The Best of the Philippines

Original open uri20160816 3469 1iovxlk?1471306802?ixlib=rails 0.3
The Best of the Philippines
The Philippines' unique heritage, geography, and diversity exert an alluring appeal on visitors. With its orchid farms, private-island resorts, ancient rice terraces, and colorful religious festivals, the country is as unexpected as it is exciting.
By Matt Gibson, AFAR Local Expert
Photo by Aleah Taboclaon
  • 1 / 8
    Original open uri20160816 3469 1iovxlk?1471306802?ixlib=rails 0.3
    Stunning and Bizarre Landscapes
    The Philippines’ spectacular landscapes were forged by volcanic activity, with sometimes surprising results. Head out to Albay for a look at Mayon Volcano, the country's most active stratovolcano; it has a nearly perfectly symmetrical cone that draws comparisons to Mount Fuji. Taal Volcano, on the other hand, is one of the smallest volcanoes that houses a lake as well as sits on one. But the victor for peculiarity would be Bohol's Chocolate Hills, an area measuring 50 square kilometers (about 20 square miles) and covered in symmetrical conical hills, which give the place a surreal and mysterious quality. During the dry season, the grass on these hills turns brown like chocolate, hence the name. In keeping with this odd landscape, Bohol is also home to an odd creature called the tarsier.
    Photo by Aleah Taboclaon
  • 2 / 8
    Original open uri20160816 3469 j3sjw1?1471306807?ixlib=rails 0.3
    Spanish-Colonial Architecture
    The Philippines’ most fascinating architecture is a product of the Spanish-colonial period. Intramuros—also called the Walled City—covers a fortified area of 160 acres in Manila built by the Spanish-colonial government to protect itself from foreign invaders. Sadly, this walled city has fallen into disrepair and is considered on the verge of being irreparably damaged. While the Spanish-colonial town of Vigan has made its way onto the UNESCO World Heritage List due to its better-preserved treasures, Intramuros remains a favorite place to visit, especially since it is accessible without having to leave the capital. Visitors can opt to walk, take a Segway, or, more interestingly, hop on a bamboo bike to tour the complex.
    Photo by age fotostock
  • 3 / 8
    Original open uri20160816 3469 1sgem8y?1471306812?ixlib=rails 0.3
    Spectacular Rice Terraces
    The Philippines’ tropical climate has given Filipinos the opportunity to create rare and beautiful farms, but the unforgiving geography has also forced some to bend nature to their will in incredible ways. Tours of coconut and orchid farms are both available—on Panglao and near Davao, respectively—but the most impressive farms in the country are undoubtedly the rice terraces in the Cordilleras region in northern Luzon, including the UNESCO-inscribed Batad Rice Terraces. Carved by hand from the steep mountainside by the Ifugao people over 2,000 years ago and irrigated by a complex system of narrow canals, these terraces, often referred to by Filipinos as the Eighth Wonder of the World, are a visual splendor and a testament to human ingenuity and determination.
    Photo by Michele Falzone/age fotostock
  • 4 / 8
    Original open uri20160816 3469 13nsuh3?1471306816?ixlib=rails 0.3
    Syncretic Festivals
    The mixing of tribal heritage with devout Catholicism has given rise to unique festivals around the country. On Black Saturday (the day before Easter Sunday) each year, resident traditional healers—often also called witch doctors—gather around cauldrons and cook potions from herbs collected during the prior seven weeks. Although this may seem contrary to the tenets of Catholicism, locals view the ceremony as intertwined with it. A more colorful cultural paradox is seen at the Ati-Atihan festival and Sinulog festival, both held every January. These festivals have evolved into a brilliant procession of elaborately costumed revelers dancing in the streets in honor of Santo Niño (Baby Jesus), who they believe watches over them.
