MANILA: THE GATEWAY TO THE WONDERS OF THE PHILIPPINES
Published on 29/10/2019.
The Philippines, an archipelago in Southeast Asia, is famous for its stunning 7,641 islands, emerald rice terraces, turquoise seas, big-eyed tarsiers and incredible volcanoes, and is the perfect place for adventure and beach lovers to visit.
We’ve pulled together a list of the best places to visit in the Philippines to make the most of your time, including some of the many exciting activities the islands have to offer.
WELCOME TO THE PHILIPPINES
Your trip begins in Manila, the capital of the Philippines, a bustling, highly urbanised city that mixes Spanish colonial architecture with modern skyscrapers. Also known as the Pearl of the Orient, Manila is the financial and business centre of the country.
Getting around Manila is especially fun in lavishly decorated jeepneys, public buses which are essentially stretch jeeps known for their overcrowding and kitsch decorations. This is the most popular means of transportation in the Philippines and for good reason, as they’re a symbol of Philippine culture and art.
THINGS TO DO IN MANILA
- RIZAL PARK
After learning about the independence movement at Fort Agustin, visit Rizal Park, named after the aforementioned Jose Rizal. Here you’ll find the monument, which contains the patriot’s remains, beside the site of his execution which took place in 1896 by Spanish colonial authorities. Independence was finally declared here in 1946.
The park itself covers over 60 hectares of lawn with decorative ponds, paved walks and ornamental gardens and offers a great escape from the congested streets of Manila.
- MANILA BAYWALK
Manila Baywalk, the seaside promenade, is special in the evening when you can watch the sunset over the gleaming waters. While walking along the baywalk, you’ll find food vendors and live music performers so take your time and enjoy watching the sky as it fills with glorious colours.
- TAAL VOLCANO
Only 50 kilometres from Manila, is Taal Volcano, the world’s smallest active volcano, although its last eruption was in 1977. Surrounded by the haven of greenery and serenity of Taal Lake, a visit here is an easy day trip from Manila and a good way of ticking a volcano hike off your list of things to do in the Philippines. Hiking Taal Volcano is easy once you reach the village of Talisay on Volcano Island, a 30-minute boat ride across the lake. In only 40-50 minutes you’ll reach the summit, after passing volcanic steam vents and taking in the views of the Crater Lake and the breathtaking surroundings.
The oldest part of the city, Intramuros, contained by sturdy 16th and 17th century walls, offers a stark contrast to the city-scape surrounding it. Due to this area being the capital of the Spanish East Indies during the Spanish colonisation of the Philippines, it has a European city feel to it with beautiful colonial architecture. Tour the area on foot, by calesa horse-drawn carriage or motorised tricycle.
Visitor hotspots of Manila include the 16th century San Agustin Church, a UNESCO site and the oldest stone-build church in the Philippines. This Roman Catholic church was built under the auspices of The Order of Saint Augustine, the first missionaries of the Philippines, and is situated within the walls of Intramuros. San Agustin has survived earthquakes, typhoons and invasions, even withstanding World War II which flattened the rest of Intramuros. Visitors can enjoy the High Renaissance facade, the trompe l'oeil ceilings, and the monastery which has since turned into a museum for religious relics and art.
In the northwest corner of Intramuros you’ll find Fort Augustin, the military base for the Spanish government and the perfect place to learn about the Philippines’ independence movement and national hero Jose Rizal, who was incarcerated here before his execution. Spot the Spanish coat of arms below a relief of the Spanish patron saint Santiago Matamoros on the monumental main gate as you walk through.
BANAUE RICE TERRACES
The iconic Banaue Rice terraces were carved into the mountains of Ifugao by the ancestors of the indigenous community of the Philippines, the Ifugao people. Often referred as the “Eighth Wonder of the World”, the terraces are on the UNESCO World Heritage List. It’s thought the majority of the sites were carved by hand over 2,000 years ago as a practical solution to growing rice on hilly land.
These astonishing rice farms might be difficult to get to, but they are well worth the 9-hour bus journey from Manila. If you enjoy trekking, it’s possible to spend a few days walking between the villages of Batad, Hapao and Cambulo which also gives you the chance to meet friendly locals along the way. The views of the pristine rice terraces are spectacular along the routes, guaranteed to leave you breathless and not just because of the steep inclines and tough climbs.
BOHOL CHOCOLATE HILLS
The Chocolate Hills of the island of Bohol are a famed tourist attraction and an absolute must-see for visitors of the Philippines. More than a thousand symmetrical hills make up the unique landscape, forming a rolling terrain of almost conical hills. These neat cones spread for many kilometres, spanning the horizon, and making rice fields, houses and roads between these beautiful hills look tiny in comparison. These conical shaped hills are made of grass-covered limestone.
Their name comes from when the green grass of the hills turns chocolate brown during the dry season, which lasts from November until May. This is the best time to visit and appreciate the origin of their name.
