The Philippines, from its northernmost tip to its farthest island in the south, is an unmistakably beautiful country endowed with pristine beaches, bountiful lakes and serene lagoons, magnificent mountains and challenging volcanoes, pastoral country sides and exciting and highly developed cities and urban centers. Name it and the country has all that can lure even the most seasoned traveler. Most of all, it is home to a fascinatingly captivating people given to smile and renowned for their hospitality.
The underlying charm of the Philippines is its chain of 7,107 islands so beautiful they were once called the “Green Necklace of the Pacific.” Bounded by the Pacific Ocean to the east, the South China Sea to the west, the Bashi Channel to the north and the Sulu Sea and Celebes Sea to the south, the Philippines has a total land area of 300,780 square kilometers, with a coastline of 15,500 kilometers (invite that of *~the United States) where the most beautiful beaches in the world can be found. The country is divided into the geographical areas of Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.
Its capital, Manila, is in Luzon while the premier city of Cebu is in the Visayas and Davao City is in Mindanao. Manila, the main entry point to the country, is a cosmopolitan and bustling metropolis that boasts of posh hotels, upscale shopping centers and entertainment venues that become rather stirring and full of life at night, amidst centers of arts and crafts, museums, historical landmarks, and centuries-old churches like the one considered to be the country’s greatest link to its Hispanic past.
A little farther north of Manila, the cadence slows down a bit as the scenery changes from towering skyscrapers to the rugged terrain of a spent volcano with an awesome crater lake. Here, the aborigine Aetas now share their know-how in jungle survival with those who dare scale whatever is left of the revered mountain that was once their home. Farther still are the Cordillera Mountain Ranges, where lived the descendants of the Ifugao tribal folk who carved the breathtaking rice terraces out of the mountainside 2,000 years ago. The Ifugaos and the rest of the mountain tribal folk continue their customs and traditions although modernization is fast catching up with the younger generations. On the plains, in the towns and villages bordered by beaches and the sea, centuries -old churches and historic landmarks built by the Spanish friars still stand, veritable substantiation of the almost 400 years of Spanish colonization.
Ancient churches and turn-of-the-century houses also mark Luzon’s southern landscape of verdant fields, placid lakes, mighty rivers and either dormant or active volcanoes. Add to these the larger islands of Palawan and Mindoro, both boasting of natural parks now listed in the ASEAN’s Greatest Parks. To many people, Palawan is the “Last Frontier” as many rare flora and fauna still inhabit its mountains, hinterlands and plains, islands and islets and its surrounding seas, making the island province a venue for daring sports adventures. Also in Palawan are the incomparable El Nido Archipelago and some of the most stunning island resorts where travelers can soak up the sun, sand and sea in luxury.
Pristine beaches, warm tropical waters and unique inland attractions also abound in Cebu, Bohol and other islands in Central Philippines where the people have something in common: the innate sense of festivity often based on combined religious and folk beliefs. A very good example of this is Ati-Atihan, the festival in honor of the Sto. Nino (Holy Child) and, while differing in name and fervor in execution (it’s called Sinulog in Cebu and Dinagyang in Iloilo, Ati-Ati in lbajay), the celebrations have the same passion and devotion very much like that seen during the procession of the revered image of the Black Nazarene in Quiapo, Manila.
For Filipinos, in general, fiestas (usually in honor of some patron saints) and festivals (either age-old traditions or ones created to showcase the town’s tourist attractions, cultural heritage, arts and crafts, agricultural products and the like such as the Panagbenga of Baguio City, Kadayawan of Davao City, Lanzones Festival of Camiguin, Hong Butuan of Butuan City, Kaamulan of Bukidnon, Maradjao Karadjao of Surigao, etc) are venues not only for homecoming and the gathering of family, relatives and friends but also as an opportunity to show the ultimate in hospitality as they open their homes to visitors and offer food and drinks to one and all, including foreigners present only by mere happen stance.
For its sheer size – it is the second largest in surface area in the country – and its abundant natural resources, Mindanao has been dubbed the “Land of Promise.” It is also a promising place for exciting travel, cultural and sports adventure with the opportunity to interact with the Muslims (Maranaws, Maguindanaos, Tausugs, Yakans, Samals) and its indigenous peoples such as Manobos, Bagobos, Mandaya, Bukidnons, Talaandigs, ~’laan, Subanons, Tirurays, T’bolis and others, including the seafaring gypsies known as Badjaos. And there are more to see and experience like the region’s unique flora and fauna thriving in its virgin forests, mineral-rich mountain ranges and surrounding seas.
And there are the Filipinos who have the most unique racial mix in Asia: a complex intermingling of Malay, Spanish, German, British, Japanese and American. All these bloodlines produced the unique Filipino race and the cultures that melted into each other created a heritage of pagan and Christian, East and West, customs and traditions and language all their own. And, having been under Spanish colonization for almost 400 years and American domination for 50 years, the Filipino “thinks like an American, feels like a Spanish and behaves like a Malay.”
The Philippines is easily accessible by air as most of the world’s major airlines serve the international airports in Manila, Clark in Pampanga and Mactan in Cebu. Some major airlines in Asia also now serve the international airport in Davao City. Travel time is approximately five hours from Tokyo, less than two hours from Hong Kong, 17 hours from Los Angeles, and a little over 20 hours from London. It takes only one hour from Manado, North Sulawesi in Indonesia to Davao City; only two hours from Kota Kinabalu in Sabah; three hours from Singapore, and one hour and a half from Palau, Micronesia.
It’s now time to come to the Philippines and embrace the beyond-the-usual offerings of its 7,107 islands!