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There are numerous things to do in the Philippines, and all are very varied experiences. Choose to discover the Philippines’ colonial past in the vibrant capital city of Manila, meet the strange tarsiers in Bohol, and admire the Chocolate Hills, trek rice terraces in Banaue, see hanging coffins in Sagada, go off the beaten track and explore the underground river in Palawan, swim with the gentle and impressive whale sharks in Donsol, or relax on one of the most famous and idyllic beaches in the world – Boracay.
Manila’s historic walled city is known as Intramuros, Latin for ‘within the walls’. Once the heart of the Spanish colonial government and heavily fortified, the area contains a number of historic buildings and landmarks. Fort Santiago was the headquarters of Spanish military troops and prison to thousands of Filipinos, including the country’s national hero, José Rizal. The San Agustin Church was founded in 1571 and is now the oldest stone church in the Philippines. Nearby is Casa Manila, a reconstruction of the San Nicolas House from the 1850s, rebuilt during the 1980s in a Spanish-colonial architectural style. A few blocks away is Plaza de Roma, dominated by the imposing Manila Cathedral.
Whale sharks (rhincondon typus), known locally as butanding, are a protected species in the Philippines, and are best seen in Donsol, on Luzon Island. Boat trips to see them sail for up to three hours at a time and, if a sighting is made, you will don a mask and snorkel, and enter the water to swim with these magnificent animals. The whale sharks may be in the vicinity for two to 20 minutes at a time and, as is always the case with authentic wildlife viewing experiences, sightings can never be 100% guaranteed. Whale sharks can be seen between November and June, with the best time to see them between January and March.
Designated a Unesco world heritage site in 1955, the Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras are made up of five separate sites, the most famous in Batad and Bangaan, that make up the area known as Banaue. These terraces, or payo, are cut into the contours of the hills and mountains around the province, a 2,000-year-old man-made feat of engineering. Sagada is known for its many hanging coffins, which are placed high on cliffs in the mountains of the Echo valley.
Puerto Princesa on the island of Palawan, known as ‘the greenest city in the Philippines’, is the main gateway to the beaches and natural attractions Palawan is famous for, including the Subterranean River National Park, a spectacular limestone karst landscape containing an 8km-long underground river.
The Philippine tarsier, the world’s smallest primate, has become synonymous with the island of Bohol. As forests are cleared for urbanisation, it has become increasingly difficult to see tarsiers in the wild, but they can be seen at the popular Philippine Tarsier Foundation, close to the city of Tagbilaran.
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Before travelling to the Far East, please read more about the entry requirements for each country, as well as any general health advice.
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