By Arienne Parzei
Made up of over 7,000 islands, the Philippines has so much to offer for travelers. Postcard perfect beaches, back road adventures, delicious food, eco-tourism sites, scuba diving, jungles, caves, mountains, waterfalls, the liveliness and excitement all the big cities can offer, shopping, and the freshest mangoes you’ll ever eat.
Located in the south pacific, somewhat isolated from any other country, the Philippines is a laid back, flip-flop culture where no one seems to be in a rush. Hospitality is unlike anything else, where you’re greeted with “hi ma’ams” and “hi sirs” anywhere you go. The people are warm and friendly, willing to help but also know when to give you some space. And smiles almost seem like a Filipino pre-requisite.
In the cities you’re surrounded by booming American top 40 hits, the over powering smell of diesel fumes, and enough stores and shopping malls to shake a stick at. But getting away from the hustle and bustle is probably the best thing going for the country.
Beaches in the Philippines
Regularly making Top Ten lists, the Philippines has some of the most beautiful beaches in the world. The most popular, but rather commercialized, is The White Beach on Boracay Island. Once you wade through the shops and people selling everything under the sun to you, The White Beach is a slice of paradise. White powdered sand that stretches not only for 3 kms down the beachfront, but for hundreds of meters into the water. There is no seaweed or rocks to get tangled in. And when the skies are clear you can sit back with a San Miguel in hand amazed at the crystal clear water spanning the entire blue/green spectrum of colours.
Parks and attractions
Other highlights the country offers include the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, located on Palawan Island. It’s reputed to be the longest navigable underground river at 8.2km in length but tourists can venture as far as 1.5km with a guided tour. It’s quite the experience drifting through a cave, bats flying overhead, with only a 12V flashlight showing you the way. The island of Bohol is home to the smallest primate in the world, the tarsier, and The Chocolate Hills, naturally formed hills that resemble chocolate mounds in the dry season when everything turns brown.
In the Luzon area, in the north of the country, are the stunning rice terraces and the hanging coffins in Sagada. But if you just want to relax and laze your days away, the beaches is where it’s at, and there’s no shortages of them!
The Philippines is mainly Catholic and you’ll see its influences all around. Beautiful cathedrals are a plenty throughout the cities, tricycles with “In God We Trust” painted on the backs, and a small prayer said before ferries embark on their trips are just some of the daily reminders. An interesting experience happened when we were picking up some groceries. We were walking around the store, choosing some snacks for the next day when we became suddenly aware that no one else was moving. We then noticed that everyone was being led in prayer over the loud speaker. Out of respect we stopped and listened to the prayer and watched as everyone crossed them selves when it was finished.
Holiday in the Philippines
Planning a trip to the Philippines can be a bit daunting. There’s so much to see! What to choose?! The best thing to keep in mind though is to give your self a lot of time travelling between places. Since the country is made up of islands, you’ll either be flying or taking ferries between them. Cebu Pacific is the most popular airline used within the country. They have countless routes, very affordable prices and booking is easy through their website. But since they are a budget airline, don’t expect the same luxuries as the top airlines. Pack a snack and be patient when the inevitable announcement that the plane is delayed comes over the loud speaker. You may just have a one-hour flight, but you can spend almost a whole day traveling to your next destination. And unlike the videos posted on YouTube months ago, there were unfortunately no dancing stewardesses on our flights.
It’s fast becoming a popular stop for travelers with many travel sites predicting that the Philippines will soon overshadow Thailand as the cheap-beach destination. Four to five weeks would be the ideal amount of time to really explore the country, but if you’re tight for time pick only 2 or 3 places that interest you most.
Arienne Parzei is a travel writer, videographer, and photographer from Toronto, Canada. Her insatiable curiosity for learning about different cultures first-hand has led her to some amazing destinations and experiences, including climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, living in South Korea for two years, and backpacking for eight months through China, Southeast Asia, Australia and New Zealand. She shares her travel experiences on her website www.seeyousoon.ca and hopes to inspire you in the process.