With more than 7,000 islands making up the Philippines, the hardest decision will be which ones to visit. Manila is the capital and the main island groups are Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. The country’s people are warm, hospitable and family-minded; its cuisine is a delicious blend of Chinese, Spanish, Mexican, Japanese, Indonesian and Indian.
The islands have several international gateways. Ninoy Aquino is the airport at which many flights to the Philippines (and its capital Manila) land. Mactan in Cebu handles flights from Japan, Singapore, and Australia, Davao - regular flights from Indonesia and Singapore.
Manila, on Luzon, boasts one of the best preserved medieval cities in the world. Intramuros, the walled city, covering almost 160 acres, was built by the Spanish in 1571. Damaged during the Second World War, restoration work was started by Imelda Marcos, of shoe fame. Manila Cathedral is at the centre and Fort Santiago at the northwestern tip. Its colourful Chinatown is north of the Pasig river.
The islands have some of the best diving. Internationally recognised spots include Tubbataha Reef; Malapascua Island (Cebu); Balicasag Island (Bohol); Anilao, Batangas; and Puerto Galera (Mindoro).
The Philippines have a tropical climate, which varies by region. The dry season runs from November to April, and the wet season from May to October. Northern islands such as Baguio and Luzon, as well as the centre, have temperatures between 16 and 32 degrees during the wet season. The temperature range drops a bit in the dry season, ranging between 13 and 23 degrees. Typhoon season lasts from June to December.
When to fly to Philippines
The best time to visit the Philippines and the northern and central islands is during the dry season when the days are clear and bright and rainfall is minimal.
The south (Davao) has no distinct wet or dry seasons. Weather is constant year-round and temperatures are about 23-32 degrees. There is no bad time to visit this part of the Philippines.
Getting around Philippines
Domestic flights are a good way to get around the Philippines. Charter (helicopter and small-to-medium sized airplanes) flights are also available.
Ferry services connect the islands while cruise liners dock at the port of Manila.
The Metrotren stretches south to Carmona and Cavite and north to Meycauayan, Bulacan. In Metro Manila, the Light Railway Transit runs from Caloocan to Baclaran.
Other ways of getting around the country include taxis, buses, trikes and the jeepney. The jeepney is a classic, inspired by the American World War II army jeeps. When the American soldiers left the Philippines, surplus jeeps were sold or given to local people. The stripped-down jeeps were fitted with seats, decorated with ornaments and painted in bright colours.
The calesa is a rather touristy way of getting around. It is a traditional horse-drawn carriage brightly decorated that was introduced during the years that Spain was ruler.
Philippines insider information
- Great spots for surfers include Cloud 9 and Tuason Point on Siargao Island, Majestics in Catanduanes and Cemento in Baler, Aurora. El Nido on Palawan Island is said to be the best diving spot in the Philippines. Also on Palawan is the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, on the Unesco World Heritage list, featuring a limestone karst landscape with an underground river.
- A super spot for diving is Subic Bay, on the west coast of Luzon, which has a fantastic combination of wrecks such as San Quintin, a 19th-century Spanish gunboat; Oryoku Maru, a Japanese luxury liner; and New York, the ex-USS.
- The rice terraces of the Cordilleras in Northern Luzonare more than 2,000 years old and are still in use by the Ifugao people. The terraces are fed by an irrigation system from rainforests above the terraces. A World Heritage Site, they are noted for their altitude (up to 1,500 metres) and very steep slopes (up to 70 degrees). The World Heritage Site is composed of four sites at: Banaue (Batad and Bangaan), Mayoyao (Mayoyao Central), Klangan (Nagacadan) and Hungduan.
- Manila is the capital and within it is Intramuros, a walled city built by the Spanish in the 16th century. It was mostly destroyed during World War II, but restored in the 1980s and now has the best remnants of the Spanish era. Manila also has several museums including the National Museum and the Museum of Arts and Sciences. The American Military Cemetery and Memorial has the largest number of WWII graves; more than 17,000 soldiers lie here. Marikina City Footwear Museum is in the shoemaking district of greater Manila. The museum has about 200 pairs of shoes that used to belong to former First Lady Imelda Marcos.
- Cebu is where Ferdinand Magellan, the explorer, first planted the flag – and a large Christian cross – for Spain in 1521. The cross hangs in a small chapel beside the Basilica Minore del Santo Nino on Magallanes Street.