5 destinations that look like they’re not in the Philippines

5 destinations that look like they’re not in the Philippines

We tell you: You can go overseas without having to leave the country. Read how.

The Philippines may be a tiny archipelago but it’s so beautiful and blessed—thanks to its 7,000++ islands making it almost have a bit of or something similar to what another country has to offer.

Here are five places in the Philippines that transport you to places outside the Philippines.

The rolling hills of “New Zealand” (Batanes)

By Ferdz Decena

This one’s no secret. Every time we see someone post about one of the ultimate #travelgoals, it almost always involves a sense of awe.

The northernmost province of the country, Batanes, is home to rolling green hills dotted with livestock that resembles the home of the Kiwis. You may not see fluffy flocks of sheep, but you will see herds of cattle and/or cows grazing among all that beauty, a rare combination in the country. There’s also the clear skies that add to the whole “this shouldn’t be in the Philippines” vibe.

There’s a particularly good spot that will make you say “Am I REALLY in the Philippines?”: Rakuh-a-Payaman in Mahatao.

“African safari” (Calauit Safari Park in Palawan)

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Blending in. 🦓

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It’s safe to say you’re not really going to find wild zebras and giraffes running around in open fields ANYWHERE in the country; they’re usually seen in enclosures inside zoos. Not that we’re complaining, but we’d like to see them in their element, similar to their brothers and sisters in Africa.

Luckily, there is a place just like the African safari that’s within 35 minutes of Metro Manila: the Calauit Safari Park. It’s home to reticulated giraffes and Grévy’s zebra that get to run around and play alongside local species, some of which are endemic to the Calamianes Islands where the park resides.

Experience the rolling hills of Batanes by booking #DashHolidays!
Tel: +63917 840 6853, +639917 627 6179
Solar Century Tower, 100 Tordesillas cor. HV Dela Costa Streets, Salcedo Village, Makati City

Time travel to “old Spain” (Vigan, Ilocos Sur)

Vigan itself looks like an old Spanish colonial town, but this street is what transports you to Spain. Photo by Ray in Manila

UNESCO calls it the “best-preserved example of a planned Spanish colonial town in Asia,” and it’s not hard to see why.

Vigan, Ilocos Sur is a remarkably well-preserved Spanish colonial town thanks in large part to the people taking pride in their heritage. One street, in particular, gives this city that true “old Spanish town” feel: Calle Crisologo. This cobblestone street is at the heart of Vigan’s very best when it comes to preserving old Spanish architecture. That, coupled with local laws that prevent extensive modifications to heritage houses, make this sight unique to Vigan.

“Japanese Bamboo” Forest (Man-made forest in Bilar, Bohol)

It’s not bamboo, but it is just as quiet and as peaceful. Photo by R294

This is not quite an apples-to-apples comparison, but the way the Bilar Man-Made Forest looks really gives you that feeling of being inside the Sagano Bamboo Forest in Kyoto, Japan.

You won’t see a single bamboo tree standing here (nor will mahogany make the same soothing sound when they get hit by a breeze), but you have to admit that the tree tunnel it creates is eerily similar. It’s like going through a wormhole that will transport you to somewhere completely different.

Going “Dutch” with flowers (Sirao Flower Farm, Cebu)

You can’t grow tulips in the Philippines without a truckload of struggle. Does this mean Amsterdam’s flower gardens are a far-fetched dream reserved for those lucky enough to get a Schengen visa? No.

A trip to Cebu is all you need to see sights similar to those in Amsterdam. The Sirao Flower Farm started making rounds in social media before the 10,000 Roses Cafe was even a thing. It looks spectacularly like the flower gardens in Amsterdam even without the tulips thanks to a more Philippine-friendly flower that’s just as colorful: the celiosa flower or cock’s comb.

Do you know of other destinations that you feel are similar to those overseas? Let us know and we’ll do a second set!

4 days in wreck wonderland

4 days in wreck wonderland

Explore sunken ships—the ugly beautiful allure of Coron, Palawan.

Coron, Palawan, the wreck diving capital of the Philippines, is known for its 13 World War II Japanese shipwrecks all lying within depth enough for them to be explorable by underwater addicts—the divers— from the Teru Kaze at a minimum depth of 4m, to the Irako with a maximum depth of 42m.

These wrecks offer great views from the outside and excellent routes on the inside for experienced divers and those with the right certification levels. Most of Coron’s dive operators in town, including our own Reggae Dive Center, typically offers three daily dives.

If you only have a few days in town, try this itinerary.

Day 1

Swimming in Barracuda Lake.
Photo by Catalin-Mihai Craciun of Freediving Coron

Start your diving holiday with some shallower check out dive in Barracuda Lake, known for its thermoclines and temperatures reaching 39 degrees Celcius—a perfect warm-up for a stunning dive on the Morazan Maru, which offers great diving both for experienced and entry-level divers.

Morazan Maru was originally built in 1905 in England but was sunk in September 1944 along with the other wrecks. She has since turned into a home of an abundance of species like lionfish and giant trevallies—and sometimes even turtles.

The beginner-friendly (and eerie) Teru Kaze.
Photo by Catalin-Mihai Craciun of Freediving Coron

Cap off your day with a shallow dive at Teru Kaze located a stone’s throw away from the Morazan Maru, for some reef and wreck diving. This wreck is good for snorkeling as the shallowest part is only 4m below the surface. On most days, Teru Kaze will offer good views from below as well as from above the surface.

