Philippines Tourism Guide

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    Foreign travellers are strongly advised not to visit central Mindanao, parts of Mindanao south or west of (and including) Davao City and the Sulu archipelago. For further information, consult a government travel advice department.

    The Philippines lie off the southeast coast of Asia between Taiwan and Borneo in the Pacific Ocean and South China Sea. They are composed of 7107 islands and islets (7108 at low tide). The warm waters offer the attractions of sunbathing, swimming and diving through a dramatic display of coral gardens and spectacular marine life. Luzon is the largest and most northerly of the main islands. The spectacular landscape is made up of the mountainous north, the flat vistas of the central plain and lakes and volcanoes in the southern pensinsula. Manila, capital and hub of the nation, has been a port for hundreds of years. Places of interest include San Augustin Church and Manila Cathedral, which offers an excellent view of the harbor. Hundred Islands, lying off the coast of Pangasinan, are made up of 400 islets surrounded by coral gardens and white sand beaches. This area is ideal for swimming and fishing. Mindanao, the most southerly island, has a very different feel from the rest of the country. In the southwestern tip is Zamboanga City, considered by some as the most romantic place in the Philippines and a favorite resort amongst tourists. The city is noted for its seashells, unspoiled tropical scenery and magnificent flowers. Local dishes include kare-kare (an oxtail stew in peanut sauce served with bagoong) and sinigang (meat or fish in a pleasantly sour broth). On most evenings there are cultural performances by local artists in the many performing arts venues. Many of the top hotels offer lavish music spectacles ranging from string quartets to show bands.


    Manila and Area

    Capital and hub of the nation, Manila is situated on the east coast of Luzon. Founded in 1571 on the ruins of a Muslim settlement, Manila has been a port for hundreds of years. The oldest part of the city, the Intramuros (Walled City), was protected by a massive wall, some of which still remains today despite savage fighting staged here in World War II. Places of interest include San Augustin Church and Manila Cathedral, from which there is an excellent view of the 2072 sq km (800 sq miles) of the harbor, and the ruins of Fort Santiago. Outside the Intramuros is Chinatown, a market in the district of Binondo, crowded with shops, stalls, and restaurants. Luneta Park contains the Rizal Monument, a memorial to the execution of this great Filipino intellectual of the late 19th century. Other places of interest are the American Cemetery and Coconut Palace.


    Manila is a good base from which to make excursions, for instance to Las Piñas, situated a little way outside the city, where the famous Bamboo Organ is located and the Sarao Jeepney factory, where people are allowed to wander around free of charge.

    About an hour’s drive away from Manila through coconut plantations, Tagaytay Ridge in Cavite overlooks a lake that contains Taal Volcano, which itself holds another lake. Tagaytay is a popular destination in summer when all kinds of festivities are celebrated and roadside stalls overflow with flowering plants and fruits in season.
    The series of mineral springs of Hidden Valley lie secreted in a 90m (300ft) deep crater in Alaminos, enclosed by rich forests. The pools vary in temperature from warm to cold, and the lush trails end up at a gorge with a waterfall.

    Villa Escudero, an 800-hectare coconut plantation in Quezon Province, less than two hours by road from Manila, is part of a working plantation, yielding rare glimpses into rural life. Guests are taken on a tour of a typical village on a cart drawn by a carabao, or water buffalo.

    Corregidor Island, “The Rock”, has a famous memorial to those who were killed during the Japanese invasion and is accessible by hydrofoil. Day tours include refreshments and guide. A day trip to the town of Pagsanjan, 63km (39 miles) southeast of Manila, includes dug-out canoe rides down the jungle-bordered river to the Pagsanjan Falls. This was a location for the filming of Apocalypse Now, and is a popular excursion.
    Laguna, a short distance from Manila, is a province famous for hot sulphur springs. The “Towns of Baths”, Pansol, Los Baños, and Cuyab are situated here.


    Luzon is the largest and most northerly of the main islands. Its spectacular landscape is made up of mountainous regions in the north, the flat vistas of the central plain, lakes, and volcanoes in the southern peninsula, and a coastline dotted with caves and sandy-beached islands. Manila, the capital of the Philippines, lies on the island’s east coast (see Manila & Area).


    250km (150 miles) north of Manila is Baguio, 1525m (5000ft) above sea level, a cool haven from the summer heat. It is accessible both by air and land, though the drive up the zigzagging Kennon Road is more popular as it offers spectacular views of the countryside. Baguio has a good variety of restaurants, mountain views and walking excursions. Main attractions include The Mansion, summer residence of the Philippine president; Bell Church; Baguio Cathedral; and the Crystal Caves, composed of crystalline metamorphic rocks and once an ancient burial site.


