With more than 7,000 islands making up the Philippines, the hardest decision will be which ones to visit. Manila is the capital and the main island groups are Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. The country’s people are warm, hospitable and family-minded; its cuisine is a delicious blend of Chinese, Spanish, Mexican, Japanese, Indonesian and Indian.
The islands have several international gateways. Ninoy Aquino is the airport at which many flights to the Philippines (and its capital Manila) land. Mactan in Cebu handles flights from Japan, Singapore, and Australia, Davao – regular flights from Indonesia and Singapore.
Manila, on Luzon, boasts one of the best preserved medieval cities in the world. Intramuros, the walled city, covering almost 160 acres, was built by the Spanish in 1571. Damaged during the Second World War, restoration work was started by Imelda Marcos, of shoe fame. Manila Cathedral is at the centre and Fort Santiago at the northwestern tip. Its colorful Chinatown is north of the Pasig river.
The islands have some of the best diving. Internationally recognised spots include Tubbataha Reef; Malapascua Island (Cebu); Balicasag Island (Bohol); Anilao, Batangas; and Puerto Galera (Mindoro).
The Philippines have a tropical climate, which varies by region. The dry season runs from November to April, and the wet season from May to October. Northern islands such as Baguio and Luzon, as well as the center, have temperatures between 60 and 90 degrees during the wet season. The temperature range drops a bit in the dry season, ranging between 55 and 73 degrees. Typhoon season lasts from June to December.
The best time to visit the Philippines and the northern and central islands is during the dry season when the days are clear and bright and rainfall is minimal.
The south (Davao) has no distinct wet or dry seasons. Weather is constant year-round and temperatures are about 73-90 degrees. There is no bad time to visit this part of the Philippines.
Domestic flights are a good way to get around the Philippines. Charter (helicopter and small-to-medium sized airplanes) flights are also available.
Ferry services connect the islands while cruise liners dock at the port of Manila.
The Metrotren stretches south to Carmona and Cavite and north to Meycauayan, Bulacan. In Metro Manila, the Light Railway Transit runs from Caloocan to Baclaran.
Other ways of getting around the country include taxis, buses, trikes and the jeepney. The jeepney is a classic, inspired by the American World War II army jeeps. When the American soldiers left the Philippines, surplus jeeps were sold or given to local people. The stripped-down jeeps were fitted with seats, decorated with ornaments and painted in bright colors.
The calesa is a rather touristy way of getting around. It is a traditional horse-drawn carriage brightly decorated that was introduced during the years that Spain was ruler.
(prices quotes are from London)