The Philippines: Pearl of the Orient

El Nido on Palawan Island in the Philippines, the Pearl of the Orient.
The Philippines is an archipelago of 7,107 islands located in Southeast Asia. It is situated approximately 750 miles from mainland Asia and is considered an ideal springboard for travels within the region. The Philippines is blessed with a tropical climate, miles of palm-lined white sand beaches, challenging summits, enchanting rivers and countless tour providers to take you there.

The country has three island groups named Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao. Metro Manila, also called the National Capital Region is located in Luzon and is the throbbing heart where all major companies and government offices are located. Also located in Luzon are well-visited places like Baguio, Laguna, Tagaytay, Batanes, Ilocos Norte and Palawan.

At the heart of the archipelago is Visayas, an island group well known for its beaches, dive sites and historic attractions. Cebu, called the Queen City of the South is the seat of Catholicism in the country and was where Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan met his demise. Many festivals like the Sinulog, Ati-atihan and Maskarra are celebrated in islands located in Visayas. The favorite beach destinations Boracay, Panglao and Malapascua are also located here.

Heading down south is Mindanao, an island that is dominantly Muslim. Contrary to common beliefs among foreign visitors, most of Mindanao is tourist friendly. In fact, some of the safest cities in the country are located here. Davao City, one of the largest cities in the world is located in Southern Mindanao and is a bestowed with a good government, abundant resources, modern amenities and hospitable people. Mindanao is also home to Siargao, Saranggani Bay, Bukidnon and General Santos City, famous boxer Manny Pacquiao’s hometown.

The Philippines is a tropical country that experiences only two distinct seasons: sunny and rainy. The summer months (March through May) are the best times to enjoy the sun, sea and sand in many of the beach destinations in the country. It is typically humid and hot all the over the country save for some areas located in elevated regions like Baguio and Bukidnon. This weather is mainly the reason why the Philippines is an extremely popular destination for Westerners escaping from the biting cold. The typhoon season starts in June and extends until February. High tourist season starts in December and peaks at the beginning of summer.

Colorful Maskara Festival in the Philippines.
Weather notwithstanding, the Philippines is an interesting destination year round. On any given month, there is a festival happening somewhere in the country. Philippine festivals are characterized by street dancing, show-stopping entertainment, spectacular costumes and wonderful food. Filipinos never run out of reasons to celebrate, be it a feast for a patron saint, thanksgiving for a good harvest or a simple commemoration of a historic milestone.

Filipino food is one of a kind. With influences from its Spanish, American and Japanese colonizers and other Asian neighbors, Filipino cuisine is something that should not be missed by all means. The delicacies of the Culinary Capital, Pampanga are something to reckon with and so are the different specialties from all over the country. Homegrown ingredients, fresh produce and traditional cooking methods are markers of authentic Filipino cuisine. A visit to the Philippines is never complete without tasting the famous adobo, sizzling sisig, and of course, balut.

Another crown jewel in Philippine tourism is its people’s warmth and hospitality. Anywhere you go, you will find a friendly face and even a welcoming home in some places. It is written in many books that even the poorest of families will open their homes to a friendly stranger, offer him their last piece of bread and sleep on the floor so that he can use the bed. Filipinos are used to visitors and have mastered the art of hospitality. This is evident in the abundance of hotels, resorts and spas that offer the best of indulgences that can rival those anywhere else in the world. In more recent years, medical tourism has also boomed in the country.

Filipinos are considered the best English speakers in Asia; even a street vendor can point you to the right direction using rudimentary English. Language will most certainly not be an issue in most cities in the country though there are some people in remote areas that speak only a dialect that even other Filipinos do not understand. In a rare case like this, there will always be someone schooled enough who can bridge the communication gap.

Shopping in the Philippines is a class of its own. Although there are many shopping malls that carry international brands, the most interesting shopping is in souvenir shops and markets. If you’re looking for designer brands, go to Singapore but if you’d like to bring home fine fabrics, unique art and one-of-a-kind souvenirs, you’ve come to the right place. Fresh produce is also a prominent part of shopping in the Philippines. Different seasons bring different kinds of fruits and vegetables to farmer’s markets. Tropical fruits like mangoes, bananas, avocadoes and pineapples are just some of the things that should make your list.

There are more than a thousand reasons why tourists come to the Philippines in droves and come back year after year. Miles of pristine beaches, breathtaking vistas, unparalleled underwater beauty, exciting festivals, exceptional food and unforgettable hospitality await every visitor that sets food in these shores. Stop by for a week or stay for a year and find out for yourself why it is more fun in the Philippines!

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