    Banaue is eight hours’ bus ride north of Baguio. A remote mountain community lives here, and tourists can visit their settlements. The beautiful rice terraces are the main attraction of this area. A breathtaking sight, they rise majestically to an altitude of 1525m (5000ft), and encompass an area of 10,360 sq km (4000 sq miles). The terraces were hand-carved some 2000 years ago using crude tools cutting into once barren rock, each ledge completely encompassing the mountain. Now listed by UNESCO as World Heritage sites, they offer an unforgettable sight to tourists and trekkers in the area (see also Sport and Activities ). Banaue has a tourist hotel and many good pensions.


    Lying off the coast of Pangasinan, the Hundred Islands group is made up of 400 islets surrounded by coral gardens and white sand beaches. This area is ideal for swimming and fishing. Hundred Islands is the second-largest marine reservation in the world, teeming with over 2000 species of aquatic life. The caves and domes of Marcos Island and the Devil’s Kitchen are worth exploring.
    The entire province of Palawan is a remarkable terrain for adventure and exploration, with its primeval rainforests, St Paul’s Underground River and Tubattaha Reef. Inter-island cruises around northern Palawan are now available.


    Mindoro Island, reached by ferry from Batangas pier and south of Manila, is a place where the stunning scenery includes Mount Halcon, 2695m (8841ft) high, Naujan Lake, and Tamaraw Falls.

    La Union, situated on the northwest coast of Luzon, has some of the best beach resort facilities on the island. There are regular buses to La Union from Manila and Baguio.

    Bicol Region, situated in the east, is developing as a tourist destination and offers beaches, hotels, and sights such as the Mayon Volcano, a nearly perfect cone, and the Kalayukay Beach Resort.


    The Visayas is a group of islands between Luzon and Mindanao. The main islands are Samar, Panay, Negros, Cebu and Leyte, the latter famous as the island first sighted by the Spanish explorer Ferdinand Magellan in the 16th century and as the landing point for the American liberation forces in 1944. Samar and Leyte are linked by the San Juanico Bridge, the longest in the country.


    Cebu City is the main resort of the Visayas. Cebu is the most densely populated island, a commercial center with an international harbor, and the Philippines’ second city. Sights include Magellan’s Cross, a wooden cross planted by Magellan himself over 450 years ago to commemorate the baptism into the Christian faith of Rajah Humabon and his wife Juana with 800 followers, and Fort San Pedro, the oldest and smallest Spanish fort in the country, which was built on the orders of Spanish conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legazpi in 1565.
    Carcar town, south of Cebu City, has many preserved Castillian houses, gardens, and churches. The Chapel of the Last Supper in Mandaue City features hand-carved life-size statues of Christ and his apostles dating back to Spanish times. The Magellan Monument on Mactan Island was raised in 1886 to mark the spot where Magellan died, felled by the fierce chieftain, Datu Lapu-Lapu, who refused to submit to the Spanish conquerors. There is also a monument to Datu Lapu-Lapu honoring him as the first Filipino patriot. Maribago is the center of the region’s guitar-making industry. As well as many historical sites there are popular hotels, beach clubs, and resorts.


    Iloilo on Panay is an agricultural province producing root crops, vegetables, cocoa, coffee, and numerous tropical fruits. The attractions include beach resorts and, in Iloilo City (reached by air), the 18th-century Miagao Church, a unique piece of Baroque colonial architecture with a facade decorated with impressions of coconut and papaya trees. Sicogon Island is a haven for scuba divers and has mountains and virgin forests to explore. Boracay Island is another such island paradise, accessible by air via Kalibo, followed by a bus or jeepney ride to Malay, and finally by ferry or pumpboat to Cataclan. A survey considered its powdery-fine white-sand beach to be amongst the best in the world.


    Bohol Island, just across the straits from Cebu in Central Visayas, is the site of some of the country
    s most fascinating natural wonders; hundreds of limestone hills, some 30m (100ft) high, that in summer look like oversized chocolate drops, earning them the name “Chocolate Hills”. Covered by thin grass that dries and turns brown in the summer sun, they are a strange spectacle with mounds rising up from the flatlands, and are situated about 55km (34 miles) northeast of Tagbilaran City, the island’s capital. Bohol also offers handsome white sand beaches and pretty secluded coves, accessible via good roads. The island is a coconut-growing area and its local handicrafts are mostly of woven materials: grass mats, hats, and baskets. Baclayon Church merits a visit, as it is probably the oldest stone church in the Philippines, dating back to 1595. The island can be reached by plane or ferry. The air journey from Cebu to Tagbilaran takes 40 minutes. Ferries go from Cebu to Tagbilaran or Tubigon, another port north of the capital.


