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Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrThe Philippines is a Southeast Asian country located in the western Pacific Ocean. An archipelago of 7,107 islands and islets, it is bounded by Vietnam in the west, Borneo in the southwest; Taiwan in the north, Indonesia in the south; and Palau on the east.
The land mass of the Philippines is 298,175 square kilometers, similar in size to Italy and Finland.
Luzon in the north of the archipelago is the biggest island with Mindanao in the south as the second biggest. The country is geographically divided into 3 island groups: Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. There are 17 regions with its capital Manila located in the National Capital Region in the island of Luzon.
With an extensive coastline and rich rainforests, the Philippines is among the world’s top ten most biologically diverse countries with over one thousand vertebrate species including 170 birds and 100 mammal species that can only be found in the country. Many parts of the country are still untouched by modernity and continue to awe visitors with its natural beauty.
Urban AreasMetro Manila is easily the largest urban area in the Philippines, housing its government capital, Manila; financial capital, Makati and other CBDs. The largest city outside of Metro Manila is Cebu City in Cebu, and the third largest is Davao in the south.
HistoryThe rich history of the Philippines is a combination of many influences including Chinese, Spanish, Asian, and American. Pre-Spanish times saw a busy trade of the Filipinos with the Japanese and Chinese. The Spanish colonized the country from 1521 to 1898 that made its mark in the food, culture and traits of the Filipinos that are still very much evident today.
After more than 300 rebellions, the Filipinos won its independence from the Spanish and became the United States’ first and only colony. They fought alongside the Americans during World War II in the Battle of Bataan and Corregidor as well as the guerrilla war from 1941 to 1945 against the Japanese. Independence was regained in 1946. A bloodless revolution in 1986 called the People Power or EDSA Revolution was a peaceful move to oust the corrupt Ferdinand Marcos Regime and install Corazon Aquino as President while EDSA 2 in 2001 ousted then President, Joseph Estrada, who was replaced by Vice President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.
Philippines AttractionsThere are so many beautiful places to see in the Philippines. Every region has an attraction to boast of but here are some natural attractions that are must-visits:
BoracayThe most famous and arguably the most tourist-crowded of the Philippine Islands is Boracay. Renowned for its snow-white-sand beaches, exciting activities and nightlife, it is visited by hundreds of thousand of visitors every year.
El NidoPerhaps the most beautiful and still pristine places of the Philippines is El Nido in Palawan, a small municipality gaining fame for its rock formations reminiscent of Thai limestone formations.
Chocolate Hills of BoholSoon to be a UNESCO World Heritage site, the Chocolate Hills of Bohol is a natural wonder and has a total of 1,260 hills within a 50-kilometer area. Some hills were recently destroyed by the 2013 earthquake. When the plants dry up in summer, the hills become brown like chocolates.
Banaue Rice Terraces of Ifugao, Mountain ProvinceBanaue is a UNESCO World Heritage site, these 2,000-year old terraces were hand carved by farmers on the mountains of Ifugao . The terraces are planted with rice and vegetables.
Tubbataha Reefs Natural ParkTubbataha Reefs Natural Park is another World Heritage site is this protected area located in the middle of Sulu Sea. The extraordinary biodiversity and rich marine life with of this atoll reef belongs to the top 8 dive sites according to CNN and is considered as the most amazing coral reefs on Earth.
Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National ParkCommonly called the Puerto Princesa Underground River, it is a protected area with the largest cave room in the world. Aside from the amazing limestone cave, the underground river has a unique ecosystem. It is a UNESCO World Heritage site and was named as one of the new 7 Wonders of Nature in 2012.
Mayon Volcano of AlbayThe majestic Mayon Volcano is an active volcano that is well known for having an almost perfect cone. It is the Philippine version of Mount Fuji of Japan. From the Mayon Volcano Natural Park, visitors will get a breathtaking view of the volcano.
Hundred Islands of PangasinanThe Hundred Islands is a total of 124 islands located in Alaminos City with white sand beaches. It is ideal for island hopping, diving, swimming and snorkeling although only 3 of these islands have been developed for visitors.
