Not many nationalities greet each other by remarking ‘beautiful day’, (that’s ‘magandang araw’, in Tagalog). In the Philippines they do, which gives quite a big clue as to Filipinos’ positive nature – you don’t catch many Brits marking each day with such happiness.
It really is more fun in the Philippines. Mother Nature has played a big part in this, bestowing the country with an aquatic playground: more than 7,000 beach-graced islands and islets that make the Maldives look lazy. If you’ve got a thing for sparkling aquamarine waters, glittering gold sand and cloudless azure skies – and, quite frankly, who doesn’t? – you’re in the right place.
Unlike more touristy destinations, many of the Philippines’ jaw-drop beaches remain ravishingly unspoiled, so you’ll only have to share them with what’s in the waters: jewel-coloured corals, schools of fish as bright as fireworks, ponderous turtles and some utterly bonkers sea creatures (nudibranchs and frogfish, we’re looking at you).
Filipino culture also champions fun, with food and family at its heart, and a packed-out calendar of fiestas and festivals – many of which have a Roman Catholic bent, reflecting 300 years of Spanish colonial rule. Expect a riot of colour, music, dance, food and celebration: come hungry, come thirsty, and don’t forget your dancing shoes.
We’ve touched upon beach life, but there are plenty of city thrills to be had here, too. Discover cultured capital Manila and its museums and galleries and touch knees with the locals in a Jeepney: former US military tanks left by the troops after their 50-year occupation, now used as buses and tricked out by locals with kitsch, colourful decorations. Get yourself invited to a family feast: if you’re lucky, you might get to try lechón (roast suckling pig), washed down with some Red Horse beers – the perfect fuel for a spot of karaoke.
This is your guide to the best of the Philippines, brought to you in association with the Philippines Department of Tourism and Singapore Airlines. We’ll tell you where to don a snorkel and flippers and go diving; we’ll point you towards the most flawless beaches and islands to get lost on; we’ll introduce you to our favourite furry, feathered and finned locals. We’ve spoken to some expert London-based Filipino chefs to get the low-down on what to eat and drink; we’ve even mapped out your festival calendar for the year ahead. You better get packing: the Philippines is waiting.
‘It’s quite hard to describe to people just exactly what the Philippines is really like. I’ve travelled to a fair smattering of its 7,000 islands and they change all the time. I’ve fed on the manic energy of Manila and dared to ride one its iconic Jeepneys, getting hopelessly lost in the pulsating clamour surrounding Quiapo. I’ve sought out the curious bug-eyed tarsier on Bohol and swam with whales sharks at Donsol. I’ve stood above the world-famous sweep of rice terraces at Banaue to see the paddies glistening like glass and have sought out Magellan’s cross, planted in 1521, in gritty Cebu City. There have been calmer moments, too, such as sipping coconut buko juice while watching the beach sunsets on the languid Siquijor Island. So what can I say to people when they ask me what characterises the Philippines? My answer is simple. The people. Outgoing, eccentric at times, fun, always friendly and prepared to chat to you like you’re an old friend. It’s always my enduring memory that unifies all this wonderful archipelago’s eclectic experiences together.’
Mark Stratton, travel writer and photographer
Your mini Tagalog phrase book:
Magandang umaga: Good morning
Magandang hapon: Good afternoon
Kamusta ka? How are you?
Mabuti: I’m fine
Salamat; Thank you
Dagdag hot sauce, pa po: Extra hot sauce, please
Isang beer, pa po: Another beer, please
Asan ang party? Where’s the party?