The Philippines is a cluster of islands on the western edge of the Pacific Ocean, bounded by the Philippine Sea, the South China Sea and the Celebes Sea. It has a rich and varied history combining Asian, European, and American influences. The Philippines is also a country of intriguing landscapes, such as the rice terraces of Banaue, carved from steep lush mountainsides. An archipelago of thousands of islands, the Philippines is blessed with pristine palm-fringed beaches leading to some of the world's best diving experiences. This is the land of the epic "Hudhud" chanted by Ifugao women and lasting as long as two or three days.
Prior to Spanish colonization in 1521, a highly developed Filipino society was trading with the Chinese and the Japanese. Spain's colonization brought about the construction of the Intramuros in 1571, a "Walled City" comprised of European buildings and churches, replicated in different parts of the archipelago. In 1898, after 350 years and 300 rebellions, the Filipinos succeeded in winning their independence, if only briefly. In the aftermath of the Philippine - American War, the US brought widespread education to the islands as part of their colonization efforts. The Philippine people finally regained their independence in 1946.
Filipinos are a freedom-loving people that have waged two peaceful, bloodless revolutions against what were perceived as corrupt regimes. The Filipino is essentially of Malay stock with a sprinkling of Chinese, American, Spanish, and Arab blood. From a long history of Western colonial rule interspersed with visiting merchants and traders, evolved a people comprised of east and west, both in appearance and culture. Filipinos are a fun-loving people; throughout the islands, there are fiestas celebrated everyday, and foreign guests are always welcomed to their homes. The Filipino character is seemingly a rare mix of all these cultural origins: The 'bayanihan' or spirit of kinship and camaraderie that Filipinos are famous for, is said to be taken from their Malay ancestors. The close family relations are said to have been inherited from the Chinese. The devout, yet passionate mannerisms come from the Spaniards who introduced Christianity in the 16th century. The common denominator is hospitality, and this is what distinguishes the Filipino disposition most of all. Filipinos are probably one of the few Oriental people proficient in English, which contrasts sharply with the propensity to Spanish names. The Filipinos are divided geographically and culturally into regions, and each regional group is recognizable by distinct traits and dialects: the sturdy and frugal llocanos of the north; the industrious Tagalogs of the central plains; the carefree Visayans from the central islands; and the colourful tribesmen and Muslims of Mindanao. Other tribal communities can be found scattered across the archipelago.
Manila by night
The walls of the Intramuros still stand today attesting to Manila's tenacious spirit during its 400 years as the leading city of the Philippines. Its sheltered harbour and its location on the Pasig River, which allowed access to the rich resources of the surrounding countryside, made Manila a vital link in the Spanish colonial empire. Modern day Manila displays an eclectic fancy for placing newly constructed buildings on the sidewalk next to restored colonial structures within the Intramuros. The conurbation encompasses wealthy residential districts contrasting sharply with extensive slums. Ships from all over the world crowd the busy harbour, colourful buses called 'jeepneys' ply the streets, and many seaside markets offer a bountiful array of fish. Lush tropical vegetation, beautiful parks, and the gracious hospitality of its citizens contribute to Manila's lasting vitality. Just outside the walls of Intramuros is Rizal Park, with a skating rink, playground for children, fountains, and manicured Japanese gardens. Inside Manila's Cultural Complex, you will find a variety of fine art galleries and ballet, theatre and concert performances, as well as the Philippine International Convention Center and Philippine Center for International Trade and Exhibitions. The famous Coconut Palace is also here. It was ingeniously created entirely from natural materials mixed with parts of coconut trees. For the truly lazy or for those short of time (or money), a theme park just ten minutes from the airport gives you a taste of Filipino culture without having to travel across the country. There are small-scale reproductions of Filipino villages as well as many famous destinations including Bicol Island's Mayon volcano, Banaue's rice terraces, Bohol Island's Chocolate Hills, and Cebu Island's Magellan's Cross. A highlight of a Manila sightseeing excursion would surely be the San Agustin Church. This baroque edifice is found inside the Intramuros and is the oldest existing Christian sanctuary in the Far East, and the Philippines' oldest stone edifice.
