When I set off for the Philippines, I didn’t really have a clear idea of what it was going to be like. I knew there were nice beaches and great diving, but little else. What an amazing experience it turned out to be!
Philippine Airlines flies direct from Auckland to Manila three times a week. I was pleasantly surprised with the amazing in-flight service and the trip was certainly comfortable. The flights leave late in the evening New Zealand time and arrive first thing in the morning Philippines time, which sets people up well to transit through Manila and go straight on to their chosen destination. You have to overnight in Manila on the return journey as the flight departs very early, so don’t worry that you will miss out on seeing this vibrant city.
The Greater Manila area has seven different cities within its boundary and is home to 24 million people. The main tourist areas are Makati, which is the financial district, and Manila City itself, which is on Manila Bay. There is a great boardwalk along the bay which is being cleaned up by President Duterte and it's the perfect place to watch the most beautiful sunsets. Another thing to be said about Manila is that it's a shopper’s paradise. The Mall of Asia – the fourth largest in the world – is located here and stretches for more 1 km with over 1,000 shops.
region. The President shut this island down for six months in 2018 to clean it up, and it is looking amazing. The beach sand is the finest sand I have seen – it feels like talcum powder, and it is always cool to walk on. White Beach, the largest and most popular tourism district, is divided into three areas or stations, the name originating from the times when boats brought tourists directly to the beach from the mainland. Station 2 is where most of the bars, restaurants and the shopping mall are located, but it is also very busy. My recommendation is to stay in Station 1 which is less crowded and quieter, and walk or take a tricycle (motorised rickshaw) to Station 2. We had a great snorkelling day trip on Boracay and saw right around the island.
Next was the city of Cebu, 442km to the south-west in the central Philippines. Cebu is the second city of the nation and was the first Spanish settlement and long-time capital until President Marcos transferred the seat of government to Manila in 1976. Cebu has a nice feel to it and we did a craft and food tour which culminated in a stop at the home of Rachel Choa, the "Chocolate Queen". The Philippines is an important regional producer of cacao beans and chocolate products and this is an amazing stop that I highly recommend to anyone visiting Cebu. Another tip: there is a lovely beach area near Cebu Airport on Mactan Island.
Our final stop was Bohol Island, 75km south of Cebu. To me, this was the highlight of the trip. The sand is not as fine as Boracay's but the island is a lot quieter with beautiful beaches and clear water. There is a lot to see on Bohol Island including the famous Chocolate Hills which are a great place to view the surrounding areas, and a visit to the Tarsiers Sanctuary. These cute, insect-eating nocturnal animals with huge eyes do not thrive in captivity, so the sanctuary is the only way to see them.
As you can imagine, I left the Philippines as a convert to its many attractions. In addition to its natural beauty and friendly people, this country of over 7000 islands has a rich and amazing history that includes former eras of Spanish and American rule. It is also a great alternative Asian beach destination!