As for where to get the most Instagrammable photo of the hills, there are two spots that should be noted: the most popular of which is from the viewing deck of the Chocolate Hills Complex in Carmen, which takes hundreds of steps to reach the top of. The quieter option is Sagbayan Peak which is much less promoted and further away from major cities on the island, so you’re more likely to be able to enjoy the views without crowds of other tourists around.
Cebu really has something for everyone – cascading waterfalls, sugar-white beaches, trekking and a huge variety of wildlife. Cebu and its surrounding islands are also renowned for their spectacular diving sites, especially off the northern tip of Cebu at Malapascua and on the southwest coast at Moalboal.
- CEBU CITY
The city itself shouldn’t be overlooked. Its emerging bar and club scene is gaining the city increased popularity, in addition to the street food and restaurants it has to offer. The legendary, exotic dishes such as bakasi (salt-water eels) and tuslob buwa (pig brains) are all available for adventurous foodies to try if you’re brave enough and it was in Cebu City that Celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain declared the local lechon (roast pig) as the best pork he had ever tasted. Whether you’re in search of budget-friendly, hawker-style street vendors or a more fine-dining experience, Cebu City is the place to try Filipino cuisine.
- MOUNT BABAG
If you’re interested in spotting the notoriously rare tarsier, the hike to Mount Babag is the best place to look, and this walk also allows visitors to reach the Temple of Leah, another popular destination on Cebu Island. Being nocturnal, the chances of seeing tarsiers is during a night, dawn or dusk tour. Watch out for their bulbous eyes, peaking out from trees and bushes.
- Osmena Peak
For those looking to trek on Cebu, at 1,013m above sea level, Osmena Peak in Dalaguete is the highest point in Cebu, but one of the easiest to conquer. With its stunning backdrops of steep cliffs, the best time to trek is just in time to watch the sun rise. It’s also possible to camp on Osmena Peak if you fancy spending more than the 15-minute walk to the top. Another popular hike is from Osmena Peak to Kawasan Falls, which takes anywhere from 3.5 to 6 hours.
- KAWASAN FALLS
Arguably the most enchanting waterfalls on Cebu are Kawasan Falls, which boast both a beautiful setting and a pool of water that’s an extraordinary shade of blue. For thrill-seekers, Kawasan Falls gives the opportunity for waterfall jumping, rapelling, rock climbing and canyoning.
Having been voted as one of The Best Islands In The World for three years in a row, Palawan is the picture of paradise on Earth. With emerald green jungles, limestone peaks, crystal clear waters and some of the best scuba diving spots in the world, Palawan should be at the top of your destination list for the Philippines. With the range of activities available to visitors of Palawan it would be easy to spend a whole 2-week holiday just here.
Barracuda filled shipwrecks off Coron Bay make for a tempting target for scuba divers of all levels. The six sunken ships, which were attacked during World War II, are of Japanese origin but are now home to marine life such sea turtles, yellowfin tuna and scorpionfish offering divers a unique chance to swim with such diverse animals. The shipwrecks offer divers the chance to dive from a depth of 10 feet to as deep as 140 feet, with the average being around 60-80 feet.
Instagram-perfect Kayangan Lake with its clean, clear water can also be found on Coron –and the colours are just amazing. Due to the popularity of the iconic Kayangan Lake Viewpoint, we recommend visiting either early morning or after lunch to avoid visitors on standard tours which puts a lot of people at the site in the late morning. It’s here you’ll find one of the most photographed views in the Philippines, looking onto the limestone peaks and green-blue water of Coron Bay.
- EL NIDO
When you think of the stunning beaches of the Philippines, it’s more than likely you’re picturing El Nido. Located in the north of Palawan, El Nido is one of the most popular travel destinations in the world right now.
For an unforgettable holiday experience, island-hopping is a must – with mind-blowing scenery and coconut tree-lined beaches such as Seven Commando, Duli and Nacpan Beach to be enjoyed. The beaches come alive in early evenings when locals and tourists gather to watch the sunset. Some of the more secluded beaches may be difficult to get to but visiting them are an experience you don’t want to miss.
Plenty of tour operators have tours that take you to many of the beaches – or if you fancy a more sophisticated experience – it’s possible to hire a private boat to take you around the coast at your own pace.
Flying with THAI
For your convenience, THAI operates two daily flights from Bangkok to Manila. Our first flight of the day connects to the lunchtime flight from London with a layover of less than 2 hours. The second flight from Bangkok to Manila leaves at lunchtime, making it perfect for passengers who want to break their journey in Bangkok to spend a few days exploring and then continue on to Manila.
The return journey flight departs Manila at 7.10pm, letting you enjoy the full day before heading to the airport.
Passengers can also connect to the London flight from different points in the UK and Crown dependencies – Aberdeen, Edinburgh, Newquay and Guernsey with our partner airline.
Ready for your adventure to the Philippines? Book your flight now to Manila with THAI.