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Top 10 things to do in the Philippines

The Philippines has all the idyllic islands, stunning mountains, white beaches and bustling markets any traveler could wish for. Here's our guide to the top Philippines tourist spots, the hidden gems to get away from it all and, of course, the best things you won't want to miss:

1. Malapascua Island

Malapascua Island makes it in as one of the top Philippine islands. It’s small – it takes about two hours to walk round it – but is considered one of the world’s best places to dive. Lots of people come here to see the long tailed Thresher Shark at Monad Shoal, turtles and rays. The island escapes much of the monsoon season in the Philippines so you could actually visit during typhoon season (around May to December) and avoid the island at its busiest. It’s a short boat ride from Maya, which is about a four hours’ drive from Cebu.
If you’d rather keep your head firmly above the water, grab a snorkel and head out to sea from one of the many island beaches. Evolution offers diving courses for every level, and lots of the island’s resorts, including Thresher Cove Dive Resort and Malapascua Exotic Island Dive and Beach Resort which have their own dive centers. Remember, you should always check credentials before booking.

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Scuba dive from the beach on Malapascua Island

 

2. People watch at Rizal Park

This park has a rather gruesome history as the site of public executions during the Spanish colonial era. It is named after Dr Jose Rizal, a Filipino nationalist who is considered to be one of the country’s greatest heroes. He was executed in the park by the Spanish government after being charged with rebellion.
The park, now known as Luneta, houses the Rizal Monument and is one of the city’s nicest! It gets busy on Sundays and national holidays, but is a great spot for people watching or just escaping the hustle and bustle of the capital city, Manila.

3. Film a music video

Living in the UAE, you’ll know that Filipino bars and cover bands are a staple of the UAE nightlife. To see just how much this nation loves to sing, why not hire a room at one of Manila’s so-called “videoke bars“, where you can take part in your very own music video. You can’t get a much more unique experience on a Philippine holiday than this!

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4. Banaue Rice Terraces

These rice terraces carved into the Ifugao mountains are more than 2,000 years old and are now a popular tourist attraction. You can get a great view of the terraces from Batad, a quaint village relatively undiscovered by the Philippine tourism trail (bonus!). You’ll be rewarded with incredible views of the Banaue Rice Terraces from Batad, and once you’re done you can travel to the Tappiyah Waterfalls and cool off in the crystal clear waters.

The rice terraces are calved into the Ifugao mountains

5. Attend a rodeo festival

The Philippines might seem like an unlikely location for a rodeo festival, but the annual Rodeo Masbateño Festival in Masbate, the eastern region of Bicol, brings out the cowboys in their droves!
There’s cattle drives through the streets, horse parades, bull riding, and competitive lassoing, as well as cattle wrestling and beef cooking competitions. Generations of cattle farmers attend the rodeo to show off their skills. The National Finals are held in April. 
As well as the festival, Masbateño also has some fantastic beaches, mangrove forests, and marine sanctuaries where you can spot giant manta rays.

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6. Go shopping

If you like shopping, you won’t be disappointed in Manila; shopping is a big part of the Philippines’ tourism. The capital has hundreds of malls and markets catering to every taste and budget. For cheap shopping, head to the Divisoria Market which sells clothes, jewelry, toys, handwoven baskets, silks and foods. Divisoria Market has anything you could possibly need or want to buy. There’s a lot of “designer” (wink, wink) goods for sale at this market too so it gives Karama a run for its money! Other popular markets in Manila include Quiapo Market, Baclaran (good for flea markets) and Recto (which has even more “designer” goods to snap up). Makati is the more upmarket area of Manila and has more of the higher-end shopping malls such as the Shangri-La and Rustan. It also has some of the nicest hotels in Manila. Check out The Peninsula Manila near the Glorietta Mall, the Philippine Stock Exchange, and the contemporary art and history Ayala Museum, considered one of the best museums in Manila.

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7. Visit the Chocolate Hills

These unusually shaped hills get their name from the color of the vegetation that grows on some of the 1,500 mounds on Bohol island. It is one of the Philippine island’s most popular tourist attractions. It’s not 100% proven how they were formed; some locals believe they were created by the tears of a heartbroken giant, while most geologists attribute them to limestone, rain and erosion. Either way, they are quite a sight and well worth the journey. You can fly to Bohol from Manila, or catch a boat from Cebu to Tagbilaran, then take a bus or rent a car to travel to the center of the island.

The Chocolate Hills are named because of the color of the vegetation

8. Feel the magic

The Philippine island of Siquijor, in the Central Visayas region, is well known for its magical and mystical roots. It’s still home to ‘healers’ who make concoctions out of insects, plants, tree bark or other shrubs, and are highly respected by some communities. People travel to Siquijor from neighboring islands to visit a shaman hoping to get help with either a physical ailment of a different sort of problem. While we don’t recommend you test their services, it nevertheless makes Siquifor an interesting place to chat to the locals. There’s lots of affordable guest houses on the island’s beautiful clean beaches, so it’s one of the best cheap Philippine islands. Fly to Dumaguete and take a ferry to Siquijor from nearby Dumaguete Port. While you’re there, make sure you visit Cambugahay Falls and go for a swim in one of the waterfall lagoons.

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9. Enjoy the local street food

As long as you’re sensible with the stalls you choose (always go for the busy ones with a high turnover of food), there’s no reason you shouldn’t indulge in one of the many Philippine street food dishes. There are hundreds of dishes to choose from, and depending on who you ask, any number of them could be the best! Lichen Manok – spit-roasted stuffed chicken – is one of the firm favorites and you can find a stall on virtually every street corner. Camote Cue, a deep-fried sweet potato, and banana cue (yes, a deep-fried banana) are two other popular choices. If you prefer seafood, look out for a pushcart selling fried fish or squid balls.

 

10. Find inner peace

There are lots of meditation centers in the Philippines that run courses year round. They range from high-end, five star resorts to small functioning religious centers that hold courses to raise funds to stay open. There are silent retreats, yoga retreats, meditation retreats, or a mix of all three. If you’re staying in Manila, check out the large studios at Surya Fitness and Yoga, or Yoga+ which holds private as well as group classes. The more rural Mandala Spa on Boracay is surrounded by trees and nature so offers a more rural retreat. The five-star Atmosphere Resort and Spa in Dauin also offers yoga retreats.

There are lots of Philippine yoga retreats to choose from

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Published January 2017. Information correct at the time of publication but may be subject to change and/or availability.

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