With 7,107 islands, and a coastline twice the length of that of the United States, the Philippines can claim to be Asia’s Beach Capital. Enjoy the warm crystal blue waters of both the China Sea and the Pacific Ocean. Mention the Philippines and images of long, white sand beaches and bodies of water blessed with a variety of marine life come to mind.
The Philippines is the third largest English speaking country in the world. It has a rich history combining Asian, European, and American influences. Prior to Spanish colonization in 1521, the Filipinos had a rich culture and were trading with the Chinese and the Japanese. Spain’s colonization brought about the construction of Intramuros in 1571, a “Walled City” comprised of European buildings and churches, replicated in different parts of the archipelago. In 1898, after 350 years and 300 rebellions, the Filipinos, with leaders like Jose Rizal and Emilio Aguinaldo, succeeded in winning their independence.
In 1898, the Philippines became the first and only colony of the United States. Following the Philippine-American War, the United States brought widespread education to the islands. Filipinos fought alongside Americans during World War II, particularly at the famous battle of Bataan and Corregidor which delayed Japanese advance and saved Australia. They then waged a guerilla war against the Japanese from 1941 to 1945. The Philippines regained its independence in 1946.
Filipinos are a freedom-loving people, having waged two peaceful, bloodless revolutions against what were perceived as corrupt regimes. The Philippines is a vibrant democracy, as evidenced by 12 English national newspapers, 7 national television stations, hundreds of cable TV stations, and 2,000 radio stations.
Filipinos are a fun-loving people. Throughout the islands, there are fiestas celebrated everyday and foreign guests are always welcome to their homes.
PEOPLE AND RELIGION
The Filipino is basically of Malay stock with a sprinkling of Chinese, American, Spanish, and Arab blood. The Philippines has a population of 76.5 million as of May 2000, and it is hard to distinguish accurately the lines between stocks. From a long history of Western colonial rule, interspersed with the visits of merchants and traders, evolved a people of a unique blend of east and west, both in appearance and culture.
The Filipino character is actually a little bit of all the cultures put together. The bayanihan or spirit of kinship and camaraderie that Filipinos are famous for is said to be taken from Malay forefathers. The close family relations are said to have been inherited from the Chinese. The piousness comes from the Spaniards who introduced Christianity in the 16th century. Hospitality is a common denominator in the Filipino character and this is what distinguishes the Filipino. Filipinos are probably one of the few, if not the only, English-proficient Oriental people today. Pilipino is the official national language, with English considered as the country’s unofficial one.
The Filipinos are divided geographically and culturally into regions, and each regional group is recognizable by distinct traits and dialects – the sturdy and frugal llocanos of the north, the industrious Tagalogs of the central plains, the carefree Visayans from the central islands, and the colorful tribesmen and religious Moslems of Mindanao. Tribal communities can be found scattered across the archipelago. The Philippines has more than 111 dialects spoken, owing to the subdivisions of these basic regional and cultural groups.
The country is marked by a true blend of cultures; truly in the Philippines, East meets West. The background of the people is Indonesian and Malay. There are Chinese and Spanish elements as well. The history of American rule and contact with merchants and traders culminated in a unique blend of East and West, both in the appearance and culture of the Filipinos, or people of the Philippines.
Hospitality, a trait displayed by every Filipino, makes these people legendary in Southeast Asia. Seldom can you find such hospitable people who enjoy the company of their Western visitors. Perhaps due to their long association with Spain, Filipinos are emotional and passionate about life in a way that seems more Latin than Asian.
The Spaniards introduced Christianity (the Roman Catholic faith) and succeeded in converting the overwhelming majority of Filipinos. At least 83% of the total population belongs to the Roman Catholic faith.
The American occupation was responsible for teaching the Filipino people the English language. The Philippines is currently the third-largest English speaking country in the world.
Historically, the Filipinos have embraced two of the great religions of the world – Islam and Christianity. Islam was introduced during the 14th century shortly after the expansion of Arab commercial ventures in Southeast Asia. Today, it is limited to the southern region of the country.
Christianity was introduced as early as the 16th century with the coming of Ferdinand Magellan in 1521.
Protestantism was introduced by the first Presbyterian and Methodist missionaries who arrived with the American soldiers in 1899.
