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Philippines

Background

An archipelago of 7,107 islands, the Philippines is a tropical paradise of dramatic landscapes and volcanoes, lush green paddies, sparkling white sand beaches and turquoise seas.

The country's 10 main islands lie in a sickle shape directly south of Taiwan, their volcanic ranges protecting the other countries of South East Asia from the Pacific Ocean. The Filipino people are proto-Malay, with a blend of Chinese, European and American genes mixed in through the centuries -- a result of trading contacts, followed by 350 years of Spanish and 50 years of American colonial rule.

Filipinos are warm and direct, having largely relinquished the circuitous approach of their Asian neighbours and enthusiastically embraced the "American way". Until recently its people were the country's major export. The beautiful, independent Filipino women enjoy an enviably high status at home.

Incongruous images typical of the Philippines are the startling clarity of the seas beside ramshackle gaudy jeepneys that bounce along rutted concrete tracks, pulsating with hugely amplified music.

Highlights

Diving

The Philippines has one of the most productive marine ecosystems in the world. More than 7,000 islands of lush tropical greenery, ringed with unspoiled beaches, are scattered around deep-blue waters that offer roughly 40,000 square kilometers of coral reefs teeming with a wide variety of marine life. Some of the best diving can be found in Anilao, a small town in southern Batangas. Other notable dive spots include Apo Reef National Park on the island of Apo, whose surrounding waters are home to some 500 species of coral, and Biri Island, Eastern Visayas.

Beaches

The Philippines is unequalled for its untouched white beaches, partly because to date there has been very little western tourism.

This is perhaps because tourists think of the Philippines as a dangerous place, whereas in fact this is only applicable to Manila -- in common with most major cities -- and the southern areas of Mindanao and Sulu. Some of the most secluded beaches will see only a fisherman's footprint from one month to the next.

Of more recent fame for surfing enthusiasts is the much hailed "Cloud Nine" left hand break which is still being chattered about by surfers the world over -- few have yet experienced this rolling marine thunderclap. Boracay, in the central Visayas region, is the country's top beach destination and has been voted the best white sand beach in the world!

Volcanoes

The "ring of fire" is one of largest volcanic chains on earth (out of 200, 94 have been active in last 160 years) and the Philippines has 37 of these volcanoes, 18 of which are active. There have been tragic reminders of the ferocity of this chain in both 1991 and 1992 when Mt Pinatubo erupted, having previously remained dormant for 600 years. There are also regular earthquakes and tremors -- for example, in 1990 in Baguio, with nearly 1000 casualties -- and terrifying killer tidal waves.

Manilla

The City of Manila is the capital of the Philippines. It is the second most populous city proper in the Philippines, with more than 1.6 million inhabitants. Only nearby Quezon City, the country's former capital, is more populous.

Manila lies at the mouth of the Pasig River on the eastern shores of Manila Bay. The river bisects the city in the middle.

Rizal Park is the country's most significant park. The 60 hectare park sits on the site where Jose Rizal, the country's national hero, was executed by the Spaniards on charges of subversion. A monument stands in his honor where Rizal's remains were buried.

Other attractions in Rizal Park include the Chinese and Japanese Gardens, the Department of Tourism building, the National Museum of the Philippines, The National Library of the Philippines, the Planetarium, the Orchidarium and Butterfly Pavilion, an open-air auditorium for cultural performances, a relief map of the Philippines, a fountain area, a children's lagoon, a chess plaza, a light and sound presentation, and the Quirino Grandstand.

Ifugao Rice Terraces

Spread throughout the entire province of Ifugao (6 hours drive north of Manila), but most often seen at Banaue, the Ifugaorice terraces are a testimony to the early technological advancement of the Ifugao people. Carefully designed to create an irrigationsystem for the rice crops, the precipitous terraces have created a living sculpture of the lush green mountain valleys.

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