EASTER: the herald of many things. Restored hope, forgiveness, and new life; for those of a Christian bent. Painted eggs hidden in bushes, decorated hats and baskets, white bunnies with pink ears; for those of a Hallmark-card bent. Spring or summer; according to the hemisphere in which you live.
In this part of the world (the Philippines) summer is definitely on. School is out; temperatures are sizzling, and those who can afford it fly off to cooler parts of the globe for a bit of a respite from the heat.
Those who stay—whether by choice or force of budget—need not fret. There is hardly a shortage of places to visit, given our 7,107 islands.
A variety of destinations for variety of budgets are available to the local traveler: from road trips to Subic, Laguna, or Tagaytay; to getaways to more exotic (and yes, in the Philippines, this generally means more expensive), further-flung resorts. The possibilities are virtually endless; and vacations are, after all, what you make them. Even the most beautiful of locations are wasted on those who lack zeal, enthusiasm, and the slightest hunger for adventure.
As a child and teener, I was quite the privileged traveler. Tickets were virtually free, thanks to a mom who worked for Philippine Airlines. Summers were spent globe-trotting across Europe, the United States, and other parts of the world.
Then I grew up, and my mother retired. Bye-bye globe-trotting, hello cost-cutting.
These days, I content myself with finding adventure wherever and whenever I can; conjuring it up when it eludes me.
I have learned that—short of being sent-off on a travel writing assignment—I must set aside a little money each month, to be spent wisely at an opportune time. This means keeping an eye out for seat-sales on domestic airlines (although admittedly, between my crazy schedule and the even crazier global-warming-influenced weather, it is often difficult to plan as far ahead as most seat-sales require), deals on group-buying sites, and the like.
As for my pick of destinations, my top 3 faves remain the same.
In 2012, Boracay (which has been touted as the world’s second best beach, following Providenciales in the Turks and Caicos Islands), was named the Best Island in the World by international magazine, Travel + Leisure. Best known for White Beach—a four-kilometer stretch of sugary and powdery white sand—and island-party atmosphere, it is undoubtedly one of the most popular holiday destinations across the globe. I have been a fan of the island since the early 1990s, and have vacationed here regularly. Long-gone are the days when Boracay (located off the northwest corner of Panay island, in the province of Aklan, in the Philippines’ Western Visayas region) was truly a virgin paradise. It has evolved and developed significantly through the years, and purists might say not necessarily all for the better. Although I do see their point, Boracay remains gorgeous in its pristine splendor, and still one of my personal favorite spots on Earth. I do, however, draw the line at certain things: should popular burger franchises involving golden arches and oversized bees and/or a two-letter mall open on the island, I think I would bid farewell to my Boracay days.
Well-known Spots: White Sand Beach, Kalibo Aklan, Bulabog Beach, Yapak, Tibiao Whitewater River, Mount Luho, The Bat Caves, Dead Forest, Puka Beach
Things to Do: scuba diving, snorkeling, windsurfing, kite boarding, boardsailing, caving, horse riding, yachting, banana boat ride, parasailing, “pub crawl” (bar-hopping, either on your own, or with a group organized by your hotel), walk the beach at night and admire the incredible sand art (lit by candles; bring lots of loose change to tip the artists!), get a relaxing massage right on the beach (only p300 an hour); just chillax on White Beach!
Must-Try Eats and Drinks: seafood dishes (the seafood market or “talipapa” offers the freshest catch of the day, cooked however you prefer), Calamansi Muffins from Real Coffee in Station 2 (an iconic Boracay coffee shop, which—back in the day—used to be right on the beach, but is now, sadly, boxed in by other edifices), Jonah’s Fruit Shakes (another iconic Boracay fave, although the charming nipa hut resto on the beach is now a cement structure further down the shore), a meal at Limoni Café at D’Mall is Station 2 (truly delicious! My faves are the tart and tangy lemon meringue pie; the hearty and rich Eggs Benedict; grape and walnut salad; and just about everything on the menu!).
Palawan is perhaps one of the most gorgeous island destinations in the East and Southeast Asia regions, rivaling the beauty of Krabi, Thailand’s Marine Reserve. In 2007, it was rated “best island destination” by National Geographic Traveller. Cited as the 13th best island in the world, Palawan’s seascapes and landscapes are truly breathtaking and awe-inspiring. Even from way up in the sky, on board the plane, the crystal clear turquoise and emerald ocean dotted with beaches and limestone cliff formations elicit oooh’s and aaah’s. The islands of Palawan stretch from Mindoro in the northeast to Borneo in the southwest. It lies between the South China Sea and the Sulu Sea. My Palawan adventures have included trips to El Nido Miniloc Island Resort; the capital city of Puerto Princesa; and the El Nido Apulit Island Resort in Taytay.
