The Philippines! My second home that’s so close to my heart because this is where my mom hailed from. She’s a native of Pampanga which is 1 h 27 min or about 49 miles away from the country’s capital of Manila. Let me share what this wonderful country is all about. Join me as I tour the best places in the Philippines!
Manila is the capital of the Philippines. This is a metropolis where the political and financial centers of the country are found. It is a melting pot where the richest families, business elites and ordinary workers come together. As of the latest data, Metro Manila is home to more than 12.8 million people.
For the dedicated urbanite, Manila is one of the best places to visit in the Philippines. From the best hotels to the best clubs to huge casinos, and onto world-class entertainment centers, all of it can be found here. Truly a cosmopolitan center, Manila boasts various restaurants serving food from all around the world. Can you believe that most of them are usually found inside a single shopping mall? And there are a lot of malls throughout the metro!
In the World Atlas list of the biggest shopping malls in Asia, four are found in the Philippines. Three of them are right here in Manila: SM North Edsa, SM Megamall, and SM Mall of Asia. All of these malls are huge with more than 5 million square feet of space for the first two and over 4 million for the last. So, of course, you can literally find anything under the sun here: from groceries to clothes to toys to exercise gear to pet shops. Add in the travel agencies, medical clinics, spas, and even hotels. Name it and it’s most probably inside the mall’s compound.
Like any other bustling center of a country, Manila has its share of horrendous traffic, crazy habits and whatever makes a multi-cultural point simply exist and thrive. So if you need to decompress, it is easy to hop into any of the country’s 7,100 islands to go for a little R&R. Here are my best tourism spots in the Philippines.
Tourism in Manila will not be complete without looking at this historical site. A slice of Spain right in the midst of the bustling metropolis, Fort Santiago in Intramuros (Latin term meaning “within the walls” stands where the first fort of Manila stood. The Spaniards who conquered the country used this fort as the seat of their power.
The present fort is walled in adobe and houses not only the bunkers of the soldiers but also the Museo ni Jose Rizal to entice the visitors to look into the historical moments of the Philippines’ national hero.Jose Rizal is featured gave me the chills. This room is where he spent his last night before being executed in the nearby park, Bagumbayan or Luneta Park. That night, he wrote his final poem “Mi Ultimo Adios” or “My Final Farewell”.
The bronze markers here depicts the final steps that Rizal took on his way to his execution. It is a really very solemn visual reminder of his heroism, don’t you think so?
I finally had the chance to visit the world-renown Palawan! It is even more gorgeous in reality than what I’ve read about. Voted as one of the best islands in Asia by CNN Traveller and boasting an honest to goodness UNESCO World Heritage site with the Puerto Princesa Underground River, Palawan is truly one of the best places to go to in the Philippines.
These group of islands angling away to form a modified slash pointing to the main country’s landmass is spectacular. Anywhere you look in Palawan is picture-perfect and no wonder it was named one of the most Instagram-able places when you think of nature.
The whole place is included in the world’s Coral Triangle that covers The Philippines, Malaysia, Indonesia, Timor Leste, and the Solomon Islands. This marine sanctuary is home to 600 different corals, the majority of the marine turtles’ species, and thousands of reef fish. It also boasts of having whales, dolphins and whale sharks in its population.
I found a fun fact for tuna lovers here — this place is one of their most bountiful breeding ground. So technically, we have the Coral Triangle to thank for all those delectable fish.
The Puerto Princesa Subterranean River in Palawan was declared a UNESCO Heritage site in 1999 as it has “some of the most important forests in Asia” and is a “significant habitat for biodiversity conservation”.
The Underground River is more than eight kilometers of winding ways with a spectacular backdrop of limestone walls and awesome formations of stalactites and stalagmites. Navigating slowly, you will see a spectacular view of an eco-system that’s literally not found elsewhere. The water flows directly under the St Paul Mountain Range and this river system was created millions of years ago. Water flowed its way through the rock creating a vast series of chambers underneath.
Monkeys and monitor lizards are freely roaming around the cave entrance. Inside are bats hanging around the caves so you have to be prepared for the smell of bat “guano”. Naturally, all of those poop causes the area’s pungent smell.
We were ferried by accredited tour guides inside the tunnels of the Underground River. The government strictly monitors all the accredited tour companies to comply with environmental rules. For that reason, an ordinary traveler cannot just go and travel on his own. The tour guides might be an added expense to some but believe me, it will be worth it.
At all times, we were reminded that the safety of the ecological sanctuaries is of utmost importance. Simple things like not throwing trash around and taking care not to hurt any of the marine life is already a big help to conserve this paradise.
