See Manila’s Colonial Side in Intramuros
The Spanish conquistadors knew a good site when they saw one, and the native fort at the mouth of the Pasig River was it. Fort Santiago and the walled city of Intramuros eventually rose from this spot, and stood for centuries as the center for Philippines’ trade and culture.
Intramuros is the oldest part of Manila, and it shows. Devastated by World War II, Intramuros has been under a constant state of reinvention since. A walking tour of the walled city will take you to Fort Santiago, a citadel-turned-museum; the neo-Romanesque Manila Cathedral; and the San Agustin Church, a stone baroque church constructed in the 1600s.
Museums like Fort Santiago, Bahay Tsinoy (dedicated to the Chinese community in the Philippines) and the Destileria Limtuaco Museum (dedicated to the Filipino love of strong drink), show visitors different facets of Filipino culture.
Eat Your Way Through Pampanga’s Food Scene
Filipino food will feel strangely familiar to Mexican food fans. As you’ll find in Pampanga, Spanish rule (by way of Mexico) influenced local dishes, later evolving to accommodate local ingredients and cooking techniques.
Thus you get tsokolate, a thick hot chocolate drink laced with crushed peanuts; chicharon, pork rinds fried to a crisp; turones de kasoy, a rice paper-wrapped nougat adapted from the Spanish turron de Alicante; and plantanillas, a candy made from slow-boiled water buffalo milk.
You’ll experience these and more as you work your way through Pampanga’s scattered towns, many of which were half-buried by the 1991 Pinatubo volcanic eruption. The town of Guagua is buried ten feet deep, whereas Bacolor Church was inundated with 20 feet of mud, though it remains in use today.
Ride an ATV up Mount Mayon’s Perfect Cone
The pride of the southwestern province of Albay, the active Mount Mayon volcano has one of the world’s most perfect cones, equaling Japan’s Mount Fuji.
You can see Mayon from almost any point in the nearby city of Legazpi. On good days, you can ride an all-terrain vehicle from Legazpi up Mayon itself. Several trails criss-cross the lower slopes, including a short ride that tours the ruins near Cagsawa and a longer one that ends at the “Green Lava Wall."
You can’t go wrong with the six-mile-long “basic trail,” which ends at a lava field. It’s sufficiently challenging for a beginner ATV-rider, with the trail crossing streams and mud-caked fields until you reach the lava field, its rest stop, and helipad.
Trek Through the Cordilleras’ Rice Terraces
The rice terraces of Banaue were recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, and you’ll understand why once you hike through.
The challenging Batad Rice Terraces circuit takes three hours to fully complete. This most breathtakingly beautiful trail will send you through a natural amphitheater into which flat, evenly spaced platforms have been carved out of the slopes.
The terraces change through the seasons, following the local Ifugao’s rice planting schedule. From April to June, the terraces are green from growing rice, and from June to July, the terraces turn yellow as harvest season nears. Visit during December to see the “mirror type” terraces, when the water-filled terraces reflect the blueness of the sky.
Explore Sagada’s Caves and Culture
Despite its remote location in the shadow of the Cordilleras in Northern Luzon, Sagada has become a hot adventure-seeker's getaway to caves, rice terraces, and ancient cultures.
Adventure-minded travelers will love Sagada’s caves. The Sumaguing-Lumiang Cave Connection is the most popular spelunking experience; taking you into Sumaguing Cave, this three-hour trip will lead you through a strenuous gauntlet past some truly gorgeous limestone formations before exiting Lumiang Cave on the other side.
The mountain trails lead through some of the Philippine mountains’ most scenic sites, including Echo Valley, Lake Danum, Bokong Falls, and Bomod-Ok Falls. The culture of the local Igorot community is never far from view, whether you’re visiting the Demang cultural village or seeing the Hanging Coffins, a burial tradition reminiscent of the Toraja in Indonesia.