The Philippines are one of Asia's lesser-known destinations, and they're often ignored and misunderstood by travelers. Separated from the Asian mainland by the South China Sea, Philippines travel is often undertaken only by more adventurous backpackers, or tourists with more time than average. But those who do take a Philippines vacation find that the stunning landscapes across the archipelago and the legendary warmth of the locals make the extra effort worth their while.
Philippines tours generally begin in Manila, the rowdy and colorful capital. First-time visitors often find the city's relentless noise and energy too overwhelming an introduction to a Philippines vacation. But a day or two is ideal for the culturally curious. Pay a visit to a top Philippines attraction, Intramuros, the oldest part of the city, where colonizers from Spain decided the fate of the country for 333 years. Walk around the bustling streets of Quiapo and Divisoria, where street hawkers and fortune tellers have been plying their trades for decades. Do some of Asia's best shopping in any of the city's huge malls—two are among the largest in the world. Explore Manila's famously decadent nightlife in Makati, Malate, The Fort and Ortigas—areas around the city with excellent dining options, top-rated bars and clubs.
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One can visit some Philippines attractions in a day trip from Manila. There is the Taal Volcano, one of the world's deadliest volcanoes, sitting in a picturesque lake. Have a proper Philippines vacation at a world-class spa, most notably The Farm at San Benito, a luxury wellness retreat. Glimpse old-time hacienda life at Villa Escudero, three hours away. Experience some thrilling Philippines travel at Pagsanjan Falls while shooting the rapids, or while exploring the eerie tunnels at Corregidor, the last stand of the Philippines and the USA against Japan during WWII.
North of Manila, the scenery is varied and often pristine. Just be prepared to travel far for breathtaking views—Philippines travel often means plenty of time queuing, waiting, and sitting on the bus or a boat. Trekkers love to visit the mountain towns of Banaue and Batad, renowned for their extensive rice terraces and a centuries-old way of life. Sagada is a rustic town nearby, popular for its limestone caves, hippie vibe, and unusual cultural practices. In the far north is Vigan, a wonderfully preserved Spanish-era town and UNESCO World Heritage site. Nearby is Pagudpud, a blinding stretch of sand and surf with few visitors. Nearer to Manila is Mt Pinatubo, a volcano that erupted in 1991 but now offers great hikes to a sulphuric lake.
Philippines tours also begin out of Cebu, the country's gracious second city. It is the ideal jump-off point for visiting the top Philippines attractions—the laid back beach islands and exuberant festivals of the Visayas. Cebu, Bohol, Kalibo, Bantayan. All these names conjure images of white sand beaches or painted festival costumes, all possible to visit given the interlinked ferry systems and plenty of time. No Philippines tour could be complete without visiting Boracay, hailed one of the world's best beaches due to its incredibly fine white sand and clear aquamarine waters.
The regions of Palawan and Mindanao are considered off the beaten path, as travel there takes a bit more effort. Palawan boasts the breathtaking karst landscapes of El Nido and Coron in the far north, and the world's longest underground river in Sabang. Excellent diving abounds in Coron, for WWII wreck diving, and in Tubbataha Reef, an underwater UNESCO Heritage site. Mindanao has top-grade surfing in Siargao, excellent nature hiking in Cagayan de Oro and Davao, and colorful tribes to visit around Lake Sebu.