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Not far away from the beach resorts of Phuket and Bali, or the mega cities of Bangkok and Singapore is another country that has perhaps been sitting in the shadows of its more popular neighbours for far too long. This country has over 7,000 tropical islands, most with beautiful untouched beaches. It has a megalopolis of 24 million people. It has huge forests hiding an amazingly unique array of wildlife. And an incredibly long and diverse history to be learned.
Beaches aside, the islands do hide other attractions. Volcanoes are a common site, as are large karsts similar to the likes of Halong Bay. In the mountainous north of the country, the hillsides have been carved up and turned into vast rice paddies. Then there’s the truly unique spots such as the Chocolate Hills, an amazing site of hundreds of perfectly shaped hills covering one of the islands; and Puerto Princesa Underground River which is navigable and stretches up to 8 kilometres inland.
The inhabitants of the many islands are diverse and wide ranging. There’s the tarsier, one of the smallest species of primates in the world and one so cute that you’ll be tempted to smuggle one or two home with you. Elephants of course, are always popular. And there’s anteaters, tigers, wolves, a billion different types of monkeys and over 600 species of birds, nearly 200 of which are only found here.
Being the capital city of the Philippines, there’s plenty of museums and galleries to be seen such as the newly-opened National Musuem of Natural History. Manila is known for its Spanish colonial heritage sites such as Fort Santiago in Intramuros, Rizal Park and Manial Cathedral. Bargain-hunters should head over to Quiapo and Tutuban in Divisioria to shop at ‘tiangges’ (fleamarkets).
The city is the oldest in the country with an official establishment date of 1565 when Spanish conquistadors landed on the island. The city also has a number of old Spanish colonial historic sites such as the Basilica Minore del Santo Nino, Cebu Metropolitan Cathedral,Fort San Pedro and Magellan’s Cross. A short drive from Cebu City is Mactan Island a white sand beach home to many international resort chains.
If Bohol is home to the famed milk chocolate hills, Tarsier monkeys and floating restaurants, then its beaches on Panglao Island are a long slab of melted Milkybar. Blonde and velvety, the picture-perfect sands are fringed by teal water and the obligatory lolloping palm trees. A splendid beach hideaway still relatively under the radar, Panglao Island is the Philippine’s best kept secret.
With sand like talcum-powder, it’s as soft as sugar, as light as flour and brighter than both. The entire stretch of beach runs parallel to a sandy pedestrian walkway – the White Beach Path. 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.
A 64-hectare citadel comprising stone palaces, churches, monasteries, small museums and rickety old houses, it’s a little nugget of colonial Spain in the heart of the Philippine capital. Leave early to avoid the midday heat and stop mid-morning for ensaymada (savory brioche) and Spanish hot chocolate.
Reputedly the longest underground river in the world, Palawan's Puerto Princesa Underground River winds for 8.2km underneath extensive mountain range before empting out into the South China Sea. Weaving between stalactites and stalagmites, you’ll traverse damp chambers and pass water-sculptured rock formations.
A sheer feat of human ingenuity and one of the UNESCO-recognised sites in the country, the rice terraces of Banaue titter on the mountainside like a layered mass of precarious green steps. One of the oldest manmade structures in the Philippines, the ridged terraces were carved into the mountains by indigenous Filipino people over 3000 years ago. A beauty to behold, hiking the relatively rough terrain to the last viewpoint should take approximately 30 minutes.
When the sighting of a shark encourages everyone to get into the water, you know you've found something quite unique, and that would be whale shark snorkelling in Donsol, Bicol. Granted the whale shark is actually a fish, but it’s a sizeable beast at that, and can often be over ten metres in length. Whale sharks frequent the Donsol bay between February and May to feed on the area’s rich nutrients, making it the ideal time to grab your goggles and jump off a glorified catamaran into the water. Whale sharks are friendly to human beings and on a good day, snorkellers can swim with as many as a dozen.
Aside from whale shark sightings, another reason tourists travel to the Bicol region is to see Mount Mayon, with its conic shape comparable to that of Mount Fuji in Japan.
Not many people may know that the Philippines has hosted the WWA Wakeboard World Championships. The country has many cable wake parks. cable ski system that pulls water skiiers and wakeboarders along an overhead network of cables, suspended 8-12 metres above the water’s surface. Camsur Watersports Complex was the first wake park and now many others have emerged: Republ1c Wake Park in Laguna, Pradera Wake Park and Decawake Clark Cable Park in Pampanga, Lago de Oro in Batangas, and Decawake Davao Cable Park in Davao.
There are some amazing surfing spots in the Philippines with Siarago Island being dubbed as the country’s surfing capital. Other popular destinations for surfers include Baler, La Union and Pagudpod Ilocos.
Are you planning your next trip to the Philippines ? Want to learn more about this destination? Or looking for ideas and inspiration for your next holiday? Here is where you can find our featured articles on the Philippines.
This is just a taste of the information and advice we have available through our House of Travel consultants.
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