Where do I start? I am sitting behind my laptop now writing a post about my visit to the Philippines. It’s hard to find words to describe how this country makes me feel. When I wrote my post ‘Visit the Philippines: 10 reasons why this should be your next destination’ for the planet D, I could have come up with at least 50 reasons why you should visit the Philippines. I just fell in love with this country!
Why this article?
There seems to be a lot of negativity about the Philippines. Theft, scamming, kidnapping and terrorism are often things that are associated with the Philippines. Of all the tourists visiting South East Asia, only a small fraction of them visit the Philippines. In my personal opinion there is too much negativity about the Philippines. The country is amazing. It has:
- The biggest diversity in landscape in the whole of South East Asia
- The most beautiful beaches
- The best diving
- The friendliest people
I am writing this article to convince people to visit the Philippines and also share my positive experiences I had in this country.
It is time to get a positive sound out there and give an impulse to tourism in the Philippines. I hope my article will contribute to this and more people will visit the Philippines!
What do people think about the Philippines?
In 2011 Flipnomad asked 7 travel bloggers about why tourists are hesitant to visit the Philippines. From this questionnaire you can extract three main reasons:
- The Philippines is dangerous. There is a lot of crime, bombings and kidnappings.
- The Philippines is hard to reach. It’s a bit of the beaten track and it is hard to travel around.
- The government doesn’t do enough to promote the Philippines as a tourist destination.
In 2012 Richard Ehrlich wrote an article about the Philippines ‘Philippines tourism, a tough sell?’. He states:
As a tourist destination, the Philippines is loaded with the attractions travelers dream of: lots of sun, gorgeous beaches, world-class scenery, adventure opportunities, friendly outgoing locals, fascinating history and lots of little-roamed territory. Yet for all its advantages, the nation of more than 7,000 islands has a big problem attracting travelers.
And this is true. The Philippines doesn’t get as many visitors as other countries in South East Asia. In the article, Richard addresses the same problems as the three mentioned by travel bloggers on Flipnomad. But in his article he (and the Philippines tourism board) talks about the biggest problem, which is ‘Awareness’.
People are not aware that the Philippines is indeed a great tourist destination. I visited the Philippines and I had such a great time. The people are amazingly friendly, the beaches are world class, the diving is superb and the natural diversity is stunning. Of course, you have to be a bit cautious, but not more than in other countries.
The Philippines is very big and not every part of it is dangerous. I didn’t travel to Mindanao because it’s known to be dangerous because of kidnappings and terrorism. But that’s only a small part of this amazing country and it doesn’t represent the rest of it. Just use your common sense when you visit the philippines, like you would in other countries.
It is time to get a positive sound out there!
A lot of travelers who visit the Philippines have a great experience. For example:
- Travel blogger Sabrina wrote about El Nido and calls it “An unspoiled paradise” on her website Justonewayticket.com.
- Travel blogger Alex from Alexinwanderland wrote about her adventures in Bohol, Malapascua and Donsol.
When I visited the Philippines I met a lot of foreign travelers. And they were all having a great time.
The start of my adventure in the Philippines
I did an interview for Philippinebeaches. The title was: “An unexpected jump to the Philippines with Bastiaan Blikman”. And unexpected it was! I wasn’t very aware of the Philippines as a tourist destination. I was in Kota Kinabalu (Borneo) contemplating about my next destination. I went online to look for some airfares when an offer popped up to fly to the Philippines. I did some reading about the Philippines in the Lonely Planet and I got really excited and decided to visit the Philippines. I booked my ticket and via Manila, I flew to Puerto Princessa, the capital of the island Palawan.
It became a decision I never regretted.
Let me take you on a journey to discover my 3-week trip in the Philippines!
Palawan, my first experience on my visit in the Philippines
To make a long story short: Palawan is an undiscovered gem! It is as simple as that. It is untouched, unspoiled and is blessed with a great natural beauty. If you visit the Philippines, visit Palawan. An absolute highlight is El Nido. A little town surrounded by limestone karst cliffs and numerous inhabited islands with white sandy beaches.
El Nido is the gateway to the Bacuit Archipelago. Two of the best things to do when you get there are:
- Island hopping (A great article on Beontheroad.com)
- Diving (some great pictures on tommyschultz.com)
The island hopping is one of the best things you can do. You can discover deserted white beaches, go on an overnight camping trip or just put on your snorkel gear and discover the underwater world. It was definitely one my best trips in South East Asia.
