Today's guest post comes from Claire Algarme of First-Time Travels. Claire, a native of the Philippines, works for a non-profit, and loves photography and sketching. She created her blog in order to help first-time travelers embark upon a different sort of trip. While she writes about various destinations, her home country remains one of her favorites.
Tips For Your First Time in the Philippines
So, you are planning for that vacation which you haven't taken for years. Or, you are looking for an affordable, yet romantic place for your honeymoon. Or, you suddenly have that urge to travel and explore the world a bit. You take out a map to find a place where you can spend any of these. Don't you get curious about that interesting group of islands in the Southeast Asia region called the Philippines?
It's not a familiar destination for tourists. Probably, that's one reason for you to head off to this tropical country. Not only will you enjoy more than the usual sights you find in travel magazines, but you'll be surprised by the various tourist spots the Philippines has in store for you. And there's an added bonus: English is widely spoken all over the archipelago, which makes communicating with the locals a lot easier.
For starters, the Philippines has 7,107 islands divided into three major island groups: Luzon in the north; Visayas at the center; and Mindanao in the south. It's capital is Manila, which is the major gateway to the country.
If it is your first time to be Philippine-bound, let me direct you to some great places around the country which you might love to visit.
Cultural Connections in Cool Surroundings
A famous destination in the Philippines is the UNESCO heritage site the Banaue Rice Terrace, built hundreds of years ago. The view is breathtaking, especially when the sun is rising above the haze of fog.
But first, make a stop at Baguio City, the summer capital of the country, where the Americans used to settle in because of its cool weather.
Also include in your itinerary Batad, where you can go spelunking in caves and explore the hanging coffins. While you are in this northern region, interact with the local tribes and get into their local customs.
You can also take a side trip to Vigan, also in the northern region, which is known for the old Spanish houses along the cobblestone street of Calle Crisologo. Hop on a horse-drawn carriage and travel back in time to the Spanish occupation.
If you long for rocky cliffs and rolling hills, the northernmost province of Batanes will give you a different picture of the Philippines. The harsh winds and strong waves from the Pacific Ocean contrast to the peace and quiet that you can find in this secluded part of the country. Flights are not frequent and are a bit pricey compared with other local destinations, but it is its elusive characteristic that adds allure to travelers.
Sun-kissed by the Beach
Picture yourself lying on a powdery sand beach, looking out to an enticing blue sea, and having a fill of the sun. Many local and foreign tourists find their way towards Boracay Island, which has become famous over the years, now sprouting with high-end hotel chains and cheap resorts. When the calendar turns red, a lot of vacationers spend their holidays in Boracay, where they can relax as well as party the night away. Others go to nearby Puerto Galera in Mindoro Oriental or to various beaches in the province of Batangas, which are a few hours from the capital.
But if you are the type who wants some time alone for yourself, you can take a long trip to Caramoan in Camarines Sur. Caramoan became famous when the French franchise of the Survivor TV series filmed one of its seasons here. Despite its shot to fame, life in this town is still laid-back and slow.
Tourists also go to Bohol to see the famous Chocolate Hills and the tarsiers. But apart from these natural wonders, the beaches of Bohol also draw people to this island in the Visayas.
Dapitan is known to be the place of exile of the Filipino national hero, Dr. Jose Rizal. There's no debate why he chose this serene city. There are beautiful beaches, with Dakak as the most famous private resort located in the area. It has a cove that provides a bit of privacy and various amenities to keep guests entertained and relaxed.
If you are into sand bars, head off to Bais in Negros Oriental. Four villas on stilts are your landmark in finding this giant swimming pool-like part of the sea. You can add enchantment to the equation if you pick Camiguin as one of your destinations. The island of fire has seven volcanoes, and one of the eruptions even caused a cemetery to sink. A short distance from its sunken cemetery is one of the most beautiful sand bars in the Philippines. Another long stretch of sand bar is in Snake Island at the Honda Bay of Puerto Princesa, capital of Palawan.
Diving into the Underwater Kingdom
The Philippines is known for its rich marine life. Colorful and oddly-shaped corals and fishes will make you wonder why such beauty is kept underwater. You can go diving or snorkeling at Tubattaha Reef or Coron in Palawan, the Apo Island in Negros Oriental, and Anilao in Batangas.
For a bit of adventure, you can get up close with whale sharks, swimming in their natural habitat. Donsol in Sorsogon provides you with this kind of experience that will take your breath away.
On the other hand, if you are afraid to go underwater, you can opt to stay on the boat and do some dolphin watching in Bais or in Bohol.
Another must-visit place is the Underground River in Puerto Princesa, which has been voted as one of the seven natural wonders of the world, and considered as a UNESCO site.
Have I piqued your interest enough? I won't be surprised if one day you book yourself on the next flight going to the Philippines. There's so much to discover and experience in this Pearl of the Orient Seas.