If you asked me to briefly describe Philippines, I would say: I had lots of fun under the sun. This is a country for beach bums, sunset lovers, waterfall chasers and scuba divers.
The Philippines is located in Southeast Asia, situated in the western Pacific Ocean. With over 7000 islands to explore, this country has many things on offer to suit every taste – you only have to decide what interest you the most. The whole country is divided into 3 main regions, from north to south:
1) Luzon with wonderful mountain area, volcanic landscape and well known rice terraces in Banaue.
2) Visayas with beautiful beaches, many tourist attractions, paradise like Boracay Island, extraordinary beauty of Palawan and many scuba diving opportunities around the whole area.
3) Mindanao with opportunity to explore tropical rainforest or to climb the highest mountain of the Philippines.
Philippines is famous for its island hopping at reasonable cost. The islands are accessible by bus, ferry or plane and connections between them are well organized.
The best time of the year to visit Philippines is the dry season from November to May. While March, April and May are the hottest, the busiest and the more expensive months, I would still recommend you to pick one of them – isn’t all about the fun in the sun? Since the wet season doesn’t necessarily mean it’s raining all the time, and ambient temperature is more bearable, it may bring typhoons though, so be aware of that.
Filipinos in general are kind, polite, friendly and cheerful. They sing a lot and everywhere. The whole country is one big karaoke arena but don’t be afraid, you won’t disturb them – they don’t mind your presence. I would personally prefer if my private driver – instead of singing – would have told me something about his country, culture, way of life or if waiters in restaurants would have made sure that I was happy with food and service and I wouldn’t have waited for a bill because staff was more interested in playing with their mobile phones than with actual work – but that’s only two small drawbacks.
Filipino’s food may not be for everyone or may simply not be for me. Fresh fish and seafood is everywhere on the menu as well as tasty ripe fruits. Typical Filipino cuisine is based on soy, peanut or sweet and sour sauce, vinegar, rice, noodles, pork, chicken and beef. Standard ingredients that have potential to be part of a tasty dish, but unfortunately, dishes that I tried were either too salty or way too sweet for my liking. The country is huge so maybe you will have better food experience than I had. It is impossible to please everybody, so be open and try new things to get your own opinion.
Why did we choose Visayas Region?
As scuba divers with urge to explore new places and their culture we chose the region to meet both goals. This region offers many opportunities for scuba diving and island hopping. During our holidays we spent half of available time on or below water surface and the other half we spent sightseeing islands. We flew with Singapore Airlines from Dublin to Cebu Island with a stopover in Singapore. We booked flights online with Expedia and scuba diving trips, transportation and hotels with Sea Explorers diving company. Sea Explorers were very efficient, easy to communicate online and very helpful so I highly recommend them to every scuba diver.
Getting around Visayas is fairly easy with efficient transport links. The big islands are accessible by ferry or plane, the smaller ones by banca boats. If you travel to Cebu Airport, there is a money exchanger at the airport. Just outside the building you can find public buses, taxis, private cars or shuttle buses. Driving a rented car could be a bit of a challenge in the Philippines. Obviously there are some traffic rules but tourists could struggle to master those especially within a short period of time available to them. My impression was that the most important part of a car is a horn honk and you should use it at all time in order to survive on the roads.
Public transport is very cheap but for a peace of mind we booked online a private driver who took us from the airport to Maya Port in the north of Cebu Island. From there our scuba dive shop organized for us a wooden banca boat that took us straight to the beach of the Ocean Vida Beach Hotel in Malapascua. More about Malapascua Island, getting there and scuba diving around the island in my next post. After five days in Malapascua we moved to Panglao Island. The whole journey took about nine hours between banca boat to Cebu, private car to ferry port in Cebu and private car from ferry port in Tagbilaran in Bohol to Alona Beach in Panglao Island where we spent another 8 days. More about Bohol and Panglao Islands, getting there and scuba diving in following post.
In an archipelago of over 7000 islands, it can be hard for the first time visitor to decide where to go. I would recommend you to visit few islands and if you are not a scuba diver you will definitely have more time to do so. Go to North Luzon for some hiking around rice terraces in Cordillera Central Mountain followed by trip to Cebu Island. From Cebu you can arrange one day trips to Bohol Island to see Chocolate Hills and Tarsiers (small animals with enormous eyes), trip to Kawasan Waterfall and trip to Oslob for swimming with whale sharks. After few days in Cebu go to Boracay for a real paradise island experience. It is very beautiful place but also very expensive and packed with people, so if you are not a fan of bustling places skip Boracay and go for a few days to quieter but equally beautiful and still untouched by tourism Palawan. Enjoy fun in the sun.
For more descriptive overview of Philippines check out my GoPro video from Philippines (my previous post).