There is one big problem with visiting the Philippines: You’ll have a hard time persuading your friends that your pictures are in fact not postcards of cutouts from the National Geographic.
From the crystal clear, blue waters to the sandy beaches wrapped around each island, to the peaks of the metropolitan cities, the Philippines are eyeball-achingly beautiful and their wonderfully welcoming people.
The opportunity to take this all in was out on hold in November last year as Typhoon Haiyan raged across the Laiyan region.
Local communities were devastated. The ground was levelled and over 5,000 people lost their lives.
But the modernised cities and grand shopping centres, in places such as Manila and Cebu, survived much of the damage since they lie just outside the storms path. Nevertheless, many Philippine people have been left homeless and seeking new opportunities and new lives.
Whilst the Philippine community has shown incredible resilience, they can’t do it all on their own. Relief efforts have already brought significant aid to the country. But restoring the economy will require that things return to normal. Tourism will have a big role to play in this.
By travelling and visiting the many landmarks that still stand, you can contribute to reviving the economy. If you wanted to get more hands on, charity challenge company Inspired Challenge combine a trek through the Phillipines with fundraising for local aid and an opportunity to work with local communities to help rebuild their homes.
If you’re not quite convinced yet, here are seven more reasons to go:
Every Day is a Party
The festivals in the Philippines, known as Philippine Fiestas, run throughout the year. There is a carnival-esque festival for every day of the year and each has its own theme.
Nothing is barred from celebration as the Philippines is a place to revel in life and joy above all things. Fiesta themes range from religious festivals in honor of saints, such as Santo Nino (infant Jesus), to Cinemalaya, the Philippines Independant Film Festival, to the flower festival Panabega, meaning “season of blooming” held each year in February in Baguio, the summer capital of the Philippines.
Each fiesta lasts a few days so no matter when you go there will be something going on that ignites the cities frivolity.
Colourful (Pink!) Beaches
Unsurprisingly, the network of islands that creates the Philippines is full of outstanding beaches. Each island has its own unique draws but the beaches are a universal hotspot for every traveller.
Famously, the islands have a number of different coloured sands, including the yellow, cream and white sand beaches many are used to, the Philippines also boast naturally occurring pink beaches – caused by red coral mixing with the sand.
There are even a few inky black sand beaches. Baracay, Albay, is one of the few places in the world where you can see and feel this dark coloured sand, caused by the erosion of volcanic rock.
See Entirely unique wildlife
The Philippines has one of the highest rates of new species discovery in the world. In the last decade, sixteen new species of mammals were found there.
Several species are also endemic to the Philippines with many more considered endangered for this reason.
Take the opportunity to spot some of the amazing creatures in their only natural habitat. You might spot the large eyes of the Philippine Tasrsier – one of the smallest primates on the planet – or any of the three species of deer found only on the Philippine Islands; including the Philippine Calamian and Spotted Deer. You might even be lucky enough to spot the critically endangered Philippine Eagle and Rufous Hornbill birds, as well as some of the 111 species of amphibians and 270 species of reptiles that call the islands their home.
The Philippines is a cornucopia of exotic and rare wildlife, many of which have never been found anywhere else in the world. Who knows, you may discover a whole new species while you’re exploring!
Fall in Love with the Coral Triangle
For scuba divers and lovers of oceanic life, the clear blue waters are teeming with some of the world’s most breathtaking (hopefully not literally) aquatic wildlife in the world.
A huge draw for divers are the coral reefs which form part of the coral triangle – an area with more species of fish and coral than any other marine environment on earth.
For those who laugh in the face of danger, diving spots such as Monad Shoal are one of the only places to see Thresher Sharks. The six metre long predators of schooling fish and occasional seabirds, with their distinct long tails, can be seen in early mornings off Malapascua Island.
Ancient Banaue Rice Terraces
The 2,000 year old Banaue Rice Terraces are one of the best-known Philippine landmarks.
Known to the Philippino people as the “Eighth Wonder of the World”, no trip would be complete without seeing this astounding man made feat with your own eyes.
The terraces are fed by an ancient irrigation system relaying water from the rainforests above and to this day are still used to grow vegetables and, you guessed it, rice.
Tourists to the Rice Terrace may wish to indulge in a visit to the Mumbaki (witch doctors) who perform spiritual healing rituals and who are more than willing to entertain foreign visitors.
Get a Taste of the Chocolate Hills
The Chocolate Hills are a collection of at least 1,260 hills in the Bohol Province. During the dry season, the green grass covering the hills dies off and the mounds turn a chocolatey brown, hence their name.
The hills are featured on the provincial flag and seal, symbolising the abundant natural attractions of the area. They certainly draw enough travellers to warrant such a high standing.
Charity challenges, like Inspired Challenges’ trek, offer you the opportunity to explore the hills and discover crystal springs, while supporting Gawad Kalinga – a local charity helping to rebuild houses after Typhoon Haiyan in 2013.
Trek the world’s smallest Volcano
“It’s so cute!” is probably an unlikely reaction to the world’s smallest volcano. At 406 meters high, the Taal Volcano has shown signs of unrest since 1991, with several interruptions up till 2011. It’s been quiet since though.
The volcano is still an intriguing sight in itself, standing on an island Taal Lake. Summiting the crater is a refreshing and thrilling experience, especially for those who need a break from the nearby, bustling congestion of Manila.