Over the past three decades, economic and political misfortunes coupled with natural calamities have kept the Philippines from taking a well-deserved place among the world’s most popular destinations. Pity, when these 7000 green islands contain some of the planet's best scenery.
The good news is “The Pearl of the Orient” (with growing economic strength and relative stability in this crazy world) is now emerging as a favorite spot for travelers seeking an unspoiled tropical paradise. In fact, the negatives that held the Philippines back have actually helped the islands retain a multitude of scenic areas without the over-development that has spoiled many lovely sites.
The country is also recovering well from the devastation caused by typhoon Haiyan last year. Such events are rare and mostly limited to the August-October monsoon season. (Anyone who wants to help those affected by the storm can contact The Red Cross at www.redcross.org or The Catholic Relief Services at www.crs.org.) Most of the country had relatively little damage and the majority of tourist destinations were not affected.
There are an abudance of spectacular attractions worth a trip to the Philippines. Wanna see World Heritage Sites? Set your compass for the Banaue Rice Terraces, the Underground River of Palawan, or Tubbataha Reef Marine Park - all cited by UNESCO as natural wonders. That doesn’t include such fascinating places as the Chocolate Hills of Bohol, the Apo Reef (second largest contiguous coral in the world), and the Taal Volcano (a volcano in a lake within another volcano).
Cultural and historic sites truly abound. There are impressive Spanish churches like San Agustin in Manila’s Intramuros district. There is also Corregidor, the island fortress in Manila Bay where American and Filipino forces defied the might of the Japanese army to hold this post under heavy bombardment.
The Philippines has likewise become a magnet for outdoor enthusiasts with perfect locations for diving, parasailing and river rafting. Sun worshipers can find flawless white-sand beaches in the resort areas of Puerto Galera, Bohol and Boracay. Plus, rock climbing is taking hold in mountainous regions like Baguio.
For enthusiasts of the sport of shopping, the Philippines is a must. Mall-crazy Manila has huge commercial emporiums like Megamall, Glorietta Mall, and The Mall of Asia drawing multitudes of visitors from Korea, Taiwan and Japan. A bonus for Americans, Brits, Kiwis, and Aussies is that most Filipinos speak English and favorable exchange rates make such commerce advantageous.
Manila has become a progressive and prosperous city with elegant high-rises to sate the appetite of condo-hunters. Many ex-pat retirees find their nest eggs go further in the Philippines than their home countries. The city boasts some of the best hotels in the world at affordable prices, with service that may be unmatched anywhere else. Good restaurants are easy to find, both global chains and traditional Filipino cuisine, which is a delectable blend of Chinese, Spanish and Malay.
Nevertheless, the most wonderful thing about the Philippines remains the kindness of its people. The “Good morning sir” and “Good evening m’am” one hears so often are sincere and heartfelt, delivered with distinctive warmth that is long-remembered.
Mike Quane is a
travel writer with twenty-five years experience. His work has appeared
in The New York Daily News, Newsday, Grit, Endless Vacation, Parents
Magazine, The Portland Press Herald, Telegraph Publications, Hong Kong
Traveling Magazine, the inflight magazines of Singapore and Korean
airlines plus many other places. He wrote a weekly column at This Week
Publications for fifteen years and a monthly column at LongIsland.com
for over a decade.