Territorio Havaianas
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WHAT SHOULD YOU KNOW BEFORE GOING TO THE PHILIPPINES?

The first time I went to the Philippines, I had no preconceived idea of what I was going to find out there. I had heard things, had been told stories, but I had no clear picture in my mind as to what was waiting for me once I arrived. It’s the same as when you watch a film of follow a TV series: too much information may create certain expectations which ruin what you are about to experience in reality. So I decided to get out there without typing the words ‘Philippines’, ‘Manila’ or ‘Palawan Island’ (my final destination) in any search engine.

This deliberate act – which in principle sounds very adventurous, mad or an expression of freedom – is but an anachronism of the digital times we live in, because, if you go with some information, you’ll be as amazed as if you read nothing at all. The difference is you’ll be able to get more out of your trip and will save lots of time and perhaps avoid the odd scare. So, if you are thinking of travelling to the Philippines, we recommend you take a look at the following eleven tips which will help you get the most out of your journey.

1. Check the calendar

The worst thing that can happen is that you begin your holidays during typhoon season. So, take note: the best time of year to travel is during the so-called ‘dry season’, from November to April.

2. Don’t miss Manila

They will tell you it’s noisy, chaotic, grey…, but once you get into the daily madness of this huge city, you will quickly learn to love it, its endless traffic jams, its vast shopping centres and street markets. And, of course, there’s the historical and colonial wealth of ‘Intramuros’, the part of Manila which flourishes with echoes of its Spanish past.

3. Skip from one island to the other

In the Philippines, there are over seven thousand islands. Yes, that’s right: 7107 to be precise. And that’s without counting the ones that come and go according to tides. These natural phenomena which seem to come right out of a book of legends are indeed a reality: you could have dinner on a small sandy island which will have disappeared under the waves of the ocean a few hours later.

‘Island hopping’ is a popular activity which consists in going from one island to the next in a ‘Bangka’ – one of those small outrigger bamboo boats – turning you into an intrepid navigator. 

4. Visit the sky on earth

In the mid-90s there was a legend among backpackers trekking through Asia about the perfect corner of paradise, the utopic dream of any adventurer. Some sought this place in Cambodia, others in Indonesia or Laos. I can assure it is in the Philippines and it is called ‘El Nido’. It’s to be found in the northern part of Palawan Island and its very name, ‘the nest’, is an invitation to come and stay there to make it your home.

5. Enjoy the territory

When the beaches you are about to visit are called such names as 'Secret Beach' or 'Hidden Beach', you already know that you are about to discover wonderfully secluded hideaways. The perfect trail would also include the unending beach of Nacpan, the enigmatic ‘Snake Beach’ and the aptly named ‘Small and Big Lagoons’. Of course, a visit to Coron Island is a must.

6. And explore the ocean depths

If the Philippines has amazing landscapes (white sandy beaches, luscious vegetation, karst hills…), the best part is what you don’t see at first. To do so, you need to put on a diving mask and snorkel: crystal clear waters, incredible corals, marine fauna that you have only seen in documentaries…. This is one of the few places in the world where you can snorkel among schools of fish and dive in lagoons where the ocean salt water mixes with spring freshwaters. You’ll find sunken ships dating back to the Second World War. It’s the world of Nemo at your fingertips.

7. Where smiling is a universal language

Filipinos speak Tagalog. Most speak good English and some get by in Spanish. But the most widely used language is smiling: these are very friendly, likeable people who are very welcoming to visitors, making life very easy for tourists. What’s more, they never say no to a selfie! Make the most of it and put a great photo gallery together and get loads of ‘likes’!

8. Try a 'balut' (if you dare)

Filipino gastronomy is rich and varied, although also pretty much unknown. Rice is ever present. As for the Spanish heritage, it has provided such dishes as adobo (marinade), chicharrón (crackling), lechón (piglet)…and Asian cooking is, of course, very present too. If you wake up one day feeling particularly adventurous and brave, you could try ‘balut’: a high protein and energy rich local delicacy for extreme palates. If we were to tell you it’s a fertilized duck egg which contains its developing bird embryo, perhaps you would not want to try it anymore…

9. Stop that taxi!

The best way to get about quickly is by ‘trycele’ or in a ‘jeepney’, those amazing vehicles that are unique to the Philippines and are almost an art form in their own right. Try a ride in this amazing form of public transport and socialize with your fellow passengers!

10. Do Christmas there

Yes, it’s true even if it sounds strange, and even more so when it’s 35 degrees out there, but 80% of the year it’s Christmas in the Philippines. They just love decorations, the Christmas trees, lights, the reindeer, big jolly old men with white beard and loads of presents.

11. Don’t leave without trying a karaoke

We would not be surprised to find out that one of a Filipino baby’s first words is karaoke, seeing as this is the country’s favourite hobby. It’s rare to find a village that doesn’t have one of its own. They take it very seriously and have a special taste for ballads and love songs. Walk into a karaoke bar, pick a song: your favourite song. You’ll see that as rare as it may be, it will be there. You’ll be a star for 4 minutes!
Photos by André Carvalho.

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