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Did You Know … ?

  • Ferdinand Magellan was killed in 1521 in the Philippines while leading the world’s first circumnavigation of the globe.
  • The country was named for Spain’s King Philip II.
  • It is likely the Philippines’ first inhabitants, ancestors of today’s Negritos, arrived more than 30,000 years ago.
  • The tarsier, living in Bohol, is the world’s smallest primate.
  • The U.S. paid Spain $20 million for the Philippines after victory in the Spanish-American War (1898).

Spanish heritage

The Philippines is an archipelago of 7,107 islands stretching 1,152 miles north to south and 688 miles east to west in Southeast Asia. The terrain is a combination of volcanic mountains and coastal lowlands, and the climate is tropical with yearly wet and dry seasons. Filipinos, who are largely of Malay descent, are unique among Asians because English is so widely spoken and because a high portion — about 90% — of the population is Christian.

The Philippines became a Spanish colony in the 16th century, and more than 350 years later, in 1898, became an American colony at the conclusion of the Spanish-American War. The nation gained full independence in 1946. As a result of that history, tourists to the Philippines find examples of typical Spanish colonial town centers and plenty of Spanish-era churches of architectural importance.

Sightseeing choices also include natural phenomena such as volcanoes (several of which are active), lakes, countless scenic islands — and wildlife that includes the tiny primate, the tarsier.

Choices for the more active traveler include everything from mountain climbing to whitewater rafting, but the biggest draw for the active crowd is diving. The Philippines bills itself as a must-visit for any serious diver, claiming a veritable “smorgasbord” of top coral and shipwreck sites. The Philippine Department of Tourism reports that divers who visit the Philippines invariably return to dive in its waters again; divers, it says, average 10 trips to the country.

For tourists of any personality type, the country appeals with its affordability, modern infrastructure and ease of communication in English.

In part because of the natural match for divers, and due to distance from North America, the Philippine islands attract more visitors on the venturesome side of the personality scale.

Another reason is because the country is the subject of a U.S. State Department warning, which points out the ongoing threats from terrorists and insurgents, particularly in the southern part of the country, on the island of Mindanao and in the Sulu Archipelago. The threats against U.S. citizens and other foreigners don’t specifically target Americans, but are a concern, the State Department says.

Things to do for Venturers

  • Climb the country’s highest peak, the 9,692-foot Mount Apo on Mindanao. It is an active volcano as well.
  • Plan a diving holiday. The Philippines advertises itself as Asia’s dive capital. One top must-see diving spot is Tubbataha Reef in Palawan, an island west of the Visayas group, but there are other choice reef diving sites, too. Bring your underwater camera for these. Or, plan a diving vacation focusing on shipwreck sites at Coron in Palawan.
  • For exotic choices, eat balut, boiled duck eggs that contain partially formed embryos, and dinuguan, which is a pork blood stew eaten with rice. Also try tuba, an alcoholic drink made from the sap of the coconut palm tree.
  • Go whitewater rafting in Cagayan de Oro River in north central Mindanao. Or kayak at the St. Paul Subterranean Cave on Palawan.
  • Go surfing at Siargao Island (northeast of Mindanao), or go windsurfing in Caliraya Lake or in Taal Lake, both on the island of Luzon.
  • Sample nightlife on Boracay Island in the Visayas. The island boasts numerous clubs and bars on the beach. Or, try nightlife at Subic, site of a former U.S. Navy facility in Zambales province on Luzon.

Things to do for Centrics

  • Walk up and down in the Banaue Rice Terraces on the island of Luzon; the terraces are a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
  • See the tarsier in Bohol, an island in the Visayas group of islands in the central Philippines. The animal is so small it can sit in a person’s hand.
  • Take diving lessons at training centers in Anilao in Batangas province in southwestern Luzon; Puerto Galera on Mindoro Island off the coast of Luzon, or Boracay.
  • Snorkel to interact with whale sharks at Donsol in southeast Luzon.
  • Sample some Filipino foods, including lechon, a whole pig cooked on a spit served with liver sauce, and kare-kare, meat and vegetables cooked with peanut sauce.
  • See the Chocolate Hills on Bohol. These unique formations are dome-shaped, grass-covered limestone hills that, in the dry season, look like row upon row of Hershey’s chocolate kisses.

Things to do for Authentics

  • Visit towns and cities noted for their Spanish-style architecture. A top choice is the historic center of Vigan on Luzon.
  • Book a spa vacation, and enjoy a traditional massage or consider touch therapy, called hilot.
  • Take a day tour to Corregidor, at the entrance to Manila Bay, site of a key World War II battle which proved crucial to heading off Japanese progress in the Pacific.
  • Sample fine dining, Philippine style. It can feature a wide range of western and Oriental foods, as well as those that are specifically Filipino.
  • Try your luck at a casino in any of the following cities: Angeles, Bacolod, Cebu, Davao, Laoag, Manila, Olongapo or Tagaylay.
  • Play golf at courses designed by the biggest names in the business.

Additional Resources

For more information, consult the Philippine Department of Tourism at