German traveler's 20 reasons to fall in love with the Philippines
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story originally appeared on JustOneWayTicket.com. An edited version has been republished below with permission.
I've been to the Philippines 8 times already, and I’ve spent in total more than a year there. Ever since my first visit I could not stop returning, year after year. This place simply blew my mind.
A week ago I went through my +50,000 images from the Philippines. Once again I realized that there are so many amazing places to visit. Many of these photos I've never shared. And sharing is caring, right?
For 2015 I want you all to pack your bags and book a flight! Even the Pope is going to visit the Philippines, so what are you waiting for?
Whenever I meet travelers, I encourage them to go to Philippines, because for some reasons, people are still hesitant and stick to the ordinary "Thailand-Laos-Cambodia-Vietnam Route." Here’s why you shouldn’t miss out on such an amazing country:
1. Postcard-perfect beaches
The beaches are without a doubt one of the most convincing reasons why you should visit the Philippines in 2015. With a coastline of more than 36,000 km you can expect some of the most beautiful and picturesque beaches in the world. (READ: Head to 'Borawan' and these 5 unspoiled PH beaches)
Here are some of my favorite beaches in the Philippines:
- Bounty Beach, Malapascua (picture above)
- Calitang Beach, El Nido
- Daku Island, Siargao
- White Beach, Boracay
- Paliton Beach, Siquijor
- Guyam Island, Siargao
- Sugar Beach, Bantayan
2. Colorful, meaningful festivals
Get a glimpse of Philippines' culture: many feature colorful costumes, painted bodies and crazy beautiful dance performances – you can't leave the Philippines without seeing one of their cultural or indigenous fiestas!
Mark your calendars, here are just some of the popular festivals in the Philippines for 2015:
- Ati-Atihan, Kalibo (January)
- Feast of the black Nazarene, Manila (January)
- Sinulog, Cebu City (January)
- Dinagyang, Iloilo (January)
- Panagbenga, Baguio (February)
- Moriones, Marinduque (March/April)
- World Costume, Vigan (April)
- Sandugo, Bohol (July)
- Kadayawan, Davao (August)
- Masskara, Bacolod (October)
3. The beauty of Palawan will leave you speechless
Condé Nast Traveler ranked Palawan as #1 of the Top Islands in the World. The Huffington Post named Palawan as one of the most beautiful islands in the world. What else can I say? (READ: Silence, back to basics in stunning San Vicente, Palawan)
If you're looking for paradise you can't miss this place: El Nido at the northern end of Palawan was definitely the most picturesque place I have visited in the Philippines – beaches, lagoons and underwater life that will amaze you. If they ever get 24/7 electricity and a decent Internet connection in Palawan, I'm so gonna move there and never come back. (READ: Charmed by Palawan)
I wrote a detailed blog post about El Nido in Palawan - about things to do and places to stay. If you plan to visit Palawan, you might find this post helpful.
4. The Banaue Rice Terraces
It's a long 6-hour scenic bus ride from Manila up to the mountains, but when you reach Banaue, you know it was totally worth the trip!
This is often referred as the 8th wonder of the world. For an unforgettable trekking experience, I suggest you to take a hike through the rice paddies. The scenery is out of this world.
5. The Hanging Coffins in Sagada
If you make it to Banaue (above), don't go back without visiting Sagada. There are many things to do in Sagada, like exploring caves or swimming in waterfalls. I found one thing in particular that caught my attention – hanging coffins, tied and nailed to a cliff. (READ: 8 cool-weather PH destinations)
I asked some locals about this funeral practice and they told me that old people do not like to be buried in the ground. Also, the higher they would tie the coffin on the cliff, the closer they'll come to the sky. (READ: Meeting Sagada's mother figure)
6. Snorkel with the turtles in Apo Island
Apo Island is a tiny volcanic island, located in Negros. The underwater life in Apo Island is extraordinary and one of the world's best marine sanctuaries. The island is surrounded by colorful corals, hundreds species of fish and giant sea tortoises. (READ: Under the PH seas)
I had a wonderful snorkel experience there, swimming with 5-10 turtles. It's truly fascinating to watch them swimming and eating, they're incredibly gorgeous.
7. Colorful sunsets
I have seen the most gorgeous sunsets in the Philippines. The combination of the sea, the mountains and the reflections on the water leads to spectacular sunsets in all colors - from yellow, orange to red, pink and purple.
Expect to see the best sunsets from the islands. No day goes by without seeing another phenomenal sunset.
8. The Chocolate Hills of Bohol
The magnificent Chocolate Hills are the greatest pride of Bohol. A strange group of oddly shaped hills, more than 1000 of them can be found in Bohol. They look extremely surreal. It's hard to believe that the Chocolate Hills are not man-made. However it was formed, this strange earth formation is truly fascinating. (READ: Bangon, Bohol: Vacationing in the post-disaster province)
9. The Philippine tarsier
Look at those cuddly tarsiers. Sweetest thing ever! These tiny creatures are sleeping all day, only getting active at night to find food. Their heads can rotate 180 degrees. The tarsier is small, like a human fist, but it has extremely huge eyes which make it look like Gizmo from Gremlins.
The tarsiers can be found in Bohol, if you visit the Chocolate Hills, don't miss the tarsiers!
More things to do in Bohol in my blog post here.
