It seems like everyone’s been bitten by the travel bug lately.
If the spread of “travel inspo” online is any indication, many of us now spend our downtime seeing new places and trying out new activities and adventures. That would be fantastic, if not for the constraints of budget, visas, safety and language barriers, right?
Well, there are local, and sometimes even better versions of foreign attractions that can be enjoyed right here in the Philippines! Enjoy them without the need for visas, a foreign language dictionary, and at a fraction of the cost*:
1. Swim with Whale Sharks
Whale sharks are the gentle giants of the ocean. As they only feed on plankton, humans can safely swim among them. They prefer to live in warm surface water, with upwellings of cold water, as this serves as the perfect environment for their food. The islands of Cancun, Isla Mujeres and Holbox in Mexico have conditions that favour this growth, hence the abundance of whale sharks in the area.
Locally, the island of Donsol, Sorsogon is the hub of whale sharks or butanding. It’s one of the few places in the world where sightings of whale sharks are almost assured during the season. While whale sharks can also be seen in other provinces, Donsol is the best place to see and swim with them, not just because it is teeming with the docile creatures, but also because of the local ordinance that protects them.
Prices above are for half-day tour inclusive of boat rental.
2. Go Skimboarding
How different is skimboarding from surfing? While they both involve riding waves with boards, skimboarding requires riding smaller waves close to the shore. Because it requires thin layers of waves that break on sand, it can be hard to find a skim spot. Where else would the best spot be but in the place where the sport was founded? Laguna Beach, California.
Here in the Philippines, Dahican Beach in Mati, Davao Oriental is the place to go to for skimboarding. Apart from being a great skim spot, they have also built a skimboarding community. When you visit, seek out the Amihan Boys, a group of 20 or so skimboarders who not only advocate skimboarding but also protect the village’s sea turtles through various efforts.
Prices above are for 3-hour skimboarding lessons.
3. Ride Sand Dunes
Are you looking to trade in the concrete city for some desert adventure? The Sahara is still the best-known desert landscape in the world, but for a change, you can go to the southwest of Bordeaux, France for Europe’s largest sand dune. Due to a quirk of nature, the Dune du Pyla (Great Dune of Pyla) has ballooned over the centuries and engulfed a portion of this Atlantic coast. Its stunning features have made it a tourist hotspot, attracting a million visitors every year for sandboarding and paragliding.
Or you can also check out our very own 52-square mile sand dunes in La Paz, Laoag, Ilocos Norte. Start by rough riding the sands with a 4×4 vehicle, followed by some sand boarding on the slopes, and end with a magnificent view of the dunes at sunset. The sand dunes of La Paz are tamer in comparison to Dune du Pyla, so there’s a lower risk of injuries should you slip from your sandboard. You’re still going to be out in the sun, though, so don’t forget your sunscreen!
Prices above are for full-day tours around the sand dunes. Dune du Pyla tour good for 1 pax, Ilocos Sand Dunes tour good for up to 6 pax.
4. See Dolphins in Their Natural Habitat
You might recall watching dolphin shows in ocean parks as a kid, marvelling at their impressive ability to learn behaviors and imitate actions. These days, marine parks are still present, but with the growing consciousness about animal rights, fewer people want to see them in captivity. Fortunately, there’s a gentle way to interact with dolphins – and that’s right in their natural habitat! In Maui, Hawaii, dolphins are year-round residents and are often seen skipping around the islands.
Here in the Philippines, the city of Bais, Negros Oriental is where you can watch dolphins frolic in the water. The city is perched on the Tanon Strait, a protected marine sanctuary spanning the seas of Negros Oriental to Cebu, which is home to almost 10 other species of marine mammals aside from the dolphin.
Prices above are for half-day tours, good for 1 person for Maui and 15 pax for Bais.
5. Trek Rice Terraces
Aside from their sheer beauty, rice terraces are a marvel because of how they were built. Can you imagine forming meters of fertile land on mountain slopes, without any machinery? Still standing after 2000 years, they are perhaps mankind’s greatest engineering feat.
The Yuanyang Rice Terraces in the Yunnan province is one of the must-see rice terraces in the world. Countless terraces are set among vast forests, topped by an ocean of clouds, create a magnificent view.
