Physical geography

The Philippines are a rambling chain of some 7,107 islands and islets in the heart of Southeast Asia. From north to south, this tropical archipelago stretches for more than 1,700 kilometres towards the Equator. The South China Sea washes its western shores; a northern neighbour is Taiwan, as are Hong Kong and China; further north is Japan. Westwards lie other Southeast Asian countries such as Singapore, Malaysia and Thailand. An arm of the archipelago points southwards towards the isle of Borneo, and at its feet is the island chain of Indonesia. To the east and south, the waters of the Pacific Ocean sweep its headlands, looking out towards Micronesia and Polynesia.

There are three major geograpical groups in the country; Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. The northern portion of the archipelago is composed of the largest island, Luzon. The Visayan region is made up of about 6,000 islands including Panay, Leyte, Samar, Cebu and Bohol. Mindanao is the second largest island and encompasses about 400 smaller islands.


The climate of the Philippines is basically tropical - hot and humid all year round, with a rainy season lasting from June to October. Temperatures range from 20 to 34 degrees celsius; April and May are the hottest months of the year, on average, while December and January are comparatively cool (average maximum temperature is only 30 degrees celsius). The average humidity year-round is 77 per cent.

Economic geography

The Philippino economy is largely based on rice produced for the home market, and wood, sugar and coconut products for export. There is a growing industrial sector including mining, food processing, textiles and building materials. The tourist industry is also of increasing importance.


The population of the Philippines is around 70 million, largely Malay in origin, but with roots also in China, America, Spain and the Arab lands. The Filipinos are divided geographically and culturally into regions, and each regional group is recognisable by distinct dialects and local stereotypes - the sturdy and frugal Ilocanos of the north, the industrious Tagalogs of the central plains, the carefree Visayans from the central islands, and the colourful tribesmen and religious Muslims of Mindanao. Over 100 dialects are spoken in the Philippines, owing to the subdivisions of these basic regional and cultural groups.

A brief history

Philippine history, many argue, did not begin with the coming of the Portuguese expolorer Ferdinand Magellan in 1521. Rather, it began in the 13th century, when ten datus from Borneo, each with a hundred of his kinsmen, landed in what is now known as Panay Island in the Visayas.

Others still maintain that it was Magellan, and succeeding expeditions from Spain, who put the Philippine archipelago on the map of the world. The intrepid Magellan was dubbed the discoverer of the Philippines after he landed in Homonhon Islet, near Samar, on March 17th, 1521. He was later killed in Mactan Island of Cebu in a clash with native warriors led by a chieftain named Lapu-Lapu.

The Philippines were a prize catch for Spain, which at that time was locked in a fierce struggle for world colonisation with Portugal. The archipelago, named 'Felipinas' for Spain's Philip II, was composed of 7,107 islands and islets spanning 1854 km from north to south. The Philippines, also a window to the New World, stretched from China in the north to the Indonesian archipelago in the south. The northernmost tip of the country, Y'ami of the Batanes island group, is 241 km south of Taiwan, while the southernmost tup, Sibutu, of the Tawi-Tawi group of islands, is just 14.4 km north of Borneo.

Spanish colonisers succeeded in introducing Christianity in Luzon and Visayas, but were unsuccessful in Mindanao, where Muslims staved off Spanish efforts.

Spain's rule lasted from the 16th to the 19th century, but was marked with a series of revolts. When three Filipino priests were executed for nationalist activities, a group of reformists formed the Propaganda Movement that would later pave the way for the Philippine Revolution. A young doctor-writer named Jose Rizal was arrested and later executed by Spanish officials for his scathing criticisms of Spanish rule in the Philippines through two novels. Rizal, who was just 30 when he was executed, would later be recognised by historians as Asia's first nationalist. His contemporaries include Gandhi and Dr Sun Yat-sen.

The Philippine Revolution was launched after Rizal's death, and was led first by Andres Bonifacio, and then later by Emilio Aguinaldo. Philippine independence was proclaimed on June 12th, 1898 on the balcony of Aguinaldo's home in Cavite.

However, as Spanish rule ended, American domination began. Unknown to Aguinaldo and the Philippinos, Spain had ceded the archipelago to the US for US$20 million. Thus, when American and Filipino forces laid siege on the Spanish headquarters in the medieval walled city of Intramuros, the Filipinos did not suspect that they would soon have new enemies. When Intramuros finally surrendered, the Filipinos were prevented by the Americans from entering. This sowed the seeds of distrust that would eventually culminate in the Filipino-American War.

