Whether it’s colourful festivals, a culinary adventure, or a cultural insight you’re seeking, these five must-experience activities will ensure you experience the Philippines to the fullest.
The Philippines is an archipelagic republic set amid the turquoise waters of the Pacific Ocean, close to the equator. There are around 7,640 islands that make up the country and about, 2,000 of them are uninhabited.
The islands that comprise the Philippines can be divided into three main areas: Luzon (the largest and most northern island, where you’ll find the country’s capital, Manila); Mindanao, the second largest and most southern island; and thirdly, a group of central islands called ‘the Visayas’, which include the main islands of Panay, Negros, Cebu, Bohol, Leyte, and Samar, among others.
Any visit to the Philippines invites adventure, from the country’s fabulous food, culture, and uniquely hospitable welcome, to its enticing scenery, landscape, seas, and tropical climes. But if you really want to get to the heart of these magnificent islands, immerse yourself in one of these unique experiences.
Explore the rural communities that call the Cordilleras home
A mountainous region in the north of the island that’s famed for its exceptional landscapes and rich heritage dating back over 2,000 years, The Cordilleras has plenty to offer the curious traveller.
Here, you’ll find the perfect balance of cultural discovery and outdoor adventure. The Cordilleras boasts the breath-taking UNESCO rice terraces, described as the ‘Eighth Wonder of the World’ as well as acres of ancient forests, waterfalls, and mountains which allow plenty of opportunity for hiking, biking, caving, and swimming.
The rural communities that live here, like the Ifugao, still preserve a traditional way of life. Visitors can look forward to uncovering arts, music, festivals, local produce, and learning about the unique burial sites hidden high up in the mountains. The homestays provide no-frills, authentic accommodation, which is both affordable and a great way to meet local people.
Experience urban life in Baguio City
In Baguio City, you’ll get to experience the atmosphere of a real Filipino city, bursting with life and begging to be explored. It’s a foodie paradise with everything from hole-in-the-wall street food and pop-up markets to high-class restaurants to choose from. Why not sample the Etag, a type of traditional cured pork? The striking purple Ube jam, made from yams? Or one of the many kinds of home-grown strawberry dishes, such as Taho, for which the region is famous?
Other cultural highlights include exhibitions at the Saint Louis University Museum of Arts & Cultures and Museo Kordilyera at the University of the Philippines, Baguio, where you’ll find a variety of archaeological sculptures and artifacts including ancient tools, weapons and costumes. The Tam-awan Village in Baguio is an arts gallery dedicated to traditional crafts. It’s a great place to see local craftspeople at work and enjoy indigenous aesthetics.
The historic Burnham Park is at the centre of this energetic metropolis, and here you can soak up the peaceful tranquillity of its gardens, lagoon, and stunning orchidarium. Hire a bike to cycle the pathways or a boat to chill out on the water.
Party in Bohol during the festival-packed month of May
Anda, Balicasag, and Panglao are the most popular places to stay in Bohol, the latter of which is linked to the island via a causeway. Nearby Cebu offers a quieter more laidback city alternative to Manila. As the Philippines oldest city, Cebu is packed with 16th Century Spanish colonial architecture and museums, which are well worth a look. Bohol also boasts several ancestral homes and churches from the same era.
If you’re looking to get a feel for the island’s culture, May is the time to go. It’s fiesta month on Bohol – and every day is party day, with different feasts being held throughout the province. July sees the arrival of Sandugo Festival where you can expect shows, sports events, street dancing, and the re-enactment of the blood compact between Rajah Sikatuna and Spanish explorer Miguel Lopez de Legaspi.
Try your hand at some traditional pottery in the Ilocos Regions
The Ilocos Regions of the Philippines can be found on the Northwest coast of Luzon and are divided into two distinct areas: Ilocos Norte (north) and Ilocos Sur (south). This part of the island is steeped in history with many of its streets and buildings dating back to the 16th Century, perfectly depicting the country’s colonial past.
Laoag and Vigan are both iconic cities in their own right. The capital of the province of Ilocos Norte, Laoag offers an eclectic mix of both Spanish and Filipino heritage, while the UNESCO World Heritage site of Vigan City has perfectly preserved colonial and Asian architecture. Here you’ll find cobbled streets, rustic mansions, and the cathedral, as well as other cultural highlights including the Juan Luna Shrine in Badoc (now renamed by the Philippine Historical Commission the Museo ni Juan at Antonio Luna) and the Malacañang of the North, a former Marcos residence and presidential museum in Paoay.
As well as enjoying its architecture, traditional crafts are a great way to get hands on with history and learn more about this remarkable province. At Laoag Cathedral, visitors are invited to try their hand at pottery (damili) making, abel loom weaving, basi (sugar cane) wine-making and sukang iloko vinegar-making.
Sample the local delicacies
Besides its buildings, the area’s rich cultural heritage can also be enjoyed through its unique cuisine.
The Ilocos region and Northern Luzon as a whole have strong culinary traditions that have become national favourites including dishes such as pinakbet (a vegetable stew cooked in a clay pot with fish sauce), bagnet, locally known as chicharon (deep-fried chunks of pork to be dipped in spicy or aromatic sukang iloko – sugarcane vinegar) and empanada (crispy rice flour turnover filled with eggs, Vigan longganisa (sausage), and vegetables).
Vigan’s Plaza Burgos is the best place sample some of the region’s wonderful street food, accompanied by fountain-light shows.
Your next adventure in the Philippines
With its exciting blend of cultures, history, adventure, and intrigue, there’s no doubt that the Philippines is the perfect destination to practise existing adventure passions and discover new ones. For more information on travel to the islands and to find out how to plan your trip, see here.