The myriad islands of the Visayan group form the heart of the Philippine archipelago. The terrain is generally mountainous, with densely populated coastal areas. The region was originally inhabited by Visayans, who conducted a flourishing sea trade with other Southeast Asian peoples. In the 16th century, the islands were colonized by the Spanish, who established their first Philippine settlement on Cebu. Revenues from tourism are boosting the Visayan economy as visitors flock to some of the finest beaches in all of the Philippines. Islanders are renowned for their musical prowess and produce some of the region's finest handcrafted guitars.
Cebu City offers the same wide ranging tastes of Indonesian culture as Manila with the advantage of being near some of the best beaches and diving destinations in the Philippines. Panagsama Beach is a little village hugging the shore, about two miles from the town of Moalboal. (Moalboal is a located roughly 50 miles southwest of Cebu City.) It was an ancient isolated fishing village until the word spread of the great diving at Pescador Island. Now a gaggle of bars and fun palaces have flocked to the area catering to the international beach set. Lying along the coast next to Cebu is the island of Mactan. This tropical getaway is endowed with a variety of beaches, hotels, resorts, nightlife, music, food, and drinks guaranteed to please every tourist's palate.
Boracay Island, with its sugary white sand beaches and azure blue waters, is located on the northwestern tip of Panay Island, Western Visayas. The best of the island's beaches is the 4 km. White Beach, touted as the "finest beach in the world."
The water surrounding the island is shallow and the sand is finer and brighter than most beaches in the archipelago.
On the southeast coast of Mindanao, the seaport city of Davao stands beneath the looming presence of Mount Apo (2,954 meter / 9,690 feet), the loftiest peak in the Philippines. The architecture of Davao is a striking blend of Spanish, American, and Islamic styles. The city's population is similarly diverse, comprising Bicolano, Ilocano, Tagalog, Visayan, Chinese, Japanese, as well as other groups. Local points of interest include the Aguinaldo Pearl Farm, Dabaw Museum, and the Puentespina Orchid Garden. Other nearby attractions include Mount Apo National Park, home to the endangered Philippine eagle, which can also be seen in the Davao Eagle Conservation Center.
Palawan is an island and province of the western Philippines. The island is 447 kilometres (278 miles) long and from 8 kilometers to 48 kilometres (5 miles to 30 miles) wide. A mountain chain runs through the center, culminating in Mount Mantalingajan (2,085 meters/6,839 feet). Framing the rugged and intriguing coastline of the capital, Puerto Princesa City, is Honda Bay. Its blue cool waters are dotted with islets that assure a pleasing vista. Dominated by towering cliffs, El Nido is the source of delectable soups found in Chinese restaurants. This soup consists mainly of the bird nests retrieved from escarpments in the area. El Nido, however, prides itself on having the most beautiful seascapes in the province of Palawan, known as the country's last frontier. St. Paul Subterranean National Park is a picturesque stretch of a river that will surely amaze the visitor; mysterious natural formations are revealed along the route.
Diving in The Philippines
The Philippines is to scuba divers what Switzerland is to skiers, Hawaii to surfers and Nepal to mountaineers. The country is a veritable smorgasbord of excellent dive sites set in a lush tropical environment. Statistics from the Philippine Department of Tourism indicate that divers visiting the Philippines return for an average of 10 trips each, which speaks volume about the quality of the dive sites and the professionalism of the operators. Popular dive locations include Cabilao Island (Bohol), Balicasag Island (Bohol), Apo Island (Negros Oriental), Malapascua (Cebu), Tubbataha Reef National Park (Palawan), Sarangani Bay (Mindanao), Mactan Island (Cebu), Olango Island (Cebu) to name but a few. There are close to 25 shipwreck dive sites in the country. Explore the sunken century-old Spanish galleons and World War II vessels in Subic Bay, one of the best wreck diving sites in Asia, as well as the remarkable wrecks in Busuanga and Malapascua. With over 7,100 island and countless coral reefs, the Philippines is a snorkelling paradise for one of the most populous and diverse aquatic ecosystem in the world. Popular snorkelling sites include Moalboal (Cebu), Bacuit Bay and El Nido (Northern Palawan), Puerto Galera (Mindoro), Miniloc Island (Northern Palawan), and Taytay Bay (Northern Palawan).