If you’re looking for pristine beaches, historic cities, rainforests, coral reefs, indigenous cultures and shopping at prices that are a fraction of what you’ll find in other countries, you’re looking for the Philippines. Five hundred years of Spanish rule and nearly 50 as a U.S. colony give it cultural elements that you won’t find anywhere else in Asia. The Philippines feels like a hybrid of Southeast Asia and Central America and in a country comprised of more than 7,000 islands you’re never too far from a beach. In Cebu Magellan planted his cross in 1521. Cebu has wonderful beach resorts and great diving. Just south of Cebu lies the island of Bohol where the beaches and clear waters make for a great late afternoon respite after visiting historic sites associated with Spain and such natural phenomena as the Chocolate Hills and a sanctuary where you can see the Tarsier, the world’s smallest primate.
On Palawan most visitors go out on day tours to the islands of Honda Bay for snorkeling and up to the World’s Longest Underground River at the St. Paul Subterranean River National Park. The islands and reefs of Honda Bay are explored on dayboats. At the islands visitors take guided snorkel tours of the reefs.
The Ilocos Norte region was the original home of Ferdinand Marcos. His burial chamber in Batac approaches that of a pharaoh’s. Visitors to it enter a dark hive-shaped structure where Gregorian Chants play in perpetuity over his preserved figure in a glass case. Vigan, with its cobble-stoned lanes and old Spanish architecture, seems like a piece of Cordoba that floated to the other side of the world. The Spanish founded Vigan in the 16th century, and visitors today explore the baroque cathedral (built from coral), the antique stores along Calle Crisologo and the Burgos National Museum which displays the life style of a wealthy 19th century Spanish home.
Manila's Makati District offers a sprawling labyrinth of shopping malls with a wide diversity of products. The buying power of the dollar makes this a heaven for shoppers. The Ayala Museum's collection of dioramas tracing Philippine history is the best set of dioramas this side of New York's Museum of Natural History. America’s historic relationship with the Philippines was put to a crucible-like test on an island in Manila Bay, named Corregidor, in the winter and spring of 1942 when the Japanese surrounded MacArthur’s combined force of Filipinos and Americans. Corregidor is a daytrip from downtown Manila and it’s a must see for clients with an interest in history. Other sites in Manila include the Intramuros, the old Spanish fort near the bay and Rizal Park where Jose Rizal was murdered.
Like the country itself, the food of the Philippines begins with a Malayan base and then evolves through the influence of Spain, Chinese and American cooking. Pork, sausage, beef, fish are all prevalent, often prepared in the ubiquitous seasoning of adobo.
Manila’s Ninoy Aquino International is the gateway to the Philippines. Both Delta and Continental fly there along with a host of foreign carriers. Flying around the Philippines requires a lot of hubbing and spoking through Manila. The best time to visit the Philippines is in January and February when the tropical temperatures cool down and rain is less frequent.