10 cool things to do in the Philippines

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  • 10 cool things to do in the Philippines

    1. Go island-hopping

    Round up the crew, pile into a bangka boat, hand a wodge of notes to the driver and see where they take you. You might go snorkelling with lionfish. You might stop at a marine conservation centre, to watch a hundred-kilo grouper fish or a clutch of baby turtles. You will probably drink water straight from a coconut, and you will definitely eat seafood caught within the last hour. The best places for island hopping include the palm-studded Honda Bay, the limestone karsts of Coron and the remote Islas de Gigantes, off the coast of Panay.

  • 10 cool things to do in the Philippines

    2. Head underwater

    The waters around the Philippines form part of the Coral Triangle, where more coral reef species are found than anywhere else on the planet. The country is swimming in magnificent dive sites, but Tubbataha Reef (pictured) may be its most dazzling. A UNESCO World Heritage Site, it’s home to an array of sharks, turtles and manta rays. Further east, rare thresher sharks gather around the beachy idyll of Malapascua Island. If it’s wrecks you’re after, the lively town of Coron is the jumping-off point for a well-preserved Japanese fleet sunk in World War II. Many of the ships have holds large enough to enter without danger, but always bring an experienced guide.

  • 10 cool things to do in the Philippines

    3. Witness natural and man-made wonders

    The dramatic stepped rice terraces of Banaue are splashed across promotional posters everywhere, and for good reason. If you’d prefer to avoid the Instagram crowd, head for the terraces of Bucari, just outside Iloilo. On Bohol, the Chocolate Hills form an alien landscape – the smooth grassy limestone mounds that rise from the canopy turn dry and brown in the summer, hence the name. In Palawan, jagged karst formations in the north rival Vietnam’s Halong Bay, and further south the Puerto-Princesa Underground River carves its way through five miles of the limestone rock to emerge directly into the sea.

  • 10 cool things to do in the Philippines

    4. Climb a volcano

    Forming part of the Pacific Ring of Fire, the Philippines has hundreds of volcanoes, of which around 20 are active. Mount Pinatubo, site of the second largest eruption of the 20th century, is now a clear blue crater pool circled by jagged peaks. The perfect cone of Mount Mayon cuts an iconic silhouette, but is often closed to hikers because of activity. Safer to attempt the less active peaks of Camiguin Island, which has more volcanoes per square kilometre than any place on earth.

  • 10 cool things to do in the Philippines

    5. Party at a fiesta

    Born of Catholicism with an indigenous twist, the Philippines’ appetite for fiestas is voracious – there’s one for pretty much every day of the year. Small community fiestas can be a special experience for the visitor, particularly in remote communities, where you’re guaranteed to be guest of honour. Prefer a bit more spectacle? The region’s biggest players are the Sinulog festival in Cebu, Ati-Atihan in Kalibo and Dinagyang in Iloilo. These combine street parties with indigenous music, costumed dancing and extravagant props, with themes ranging from religious imagery to tribal culture, bats and gigantic mangoes.

  • 10 cool things to do in the Philippines

    6. Grab a beer

    San Miguel established its original brewery here in 1890 and the beer became the de facto national drink; a handful of pesos will buy you a bucket of them, chilled over ice. It’s become a cliché, but the Philippines really does have some of the world’s friendliest people. Join a round of karaoke – it’s everywhere, and you’re guaranteed a great reception. Share one with your newfound friends, and don’t worry about the time – it has little to no meaning here.

  • 10 cool things to do in the Philippines

    7. Admire Spanish colonial architecture

    After months on the temples-and-monks circuit, most backpackers are confounded by the Philippines, one of only two Christian countries in Southeast Asia. Three hundred years of Spanish rule have left their mark in the form of grand churches and colonial houses and the walled city of Intramuros is a classic example – a complex of baroque architecture and manicured plazas jammed into Manila’s urban sprawl. Within the city is the ancient Church of San Agustin, with its sculptural vaulted ceilings, and Fort Santiago, where polymath activist and national hero José Rizal was held before his execution in 1896.

  • 10 cool things to do in the Philippines

    8. Eat everything

    Sour, sweet, tangy, bold – Filipino food has arrived in the Western mainstream, but where better to taste it than at its source? Adobo is the national dish: meat (usually chicken or pork) in a puckeringly sour vinegar and soy sauce marinade. Or how about kare-kare, oxtail stewed in an aromatic peanut sauce till it falls from the bone? Lechon is at the centre of every party table: a roasted suckling pig stuffed with herbs, skin so crunchy you can hear it crackle. Meryenda (snacks) include halo-halo, a crushed-ice sundae topped with jellies, ice cream, coconut and sweetened beans.

  • 10 cool things to do in the Philippines

    9. Hit the shops

    If you really want to do as Filipinos do, catch a jeepney or tricycle (the Philippines’ take on a tuk-tuk) and head for the mall. Imported by the Americans during their brief occupation, mall culture has taken root in the Philippine psyche, though you’ll see more people here for the air-con and food courts than holding shopping bags. The SM Supermall chain is ubiquitous throughout the country and in fact has some great dining options – Mang Inasal is famed for its zesty barbecue chicken, while Kuya J serves up a modern take on Philippine classics.

  • 10 cool things to do in the Philippines

    10. Laze on the sand – or ride the surf

    The Philippines has more than 7,000 islands, so you can take your pick of beaches. Boracay’s White Beach (pictured) and Panglao’s Alona Beach are well-known party destinations but tend to be crowded. Guimaras Island has easy accessibility with fewer tourists – or, if you really want to get away from it all, take a bamboo-rigged bangka boat to any one of a thousand nameless sandbars. Watersports are also a major attraction; paddleboarding, kayaking and surfing are some of the most popular. Siargao Island is legendary in surfing circles – reefs funnel in huge swells from the Pacific, creating massive breaks.

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