The whole island of Palawan is an ecological wonderland. Without a doubt, I agree that it truly is one of the best places in the Philippines. Since I love the sea so much, the best part of Palawan is, of course, touring El Nido and Coron.
I was fortunate enough to stay at the gorgeous Miniloc Island Resort for a week and went to different tours every day. The views and the tours that they helped arrange really showcased the best tourist spots in El Nido. Truly worth every peso spent!
There are several tour packages around that you can choose; depending on what time you want to start. I highly recommend going out for the whole experience which starts super early at 5:30 in the morning. Believe me, the sunrise cruise is just unforgettable!
There’s the Small and Big Lagoon tour and Shimizu Island tour where you can swim on the small beaches to your heart’s content. Craving for more adventure? The Dibuluan Beach Club, Lagen Island Tour, or Entalula Beach Club Tours will give you that. They include kayaking, trekking, rock climbing, snorkeling, mangrove kayaking, windsurfing, and Hobie cat sailing. They’re guaranteed to give you an adrenalin rush like no other!
Sunbathing and dive sites
El Nido has clear blue waters all around. Limestone rock formations rise around some of the calmest waters in the world. The most gorgeous small white sand beaches will take your breath away. You can even opt to stay at one of the beaches, sunbathe and enjoy the solitude. Obviously, you shouldn’t swim on your own even if you’re a strong swimmer. Remember, safety in numbers at all times!
For the dive enthusiasts around, there’s nary a spot here where you won’t get your heart’s desire. Newbies or experienced divers can definitely find a site to explore here because of the diversity of the dive sites. The whole place boasts a palette of colorful corals, fish, rays, turtles and an occasional reef shark or two.
One thing is for certain, El Nido will make you appreciate Mother Nature more.
Included in the Calamian group of islands in Northern Palawan which separates the Philippine Sea (formerly known as the South China Sea) from the Sulu Sea, is another beautiful tourist spot in Palawan known as Coron island.
The island is considered one of the most famous shipwreck dive sites in the Philippines. Coron is famous for its Japanese era shipwrecks which can be found in the area. Some of the wrecks are just at 10 to 30 feet below the sea level and some are over 120 feet. Divers enjoy going under to see these once-mighty ships now coated in rock formations and seaweed.
The Cleanest River in the Philippines
A trip to Coron will not be complete if you don’t visit Kayangan Lake. Locals dubbed it the cleanest river in the Philippines and I couldn’t agree more. The water is so clear that you can practically see almost all the way to the bottom! The crystal clear water is 70% freshwater and 30% seawater. You can spend the day swimming, snorkeling or just plain floating in the gentle water.
Vacations wouldn’t be complete without pictures and Kayangan Lake has a convenient view deck to satisfy all your photo memories. Undoubtedly, the view everywhere is spectacular.
There are other islands worthy of a visit when you’re in Coron so take the Island hopping tours. Most of the 80 islands are unpopulated. The gorgeous white beaches are definitely a must for serious sun worshippers and beach campers.
Tourists can also visit the Maquinit Hot Springs. This hot spring is known as the only saltwater hot spring in the Philippines and in Asia as well. Going around the islands can be tiring so a dip into the 40 degrees hot water is a soothing balm to your tired body. The scenery around the springs is also gorgeous with its sapphire blue water and thick mangroves surrounding the area.
It was in the 1970s when the Calauit Island Wildlife Animal Sanctuary was established. By 1997, the whole island became a sanctuary to protect the animals imported from far Africa from poachers and hunters. Nowadays, giraffes, antelopes, and other wild animals enjoy the safety of the sanctuary. Reports say that they are all thriving and living safely on their own.
Tourists can visit a part of the island and see these animals in their habitat. The sanctuary is popular with families most especially if they have young kids with them.
For over a decade now, Boracay has been the crown jewel of the best of the best places in the Philippines to go to. It was named the best island in the world for several consecutive years starting from 2012.
Clear blue seas and white sand beaches drove tourists – local and foreign alike – to bask in its glory. I have always loved the sea and the beaches here are perfect. The local government catered to the needs of the tourists and made sure that there are enough restaurants, hotels, and other accommodation to make Boracay a prime destination for everyone.
Sadly, the rampant progress of all the tourism businesses made the once-pristine paradise a cesspool of humanity’s refuse and neglect. The clear water became green with algae and other debris. The beaches got ruined with trash and the noise levels became pollution. The devastation was gradual but it quickly became so much worst. Boracay was almost destroyed.
The current Philippine government put its foot down and closed Boracay for rehabilitation. A lot of people disagreed and there was so much hatred for this move that it was front-page news everywhere. Even with all that, the Philippine’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources pushed through and got the job underway.
