A WORLD OF GLITTERING ISLANDS, BEAUTIFUL BEACHES, ACTIVE VOLCANOES AND UNIQUE BIODIVERSITY, THE PHILIPPINES OFFERS A REMARKABLY DIFFERENT CULTURAL EXPERIENCE FROM THE REST OF ASIA

Nestled in the South China Sea, the Philippine archipelago forms the apex of the Coral Triangle at the eastern edge of Asia between China and Indonesia, its western shores looking toward oriental Asia and its eastern aspect facing out to the Pacific Ocean, with only a few scattered atolls and distant Hawaii between it and the Americas, a vast expanse across which the high rolling surf curls onshore upon its eastern fringes.

Comprised of over 7,100 islands, from diminutive to large, the archipelago sits in semi geological isolation from its cousins in Southeast Asia, imbuing the islands with a unique flora and fauna, a characteristic of particular interest to ornithologists drawn to its pronounced endemic variations.  

Within the human sphere too, the culturescape of the Philippines is markedly different. The dramatic ancient monuments of civilisation found scattered amongst its neighbours are absent here, and with virtually all the pre-colonial structures fashioned from perishable materials, the oldest buildings found here are the early Spanish Churches, some of which are now UNESCO World Heritage sites.

Indeed, perhaps nothing epitomises the Philippines cultural disembodiment from the rest of Southeast Asia more than its embrace of Christian Catholicism, the legacy of Spanish colonialism, still widely and enthusiastically practised throughout, with the notable exception of the surviving pre-colonial Islamic culture of Western Mindanao, the country’s most southerly island.

The main focusses for tourism are its clear waters and stunning beaches, delightful island hopping, world class surfing, diving and snorkelling, bird watching, golfing, and experiencing its tribal cultures, colourful fiestas and the seductive dangerous beauty of its awesome volcanoes.

The northernmost island of Luzon hosts the country's capital, Manila, an originally small enclave centred on the Spanish centre of Intramuros, much of which was destroyed during the Second World War, whose inner soul still flickers within the sprawling megacity of the modern era.

Further north, the UNESCO World Heritage town of Vigan, while not entirely escaping the damage of war, is the best preserved example of a Spanish Asian city, known for its charming cobbled streets and colonial architecture.

The numerous sunken wrecks of that bloody global conflict litter the seafloor in some areas of the Philippines including Subic Bay in Luzon, and Coron Island, near Palawan, and are the aspirational focus of technical diving challenges for visitors skilled in the underwater arts.

For recreational divers, the waters of the Philippines are rich in marine life, including some of the most appealing and sought after underwater companions such as Manta Rays and Whale sharks, floating over coral gardens and awesome reef walls.

Mindoro’s Apo Reef and Puerto Gallera, Palawan’s Bacuit Bay, Cebu’s Malapascua Island and Moalboal, and the Manta Bowl on Ticao Island all provide excellent world-class marine sightseeing adventures. The sparkling jewel in the crown for experienced divers however, can be found offshore from Palawan at the Tubbataha Reefs, a UNESCO World Heritage marine park.

For beach enthusiasts, virtually the entire archipelago is scattered almost everywhere with countless thousands of beautiful deserted beaches, which the wandering traveller will discover in joyous abandonment.  

However, If you like your beaches served with all the creature comforts and luxury thrown in, Boracay is the Philippines’ most famous island resort, situated to the north of the larger island of Panay, while the long sliver of islands in the Palawan chain is famed for its lovely coastal beaches, and the curvaceous offshore coves of magical Bacuit Bay, with resorts to suit all tastes from Robinson Crusoe beach bungalows to the champagne, sun loungers, infinity pools and private beaches of the luxury hotels.

At the northern tip of Mindoro, the marvellous resort beaches around Puerta Gallera beckon, and to the far west ofthe Philippines, the island of Siargao has some rare and divine offshore sands. Siargao’s Cloud 9 is one of the planet’s top surfing destinations, while more prized hotspots can be found at other locations exposed to the Pacific flow at Borongan and Calicoan Island in Samar, Pagudpud in Luzon, and the Majestics surf break on Catanduanes.

Away from the coast, the interior of Luzon features the beautiful Cordilleras, the lush mountainous heart of the indigenous tribes including the Abra, Apayao, Benguet, Ifuago, and Kalinga peoples, and is a highly rewarding area for visitors to explore, trekking its highland landscapes, experiencing the ethnic cultures and admiring sights such as the Ifuago Rice Terraces, another UNESCO World Heritage area.

Luzon is also home to some of the country’s most awesome volcanoes, most notably Mount Pinatubo, whose mighty and deadly eruption in 1991 brought it to worldwide infamy, and the beautiful Mount Mayon, widely appreciated as the World’s most photogenic and perfectly formed volcano, the most active of all Philippine volcanos.

The Chocolate Hills of Bohol are another famous interior attraction as are the enigmatic palm-sized Tarsiers, the world’s smallest primate, found at Bohol’s Tarsier Sanctuary.

Caves are also a feature of the Philippines, most notably the Callao, Sierra and Odessa caves of northern Luzon, the Sohoton, Jiabong, Calbiga and Guinogo-An caves of Samar, and the Tabon Caves of Palawan.