Luzon & Manila, Philippines

The city is a mix of old and new, of traditions and modern customs, of quaint street stalls and modern shopping malls.

Luzon, where Manila is located, is the largest island in the Philippines and many of the provinces are just a few hours drive from the city. Northern Luzon is rich in panoramic views, green landscapes and old Spanish houses. Nicknamed the Summer Capital, Baguio City is a cool climate escape for Manila’s wealthy. The neighbouring city of La Trinidad, the provincial capital just north of the city, has some interesting sights. You can visit the vegetable market, climb Mt Pulag or see the well-preserved Kabayan mummies from burial caves in the north. Visit Asin, a woodcarving village with a hot spring swimming hole, natural streams and relaxing steam bath. A side trip to the tranquil mountaintop town of Sagada offers beautiful scenery and a cool climate. Its claim to fame is the hanging coffins, seen on cliff sides surrounding the town and in limestone caves.

Hugging the northwestern slopes of Luzon are the provincial towns of Ilocos Norte and Ilocos Sur. There is a strong Spanish influence in Vigan Ilocos Sur, with 16th century Spanish houses lining the streets of the old section and a museum full of Spanish treasures.

Antipolo is the centre of the May-time pilgrimage, while Angono is home to the Higantes Festival, held in November, when gigantic papier-mâché figures of men and women are paraded down the streets.

Northern Palawan is home to some of the most diverse ecosystems in the country. The El Nido-Taytay Managed Resource Protected Area showcases extraordinary flora and fauna, including mammals, reptiles, and birds that are abundant in the area. The dramatic landscape boasts of soaring limestone cliffs standing guard over crystal-clear waters, forests over limestone, and beaches with powdery white sand. Dramatic lagoons, mysterious caves, and colorful reefs are among the facets for Bacuit Bay in El Nido and Taytay Bay.

A couple of hours by boat from El Nido are the snorkelling havens of Simisu Island and Cathedral Cave, Snake Island and Cudugman Cave. South Palawan is quite different to the north. Quezon is situated around 100 kilometres from Puerto Princesa, and is the nearest town to the archeologically interesting Tabon Caves, a half-hour boat ride away. Quezon is famous for its Pahiyas Festival celebrated in the towns of Lucban and Sariaya in mid-May.

Manila

Manila has a population of around 10 million. The city is a mix of old and new, of traditions and modern customs, of quaint street stalls and modern shopping malls, of excellent museums and happening restaurants, bars and nightclubs.

Although the city spreads a great distance along Manila Bay, the main places of interest are fairly central, concentrated just south of the Pasig River. Immediately south is the fortress of Intramuros (literally ‘within the walls’), once the preserve of the ruling classes.

The Manila Cathedral and San Agustin Church are two of the oldest churches in the country. Nearby, Casa Manila is a beautifully restored Spanish colonial home. The Cultural Centre of the Philippines is the central venue for all the diverse arts of the provinces, including ballet, concerts and stage plays. Within the complex is the stately Coconut Palace, made of materials from the coconut tree and other indigenous materials. This is also a great place to view the spectacular sunset across Manila Bay.

At the huge Chinese Cemetery in Santa Cruz, tombs are fitted with crystal chandeliers, air-conditioning, kitchens and flushing toilets, to ensure comfort on the trip to paradise.