    Photo by Philippe Michel/age fotostock
  • 5 / 8
    Original open uri20160816 3469 9gorq3?1471306820?ixlib=rails 0.3
    Passion for Music
    Music is a cornerstone of Filipino culture. Wherever you are in the country, you need not go farther than the nearest pub to locate a talented local act. In Manila, clubs have been showcasing indie-rock talent since 1990. For a more soothing experience, find out if the Philippine Madrigal Singers—who have won numerous competitions and have sung for royalty, popes, and heads of state—will be performing. When not touring the world, they sometimes do a show at Manila's cultural center. Try to see the award-winning Loboc Children’s Choir, the pride of Bohol and the Philippines. At the end of the day, one does not need to travel far to discover this local passion: It is not uncommon to find Filipinos closer to home as they power up their karaoke machines and croon the night away with a bottle or two of beer.
    Photo by Andrea De Martin/age fotostock
  • 6 / 8
    Original open uri20160816 3469 1fu42js?1471306824?ixlib=rails 0.3
    Exotic Wildlife, Luxurious Living
    The Philippines is full of marvelous and bizarre creatures, but many are in remote destinations with few facilities. However, the Amanpulo resort on the remote island of Pamalican in Palawan has positioned itself to cater to those seeking exotic yet comfortable experiences with luxurious, well-appointed accommodations. Guests at Amanpulo are treated with that perfect combination of world-class service and famously heartwarming Filipino hospitality. One can easily explore the rich underwater marine life near the resort's own private island, which also encompasses nesting sites of giant hawksbill sea turtles. To get a glimpse of the rare Philippine tarsier, the Tarsier Sanctuary in Corella is just an hour away from Panglao—which also houses some of the higher-end accommodations in Bohol.
    Photo by Steve De Neef/age fotostock
  • 7 / 8
    Original open uri20160816 3469 2zqs14?1471306829?ixlib=rails 0.3
    Tribal Heritage
    Some of the traditional customs of the Philippines' many ethnic groups can still be seen today in one form or another. Before the Spanish occupation, the Ibaloi people of northern Luzon practiced a unique form of mummification: They used fire (among other treatments) to remove moisture from a corpse. The Kabayan Mummies can still be viewed in their original resting places in certain caves, as well as in a small museum in Kabayan. Just 60 miles away in Sagada, you can witness the famous hanging coffins of the Kankanaey people. (Some tradition-minded villagers continue to practice this burial ritual.) The Eskaya people of Bohol have a mysterious language and writing system, the roots of which are still debated, although they no longer speak this language in daily life. And the Tagbanuas of Coron still reside in simple native huts and spearfish underwater with harpoons.
    Photo by Christian Kober/age fotostock
  • 8 / 8
    Original open uri20160816 3469 1187y1t?1471306833?ixlib=rails 0.3
    Edible Adventures
    The Philippines is a country of culinary tastes that range from the comforting to the bizarre. When exploring the nation, you'll have many opportunities to try the islands' cuisine; and as you travel from one end to another, each dish will vary according to the surrounding influences. The local brand of rum, Tanduay, is a sweet, reddish liquor that’s cheap and dangerously easy to drink. Native liquors are also popular, two of which are the sweet tubà and the lambanóg wines, both of which are made from coconut. And of course, a trip to the Philippines would not be complete without sampling the famous San Miguel beer, which has made waves in the world market. After a few of these, the daring may want to check out another regional specialty: the balut. This is a fertilized, partially developed duck embryo that is boiled and eaten from the shell with rock salt and vinegar; it is usually purchased from street vendors. Pork sisig has recently made the news after being showcased in Anthony Bourdain's show called Parts Unknown; it's a crispy pork dish served in a hot plate and made from parts of the pig's head (and it pairs perfectly with a bottle of cold beer). A Filipino treat that rarely gets recognized is halo-halo, an icy dessert that comes in many different versions depending on where you taste it. It's legendary for being a mix of 20 or so different ingredients piled over shaved ice. Pork adobo (adopted from the Spanish dish) is pork marinated in vinegar, soy sauce, and garlic; then browned; and then simmered in the sauce. It’s tangy and rich and, some say, the unofficial national dish of the Philippines.
    Photo by Alexandra Grablewski/age fotostock