With some of the world's most beautiful beaches, pristine coral reefs, world-class surf breaks, friendly locals and a year-round balmy climate, the 7000+ island archipelago of the Philippines is the ideal tropical getaway. Tourism is crucial to the country's economy, accounting for eight per cent of its GDP, yet the Philippines is still a relatively undiscovered travel destination in comparison to neighbouring countries such as Thailand.
Here are a few reasons why we love the Philippines and why we think you will too!
1. Friendly locals
On my first visit to the Philippines I observed the heart-warming generosity and friendliness of the Filipino people, toward each other and also to foreigners. I joined a family for lunch and they went overboard in preparing a variety of dishes and making me feel like a guest of honour. My second visit, despite travelling in a different part of the Philippines, was exactly the same. As a generalisation, Filipinos are light hearted, hospitable and genuine.
We recommend: Chat with locals, share some jokes and expect to make some life-long friends here!
2. Deserted beaches
With over 7,000 islands to choose between, there are plenty of postcard-perfect beaches where you can while away your days. On my first Philippines holiday I did the standard tourist thing and went straight to Boracay, a popular island due to its sugary white sandy beaches and waterfront bars. On this recent trip I chose to explore the legion of islands in northern Palawan, where many of the beaches are completely deserted.
We recommend: Rent a boat or join a local company such as Abandon Paradise who offer camping trips to remote islands in northern Palawan.
There are some really beautiful waterfalls in the Philippines, for those who are willing to seek them out. The one pictured above is Vera Falls, a stunning cascade nestled at the foot of Mt Malinao in the province of Albay. The water was icy cold (hence why I am only halfway in!) but the waterfall and the walk in are breathtakingly beautiful. Here's a map to Vera Falls:
We recommend: Do your research before you embark on any waterfall missions. We were driving around for hours searching for Vera Falls. When we pulled over to ask locals for directions, noone seemed to know where the waterfall was, even in the closest town!
4. WILD ENCOUNTERS
There are some really unique and cool animals in the Philippines. The strangest is a tiny monkey, smaller than my hand, in Bohol near Cebu city. The Tarsier's eyes are disproportionately large, giving him an alien-like appearance. On the other hand, the whale shark is long and graceful, moving peacefully through the sea whilst feeding on thousands of tiny plankton.
We recommend: Wild animal interactions are becoming increasingly popular and it's important to consider the animal's welfare. Support sustainable tour operators who limit numbers on tours and enforce a minimum distance from the animal. Whale shark interactions are quite well regulated in the town of Donsol. Check if animals are being 'lured' by locals who are feeding them (hence disturbing their natural feeding cycle) and remember that there is no guarantee of sightings. For current whale shark sightings in Donsol click here. To support whale shark conservation click here.
5. ENDLESS SUNSHINE
Sunny days are plentiful when you're this close to the equator. During the Dry Season you'll enjoy warm weather with endless amounts of sunshine and little chance of rain. During the low season months of May-October typhoons can cause days of torrential rain.
We recommend: Before booking airline tickets, check average temperatures and rainfall for the region that you intend to visit.
6. A RANGE OF ACCOMMODATION OPTIONS
Accommodation options are endless and there is ample opportunity to experience local culture via homestays or sites such as AirBnb. Personally, my favourite nights were spent sleeping inside the little thatched dwellings that dotted the foreshores of some islands in northern Palawan. Nothing but the sounds of lapping waves and the gentle breeze blowing through the mosquito net!
We recommend: Read our article about 'beach huts of the Philippines' if you're interested in staying in a little hut such as the one pictured above!
7. GOLDEN SUNSETS
When it's golden hour in the Philippines ... drop everything, take a seat, grab a cool beverage and look to the horizon. Some of the most dazzling sunsets that I've ever witnessed have been here. This particular afternoon was just like any other in the islands of northern Palawan. Local children played on the beach whilst traditional banca (outriggers) glided by - their long, insecty legs forging through a sea of gold.
We recommend: Don't disappear as soon as the sun has dipped below the horizon. Some of the best colours appear after the sun has set!
8. MOUTH WATERING CUISINE
Blessed with an abundance of seafood, tropical fruits and a food-loving culture, the Philippines has a variety of delicious dishes to sample. Rice is the staple of Filipino cuisine, usually mixed with fried fish or meat. Common dishes are meat stews and vegetables marinated in vinegar, grilled fish and a wide variety of soups and noodles.
We recommend: Steer away from the familiar and try sampling a different dish each night. As the old saying goes, 'variety is the spice of life'.
9. CHEAP (AND FUN!) LOCAL TRANSPORT
Whether you're riding in a colourful Jeepney (long-wheel-based Jeep, often flamboyantly decorated) or in a motorised tricycle, you're in for a treat. Local transport in the Philippines is fun and cheap. In the cities, Jeepneys are often crowded and you'll likely find yourself knee-to-knee with other passengers. In the countryside you may share the Jeepney with chickens, sacks of rice and so on. For shorter journeys a tricycle can be great fun.
We recommend: For your first Jeepney experience, try sticking to a common route. On crowded, urban routes be wary of pickpockets.
10. DIVERSE SCENERY
The Philippines is a country blessed with many natural wonders. Ancient volcanoes; colourful reefs; terraced rice fields; subterranean rivers; pristine waterfalls ... the Philippines has it all! Our preferred method of exploration was by traditional banca (outrigger), which offered ample opportunity to explore sparsely populated regions such as Palawan's Calamian island group. Here, pristine coves were framed by limestone cliffs teeming with swallows and red hornbills. The visibility and water temperature were ideal for hours of undersea exploring!
We recommend: Look beyond the regular tourist haunts and explore some spots that you've never heard of. But remember to seek local advice regarding safety.
"Maging ligtas sana ang iyong paglalakbay"