With a rich history and over 7,000 stunning islands, there is a wealth of exciting places to visit in the Philippines.
Brimming with history, interesting food and jaw-dropping beaches, with residents who are regularly voted among the friendliest in the world, the Philippines should be at the top of your “must visit next” list. Bonus: more than 90 percent of the population speak English!
Here are some memorable experiences in the Philippines.
Among its many charms, Manila lay claim to being home to the oldest Chinatown in the world, with roots dating back to 1594. This colourful, bustling area is a great place to hunt for snacks and street photography opportunities. Discover freshly-made dumplings, peer into pungent traditional Chinese herb emporiums, and stop by a Buddhist shrine or two. If you still have room after all those street snacks, visit Ying Ying Tea House, one of the best restaurants in Manila — particularly if you’re a dim sum lover.
Of all the Filipino dishes you must try, perhaps halo halo, the Philippine’s most beloved dessert, will make you the happiest — just saying its name sounds like a cheery greeting. Every eatery puts their own spin on this dish, a mixture of shaved ice, evaporated milk and a handful of goodies from sweet beans, to coconut and fruit. If you want a ‘classic’ halo halo, head to Ilustrado, a Filipino-Spanish restaurant with old-world Hispanic interiors, in the walled city-within-a-city of Intramuros.
Tip: need another way to chill out besides halo halo? Want to escape the buzz of the mega-city? There are plenty of beaches near Manila — or at least close enough for a day trip. Lukang beach in Quezon and Malabrigo Beach in Batangas, for example, are about three hours’ drive away.
Cebu’s beaches are among the finest in Asia. It’s also blessed with a large whale shark population, so much so that many tour operators practically guarantee you’ll see a shark every time you go out. You can view them from a small kayak or boat, but for a truly memorable experience, strap on your tanks and view them from the deep. In Cebu, scuba diving means the chance to get up close and personal with these majestic creatures.
On the island of Bohol, you may come across more than a thousand conical bumps, rising from the lush landscape to heights up to 50 metres. Visit during the dry season, when the grass turns brown, and you’ll see how this gorgeous landscape got its name: the Chocolate Hills of Bohol. Geologists are a bit stumped (if you’ll pardon the pun) about how the hills were formed.
Luckily, there are plenty of myths to offer suggestions. One legend has it that they are the after-effects of a colossal fight between two giants. Another has it that a giant named Arogo fell madly in love with a mortal girl. When the object of his affection passed away, Arogo cried waves until they formed the Chocolate Hills.
Tip: after your visit, stop by the nearby Loboc River, where you can jump on a wooden boat (for a small fee) and cruise down towards a freshwater waterfall for a cooling swim.
Curving like sound waves into the majestic mountains, the Banaue Rice Terraces are proof that practical projects can be stunning. Apart from being the “rice bowl of the Philippines”, the 2,000-year-old fields are also known, unofficially at least, as the eighth wonder of the world. Once you get to the magnificent viewpoint, don’t be surprised if you experience a bit of déjà vu — Filipinos are so proud of the view that it’s printed on their 20-peso bill. It might be one of the best-known tourist spots in the Philippines, but it’s well worth the hype.
Ariel’s Point on Boracay is a hotspot for adventure-seekers. To learn why, you just have to crane your neck upwards. You’ll see there are five high-altitude platforms you can dive from into the crystal waters below, ranging from three metres up, to a pulse-pounding 15 metres. Complete those, and you’ve definitely earned a feast at the nearby lunch buffet. And if such shenanigans aren’t for you, you can just peer at the divers as you kayak or sunbathe.
With its quaint cobblestone streets and imposing baroque cathedral, it’s no wonder that the city of Vigan clinched the mantle of UNESCO World Heritage site. Wandering around, you can soak up 16th-century history either on foot or from a horse-drawn carriage. Don’t leave town without sampling a piping hot empanada from the Vigan public market.
If you’re up for more of a trek or just want to burn off some post-empanada calories, visit Bantay Belfry’s vantage point. This stunning preserved bell tower dates to 1591, and was used to warn the townspeople of impending danger.
If you’ve decided that one of your life goals is to summit a volcano, then the Philippines is the place to do it. The country counts multiple volcanoes you can climb, including Mount Pinatubo, Mount Mayon in Bicol, and no less than seven volcanoes on Camiguin Island in Mindanao. And where there are volcanoes, there are usually many other interesting geographic features, from lakes to caves.
Whenever you go to the Philippines, it’s likely that there will be a unique festival being celebrated. It’s hard to keep count, but with the wealth of municipalities, provinces, ethnicities and towns, by some estimates there are over 42,000 known Filipino festivals, from the major to those only celebrated by residents of tiny villages. Is it any wonder the country is known as the Capital of World Festivities? Below is a tiny snapshot of local fiestas.
MassKara Festival: if you bill yourself as the Philippines’ most colourful festival, you had better deliver a visual extravaganza. Challenge accepted: the MassKara Festival gives even Brazil’s Rio Carnival a run for its money. Held annually in Bacolod City each October, it has an unusual origin dating back to as recently as 1980. Suffering from the twin shocks of a ferry accident and the decline of the local sugar industry, the city organised a festival to lift spirits and generate new ways of making money. How? The festival is built upon masked revellers — the rainbow masks creatively crafted by locals.
Sinulog Festival: A celebration through dance that commemorates both Cebu’s Catholic and pagan history, this Filipino fiesta is a riot of bright costumes, street-dancing and music. In recent years, the highlight of the festival has been its competitive nature, with various local and international troupes vying for best in costume and best in musicality. The real winner, of course is you, the lucky visitor who gets to witness it all.
Panagbenga Festival: this month-long festival in Baguio City, also known as the Blooming Flowers Festival, is a horticulturalist’s dream. The highlight is the Grand Float Parade, bursting with marching bands, floats and enough flowers to fill a rainforest or two. But there’s something worth seeing every day of the festival, from an entire day where local “pony boys” showcase their jaw-dropping riding skills with races and tricks, to a grand fireworks display and stalls stocked with artisanal items from far and wide.
Ati Atihan Festival: with a history that dates back over 800 years, this “mardi gras of the Philippines” is a fusion of thumping street drumming, religious fervour, dressing up and dancing. The name “Ati Atihan” means “to pretend to be like the Atis”, the early settlers of many Philippine islands.
Pahiyas Festival: the Philippines is blessed with bright, beautiful produce, so it’s only natural that there should be a festival to pay tribute to such bounty. And so every May 15, the people of Lucban in Quezon decorate their houses, not with fresh paint, but with fresh fruit, kiping (a leaf-shaped wafer made of dyed rice), as well as hand-held fans, mats and even local sausages. It makes for an eye-catching walk through the streets — though one that may just make you hungry.
The Philippines is waiting for you — and so is the perfect hotel to complement your trip. Explore what Accor has to offer, from five-star suites serviced by your own butler, to the comforts of a resort in the heart of the city.