What better way for tourists to begin their trip to the Philippines than with a history lesson that feels more like an entertaining one man show at the heart of “Old Manila“? And what better way for locals to spend a weekend than by rediscovering the busy capital’s overlooked charm and remembering their homeland’s rich past? Carlos Celdran refers to himself less as a tour guide and more of a performance artist. Wickedly entertaining, this walking tour takes its “audience” around beautiful Intramuros, while Celdran delves into surrounding architecture and Philippine history and culture. This is one class you can’t doze off in — not even if you tried.
How does eating your way through the world’s oldest Chinatown sound? The Philippines, being the melting pot of culture that it is, is also a melting pot of different cuisines. And with Filipinos being the foodies they naturally are, this next tour is as much a local favorite as it is a tourist’s. The Big Binondo Food Wok by Old Manila Walks takes groups down the alleys of Binondo in pursuit of the locality’s best food. Filling the nearly four hour itinerary are unassuming food stops that likely go unnoticed by the general public. Guide Ivan Dy introduces his groups to Binondo’s finest culinary treats, touching on the area’s food culture, history, and evolution along the way. Fair Warning: begin this tour on an empty stomach.
On this five-day-four-night journey, Tao Philippines takes explorers aboard a magnificent traditional Paraw sailboat (74 feet long and the largest in the country), traversing the seas between stunning El Nido and Coron. The company warns those interested in taking on this experience that it isn’t for everyone. The amenities are as basic as they get, mosquitoes abound, evening accommodations means setting up camp on different islands, and travellers have to yield to the elements. But for people whose idea of bliss is meeting like-minded people from all over the world, snorkelling magnificent reefs, sailing through jaw-dropping landscapes, visiting the unspoilt islands of Palawan, and living off the day’s fresh catch, this adventure is the pinnacle of luxury.
One of the most stunning sights the archipelago has to offer lies beneath the surface of the Sulu Sea. Recognized by UNESCO as a World Heritage Site, the Tubbataha Reef Natural Park is home to over 600 species of fish, several species of shark, dolphins, and whales, and about half of the world’s coral species. Spanning approximately 10,000 hectares of well-conserved coral reef, Tubbataha has long attracted divers from all over the world with its breathtaking marine biodiversity. However, due to its remoteness, the only way to experience the Tubbataha is by visiting on liveaboard boats. Several operators organize these week-long trips during the area’s limited three-month-long dive season. Among those that make the trip are the M/Y Resolute, the M/Y Sakura, and the M/Y Stella Maris.
Many travellers come to the Philippines for the beach, and many choose the island of Boracay for the party. This relatively small island, just a quick flight from Manila, is known for its powdery white sand and gorgeous sunsets. But when the sun goes down, the music begins and the island’s vibrant nightlife emerges. A well-loved tour by both foreign visitors and locals, is the Boracay Pub Crawl. This experience is a fantastic way to meet a bunch of fun-loving people, with whom you’ll quickly find yourself having the time of your life. Responsible for keeping the whole group comfortable, social, and energized, are the crawl’s spirited “captains” and a whole lot of booze. Expect to have a whole new set of friends after the night (and possibly a hangover that’s completely worth it).
For adventurers who only have a day to spare but want a tour that is both exciting and historical, and which involves some physical activity and sublime views, a trip to iconic Mt. Pinatubo fits the bill. This full day tour begins early in the morning with a two hour drive to Capas Tarlac, where a 4×4 is then boarded and ridden across lahar terrain surrounded by spectacular views. This entire area was drastically changed by the 1991 Mt. Pinatubo Eruption, which is considered to be the 20th century’s second largest. The eruption was so massive, it managed to decrease the global temperature by about half a degree in the aftermath. Upon reaching the base camp of this still-active volcano, it’s a picturesque trek to the beautiful crater lake.
Perhaps farthest from cookie cutter, the Slum Tour by Smokey Tours in Manila is for those willing to see the other side of this archipelagic paradise. Instead of pristine beaches and turquoise waters, this tour takes groups to the poorest neighborhoods in the country in an attempt to raise awareness and understanding of the difficulties some communities have to weather day in and day out. In doing so, they encourage interaction between both sides, trying to break down any walls, prejudices, and stereotypes one group might have of the other. Not only do the tour’s profits completely go to aiding these struggling communities, but Smokey Tour’s leaders are actually members of these communities whom they’ve trained and given livelihood to. So these tours are not a capitalist attempt to prey on others’ misfortunes, but a sincere effort to uplift the community. By providing the members of these communities with the right tools, Smokey Tours encourages them to be the prime movers of this societal change for the better.