People and CultureThe Filipino is a unique mix of the east and west. Originally of Malay descent, the colonial rule and merchant trade have brought in a sprinkling of different races including American, Spanish, Chinese, European, and Arab and traces can be seen in the people’s appearance and character. The Philippines has been colonized by the Spanish and the American, both of which have left a big footprint on Filipino culture and also left a self-depreciating trait in the mindset of the Filipinos. Being colonized in the past by the United States, Filipinos love everything American and people of white skin.
Christianity (Roman Catholic) was introduced by the Spanish in 1521 and today, more than 80% of the population are Roman Catholics with Protestants, Islam, Philippine Independent Church (Aglipay), and Iglesia ni Cristo comprising the rest. The Philippines is the only dominantly Christian country in the Southeast Asia region.
There are more than 100 dialects all over the country but the unifying national language is Pilipino. English is widely spoken as well with the Philippines being the third largest English-speaking country in the world.
Filipinos are known for their bayanihan spirit or kinship and comaraderie, for close family relations, piousness, hospitality, love for fun and always laughing even if the situation is all but happy. On the other hand, Filipinos are not great thinkers or inventors, a bit conservative, and follow the church to a fault, which can be seen in the troubling contraception and divorce laws (respectively discouraged and forbidden). The favorite pastime of the urban Filipino seems to be window-shopping in the abundant shopping malls to escape the heat.
They are divided geographically into regions, with each region having its own culture, dialect, and traits. The Ilocanos in the northern part are known to be frugal, the Pampangenos from central north are popular for their cooking, the Visayans in the central part of the country are carefree and the Moslems in the northern area have a colorful culture of their own.
Filipinos have traits and practices entirely unique to them. You know someone is Filipino if:
- His greeting is: "Have you eaten yet?" (Kumain ka na?)
- He puts his hands together as if in prayer or make a path and say ‘Excuse, Excuse’ when passing in front of people or the TV.
- He draws a rectangle in the air when asking for the bill in the restaurant.
- He never eats the last piece of food on the table as a sign of respect lest he be considered a glutton.
- He says ‘for take out’ instead of ‘to go’.
- He has a picture of ‘The Last Supper’ or big wooden spoon and fork in the dining room.
- He has a ‘tabo’ or dipper and a pail in the bathroom.
- There is a rosary hanging on his car rear view mirror.
- He has a relative with a name that repeats itself like Jun-Jun, Bec-Bec, Len-len or one named Girlie, Boy or Baby.
- The parents call each other Mommy and Daddy or Mama and Papa.
Majority of the rural areas in the Philippines have been undisturbed by modernity and provides a relaxing respite from the chaos of the metropolis. Fresh air, good food, and the warm hospitality of the rural Filipinos are attractions on their own.
PovertyThe Philippines is a land of contrasts where you can see affluent gated communities and sprawling shopping malls side by side wit squalid crowded slums of makeshift houses with residents living in abject conditions. It might come as a shock to visitors to see clumps of shanties, mounds of garbage and grubby kids begging on the streets but this striking sight is prevalent in many parts of the Philippines particularly Metro Manila and Cebu.
While the Philippines is rich in natural resources and still have large tracts of land still left undeveloped, the high population of the Philippines is not evenly distributed. The belief that metropolitan cities can provide greater opportunities of earning a living has resulted in the migration of people to Metro Manila or Metro Cebu and the proliferation of squatter areas in these places.
Many squatter areas can be found beside train tracks, under bridges, beside waterways or anywhere there is a vacant area to occupy or build temporary shelters that eventually become permanent ones. Some scenarios you will witness in these areas include groups of women passing time away talking, men in drinking sessions and kids running around grimy and naked. Other residents go about doing their small jobs and businesses.
Squatter areas are characterized by narrow alleys, the constant smell of sewage, lack of proper sanitation, dilapidated houses and chaos. These squatter areas are known to house criminals and scalawags looking for easy money through criminal activities and should be avoided at all costs.
But poverty is not exclusive to the metropolitan areas as it is present in the rural areas as well. However, compared to the bigger cities where everything needs to be bought, there is available land in the rural area to plant fruits and vegetables, raise farm animals or fish from the sea for sustenance or livelihood for the industrious. City residents without a job or business will find it difficult to rise up from poverty and live a comfortable life.