    Mindanao is the second-largest and the most southerly island, with a very different feel from the rest of the country. A variety of Muslim ethnic groups live here.


    In the southwestern tip of Mindanao is Zamboanga City, considered by some as the most romantic place in the Philippines and a favorite resort amongst tourists. The city is noted for its seashells, unspoiled tropical scenery, and magnificent flowers. Zamboanga was founded by the Spanish, and the 17th-century walls of Fort Pilar, built to protect the Spanish and Christian Filipinos from Muslim onslaughts, are still standing. The city has a number of hotels, cars for hire, good public transport and vintas (small boats), often with colorful sails, available to take visitors around the city bay. The flea market sells Muslim pottery, clothes, and brassware. About 2km (1.2 miles) from Fort Pilar are the houses of the Badjaos, which are stilted constructions on the water. Water gypsies live in boats in this area, moving to wherever the fishing is best. Plaza Pershing and Pasonanca Park are worth visiting. Nearby Santa Cruz Island has a sand beach that turns pink when the corals from the sea are washed ashore and is ideal for bathing, snorkeling, and scuba diving. There is also an old Muslim burial ground here.


    Davao province is the industrial center of Mindanao, renowned for its pearl and banana exports. Davao City is one of the most progressive industrial cities in the country. The province is the site of Mount Apo, the highest peak in the country, while the Apo Range has spectacular waterfalls, rapids, forests, springs, and mountain lakes.
    On the northern coast of Mindanao, Cagayan de Oro is the gateway to some of the most beautiful islands in the Philippines. By way of contrast, in Bukidnon there are huge cattle ranches and the famous Del Monte pineapple fields, and Iligan City is the site of the hydroelectric complex driven by the Maria Cristina Falls.
    The province of Lanao del Sur is characterized by its Muslim community, which has settled along the shores of Lake Lanao. Besides the lake, other attractions include Signal Hill; Sacred Mountain; the native market, Torongan; homes of the Maranao royalty; the various Muslim mosques on the shores of the lake; and examples of the famous brassware industry centered in Tugaua.


    Travel – Internal


    In addition to Philippine Airlines (PR), there are several other charter airlines, including Air Soriano Aviation, Air Ads, Air Philippines Corporation, Asian Spirit Airlines, Cebu Pacific Air, Grand Air, Laoag International Airlines, Mindanao Express, and Pacific Airways.

    Departure tax: P100 for internal flights from Manila, P550 for international travel. Children under 2 years and passengers in transit remaining in the airport are exempt.


    Inter-island ships with first-class accommodation connect the major island ports. For details, contact local shipping lines (Aleson Shipping, tel: (2) 712 0507 or WG and A Super Ferry, tel: (2) 528 7979 or 7171;


    The only railway is on Luzon Island, from San Fernando, Pampagna in the north to Legazpi City, Albay in the south (operated by Philippine National Railways). This network runs three trains daily to and from Manila. There is also some air-conditioned accommodation.


    There are 161,168 km (100,148 miles) of roads spread among the islands, with highways on the Mindanao, Visayas, and Luzon island groups. Further roads are currently being constructed. Traffic drives on the right. Bus: There are bus services between the towns and also widely available jeepneys. These are shared taxis using jeep-derived vehicles equipped to carry up to 14 passengers on bench seats. Fares are similar to buses. Taxi: Taxis are available in the cities and in many towns. Make sure meters are used, as some taxi drivers will set an exorbitant and arbitrary rate. Car hire: Car rentals are available in Manila and in major cities. The minimum age is 18. Documentation: International Driving Permit required, together with a national driving license.


    A number of bus routes are operated by Metro Manila Transport using conventional vehicles, including double-deckers. Most journeys, however, are made by jeepneys, of which there are an estimated 30,000 in Manila alone. The metro-rail, a light rail transit link, runs from Baclaran terminal in the south to Caloocan terminal in the north. Tricycles (motorbikes with sidecars) and trishaws are a cheaper alternative for shorter distances around towns.

    Travel times: The following chart gives approximate travel times (in hours and minutes) from Manila to other major cities/towns in the Philippines.

