Blessed with an archipelago of 7,000 gorgeous islands, tropical waters and plenty of sunshine, the Philippines ought to be the ideal Southeast Asian destination were it not for its unceasing ability to ruin things with dictators, disunity and disorganisation.
Cruising the Visayas aboard a yacht, the beaches of Boracay, the peacefulness of the remoter islands like Palawan, diving the archipelago, Spanish colonial history on Panay and Negros and naughty nightlife in Manila.
Muslim insurgency and terrorist trouble on Mindanao, congestion and pollution of Manila, corruption and mafia types, geographically inconvenient spread of islands, frequent typhoons and natural disasters.
High season: December to May
Low season: August to December
US/Can: on-arrival (21 days)
EU: on-arrival (21 days)
Aus/NZ: on-arrival (21 days)
Electricity: 220V 60Hz
Flat 2-Pin Plug
Money: Philippines peso
1US$ = 48 peso
Phone: ICC (+63) Outgoing: 00
Muslim insurgency in the southern island of Mindanao and regular devastating typhoons are other impediments to an otherwise lovely country with sweet friendly people, most of whom speak English. The islands of the Visayas are as near to tropical paradise as you get in these parts, but there's plenty of culture, colonial history and good value for money elsewhere too.
This under-visited country isn't as cheap for travelers as some of its regional neighbors, but it isn't a bad deal considering many places are relatively crowd-free - not including the bustling capital, Manila. Boracay is perhaps the best known resort among internationals, loved for its white sands and sleaze-free entertainment. Davao offers diverse nature and activities while the Spanish town of Vigan is popular for its UNESCO protected architecture.
Travel to The Philippines - Getting There
Manila is the only international air gateway to the Philippines, and geographically, the country isn't too close to any other Southeast Asian capital. For short-time visitors, flying is the only practical way to get around to all the islands, but most routes are out of Manila with few inter-connections. The iconic jeepney is the Filipino answer to the Thai tuk-tuk, but acts more like a mini-van, relied on daily by throngs of commuters. There are also conventional air conditioned taxis to get you around. Bus networks on the islands are frequent if somewhat slow but come in various classes depending on how much time or money you have. Between the islands, a vast network of ferries of all sizes and speeds operate and are often the lifeblood of the country.
Philippines Things to Do
- For the shopping, nightlife, relative sophistication, good hotels, some grand old architecture and historic sites. The city itself, while sprawling, occupies a geographically interesting area of bays, inland water and volcanic peaks.
- For its beaches; this is the Philippines' most popular seaside destination, crowded at times but lovely all the same..
- North Luzon
- With its popular tourist drawcards; the romantic hill town of Baguio and the frontier town of Bontoc. The Hundred Islands of the Lingayen Gulf are also picturesque.
- Puerto Galera
- A pretty coastline dotted with made-for-vacation beaches on Mindoro, with a virtually undeveloped island hinterland.
- Visaya Islands
- Is a collective name for the region of many islands between Luzon and Mindanao, offering a fantastic boater playground.
- Panay and Negros
- Two small islands in the Visayas noted for their historic Spanish architecture and character.
- Among the countless beautiful islands that make up the Visaya's; perhaps the best way to appreciate the best of the archipelago.
- Palawan Escape
- For those who are disgusted by the commercialisation of Boracay, you can get into nature on this remarkably clean and unspoilt island in the extreme southwest of the archipelago.
- Anywhere in the archipelago, not only are you treated to great reefs and clear tropical water (if they aren't fishing with dynamite!) there are also countless WWII wrecks, especially off Palawan. Malupascua is particularly noted as a new hotspot.
- In the lovely hills of Bohol, off the island of Cebu.
- With whale sharks at Donsol off the south coast of Luzon
- The excellent surfing Siargao Island off Mindanao, with the swell of the entire Pacific behind it.
With so many pious Catholics, it's not surprising that the Philippines' main festivals are religious in nature and play an import part in their spiritual beliefs.
- Ati-Atihan is one of the biggest and most celebrated festivals, held in Kalibo, Aklan. Natives and participating tourists cover their bodies in black and wear very colourful costumes for a parade to the beat of Hala bira!.
- Feast of Our Lady of Candles is perhaps the most lavish religious festival, held in the western Visayas region of the Philippines. A mass blessing of candles and a parade honour the Nuestra Senora de Candelaria.
- Moriones Festivalin the province of Marinduque sees locals dress up in colourful costumes and re-enact the story of Longinus as the streets of Boac are transformed into a giant stage.
- Massa Kara sees Bacolod on Negros go wild with the 'many faces festival', in which a parade of elaborately decorated masks can be seen.
- Feast of the Immaculate Conception takes place within the walled city of Intramuros in Manila. A Eucharistic celebration in honour of La Immaculada, it features a grand procession of 50 Marian statues.
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