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Top tourist-friendly places to visit in the Philippines

The hostage crisis that took place in the heart of Manila two weeks ago has left a big dent in the Aquino administration, especially in the Philippine tourism sector.

With the “black alert warning” that the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region has issued to the Philippines, we ask ourselves: How can we once again attract tourists back to our country?

It must be difficult to be in Tourism Secretary Alberto Lim’s shoes right now. Marketing the Philippines to foreigners, knowing that they now view the country as a security threat—more so the “worst country to go to” according to CNN—is no joke and is sad news, indeed.

But, in truth, it doesn’t take much to see beyond the headlines and the sensationalism. The Philippines is rich in natural resources, and its diverse culture and family-oriented values are qualities that its citizens can all be proud of. The country’s natural beaches are at par, if not better, than those of other countries. Its cultural traditions and festivals reflect the vibrant, colorful, and sunny disposition of the Filipino people.

With 7,107 islands, one can never get enough of places to visit and enjoy in this vast archipelago. And to counter the notion that the Philippines is one of the worst and most unsafe places to travel for tourists, I am presenting some of the best places in our country that’s tourist-friendly and well worth the visit.   Toni Alvarez

1. Batanes

The Mahatao Lighthouse in Batanes | Photo used with permission, by Liz Reyes

The Mahatao Lighthouse in Batanes | Photo used with permission, by Liz Reyes

Batanes, the smallest province of the Philippines, lies at the northernmost tip of the country, about 218 kilometers south of Taiwan. Because of its cool and windy weather, Batanes is also referred to as the “Home of the Winds.” It is also the place where the Pacific Ocean meets the South China Sea, so the water current is usually rough. The crime rate in Batanes is zero with an estimated population of 18,000 as of 2009, based on the official website of Batanes and the Department of Agrarian Reform website.

Aside from its famous green pastures, Marlboro Country or Payaman, Vayang Rolling Hills, Naidi lighthouse, Valugan Bay, Nakabuang Arch, Mount Iraya, and the must-see stone houses in Chavayan town in Sabtang island, there is one unique tourist spot which never fails to amuse tourists in Batanes, the Honesty Cafe. The Ivatan, the native people of Batanes, are renowned for their honesty, and this trait is tested here because no one mans the store. Visitors who want to buy something just have to get the items they need, list them down in a logbook, and drop the payment in a drop box provided by the store owner. Each item has a corresponding price tag so there will be no questions about how much an item costs. The shop also has coffee cups and hot water for those who wish to buy coffee.

Aside from the Honesty Cafe, there are more stories attesting to the Ivatans’ honesty. It is said that when one drops a camera bag, a key, or even the tiniest object, one need not worry because, for sure, the Ivatans will find a way to look for the rightful owner or even bring the item/s to the local Radyo ng Bayan station. The townsfolk have even grown accustomed to leaving their houses open while they are out at work, without fearing for the security of their properties.

The Ivatan are not only honest; they are friendly, too. People on the streets, whether they know each other personally or not, smile at each other and ask how each other’s day was. The townsfolk also seem to be used to tourists already, such that whenever someone asks to take their photos, especially in Sabtang Island, elders and children alike would usually agree.

They say that it’s best to explore Basco (Batanes’ capital) by foot or bike, so feel free to explore the wonders that nature has to offer. Before going home, don’t forget to have a taste of their yellow rice and coconut crab, as well as buy their famous vakul (the famous Ivatan headgear for women made out of Philippine date palm, used to protect women from rain, heat of the sun and cold conditions), as a souvenir.

2. Bohol

The Chocolate Hills in Bohol | Photo used with permission, by Liz Reyes

The Chocolate Hills in Bohol | Photo used with permission, by Liz Reyes

Bohol is the tenth largest island in the Philippines. The province is located in the middle of the center cluster of islands known as the Visayas and is surrounded by other islands like Cebu and Siquijor. Its location protects Bohol from typhoons and heavy rains that often hit the region, providing the province perfect weather topped with rich natural resources. These “ingredients”, mixed with the province’s hospitable and genteel people, make Bohol one of the most sought-after destinations in the Philippines.

Aside from Bohol’s peace-loving people, the province can truly be proud of its largely unpolluted environment. Unknown to many, Bohol’s main waterway, the Loboc River, is garlanded by the mystical lights of fireflies at night (In case you don’t know it yet: fireflies only thrive in unpolluted places). The surreally lit trees and mangroves along the riverbanks are garlanded with myriad of lights of fireflies, truly a breathtaking sight to behold and is another proof of the province’s natural, ethereal beauty.