The underwater world is amazing. I dived 5 times around El Nido and it was some of the best I’ve seen in South East Asia. There were so many fish surrounding me that sometimes I didn’t know where to look. El Nido kept me lingering for quite a while. It’s a hard place to leave. I used up a big chunk of my 3-week visa there. It is a bumpy 6-hour bus ride from Puerto Princessa, but it’s well worth it.
From limestone cliffs to hills that look like chocolate
After visiting El Nido, I took an airplane to Cebu city. From Cebu I traveled to the island of Bohol. Bohol is very popular because of two things:
- The Chocolate Hills (a good article on neverendingfootsteps)
- The worlds smallest primate, the Tarsier (a good article on Adaphobic.com)
I stayed on the island of Panglao. This island has a beautiful beach and it is a good base from where you can discover Bohol.
The Chocolate Hills
In my article “Visit the Philippines: 10 reasons why this should be your next destination” I mentioned the Chocolate Hills as one of the 10 reasons to visit the Philippines. And they deserve a visit! It is such a strange landscape. Unlike anything I’ve seen before.
The Chocolate Hills are a very unique and weird landscape on the Island of Bohol in the Philippines. Scattered throughout the landscape are at least 1.250 hills. The hills are 30 to 50 meters high and covered in green grass. In the dry season the grass on the hills turns brown which makes them look like they are made of chocolate. (source wikipedia)
The Chocolate Hills are one of Bohol’s most famous tourist attractions. Source wikipedia The Chocolate Hills are a short drive from the island of Panglao and it is great to combine it with a trip to the Tarsier Sanctuary. Getting there is also very interesting, because you will see some beautiful churches and you can try some delicious food from the local markets along the way. When you arrive at the hills you can take the stairs up to a little plateau. From this plateau the view at the Chocolate Hills is very, very impressive.
I traveled in Asia for 11 months and this is by far the strangest and most unique landscape I have ever seen.
There are a lot of legends among stories about the creations of the Chocolate Hills! One of the locals told me the following legend:
Thousands of years ago there was a giant. When walking around on Bohol he met another giant. After meeting they had an argument and started fighting. The reason is not very clear, but some say it might have been a girl. This fight resulted in days of throwing rocks, mud and sand. After a few days they became tired and decided to stop fighting. They even became friends and left the big mess they made behind. The legend says this was the start of the Chocolate Hills on the island of Bohol in the Philippines!
But this is not the only legend! There are more. If you talk to locals on Bohol you might hear the following legend about the creation of the Chocolate Hills.
The legend of Arogo and Aloya
Arogo was a very powerful and youthful giant who fell in love with a human girl named Aloya. They were living together and they were very happy. But one day Aloya got sick and she died. Arogo became so sad that he cried for days and days. His dried up giant tears became the Chocolate Hills!
The legend of Kid Giants
Another legend tells about young giants playing and making figures with soil. For this they used the half of a giant coconut. The legend says they left without cleaning up the figures they made and they turned into the Chocolate Hills!
The Tarsier Sanctuary
It’s really easy to combine a visit to Chocolate Hills with a visit to the Tarsier Sanctuary. The Tarsier is one of the smallest primates in the world! If you visit the Philippines it’s almost a mandatory visit.
Interesting thought: Some say Steven Spielberg used the Tarsier as inspiration for his movie E.T.!
Tarsiers used to inhabit rainforests all over the world, but now they can only be found in the Philippines, Borneo and Indonesia. The Philippines Tarsier Foundation runs the Sanctuary. They have acquired a piece of land to create this Sanctuary. They also run a Tarsier Development and Research Center. In this center they have a small amount of Tarsiers that can be visited by public.
Useful tip: never visit the Tarsiers that are caged! They often die of stress and are illegally replaced!
The Tarsier is a lovely animal. They look really cute, harmless and fragile. I am a big primate lover and looking into these little animals’ eyes was heartwarming. Definitely a reason to visit the Philippines!
Bohol, a beautiful place to go to when you visit the Philippines
A day to the Chocolate Hills combined with a visit to the Tarsier Sanctuary is a must do when you go to Bohol. You can visit them on a daytrip when you are on the island of Panglao (which has beautiful beaches and good diving!) On the trip you can visit some beautiful churches, local markets and you will meet a lot of friendly local people!
Useful tip: if you don’t have your own transport the best thing to do is get a few people together and hire a van for a day. This way you can split your costs and you’ve got the opportunity to stop everywhere you want to!