Puerto Princesa is a good starting point for first-time visitors to Palawan, as it is the portal to an array of pristine beaches, island coves, coral reef systems teeming with a spectacular array of marine life, caves awaiting exploration, lush flora and diverse fauna. It is also a bustling city of delicious seafood restaurants, an exciting enough night life, and a fast-growing eco-tourism program. Not to mention, it is perhaps one of the cleanest cities in the Philippines, thanks to strict and actively enforced anti-littering laws.
Well-known Spots: Honda Bay; Coron Reefs, Coron Bay, Busuanga; UNESCO World Heritage Sites: Tubbataha Reef and Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park; Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Center, Tabon Caves, Nabat Reef in Taytay, Calauit Game Preserve and Wildlife Sanctuary; Mangrove Forests in Puerto Princesa.
Things to Do: snorkeling, at the very least, is an absolute MUST; diving, even better (half of Palawan’s stunning beauty is underwater, with its incredibly rich and diverse marine life, plant and reefs); go spelunking in an ancient cave system; amazing stalactite and stalagmite formations await (try the caves in Taytay Bay); venture into the spectacular underground river system, then take a paddle boat down a mangrove-lined river (plant a mangrove to make a difference).
Must-Try Eats and Drinks: Vietnamese soups and sandwiches (authentic and delicious hole-in-the wall Vietnamese coffee shops are plentiful in Palawan, due to the Vietnamese settlement located on the island some years back); the “tamilok” or wood-mollusk found at the roots of the mangroves (you can ask for this after the mangrove river tour; freshly harvested, washed, and cooked seviche-style in vinegar. I wouldn’t call this a yummy eat, but definitely a local “been there, done that” must-try); local cashew candies, nuts, and delicacies; fresh seafood; a meal at Ka Lui’s in Puerto Princes (requires prior reservation, usually a day before. Yes, it is that yummy! Plus the ambience is fantastic!).
At the risk of rocking anyone’s religious boat, I am now under the impression that when the seas and lands were created, and islands were set apart, the Divine Being added a little extra tender, loving care to the land of Bohol. Located approximately 626 kilometers south of Manila, this island province is blessed with beautiful country sides, a gently rolling terrain, mountainous interiors which are home to exquisite (and even rare) flora and fauna, and fabulous vistas. Even the weather seems to have been favored: typhoons and earthquakes are rare in this province, due to its geographical location.
Bohol is charming, rustic, and picturesque. Steeped in history, there are numerous old churches, watchtowers and other gorgeous sites to visit which date back to pre-colonial and Spanish colonial times. It is also famous for its beaches and resorts, and is a well-known destination for divers; it is, in fact, listed as one of the top 10 diving locations in the world. Home to the wide-eyed, furry wonder that is the tarsier and the mind-boggling Chocolate Hills, Bohol is definitely a well-loved summer spot.
Well-known Spots: Chocolate Hills; Baclayon Church; Alona Beach; Bolod Beach; Doljo Beach, Balicasag; Loboc River; Philippine Tarsier Sanctuary; Blood Compact Site (statue is by National Artist Napoleon Abueva. The site also affords one of the best panoramic views of the ocean); Hinagdanan Cave; Man-made Forest in Bilar (very “Blair Witch”); Bohol Butterfly Farm; Sta. Monica Church in Albuquerque; the Church of the Assumption in Dauis (beautiful Gothic-inspired structure), Loboc Church (told you there are a LOT of old churches!); Panglao Watch Tower; Danao Adventure Park (for the adventure-loving tourist); Bohol Bee Farm.
Things to Do: Loboc River Cruise (if you can, go twice. It is really pretty both by day and by night); visit the Tarsiers (no flash photography, loud noise, or touching, please!); whale and dolphin watching; swimming; scuba-diving; snorkeling; caving; sightseeing (lots and lots of places to visit); extreme sports at Danao: cable ride, zipline, sky jump, rappelling, trekking, biking, kayaking; interview a local about the many fables and legends of Bohol (the land is filled with them; there are several interesting ones about the Chocolate Hills, for one); learn more about butterflies and bees.
Must-try Eat and Drinks: Melt-in your-mouth broas (lady fingers) from Osang’s or one of the other small, old bakeries behind Baclayon Church; seafood dishes; delicacies made from peanuts; sisig and the different types of barbecue; the Filipino-style buffet on the river boat cruise; a meal at the Bohol Bee Farm (their different types of honey and spreads are also delicious)—for a fine-dining treat—a meal at the Peacock Garden’s (boutique resort hotel in Bacalayon) Old Heidelberg Restaurant (which has an impressive collection of Dr. Jose Rizal memorabilia).
There you have it. My Top 3 fave summer hot spots. For now, anyway. I could go on and on; but nothing beats finding out for yourself. So get your duffels ready, and start your own summer travel adventure.