Who says you need visas and a passport to see some of the best natural and man-made sites in the world?
Thanks in large part to airlines selling plane tickets at rock-bottom prices and travel agencies offering all-in tour packages, these recent years saw a massive amount of Filipino travelers wanting to travel abroad. After all, the majesty of Japan’s Mount Fuji and the grandeur of Africa’s Victoria Falls did not become famous for nothing.
But guess what? With the multitude of beautiful natural and manmade attractions found in the Philippines, one does not even need a passport to see some of the world’s most awe-inspiring sights. The National Mapping and Resource Information Authority (NAMRIA) revealed in January that the Philippines has not 7,107 but an astounding 7,641 islands, a fact that should get you excited about re-exploring our country and discovering something new.
If that is not enough to keep you traveling locally, think about this: if you look closely enough, you will see that some of the tourist spots in our country bear a striking resemblance to some of those in other countries. So if you have always been wistful about the landscape of New Zealand or the colors of the Great Barrier Reef, you might be surprised to learn that you do not need to go far to see them.
Peppered with almost 2,000 mostly uninhabited limestone formations, the 43,400 hectare Hạ Long Bay in Quảng Ninh Province, Vietnam is, indeed, quite a sight. In 2011, it was officially declared one of the New7Wonders of Nature.
Hạ Long Bay in Quảng Ninh Province, Vietnam. Photo via Shutterstock
Travel just over an hour by plane from Manila to Palawan and you will be greeted by the spectacular seascape of El Nido, which itself boasts of having monolithic limestone cliffs that you can see up close when taking on the famous Tours A, B, C and D. These features, as well as the locale’s forests, marine habitats and 50 white sand beaches, are just some of the reasons why El Nido placed fourth in award-winning luxury and travel website Condé Nast Traveler's 2017 list of The 20 Most Beautiful Beaches in the World.
El Nido, Palawan. Photo via Shutterstock
Located in China’s Yuanyang County, the 16,603 hectare Honghe Hani Rice Terraces is a World Heritage Site, as declared by the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), with a history spanning 1,200 years. Populated by by red rice, these terraces have an integrated farming system that involves various livestock, and also serve as home to 82 villages.
Honghe Hani Rice Terraces in Yuanyang Province in China. Photo via Shutterstock
Located in the province of Ifugao in the Cordillera Region is the so-called “Eighth Wonder of the World,” the Banaue Rice Terraces. Rising 1,500 meters above sea level, the rice terraces were carved by the province’s indigenous people some 2,000 years ago. Like the Honghe Hani Rice Terraces, five terrace clusters—those of Nagacadan, Hungduan, Mayoyao, Bangaan, and Batad—have been inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites under Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras.
Banaue Rice Terraces in Ifugao. Photo via Shutterstock
In 2007, two divers discovered the longest underground river in the world while exploring a maze of underwater caves in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. The waterway is said to twist and turn for 95 miles around limestone walls and passages, connecting two of the region’s longest cave systems.
An underground river in the Yucatán Peninsula in Mexico. Photo via Shutterstock
Prior to this revelation, the longest underground river was recognized to be the equally impressive Puerto Princesa Underground River located in the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park in Palawan. The 8.2 kilometers of the Cabayugan River runs underground, entering the 24-kilometer St. Paul's Underground River Cave. Inside the cave, one can also find major stalactite and stalagmite formations, as well as one of the largest cave rooms in the world, the 360 meter-long Italian Chamber. This National Park, inscribed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site and chosen as one of the New7Wonders of Nature, is also a major area for biodiversity conservation due to its full mountain-to-sea ecosystem and collection of forests.
The Puerto Princesa Underground River. Photo via Shutterstock
New Zealand is perhaps most famous for being the location of the Lord of the Rings movie franchise, as the vast rolling landscape of the country perfectly embodied the Middle Earth that J.R.R. Tolkien had depicted in his books.
Green landscape in the Nelson Region of South Island, New Zealand. Photo via Shutterstock
Reminiscent of these open plains and mountains surrounded by blue waters is the panoramic landscape that makes up Batanes, the northernmost province of the Philippines. Spanning a total area of 219 sq km, nearly half of the province is composed of hills and mountains distributed among its three main islands: Batan, Itbayat, and Sabtang. An effort to make the entire province of Batanes a UNESCO World Heritage site by 2020 is in the works.
