Colorful Philippines

Study tour to Manila, rice fields of Luzon and islands around Palawan El Nido

Colorful Philippines

Study tour to Manila, rice fields of Luzon and islands around Palawan El Nido

Colorful Philippines

The Philippines is a travel destination with extraordinary potential, added to Untamed Travelling’s extensive travel offerings. On a study tour with a select group of experienced travelers, I first explore a few striking neighborhoods in the capital Manila. On the main island of Luzon, I travel through a mountainous landscape in search of cultural highlights of various peoples. Some extraordinary natural sites I will see on and near the island of Palawan. There I will also see the sea, lagoons and beaches. After all, the Philippines consists of more than 7,000 islands, the coastline is extremely long and diverse.

The rough outlines of the trip are set, full of anticipation I set out to color the days.

Manila – Intra muros

Manila is a very busy city with lots of traffic so quick travel from one part of town to another is out of the question. But it is a city well worth spending a few days in.

The historic district of Intra Muros (“between the walls”) has an old walled section where many landmarks of the Spanish colonial period (1565-1898) can still be seen, such as Fort Santiago, a military fortification with a large stone gate. Beautiful structures from this period can be seen all over the Philippines. Four Baroque churches – in different corners of the country – are even listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites.

We take an incredibly fun cycling excursion on bamboo bikes through Intra Muros the first evening. These bikes are made by local artisans. The original idea was to use this to fight poverty. Among other things, we see the church and museum of San Augustin, and the Cathedral of Manila.

Manila bicycle tour

Luzon – The rice terraces of Banaue

The next morning we leave very early for Banaue, the drive will take about nine hours. Banaue is located in the Cordillera region where magnificent rice terraces can be found. Like a giant staircase, the rice fields creep up against sometimes quite steep mountain slopes. Most of these terraces were created more than 2,000 years ago; they are carefully maintained year after year and century after century by the Ifugao people. It is almost inconceivable that this tradition has been handed down from generation to generation for so long. It is for this very reason that the rice terraces have also been added to the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Banaue rice terraces

With a local bus, a “jeepney,” we drive to the starting point of a hike among the rice terraces. In the process, we brave a huge number of uneven and large steps, which does require good fitness. Gradually, my awe grows for the locals, who repeatedly walk these paths and giant staircases to maintain the rice terraces and work in the fields. It was strenuous but very rewarding. Beautiful views across the fields, you keep taking pictures.


The next day we drive toward Sagada, a town where ancient and still living traditions come together. We visit a small museum dedicated to Eduardo Masferré, the photographer who so sensitively portrayed his Kalinga, Ifugao and Bontoc compatriots in the middle of the last century.

It is interesting to see the great cultural diversity. All around me I see that the modern world has brought many changes here, but I also see signs that deep-rooted traditions live on. Those who enjoy multi-day hikes can take wonderful hikes in this region past remote villages where time has had less of a hold.

We travel on to the mysterious burial monuments of the Kankanaey people: caves where coffins are piled and hanging coffins in the rocky mountains. Fascinating to see and to hear the stories that accompany them.

Sagada Hanging coffins

The next day we drive from Banaue to Clark Airport. Still another seven-hour drive, the largest island in the Philippines is really big. Fortunately, the scenery is worth it; it’s a beautiful ride. Clark airport is a former U.S. Army base transformed into a modern international airport. From here we will fly to our next destination in an hour.

Palawan – El Nido

What a contrast! We come from the misty mountains and winding roads with a new panorama of rice fields and valleys after every turn, the smell and color of wet soil and lots of greenery. Suddenly we land in a landscape where the color of the sea prevails.

Palawan is an archipelago of many larger and smaller islands, often just a rocky outcrop with a beautiful beach. It is beautiful there, I do understand why Palawan has been named the most beautiful island in the world several times. Life takes place on the edges of the islands, where the road over land is finite. Here it is the boats that can go anywhere.

Palawan El Nido

The next day we take a fantastic boat trip towards the Linapacan Islands. We do three different islets – Takling, Cobra and Cagdanao – for swimming, snorkeling or canoeing. On the boat we lack nothing, there are snacks, drinks and a delicious lunch. But above all, the friendliness and helpfulness of Filipinos is really striking. There is always a helping hand.

At the end of the day we sail to Ginto Island, where we spend the night on the beach under a kind of mosquito net. Sheer bliss!!!

Palawan sleeping on beach

After a good night’s sleep under the open sky, we sailed directly back to El Nido, where we boarded another boat and again visited a number of islands. It is a modern and larger version of a local type of boat with side floats. A boat with plenty of room to move and a sun deck, very comfortable. We cruise through truly beautiful limestone formations. We swim and snorkel near Cadlao Island, then have lunch on the beach here. We also do Miniloc Island with its truly magnificent pointed limestone formations.

On to the Small Lagoon, where we disembark to explore the karst landscape in a very special way. I had heard of the underground river near Puerto Princesa, which you paddle through by canoe. I also see many canoes in this area, a great way to explore the smallest corners of the lagoons. At Small Lagoon, there are several passages through the limestone mountain, but the passage is too low for canoes. We swim into the dark to eventually find ourselves in a spacious cave! What an extraordinary adventure, we are thoroughly enjoying ourselves. Before flying back to Manila, we will stay at a beautiful beach resort.

Manila – Binondo and Quezon City

The last day is dedicated to a tour of Manila. We visit Binondo, the oldest Chinese neighborhood in the world with a very special cemetery. Chinese build entire houses as mausoleums to honor their dead.

Manila Binondo

We also visit the Quezon City neighborhood where the famous “lechon” is roasted. Lechon is roasted suckling pig and is a traditional feast eaten in all former Spanish colonies from Puerto Rico to the Philippines. There are all kinds of stalls with street food, music is heard, a square has an almost village atmosphere.

Manila street food

So we end up where we started: in a neighborhood in Manila where the Spanish colonial history of the Philippines is so present. It’s part of the Philippines, but the trip showed us mostly the cultural and scenic diversity and many authentic elements that make the country unique. The impressive rice terraces and hanging coffins, the idyllic lagoons and islands around Palawan, swimming through caves and snorkeling, sleeping a night on a tropical beach….

On the flight back to Holland, I dream away at all the memories of a colorful trip with so many contrasts. In my mind, I am planning my next trip to the Philippines, because there is much more to explore here!


Tiny Koning

Als kind verslond ik al boeken die speelden in “vreemde” landen, als volwassene van die interesse mijn werk gemaakt. Ik heb het voorrecht gehad dat ik vele landen in alle continenten heb mogen bezoeken. Daar heb ik genoten van natuur, cultuur, gewoontes etc. Mijn hart ligt echter in Afrika, nadat ik begin jaren negentig voor de eerste keer Zuid Afrika bezocht heb, ben ik nog vele keren naar Zuid- en Oost Afrika teruggekeerd. De oneindige sterrenhemel, de geuren en kleuren, de dieren in die prachtige natuur. De mooie, veelal vrolijke mensen. Ik kan daar niet genoeg van krijgen.

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