Whether you are a local traveler or foreign tourist just starting to discover the beauty of the Philippines, here's a list of places you shouldn't dare miss:
WORLD HERITAGE SITES OF THE PHILIPPINES
1. Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park is one of the must-visit places among the World Heritage Sites of the Philippines. Its natural 8.2 km navigable underground river is believed to be the world’s longest. The river can be found beneath a beautiful limestone karst mountain called St. Paul (named after one of its peaks that resembles the dome of St. Paul Cathedral in Italy).
This national park is one of the centers of biodiversity conservation in Palawan. In fact, you can see monkeys and large monitor lizards greeting you on your way to the mouth of the cave. Currently, it is one of the strongest contenders (out of the top 28 world finalists) for the 7 New Natural Wonders of the World Competition.
2. The Historic Town of Vigan is one of the best examples of a well-preserved Spanish Colonial Town established in the 16th century. It is famous for its authentic Spanish-era homes lining the restored cobblestone streets. Thankfully, this heritage gem has survived World War II and the onslaught of natural calamities.
During World War II, as story has it, the Japanese Military commander Captain Fujiro Takahashi asked the help of Fr. Joseph Kleikamp to take care of his Filipina wife and child in exchange for not burning the town when the Japanese forces retreated. When the Japanese left, the people of Vigan spread an oversized American flag in the plaza to avoid being bombed by the Americans.
3. The Baroque Churches of the Philippines are among the few remnants of Spanish colonial architecture from the late 16th century, which was an interpretation of the European Baroque style by Chinese and Filipino craftsmen. These churches are interesting particularly because of their unique Earthquake Baroque architecture, which put emphasis on the massive, carved buttresses for support during earthquakes.
The nearest one in Manila is the Immaculate Conception Church located in Intramuros. The most impressive buttress design can be seen in the San Agustin Church in Paoay, Ilocos Norte. On the way to Ilocos Norte, you will see the Nuestra Senora Church in Santa Maria, Ilocos Sur. Lastly, the Santo Tomas Church in Miag-ao, Iloilo has the most impressive façade with its impressively detailed carvings.
4. The Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park is one of the best diving spots in the Philippines (and the world) because of its pristine coral reef with a 100-m perpendicular wall, lagoons, and coral islands. It covers 130,028 hectares, including the North and South Reefs, with the North Islet serving as a nesting site for birds and marine turtles.
To get to Tubbataha, you can join live-aboard diving trips to explore the vast area for 5-7 days. There are also organized tours for people who just want to snorkel, but diving is highly recommended to see the wide variety of colorful marine life. There is only a small window of time to visit this World Heritage site – during the summer (from late March to early June) because of the stability of the weather.
1,000 PLACES TO SEE BEFORE YOU DIE
5. The Banaue Rice Terraces should be on every Filipino's must-visit list. The Ifugaos learned how to use the contours of the mountains to cultivate rice paddies, using the force of gravity for natural water irrigation. This knowledge was passed down from generation to generation for 2,000 years. It is highly recommended to experience this great example of harmony between man and nature.
There are many rice terraces in Banaue, and you should see the three most-visited ones: (a) the Grand Rice Terraces in Banaue (b) the Rice Terraces in Batad, which are among the most visited because you can swim in the natural Tapia waterfalls; and (c) the Rice Terraces of Mayoyao are the most preserved because it is difficult to get there.
The Banaue Rice Terraces are also included in the book 1,000 Places To See Before You Die, which was written and popularized by Patricia Schultz.
6. Taal Volcano, of “A Lake within a Volcano within a Lake Within an Island” fame, is one of the world’s lowest and smallest volcanoes. It is very popular because it is only a day trip away from Manila. To get there, you'll pass through Tagaytay, the garden restaurant capital of the Philippines -- the home of Sonya’s Garden and Antonio’s romantic restaurant.
An adventure-filled day awaits you as you journey to the volcano's crater. First, you drive down the mountain along a steep, winding path. Then, you take a boat ride to cross Taal Lake to get to the foot of the volcano. You have the option of trekking or riding on horseback to go up to the crater, and then hiking down its slopes as smoke emanates out of the earth to release its steam.
7. Amanpulo Resort is the holy grail and ultimate destination of any local traveler and beach lover in the Philippines. It is a secluded private beach resort by Aman Resorts, located in Pamalican Island in Palawan. You have an entire footprint-free, talcum-powder beach all to yourselves.
A price tag of P100,000+ for a weekend escape is not much for wealthy foreigners or celebrities looking for a private place to rest and be by themselves. But for local travelers, an Amanpulo visit is equal to the Ultimate Luxury Resort experience.
WORLD RENOWNED PLACES IN THE PHILIPPINES
8. Donsol, Sorsogon. Donsol is known as the “Whale Shark Capital of the World” because it has the largest number of recorded sightings of whale sharks anywhere on earth from December to May. Donsol is the feeding ground for these gentle creatures because of the high concentration of plankton in the area.
Once you encounter these whale sharks up close, you’ll realize how relatively small we are in this world, and you'll appreciate just how beautiful and blessed our marine biodiversity is in the Philippines.
9. El Nido Resorts in El Nido, Palawan is a source of pride for the Philippines. It was recognized by Wild Asia with the 2009 Responsible Tourism Award and it was one of Travel + Leisure’s Favorite Green Hotels in 2008. Its environmental, sustainable tourism program is very inspiring, and you can't help but be influenced by it once you stay at the resort.
You can choose to be based in either the Miniloc or Lagen Resort. We like Miniloc because of its rustic feel. Plus, it is kayaking distance from the Big and Small Lagoons.
Don't leave El Nido without having experienced the best white-sand beach island there – Entalula Island. It is owned by El Nido Resorts, so you can reserve it for private romantic dates or family escapes. You can arrange to have your breakfast or lunch there, and have the beach all to yourselves.
10. Boracay Island is consistently on the list of the best beach destinations in Asia because of its white, fine, sugar-like sands along the famous White Beach. Boracay is known for having delicious gourmet food, the hottest nightlife, the coolest adventure sports, pampering spas, luxurious resorts and the bohemian lifestyle all rolled into one fun island experience.
But if the hectic beach lifestyle isn't your thing, you'll also find another part of Boracay catering to your whims. After all, it is also famous for the simple things in life, like walking while holding hands with your significant other along the beach…or eating chori burger and drinking Jonas Milkshakes…or riding the Paraw as the sun sets on the horizon.
Live an Awesome Life,
Full Disclosure: Nothing to disclose. I'm not related to, connected with or compensated in any way by any of the establishments featured in this blog post.
P.S. The only two places that I've yet to conquer on this list are Tubbataha Reef and Amanpulo. How many have you been to already?
P.P.S. This article is one of the awesome articles in My Awesome Life Book in 2011 (a Travel Log Planner). Since only 1,000 OAP friends will get a copy, I decided to share the article with all the loyal subscribers of OAP. :)
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