A famed archipelago boasting over 7,000 islands south-east of Asia’s mainland, the Philippines is characterised by its 2,000 year-old rice terraces, crowded cities, wonderfully kitsch jeepneys, sputtering volcanoes and barrel-chested water buffalo. It’s harder to get to than, say, Myanmar or Thailand. But that’s actually one of the many reasons for going. There’s hardly anyone else there.
If you’re tired of cyber cafes on every corner, of tourists in socks and sandals toting travel guides in one hand and a McDonalds in the other, then the Philippines is for you. Only a very small number of adventure travel companies go there - in fact, you can count the ones that do on one hand.
The Philippines tourist board proclaims: “It’s more fun in the Philippines!” and you’ll soon realise that they’re not joshing. Filipinos have an exuberant sense of humour – and their happy-go-lucky attitude helps to make a visit to this captivating country a truly joyous experience.

People

With over 111 dialects, over 100 tribal groups (the upland tribes do not interact or intermingle with the lowland tribes), Filipinos are largely of Malay heritage. with ethnic groups including the Negritos (negroid pygmies) and the Dumagats (kin to the Papuans of New Guinea). There’s also a small Chinese minority. As a nation, they constitute one of the largest Christian groups in Asia, with Roman Catholicism being the denomination of over 80% of the population.
The magic of the Philippines is, ultimately, a heady combination of the place and the people. “The people in the Philippines are so extraordinarily nice,” wrote Tony Gilroy and he never typed a truer word. Filipinos are friendly, courteous and passionately hospitable, with a vibrant warmth, vivacious sense of humour and a strong sense of family and friendship. What makes interaction even easier for visitors is that, due to the American occupation, the Filipino people were taught the English language, making the Philippines the third-largest English speaking country in the world.

Places

Within the Philippines’ 7,107 islands, there’s an utterly mind-melting collection of natural wonders: more than 1,000 Chocolate Hills, numerous underground rivers and caves, many pristine beaches with majestic limestone formations, crazily-colourful coral reefs, one of the world’s deepest ocean trenches and more than 20 volcanoes, including Mount Mayon, the world’s “most perfectly formed volcano.” Given time constraints, chances are you’ll have the unfortunate dilemma of only being able to visit a few destinations. So to help you on your way, here are four favourites:
  
Bicol
Tip: It’s best to get into shape before visiting Bicol. You never know what adventures are in store… Made up of the provinces of Camarines Norte, Camarines Sur, Albay, Sorsogon, Catanduanes and Masbate, Bicol is situated at the southern tip of the island of Luzon. Here you can chill on one of the best beaches in the country, see the world’s most perfect cone-shaped volcano, swim with the gentle butanding whale sharks in Donsoi, and go island hopping in Caramoan and Calaguas. Wind-and-kitesurfers will also enjoy Bagasbas Beach in Daet.
  
Manila
Hot, overcrowded and overwhelming, the confusing tropical concrete jungle that is Manila can create culture shock – or just shock. But there are places for quiet rejuvenation away from the cacophony of Manila’s mayhem. In Makati, the main business and shopping district (Manila's tallest night-spot, 71 Gramercy, is a must-see) , you'll find quiet walkways amongst greenery and soothing air-con relief in malls, havens from the teeming chaos of the city centre. And if Makati is Manila’s 21st century face, Intramuros is its 16th century heart: this rich heritage quarter offers a Spanish flavour, reflecting Manila’s former status as a Pearl of the Orient. Fort Santiago’s museum park, San Agustin Church and the National Museum are particularly worth a visit.
  
The Cordilleras 
"O, in the solitude of those mountains I feel free, free as the air, like a light blasting unharnessed through space. A thousand cities, a thousand palaces I would give just for a corner of the Philippines where far away from man I could feel truly free!" José Rizal.
The Philippines isn’t just about picture-perfect beaches. It also boasts breathtaking highland landscapes and a rich mountain culture, steeped in the mists of history. Home of many of the country’s most scenic natural landscapes, waterfalls, and mountain summits, The Cordilleras is possibly most famous for its 2000 year-old living rice terraces, listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Other experiences on offer include exploring the uniquely well-preserved culture of the indigenous Igorot people and other mountain tribes, the Sagada caves and walking trails and a visit to Baguio City — The Philippines’ summer capital.
  