Bohol’s best resorts are found on Panglao Island, around 25 to 30 minutes away from the city of Tagbilaran. According to the local tourism office, majority of tourists in Panglao are English and French—proof that Bohol is safe for the discriminating traveler.

Those who want to grab a few bottles at night can visit the bars and restaurants along the shoreline of Alona. Mind you, the bars in Alona Beach are not like those in Boracay, you can expect an uninterrupted night of pure drinking, a bit of dancing, and intimate moments with friends and that special someone. For those looking for a quiet getaway, the Alona nightlife is perfect.

When going to Bohol, make it a point to visit the Chocolate Hills, see the Tarsiers at Loboc, pass by the lushly green Man-Made Forest and have a Loboc River lunch cruise while being serenaded by the Boholanos.

3. Marinduque

The Poctoy Beach in Marinduque | Photo used with permission, by Liz Reyes

The Poctoy Beach in Marinduque | Photo used with permission, by Liz Reyes

Marinduque, the “Lent Capital of the Philippines,” is a small, heart-shaped island which, coincidentally, is also in the center of the Philippines. Rich in culture and a wide range of unspoiled beaches, caves and forest, this tiny island in Southern Tagalog offers interesting areas still waiting to be explored and discovered.

The province of Marinduque (population: 230,000), has one of the lowest crime rates in the Philippines, coming second to crime-free Batanes. The laid-back ambience that this province exudes is probably one of the main reasons why tourists love to go back to this heart-shaped province.  Hospitality and friendliness are common traits among Marinduquenos; in fact, they have a very unique way of welcoming friends and visitors through their tradition called putong or tubong (meaning “coronation” or “to crown”).  The tubong usually starts with the traditional singing and dancing, and crowning of guests with crowns made out of nito (a rattan coil that is a very fine material and generally used to make a very tightly woven product) , followed by showering of flowers and coins for good luck and health.

During the Lenten season, tourists flock to Marinduque to witness how the locals celebrate Holy Week.  The province is very much identified with the Moriones Festival, a traditional commemoration where actors resemble Roman soldiers during the time of Jesus, and where the Passion and Crucifixion are played out. Another landmark event is the Cenaculo, usually performed in the towns of Boac and Mogpog. The Cenaculo is a theatrical performance to commemorating the life, passion, and death of Jesus Christ, and usually starts every Holy Wednesday and ends at midnight on Easter Sunday. It shows how the culture and tradition of the Marinduquenos are deeply-rooted in their Christian values.

Marinduque is also home to the famous Bellaroca Island Resort and Spa. This Mediterranean-inspired resort is reminiscent of Santorini, Greece. The place is very pricey, but it is said to be worth every penny because of its world-class service and facilities.

4. Tagaytay City

The Taal Volcano in Tagaytay | Photo used with permission, by Liz Reyes

The Taal Volcano in Tagaytay | Photo used with permission, by Liz Reyes

Tagaytay City is located in the province of Cavite, with an approximate distance of 56 kilometers south of the Philippines’s capital. It is one of the most visited tourist destinations in the Philippines mainly because of its proximity in Manila, the entry point for most of the ’s local and international travelers, and because of its cool weather all-year round (temperature:22.7oC) and scenic attractions.  Only two to three hours away from Manila, Tagaytay has been a favorite spot for romantic getaways and weekend pamper sessions. In fact, the influx of tourists in the province has been observed not only during the summer months, but even during weekends of off-peak seasons.

With a population of more or less 60,000, the city of Tagaytay is considered to be one of the places in the Philippines, also with an almost-negative crime rate.   Aside from People’s Park in the Sky, the Picnic Grove, and the Taal Volcano, Tagaytay is also home to the best spas in the country, such as Nurture Spa, Sonya’s Garden, and Spa, to name a few.

It is also home to some of the most popular restaurants and eating destinations south of Manila. Bag of Beans in Mendez serves Alamid coffee and yummy raisin breads. Antonio’s is considered the One fine-dining restaurant in the area (the place is jam-packed especially on Valentine’s Day, so reservations are a mustbefore heading there). T-House’s unlimited breads for breakfast are simply heavenly, while Tagaytay’s famous Bulalo(beef marrow soup) still tops almost every tourist’s list of must-tries.

Aside from its perfect ambience and great good food, the best thing about being in Tagaytay is its first-rate service that’s always accompanied by a smile. For those looking for the perfect place to spend with the family or that special someone, then Tagaytay is the best, most practical bet.

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