After last year’s horrific typhoon that took such a toll on the island nation of the Philippines, many people are asking whether the country is still worth visiting. The answer is a resounding yes. While recovery continues in affected areas, most of the country is intact, and the people are looking forward to resuming tourism — it’s one of its most important industries. I encourage you to learn more about this wonderful island paradise and plan a visit.
Here are my own top 10 reasons to love the Philippines:
- In a country that consists of multiple islands and archipelagos — over 7000! — it’s to be expected that so much coastline is going to yield some exceptional beaches. The Philippines fulfills that expectation and more. Choosing the Philippines for a foreign beach makes sense, as English is widely spoken everywhere, the beaches are affordable and offer many budget options, and — most importantly, the beaches themselves are spectacular.
Recommending the ideal beach is almost impossible, with so many to choose from, but White Beach in Boracay has frequently been rated as one of the world’s top ten beaches. If you want to scuba dive, pick a location such as Apo Island. Surfers flock to Burgos, located near the northeastern tip of Siargao, where the bay produces perfect waves. T escape the crowds and enjoy a tropical paradise, head to Tambobo Bay, or look for some of the best value in accommodations in Siquijor Island. Whatever your selection, you won’t be disappointed.
- Manila, the capital of the Philippines, is a vibrant and lively metropolis. It has had an unfortunate reputation of being dangerous and poverty-stricken, and pockets of poverty do exist. However, the majority of Manila is a visitor’s paradise, as the city offers an abundance of cultural and entertainment opportunities. Old Manila mixes comfortably with a contemporary skyline, and sight-seeing is a pleasure.
A few suggestions: visit the walled city of Intramuros, which contains the old Manila Cathedral, as well as Fort Santiago, a centuries-old Spanish fortress that has been turned into a park. Throughout the old walled city, you’ll enjoy browsing the streets to see old houses from the city’s Spanish days. Many of them have now been converted into a variety of museums, restaurants, and shops. Rizal Park is also worth a visit. Stretched out over acres of ornamental gardens, clipped lawns, paved walkways, and shaded woody areas, the park is also filled with monuments to Filipino heroes. Finally, visit the National Museum of the Filipino People, which contains a huge collection of native paintings, sculpture, jewelry, and other items. The collection includes many pre-Hispanic artifacts and a treasure trove of coins, plates, and jewelry recovered from the 17th-century wreck of a Spanish galleon.
- Terraces, hills, and volcanoes. The topography of the Philippines contains many amazing natural and man-made wonders. No trip to the islands is complete without a visit to the Banaue rice terraces in Batad. They have been described as one of the eight wonders of the world. Carved out of the North Luzon mountainsides over 2000 years ago, the terraces begin at the base of the Cordilleras Mountains and climb several thousand feet. It is said that if the terraces were laid end to end they would stretch halfway around the entire globe. The rice paddies are fed by mountain streams and springs, with water channeled through irrigation canals. The rice terraces are a remarkable feat of engineering, but also a serene place to view the mountains, hike on quiet paths, and enjoy a look at a more traditional and ancient way of life.
To see another remarkable, but natural, topographical phenomenon, head to the Chocolate Hills of Bohol. A total of 1,268 haystack-shaped hills, all completely symmetrical, rise as high as almost 100 feet throughout the countryside. They are actually unique rock formations that grew over millions of years. Their name comes from the chocolate color their grass cover turns during summer.
The Philippines is also noted for its large number of volcanoes. Most of its islands are of volcanic origin, and 37 volcanoes remain, almost half of which are active. To take in a bit of volcano-sighting, visit Bulusan Volcano National Park, with its lovely crater lake, or see Taal Volcano, the world’s smallest active volcano, in Batangas.
- Wildlife and marine life. The Philippines is home to a huge assortment of birds, animals, and sea creatures. Over 600 species of birds, 300 reptile species, 2000 fish species, and 400 coral species make the country a nature-lover’s haven. And the diversity is striking — for example, the country is home to the world’s smallest monkey and the world’s largest and smallest fish! To enjoy some of the remarkable fauna, visit the Olango Island Wildlife Sanctuary, which attracts 50,000 birds, including several endangered ones. Or head to the Tubbataha Reefs National Park to dive the reefs and take in an amazing assortment of marine life and corals.
- World War II history. If you’re a military history buff, you’ll appreciate the way in which the Philippines honors its military history, particularly that of World War II. The country played a pivotal role in the Pacific arena during this war and suffered huge losses, particularly during Japanese —American battles in Manila, where at least 150,000 civilians lost their lives. The country continues to honor its legacy with several memorials, particularly in the Manila area. Visit the American Memorial Cemetery in Makati, which contains open-air galleries with battle depictions and murals.