The clean up of the beaches from debris and trash was the easiest to be done. Next was to file charges to hotels and other establishments which are dumping their waste directly to the water. It took precious time to do all this! After everyone complied, the seas were scoured for other debris and constantly tested for a safe PH level.
Finally, after almost a year of rehabilitation, Boracay is once again back to its natural beauty. The government imposed strict rules to ensure that the environment is protected at all times. I am just so proud that the Philippines was able to get Boracay to its glory.
The number of tourists allowed to come to Boracay is now heavily controlled. Plastic is banned — and so are its variations, like straws and bags. All corporate conventions and events are also strictly monitored and heavily discouraged. So for party animals who love the famous May 1 weekend all-night dance event here called “La Boracay“, it morphed to “#LoveBoracay”. The move aims to keep this paradise from denigrating again. Cleaning up and making sure that people comply with the environmental rules on the beach like no smoking on the beach, no drinking liquor, no pets, and others.
Best of all, other countries followed the Philippines’ lead and also ordered their own tourist sites to be closed for rehabilitation! I saw some news articles that Thailand’s own Maya Bay followed the example and closed the whole place even with a lot of arguments from their own countrymen who rely on tourism for their livelihood. Well, if the Philippines can, they can definitely make it too.
IT’S MORE FUN IN THE PHILIPPINES!
The country’s Department of Tourism has a great campaign promoting all the best places in the Philippines. Aptly titled It’s More Fun in the Philippines, you can join in with your best photos and help promote the country with your own real-life travel shots in their Instagram page #itsmorefuninthephilippines. Get started and I guarantee you won’t run out of places to add on to your travel bucket. After all, there are more than seven thousand islands to choose from!
Conde Nast Traveller, the best authority on all travel-related matters, had always included the Philippines in its best destinations. The 2019 edition of their world’s best islands in the world included three islands – Boracay, Palawan, and Cebu – in the Top 5 in Asia. How cool is that?
BEST TIME TO TRAVEL
The Philippines has two major seasons – wet and dry. Stormy months from around the end of June to around mid-October is not at all comfortable for travelers Coe country stands still whenever this happens. Now the dry season, starting in November and lasts until May, is the best time to travel to the Philippines.
From November to February is my favorite time to roam. The weather is cool and is perfect for traveling. You can easily appreciate the places you can go to like Baguio, the summer capital of the Philippines and the Banawe Rice Terraces which is another UNESCO World Heritage site. Baguio and Benguet are known for their flowers, fruits, vegetables, and their small but sweet strawberries. They celebrate the Panagbenga Festival — the local version of the California Rose Parade – and the Strawberry Festival in February to promote the province’s best products. Everyone loves the enchanting smell of all those flowers on their elaborately made floats!
March to May is the perfect beach season. Boracay, El Nido, or Batangas are some of the best places to get your tan and dive in the warm waters of the Philippines’ seascapes. The gorgeous beaches are hot with some sea breezes cooling the worst of it. Enjoy the beach with a tall glass of lemon iced tea, coconut juice locally known as ” buko”, or a tangily refreshing green or ripe mango juice. Trust me, the last one is absolutely worth it! Nothing so far can equal to the absolute delight of eating sweet Philippine mangoes. This girl can probably devote a whole article just lauding the joys of savoring this sumptuous fruit!
I am highly recommending everyone to wear casual shirts and shorts or pants while traveling. Most places, outside of the major hotels and some religious sites, do not have a strict dress code. You won’t have problems navigating on your own because English is widely spoken and written everywhere. So you won’t have problems navigating on your own and can easily get your questions answered promptly.
In Manila, the best way to travel is via Grab. Just download the app on your phone and you can easily book a trip around the Metro. Be prepared for a long wait during rush hour though. You can also use your hotel’s concierge car service to ferry you around.
Outside of Manila, it’s best to either go with a tour group or hire a personal tour company to take care of yours and your family’s itinerary. They are safe and would even suggest some other sites that may interest you.
MY SPECIAL PLACE
I am a young traveler and there’s still so much of the world that I want to see. I enjoy traveling and experiencing new places. Education is found in learning new cultures and being inspired by the developments of other nations. You can’t beat first-hand knowledge that traveling can teach you. There are just too many things left to explore around the world.
But you know what makes traveling worth it? It’s the peace that comes from knowing that you have a special place to go home to. The Philippines is that sweet anchor to me. It’s far from perfect, mind you. There’s too much traffic, too much politics, extreme economic scales, and all other negative points. But, it has a lot of good things as well. Good food, energetic work pace, and a lot of good people that you can get close to. I have family nearby and friends to be happy with. And to me, that’s the best definition of home.
Safe travels everyone!