Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Five Unmissable Travel Experiences in the Philippines


I have been traveling long-term for a few months now outside my country, the Philippines. While I did return home for a bit last Christmas, I didn't really travel around that much. Needless to say, I'm missing a lot of things, mostly people and of course, experiences unmistakably Filipino. Hence, the need to write this post.

Plus, some travelers I met in Chengdu asked me a question I could not answer right away. They asked me what the five unmissable travel experiences in the Philippines are, the five must-do's in the Philippines. I was stumped. I always tell other travelers I meet on the road to travel to the Philippines. But when they ask me why exactly, I could not give a definite answer. So after some thought, here they are: five unmissable travel experiences in the Philippines.

1. Virgin and Remote Beaches

Calaguas, Camarines Norte, Philippines
Remote and secluded Calaguas in Camarines Norte, Philippines

We have 7,107 islands and you can bet that not all of those islands are developed, much less, inhabited. My idea of a perfect beach is fine white sand, the clearest turquoise waters, a hammock, and not a single soul in sight (save for the person/s you are with, of course). Then, after the beautiful sunset, you set up a bonfire and have a cook-out. Perfect. Simply perfect. And you can easily, easily have that experience in the Philippines. Any must do's in the Philippines list, well, must clearly have virgin and remote beaches as number one. I've written about the most beautiful virgin beaches here in the country. Take your pick.

See related post: Seven of the Most Beautiful Virgin Beaches of the Philippines, Seven Travel Highlights of El Nido


2. Mount Pinatubo

Pinatubo Caldera
Yes, that is a volcanic crater.

This is one of the things you can only do in this part of the world. By that, I mean the Pacific Ring of Fire—a string of volcanoes circling the Pacific Ocean. And fortunately (as well as unfortunately), the Philippines lies on a big chunk of it. Thus, we have volcanoes whose eruptions hurl so much particles into the atmosphere that global, yes global, temperatures drop. I am, of course, talking about the 1991 eruption of Mount Pinatubo. It is now possible to trek to the caldera of this powerful volcano. Thus, it is now a must-do in the Philippines, in my opinion. It's a nice and easy trek, too, the reward being the beautiful turquoise crater lake you'd be hard-pressed to find anywhere else.

See related post: Central Luzon: Trek to Mount Pinatubo


3. Catholic Festivals

Pahiyas
The colorful Pahiyas Festival in Lucban, Quezon

Attending at least one of these festivals is definitely a must-do in the Philippines. Being the only predominantly Catholic country in Southeast Asia, festivals in the Philippines have more of a Latin America feel. To me, that is very interesting, especially when one such festival has the most religious of devotees literally nailing their hands and limbs to the cross, as a panata or vow dedicated to Christ. That particular festival, clearly not for the faint of heart, is the Semana Santa in Cutud taking place around end of March to early April.

There is also the Feast of the Black Nazarene, a procession of the sacred statue of the Kristo Nazareno (a black Christ) right in downtown Manila happening every January. More fun, colorful, lighter festivals include the Panagbenga Flower Festival in the mountains of Baguio City happening February and the Pahiyas Festival in Lucban, Quezon province, happening mid-May.

See related post: Quezon: Pahiyas Festival


4. Rice Terraces and the Peoples of the Cordillera

Rice Terraces near Tocucan, Philippine Cordilleras
Rice Terraces near Tocucan, Philippine Cordilleras

There are major and minor rice terraces in the Philippines, most of them you will see when you take the Halsema Highway, the most scenic drive in the country. They are unmissable because you get to experience something you only experience here. While the Philippines is not the only place where rice terraces exist, if you combine that with the culture of the people in the mountains, like the Ifugao, the Kalinga, etc., who had eluded Spanish conquest and indoctrination, then a trip up there is a must-do in the Philippines that is definitely worth your time. There are a number of places you can see these terraces and experience the cultures that created them. There's Banaue, Batad, Happao, or Mayaoyao.

Related Post: A Day in the Village of the Last Tattoo Artist of the Kalinga, Photos from the Mountain Town of Sagada in the Philippine Cordilleras


5. Whale Sharks

Whale Shark Diving
Photo by Marcel_Ekkel | CC BY

Imagine being able to swim in the open sea with these gentle giants floating right beside you. People say it's unbelievably frightening. I mean, it is a creature several times the size of a normal human being. But at the same time, they say it's pleasantly overwhelming. Spiritual even. Whatever it is, beholding these butandings, as we call them, is a travel experience everyone should have when visiting the Philippines. To view whale sharks in the wild, you can go to Donsol in Sorsogon during the Philippine summer (around March to May) or to Oslob in Cebu.


There you have it. The 5 unmissable travel experiences in the Philippines. I'm proud to call the Philippines home and I think it will always stay that way wherever I am in the world. So yes, I will probably get my chance to do all of these at some point. Hopefully, very soon.


Have you traveled to the Philippines? What do you think are other unmissable travel experiences in the Philippines?


 
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