The Philippines – an unexpected travel gem
If you consider yourself a foodie, a beach-lover or you just love a good history documentary, the Philippines might just be your unexpected, must-see destination. With influences from across the globe, the Philippines is its very own melting pot of cultures and traditions, perfectly blended to cultivate something else entirely.
Whether you’re looking to see some incomparable natural sites, wanting to be moved by the ‘survivor’ spirit of the local people or catch some rays at a stunning white sandy beach, the Philippines has you covered. So let’s discover why the Philippines is your next hidden gem travel destination!
Your first stop should be Manila – think of it as getting yourself up to speed on the bustling, blended culture of the Philippines. Having been occupied by a number of sovereignties over the last 500 years, Manila has developed a culture unlike any other, with American, Japanese, Chinese and Spanish culture all playing their part of the development of the city.
To see some of that influence in action, base yourself in Intramuros, the walled-hub of Spanish-Filipino culture in Manila. Here you’ll treat yourself to a churro and explore some of Manila’s storied past with a trip to Fort Santiago.
Built by the Spaniards in the 16th century, the actual aesthetics of Fort Santiago are charming, and the area also features a number of examples of Spanish inspired architecture. Made from solid, cut stone, the fortress has withstood wars, natural disasters and colonial occupation by the British, the Americans and the Japanese– and survived, much like Manila itself.
There are plenty of options so far as accommodation goes, but it might be worth it to spend at least one night in one of the colonial-style villas, complete with regionally inspired breakfast of butter and thyme brioches. The area is also home to the Quiapo Church where locals gather every Friday night with lit candles, creating a warm glow of light and making for a particularly beautiful tableau.
When you start to get hungry again, head over to the small, artist-run café ‘Vangough is Bipolar’ – really that’s what it’s called. The interior of this oddball restaurant is decorated with an eclectic mix of artwork and art installations. But it’s not just kitschy aesthetic, the food is excellent and has been credited as a pioneer in a new style of Filipino dining. Reservations for dinner are a must most days, so plan ahead to make sure you get to try this one out.
When you’re ready to get out of the city for a while, head down to Puerto Princessa, where, just off the coast, you’ll find yourself in the blue waters of the Tubbatha Reef. The Reef and surrounding national park area are a UNESCO site recognised for having an extremely biologically diverse ecosystem in a concentrated area, making them the perfect spot if you’re looking to have some fun in the sun (or in the sea!)
The lagoons and shallower areas of the reef mean that surface snorkelers will still have a great view of the sea life whilst more adventurous snorkelers and divers will also have the opportunity to go deeper down potentially encountering larger fish and even bull sharks.
When you’re exhausted from being in the water, why not hop on the water with an Iwahig River paddleboat cruise, go at night (at the right time of year*) to see fireflies glittering above you as you cruise by. Afterwards, head to one of Puerto Princessa’s seafood restaurants to enjoy catch-of-the-day and local delicacies amongst friendly locals.
If you’re interested in developing a rich, multifaceted understanding of the modern Philippines, you might want to spend a day understanding its past by visiting Corregidor Island.
During the second world war, Corregidor was the site of a Japanese-American standoff as both countries forces vied for control of the strategically significant harbour.
After a quick primer on the local history (or a short documentary, depending on your tour operator) your tour will take you to see the impact of the war on the islands infrastructure first hand. The ruins of bombed-out barracks, cinemas and even a hospital are a solemn site for sure, but the complimenting information from your tour guide tells a story of survival through great hardship that makes for a truly moving experience.
Particularly interesting is a visit to the Malinta tunnel, an underground tunnel stretching more than 250 metres under the island which once served as a bunker for military personnel, so they could make their way between points without exposing themselves to shelling. The tunnel has been converted into somewhat of a museum with mannequins recreating the kinds of activities and hardships those that used the tunnel had to face. Unsettling and amazing, traversing this little piece of history will leave you thinking about the experience long after you’re back on the surface.
Next, it’s time to move further south, down to the Bicol region to get a taste of the more regional Filipino culture as well as an amazing view. Mount Mayon is a highly active volcano noted for its perfectly symmetrical cone shape.
There is something incredibly serene about the volcano’s sudden rise out of the flat surrounding landscape, and the lack of light pollution in the area makes the view particularly entrancing at night, so be sure to stay a few nights in near-by Legazpi to get the full effect!
Being that it is an active volcano, you’ll definitely check safety reports in the area before you go, but if you’re using an experienced travel agent, they’ll keep you across what you need to know. Oh, and considering travel insurance would also be worthwhile too.
Heavily influenced by the Spanish occupation, Vigan looks like something out of a fairy tale. The architecture is largely of the Spanish Renaissance style with some Chinese influence, a physical reminder of the elaborate blend of cultures that makes up the modern-day Philippines.
Get an encompassing view of the city by taking a horse-drawn carriage ride down a cobblestone street. Stop off to check out the bell tower to get a view of the city and the sunset (or sunrise, if you’re an early bird!) before heading to one of the many restaurants to finish your day with a glass of wine and locally-inspired, Spanish fashion cuisine.
If all that has your inner travel bug jumping for joy, we’d love to talk to you. You can give us a call on (02) 6041 5577, visit the office at 601 Dean Street, Albury or book an appointment with one of our expert travel agents via the form below.
*The best time of year to experience the fireflies in all their glory is December-January. However their season extends until May.
My travel agent was great – she made what seemed to be a very complex task look easy. All my questions were answered in detail!Phil Kearney
Your advice, suggestions and knowledge are invaluable – together with your very personalised customer service, best travel agent I’ve ever used.Alan and Lindsey Wright
The team helped me plan and book the best holiday I’ve ever had. I’ve got the travel bug and looking forward to traveling for the rest of my life!Janne Hindle
Enter your details to book your appointment with your preferred travel agent who will help you get the most from your next trip. We'll get back to you as quickly as we can. To read more about our team click here.