It’s no surprise that the Philippines is a popular getaway spot. With its ancient archipelago of islands, beautiful beaches, impressive heritage architecture and buzzy nightlife, the Pacific nation is a rising magnet for tourists from all over the world, Australia included.
With a number of airlines now offering easy access to Cebu, Clark and Manila from Australia (Jetstar, Air Asia, Virgin Australia) the Phillipines make for an convenient commute, on par with well-trodden Bali. So what to see on your first trip over? Start with these top 10 best sights and let the good times roll.
1. EL NIDO
The beaches on El Nido are considered some of the most beautiful in the world. Perched on the north end of the island of Palawan, El Nido features inviting aqua waters, white-sand beaches and coral reefs. El Nido is also the gateway to the Bacuit archipelago, a group of islands with steep karst cliffs and well worth a day trip. History and natural beauty converge at El Nido’s Ille Cave, the site of early evidence of humans in the islands, dating back to 14,000 years. The intrigue continues at El Nido’s secluded Secret Beach. Due to the area’s limestone formations, Secret Beach is only accessible to divers using a small underwater entrance. A case of finding Nido?
2. SAN AGUSTING CHURCH
The present-day San Agustin Church stands on the site of some of the oldest colonial buildings in the Philippines. First constructed in the 1500s, the church was rebuilt twice after being destroyed by fire and war. An excellent example of the period’s Baroque architecture, San Agustin is one of the few buildings in the Intramuros area that survived the devastation of the Battle of Manila during World War II. Today, tourists can stroll through the church’s beautifully muralled interior and visit exhibits at the nearby museum.
The tiny island of Boracay boasts pristine beaches and clear waters, making it the perfect family destination. Water sports have become especially popular in Boracay, with thrill seekers coming from all parts of the globe to enjoy windsurfing, waterskiing, kiteboarding, and parasailing. Intrepid divers will encounter the region’s famously curious sea turtles, while landlubbers will enjoy relaxing in the sun on any of Boracay’s 17 beaches.
4. FORT SANTIAGO
Fort Santiago, located in Manila, was built by Spanish settlers on the Pasig River. Fashioned from volcanic rock and completed in 1593, the fort protected its occupants from ‘hostile natives’ and marauding pirates. Fort Santiago has been captured several times over the years. The British occupied it during the Seven Years’ War, and the Japanese army seized the fort in the midst of World War II. Fort Santiago is a popular attraction today and features a museum dedicated to the country’s national hero, José Rizal.
5. P BURGOS STREET
For those looking for entertainment with less of an historical bent, the famous party district lining Manila’s P Burgos Street will fit the bill of fun. The street, well-known for its wacky Ringside bar that features midget boxing and mud wrestling, is lined with dance clubs and go-go bars promising alcohol and table dancers. The crowded, 100-meter-long road also has cafes and restaurants that provide a low-key way to enjoy the district’s bustling nightlife.
6. CHOCOLATE HILLS
The southern island of Bohol is home to one of the Philippines’ most unusual attractions: the Chocolate Hills. More than 1,000 small brown hills dot the landscape near the Loboc River. According to local lore, the hills originated from the tears of the mythical giant Arogo after the death of his beloved Aluya. Adventurous tourists can enjoy panoramic views while at the Chocolate Hills Adventure Park, where zip lining and treetop rope courses are available.
7. TAOIST TEMPLE CEBU CITY
One of the most impressive religious structures in the Philippines is the Taoist Temple in Cebu City. Enormous statues of dragons adorn the beautiful green and red structure which towers over the surrounding landscape. Accessible by a flight of steep red stairs, the temple is an excellent way for visitors to relax and escape the hustle and bustle of Filipino streets. Also, temple’s Taoist monks will tell fortunes for both devotees and sightseers.
When it comes to exciting nightlife, it’s hard to beat Smallville in Iloilo on the island of Panay. Bordering the Iloilo River, the Smallville Complex is the hub of local nightlife. Because it is close to the city’s best hotels, out-of-towners can take in the sights as well as commune with the natives. Smallville has a cosmopolitan vibe and central location that offers everything from gourmet American and Italian restaurants to pulsating dance clubs. For the more vocally inclined, Smallville boasts a plethora of popular karaoke and “videoke” bars.
9. BANAUE RICE TERRACES
In Banaue, green terraced slopes soar 3,000 feet above the valley. When migrants from China and Vietnam arrived in the area around 1,000 BC, they began sculpting the steep mountainsides into flat rice paddies. The hilly region offers an excellent prospect for hikers. Spring visitors may get a chance to see the Imbayah Festival, a local event by Ifugao residents that celebrates the rice wine grown in nearby terraced fields.
10. TAAL VOLCANO
Taal Volcano lies inside the Taal Caldera, a larger volcano which last erupted 5,000 years ago. Although Taal Volcano has not erupted since the 1970s, it is still closely monitored by scientists. Visitors to the volcano can hike around the surrounding lake or catch an exhilarating boat ride to the crater itself. Sightseers can then traverse the slopes on foot or horseback to reach the central crater lake that teems with bubbling hot water springs.
“Perhaps travel cannot prevent bigotry, but by demonstrating that all peoples cry, laugh, eat, worry, and die, it can introduce the idea that if we try and understand each other, we may even become friends.” – Maya Angelou