One of the most sought-after tattoo artists in recent years–ever since social media has shared her art and skill with the world–has no actual shop of her own. Her tattoo kit consists of bamboo hammers, thorns, and soot, and her craft takes place high up in the mountains of the Cordilleras. She’s a master of tattooing the traditional Kalinga way—hand-tapping. Whang-Od Onggay is the oldest living mambabatok (Kalinga tattooist), and was the only one remaining until she recently began training her grandnieces at the trade. Today, many travellers make the long trip up Buscalan to get their bodies marked by the legendary artist.
It isn’t quite an adventure until you really step out of your comfort zone. What better way to do that than by indulging your palate in the most curious of delicacies and flavors? In the Philippines, locals enjoy many peculiar eats, including balut (duck embryo), grilled animal innards (intestine, gizzard, coagulated blood), sisig (sizzling chopped pig’s face), and tamilok (woodworm). Brave this element of the local culinary scene and you might just find yourself pleasantly surprised.
Also known as “the best island in the world” to many tourists (thanks to multiple publications who’ve awarded it the title), Boracay is more popularly known to locals as the ultimate party island. After the island’s postcard-worthy sunset, vivacity takes over and the partying begins. Night spots line the beach, from energetic clubs to more laid-back bars with live music. Take your pick and enjoy the island’s night life till the sun rises. If you find yourself in an especially social mood, join the infamous Boracay Pub Crawl and party even harder with a fun-loving crowd.
The historical island of Corregidor is an easy day trip from Manila as it sits right at the entrance of Manila Bay. But while those who come for the day tour a few of its ruins, those who choose to stay the night get a more hair-raising experience. The island played an integral role in defending Manila during the various colonial occupations, as well as during the Second World War. Many lives were lost on the island, including those of Japanese soldiers who were said to have committed suicide instead of surrendering to the Americans. So today, visits through the islands’ dark tunnels and hospital ruins are accompanied by the eeriest stories of the past, and make for quite the spooky adventure.
If you’re really up for a thrill, venture up an active volcano — the one responsible for the biggest volcanic eruption in recent Philippine history, no less. Contrasting with the cataclysmic image that took over Mt. Pinatubo and much of Central Luzon in June 1991, the journey up Mt. Pinatubo today is a scenic one. Ride through ashy-rocky terrain aboard a 4×4 jeep and trek the rest of the way up to the stunning crater lake.
If hiking up an active volcano doesn’t quite cut it for the thrill-seeker in you, opt to ride top-load (on its roof as opposed to inside) on the iconic Philippine jeepney. These ubiquitous commuter vehicles abound both in the city as well as the country’s more rural areas. Riding atop the jeepney is more commonly done in the latter, where long-haul trips are less frequent and some locals would rather sit on the vehicle’s roof than wait for the next one. This makes for an amazing experience, especially for trips around the mountainous areas of Northern Luzon, where views of the breathtaking rice terraces surround you.
Do this of course at your own risk and take precautions. Take the weather into consideration — if it’s cold and looks quite hazy, there might not be much of a view to enjoy; if it’s cloudy, consider the possibility of rain; if it’s a hot day, have something with which to cover yourself should the heat get too extreme. Remember that if you’ve chosen to ride atop a full jeepney, there won’t be space for you to move inside should riding top-load grow uncomfortable. If, after considering all this, you’re still willing to brave riding top-load, it’s going to be a crazy ride so buckle up–figuratively, of course — there aren’t any seatbelts up there either!
In the Philippines, local festivals (known as fiestas) are held in almost every locality at least once annually. These celebrations are usually a few days to a week long and consist of parades, competitions, colorful costumes and street dancing. Some festivals are more renowned than others, like the Sinulog Festival in Cebu and Ati-Atihan in Aklan (usually for the massive street parties that they entail). Look into which festivals are being celebrated during the time of your visit and join the locals for some lively Filipino fun.
Save the luxurious resorts for another trip and opt for one-with-nature accommodation instead. Pitch a tent, build a bonfire on the beach, turn your back on electricity and the internet for a few days and turn to views of waves and the sun instead. There are many beaches in the Philippines that welcome this, such as Anawangin and Nagsasa Coves in Zambales, Fortune Island in Batangas, and some islands within the Hundred Islands National Park in Pangasinan. Pack only necessities, get ready to rough it out, and take along good company for the perfect getaway.
Whoever says playtime is solely for children is sadly mistaken, and has obviously never been to the sand dunes of Ilocos Norte. Here, visitors get to be adults in a sandbox — an enormous sandbox of fun, rolling terrain. They get to let loose with exciting toys like quad bikes, 4x4s, and sand boards, for that sought-after adrenaline rush.
Increasingly visited by more and more tourists in recent years is the surfer’s haven of Siargao. Beautiful and laid-back, this island in Surigao is home to the country’s most famous swell, known as the “Cloud 9”. Surfers from all over make their way here to ride the perfect wave, but non-surfers love visiting the island just as much. Take some surf lessons in Siargao, and maybe even challenge yourself to becoming good enough to take your shot at the Cloud 9.
Boracay fun is not only reserved for nights of partying. Several agencies on the island offer a whole array of activities, like kitesurfing, windsurfing, helmet diving, parasailing, jet skiing, banana boating, and even mermaid swimming lessons! Try some things you’ve never done before.
Test your stamina and trek along Masungi’s discovery trail in Baras, Rizal. The nature reserve is situated within Rizal’s lush rainforest. The trail consists of hanging bridges, rope courses, rock formations, and peaks, which are great vantage points from which to view the lavish grounds. A discovery trail is offered for the daytime, but a night trail can also be chosen for a completely different experience. To visit, remember to make a reservation beforehand.
Perhaps one of the most underrated activities on this list is the spectacular zipline across Lake Sebu’s waterfalls, in South Cotabato. Though only six of Lake Sebu’s seven majestic falls can be seen, the views are breathtaking. With the unbelievable scenery and the rush of adrenaline, this is one activity that will make you feel truly alive.
If you’re going all out on your Philippine adventure, don’t miss out on diving this UNESCO World Heritage Site and diver’s heaven, the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park. Located southeast of Palawan within the Sulu Sea, the park is among the richest in marine biodiversity, housing hundreds of species of corals and fish, and several species of sharks, dolphins, and whales. Diving the Tubbatahas is definitely one for the bucket list. Plan ahead, as the park can only be reached and dived via live-aboard boats.
All year round, travellers flock to northern Palawan for the astonishing beaches of El Nido and Coron. But instead of flying into Puerto Princesa City and heading northwards via bus or van, take a more adventurous route and rent a motorbike in the capital. Travel north and stop freely along the way to see the hidden gems of Palawan. Take a detour to Sabang and visit one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature, the Puerto Princesa Underground River, or stop by the pristine beaches of Port Barton and the 14-kilometer beach of San Vicente. Stop along the small coastal towns and mingle with the locals. If you have the luxury of time, this is one of the best ways to truly experience Palawan. And you’ll have magnificent El Nido waiting at the finish line.