‘The Smile of Asia', as many affectionately name the Philippines, perfectly illustrates the uniquely hospitable, easy-going and ebullient country. Any a traveler will tell you that it is exactly the vivid tapestry of people and their culture that makes this second largest archipelago one of a kind. Just imagine a nation of Chinese, Japanese, Okinawan, Indian, Thai, Arab and Austronesian descent practicing indigenous animistic beliefs, Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism and Catholicism. A really exciting mishmash to dive into and explore. If you add to it the Spanish and American colonization influence, the picture gets even more diverse and vibrant.
The Philippines was a Spanish colony for more than 300 years. Torn by revolts and trying to resist Spanish conquest and Catholic conversion, the archipelago was later ceded to the United States following the Spanish-American War which completed the colonization process. It was not until 1946 when, after Japanese occupation, the Americans finally liberated the country and granted the independence. Since then, the nation is trying to find its own way into a better recognition, well-being and prosperity fighting against frequent natural disasters, violent rebellions and national debt. Poverty, poor infrastructure and almost non-existent railway system are often tourist repellent and explain why a high number of Filipinos resides abroad. But don't be one of the discouraged. Although the archipelago is often overlooked by travelers because of its problems and location on the ‘wrong' side of the South China Sea, the Philippines rewards those who go the extra distance to reach it.
This second largest archipelago of the globe includes more than 7,000 islands and boasts warm tropical waters, coral-fringed gardens with stunning marine life and some dramatic inland landscapes like the Chocolate Hills of Bohol or Banaue and the Rice Terraces. There is no visit to the Philippines without going to the beach and there are beaches to suit any taste, from wild stretches of Puerto Galera, exotic Amanpulo and El Nido in Palawan to the place-to-be Boracay. The islands lure with the best diving and snorkeling opportunities so if you're into wreck diving or swimming with the whale sharks, hit Coron or Donsol respectively. And don't miss out Manila, the capital city, as this heart and soul place is a jostling hub blending the Oriental with the Occidental as well as the traditional Philippines with its modern face.