The booming population is a major contributing factor to why a third of the country's citizens live below the poverty level. Many Filipinos strictly obey the teachings of the Catholic church against artificial contraception and have a deep-seated belief in leaving their fate, including the number of children, to the will of God. Lack of education and a pessimistic outlook are just two other factors why many Filipinos remain poor.
FoodFilipino food is not as popular as other Asian food like Thai or Vietnamese but as many as the islands are in the Philippines, so are the variety of dishes. Food in the Philippines is strongly influenced by Asian comingled with Spanish and American cuisine. Some popular Spanish dishes include Arroz a la Valenciana, Longaniza (chorizo); Lengua Estofada (Tongue Stew), and Morcon (Rolled Beef). Pancit (stir-fried noodles), Chopsuey (stir-fried vegetables) and lumpia shanghai (spring rolls) are some of the Chinese-influenced dishes commonly served in Filipino tables.
Steamed rice is the staple food and is eaten during breakfast, lunch and dinner. Filipinos love pairing sweet with salty like champorado (sweet chocolate porridge) with tuyo (salted dried fish), dinuguan (pig’s blood stew) with puto (sweet rice cakes) or green mango with bagoong (fermented shrimp paste). Dipping sauces including banana catsup, soy sauce with vinegar, vinegar with spices, sweet and sour sauce are a part of every meal.
There are as many types of cuisines as there are regions in the country with each one having its own flavor. The more popular ones in Luzon include Ilocano with bagoong-flavored dishes, Kapampangan (of northern Luzon) known for longaniza and sisig, Bicolano (of Southern Luzon) with its chili-hot coconut milk infused dishes. In the Visayas, Bacolod is known for its chicken inasal or grilled chicken while Iloilo has batchoy or noodle soup dish and pancit molo or wanton soup. Cebu boasts of its Cebu lechon or roasted pig while Mindanao is more known for its Asian-influenced cuisine including satti (satay) and rending or spicy beef curry.
Because of the Philippines' rich marine life and abundant produce, expect to see a wide array of delicious food prepared from fresh ingredients. Some local Filipino dishes worth sampling are lechon (whole roasted pig), chicharon (pork skin cracklings), kare-kare (oxtail stew), crispy pata (fried pork knuckles), sinigang (sour soup), adobo (pork or chicken stewed in vinegar), bulalo (beef shank soup), turon (fried banana spring roll), halo-halo (mixed fruit ice dessert) and bibingka (white rice cake). For the bold and daring, local eats you should never leave the Philippines without trying include the savory dinuguan (blood and innard stew), balut (boiled fertilized egg) and adidas or isaw (grilled skewered chicken intestine).
Extra care should be taken when eating streetfood such as barbecue, kwek-kwek (fried breaded quail egg), and fish balls as some street vendors might not practice food hygiene. It is recommended that you buy from food carts and shops located in malls.
MoneyThe local currency is the Philippine Pesos, divided into 100 centavos. The peso bills come in 20, 50, 100, 200, 500 and 1,000 pesos while the coins are in 10 and 25 centavos as well as 1, 5 and 10 pesos. Credit cards are accepted in major cities but some establishments only accept locally-issued cards.
Although currency exchange outlets and banks convert different types of currencies, it is still highly advisable to bring cash or US dollar-denominated travelers checks. Western Union outlets and Xoom, Moneygram, World Remit, Anz, Ria Money Transfer authorized payout centers are available in many cities. Money withdrawal in Philippine pesos are available in 24-hour ATM machines bearing Maestro, Plus, Visa, Mastercard, or Cirrus logo using ATM, credit or debit cards. Over-the-counter cash advance from banks are possible although it is a tedious process. Most cities have ATM machines, however rural areas may not, so it is advisable to bring cash when leaving an urban area for a while.
Getting AroundBecause the Philippines is composed of thousands of islands, there are a myriad of ways to go from one island to another. The fastest way to reach major cities is through air on the Philippine’s major airlines, Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific. Smaller airlines include AirAsia Zest, Tiger Air, PAL Express (of Philippine Airlines), and Sky Jet. Cheap promo rates allow passengers to easily fly when they used to take the boat. Boats are a cheaper mode of transportation to go from one island to another.
