Hid­den Gems: Philip­pines

The Philip­pines’ tourism stature is steadily grow­ing, with places like Palawan and Boro­cay now well known. But with over 7,000 is­lands there’s much more to ex­plore. Laura Gelder picks out some ideas

Selling Travel - - Contents -

Mala­pas­cua, the shark sa­lon

Cebu Is­land is one of the jump­ing off points for the Visayas re­gion, but most tourists head to the is­land off its south-east - Bo­hol, which is fa­mous for its beaches, tar­siers (the small­est pri­mate in the world) and the Cho­co­late Hills. Just off the north tip of Cebu, Mala­pas­cua is less-de­vel­oped, has equally beau­ti­ful beaches and ac­claimed div­ing. It’s one of the world’s best places to see thresher sharks, huge mer­cury-eyes preda­tors which usu­ally live in dark depths but come here to be cleaned of par­a­sites. Re­gal Div­ing of­fers stays here.


Span­ish-styled Vi­gan

The coun­try’s first and only UNESCO World Her­itage City, Vi­gan of­fers a glimpse into the Philip­pines’ in­trigu­ing colo­nial past. The city couldn’t be more of a con­trast to the steel and glass land­scape of Manila, fur­ther south on Lu­zon Is­land. It was es­tab­lished in the 16th cen­tury and UNESCO de­scribes it as “the best-pre­served ex­am­ple of a planned Span­ish colo­nial town in Asia”. Vi­gan’s town­scape cer­tainly has no par­al­lel in South­east Asia. The build­ings range from Span­ish shut­tered houses to the pointed roofs of Chi­nese shops.


Bu­tand­ing bud­dies in Don­sol

Once a sleepy fish­ing vil­lage, Don­sol is now a cen­tre for whale shark watch­ing. This gen­tle gi­ant is a shark not a mam­mal and of­fi­cially the world’s largest fish, with some re­ported to grow up to 18 me­tres long. Known as bu­tand­ing in the Philip­pines, it feeds on mi­cro­scopic plank­ton and is harm­less – hence snorkelling along­side them be­ing the main ac­tiv­ity. Tourists head out in a boat with a spot­ter who signifies when one is near so ev­ery­one can tum­ble into the wa­ter and try to keep up. Dive World­wide has Don­sol on its Big Fish Tour.


Surf city Siar­gao

This teardrop-shaped is­land is the surf­ing cap­i­tal of the Philip­pines thanks to huge swells and undis­turbed winds sweep­ing in from the world’s largest ocean. Most of Siar­gao’s surf spots are for in­ter­me­di­ate to ex­pert, with the bar­rel wave named Cloud Nine the most fa­mous. Non-surfers can re­lax on quiet, pris­tine beaches or ex­plore the la­goons, reefs and caves of this na­ture lovers’ isle. The laid-back surf shack vibe is pep­pered with a few lux­ury re­sorts, in­clud­ing Nay Palad Hide­away, a bou­tique re­treat of­fered by Turquoise Hol­i­days.


Sugar daddy Negros

Once a ma­jor sugar pro­ducer, Negros’ his­toric, al­beit slightly crum­bling, build­ings are a re­minder of this prof­itable era. These days the is­land sells it­self on beau­ti­ful beaches, lakes and moun­tains, in­clud­ing one of the high­est peaks in the re­gion – Can­laon Vol­cano. Visi­tors can cool off at Apo Is­land, one of the coun­try’s most fa­mous dive sites, or es­cape to the forested hill sta­tions. Book with Bam­boo Travel and your clients can stay at At­mos­phere Re­sort, set in an old co­conut plan­ta­tion.


North­ern stars

The Batanes Is­lands are closer to Tai­wan than Manila and markedly dif­fer­ent to the rest of the coun­try. An eco-tourism cen­tre, the green rolling hills of graz­ing cows and horses re­sem­ble New Zealand more than south­east Asia but on Sab­tang Is­land visi­tors can meet the in­dige­nous Ivatan peo­ple and see their tra­di­tional homes of rock and na­tive grass, built stoutly to with­stand pow­er­ful ty­phoons. The is­lands are short­listed for UNESCO recog­ni­tion and Aud­ley Travel of­fers a stay in the hill­top Fun­da­cion Pacita Batanes Na­ture Lodge.


Es­cape to Lake Taal

Just 60km south of sprawl­ing Manila, Ta­gay­tay is a cool, clean and green al­ter­na­tive (although make sure you avoid the week­end when lo­cals all clam­our to es­cape the city too). The re­gion is like a vol­canic Rus­sian doll - in­side the Taal Caldera is Taal Lake, which con­tains Taal Vol­cano, which holds Crater Lake, at the cen­tre of which is Tiny Vul­can Point Is­land. Ac­tiv­i­ties in­clude trekking, boat trips and golf. KE Adventure Travel has a 14-day tour which in­cludes a Taal Vol­cano crater trek.


At­mo­spheric Sa­gada

A for­mer refuge for in­tel­li­gentsia flee­ing dic­ta­tor­ship, this misty moun­tain town is close to Echo Val­ley, where the in­dige­nous pop­u­la­tion have buried their dead in coffins perched high on the lime­stone cliffs for over 2,000 years – whether to keep them safe from wild an­i­mals or closer to heaven no one knows. Ex­plore stops here on its North Philip­pines Ex­plorer trip. ex­plore.co.uk

Mag­i­cal & mys­ti­cal Siqui­jor

The tiny is­land of Siqui­jor lies just be­low Cebu and Bo­hol and is fa­mous for its moun­tain-dwelling mangkuku­lam (heal­ers) who brew tra­di­tional oint­ments for mod­ern ail­ments. Add to that caves, wa­ter­falls, coral-filled waters and 65 miles of white­sand beaches and you can see why G Ad­ven­tures sells it. gad­ven­tures.com 


The 14-day Philip­pines High­land and Is­land Ex­plorer in­cludes four days of trekking and in­cludes Manila, Lake Taal, Sa­gada and Bo­hol From £2,865 with fights.

01768 773 966; kead­ven­ture.com

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