The Philippines is a very popular destination for those seeking beach escapes and surfing adventures. By default, summertime is the best time to visit the Philippines. But did you know that there are other reasons to visit the islands aside from the white sand beaches?
The country is a melting pot of cultures influenced by hundreds of years under colonial rule. Visiting the country during festival seasons is one way to make your time in the Philippines more interesting.
Filipinos love to celebrate anything and everything and the most festive of these celebrations is Christmas. Christmas in the Philippines is considered the longest in the world — it begins in September and extends well into January of the following year!
So what are the best times to visit the Philippines? Both summer and Christmas are excellent times to enjoy the islands. If you prefer to participate in one of the many popular festivals, you may want to plan your trip for January (Sinulog), May (Pahiyas), June (Lechon), August (Kadayawan) or October (Masskara).
The Philippines is one of the best summertime destinations in Southeast Asia. With miles-long white sand beaches, exceptional food, and simply wonderful locals, who would not be enticed? Add the draw of exciting surfing spots and you have the formula for the perfect summer adventure. It’s almost always sunny in the Philippines but the best time to visit for summertime fun is between December and May.
So where to go during the glorious summer months in the Philippines? The list is endless but we’ve come up with a few of the best spots for sand, sea, and surf.
The northernmost province in the Philippines is closer to Taiwan than to Manila. Idyllic Batanes may be terrifying to visit during the rainy season due to monsoon rains and thunderstorms but it’s a joy to behold during the summer months. The province’s rolling hills have earned it the moniker “Marlboro Country of the Philippines. The locals called Ivatan are as interesting as their province; immerse in the local culture and have fascinating stories to bring back home.
The swells of La Union, particularly San Juan, draw in surfers of all levels. Just a 4-hour scenic drive from Manila, this surf spot has become a very popular weekend destination for city dwellers. It may be best to come on weekdays to avoid the crowds and experience more of the local vibe. You won’t have to compete for surfing lessons or spots, too!
The newly rehabilitated Boracay Island is one you must see. The wide beachfront of the 90s is back with modern fixtures and amenities. Boracay Island ranked 2nd in Conde Nast Traveler’s 25 Best Island Beaches in the World in 2020, describing the island as a “screensaver brought to life”. Come for the vibrant nightlife and the amazing food, or come for the spectacular sunsets and the exciting beach activities. Come to experience everything Boracay has to offer and you might find yourself wanting to stay just a few days more.
This fairly young city in Davao Oriental in Mindanao is an up-and-coming destination for beachgoers and surfers. The waves of Dahican are perfect for both skimboarding and surfing, depending on the time of day. The nearby towns of Cateel, Lupon, and Governor Generoso also provide off-the-beaten-path destinations if you’d like to get away from the crowds. Food is amazing here, too! The abundance of blessings from the sea will allow you to binge on crabs, shrimps, and all forms of seafood.
Known among the world’s surfing circuit as one of the best spots for competitive surfing, this idyllic island off the coast of Surigao del Norte is a sun worshippers nirvana. The swells and barrels of Cloud 9 in General Luna are a favorite among locals and tourists. The pocket beaches all over the island are perfect for frolicking in the waters and sun-bathing. The island’s laid-back vibe is so charming that it has lured visitors into calling it home. You might just be enticed, too!
On any given day, there is a fiesta going on somewhere in the Philippines. Filipinos always find a reason to come together and celebrate with food, music, dancing and of course, karaoke! If you’d like to immerse yourself in the local culture, the best time to visit the Philippines is during one of its major festivals.
Here are some of the grandest festivals you can experience in the Philippines
Sinulog in January
Most festivals in the Philippines are religious. One of the most venerated icons of Catholicism in the Philippines is the Hold Child Jesus, locally known as Sto. Niño. Among all the provinces that call Sto. Niño as their patron, Cebu holds the grandest celebration. Sinulog is celebrated every third Sunday of January but the festivities last for the entire month. Aside from the high-energy street dancing on the day of the festival, street parties, food fests, and various fun activities are held all over the province, particularly in Cebu City.
Pahiyas Festival in May
Known as the Philippines’ Most Colorful Festival, Pahiyas is a sight to behold! Lucban in Quezon Province holds Pahiyas every 15th of May. Once a pagan thanksgiving to Mt. Banahaw, Pahiyas has turned into a religious one with townfolk offering their harvest to San Isidro Labrador, the patron saint of farmers and peasants. During the festival, locals deck their homes with colorful decor made of fresh produce and vibrant kiping, a wafer made from rice. Revelers are invited to part-take during the “Kalas” procession where the decorations are torn away in merriment. You can eat the kiping, too!
Lechon Festival in June
Who does not like lechon, right? Batangas is not just known for their strong coffee but for their exceptional cuisine as well. The Lechon Festival may seem one that’s dedicated to food but it’s actually a religious one dedicated to St. John the Baptist. The town of Balayan holds the festival every June 24th with the lechon parade, games, cultural shows and the merry “basaan”, the dousing of water among revelers reminiscent of baptism once consecrated by St. John.
Kadayawan Festival in August
Davao City’s Kadayawan is one of the biggest festivals in the country. This one’s not a religious festival but a celebration of the Davao’s 11 tribes, their rich culture and the city’s bounty. Davaoeños celebrate Kadayawan every third week of August. Highlights of the festival include the Indak-Indak street dancing, Pamulak floral float parade, tribal beauty pageants, rituals, and cultural shows. Kadayawan also coincides with Davao’s fruit season so you can binge on durian, marang, mangosteen, and pomelo to your heart’s content. If you’re ever in Davao, let me know. Durian is on me!
Masskara Festival in October
Thanks to the annual Masskara Festival featuring colorful smiling masks, the City of Bacolod is known as the City of Smiles. You can call the festival the Philippines’ take on Brazil’s Carnaval, with merrymakers in ultra-colorful costumes, strutting their stuff on the streets. Bacolod celebrates Masskara in October, with events held throughout the month which culminates in the parade and Masskaraland. While in Bacolod, don’t forget to sample the famous chicken inasal.
Christmas in the Philippines
IMHO, Christmastime is the best time to visit the Philippines! It’s truly the best time of the year for most Filipinos, rich or poor. Filipinos begin preparations for Christmas as early as September, making Christmas in the Philippines the longest in the world.
Every 1st of September, radio stations start playing what is now considered the Philippine National Christmas anthem Christmas in Our Hearts by Jose Mari Chan. In fact, a countdown of memes featuring the artist begin showing up on social media by mid-August, reminding everyone that the yuletide season is near.
Christmas in the Philippines is a glorious celebration of the birth of Christ and the Filipinos’ merry and resilient spirit. More than the religious aspect of the celebrations, Filipinos are more attached to the idea of giving and sharing during the season. Christmas means a little more money to speak for most Filipinos whose bonuses come at this time of year. For children, it is when they receive presents of toys, new clothes, books and even money for their piggy bank savings.
As December approaches, streets all over the Philippines are decked in twinkling lights, Christmas trees and the ever-present parol — the lantern that is the ultimate symbol of Christmas in the Philippines.
The best times to visit the Philippines ultimately depend on what you want to experience when visiting the country. My recommendation is to plan your visit to hit all three sweet spots. For me December to January is perfect — you get to experience Christmas and stay until the new year to join Sinulog. It’s also sunny but not too warm during these months so you can still catch some sea breezes and work on your golden glow. Talk about perfect timing!
See you around!