Made up over 7100 islands, the Philippines is an exceptional outdoor destination for hikers and divers with its no shortage of white-sand beaches and countless trails for hiking across its green luscious forests and volcanic terrain. Couple with the fact that the Filipino way of life is one of the most laid back but high-spirited you’d have the pleasure of immersing yourself in, it’s a backpacker’s utopia.
But, despite hosting an abundance of natural and cultural bounties, it is still rather low-key on the common tourist destination list. Making it all the more worthwhile for a first-timer like you to visit.
Here is a first-timers guide to the Philippines.
Colourful, chaotic, slow, rich and poor, you’d be hard pressed to find any other city that has it all like this. Here, gleaming skyscrapers puncture the hazy sky, whilst expansive shantytowns showcase the city’s chronic poverty.
As gloomy as this may sound, it’s really not. Many things can cheer this city up and you as well - by taking a visit to the Chinese cemetery which features spectacular mansion-like mausoleums fitted with all the stuff a regular house has, just so relatives of the decease can live closer to them at all times.
You can also take a trip to Manila’s premier modern art museum, with galleries displaying world-class Filipino contemporary, abstract and experimental art. Close by, you can also gain access to the National Museum of the Filipino people, which even houses the skullcap of the Philippines first inhabitant. Much of which is located around the atmospheric Ritzal Park, which is a great place to take a stroll in the late afternoon or early evening.
There are also great shopping malls in almost every neighborhood and you’ll definitely be spoilt for choice from the infinite selection of popular bars and eateries everywhere, particularly in the Malate area.
The many beaches and diving opportunities
With its many hundreds of islands and stretches of coastline, Filipino beaches and seas are some of the best and richest in Asia that are great for diving and a luxury laze around.
You’ll find some of the top beaches from the southern tip of Luzon all the way down to Mindanao that includes Cebu, Samar, Negros and Panay – a chain of islands known as Visayas, with the most scenic of these being the tiny island of Boracay and the UNESCO site of Puerto Galera.
Stunning underwater walls and coral reefs provide for some memorable diving opportunities in Palawan and also in Boracay. You could even come across hammerhead sharks and manta rays near Cabiliao and Panglao islands.
Out of the all the islands, the large island of Palawan is probably the single most rewarding one in the Philippines. It has everything from pure white sand beaches at Taytay, to epic diving activities at El Nido - which is a gateway to the exquisite Bacuit archipelago known for having an impressive eco-system.
If you don’t really fancy the beaches, you can undertake a trekking trail and come into contact with local tribes living in the jungle to just observe their indigenous way of life. The green city of Puerto Princessa is also the best place for you to try local seafood at restaurants.
Rice Terraces of Banaue
Sometimes called ‘the eight wonder of the world’ by the locals, and it wouldn’t be too hard to see why either.
The rice terraces in Banaue are part of a series of huddled and encircling rice fields that hug onto the mountainside in Ifugao province. You’ll be nothing short of amazed when you appreciate the gentle harmony of nature and people when you’re strolling through this sculpted setting. Especially since it’s an ingenious feat of ancient engineering that has remained unchanged for millennia.
A pleasant hill town in the northern province of Luzon, it may feel at times you’re not even in the Philippines when visiting here with its cool and refreshing climate.
Famous for their “hanging coffins” which are suspended far above the ground on walls representing a return to nature for the native Igorot tribal elders, the town also has great waterfalls and Bokong Falls is where the young hang out to have a swim which is something you could do too. If you’re not really a swimmer or the water is too cold for you, it’ll still be fun to just hang out on the edge and let the mist cleanse you.
If you love surfing, the waves in Siargao, dubbed as “Cloud 9”, are perfect for this.
It’s also a great spot for kayaking too, to explore the island’s many creeks and soak in the breezy beach landscape to feel the general serenity of the place.