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Exploring the Many Different Sides of the Philippines

Jodi Ettenberg shares some of her favourite spots to visit in the Philippines.

by Jodi Ettenberg Posted on 11 February 2013

My reason for traveling to the Philippines wasn't the country's thousands of beautiful islands or turquoise coves, nor the lush green rice terraces that wind their way across the mountain passes in the far North. It wasn't the great volcanos to climb nor the wonderfully friendly, quirky people. Nope. It was this:

My brother and a tarsier

The gremlin-like animal is called a tarsier and was a favourite of mine for years, even as a photo on my mousepad when I was working as a lawyer (to my colleagues' confusion). Endangered, the tarsier exists on only a few islands now - in the Philippines, in Indonesia and elsewhere in the region. One of the smaller primates on earth, they are shy, nocturnal and, in my eyes at least, beyond adorable. So I headed to the Philippines to see them at a sanctuary in Bohol, an island in the south of the country.

The thing about the Philippines, however, is that it is a wonderful country, and one with incredible diversity from north to south. I might have arrived there for a small furry primate, but I stayed for many other reasons. After a full four months in the country, readers often write about where to visit for their own Philippine trips. Some suggestions:


Home of the tarsiers. How could you not? Be sure to visit them in the official sanctuary, not in the illegal zoos that line the road.

Loboc river, Bohol


Explore the underground caves of Sabang near Puerto Princessa, head to the Bacuit Bay's El Nido and snorkel through some incredible karst rock formations and revel in the beauty that nature has to offer.

El Nido Palawan View of the Bacuit Bay

Rice terraces of Batad

While Banaue is more well-known as far as rice terraces go, taking a multi-day hike through Batad, Cambulo and other small villages, looping up and down the terraces to get from one to the other, was a serious highlight of my time in the Philippines. When the rice is fully grown the terraces burst with green, steps from sky to ground as far as the eye can see.

Batad rice terraces


The tiny mountain town of Sagada had some fabulous restaurants and a fun coffee culture, and was an excellent stop-over during an exploration of the country's north. Don't miss the underground cave experience, a 6-hour crawl through giant caverns, full of water. Not for the faint of heart.

Hugging a rock in a Sagada cave

Island hopping in the Visayas

South of Manila, there are great island groups to see, with many ferries that ply the routes from one to the other. From the Visayas (Bohol is within them, but I had to note it separately given my love of tarsiers), Leyte, Negros and more, including the party in Boracay, a hugely popular resort beach for locals and tourists alike.

Sunset in Sipalay Island hopping

These are but 5 suggestions for time in the Philippines. I spent 4 months there but I didn't get to see all of what I wanted and as with any country, there is always more than meets the eye. Whether you focus on the North or the South, the islands or the culture, I've no doubt you will find the Philippines a place that leaves you smiling, even years down the road.