Two Filipino independent churches were organized at the turn of the century and are prominent today. These are the Aglipay (Philippine Independent Church) and the Iglesia Ni Kristo (Church of Christ) founded in 1902 and 1914, respectively. Recently the Aglipay signed a covenant with the Anglican Church. The Iglesia ni Kristo has expanded its membership considerably. Its churches, with their unique towering architecture, are landmarks in almost all important towns, provincial capitals, and major cities.
The first half of the year, from January to May, is the best time to visit the country. November to February is cool, while March to May is hot and dry. June to October is rainy, with the months between July and September characterized by typhoons. Average temperature is 78 degrees F/25 degrees C; average humidity is 77%. Some parts of the country such as Cebu, are warm and comfortable in all seasons and can be visited throughout the year.
For up-to-date weather information, visit the Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Adminstration (PAGASA) website: www.pagasa.dost.gov.ph or call PAGASA 24-hour hotline (632)4338526.
TOP BEACHES & DESTINATIONS
BORACAY — AKLAN
Boracay Island, with its sugary white sand beaches and azure blue waters, is located on the northwestern tip of Panay, Western Visayas. The best of the island is the 4 km. White Beach, touted as the “finest beach in the world.” The water surrounding the island is shallow and the sand is finer and brighter than most beaches in the archipelago.
PAGUDPUD — ILOCOS NORTE
In the Northern part of the Philippines is a beach reputed to have the longest contiguous white sand with mighty waves and strong winds that can compare to Hawaii. Wind and wave surfing are the outstanding activities that Pagudpud beach offers its very discriminating clientele. Not to mention the inviting views, clear blue waters, and white sand. Pagudpud promises its visitors a magnificent experience in a secluded paradise.
MACTAN ISLAND — CEBU
Lying in the heart of Cebu is the island of Mactan. This tropical-island getaway endowed with a variety of colors – from its beach, hotels, resorts, nightlife, music, food, drinks – will guarantee to spice up every tourist.
PANGLAO — BOHOL
Panglao is a perfect for a great dive and beach holiday. It is a small island on the Philippines southwest of the bigger island, Bohol. On the southern beach of Panglao there are several resorts that line up on the beach.
CAMIGUIN — CAMIGUIN ISLAND
Camiguin, which rhymes with “come again,” has been regarded as the most beautiful island in the country. As such, it is also referred to as the Philippines’ “Garden of Eden.” The presence of a number of majestic waterfalls that create both hot and cold springs is only one of the many attractions of this island-paradise. The topography is unmistakably tropical but the ambience is uniquely occidental. A study in contrast, Camiguin is sure to mesmerize anyone who visits with the itch to be back again soon.
EL NIDO — PALAWAN
Dominated by towering marble cliffs that are homes to a number of tropical birds, El Nido is the source of one of the most delectable soups specially found in Chinese restaurants – the Nido Soup. This soup consists mainly of the birdnests that abound in the area. But El Nido is more than this. It prides itself in having the most beautiful seascapes in the province of Palawan, known as the country’s last frontier. Because of its utter splendor, it has also been called the island of the gods – heaven on earth, that is El Nido.
PEARL FARM — DAVAO
Pearl Farm is located in the Samal Island off the coast of Davao City, Southern Philippines. The premier beach resort, which lies in the pristine island of Samal, used to be a pearl farm. There thousands of white-lipped oysters, transported form the Sulu Sea, were once cultivated for their pink, white, and gold pearls. Today, beach lovers all over the world visit this world-class beach resort for its white sand and panoramic landscape and seascape, bringing with them the memory of a lifetime – a relaxing private retreat in a tropical paradise.
Banaue Rice Terraces — Ifugao Province, Cordillera
Because of its high altitude, Banaue is often described as “where land merges with the clouds to meet the heavens” with the rice terraces as “the stairway to the sky.” Banaue is a place for nature adventures and cultural immersion. Days are for indulging in such activities as strolling, biking, and trekking. Evenings are for campfire chats at a village or warm indoor cosseting at the lodges and inns. A leading tourism destination in Asia, the Banaue rice terraces start from the base of the Cordilleras and reach up to several thousand feet high. Its length, if stretched from end to end, could encircle half of the globe.
The rice paddies are fed by mountain springs and streams that are channeled into an irrigation canal that runs downhill through the terraces. In the village of Batad, the terraces take the shape of an amphitheater and can be reached by a 12-kilometer ride from Banaue Hotel and a 2-hour hike through mountain trails.