- Shopping. Shopping appears to be the national pastime in the Philippines! It is worth noting that three of the largest malls in the world are located there. The country is also a great handicrafts center. Prices in shops and street markets tend to be reasonable, but be prepared by barter! If you prefer the modern mall experience, try the SM City North EDSA in Quezon City — it’s the largest mall in southeast Asia. If you want to explore street markets and bazaars, some of the best selections can be found in antiques, embroidery, and brassware. Antique porcelain plates, Santos statues, jewel boxes, gongs, and dresses embroidered from pineapple or pinya leaves are just a few examples of items that can be found in antique shops and street booths.
- Outdoor sports. Filipinos have a great devotion to all types of sports, from team sports to rugged outdoor sports. As you might expect in a tropical country with miles and miles of coastlines and mountains, outdoor activities attract many visitors each year. If nursing a mai tai under a beach umbrella isn’t lively enough for you, take advantage of one of the country’s many water activities. For example, whitewater rafting is popular in Cagayan de Oro City and Davao. Board sailing is also popular, due to the great combination of winds and waves found in the archipelagos. Primary board sailing destinations include Subic Bay, Anilao, and Boracay. If you like scuba diving or snorkeling, the abundant reefs and clear waters make for ideal conditions. Almost any coastal area offers diving opportunities. Finally, try sea kayaking in the Caramoan Islands, Palawan, or Siargao.
If inland sports are your preference, consider caving in one of the country’s many cave systems — Sagada is one popular spot. Mountain bikers enjoy the Baguio, Davao, Banaue, and Mount Apo areas. Rock climbers swear by Wawa Gorge as having the best sites for climbing. Hiking and trekking are enjoyed in many mountain areas, including Mount Kanlaon and Mount Pulag.
- The spa experience. Few things are more relaxing than a session of Filipino healing massage or touch therapy, known as Hilot. This ancient healing art is incorporated into wellness programs and some of the world’s best spa resorts. Hilot is used for everything from easing tired muscles and joints to treating illnesses. Combining hilot with other traditional Asian healing practices and massage therapies, Filipino spas offer an experience that is second to none in relaxation. Whether you favor a five-star hotel resort or a low-key country setting, there’s a spa for every taste in the Philippines.
A couple of favorites: the Farm at San Benito and the Badian Island Resort and Spa. The first option is a former coffee and coconut plantation that has been turned into a combination spa resort and medical facility. It lies in the foothills of Mount Malarayat, where it offers a tranquil setting for patrons. It provides an Overnight Wellness Program and a more extensive five-day Medical Vacation. The Badian Island Resort and Spa is the quintessential five-star resort haven. It lies on the sunset side of Cebu City, offering unmatched views of Badian Bay. Spa treatments there are the ultimate in pampering, from seawater wading pools to bubble beds, or just the best massage ever in one of the resort’s open-air pavilions.
- Jewish history. A Jewish presence has existed in the Philippines for hundreds of years. Spanish Jews or Marranos settled in Manila during the Spanish Inquisition, and other Jewish groups came from France, the U.S., the Middle East, and Russia. While the Jewish community in the Philippines has never been large, Jews around the world appreciate the Philippines for its unique role in fighting anti-Semitism and Jewish persecution, particularly before, during, and after World War II. The country became a safe haven for Jewish refugees from Europe and, during the 1930s and 1940s, established policies that permitted over 1,000 Jews per year to enter the country. During the Japanese occupation of the Philippines, many Jews were placed in internment camps and the Manila synagogue was destroyed. After the war, the synagogue was rebuilt, and the Philippines became the only Asian nation to support the U.N. resolution that created the modern State of Israel.
- The Filipino people. I’ve saved the best for last, and that’s the people of the Philippines. Filipinos have a well-deserved reputation for being among the world’s kindest and friendliest people. It is no exaggeration to say that Filipino people are always smiling and welcoming. Over 90% of the population speaks English, so communication is easy, and the Filipino culture promotes hospitality to visitors as a cardinal virtue. Last year’s typhoon also showed the strength and resiliency of the people. As I visited the country during a relief trip, I was struck time and time again by how friendly and optimistic most people remained, even in the face of tragedy.
Now that you’ve seen my top ten reasons for loving the Philippines, I hope you’ll fall in love with this wonderful country yourself. To find out more about opportunities to see the country on a custom tour, please get in touch!