Sabtang Island, Batanes. Photo via Shutterstock
Stretching over 2,300 kilometers and consisting of more than 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands, Australia’s Great Barrier Reef is the largest coral reef system in the world. This massive reef, said to be the only structure made by living organisms that can be seen from outer space, is home to over 30 species of whales, dolphins and porpoises; six species of dolphins; over 1,500 fish species;and more.
The Great Barrier Reef in Australia. Photo via Shutterstock
Second in size to the Great Barrier Reef is the Philippines’ very own Apo Reef, located in Occidental Mindoro that spans 34 sq km and is the largest of its kind in the country. During an expedition in 2016, it was discovered that Apo Reef is home to over 208 fish species, as well as 35 megafaunal species including turtles, sharks, sea cucumbers and giant clams. Declared a natural park by then-President Fidel Ramos in 1996, fishing has been banned by the government since 2007 and the reef is now only open as a tourist attraction.
Apo Reef in Occidental Mindoro. Photo via Shutterstock
The African savanna is said to have the largest combination of density and “range of freedom” of wild animal population and diversity. Because large carnivores and herbivores range freely on open plains, the continent’s most famous tourism activity are safaris, especially in Kenya, Botswana, Namibia, and South Africa.
Elephants grazing the flatlands in Kenya. Photo via Shutterstock
In Palawan, a wildlife sight-seeing adventure can be done at Calauit Safari Park, a 3,700 hectare island located in Busuanga. Opened in 1976 as a game preserve and wildlife sanctuary under Proclamation No. 1578, the island was reportedly the Marcos administration’s response to Kenya’s then-President Jomo Kenyatta’s plea for help in saving the African wildlife, which was being threatened by drought and war. The island was transformed into a savanna to accommodate 104 feral animals that were brought from Kenya by boat, and these included elephants, zebras, giraffes, gazelles, impala and bushbucks. At present, giraffes, zebras and the local Calamian deer can be seen freely roaming the sanctuary, while in captivity are other animals like the Philippine crocodile, porcupines, pythons, tortoises and a wild boar.
Calauit Safari Park in Busuanga, Palawan. Photo via Shutterstock
The two-drop Gocta Catarata or Catarata del Gocta in Peru’s Amazonas Region is said to be the fourth tallest free-falling waterfall in the world with a total height of 771 meters. Located in the Chachapoyas Province, the path leading up to the falls is paved with ancient relics and ruins, which is popular to explorers who enjoy wading through historical artifacts as much as they do diving into bodies of water.
Gocta Catarata in Peru's Amazonas region. Photo via Shutterstock
The 270-meter Limunsudan Falls in Barangay Rogongon in Iligan City is the second highest waterfall in the Philippines. While located in the same province as the more popular Maria Cristina Falls, Limunsudan Falls carries the distinction of being higher, as the former is only 98 meters high. Surrounding the waterfalls is a thick jungle and trails leading up to the water can be quite risky, but experienced trekkers (who advise traveling with a proper tour guide) swear by the reward that is its majesty whether viewed from afar or up close.
Limunsudan Falls in Iligan City. Photo by Floresa816 via Wikimedia Commons
One cannot go to Spain in search of an all-out party scene without making a stop at its most popular nightlife destination, Ibiza. The island’s unique brand of partying, which is said to have started in the 1970s, is a blend of open-air celebrations and costume parties attended by people of various backgrounds and backed by the distinct Balearic beat.
Cala Conta Beach in Ibiza Island, Spain. Photo via Shutterstock
In our part of the world, Boracay remains steadfast in keeping its unofficial title of the Philippines’ premier “Party Island,” where one can visit any time of the year and jump into festivities that never seem to end. Found mostly at the well-known Station 2 are various restaurants and nightclubs that are bustling with parties that tend to spill out towards the waters even before sunset. But more to the throngs of people, flowing drinks, and unrelenting beats, Boracay is also home to a long stretch of white beaches where sun worshippers can swim and relax as they regain their strength for another round of partying.
White Beach in Boracay Island, Aklan. Photo via Shutterstock
Sources: unesco.org, nationalgeographic.com, new7wonders.com, cntravels.com, dost.gov.ph, thepoortraveler.net, namria.gov.ph, telegraph.co.uk, worldwaterfalldatabase.com, denverpost.com, Wikipedia.org