Malapascua: the tropical island I have always dreamt of
A beach so white that is hurts your eyes. The most crystal clear water I have ever seen. Amazing, friendly & genuine locals. Superb diving. This island is the island of my dreams. In China I met a traveler who told me about Malapascua. He described it as a tropical paradise. I kept it in the back of my mind. When I decided to visit the Philippines, I also suddenly remembered Malapascua. This was a good chance to find out if my fellow traveler was speaking the truth.
The journey to Malapascua
From Bohol I made my way to Cebu City. From there I took a bus to the little harbor from where the boats to Malapascua leave. In other countries, busses are full of foreigners traveling around. When you visit the Philippines you will travel with locals. And I must admit that the seats are a little bit small for a 194 cm tall Dutch guy. I cramped myself into one of the seats and my backpack went on top of the bus.
The journey to the harbor town close to Malapascua took about 5 hours and looking out of the window I saw lush green jungle and little towns with kids who couldn’t stop waving when they saw me. The boat ride from the harbor town only took about 20 minutes and after settling down in a nice little guesthouse it was time to discover the island.
Malapascua and the local people
Malapascua itself is quite small and only 2,5 km long and 1 km wide. You can walk around it in about one hour (if you don’t snooze under a palm tree and watch the white sandy beaches and blue ocean). In the middle of the island is a small village. Most of the people live here. The people are amazingly friendly and when you walk trough the village they will all invite you into their houses and offer you food or a drink.
Useful tip: You will get invited to sing karaoke! If you visit the Philippines you’d better work on your karaoke skills!
The kids on the island are really amazing and so friendly. They are very playful and are more than happy to show you how to collect sea cucumbers. I spend hours on the beach playing with the local kids.
For some useful tips about Malapascua you can read this article on The Pinay Solo Backpacker!
The Thresher sharks
Big sharks with a giant tail! Sounds scary, doesn’t it? The Thresher sharks were one of the main reasons of my visit to Malapascua and the Philippines!
Thresher sharks are known for their long tail. Their tail can be as long as their body size. The Thresher Shark can grow up to a length of 5 meters.
The dive site is called Monad Shoal and it’s the only place in the world where you can see Thresher sharks before sunrise. The Shoal is a 1,5 km long rock stump on the edge of a 200 meter drop. The Shoal is used as a cleaning station for fish. On Malapascua I did two dives. The first one was a dive with very bad visibility so we didn’t see any Thresher Sharks. I was so disappointed! I had to try again.
The next day we got up at 4 in the morning, hopped on the boat and jumped into the water around 5. We went down to a depth of 30 metres and waited for the Thresher sharks. I was so excited! Suddenly we spotted one coming up from the depths. It was one the most amazing creatures I’ve ever seen! But I saw more than one. Suddenly we were surrounded by 6 Thresher sharks coming as close as 2/3 meters. It was truly amazing to be so close to nature and really feel one with the life in the ocean. It was definitely my number one dive so far.
Boracay: one of the world’s premier beach destinations
The last few days of my trip I spent in Boracay. Boracay is a world class beach destination and about an hour flight from Cebu. After my adventures on Palawan, Bohol and Malapascua this was the perfect place to have a short beach holiday. The beach is very, very white. The water is crystal clear. In the daytime it is perfect to spend your time on the beach and enjoy the tropical environment.
It is also possible to enjoy activities like sailing, wind surfing, snorkeling, diving and jet skiing. At nighttime Boracay transforms into the perfect place to party a bit. There are a lot of restaurants to eat good food and a lot of bars to get cheap drinks!
Useful tip: go bar hopping during the happy hours and go from one happy hour to the other!
Boracay was a perfect end of my 3-week visit to the Philippines! For a great guide on how to visit Boracay on a budget you can visit the website Justonewayticket.com. Sabrina Iovino wrote a comprehensive guide on how to live in Boracay for only 23 dollars a day!
Is it more fun in the Philippines? Should you visit the Philippines?
I traveled extensively in South East Asia and the Philippines is my favorite country. Why? I’ll tell you why!
- The people are the friendliest I’ve met during my travels
- The nature is breathtaking and incredibly diverse
- The beaches are world class and you will find it hard to find beaches that are whiter
- The diving is superb
Like I said before: I can think of so many reasons why you should visit the Philippines.
If you go I’m sure you won’t regret it! I am looking forward to go back and visit the Philippines again. There is so much more to discover.
I hope that by writing this article I have made you “aware” of the Philippines and the beauty of the country.
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What is your opinion about the Philippines? Did you ever visit the Philippines? Please share your thoughts on this article by leaving a comment down below!