Things to do in the Philippines

In many ways, trying to define the Philippines is an impossible task. Comprising more than 7,000 islands scattered across the South China Sea, a snapshot of this boisterous country might include its famed rice terraces, often described as the Eighth Wonder of the World; the thrust of life in the capital, Manila; sparkling, secluded lagoons; or misty mountains just waiting to be explored. Whatever you’re into, it’s fair to say the Philippines has it in spades, and while rickety beach shacks provide spectacular getaways for the Robinson Crusoes among us, there are also plenty of options for those who prefer a little more luxury, as we will see.

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The best hotels in the Philippines

Manila’s Raffles Makati lies at the heart of the capital, a short walk from its main malls and Ayala Museum and Triangle Gardens. Although the sheer glass sides of its exterior might first strike you like a little corporate, the interiors feel much more homely, with spacious suites that simply ooze class. A world away, Takatuka Beach and Dive Resort in Sipalay’s Sugar Beach offer ocean views and quirky themed rooms just a few steps from the soft sands and warm seas. Sandy Feet Siargao goes even further, providing its guests with a private area of beach, as well as classically-styled beachfront accommodation comprising natural woods and thatched roofs. Villas also boast exterior showers and fully-equipped kitchenettes. SomeWhere Else Boutique Resort rocks a similar look in Mambajao, with modern villas set among delightful tropical gardens on the coast close to the White Island Ferry Terminal.

SomeWhere Else Boutique Resort

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For a fresh and playful take on Filipino cuisine, you’ll want to grab a table at The Toyo Eatery back in the capital

The Toyo Eatery

Where to eat in the Philippines

Three hundred years as a Spanish colony mean the Philippines (named after King Phillip II of Spain) is no stranger to tapas, with Manila’s Las Flores vaunting a menu of traditional Catalan and Basque flavours that extends to paella and juicy steaks. In Boracay, head instead to Dos Mestizos, which, in addition to tapas, offers suckling pig and an apparently endless supply of sangria. If you’re diving off the Cebu Islands, it’s well worth thinking about a stop at Ocean Vida on Malapascua, whose expansive international menu roams from French onion soup to fresh calamari, all washed down with great cocktails and extraordinary tropical sunsets. Meanwhile, on El Nido on the Palawan Islands is Altrove, an Italian restaurant with a full gambit of pastas and pizzas so popular you’ll need to get there early to avoid a wait. However, for a fresh and playful take on Filipino cuisine, you’ll want to grab a table at The Toyo Eatery back in the capital, which grows its vegetables in its own gardens, and has a chef that trained under Heston Blumenthal.

The Toyo Eatery

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What to see in the Philippines

Made famous by Leonardo DiCaprio’s The Beach, Boracay has become the byword for idyllic tropical stays, and with good reason. White Beach stretches for four of the island’s seven-kilometre length, with plenty of restaurants, bars, and events to ensure your stay is less Cast Away and more La Dolce Vita. Mactan Island, close to Cebu, has formed over millennia from coral, and as a result, offers impressive diving opportunities and a great range of water sports too. However, Tubbataha Reefs National Park, situated in the middle of the Sulu Sea, takes the crown for underwater adventures, with sharks, rays, and turtles all regular visitors to the crystal-clear waters. Back on land, Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park combines beautiful rock formations (and more than the odd bat) with paddling along an underground waterway to incredible cathedral-like natural chambers. Shaped by volcanic activity rather than trickling water, Luzon Island’s Taal Volcano has erupted more than 30 times, creating a sublime crater lake. Luzon also boasts Mount Mayon, a volcano with an almost perfect cone shape. However, the Philippines’ highest point is Mount Apo volcano, at 2,954 metres, whose lofty peak can be reached in around three days of trekking.

Photo: Bambi Corro

The gentle cones of the Chocolate Hills in Bohol Province – so named because they turn a chocolate brown in the dry season – may not match the dramatic heights of Mounts Mayon or Apo, but that doesn’t stop the 1,260 low hills spread across 52 square kilometres from being an impressive sight to behold. The same can certainly be said for the Banaue Rice Terraces north of Manila. Two thousand years old, the steep mountain terraces were created by the island’s indigenous peoples predominantly by hand, and continue to be used for the cultivation of rice. For a city adventure, check out Burnham Park in Baguio. Here there’s an orchidarium, but also the chance to peddle or paddle your way around its 32 hectares by renting a bike or boat. Manila’s Rizal Park is even larger at 60 hectares. It buzzes throughout the day, with locals practising tai chi in the morning hours, and hosting Sunday concerts by night.

Chocolate Hills, Bohol | Photo: Jacky Lo.

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Consecrated in 1607, San Agustin Church is a masterpiece of baroque design, transporting visitors back to the Iberian Peninsula

What to do in the Philippines

The capital’s San Agustin Church in the walled Intramuros area of Manila is the oldest in the country. Consecrated in 1607, it is a masterpiece of baroque design, transporting visitors back to the Iberian Peninsula. Nearby Fort Santiago is even older, and forms part of a historic park together with Plaza Moriones, while The Shrine Of The Black Nazarene stands above the high altar of the Minor Basilica of the Black Nazarene. As well as being unusual in depicting Christ with black skin, is also renowned for its miraculous powers. On Cebu Island, Roman Catholic churches are swapped for a Taoist Temple, built to resemble the Great Wall of China, and providing fine views across the island. Away from the country’s religious artefacts altogether, Corregidor Island in Manila Bay has been preserved to tell the story of Filipinos and Americans interred there during the Second World War, when Japanese forces occupied the country.

Manila | Photo: JC. Gellidon

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