Blessed with stunning natural views, rich culture and history, the Philippines has received worldwide recognition. According to World Heritage Convention, there are at least eight sites in the country that have made their way to the World Heritage List. The list itself is divided into three different types of universal heritage: natural, cultural, and the mixed type of both nature and culture.
1. Tubbataha Reef National Marine Park, Palawan
UNESCO put this marine park in the World Heritage List in 1993 and it is the first Philippine site to receive such recognition. The organization committee even declared the 33,200 ha traditional island region to be of irreplaceably valuable due to its coral reef beauty and diversity along with a wide range of sea species there. The place provides such wonderful marine life that even marine biologists claim to be hard to find elsewhere in the world. There are over 350 species of coral, 500 species of fish, and various kinds of whales, dolphins, sharks and turtles.
The intensely beautiful underwater park is included in the natural property category as it does not merely provide marvellous views, but it also helps keep balance of the natural environment. Aside from its biodiversity, the coral walls of Tubbataha are also wonderful diving spots for tourists (which are usually compared to the coral walls of the Great Barrier Reef).
From Manila, tourists can take regular fights to Puerto Princesa City, Palawan. At the airport, you can then take a motorcycle ride to the pier, where boats going to Tubbataha Reef are available.
2. Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park, Palawan
Both a UNESCO World Heritage Site and one of the ‘New 7 Wonders of Nature, this national park is a combination of several astonishing natural features: river, mountain, rainforest, and plains. The river is as long as 8.2 km and it is considered one of the longest underground rivers in the world. Other than the length, the river is a rare natural wonder as the water comes from an inland source and it flows into the sea. On the other hand, the highest peak of the mountainous area is as high as 1,028 meters above sea level and it is even more unique with the addition of limestone plateaus. The rainforest itself has its own charm. It is home to a wide range of both endangered and endemic flora and fauna: calamian deer, mouse deer, Palawan bearcat, skunks, wild pigs, etc.
The national park is located 81 km away from Puerto Pricesa downtown area, in St Paul mountain range and 360 km southwest of Manila. Everyone wanting to visit the underground river must apply for a permit to do so, and because of limited capacity and high demand, it’s best to book a few days in advance.
3. Banaue Rice Terraces in Ifugao
Despite its location in the remote Cordillera mountainous area, this is one of the places in the country that is definitely worth a visit. Getting to Banaue and Ifugao is difficult and long, but well worth the journey north. The journey from Manila to Banaue takes about 9 hours by bus (traffic can add about 2 hours). The other option is to fly to Baguio and then take a bus from there, but it doesn’t save much time. The best time to go is between February and May end, when it is least likely that the views will be obscured by low level clouds.
Not only attractive for tourists, the place has grown the curiosity of scholars, as well. In fact, they have estimated that the setting of the rice terraces dated back from 2,000 years ago. It has shown the unity of man and nature: how man forms a natural landscape to suit his needs. Completing the tranquillity of the paddy terraces is the sound of flowing water from the irrigation canals.
Apart from the popular paddy terraces in Ifugao, there are other sites, although not quite as majestic, across the country. They scatter in Kalinga-Apayao, Abra, and Benguet, areas with approximate height of 700 to 1,500 meters. In fact, all these terraces take up around 20,000 km square or 7% out of the country’s total land mass.
4. Historic City of Vigan in Ilocos Sur
Back in the days when Spain colonialized the country, Vigan or what was better known as Ciudad Fernandina de Vigan was amongst the top three cities holding the most significant roles in the Philippines. The importance can be seen through the constructions around the city: religious buildings, big houses and other architectural buildings used for political activities.
With such historical backgrounds, the city is a proof of the culture combination between the foreign and local. There are several buildings representing the mixture, such as Plaza Salcedo, Saint Paul’s Cathedral and College, The Arzopispado, the Provincial Capitol Building, Simbaan a Bassit (a cemetery chapel), Calle Crisologo (a residential area with a cobbled stone street), and Burgos Museum.
From Manila, Vigan is approximately a 7 hour trip. There are buses travelling between the two cities.Besides, one can opt for a flight to the city of Laoag, which is about 80 kilometers from Vigan. From there, tourists can reach Vigan within 1 and a half hours.
5. Mount Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary
In the Philippines, out of the six UNESCO World Heritage Sites, only one can be found in Mindanao. That is the Mount Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary found in Davao Oriental, the only mountain range heritage site in the country. It is home to a number of threatened flora and fauna, Philippine eagle, Philippine cockatoo, Philippine warty pig, Philippine pygmy fruit bat.
6. Beautiful churches around the country
Some of the country’s most embellished churches are Church of San Agustin, Nuestra Senora dela Asuncion, San Agustin Church in Manila, and Santo Tomas de Villanueva.
Sharing a similar name are the Church of San Agustin (known as the Paoay Church) in Illocos Norte and San Agustin Church in Manila. Although they both also share a similar concept of enduring earthquakes, the styles of the buildings are different. While the one in Illocos Norte has fourteen massive buttresses in the shape of the letter S, each of which is topped with a finial in the form of a pyramid to support its walls, the one in Manila exerts a raft type foundation allowing the construction to sway during an earthquake.
On the other hand, Nuestra Senola dela Asuncion (known as the Santa Maria Church) has Mediterranean look due to its location on the top of a hill and Santo Tomas de Villanueva (known as the Miagao Church) owns a strong fortress image because of its squat structure and its pair of massive bells.