After trekking through the terraces, cool retreats indeed are the spring-fed stream of Guihob and the magnificent Tappiya Waterfalls which has an enormous basin for swimming. Shopping takes a different twist in Banaue. While souvenir items are offered by curio stores, the more exciting way to shop, however, is to go on a village visit, watch a family demonstrate their native craft and then haggle for a better price on their product.
Chocolate Hills — Province of Bohol
Chocolate Hills is a series of 1,268 perfectly symmetrical, haycock-shaped hills that rise some 30 meters above the ground. A National Geologic Monument, these unique, rock formations were cast after million years of evolution.
Spread out in the towns of Carmen, Batuan and Sagbayan, the hills are so-called because they resemble chocolate bonbons when their grass cover turns to brown at the onset of summer. Two of the hills have been developed and provided with facilities, including a viewdeck, a youth hostel and a restaurant.
Other hills with a commanding view of the surrounding islands include Banat-I and Elly in the capital city of Tagbilaran, Himontagon in the town of Loay, Sampoangan in Calape and Ilihan in Jagna.
Boracay — Aklan
The code in Boracay is strictly informal.
There is an undeniable easy atmosphere in Boracay where walking barefoot than shod is the rule rather than the exception. White Beach is so, soooo fine, it feels like treading on miles of baby powder! No wonder, even swinging discos have the beach for a floor, giving dance a new twist.
There are no hang-ups either in this island. At daytime, tourists having a soothing massage under the shade of a coconut tree beside the shoreline is a common sight. And from dusk to dawn, Boracay turns into one big party place where everyone is welcome to join in…But first, let’s toast that sunset cocktail!
Diversions are certainly no problem in this tropical eden with leisure activities calendared throughout the year and amenities offered by some 350 tourist establishments.
Cebu — The Gateway to a Thousand Journeys
Cebu is the traveler’s fantasy of a tropical island come true – balmy weather, pristine beaches, crystalline waters, and luxurious resorts with all the frills of modern living. The island-province of Cebu was where the Portuguese navigator Ferdinand Magellan planted the Cross of Christianity in the name of Spain in 1521. But even before Cebu became the Occidental gateway to the Orient, it was already a popular entry point among Asian merchants.
Cebu has since blossomed into a choice tourist destination, with many leisure establishments taking full advantage of its sea-valley-and-mountain location.
Metropolitan Cebu, the country’s second biggest metropolis, is the political, economic, educational and cultural center of the Visayas. Hotels, shopping malls, entertainment halls, casinos and golf fairways are ever present in the metro to cater to every tourist’s whim. The rest of Cebu’s 166 islands and islets are fringed with sandy beaches and sapphire-clear waters teeming with marine life, perfect for divers.
Davao — Land of Plenty
“Kadayawan sa Dabaw” is Davao City’s premier festival and showcases the natural and cultural bounty of the land. A movable feast in August, the week-long merrymaking highlights the manifold tribal cultures of the region which are vividly expressed in traditional songs, dances, games and crafts. It is also on this occasion when a lively trade fair, capped by a flower-and-fruit float parade, takes place. Street dancing and popular entertainment complete the celebration.
Agriculture-based industries thrive in the Davao region. A major exporter of bananas, citrus, mangosteen and other tropical fruits, it is also the biggest producer of cultured flowers in the country. Its surrounding waters are rich sources for commercial fishing. The world’s largest city in terms of land area, Davao covers all of 244,000 hectares..
Manila — Capital of the Philippines
The capital of the Philippines – its heart and soul — is Manila. It sets the rhythm of life in this archipelago and is a pulsating hub that blends the Oriental with the Occidental, the quaint with the modern, the mundane with the extraordinary.
Manila was born out of the ashes of a once flourishing Malay settlement by the banks of the Pasig River. In 1571, Miguel Lopez de Legazpi established the Ever Loyal City of Manila which, until 1898, was the seat of Spanish colonial rule in Asia. He built the city within walls and called it Intramuros.
An anchor tourist destination, Manila is the very core of the 7,000 times more islands that make up the Philippines. It is a center for the performing arts in Asia.
Palawan — The Last Frontier
Unique to Palawan is its megadiversity.
