Twenty destinations for 2014: The Philippines

philippines_2780242bDespite the devastating typhoon, the white-sand beaches, glorious landscapes and wildlife of the Philippines should be on your bucket list.

The Philippines made the headlines for all the wrong reasons in the autumn when Typhoon Yolanda – one of the biggest storms in history – brought devastation to the country. So why go this year? Not just as a vote of sympathy. While a handful of islands lay in the storm’s path, the vast majority, including the main tourist destinations, were unaffected. Last month, Philippine Airlines launched the first direct flights from the UK to Manila in more than 15 years, flying five times a week from Heathrow.

The archipelago is made for island-hopping between sugary beaches that receive far fewer tourists than they should. Cebu is the main entry point to the Visayas, from where you can take ferries to islands that including Bohol, for the golden sands at Panglao. Malapascua is where divers rise at dawn to see thresher sharks, while it is giant, gentle whale sharks that draw bathers to Donsol.

Boracay lays claim to the country’s most famous beach, a white-sand beauty that is also the place to go to party, whether at a low-key beach shack or chic cocktail bar. In the north, the Cordillera Mountains on Luzon are where you will find indigenous tribes and the photogenic green spines of gently shelving rice terraces, protected by Unesco as a world heritage site. Finally, Palawan is a region of limestone peaks, caves and crystal clear bathing spots waiting to be discovered by kayak or boat tour.

Filipinos also love a good fiesta and to see locals in a celebratory mood, take a tour to the off-the-beaten track island of Panay in the western Visayas for the Ati-Atihan festival (January 19 – 26). A street party is held in honour of Santo Niño – the holy child – where participants don feathers, paint their faces and dance to drums. The atmosphere is infectious.

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