This archipelago, situated in the western Pacific Ocean, has changed hands many times over its long history. Once claimed for Spain in the name of King Philip, from which the islands take their name, the Philippines became a key strategic focus during World War II. Due to American influence, many Filipinos speak English, though expect to hear quite a bit of Spanish and Tagalog. The warm weather and verdant forests make the Philippines an excellent choice for those who enjoy outdoor adventures and a vibrant nightlife.
Part of the Ring of Fire, the Philippines has over twenty active volcanoes on the island. Some volcanoes are far too remote, but Taal volcano, in the middle of Taal lake, is quite accessible. Several trails lead to the top, which you can either walk or hire a horse and guide to complete. The area is still quite dangerous, with steam vents and geysers able to cause injury, so make sure to stick to the posted trail.
This tiny island is brimming with beauty. With its white-sand beaches and crystal blue waters, you'll wonder if you aren't in the Caribbean. Relax on the beach with a drink, charter a sailboat to explore the ocean, or go for a snorkeling dive. After the sun goes down, enjoy live music complete with a fire show.
The Puerto Princesa is a subterranean cave complex home to thousands of bats and various cave wildlife, all nourished by the underground river. Holes in the ceiling let in natural light, which reflects beautifully off the water and cave walls. Daily paddle boat tours allow you to fully experience what has been called one of the Seven Wonders of the Natural World.
Built by the Spanish as part of their defense system, this beautiful old fort in Manila has a distinguishing but rather morbid feature. The bronze footsteps on the ground are meant to trace the final steps of national hero Jose Rizal as he walked towards his execution. Visitors are invited to walk and retrace his steps to contemplate his final moments.
After you walk Jose Rizal's final steps at Fort Santiago, come visit the park named in his honor. The park features a Japanese garden, butterfly pavilion, children's playground, a beautiful central lagoon, and a monument to Jose Rizal. At sunset, the central fountain features a brilliant array of colors, and musicians perform there every Sunday morning.
This tiny island resort allows you to book a bungalow right on the shoreline, in the middle of the community. The locals are quite friendly and happy to show you around. Due to its remoteness, don't expect to have WiFi, reception, or even electricity while on the island. It's the perfect place to completely unplug and relax.
One of the islands' best-kept secret, the reef was only discovered in the 1970s and has quickly become a destination on every scuba diver's bucket list. A beautiful profusion of wild coral, sea turtles, and brilliantly colored fish live here. You will need to charter a boat with a captain who knows the location during the diving season, which lasts from March through June.
At the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene in Manila, you can see a black wooden figure of Jesus carrying his cross. Believers ascribe a number of miracles and healing powers to this venerated figure, and the statue is visited by hundreds of pilgrims a year. Respectful visitors are welcome to touch their handkerchiefs to the effigy. Every January, the figurine is paraded through the streets as part of the Feast of the Black Nazarene.
Getting to these lakes is a bit challenging. Though the hike takes only about ten minutes long it is extremely steep. Once there, however, leave your belongings on a small wooden platform and dive into the crystal clear waters of Lake Kayangan. Or climb over a few jagged rocks to swim the perpetually warm waters of Lake Barracuda.
During World War II, this small island in Manila Bay was a prime strategic resource and was thus bombed into near-ruins by forces attempting to re-take the islands. The locals have decided to leave the ruins as they are, as a testament to the pitched fighting that ultimately liberated the nation. Guided tours are available daily, or explore at your own leisure.
This three-tiered waterfall is one of the most famous in the world. The falls are nearly a thousand feet high, and reaching them is no mean feat. The most common way is to hire a canoe guide, who will steer you to the falls and then through 14 thrilling rapids on the way back. If boats aren't your thing, several hiking trails also lead to the falls.
At nearly ten thousand feet high, Mount Apo is the highest mountain in the Philippines. The climb takes between one to three days and can get quite cold at night. This is not for newcomers to the sport! To make the climb, you will need to acquire a permit, a guide, several fees, and wading your way through a bit of red tape.
Book a bambike tour through Intramuros, the oldest part of Manila. Your guide will take you through this historic district, explaining the cultural significance of several monuments you cycle to. Cap it all off with lunch and live music. If you're more of a night owl, the tour company also has a night tour. And if you prefer to go at your own pace, the bikes themselves are also available for rent.
In Hinatuan, saltwater springs forth from an unknown source and flows out to sea. Despite the best efforts of geologists and oceanographers, even to this day, no one knows quite where all the water comes from. The waters are thus ascribed miraculous powers, and many come to swim in the crystal clear waters every year.
The people of Sagada have been observing a unique burial tradition for centuries. Elderly people prepare their own wooden coffins when they sense the end is near. When the time comes, their coffins are hung on the sides of cliffs, with the hope that such a burial helps the soul reach the afterlife safely. The coffins are allowed to deteriorate naturally - so if you visit, do not stand directly underneath them.
What better way to remember your trip than with a permanent memory on your skin. This process is quite painful, as it involves traditional tools such as thorns, soot, and bamboo hammers. There are also only two people who still practice Kalinga: Whang-Od Onggay and her grandson. You'll have to hike the Cordilleras mountains to reach her, but many find the trip, and pain, worth what they walk away with.