But you need not trek to China to see this kind of beauty. At our very own Banaue rice terraces, you can also enjoy the stretch of rice terraces emerging from valleys, to create what looks like stepping stones to the sky. Add to that the friendliness and warmth of the Ifugao people, and you have one great adventure to speak of.
Prices above are for 3-day tours, good for 1 person.
6. Swim with Stingless Jellyfish
In general, people fear jellyfish because of their stings that can be fatal at times. But did you know that there are jellyfishes that do not sting, or rather, jellyfish whose sting is so mild it will not hurt humans?
Because they have lived in a closed environment and did not experience threat from vertebrates, some jellyfish have evolved to lose their sting. Ornate Cassiopeia, or simply Stingless Jellyfish, can be found in only three places – Kakaban Island in Indonesia, Eil Malk Island in Palau, Micronesia and in our very own Bucas Grande Islands in Surigao del Norte.
At Bucas Grande, you’ll be able to swim among dozens of jellyfish, and even see them glow in the dark when darkness sets in. The jellyfish usually start spawning from March to May and are in full grandeur from July to August, so plan your trip during those months.
Prices above are for half-day tours.
7. Casino Hopping
Macau, China – P9,371.79 vs Entertainment City, Manila – P2,488.00
Macau may be small in terms of land mass, but it’s a global giant. Currently home to the largest casino industry worldwide, it makes visitors spoilt for choice with hundreds of prestigious brand boutiques, world-class gaming and the best in live entertainment. Macau’s glitz and glamour will make you feel like you’re living the life!
You need not go to Macau to experience all this, though. Right at the heart of Manila is the Entertainment City, a complex of casino-hotels on the reclamation area of Manila Bay. Spend one whole day hopping from the shops, restaurants and casinos of the City of Dreams Manila and Solaire Resort & Casino. Expect more goings-on in this booming city, with the construction of Resorts World Bayshore, Westside City and Manila Bay Resorts underway.
Price indicated above for Entertainment City is based on average Uber ride to Manila Bay Area from QC, Pasig or Makati Area, plus dinner for one at The Hyatt.
8. Feed Giraffes and See Zebras on a Safari
Seeing giraffes and zebras in a zoo is quite common, but seeing them freely roaming the wild, and even feeding them, would make a truly memorable experience! That is stuff safaris are made of, and the best ones in the world happen to be in Africa. In fact, people go as far as the plains of Serengeti and Masai Mara just to see the Big 5.
If a trip that far is not in the cards for you, don’t fret. You can experience a piece of the African safari in Calauit Safari Park in Busuanga, Palawan. Established in 1976, the park was built to help the Kenyan government conserve their wildlife. Today, it is also home to local animals like the Philippine crocodile and endemic animals like the Calamian deer and the bearded wild pig.
Prices above are for 3-day tours, good for 1 person for Masai Mara Safari; good for 2-3 persons for Calauit Safari.
9. Boatride among Fireflies
Fireflies love warm and humid areas. Because of this, they are found mostly in tropical regions and are found in great number in moist environments like forests, rivers and ponds. In Sabah, Malaysia, fireflies are so abundant that firefly watching has become a big business. In the summer, you can do a boat ride and see the “Christmas Tree Effect” when fireflies swarm the trees.
Locally, you can enjoy this sight at the Iwahig River in Puerto Princesa, Palawan. Ride a paddle boat along the 10-meter stretch of the mangroves and enjoy the view of fireflies flickering in the middle of the dark sky. Bring your camera to capture this phenomenon, but do remember to turn the flash off, as light drives the fireflies away.
Prices above are for half-day boat tours.
10. Catch a Sardine Run
Last but not the least is the Sardine Run – a unique and unexplained phenomenon when millions of sardines migrate together from colder waters and form a majestic wall. The sheer amount of fish swimming together causes a frenzy of excitement among those who come into contact with them.
They are often spotted in the waters off the east coast of South Africa from May to July. But they have also found their home here in the Philippines, at Pescador Island in Moalboal, Cebu. The sardines show up and stay for a couple of weeks, also attracting bigger fish like barraduca, mackerel, tuna and thresher sharks who prey on them, much to the delight of snorkelers and divers.
Prices above are for half-day boat tours.
What other activities can you think of? Chime in at our comments section or join us on Facebook!
*The prices above cover the cost of the tour itself. They are not inclusive of airfare, airport transfer and other incidental expenses. Foreign prices were computed using the prevailing USD-PHP rate on Google.