    Air Road Sea
    Baguio 0.50 4.00 –
    Banaue 0.50* 12.00 –
    Batangas – 2.00 –
    Cebu 1.10 – 24.00
    Cagayan de Oro 1.25 – 48.00
    Davao 1.30 – 48.00
    Iloilo 1.00 – 24.00
    Laoag 1.25 7.00 –
    Palawan 1.10 – 24.00

    Note: *As far as Baguio City and then another eight hours by road.


    Philippine Department of Tourism
    DOT Building, Kalaw Street, Agrifina Circle, Rizal Park, Manila, Philippines
    Tel: (2) 524 1751 or 524 4760. Fax: (2) 521 7374.

    Philippine Convention and Visitors Corporation (PCVC)
    Fourth Floor, Suites 10-17, Legaspi Towers 300, Roxas Boulevard, Manila, Philippines
    Tel: (2) 525 9318-32. Fax: (2) 521 6165 or 525 3314.




    In Manila, there are 11,745 first-class hotel rooms. There are numerous smaller hotels, inns, hostels, and pensions. Prices are often quoted both in Philippine Pesos and US Dollars. A complete directory of hotels is available from the Department of Tourism. The majority of establishments belong to the Hotel and Restaurant Association of the Philippines (HRAP), Suite 200, Hotel Intramuros de Manila, Plaza San Luis Complex, Cor. Cabildo and Ordante Sts, Intramuros, Manila (tel: (2) 527 5113; fax: (2) 527 9927; e-mail: In addition, most regions have their own associations. Grading: Hotels are graded in the following categories based on standards set by the Office of Tourism Services, Department of Tourism, Manila: Economy (43 percent of all establishments are in this grade), Standard (39 percent), First Class (9 percent) and Deluxe (9 percent).


    “Apartels” are available for minimum stays of a week, and palm nipa huts can be rented on some islands.


    Offered only in a very limited number of places.


    Sport & Activities

    Watersports in the Philippines

    The Philippines’ clear waters, tropical climate, abundant coral reefs and varied marine life make them an excellent location for scuba diving and snorkeling, with options ranging from resort-based diving to extended trips to unexplored areas. White sandy beaches are ubiquitous. The islands of Batangas, Mindoro (particularly Apo Reef Marine Park) Bohol and Palawan offer some of the country’s best dive sites. The detailed and informative pocket map “A Diver’s Paradise” is available from the Philippine Department of Tourism (see Contact Addresses section). Boating enthusiasts can rent traditional canoes (bancas) on most beaches. Surfing and windsurfing are also popular. Kayaking and some rafting are available in the wet season in the interiors of Mindanao and Luzon.

    Fishing in the Philippines

    The Philippines’ warm waters, incorporating almost 2,000,000 sq km (772,200 sq miles) of fishing grounds, rank 12th in worldwide fish production. These grounds are inhabited by some 2400 fish species, including many game fish such as giant tuna, tanguingue, king mackerel, great barracuda, swordfish, and marlin. Local tour operators in Manila will help arrange trips. Game fishing is best from December to August.

    Golf in the Philippines

    There are approximately 70 courses, but only a handful of these conform to championship specifications. Unfortunately, good golf courses can be difficult to access: all private clubs have armed guards with instructions to refuse entry to non-members. Courses that admit visitors tend to be expensive. Some of the best courses open to non-members include: El Club Intramuros (at the Grand Boulevard Hotel, central Manila); Forbes Park (in southeastern Manila, where two of three courses are open to visitors); Canlubang (one of many spectacular courses in southern Luzon and the only one open to non-members); and Camp John Hay (near the Baguio hill resort, in the mountains, where golfers can rent private bungalows). Further courses are on the islands of Mindanao and Visayas (at Bacolod, Cebu and Davao), which can be reached by ferry or on an internal flight. Non-members may sometimes be allowed to play at private clubs on a personal invitation; hotels can also make arrangements. For further information, or to request the brochure “Golf in the Philippines”, contact the Philippine Department of Tourism (see Contact Addresses section) or the Federation of Golf Clubs (Philippines) (website:

    Ecotourism in the Philippines

    Various commercial operators offer package adventure tours with an ecological slant, including activities such as canopy walking (participants are lifted by pulleys to the canopy on the Phillippine rainforest near Cagayan de Oro). The best areas for trekking and mountaineering include the region around Matulid River, Mount Pulog and Mount Halcon as well as the famous UNESCO World Heritage-listed rice terraces in the Cordillera mountain range in northern Luzon (see also Resorts & Excursions). Whale and dolphin watching is popular in the Tanon Strait near Bohol Island.


    A traditional game is Sipa, played with a small wicker ball, which visitors can watch in Manila at the Rizal Court.

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