This new fight for independence lasted six years, until 1905, but was followed by decades of progress. In 1935 a commonwealth government was established complete with a constitution.

After the outbreak of World War II, Japan annexed the Philippines after a heroic battle with Filipino-American forces making a stand in Bataan and Corregidor. With the surrender, the Filipinos took to the hills, and waged a guerrilla war for four years. In 1945, US forces liberated the Philippines. On July 4th 1946, the US flag was lowered for the last time, and the Philippines was finally granted independence.


80 per cent of the population is Catholic, 15 per cent is Muslim, and the rest of the population is made up of smaller Christian denominations and Buddhists.

Languages spoken by nationals

Filipino is the national language. English is widely spoken and is extensively used in business and government. Across the archipelago, there are 111 dialects spoken.


GMT plus eight hours.


The unit of currency is the peso (P). One peso = 100 centavos.

Official holidays (all offices and shops closed)

The following days are public holidays in the Philippines (accurate for 1997):

1st January - New Year's Day; 25th February - EDSA Revolution Anniversary; 27th March - Holy Thursday; 28th March - Good Friday; 9th April - Day of Valour (Araw Ng Kagitingan); 1st May - Labour Day; 12th June - Independence Day; 28th August - National Heroes Day; 1st November - All Saint's Day; 30th November - Bonifacio Day; 25th December - Christmas Day; 30th December - Rizal Day; 31st December - Special Public Holiday.

What one should not fail to see

Intramuros, the Walled City, was built in the late sixteenth century by the Spaniards, and is located in Manila. History echoes within the walls of this fortress-complex, which contains a number of particularly fascinating historical buildings. Fort Santiago was the headquarters of the Spanish military and was prison to thousands of Filipinos including the country's national hero, Dr Jose Rizal. Intramuros also contains Casa Manila, a reconstructed 19th century mansion complete with 16th to 19th century furniture and fittings.

In Northern Luzon, deep in the heartland of the Cordilleras, lie the Banaue Rice Terraces, dubbed the eighth wonder of the world. These terraces were carved out of the mountain ranges centuries ago by the Ifugaos, the oldest mountain tribe in the area, and measured from end to end, they would stretch a total of 22,400km.

Tagaytay City in the Cavite region overlooks the countries smallest volcano, Mt Taal, which contains a lake within a lake and an island within an island. Nearby is Corregidor Island, which served as the US Military's headquarters during World War II.

The small island of Bohol, in the Visayas region, is most famous for its Chocolate Hills. These are more than 1,000 oval limestone mounds spread throughout the towns of Carmen, Batuan and Sagbayan. The area is also home of the tarsus monkey, the smallest monkey in the world.

Most favourable seasons for sojourns and touring

If you like rain, you will find that the Philippines enjoys an average of 22 days rain per month between July and September, with the latter part of June and the early part of October being equally wet. If you prefer dry weather, you should visit the Philippines between November and May, when it doesn't rain so much.

How to dress

Light casual clothes are recommended. Warmer garments are needed for mountain regions. On formal occasions, a dinner jacket and tie, or the Philippine Barong Tagalog may be worn.

Main holiday resorts

Metro Manila is the capital of the Philippines, and contains a bizarre admixture of age-old traditions and modern day attractions, centuries old buildings and gleaming high-rise structures, quaint street stalls and modern shopping malls, stately museums and discotheques and bars.

Baguio City in the Northern Luzon region is set apart from the rest of the country because of its pine trees and cool microclimate averaging 20 degrees celcius all year round. Located in the Cordillera Mountains, five hours from Manila by land, it is the summer capital of the country.

Palawan, dubbed the country's 'last frontier', is a mini-archipelago of virgin islands, home to rare species of flora and fauna, located between Mindoro Island and North Borneo.

Last but not least, the province of Cebu, the second international gateway to the country after Manila, lies in the middle of the Visayas island group. Cebu is composed of 167 islands, the province's capital being the oldest city in the country. Mactan Island has the largest concentration of resort establishments in Cebu.

