Experience the Philippines, from its Metropolis to its Islands

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Karishma and Husband at River Barge in Bahol, Philippines

Having just got back from an incredible Philippines vacation, I realize all the attractions this small country holds, such as its history, great shopping, beautiful beaches, and a whole lot of natural beauty. Experience the best of the Philippines, from its metropolis to its islands.

Manila
My journey in the Philippines began in Manila, where my plane landed early morning. Although the airport was quite small compared to others in Southeast Asia’s capital cities, Customs and Baggage Claim were quick and easy.

Manila is the country’s economic, political, social, and cultural hub. Located on Manila Bay in the South China Sea, and bisected by the Pasig River, the capital of the Philippines is both historic and modern, rich and poor. As Asia’s only former Spanish colony, the Philippines is quite different from its neighbouring countries. Intramuros, Manila’s oldest district, is the nucleus of Spanish life in Manila, and the best place to soak up this history. Today, Manila is a vibrant city with its skyscrapers piercing the hazy sky. It is also home to some of the biggest malls in Asia.

Aerial View of Makati Financial Business District of Manila, Philippines
Aerial View of Makati financial district in Manila

Despite its chaos and traffic jams there are some cool things I discovered in this city:

Intramuros: A walled city, here you can enjoy the laid back atmosphere and stroll leafy residential streets that are lined with colonial architecture.

Museums: For wonderful pre-Hispanic artefacts, the National Museum of the Filipino People has some exquisite pieces from across the country.

Chinatown and the City of Living Dead: Home to the oldest Chinatown in the world, Binondo District is a great place to soak up an “old Manila” atmosphere, with a twist. North of Binondo is the Manila Chinese Cemetery, one of city’s most intriguing sights. Believe it or not, the ghost-town-like streets are lined with luxury tombs, many complete with running water and air-conditioning! If that doesn’t amaze you enough then visit the attached North Cemetery, home to a community of several thousand residents who’ve remarkably set up houses and shops among the tombs.

Nightlife: Manila has a pumping nightlife. There’s plenty going on here with fancy rooftop cocktail bars, speakeasy bars, and laid-back pubs, as well as a great clubbing and an active live music scene.

Day Trips and City Breaks: Manila is an ideal base for a number of day and overnight trips in the region. Most popular are trips to several volcanoes, including Mt Pinatubo – with its moonscapes and scenic crater lake; Taal Volcano – situated in the pretty foodie town of Tagaytay; and Mt Banahaw.

You can discover some of the joys this city has to offer on our 3-Day Majestic Manila tour.

Manila Cathedral in Intramuros, Manila, Philippines
Manila Cathedral in Intramuros

After spending a good week in this metropolis, I was ready to embrace other attractions the Philippines had to offer, which is when my island-hopping began across this country. The Philippines is comprised of 7,000 islands, and I had the chance to visit seven of them. Not a bad start!

Tarsier in Bohol, Philippines
Tarsier in Bohol

Bohol
Bohol was the first stop on my “discover the islands” tour. Here, I had an encounter with a tarsier, one of the oldest and smallest living primates. One has to be very careful around them as they are quite sensitive, and if offended, tend to commit suicide. I was quite lucky as the tarsier seemed to like me and even posed for a great picture. I also enjoyed a river cruise on a barge through the tropical jungle, and visited the famous Chocolate Hills.

Cebu and Mactan Island
The next day, I took a two hour ferry across to the historic city of Cebu. This city is considered the seed of Christianity in the country, and offers some great historical sites such as Magellan’s Cross, planted in 1565, Basilica Minore del Santo Nino, and Fort San Pedro, the oldest triangular fortress in the country. In uptown Cebu, we visited Taoist Temple. It provides stunning views of Cebu City and Mactan. Next day, we visited Nalusuan Island for some snorkeling and fish feeding and then had a fresh seafood lunch at Camungi Island, which is inhabited by the fishermen community.

Suggested Itinerary:
4-Day Cebu Island and the Chocolate Hills

Taoist Temple and Garden in Cebu, Philippines
Taoist temple and garden in Cebu

Boracay
I’m not sure how to exactly describe the tropical island paradise of Boracay. All I can say is that I was completely mesmerized by its 7km long, white sand beach, set stunningly against the pristine blue waters and lush green hills around the island. Today, Boracay is a top tourist destination – not only in Asia but in the entire world. It is also at par with destinations like Ibiza when it comes to entertainment and nightlife. All in all, Boracay is a place where you enjoy everything a beach destination has to offer, from water sports to vibrant nightlife. For me, the best part was to grab a cocktail, lie on the soft, sandy beach and just marvel at the spectacle of it all.

Suggested Itinerary:
4-Day Boracay Beaches

Beach in Boracay, Philippines
Boracay beach

El-Nido (Palawan)
A trip to the Philippines is not complete till you visit the province of Palawan, or more specifically, El-Nido. Palawan is an archipelago of 1,780 islands on the western part of the Philippines. It has the most concentration of islands, but is the most sparsely populated region in the country. Because of its scenic landscapes and high bio-diversity, Palawan is known as the “last ecological frontier of the Philippines”.

El–Nido is surrounded by Bacuit Bay, and can boast of crystal clear waters, pristine beaches, and a wealth of underwater corals and tropical fish. Surrounded by ancient limestone cliffs, the marine sanctuaries are home to abundant underwater life, as well as five species of endangered sea turtles.

I enjoyed some incredible diving experiences on my leisure time here!

Suggested Itinerary:
4-Day Palawan El Nido

Sunrise in El-Nido, Palawan, Philippines
Sunrise at El-Nido

The Philippines is a small country in area, but is very unique and diverse, not only in its landscapes, but culture too, and has earned a special place in my heart. To sum up my trip, I can only say “it’s more fun in the Philippines”.

Suggested Itinerary:
9-Day Essential Philippines