If you’re looking for a unique Asian experience, far away from the tourist hordes in nearby Thailand or Vietnam, it may be time to consider visiting the Philippines. No, it’s not what many consider a typical Asian destination. You won’t find a lot of monks or Buddhist temples, and you won’t have any language barriers as everybody can speak English!
What you will find, though, are stunning natural landscapes, imposing colonial architecture, and the some of the friendliest people anywhere. Here are ten of the best things to see and do in the Philippines. Just a warning: you may want to book a flight ASAP!
#10. Learn more about WW2 in Corregidor
An easy day trip from Manila, this island was home to both American and Filipino troops that resisted the Japanese forces during the Second World War. To this day, a statue of General Douglas McArthur stands on Corregidor: he kept his promise of returning by recapturing the island, almost three years after it surrendered. Take a look at the various military installations, as well as crumbling buildings that were used as hospitals and barracks. You can also visit Malinta Tunnel, which was converted into a makeshift hospital and now houses a spectacular light and sound show. If you’d like to stay longer, you can also make arrangements to stay overnight!
#9. Gaze at the Chocolate Hills, Bohol
More than a thousand of these limestone formations dot the landscape of the island of Bohol. They’re covered in grass that makes these hills green, except for the dry season. The dry season turns them brown, where the attraction’s catchy name comes from. Of course, there’s a scientific explanation to its origin, but it’s much more fun to hear about the locals’ legends. From feuding giants to a carabao with stomach problems, you’ll be endlessly entertained.
#8. Summit Mt. Pulag, the country’s third highest mountain
This mountain is the highest in the country’s main island of Luzon, and has become a popular trekking site for both locals and foreigners. You’ll see unique flora and fauna, as well as learn about the indigenous people who consider the mountain sacred. If it’s your first time climbing, no worries – many Filipinos consider Mt. Pulag a great introduction to trekking. Bring your camera for the great views, as well as your sense of adventure!
#7. Learn how to surf in Baler, Aurora
Pick up a new sport at the Surfing Capital of the Philippines. It all started when the crew of the film Apocalypse Now left behind their surfing boards, which the locals started using. Just bring a swimsuit and your enthusiasm, and you’re all set. Whatever your skill level, Baler will have suitable waves for you to try. Surfing may get you addicted, though – don’t say we didn’t warn you!
#6. Venture into the Puerto Princesa Underground River
This UNESCO heritage site was also voted one of the new seven wonders of nature – definitely worth checking out. Head into the underground river on a boat, where a guide will point out the unique limestone formations that have formed over thousands of years. The cave is also home to many animals, including bats – keep your mouth closed if you’re looking up!
#5. Head to Batanes, the Philippines’ last frontier
The northernmost province of the country is a little difficult to get to, as flights are often canceled due to bad weather. If you keep your schedule flexible, though, you’ll love the untouched beauty of its ten islands. Watch as hundreds of cows loiter on Batanes’ many hills, as you’re treated to a dramatic landscape that feels totally detached from the hustle and bustle of the Philippines’ cities. Don’t forget to try the unique Batanes cuisine in a traditional stone house – it protects the locals from the moody weather.
#4. Brave the great white rapids in Cagayan de Oro
If you’re ready for a more adventurous trip, then you should try white water rafting down south in Cagayan de Oro. No matter what your previous experience is, the Cagayan de Oro River is perfect for you. It has more than 20 different rapids that match different skill levels; you’ll always have an experienced guide who will ensure your safety at all times. Enjoy the beauty of your surroundings as you splash through some great fun.
#3. Be transported back in time in Vigan, Ilocos Sur
Quick history lesson – did you know that the Philippines was colonized by Spain for more than 300 years? Their legacy lives on through the Roman Catholicism dominant in the country, as well as lovely colonial architecture. Nowhere is this more evident in the country than in wonderfully preserved Vigan, a UNESCO world heritage site. Hire a horse-drawn kalesa to take you around its cobblestoned streets, as you gaze up at the city’s mansions and churches.
#2. Enjoy some beach time on Boracay Island
You’ve probably heard of Boracay – over recent years, visitors have flocked to the Philippines’ top draw. You may be wondering why it’s still worth the flight and boat ride over, but all thoughts of that will be dispelled when you take a look at the island’s famed White Beach. You don’t have to wonder very hard as to why it’s named that way – the fine white sand just begs to be frolicked upon. Add to that Boracay’s incredibly blue water, and you’ll want to stay on the beach all day. Don’t forget to pack your sunblock!
#1. Marvel at the hanging coffins of Sagada
You may ask yourself if you’re still in a tropical country when you step foot in chilly Sagada. Apart from the unique flora and the great views, the hanging coffins on the mountainside are Sagada’s top draw. Previous residents of Sagada believed that these coffins, kept in place by sturdy pieces of rope, kept the deceased safe from any threats to desecrate them. You’ll have to see this unique burial spot for yourself. It’s quite the trip from Manila, but worth every single hour.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Noelle Filoteo is a Greek-Filipina, currently based in the Philippines. She’s a psychology graduate turned teacher who’s lived and worked in three different continents. When she’s not traveling, she loves to read, watch sports, and eat her weight in cheese – plus points if it’s feta.