Major boat companies like 2Go and Gothong Shipping Lines travel from major cities in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao while smaller vessels of Cebu Ferries, Cokaliong Shipping Lines, and Montenegro Shipping Lines among others serve shorter routes. Catamarans of Ocean Jet, Supercat, and Weesam provide faster means of sea travel between some islands.
The most popular and convenient means of travelling inland include taxis in major cities. When riding a taxi, insist on using the taxi meter. The only exceptions should be when the traffic is extremely bad that it would be advisable to set a fixed fare or when the destination is very far and there is remote possibility of having a passenger for the return trip.
There are jeepneys in most cities and towns that provide a cheaper although longer means of going from one destination to another. In riding a jeepney, take a look at the painted sign posted in the right windshield of the jeepney or the sides of the body where the route is painted on. Always verify from the driver if that particular jeepney will pass the place you want to get off. There are different ways of making the jeepney stop when you reach your destination. Saying ‘para’ (stop) is the universal method or in some parts of the Philippines like Cebu, you knock on the ceiling of the jeepney two or three times.
The ubiquitous tricycle is the most common form of transportation in most towns of the Philippines. It is the lowly version of the taxi and gives you the option to hire it exclusively to take you directly to the place you want to go. Some towns have set routes for tricycles though, so if you do not plan to hire it exclusively, you may need to take 2 or more trips if your destination is outside the route of the tricycle you are riding.
FestivalsThe festivals of the Philippines give visitors a glimpse of how diverse the culture of the country is. Almost every town has its own festival in honor of their patron saint or in commemoration of a special historical event. Here are top 7 Philippine festivals:
Sinulog Festival of Cebu CityThe festival is celebrated in honor of the Sto. Nino de Cebu (Child Jesus of Cebu) every third Sunday of January. A multitude of tourists and locals celebrate on the streets of Cebu City while watching the street parade. Different contingents from the city and neighboring towns and islands dressed in multi-colored costumes dance the traditional Sinulog dance or a choreographed free interpretation of it.
Ati-Atihan Festival of Kalibo, AklanThis is a week-long, 800-year old Mardi-Gras that culminates on the third Sunday of January to pay tribute to the Sto. Nino (Child Jesus) and is considered one of the best and wildest in the country. The grand parade participants paint their faces with black soot and wear elaborately decorated costumes. Spectators are invited to join the parade and can have their bodies and faces painted.
Moriones Festival of MarinduqueAll the municipalities in Marinduque have their own festival every Easter where men moriones wear elaborately carved centurion masks and costumes with spears, swords and shields. They re-enact the story of Longinus, a Roman centurion tasked to execute Jesus Christ who was captured and beheaded after his eyesight was miraculously restored by a drop of Jesus’ blood and he proclaimed his faith.
Masskara Festival of Bacolod City, Negros OccidentalEvery third weekend of October, Bacolod celebrates Masskara Festival (Mask Festival) which began in the 1980s after the province experienced economic hardship and a marine tragedy. There is a MassKara Queen contest and a street dance competition with colorfully-masked dancers dancing to a Latin beat.
Pahiyas Festival of Lucban, QuezonThis festival is celebrated every May 15 in thanksgiving to Lucban’s patron saint, San Isidro Labrador, the patron saint of farmers. One thing to watch out for are the home decorations made out of fruits, vegetables, flowers and other crops especially the ‘kiping’ which are multi-colored rice paste wafers shaped like leaves used to decorate the houses.
Panagbenga of Baguio City, BenguetThe best flowers of the cool City of Baguio are used to produce stunning floats with various themes. Colorful costumes that mimic the multi-hued blooms of this region are used during the street dance parade. Panagbenga is held during the last week of February.
Kadayawan sa Dabaw of Davao City,Kadayawan is a thanksgiving festival celebrated on the third week of August. There is a colorful street dancing parade with dancers wearing tribal jewelry and costumes with artfully decorated floats featuring fresh fruits and flowers abundant in Davao. The festival includes a horse fight.
Tourist TipsDo not depend solely on your credit card, always carry cash. There are no ATMs in some towns.
