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Tidbits from Lonely Planet and Filipino.com:
Visas: For most foreign visitors
visas are not needed for stays of less than 21 days. Three-month visas can be
obtained in advance and cost around US$35. Multiple-entry visas (lasting six and
12 months) are also available but are expensive and only allow for stays of 59
days at a time. Visa extensions are possible and generally faster to obtain in
Health risks: cholera, hepatitis, malaria, rabies
Time: UTC plus eight hours
Electricity: 220V, 60 Hz
Weights & measures: Metric
Tourism: 1.2 million visitors per year
Generally, the best time to travel is from the middle of December to the middle of May - off-season for typhoons. In the Christmas and Easter breaks, however, everyone is travelling and you'll have trouble getting a seat on any form of transport.
January and May have the most colourful festivals, the rice terraces of Luzon look best in March and April, and this is also the best time for island-hopping.
New Year's Day is celebrated with great vigour and plenty of fireworks. On 9 January, the Black Nazarene Procession, the largest procession in the country, carries a life-size, blackwood statue of Jesus through the streets of Quiapo. The Filipino version of Mardi Gras is the three-day Ati-Atihan, celebrated in Kalibo on Panay in the third week in January. On Good Friday, there are many scourges throughout the country, which have become popular attractions, especially those at San Fernando and Antipolo, near Manila. There are more processions on Flores de Mayo in May, this time in honour of the Virgin Mary. Independence Day is celebrated on 12 June with military parades. There are local festivals taking place just about every week of the year somewhere in the Philippines.
Many people dismiss Manila as nothing more than a 12 million person-strong entry point to more interesting rural destinations in the Philippines. And while the less built-up areas of the country do offer much to the adventurous traveller, those who stop to smell the incense and the pollution find that the capital city has a few hidden treasures of its own. Manila is a modern-looking city - a result of virtual destruction during WWII - but the sprawling city boasts its fair share of colonial ruins, enough to keep those historically inclined amused for a while, anyway. If you're just looking for a good time, Manila could be just the ticket: bars and entertainment venues could keep you well fed, well greased and in the party mood for months on end.
The spectacular rice terraces around Banaue, in north Luzon, have been described (like a lot of other places) as the eighth wonder of the world. Carved out of the hillside by Ifugao tribespeople 2000 to 3000 years ago, these remarkable terraces stretch like stepping stones to the sky - some reaching an altitude of 1500m (4920ft).
The island of Boracay, off the north-western tip of Panay, regularly appears in those 'Best Beaches of the World' lists that travel rags are so fond of compiling. Unchecked tourist development has, however, caused waste disposal problems. Environmental tests in 1997 found the water off Boracay to be contaminated and unsafe to swim in. Follow-up tests declared the waters to be within acceptable pollution limits and Boracay's beaches certainly look pristine. Puerto Galera, on the island of Mindoro is now destined to be the place to laze around in the sun. Puraran, on Catanduanes, off Luzon, has a beautiful beach, reef and surf, but currents can be dangerous.
Other AttractionsThere are countless spectacular sights scattered throughout the archipelago, including the strange Chocolate Hills of Bohol in the Visayas; the volcanic crater Lake Taal, south of Manila; the burial caves of Sagada, 18km (11mi) from Bontoc; the easygoing port city of Cebu, where Magellan marked the beginning of Christianity in the Philippines by erecting a cross; and 5,000 uninhabited islands to explore.
The Philippines has developed a mixed culture from the blending of foreign influences with native elements. Today, the Muslims, and some of the isolated tribes, are the only people whose culture remains unadulterated by Spanish and American influences.
Although traditional theatre, literature and kundimans (love songs) in the national language have experienced a resurgence since Cory Aquino's People Power movement, visitors are more likely to witness beauty contests, lurid soap operas, violent and sentimental Filipino movies, and local bands perfectly imitating Western pop tunes.
About 10% of Filipinos (the so-called cultural minority groups or tribal Filipinos) retain their traditional culture. There are some 60 ethnological groups, ranging from the Badjao of the Sulu archipelago, who are sea gypsies, to the head-hunting Kalinga in the north of Bontoc.
The Philippines is the only Christian country in Asia. Over 90% of the population claim to follow Christian faiths. The largest of the minority religious groups is the Muslims, who live chiefly on Mindanao and in the Sulu archipelago. There is also a Philippine Independence Church, some Buddhists, and a small number of animists.
The geography and history of the Philippines have conspired to produce a multiplicity of languages, some 80 dialects in total. The concept of a national language developed after the Spanish-American War in 1898 and Tagalog was declared the national language in 1936. There were several other contenders for this role, including Cebuano, Hiligaynon and Ilocano. A compromise reached in 1973 confirmed Pilipino as the national language. This is based on Tagalog, but has linguistic elements of other Philippine languages. Despite this, English remains the language of commerce and politics in the Philippines.