Bantayan Island
Splendidly isolated and unknown (even to the majority of Filipinos), Bantayan’s quiet, beautiful powder-sand beaches are free – so far – from package holiday-makers and monolithic hotel groups. If you do bump into foreigners, chances are you'll enjoy talking to fellow travellers with imagination and sense of adventure. The Bantayan terrain is flat, so cycling round the island is a terrific way to beach hop - Kota Beach, for example, has the advantage of a mini lagoon and a great coffee shop. Sit there, order a coconut and a courteous chap will climb a palm tree directly in front of you to fetch it. Most evenings, sociable expats and friendly Filipinos gather at Kota; they’ll share island insights over drinks, over the pool table and looking over one of the most beautiful views you’ll find anywhere.
 

Pleasures

From kayaking to kiteboarding, canyoning to spelunking, this is the place to raise any adventurer’s pulse. Surfers are beginning to catch on to the waves on both coasts and divers have long been devoted fans of the country’s spectacular underwater landscape. Freshwater pursuits include rafting and wakeboarding. Back on land, trekking can be done almost everywhere, while rock climbing is becoming increasingly popular. What’s more, the Philippines is also, unofficially, the zipline hot spot of the world.
Then, of course, there’s the food…
A culinary mix of Malay, Chinese, Spanish, Japanese and American, Filipino food might not be to everyone’s taste, but if you don’t try top quality Pinoy cuisine, you’re definitely missing out. Seafood is a gloriously ubiquitous staple, as is soy sauce, vinegar, rice, pork and noodles. The tastes can vary from spicy and tangy (try the seafood sinigang,) sweet and savoury (pork adobo) to crunchy (crispy pata) and even peanut buttery (kare-kare). For dessert, there’s nothing so delicious as the icy sweetness of Halo-halo. More adventurous eaters can dine on eccentric dishes such as balut — a boiled egg which contains the fetes of a baby duck or chicken — and dinuguan, aka chocolate meat — a pig meat stew containing pig’s kidneys, intestines, heart and other organs cooked in pig’s blood.
 

Do

Try using words like “Tita” for Aunt, “Tito” for Uncle for elders, “kuya” or “ate” (brother and sister, respectively) for younger people. The word “Po” will earn you a genuine smile as it indicates respect
Take the time to smile. Filipinos like to say hi, and appreciate it when visitors reciprocate. Handshakes are the usual way to greet people, but "beso-beso" or cheek kissing is also common, especially among ladies
Eat the exotic foods sold in almost every corner. The Philippines has earned its slot as one of the countries in Asia with the best street food
Come in appropriate clothes for the occasion. Not all places will welcome you in flip-flops and shorts. Churches and some restaurants require proper attire
Leave a tip. Although tipping is not institutionalised as a custom, leaving a small token of thanks will be much appreciated
 

Don’t

Show off your valuables and gadgets. Displaying jewellery, electronic items and other valuables may attract the attention of criminals. On a related note, don't open your car window to street children.
Lose your temper. It's easier to get Filipinos on your side if you approach situations in a calm and composed manner and don't embarrass them in public
Give alms to the poor on the road. Begging and alms-giving are offences in the Philippines
Just nod and say “Oo” to everything to blend in. (You could be agreeing that your head looks like a lechon’spwet!)
Beckon or point with your index finger when calling someone. Using someone’s name or using "sir" or "miss", or beckoning with your palm held downwards is much preferred.
 

Best time to go

The Philippines are most popular during the dry season, between November and April when the country (including its many beautiful islands and more remote areas) is fully accessible. Temperatures are high during March and April, so it’s best to travel during the cooler months of December to February. The wet season falls between May and October, but the rain isn’t constant and rarely impacts on travel plans. Do be aware that the weather can be unpredictable in the Philippines, and typhoons can sometimes occur as early as August or as late as January.
 

Best way to go

Whether you’re looking for adrenaline-packed adventures along the way, total relaxation or a mixture of both, one of the best ways to travel the Philippines is by boat. Land in Manila, take a day or so to explore and then escape the concrete jungle and head off down the coastline to your next destination, maybe taking in a spot of surfing or scuba diving as you go. Or perhaps you’d prefer to make your way overland to whichever new destination you choose -the boat can pick you up anywhere along the coast and drop you off wherever you decide, meaning your trip is completely customisable. Choose from a timeless wooden sailing yacht, an elegant catamaran, a magnificent schooner or any of the beautifully equipped vessels.
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