Female visitors are particularly attractive to drunks and criminals so avoid going to dark places or seedy night spots where security cannot be guaranteed.
Souvenirs can be bought in major department stores and specialty souvenir shops. Markets are also a good source of local goods but it is best to bring along a local as haggling is a must in markets. Be sure to check with the airlines or tourism office on what souvenirs can be brought outside the country. Certain types of food like meat-based products are usually not allowed to prevent transmission of diseases.
SafetyThere is no denying that the Philippines also has its own share of dangers and security issues that visitors need to be aware of. Aside from a high crime rate and terrorist risks, natural disasters are common in the country.
CrimesCrime rates are high in the Philippines especially in the metropolitan areas such as Metro Manila and Metro Cebu. In a country where close to 30% of its citizens live below the poverty level, foreign visitors perceived to be carrying cash and valuables become attractive targets for pick-pocketing, mugging or armed robberies. You must avoid squatter areas as well as crowded, dark and lonely places.
Filipinos are generally not violent but do not make yourself an easy target by bringing attention to your valuable possessions. It would be best to dress down, not wear flashy jewelry or walk around with an expensive mobile phone or camera in hand. Be aware of your surroundings when walking around. Never leave your things unattended and keep your bag on your lap or strapped to you even when eating in restaurants.
Criminals target foreigners and put sleep-inducing drugs in their drink and food then rob them of money and valuables. Steer away from friendly strangers who will offer to buy food/drinks or take you around.
Insurgency & TerrorismThe southern part of the Philippines has reported activities from Islamic insurgent groups like the Abu Sayyaf and the unfortunately named MILF which include bombings of public structures and in public places, burning of passenger buses and armed clashes with the Philippine army. Even worse, they are responsible for the kidnapping of foreign visitors. Travel advisories issued by some countries advise foreign visitors to avoid travelling to southern Philippines or Mindanao especially to Sulu. If you really need to go, coordinate with the local authorities or find a local who is familiar with security concerns.
In other areas such as Antique in Panay or central Negros, travelling at night is not recommended because of rebel attacks. Coordinate with local authorities or the tourism office when planning your activities in this area or seek the protection of reliable and reputable locals.
ScamsLocal news carry stories of massive scams in the Philippines including credit card, ATM and internet fraud. Before using, ATM users are advised to check the machines for double keypads and unusual devices on the card slot that will harvest information and PIN used by syndicates to duplicate the cards.
If your credit or debit card is stolen, lost or captured by the ATM, immediately call the hotline and report it otherwise it might be used for fraudulent transactions. You must keep a record of all your transactions and immediately check it against your statement. Watch the cashier or waiter who takes your card and make sure he does not bring it to a backroom where he can always run it through a data skimming machine to capture your records.
Avoid money changers in sidewalks offering to exchange foreign currencies as they tend to rip-off tourists with exorbitantly low exchange rates. Even worse, they use sleight-of-hand tricks to short change tourists.
HealthStreet food sold in the streets of the Philippines may beckon with their colorful array and aroma but be wary as many vendors do not follow the proper food preparation and handling procedures. They are usually transient vendors and might be difficult to locate and be held accountable if there are any issues with the food you buy. It would be best to eat in restaurants or food shops that value their reputation and follow strict food safety practices.
Bottled water is easily available in the Philippines as tap water is not safe. Ice sold in some stores may be made with tap water and pose the same hazard.
Natural DisastersThe Philippines experience several natural disasters throughout the year. Tropical storms cause landslides and flooding especially in the metropolitan areas. Keep track of the weather forecast and warnings and take them seriously. In case of disasters, follow advisories especially when evacuation is necessary. Register with your embassy or consulate if you expect to be in a disaster zone and might need some assistance.
Visa InformationMost foreign tourists will receive a visa-on-arrival (stamp in your passport) that is valid for 30 days. If you want to stay longer, even by one day, you have to extend your stay at the Bureau of Immigration, found in most towns throughout the Philippines. This extension will cost around ₱4,100 ($90). Some airports allow you to extend your visa on-the-fly, in case you try to leave with an expired tourist visa. This is no guarantee however.
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Author: janblim. Last updated: Feb 26, 2015