Filipino cuisine has Chinese, Malay and Spanish influences. Popular morning and afternoon snacks are called merienda, and pulutan (small morsels) are served with alcoholic drinks. Barbecued sticks of meat or seafood are popular evening snacks. Standard dishes, always served with rice, include meat and vegetables cooked with vinegar and garlic, grilled grouper, meat stews and a huge variety of soups - rice, noodle, beef, chicken, liver, kneecap, offal and sour vegetable. Side dishes include strips of unripened papaya, fermented fish or shrimp paste and bite-sized pieces of crispy pig skin. Halo-halo is a dessert made from crushed ice mixed with sweets and fruits and smothered in evaporated milk
Luzon, where Metro Manila is situated, is the largest island. Because of its solid mass and the availability of roads and infrastructure, Metro Manila's environs and the many provinces a few hours' drive away are perfect weekend getaways. An overland tour is the most insightful way of getting to know Luzon.
North of Manila lies the mountain haven of Baguio, its crisp, cool air redolent with the scent of pines and flowers. Near this summer capital are the strawberry fields and vegetable farms of Bontoc and the Trinidad Valley, and the splendor of the Banaue Rice Terraces, dubbed the eighth wonder of the world.
Lining the northern coasts are the provinces of La Union, its winding beaches lined with tiny resorts and fishing villages, Pangasinan, with its wondrous Hundred Islands, and sleepy, rustic Ilocos. The Old World unfolds dreamily in Vigan, a town of Baroque churches, horse-drawn carriages and Antillan houses.
Surrounding Metro Manila are provinces of specific interest such as Pampanga, the culinary capital of Luzon; Bulacan, known for its colorful fiestas and home-made sweets; and the artists' towns of Rizal. Moving down south from Manila, the coastal road winds through the historic towns and hundred and one resorts of Cavite. Across the Bay looms the island fortress of Corregidor, a tribute to the last bastion of freedom in the Pacific during World War II.
Further south, the breathtaking length of Tagaytay Ridge affords a view of the world's smallest active volcano, TaaI-a volcano within a lake within another volcano. In the towns of Laguna, artists' communities embrace tradition and religiosity under the shadow of the mystic Sierra Madre ranges. Waterfalls, hot healing springs and a general abundance of water resources characterize these fertile plains which circle Laguna de Bay, the largest freshwater lake in Southeast Asia.
Ragged southern coasts make Batangas province a diver's paradise. Sheltered coves and coral islets harbor divesites with stunning underwater vistas. Due west are the coconut plantations of Quezon, where folk festivals are enacted with ritualistic pageantry. Extending southeast along this land of plenty is Albay and its Mayon Volcano, magnificent with its near-perfect cone.
On the other side of Luzon, an island extends across the South China Sea towards the Philippine Deep-Palawan, the last frontier. Explore the subterranean caverns of St. Paul's Underground River, dive the depths of Tubbataha Marine Reserve or go on an African safari on the island sanctuary of Calauit.
West of Palawan in the South China Sea is a cluster of 53 tiny coral islands, islets, reefs, shoals and cays known as the Spratleys. Scattered over an area of about 61,876 square miles, these islands are said to be rich in oil and other mineral deposits, and are being claimed by Vietnam, China, Taiwan, Malaysia, Brunei and the Philippines. The Philippines occupies eight islands -- Pag-asa, Kota, Panata, Parola, Patag, Lawak and Rizal-known collectively as the Kalayaan Group.
The Filipino is basically of Malay stock with a sprinkling of Chinese, American, Spanish and Arab blood. The Philippines has a population of 76.5 million, and it is hard to distinguish accurately the lines between stocks. From a long history of Western colonial rule, interspersed with the visits of merchants and traders, evolved a people of a unique blend of east and west, both in appearance and culture.
The Filipino character is actually a little bit of all the cultures put together. The bayanihan or spirit of kinship and camaraderie that Filipinos are famous for is said to be taken from Malay forefathers. The close family relations are said to have been inherited from the Chinese. The piousness comes, from the Spaniards who introduced Christianity in the 16th century. Hospitality is a common denominator in the Filipino character and this is what distinguishes the Filipino. Filipinos are probably one of the few, if not the only, English-proficient Oriental people today. Pilipino is the official national language, with English considered as the countryís unofficial one.
The Filipinos are divided geo-graphically and culturally into regions, and each regional group is recognizable by distinct traits and dialects-the sturdy and frugal Ilocanos of the north, the industrious Tagalogís of the central plains, the carefree Visayans from the central islands and the colorful tribes-men and religious Moslems of Mindanao. Tribal communities can be found scattered across the archipelago. All in all the Philippines has 111 dialects spoken, owing to the subdivisions of these basic regional and regional groups.
Some 80 percent of the population is Catholic, Spainís lasting legacy. About 15 percent is Moslem and these people can be found basically in Mindanao. The rest of the population is made up mostly of smaller Christian denominations and Buddhists.
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