For a long time, Palawan’s bountiful resources, abundant wildlife and extraordinary natural beauty are known only to the many ethnic communities that thrive in these islands and a few other daring settlers who wanted to live in unpolluted surroundings.
The island-province first attracted foreign attention in the 1970’s when it became a United Nations Vietnamese Refugee Center. At this time, a disturbance in Kenya also saw the transport of endangered animals from its savannas to the plains of Calauit Island.
However, it was only a sea accident in 1979 that eventually led to the opening of Palawan into tourism big time. As the story goes, a tuna line disabled a dive boat’s propeller in the middle of the night forcing it to drop anchor in an inlet.
The following morning, the divers woke up to an amazing scenery of skyscraping dark cliffs, thick green forest, white-sand beach, sparkling water and, rising above it, a series of magnificently sculpted jade islands. And thus was how El Nido was discovered. Ecology awareness is at a high level throughout the province. Puerto Princesa prides itself as the cleanest city in the Philippines. To protect its megadiversity, only eco-friendly programs are adhered to by tourist establishments. And there are strict ordinances against dynamite fishing, with only net and line fishing allowed. Palawan may have opened itself to tourism but it has also taken serious efforts to preserve this last frontier.
Vigan — Old World City
Vigan, with its centuries-old edifices, is a breathing reminder of what was once a royal city.
One of the earliest Spanish settlements in the country, Vigan was founded in 1572 by Juan de Salcedo who patterned its design to that of Intramuros (Old Manila). It became the seat of the Archdiocese of Nueva Segovia and was called Ciudad Fernandina in honor of King Ferdinand.
Today, Vigan retains much of the patina of 18th century Castillan architecture as seen in some 150 stone houses which stand in the town’s Mestizo District, notably Mena Crisologo Street. Many of these ancestral homes are still in good condition and some have been turned into cozy inns, museums, and souvenir shops.
Along with the homes are other vestiges of the town’s colonial past:
The majestic St. Paul’s Cathedral was built by the Augustinian friars along the distinct “Earthquake Baroque” style of the Ilocos region and features Neo-Gothic and pseudo Romanesque motifs. Standing on an elevation west of the cathedral is Plaza Salcedo, the oldest monument in Northern Luzon. The Archbishop’s Palace is a rich repository of religious artifacts from the Ilocos region. Plaza Burgos was built in honor of Fr. Jose Burgos, one of three Filipino priests who were garroted by the Spaniards for espousing church reforms.
But it is not only edifices which are preserved in this town inscribed in the World Heritage List. Viganos also remain steadfast in their traditional crafts, notably pottery (burnay) and handloom weaving (inabel).
The horse-drawn calesa (rig) is as much a presence in the streets as motor vehicles.
TOP OUTDOOR ACTIVITIES
Apart from the many activities mentioned :
- Going to the Beach
- Cultural & Heritage Site Tour
- Wildlife Site Tour
There are still more outdoor activities, the Philippine Islands is in store for you!
If you’ve ever dreamed of flying, the Philippines is a great place to realize your dream. Skydiving, ultralight aircraft, and hot-air balloons are ready and waiting for you a few hours outside Manila. The quality of instruction is high, and the safety records are good. From the air, the green land and blue seas of the islands make a spectacular sight. So stop dreaming, head for the Philippines, and take to the sky!
Some of the most spectacular sceneries in the Philippines lie deep underground. Almost every island has cave sytems, some accessible to the casual tourist, others challenging the skilled spelunker. Beneath the earth lie rivers and waterfalls, narrow passages, and vaulted chambers filled with a surreal array of limestone and crystal formations. Many caves are totally unexplored, presenting the ultimate thrill in adventure travel: the chance to walk where no human has ever been.
From the mountains of Baguio to the beaches of Boracay, the Philippines is a perfect place for two-wheeled travel. The fat-tyred bike is a great way to explore remote areas where few vehicles go. There are endless routes available, on roads and on trails, from easy day rides to grueling week-long mountain adventures. Biking is a rapidly growing sport here: clubs of dedicated mountain bikers are springing up in many popular areas, and competitions are common. The local bikers are friendly and accommodating, and always willing to share information and rides along their favorite routes.
