On the negative side, the Philippines has a reputation for instability and has earned the rather unenviable title of “the sick man of Asia.” Ruled by the unhinged dictator Ferdinand Marcos in the 1980s and more recently by former B movie star Joseph Estrada, the country’s political environment has been as steady as a roller coaster. Kidnappings, Islamic radicals on the southern island of Mindanao and all kinds of natural disasters have also kept tourists away.
On the positive side, there are some truly safe and unspoiled islands in this huge archipelago. Boracay and Cebu are two destinations where budget travellers and luxury seekers alike can find white sandy beaches along with plenty of options for diving, windsurfing and snorkelling. This article takes a closer look at these two popular tropical areas.
Located at the northwestern edge of Panay in the Western Visayas group of islands, Boracay is about seven kilometres long. White Beach, which is on the western side and faces the Sulu Sea, is four kilometres in length. To get here, take a domestic flight from Manila to the smaller town of Kalibo in Aklan province. From there you’ll board a ubiquitous jeepney for the journey to Caticlan. Finally, it’s a short trip by boat to Boracay, where there is no dock and visitors will wade into the water to get up to the beach.
Dive right in! Here is a list of some dive sites around the island.
Angol Point, Coral Garden and Sansotan are the ideal diving locations for beginners. The water is shallow and you can see many species of tropical fish.
Virgin Drop, Punta Bunga and Yapak go down pretty deep, as much as 65 metres. Only the experienced should attempt to dive at any of these locations.
Calypso Diving School is a five star, PADI accredited training centre on Boracay’s White Beach.
This island is larger than Boracay, about 225 kilometers long, and is surrounded by Negros, Leyte and Bohol islands. The capital city which has the same name has an international airport so it’s easy to get here from Manila and other cities like Shanghai, Tokyo and Kuala Lumpur.
You can hit the beaches, and you’re spoiled for choice. A day trip can take you to any of these locations:
Olango Island, Argao, Sogod and Badian Island. There are also plenty of areas to swim around Mactan.
Soak Up Some Culture
If you’re going to be in this part of the Philippines in late January then dance with the locals in the Sinulog, Cebu’s answer to Mardi Gras. The festival lasts for nine days and locals enjoy lechon, the roasted pig eaten with sweet liver paste.
European colonization has left an indelible mark on the country. History buffs will enjoy walking along Colon Street and seeing Magellan’s Cross, where Filipino Christians were first baptized in April, 1521.
The Local Cuisine
Many of the dishes found in Cebu are flavoured with red chilies called sili. These pungent little devils are usually crushed into a sauce by the local residents. Most foreign visitors can only stand to eat one, while Cebuanos like to add three or four.
Try some authentic Filipino stews like kinilaw and tinola, which calls for vinegar, garlic and coconut milk with chicken or fish. A generous complement of vegetables like tomatoes and onions always accompany each of these recipes.
**Keep yourself up to date on the latest conditions in the Philippines, especially political. As long as you avoid the trouble spots in the south like Mindanao, Basilan and Jolo your trip should be trouble free. Filipinos are a hospitable people, so go ahead and enjoy their country’s charms. You’ll be glad you did.