, suspended high above the treetops and strung between hillsides. With a light breeze whipping your ears, precariously navigate the lines and you’ll be rewarded with dazzling Philippine views – if you dare to look around that is. Suitable for the entire family, there’s also a tandem option, for those who quiver at the very thought of riding solo.
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