10. Kayangan Lake in Coron
The crystal-clear turquoise waters of Kayangan Lake are absolutely surreal. The volcanic lake is nestled between two limestone mountains, the panorama views are just out of this world. (READ: 8 PH lakes to add to your travel bucket list)
It’s an amazing place to go swimming or snorkeling, and the water is fresh, clean and warm. I spotted loads of shrimp and needle fish in the water. (READ: Discovering the jewels of Coron)
11. Mayon Volcano in Legazpi
No other volcano in the Philippines is as breathtaking as this one: The majestic Mount Mayon rising to over 2,400 meter is known as one of the most symmetrical volcanoes in the world. You'll be overwhelmed by its beauty, but you have to be cautious because Mount Mayon has erupted about 50 times since the 17th century, killing many people.
12. 7107 Islands across the country to explore
The Philippines is one of the largest archipelagos on this planet, with more than 7100 islands! Flying across the Philippines is very affordable thanks to low-cost carriers, some offering airfare for less than $15. Make sure to get a window seat as the view over the archipelago is spectacular!
Watch this volcano from a distance – you'll get a great view from Albay town, especially in the morning.
13. Also, open your eyes (and heart) to PH realities
That's probably not your typical idea of sightseeing, but I want to urge you to visit one of the biggest slums in Tondo, Manila – with caution, of course. The poorest of the poor are struggling every day to make a living by picking up garbage. It was truly moving to connect with these people and learn about their lifes. These kids can bear more difficulties in life than we can ever imagine...
I spent an entire day with the kids of Smokey Mountain and I would love to share my story with you here.
14. Swim in a waterfall
Tired of salty water and white sandy beaches? Nothing can beat a refreshing day, swimming in the turquoise waters of a majestic waterfall. (Cool off at these 5 PH waterfalls)
The Philippines is home to a number of waterfalls, often found in a lush natural surrounding such as a rain forest. Here are some of the best waterfalls I've visited in the Philippines:
- Cambugahay Falls, Siquijor (photo above)
- Kawasan Falls, Moalboal/Cebu
- Aliwagang Falls, Davao
- Katibawasan Falls, Camiguin
- Tinagu Falls, Iligan
15. Get close to the whale sharks
An encounter with a 10-meter long whale shark is undoubtedly an experience you won't forget for the rest of your life. My heart skipped a beat when I spotted them next to me, these animals are amazing.
There are several places in the Philippines where you can spot them, one is Oslob, the other one is Donsol. I also heard some people swam with whale sharks in Palawan.
On a side note, the Philippines is probably the cheapest place on earth where you can swim with these giant beautiful creatures, so don't miss this extraordinary experience.
16. Go surfing
The Philippines has a couple of excellent surf spots - No matter if you love wind surfing, kite surfing or just riding the waves - you'll surely have a blast! (READ: Get Stoked: 7 lesser-known PH surf spots)
Boracay is a great place to learn kite surfing, wind surfing, wake or skim boarding. If you just want to purely surf, head straight to Siargao which is ranked by CNN as one of the best surf spots in the world. See photos of Siargao here.
If you're looking for something that's more accessible (like by bus from Manila), check out Baler, La Union, or Zambales.
17. Stay beachfront for less than $10/night
Did I mention already that it’s relatively cheaper to travel in the Philippines? There are still so many places where you'll barely meet other tourists and everything is still very affordable.
You see that house in the photo up top? I stayed there for P300 a night. That's less than US$7. The place is on an island called Siquijor. I can't remember the name of the guesthouse, but I'm sure you'll find plenty of places like this on islands off the beaten path.
18. Don't miss Boracay!
When people talk about Boracay, they either love it or hate it. Boracay is Philippines' most visited island and definitely one of those places I left a piece of my heart. I wrote two articles about this amazing place, and still I can't stop talking about it. Three words: Boracay is magical.
If you're thinking of skipping Boracay because someone said the island isn't great, ignore them. I mean how could you miss a place that's several times named as the most beautiful beach in the world? Are you nuts? Don't miss it. Go there and make your own picture!
If you're heading to Boracay, check out my viral posts about this island:
- Boracay on a Budget: A World-Class Island in the Philippines on $23 a day
- Boracay 2014 - Still A Paradise? A Travel Guide To Philippines' Most Visited Island
19. Fresh, fresher, seafood
The sea is nowhere far from any place in the Philippines, you can expect a feast when it comes to seafood.
Fresh fish and seafood is everywhere on the menu, from expensive fancy resorts to the cheap seafood shacks. Try it! The Filipinos know very well how to prepare lobsters, squid and prawns to bring you the maximum seafood experience.
20. The people of the Philippines
I remember this one time, I was walking around in Camiguin Island. when an old woman waved to me from her terrace. She invited me over so I walked to her porch. We spent the whole afternoon chatting and showing pictures to each other. She even called her son and told him to get us fresh coconuts from their garden.
I had to promise her to come back one day with my husband. (Well... first I need to get married.)
Filipinos know how to turn strangers into friends. They're kind, polite, but most of all they're the friendliest people I've come across. Their optimism and cheerfulness are the reasons why I fell completely in love with Philippines. (READ: Why I think the PH is SE Asia's next backpacking paradise)
Are you ready for the best trip of your life? See you in the Philippines in 2015. Be prepared to fall in love.
PS: Is there one thing I don't like about the Philippines? Oh yes. I hate karaoke. Dear Filipinos, please don't ask me to sing!
Sabrina Iovino is the blogger behind JustOneWayTicket.com, an inspiring travel blog focused on her travel experiences (and disasters). Sabrina is half-German, half-Italian and has traveled to more than 50 countries around the globe. She left her home Germany in 2008 and has been traveling and living in Asia for most of the time. The Philippines is – obviously – her favorite country. Follow her adventures on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.