The Philippines is a remarkable country in Southeast Asia, not only geographically but also culturally and spiritually. The vestiges of the Spanish era include exuberant parties, colonial architecture, and centuries-old churches. On the other hand, the commercial centers, the fast food chains and the use of English as an official language demonstrate the influence of the successor of Spain: the United States. Perhaps due to the mixture of all these influences, the country boasts a unique character. Filipinos are welcoming and optimistic, and that attitude captivates the visitors.
The country is the beach paradise with more than 7,000 islands for all tastes, from isolated stretches of sand to prosperous mega-cities such as Luzon or Mindanao. If you want to sunbathe and go scuba diving, you should go to Las Visayas, where there is a wide variety of pristine beaches. The more adventurous can camp on a deserted coast and play Robinson Crusoe for a few days. You can also go kayaking, kite surfing, canyoning, and caving. While surfers enjoy ripping waves, the divers experience the magnificent underwater world teeming with corals.
Not long ago, Boracay was a sleepy and almost unknown place. But things have changed, and a lot. The world has discovered Boracay, and this tiny island has entered the circuit of the great beach parties of Southeast Asia. But although it has changed so much, it is still a more peaceful place than Kuta or Ko Samui. And you can still find quiet corners, especially at the southern end of the famous White Beach, where the spirit of ancient Boracay is still preserved.
The metropolis is more than traffic and noise. The nightlife of Manila is second to none in the Philippines. From the locals for hipsters to the rhythm of bongos of Quezon City and Cubao to the seductive bars and kitschy Makati clubs. There are also excellent museums, and in contemporary art and design, Manila is the rising star of Asia. The gastronomic scene is leaving behind the bad reputation of the past with the popping up of modern restaurants, coffee shops, and craft beer bars.
With a royal pedigree – it’s named after a Spanish princess – there has always been a buzz to Puerto Princesa, and if it’s your first time in the Philippines the town’s natural beauty will be highlight enough. However, over recent years Princesa has also developed a name as an eco-tourism hub offering a whole host of green tours, including the well-known journey to the UNESCO listed Underground River and its surrounding national park.
Take to the pristine blue waters of El Nido on a trip to ‘heaven on earth’ for a day of swimming in warm waters, snorkeling amid clouds of colorful reef fish and corals, and sunbathing on the multitude of white sand beaches that El Nido has to offer. Head to Coron island on a boat and enjoy spectacular panoramic views of Coron Town and its bay from the short walk up to Mount Tapyas, the second highest mountain of Coron. Meet the Tagbanua indigenous people who have the dangerous job of climbing rickety scaffolding to obtain the cave nests of swallows needed for birds’ nest soup.
In Cebu, perfection has the shape of a beach. Throughout the island, there are spectacular coves and cliffs next to pristine waters. On the west coast, the reefs attract a variety of marine life. The divers meet in places like Moalboal, where the sardine banks are a spectacle. The islands of Malapascua and Mactan are paradises for divers (for whipping shark and turtles, respectively), while Bantayan is ideal for sunbathing. And in the heart of the island is the fun of the capital, Cebu.
Sagada is a mountainous corner in the center of La Cordillera, north of Luzón. It has all the ingredients to be a backpacker’s paradise: incredible excursions, mysterious caves, hanging coffins, strong coffee, excellent bakeries, and cozy, cheap accommodations. Here you can have muesli breakfast and go out in search of adventure, or spend the whole day by the fireplace in a cafe.
Although most visitors to Bohol are divers who go to Alona beach, the real charm is in its interior. Perhaps it is the best Filipino island to travel by motorcycle. There are paved roads that cross the jungle and pass by green rivers, chocolate-colored hills, zip lines with incredible views and populated with tarsiers, the native primates. The island was severely affected by the earthquake of 2013, but it has recovered and is better than ever.