You’ll be back in Coron later in the afternoon with ample time to climb Mount Tapyas for a view of beautiful sunsets and of Coron Island. Enjoy a refreshing fruit shake or a cold beer at the newly opened Tapas Lounge before you continue further down the hill and out into town.

End your day by stopping at Coron’s many bars and restaurants. You can have the bistek and menudo at Lolo Nonoy’s or vegan pesto pasta and veggie sticks at Le Voyage. For something off-track, walk off the main street and venture into Coron’s side streets with its eateries and restaurants catering to all tastes.

Day 2

Experienced and certified divers can upgrade their depth limits with dives to the Akitsushima.

The Akatsushima.
Photo by Catalin-Mihai Craciun of Freediving Coron

This wreck’s location between 23 and 35 meters under the sea makes it not suitable for entry level divers but it remains to be one of the most popular dives in the area as it’s the only wreck left with its guns mostly intact. The guns are dislodged from the gun turrets and are currently standing upright on the seabed next to the wreck, with three barrels raised toward to surface.

It’s a just-barely-doable for entry-level divers: the Okikawa Maru.
Photo by Catalin-Mihai Craciun of Freediving Coron

After spending some time on the surface, have your second dive at the Okikawa Maru, an oil tanker that holds the distinction as Coron’s longest and widest shipwreck at 160 meters in length and a 20-meter span across the beam. Her shallower part lies above the depth limit for entry level divers.

This wreck is located in a passage that from time to time creates strong currents. Due to the relatively shallow depth and the current, the Okikawa Maru teems with marine life—groupers, snappers, crocodile fish, triggerfish, and more. Those with keen eyes will find this wreck good for macro diving.

Cap your day’s dive series at Lusong Gunboat, one of the last unidentified wrecks in Coron. The Gunboat took direct hits and had its wreckage spread over a wide area, though the hull is generally intact. As with the Teru Kaze, this gunboat was also sunk in very shallow water—so shallow in fact that this wreck pokes out of the water at low tide.

The Lusong Gunboat is perfect for all levels of divers—from those getting into scuba diving, experienced divers who want to chill a bit after some great dives, and macro enthusiasts.

End your day with a dip at Maquinit Hot Springs with its natural saltwater springs, or a full Italian meal at Altrove.

Day 3

This day will be your last diving day in Coron since divers are advised not to fly within 18 hours of going underwater. Finish off in style at the Irako, Coron’s deepest and darkest shipwreck.

The beauty of the Irako outweighs the risks for experienced divers.
Photo by Catalin-Mihai Craciun of Freediving Coron

Irako was a refrigerator ship in the Japanese Navy. She has tight compartments and storage rooms, and her starting depth of 30 meters means only the most experienced of divers dare to take her on. Currents can change in a heartbeat and visibility ranges from a few meters on a bad day to magnificent ideal months. Her upright position with masts still poised makes it easy to see why she has become part of many divers coming to Coron’s bucket lists.

The eerie compartments of the Kogyo Maru makes for one daring dive.
Photo by Catalin-Mihai Craciun of Freediving Coron

Another deep dive is on the cards for your last dive day: the Kogyo Maru, an auxiliary construction supply ship, which went down with her load. One can still see the toppled construction machines in her cargo holds, with belt tracks and hundreds upon hundreds of bags of cement. Like the Morazan Maru, this wreck is widely covered in corals and marine life, from schools of seabreams to circling big-eye trevallies, to huge numbers of scads and fusiliers.

Make a final dive in one of Coron’s reefs or one of the shallower wrecks to make this trip one for the books.

Head back town for some tasty ramen and a cold beverage at Buzz. You can also visit Tita Esh for a more low-key vibe and some filling pansit canton or a heart-warming bowl of mami.

Day 4

It’s island hopping day! Make sure not to leave Coron without taking a trip to Coron Island. Rent a private boat with a tour guide or book a tour through an operator.

Kayangan Lake, but not from the usual viewpoint. Photo by Daniel Soriano

Coron Island offers a lot of white sand beaches and clear waters, with lunch that’s served in one of the small huts they have set up for the same purpose on the beaches. Do not miss out on Kayangan Lake or Twin Lagoon; go snorkeling in Siete Pecados or Twin Peaks.

A stand-up (or in this case, sit-down) paddle boat is a good way of exploring Coron’s neighboring islands. Photo by Daniel Soriano

Rent a kayak or a standup paddleboard in town if you’re feeling edgy before leaving and explore the island as you paddle along. This is a great opportunity to experience the beauty of the island in a very eco-friendly way.

Relax and enjoy the evening with a good view and a cold gin and tonic from either the View Deck or Suites 4:13 before heading out for dinner and summoning a good night sleep.

Who is Lisbeth Jensen?
Lisbeth is an instructor at Reggae Dive Center in Coron for over four years now. She is passionate about the environment and has used her work to participate in conservation efforts in Busuanga.

The Basics
Get there. Skyjet Airlines flies from Manila to Coron three times daily. Flyskyjetair.com

Dive tours. Reggae Dive Center offers fun dives to Coron’s many shipwrecks as well as PADI dive courses.
Mobile: +63928 835 5657, +63906 316 1454
Reggaedivecenter.com

Head to Freediving Coron if you want to enjoy these same dive spots without the need for heavy scuba gear.
Mobile: + 63915 172 6809
Freediving-coron.com

Words: Lisbeth Jensen; Photos: Catalin Craciun & Daniel Soriano
Featured photo by Catalin Craciun

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