It’s More Fun in the Philippines

The Philippines is defined by its emerald rice fields, teeming megacities, graffiti-splashed jeepneys, smouldering volcanoes, fuzzy water buffaloes and smiling, happy-go-lucky people.

Graced by dazzling beaches, year-round sun and numerous opportunities for diving, island-hopping and surfing, the Philippines has long attracted a steady stream of foreign visitors. Yet there’s far more to these islands than sand and snorkelling. Beyond the coastline are mystical tribal villages, ancient rice terraces, jungle-smothered peaks and crumbling Spanish churches. Look closer and you’ll see the influence of the island’s rich stew of cultures – Islamic, Malay, Spanish and American – in an exuberant array of festivals, tantalizing food and elegant colonial towns that has more in common with Latin America than the rest of Asia.

Just when you thought you had Asia figured out, you get to the Philippines. Instead of monks you have priests; instead of tuk-tuk you have tricycles; instead of pho you have adobo. At first glance the Philippines will disarm you more than charm you, but peel back the country’s skin and there are treasures to be found aplenty. You can swim with whale sharks, scale volcanoes, explore desert islands, gawk at ancient emerald-green rice terraces, submerge at world-class dive sites and venture into rainforests to visit remote hill tribes.

Top Reasons to Visit the Philippines

ISLAND HOPPING

The Philippines archipelago consists of more than 7000 islands, and at certain times of the year it will feel like you have them all to yourself.

The world’s second-largest archipelago is, naturally, an island-hopper’s dream. The typical island boasts a jungle-clad, mountainous interior and a sandy coastline flanked by aquamarine waters and the requisite coral reef. But you’ll find plenty of variations on this theme, from marooned slicks of sand in the middle of the ocean to sprawling, overpopulated mega-islands like Luzon and Mindanao. Beach bums and divers should head straight to Visayas, where island-hopping opportunities abound and the perfect beach takes many forms. More adventurous travellers can pitch a tent on a deserted stretch of coastline and play solo Survivor for a few days.

Best places to experience island life:

  • Bacuit and Calamian Archipelagos, Northern Palawan
  • Romblon
  • Caramoan Peninsula
  • Siargao
  • Zambales Coast

ACCESSIBLE ADVENTURES

From trekking mountainous interiors to water sports such as scuba diving, surfing and sailing, Philippines is the place to visit for adrenalin junkies.

The Philippines isn’t just about finding an isolated beach and getting catatonic. From trekking in the mountains of North Luzon, to getting airborne on a kite board in Boracay, to spelunking in the cave systems of Samar, the Philippines can capably taise any adrenaline junkie’s pulse. Much of the action in the Philippines naturally takes place in and around the water. Freshwater pursuits include rafting, kayaking and wakeboarding. On terra firma, the rice terraces around Banaue are most popular for trekking, but there are peaks – including many volcanoes – to be bagged across Luzon, the Visayas, Mindoro and Mindanao.

Outdoor adventures you can’t afford to miss:

  • Trekking The Cordillera in Luzon
  • Climbing Mt Mayon, Mt Isarog & Mt Bulusan in Bicol
  • Rafting around Cagayan de Oro
  • Swimming with whale sharks in Donsol
  • Sea kayaking in Northern Palawan and Hundred Islands National Park
  • Surfing Baler’s point break
  • Kitesurfing and windsurfing in Boracay

CULTURAL EXPERIENCES

The Philippines is a land apart from mainland Southeast Asia – not only geographically but also spiritually and culturally.

The country’s overwhelming Catholicism, the result of 350 years of Spanish rule, is its most obvious enigma. Vestiges of the Spanish era include exuberant town fiestas (festivals) like Kalibo’s Ati-Atihan, unique Spanish-Filipino colonial architecture, and exquisite centuries-old stone churches lording over bustling town plazas. Malls, fast-food chains and widespread spoken English betray the influence of Spain’s colonial successor, the Americans. Yet despite these outside influences, the country remains very much its own unique entity. The people are, simply, Filipinos – and proud of it. Welcoming, warm and relentlessly upbeat, it is they who captivate and ultimately ensnare visitors.

Best places to experience Philippino culture:

  • Festivals of Kalibo
  • Colonial architecture in Vigan (in North Luzon) and Silay (on Negros)
  • Churches of Siquijor

COLOURFUL FESTIVALS

Visit the Philippines during one of its colourful and vibrant festivals and experience this country on a whole new level.

The Philippines just isn’t the Philippines without the colourful festivals, or fiestas, that rage across the country throughout the year. Even the tiniest little barangay (village) holds at least one annually. The granddaddy of them all is the Ati-Atihan Festival in Kalibo. At Bacolod’s MassKara Festival and Marinduque’s Moriones Festival, mischievous masked men stir the masses into a dancing frenzy. The Easter crucifixion ceremony in San Fernando, north of Manila, produces a more macabre tableau, with Catholic devotees being physically nailed to crosses.

Best festivals to visit:

  • Ati-Atihan – Kalibo (January)
  • Sinulog Fiesta – Cebu (January)
  • Moriones Festival – Marinduque (April)
  • Crucifixion Ceremonies – San Fernando (Holy Week before Easter, April)
  • Rodeo Masbateno – Masbate (late April/early May)
  • Kadayawan sa Dabaw Festival – Davao (third week of August)
  • MassKara Festival – Bacolod (weekend closest to 19 October)
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Best Time to Visit the Philippines

The Philippines has a hot and humid tropical climate with a wet season (southwest monsoon, or habagat) from May to October and a dry season (northeast monsoon, or amihan) from November to April. The best time to visit is during the dry season (November to April), although even during the wet season it doesn’t always rain torrentially and days can be hot and sunny, with short, intense downpours at dusk.

Where is the Philippines located?

Geographically located in Southeast Asia, the Philippines is part of a giant mountain backbone from Japan to Indonesia. The Philippines archipelago stretches from its largest, most populated island of Luzon in the north to uninhabited atolls in the south. In terms of distance, it measures 1,840km (1,140 miles) north to south and up to 1,000km (690 miles) wide. Its land area is slightly bigger than that of New Zealand.

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