Sea kayaking is a new sport in the Philippines, but with 7,107 islands offering every conceivable variety of tropical seascape, it is one that is sure to expand quickly. The islands offer thousands of kilometers of superb paddling on crystal-clear water, taking in exotic villages, pristine beaches, coral reefs, and mangrove swamps along the way. The kayak, silent and unobtrusive, is the perfect way to explore these delicate ecosystems without disturbing wildlife or the peace of nature. For those seeking more extreme hills, the rugged east coast provides monster waves and fine rough-water kayaking.
The Philippines offers surf for all levels. La Union on the northwest coast of Luzon, four hours north of Manila, is easy to get to, has good accommodation and food, and offers gentle beach breaks perfect for beginners. Baler and Infanta in Quezon, and Daet in Camarines Norte offer a more adventurous experience, with longer travel and bigger waves. For surfers seeking the extreme edge, the wild east coast is the place to be.
The best treasures in the Philippines are reserved for those who go beyond the end of the road. It is only by trekking that you can reach places where crystal rivers plunge over dizzying falls and tattooed tribesmen live as they have for centuries. You will also see cliffs that tower above crashing surfs, virgin forests, clear rivers, mossy jungles, and cool mountain ridges. Only trekkers experience the exhilaration of conquering the heights of Mt. Apo or passing through the eerie moonscape of Mt. Pinatubo. These experiences, and many others, await those who leave the road behind, heft their packs, and trek the Philippines.
WHITE WATER ACTION
White water rafting and kayaking are the newest action sports in the Philippines. For decades, while adventure-hungry travelers flocked to the rivers of Nepal and Borneo, the superb rapids of the Philippines lay undiscovered. But that’s changing fast: white water action is now available on half a dozen rivers in the Visayas and Mindanao, and more are being explored.
Rock climbing is a relatively new sport to the Philippines, but it’s spreading fast. There are already active climbing scenes in Manila and other major cities. Quality equipment are available in many outdoor shops, and there are excellent climbing sites only hours from the city of Manila itself. Manila has three gyms with indoor actificial climbing walls: Power Up Gym in Quezon City, Planet Rock in Makati, and Gravity Gym in Parañaque. All are excellent places to meet the friendly and helpful local climbers, who are your best guides to the outdoor climbing sites. Because the sport is so new, only a few major climbing areas have been developed, and most of these are close to the cities. This leaves enormous potential for exploration, and there are hundreds of sites and thousands of routes waiting for the brave and intrepid climber.
Two official languages — Filipino and English. Filipino which is based on Tagalog, is the national language. English is also widely used and is the medium of instruction in higher education. Eight (8) major dialects spoken by majority of the Filipinos: Tagalog, Cebuano, Ilocano, Hiligaynon or Ilonggo, Bicol, Waray, Pampango, and Pangasinense.
Filipino is the native language which is used nationally as the language of communication among ethnic groups. Like any living language, Filipino is in a process of development through loans from Philippine languages and non-native languages for various situations, among speakers of different social backgrounds, and for topics for conversation and scholarly discourse.
There are about 76 to 78 major language groups, with more than 500 dialects.
The currency in the Philippines is the Peso (PhP) and the Centavo. 100 centavos = P1. Coin denominations are: 1, 5, 10, and 25 centavos, P1, and P5. Bill denominations are : 10, 20, 50, 100, 500 and 1, 000 pesos.
Foreign currency may be exchanged at your hotel, and in most of the large department stores, banks and authorized money changing shops. Exchanging money anywhere else is illegal and the laws are strictly enforced.
Most large stores, restaurants , hotels and resorts accept major credit cards including American Express , Visas and MasterCard. Traveller’s checks preferably American Express are accepted at hotels and large department stores. Personal checks drawn on foreign banks are generally not accepted.
Most businesses are open from 8:00 AM to 5:00 PM weekdays and 8:00 AM till noon Saturdays. Banks are open from 9:00 AM till 3:00 PM Mondays through Fridays. When banking in the Philippines, it is advisable to have your passport with you for identification.
The post offices are open from 9:00 AM to 5:00 PM weekdays only. Stamps for postcards are frequently available from the Concierge Desk at most major hotels. The Philippines uses ZIP codes, please include them in addressing local mail.
NOTE: The Standard lunch hour is noon to 1:00 PM. Most businesses and government offices are closed.
Local time is GMT +8 hours.
Business English is the language used. Sexual equality is more widespread in the Philippines than in other Asian countries. Make sure you have business cards.