Main holiday sports

Golf is highly popular in the Philippines, with over 11 golfing greens in Manila alone. A range of 'country clubs' across the islands offer facilities such as swimming, tennis, basketball, bowling and billiards, while for yachting enthusiasts there is the Manila Yacht Club. Indeed, as the country is made up of over 7,000 islands, it is no surprise that watersports of all kinds are available for tourists.

In particular, it is diving that is the principal sporting attraction in the Philippines - its deep blue crystal-clear waters include over 40,000 square kilometres of coral reefs teeming with a wide variety of marine life. There are literally hundreds of astonishing dive sites to choose from, ranging from the more unexplored and out of the way places for the more experienced diver, to the established diving resorts more suitable for beginners - your local Philippines tourist office will be able to furnish you with more details than you imagined possible.

What to eat and drink

Succulent, exotic, tangy, spicy, sweet, sour, colourful and always a feast - whether in a cramped pavement stall (kainan) or in a upmarket restaurant, dining in the Philippines is a guaranteed adventure. The wide array of cuisine, from native to Asian to continental - is matched only by the myriad choices of restarants and eateries around town.

Philippine cuisine is a mirror of its culture - there is a wide variety of dishes and styles. Rice is the staple, although the influence of foreign recipes have become a regular practice in food preparation. Coconut milk (gata) is often used as an ingredient, a gastronomic legacy from the Filipino's Malay ancestors. Popular dishes like lumpia (rolls) and pancit (noodles) are Chinese. Lechon (roast pig), which is considered one of the country's most famous dishes, has its origins in China, while aso (dogflesh in a piquant sauce) is a special dish from North and Central Luzon which is unique to the Philippines. Spain's contributions to Philippine cuisine include adobo, menudo and pochero.

Because of its coastlines, the Philippines boasts of seafood galore. In fact, most, if not all restaurants offer seafood cooked one way or another. The most popular method of cooking fish is broiling (inihaw). Standard seafood dishes include shrimp, rock lobster, crab, oyster, squid and fish. A delicious type of crustacean which looks like a cross between a crab and a crayfish, the curacha, is an attraction in itself in restaurants in Zamboanga, while Davao has become synonymous with the inihaw na panga, tuna head split and broiled. To cap a sumptuous meal is a wide array of deserts, from the fresh fruits to baked delights. The sweet mango is almost always the first on the list of after dinner fares.

What to buy

Philippine products include handicraft items such as carved statues and religious icons; household items such as the Tiffany lamps made of capiz; jewellery made from gold, silver, brass and pearl; baskets, jars, vases; ready-to-wear dresses in the most modern fashions as well as knitwear and traditional clothes such as the Barong Tagalog, the national costume made of cloth woven from banana fibre (jusi) or pineapple fibre (pina); furniture made from bamboo, rattan or carved wood.

Frontier formalities

Passports and visas

Except for stateless persons, and those from countries with which the Philippines has no diplomatic relations, all visitors with valid passports may enter the country without visas and may stay for 21 days provided they have tickets for their onward journey. Holders of Hong Kong and Taiwan passports must have special permits. Visas and special permits may be obtained from Philippine embassies and consulates.


To facilitate customs examination, visitors are advised to fill in the Baggage and Currency Declaration form before disembarking. Visitors are allowed to bring in the following articles duty-free: reasonable quantity of clothes, jewellery and toiletries, 400 cigarettes or two tins of tobacco, and two bottles of wine or spirits of not more than one litre each.

Currency regulations

Visitors carrying more than US$3,000 are requested to declare the amount at the Central Bank of the Philippines counter situated at the customs area. Foreign currency taken out upon departure must not exceed the amount brought in. Keep all exchange receipts for record purposes. Departing passengers may not bring out more than P1,000 in local currency.

Main travel routes

Getting to/from the Philippines

Manila and Cebu are the international gateway cities. Manila is served by more than 30 airlines which fly to different cities throughout the world. Philippine Airlines, the country's flag carrier, links Manila to 26 cities in 19 countries, and plies the air routes of principal cities and towns all over the country. Manila's air and sea ports bustle with the comings and goings of major international carriers and cruise liners. Cebu city handles regular flights from Japan, Singapore and Australia, as well as charter flights from Hong Kong, the United States and other major travel markets.

