Discover ... The Philippines
Have you ever wondered what attractions await you in the Philippines? Here, we introduce you to this exciting destination, which is a new offering from Cox & Kings.
Deliciously diverse, the Philippines is a destination with the power to dazzle even the most well-travelled holidaymaker. This archipelago sits just to the east of Vietnam and north of Indonesia, and spans a total of 7,107 islands, which between the comprise everything from stunning beaches and mountain peaks to bustling cities and colonial architecture.
If you're curious to find out more about this exciting country, our guide will give you a useful impression of what the Philippines is like, its history, and what it has to offer travellers.
The Philippines: past and present
The Philippines is a fascinating country. While Vietnam and Indonesia rank among its closest neighbours, it is markedly different from both of these places – something that can be attributed to its past as a Spanish colony and, more recently, American influences.
Its colonial heritage has left an indelible mark on the nation's culture – and it's easily discerned in much of its architecture too. The fact that the country is predominantly Catholic, its stone churches and its buildings amalgamating Spanish and Filipino styles are all telltale signs of the 350 years of Spanish rule that began in the 16th century.
Once this came to an end, the archipelago then came under American rule until the close of World War II, and this influence can be felt in the various fast food chains and presence of spoken English.
Perhaps one of the things that makes the Philippines such a fascinating place to explore today is the fact that these Spanish and American influences have blended with the Filipino's own culture to create something utterly unique. Discovering the various cultural elements mingled with the equally varied landscapes means there's much to discover in the Philippines – it seems to be a place with an almost endless capacity to surprise.
Being split across more than 7,000 islands, the Philippines is, as you might expect, a land of diverse landscapes. It is divided into three broad geographical areas – Luzon (which home to the capital city, Manila), Visayas and Mindanao.
Beaches are perhaps one of the first things that spring to mind when thinking of the Philippines and, given that the archipelago boasts some 15,500 km of beaches across all its islands, that's perhaps no surprise. Everything from secluded coves to bustling stretches of sand can be enjoyed here – and the waters that lap the shore hold just as much of a promise of relaxation and adventure.
Indeed, the marine life here is wonderful, with dolphins and whale sharks among the fascinating creatures you can discover while snorkelling. This diversity of wildlife is mirrored on land, with the islands being renowned for their exceptional biodiversity, the most famous resident being the wide-eyed Philippine tarsier. Indeed, more than 1,100 land vertebrate species have been recorded here, in addition to 12,000 plant species.
While landscapes can, of course, vary from one island to the next, most comprise a mountainous interior spread with jungle, complemented by a sandy coastline and offshore coral reefs. Perhaps the biggest differences come in the level of habitation, however – some islands are barely populated at all, while others are burgeoning with residents.
When to visit
Generally speaking, the Philippines is best visited between November and May. If you're seeking warm weather but would rather the heat wasn't too intense, the optimum time to visit is between November and February. From March to May, the weather is generally hot and dry, with May typically being the hottest month of the year; this period is also a good time to travel, though you need to be comfortable with temperatures stretching into the 30s (degrees C).
The rainy season falls from June to October, with typhoons possible between July and September. So, this part of the year is best avoided. However, be mindful that some destinations, such as Cebu, boast comfortable climates all year round; it is always worth discussing your desired destinations and weather/potential travel periods with a specialist.
Perhaps not technically an attraction in its own right, island hopping is the only way to explore the Philippines in any detail. Rather than travelling to one island and staying put, you should arrange an itinerary that will take you to multiple islands, planning to spend a few nights on each. This way, you will have the opportunity not only to discover the destination's chief highlights, but also to experience a greater variety of its attractions.
Wildlife spotting is one of the most enjoyable holiday activities in the Philippines, and Cebu, Donsol and Bohol rank among the finest destinations for this particular pastime. Cebu, for instance, offers excellent opportunities for spotting sea life darting through the reef, while Bohol holds the promise of meeting the Philippine tarsier.
The Philippine tarsier is one of the nation's most iconic residents, it being the world's smallest primate. Bohol is by far the best place to see this tiny animal – so much so that the tarsier has become somewhat synonymous with this particular island. At three to six inches high, the little creatures can be tricky to spot in the wild, but you will be able to view them at the Philippine Tarsier Foundation.
Another wildlife highlight is the chance to swim with whale sharks in Donsol. These protected species are remarkable creatures, so the chance to see them up close in this way is truly to be treasured.
Unesco World Heritage sites
The archipelago is home to a number of wonderful Unesco World Heritage sites. Among the best loved is the rice terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras. Located in Banaue, these terraces date back some 2,000 years and represent a tremendous level of early human ingenuity, not to mention being immensely picturesque.
Created by the Ifugao, they were fashioned using only primitive tools, yet their irrigation system is exceptionally well-designed and remains useful to this day.
Another fantastic Unesco World Heritage Site, the Chocolate Hills can be visited on the island of Bohol. These vast hills range in height from 30 to 50 metres, and are famous for being impressively uniform in shape. Their name comes from the brownish hue they acquire towards the end of the dry season, when the land is in need of the rains that follow.
Exploring a little of the archipelago's colonial heritage is something of a must, since it has left such an enduring mark on the country. Perhaps the best place to visit for this is Intramuros, Manila's historic walled city, which once formed the centre of the Spanish government. As such, it is full of colonial buildings.
Highlights include the beautiful Casa Manila, Fort Santiago - which is one of the city's most popular tourist attractions – and the San Agustin Church, which is the oldest stone church in the Philippines today, dating all the way back to 1571.
Cox & Kings runs private and tailor-made tours to the Philippines. For more information, please visit the website, or call a Far East expert on 020 7873 5000.
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