Surrounded by the Celebes sea, South China Sea, Sulu Sea and the Pacific Ocean, the Philippines has over 7100 islands that lay slightly off the overland route in Southeast Asia. Metro Manila is the capital of the country, and is also one of the top tourist spots. Other big cities in the country include Cebu, Davao City, Palawan, Borocay and Baguio. While the rest of the world may know it for its mail-order brides and domestic helpers, that barely graces the true essence of Philippines. Its rich culture, sun-kissed beaches and warm hospitality has earned the title of being one of the world’s friendliest countries.
With Tagalog being the national language, the Philippines practice nearly 150 other dialects and languages. The Filipinos have their family roots from all around the world, from Middle Eastern Sufis to Chinese traders, Spanish conquistadors, Malay settlers, and more. It’s diverse heritage, can in a way be attributed to its rich culture, of which hospitality seems to be a common thread. The warm Filipino hospitality is unmissable even in ram-shackled barrio homes. Another thing that the Filipinos take very seriously is entertainment. The vibrant fiestas that occur here are a testament to this tradition.
The countryside locals are especially known for their hospitality and generous spirit, although they may appear shy at first. They invite strangers and tourists to feasts during these fiestas without a second thought, even if it means spending all savings or running into debt in many cases. You will find that the geography hugely dominates the different groups and culture in the Philippines, such as the warm Visayans in the central islands, religious Muslims in Mindanao, frugal Ilocanos in the north and so on. A huge majority (83 percent) of the population are Roman Catholics, which is different from the dominant Buddhism influences in the remaining parts of Southeast Asia.
Boracay is one of the most sought-after islands for tourists around the globe, and you cannot tell if it is the azure ocean, the coconut palms that gently sway to the wind or the sun-kissed sand that makes it so appealing. Restaurant and bar chains have not gone a deaf ear to the tourist racket in Borocay, and neither have the tourists to them. However, if the tourist activity is not to your liking, you can instead go to Panglao Island. Intramuros, Manila’s historical attraction is home to the country’s most prominent museums. Tourists also stop by Corregidor to see ruins from the Second World War.
Another tourist hotspot is Tagaytay that is home to the crater-lake Taal, with a Volcano at the center. Viigan which is declared as a World Heritage site by the UNSECO is also worth a visit. If you want to go diving, stop by Puerto Galera. The location also gives you trekking opportunities in the jungles where many tribals reside. Palawan is popular amongst scuba divers, with most of them choosing the world war wreck location to go scuba diving. Mount Apo has been deemed as a tough climb by even experienced mountaineers, and is also the tallest mountain around here.
Filipino cuisine has strong Spanish influences (from the 35-decades of Spanish rule that the country saw) and ones from other native traditions as well. Many Westerners are pleased when they learn that Filipino cuisine scores the lowest on the spicy food scale among South East Asian food. Filipino food creations are made to tantalize the palate, with loud combinations of sour, sweet and salty. Ginger, onions and garlic are often used in food preparations, and the prolonged cooking period beautifully brings out all these flavors in the food.
Roasted chicken, pork and fresh fish are a staple in the Filipino feast table, and as is rice. In fact rice features in all their meals, breakfast, lunch and dinner. Although you may find some Visayas’ locals choose corn over rice. Dessert is also an important part of the meal in the Philippines. The diverse variety of tropical fruit found here have allowed locals to create a range of exquisite desserts that keep you coming back for more. Turo-turo and Carenderias are budget food stalls in Philippines. Eating with hands is something that you may see in some country-side locations.
The Philippines nightlife culture comes alive in the Visayas biggest city, Cebu. The city is packed with many amazing restaurants, and the live music only makes it better. If you find boards that mention ‘videoke’ know that they are referring to what is known as karaoke elsewhere. The nightlife offers various settings from posh urban VIP lounges to laid-back grunge bars that play folk music. There are also transvestite venues in Manila that many tourists visit. Filipino towns feature far more low-key bars that play reggae or country music. You can also catch classical music, opera and ballet performances at the Philippines Cultural center.
You can purchase a number of things in the Philippines from religious artifacts to exquisite pieces of art. If you are picking up souvenirs you could try looking for jeepney models or fridge magnets. You should also find cutlery pieces that use bamboo and carabao horn. If you are looking to shop for clothes, stop by Colon, Dividoria or Palitan markets; you should find batik textile products, traditional malong, vibrantly colored raw textile cloths and more. You should also find linens products in Filipino department stores. Jewelry pieces can be found at throwaway prices in malls, from tribal-imitation jewelery to pearl jewelry.
Although the Philippines has numerous modes of travel, the safety aspect of transit modes such as buses, ferry boats and taxis can be a point of concern. It is a good idea to seek the advice of the locals on the best mode of transport at a location. For instance, traveling by plane or ferry is advised for places like Misamis Occidental and Zamboanga del Norte. There have been many reports of armed hold-ups when individuals are traveling in public transport, landslide and flash floods incidents are other factors that may make getting around the Philippines a little difficult. All said and done, do not travel by yourself in remote areas.
Another thing that you should know is that ferries here are known for inexplicable delays that can go up to two days sometimes. Air travel is the preferred mode of transport for tourists who go island hopping. The Cebu Pacific Air and Philippines Airlines have been certified as safe for EU operations in the Philippines. While in the city, you can use jeepneys – a modified version of jeeps, to get around the place. You simply have to wave out to jeepneys for them to stop, and they charge an affordable fee of 8 pesos for every 4 kms with an additional 1 pesos for every km. These are preferred over pedicabs, rickshaws and traysikels by tourists, as they are not as cramped.
The Philippines observes a tropical climate. The holiday seasons, New Year’s, Christmas and Easter are when the Philippines is packed with tourists. During the peak season (December to May), you will find that hotel prices have increased by almost three-fold, but that does not deter tourists from holidaying in the country. You would do good booking months in advance, if you plan to visit the Philippines during the peak season. October to early December is a convenient time to plan your trip if you do not want tourist inrush or rains to be the hallmark of your Filipino holiday. Expect heavy rains and storms if you visit the Philippines in June to September period, although there are some regions in the Philippines that are not hit hard by the rains. The tourist inflow is scarce during this period, and the prices are much more reasonable.
The Philippine currency is peso or PHP. Only rarely would you find any other currency mentioned in shops, such as US$ in some imported goods. The medical facilities here drawn many foreigners due to the affordable prices that are almost 80 percent lesser than that in the Europe or US. Metro Manila has many of these hospitals. Alternative medicine has grown popular in many Filipino spas.
Citizens of ASEAN countries, along with some others can visit the Philippines even without a visa, provided they have a return ticket, passport validity for a minimum of six months after their stay, and a stay duration within 30 days.