Domestic Transport

By air: Philippine airlines provides daily services to and from 42 local destinations. Pacific Airways has scheduled and chartered flights to major domestic destinations.

By sea: Inter-island ships connect Manila to major ports. Ferry services connect the smaller islands. Departure schedules from the Port of Manila can be found in the local newspapers.

By land: Jeepneys and buses are inexpensive ways of getting around most places. In Manila, Love Buses ply certain key routes. Roofless double-decker buses run along Roxas Boulevard from Rizal Park, and provide lovely views of the trip and Manila Bay. Metered taxis generally cruise for hire.

In Manila, the elevated Light Rail Transit (LRT) system provides a fast, efficient rail system along a 15km line from Baclaran in the south to Caloocan City in the north. There are 15 stations spread 800m apart and situated at major intersections. Travel time from end to end is 30 minutes. The Metro Train offers commuter train service from Espana Street in downtown Manila to Alabang in Muntinlupa, a suburb south of Manila. The Metro Ferry plies the waters of the Pasig River from Escolta in Manila to Guadalupe in Makati.

Cars and air-conditioned tourist buses are also available for hire from licensed tourist transport operators in major cities. Most hotels have limousine service.

Representatives abroad


Australia - Philippines Department of Tourism, Consulate General of the Philippines, Wynyard House, Suite 703, Level 7, 301 George Street, Sydney 2000, Australia - Tel:9299-6815 / 9299-6506 - Fax: 9299-6817

Hong Kong - 6/F United Centre, 95 Queens Way, Central Hong Kong - Tel: (852)-2866-6741/7859/9097 - Fax: (852)-2866-6521

Taiwan - Manila Economic & Cultural Office, 4/F Metrobank Plaza, 107 Chung Hsioo E. Road, Section 4, Taipei, Taiwan, ROC - Tel: 741-5994 - Fax: 886-(2)-778-4969

Korea - 403 Renaissance Building, 1598-3, Socho-Dong, Socho-Ku, Seoul, Korea 137-070 - Tel: (822)-598-2292 - Fax: (822)-598-2293

Osaka - Philippine Tourism Centre, 2/F Dainan Building, 2-19-23 Shinmachi Nishi-ku, Osaka 550, Japan - Tel: (06)-535-5071/72 - Fax: (06)-535-1235

Tokyo - Embassy of the Philippines, 11-24 Nampeidai Machi Shibuya-ku, Tokyo, Japan - Tel: (03)-3464-3630/35 - Fax: (03)-3464-3690

Singapore - Embassy of the Philippines, Office of the Marketing Representative, 20 Nassim Road, Singapore 258395 - Tel: 737-3977 / 235-2184 - Fax: (065)-733-9544


London - Embassy of the Philippines, Department of Tourism, 17 Albemarle Street, London W1X 4LX, United Kingdom - Tel: (0171)-499-5443/5652 - Fax: (0171)-499-5772

Frankfurt - Philippine Department of Tourism, Kaiserstrasse 15, 60311 Frankfurt An Main 1, Frankfurt, Germany - Tel: (069)-20893/94/95 - Fax: (069)-285127

Paris - Service de Tourisme, Ambassade des Philippines, Philippine Department of Tourism, Batiment B, 3 Fauborg Saint Honore, 75008 Paris, France - Tel: (33-1)-4265-0234/35 - Fax: (33-1)-4265-0238

Madrid - Philippine Department of Tourism, Torre de Madrid Planta Officina #7, Plaza de Espana, 28008 Madrid, Spain - Tel: (34-1)-542-3711 - Fax: (34-1)-547-4936

Rome - Philippine Department of Tourism, G.S. Air S.R.L Rome, Via Cassis 901-A 00187, Italy - Tel: (06)-474-4062/3735 - Fax: (06)-474-3780

North America

Los Angeles - Philippine Consulate General, 3660 Wilshire Blvd., Suite 825, Los Angeles, CA 90010, USA - Tel:(213)-487-4527 - Fax: (213)-386-4063

New York - Philippine Center, 556 Fifth Avenue, New York 10036, USA - Tel: (212)-575-7915 - Fax: (212)-302-6759

San Francisco - Philippine Consulate General - 447 Sutter Street, 5th Floor, Suite 507, San Francisco, California 94108, USA - Tel: (415)-956-4060 - Fax: (415)-956-2093