Destination: Mabuhay! in the Philippines
So, you want to go on holiday and don’t know where to go. You’ve been to the UK, you’ve seen Bali, you’ve put a pin in your trip to the USA. Why not hit up the Philippines?
The Philippines is made up of over 7,100 islands; some uninhabited, all beautiful. The nation relies on tourism for an important portion of its GDP. Roughly 7.8% of their GDP, to be exact, bringing in $20.7 billion USD. Tourism-related jobs represent about 11% of the workforce, and is the country’s fifth largest employer industry. So, by visiting, you’ll be helping this developing nation thrive and grow; at least, that’s what you can tell your accountant.
Straight talk first: there are definitely places that are considered no-go zones by the locals. You as a tourist should try and avoid most areas in the South, including Mindanao, the Sulu Archipelago[i], and the Zamboanga Peninsula. This is mainly due to clashes between the army and separatist groups who engage in violence and kidnapping.
“As a whole, the Philippines is a lovely place to visit with minimal risk of crime or danger,” Phil Sylvester of World Nomads said[ii].
“There are, however, locations within the country in which the risk of harm to foreigners is heightened and therefore should be avoided. Just know what areas to avoid and stick to the places that are not as dangerous and you will be able to experience the beauty of the Philippines without incident.”
In short, sticking the most tourist-heavy areas is where you’ll be safest. Just do your research before you go anywhere. We’ve done a little bit of that for you, to get you started on your Filipino adventure. See how easy we’re making this?
You can safely leave the phrasebook at home, if you speak any English. It’s a destination to travel to for any English-speaker, considering that most of the local population speaks it with some level of fluency. It is, after all, one of the two official languages of the nation, along with Tagalog. That doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t learn a few words of the local tongue to be polite. Salamat. The word mabuhay in the title is a typical Filipino greeting which is usually expressed as Mabuhay! and comes from the word for “life”. So, when a Filipino greets you, they are literally telling you to “Live!” every day.
Fun fact about Tagalog: it’s a mixture of languages including European, Asian, Native American, and local languages. This isn’t surprising considering it was ruled by the Spanish for 377 years until 1898, and was an American colony until 1946.
For any gourmands out there, Filipino cuisine is an amazing mix of Malay, Chinese, Spanish, Japanese, and American cooking. There’s a lot of fruit, seafood, and pork, as well as a collection of fast-food style places serving burgers, sushi, Indian food, and pasta. It has all the usual fast food haunts, sure, but why go to those when you can try something new? It’s uncertain how vegetarian-friendly the cuisine is, so just keep an eye out. Also, alcohol is quite cheap, so if you’re more the party type, than this destination might just be for you.
“Only now [with] better communication and travel facilities [is] the uniqueness of every island easily [available] on one’s tastebuds,” Chef Eugenio Gonzalez said.
“Philippine Cuisine is a cuisine that speaks of [the] sun, sea and slope, and banks on the natural flavours of local ingredients.”
The Philippines boasts some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. With bright, clean water alongside one of the world’s longest white sand coastlines, it’s the ideal place to relax and take your mind off of your everyday life. A perfect example of this is the White Beach, Borocay, dubbed “the finest beach in the world” on what Travel + Leisure magazine referred to as “The Best Island in the World”.
Finished relaxing and want to get to some surfing? Head out to hidden gem Siargao. There are plenty of waves for experts and beginners on this island, but many seasoned surfers head straight to Cloud Nine for the Siargao break. Staying at the secret paradise of the Siargao Paraiso Resort is an absolute must, with nearby waterfalls, caves, coral reefs, and thick forests.
For surfing newcomers, you might be better off heading to San Fernando (La Union). Yes, it’s a 6-hour bus ride from Manila, but you’ll never find a more comfortable place to start your surfing lessons.
If being in the water, not riding on top of it, is more your idea of heaven, the Philippines offers some beautiful swimming and snorkelling spots. Kayangan Lake is known as the “cleanest lake in Asia” with its stunning blue water, and is perfect for just floating around. If you want to intermingle with some small wildlife while snorkelling, going a few hours south of Manila to Anilao. You could stay at the gorgeous Pier Uno resort and then boat out in the warm water and view the amazing tropical fish. Just don’t tell them you ate a cousin for lunch!
Animal lovers will relish having the chance to go swimming with whale sharks in Oslob, near Cebu. While this idea terrifies me personally, as I’m somewhat trepidatious about swimming near an animal that could accidentally swallow me, it would be an unforgettable experience.
If, like me, animals of the land are more your speed, then don’t miss the chance to see one of the world’s smallest primates, the tarsier! It’s like a bush baby or a slow loris; tiny and cute, with enormous eyes, and very human-like hands. The island of Bohol has a tarsier sanctuary near Corella town[iii], so you can support conservation efforts of this animal while enjoying their company. Pretty great way to spend a day, right?
As one Filipino blogger put it[iv], there are two seasons in the Philippines: dry and wet. Travel is recommended during the dry season, which goes from November until May. The yearly average temperature is 26.6 degrees Celcius. What this means, is that when the weather is right, it’s one of the most photogenic places on Earth.
That right there? That’s one of the world’s top ten most photogenic volcanoes[v]; Mayon, in Albay. It deserves the number one spot, though, right? Just think how many Instagram likes you could get from a single photo of that place.
For culture and history buffs, there’s the UNESCO World Heritage city of Vigan. Established in the 16th Century, it’s the “best-preserved example of a planned Spanish colonial town in Asia”[vi]. Various tribal groups also make their livelihoods from tourism to Banaue and Batad, 20,000 kilometres of UNESCO-listed terraces that are over 2,000 years old[vii]. There are also the historic monuments of Cebu City, including Magellan’s Cross and Fort San Pedro. If you head south from Cebu, into Camotes, make sure you bring cash – there are no ATMs there! And once again, don’t go too far south.
“What about where the locals go to holiday?”
Well, the people of Metro Manila go to Tagaytay to escape the rat race. It’s south of Manila, sitting on a ridge above the Taal Volcano Island, an island home to an active volcano which sits in the middle of the large Taal Lake. The climate is mild, making it perfect for picnics. And for thrill-seekers, there are fun activities like a zipline and horseback riding.
To hop from island to island in the Philippines, there are three ways to go: boat, bus, or plane. Boat or bus are the most common, but they do take a little bit of time. Philippine Airlines fly domestically and are considered one of the safest and most reliable Filipino airlines. Although you might need to budget if you want to see most of the 7,000 islands!
And finally, for those who love the Christmas spirit, the Philippines starts celebrating your favourite holiday from early September, right through until the first Sunday in January. Christmas decorations go up, Christmas music is pumped through radios and inside malls, the whole shebang. There is a week of night masses to experience from December 16 to 24, ending with a feast, and the whole period comes to a close with the Feast of the Three Kings, also known as the Feast of the Epiphany. This likely stems from the fact that over 80% of the population is Roman Catholic.
The food is amazing, the people are lovely, and the landscape is beautiful. And, as they say, it’s more fun in the Philippines.
[ii] Phil Sylvester for World Nomads, “Terrorism in the Philippines: Places You Should Avoid”, December 20, 2016.
[iv] Aileen Adalid for IAmAileen.com, “10 Things Foreigners Should Know About the Philippines”, December 16, 2015.