When I was young, I drove with some family friends north from Manila to see the mountain retreat of Baguio. During the drive I noticed three small tornadoes swirling across the vast paddy fields. They were apparently too harmless to do any major damage, and a common occurrence in those parts. Yet I remember being completely enamored. To me, that trio of funnels was magnificent.
This was the Philippines of my childhood: a verdant land full of epic surprises. It’s where my grandfather took me on a wooden boat down the river to see monkeys swinging from tree to tree along the banks, and where the tides slurped the sea so far out, I could walk a quarter of a mile from shore harvesting sea urchins and shelled mollusks from tide pools.
Yet there’s still so much more. Travelers can be forgiven for worrying about the government’s brutal crackdown on drugs, and the occasional militant skirmishes in remote areas. But keep in mind the archipelago is huge: more than 7,000 islands, and more than 100 million people. You’ll have no cause for worry if you travel smartly.
If you do, you’ll find a paradise -- or perhaps thousands of them, with lifetimes’ worth of cerulean waters interspersed with impressive volcanoes, majestic falls, old Spanish towns, and bustling cities. In between, there are many oddities and curiosities to be discovered: hanging coffins, submerged cemeteries, and python massages alongside weird-yet-adorable looking primates that tickle your heart.
No one can possibly explore all these wonders. But here’s where you can start.