The Philippines is a diverse country of more than 7,000 islands with a breathtaking combination of diverse marine life, ecological marvels, stunning scenery, colonial majesty and unique ancient civilisations. Any visit to the archipelago is sure to be filled with wonder, although the exact diet of Philippines highlights will depend on the interests of each individual tourist.
Highlights of the Philippines
Manila is the capital of the Philippines and the main gateway into the country. Many visitors miss out this heady city and choose to transit straight to the beach resorts of the Visayas, but this is doing the historic metropolis a huge disservice. Certainly to be included on any Philippines highlights tour, Manila has a great combination of fascinating museums, chic restaurants and bars plus some of the best shopping in Asia.
Intramuros is the true gem in Manila’s crown and this ancient walled city was built by the Spanish to ward off rival European colonisers. The cobbled streets and crumbling architecture are very atmospheric and it is easy to while away a few hours peering into the historic courtyards and cathedrals, perhaps indulging in a horse-drawn kalesa ride.
Other Manila attractions include picturesque Rizal Park, the National Museum and famous Manila Bay, reputedly home to the finest sunsets on the continent. Just north from Manila is the former US Airbase town of Angeles, home to saucy nightlife and fun activities. Although not for everyone, this bustling city continues to welcome a steady stream of visitors.
Further north in the foothills of the Cordilleras is the leafy town of Baguio, set amongst the rolling green landscape of Luzon’s highlands. A popular summer escape from scorching Manila, this ‘city of flowers’ is a sedate rest stop en route to the 3,000-year-old rice terraces of Banaue and the UNESCO World Heritage Site Spanish colonial town of Vigan.
On the way back south, stop in at the bohemian artist’s retreat of Sagada. Here local people still revere their dead ancestors within ‘hanging coffins’ on limestone cliffs overlooking the town. Even today the deceased are sometimes placed outside their homes in rocking chairs to give the soul a chance to ‘escape’.
Scuba divers must not miss out on the wonders of Puerto Galera, just a few hours by bus and boat from the capital. This is among the Philippines highlights for any fan of the underwater world, and a great place to learn new skills with a variety of PADI courses on offer. And those early starts to see wrecks and coral do not prevent the army of European divers from partying long into the night with great bars and restaurants for all tastes.
The easiest way to get to the magical island of Boracay is to fly to Caticlan Airport, just a 20 minute ferry ride from the Visayas’ premiere beach resort. Imposing White Beach has won ‘world’s best beach’ accolades many years running, and it is hard to imagine a more perfect stretch of soft while sand and crystal clear water. Sunset sailing trips and fresh seafood barbeques on the sand are the modus operandi here.
Cebu City is the Philippines oldest and second largest metropolis, and definitely worth including on any Philippines highlights tour. There are great restaurants and shopping here, plus the best nightlife outside of the capital. The Sinulog Festival on the third Sunday of January is a huge Mardi Gras-style street party which all visitors will find exhilarating.
Nearby Bohol is just a short ferry journey away and boasts a much slower pace of life. Apart from the iconic Chocolate Hills and the endangered Philippine Tarsier, there are also great resorts such as Alona Beach on offshore Panglao Island. Only a hop over the bridge from the main port, there is also fantastic scuba diving and snorkelling trips here. Try eating at Bohol Bee Farm for a truly unforgettable culinary experience with an ingenious menu which incorporates local organic honey into every recipe.
The Visayas are bursting with tremendous unspoilt paradise islands, but the pick amongst them has to be Palawan to the west. This ecological utopia is undisputedly amongst the highlights of Philippines travel, with the longest underground river in the world and boat trips to hidden lagoons and picture postcard beach coves.