What did Filipino photographers know way before Conde Nast and Forbes did? That the Philippines is gorgeous up and down the archipelago and underwater — it’s not just an ‘emerging destination.’
In the past decade or so, as social media became more popular and people began sharing their travel photos, Philippine tourism accomplished what a small advertising budget could never have — to show the world how beautiful the country is, its beaches, islands, mountains, marine life and cities.
The country’s been on many Top 10 lists since — Conde Nast, Forbes, Tripadvisor, etc. — of most beautiful islands and destinations with Palawan and Boracay, and lately Siargao, leading the way.
We’ve always known this. And as local tourism ground to a halt in March due to COVID-19, local businesses have been shuttered with many saying they would not open again. The Department of Tourism is encouraging Filipinos to travel once restrictions are lifted, and for us travelers, it’s a chance to discover new places.
Filipino photographers especially know what a paradise the Philippines is up and down the archipelago and underwater — and that it’s not just an “emerging destination.”
We asked photographers Jun de Leon, Ricky Ladia, Zean Villongco, Sean Nolan and Boom Garcia about their favorite destinations and got five very different answers.
For instance, award-winning photographer, wakeboarder and teacher Jun de Leon has photographed the most beautiful women in the country and in the past nine years, he’s also been photographing the country’s smallest creatures — underwater creatures. Nudibranchs and critters the size of your fingernail. Underwater, he finds peace — and God.
Here are their fave places to add to your list for when we can all travel again and help local destinations get back on their feet.
JUN DE LEON, wakeboarder, teacher at edurescue.org
Anilao is my default travel destination. It’s the sheer majesty and serenity of the ocean that appeal to me. For one, it’s only a three-hour drive from Manila and you will be transported into another world. It has over 30-plus dive sites just around the southern area.
It’s an underwater photographer’s paradise — wrecks, schools of jacks, nudis, corals — it’s got it all! A lot of divers refer to it as the best place for underwater macro photography. No two dives are the same! Just the thrill of descending down will give you a good dose of dopamine. Leave your frenetic lifestyle on the surface, and replace it with one where everything moves in slow motion.
RICKY LADIA, visual storyteller
The first destination that comes to mind is Surigao in the northernmost part of Mindanao. It’s such a beautiful place, many faces and people to shoot for street photography, with a nice sunrise and sunset, good terrain, lots of falls and beaches, crystal-clear waters and clear night skies worthy of a Milky Way shot.
Second would be Panay Islands with Boracay on top of the list. I love shooting sunsets and this place has the most amazing sunsets I have ever seen — such gradation of colors, play of lights and cloud formations that kind of mimic the swirling, turning and gliding of a ballerina.
BOOM GARCIA, co-founder, Digital MNKY
I neither surf nor enjoy swimming in the ocean but Siargao has a special place in my heart — or should I say viewfinder?
Not many places in the the Philippines have captured the hearts and minds of so many travelers quite like Siargao. It’s an award-winning world-class destination and the mere mention of its name instantly brings to mind thoughts of white sandy beaches, crystal-clear waters, coconut trees and the perfect wave. Everywhere you go on Siargao is almost picture perfect, a paradise for surfers and photographers alike.
ZEAN VILLONGCO, traveler, storyteller
I remember when Sagada’s town center was less crowded by people and buildings, and roads leading to it were not so well paved. That was back in 1999, when I first came to Sagada. I was fresh out of college, having hurdled my last year like a stubborn kid who was just too relieved to finally get out of the dentist’s chair. Since then, I have returned to Sagada numerous times, a place I easily grew fond of. Being in Sagada is like getting lost, like leaving behind a life, like falling out of existence.
My eventual involvement as part owner of an adventure travel company brought me even closer to this mountain village where time seemingly stops and quietude roams like a guardian spirit. But time never really did stop in Sagada. Modern progress and the media eventually found their way into this village up in the mountains, and the vans with their load of tourists soon followed. More hostels and inns were built, along with a fine dining steakhouse, a coffee shop and a reggae bar. The crowds filled up the caves and snaked their way along the now cemented trails leading to the falls and the hanging coffins, snapping away with their smart phones with the hope of gathering a multitude of likes for their #YOLO Instagram posts. As with all things, change is but inevitable.
SEAN NOLAN, co-founder, Digital MNKY
Having been fortunate enough to travel throughout Asia, I’ve found my time living in the Philippines to be some of the most eye-opening and even on some level spiritual — and no place in the Philippines has captured my heart more so than the Batanes group of islands, the country’s most isolated and northernmost province.
Batanes islands have distinct geological features that separate them from the ideal tropical beaches and swaying palm trees that make up most of the archipelago. And to be honest, getting to and moving around some parts of Batanes can be a challenge for the unseasoned traveler. But despite the islands’ untouched beauty, their rugged frontier-like landscapes and almost-mythical reputations, I’ve found that it’s the people and the beautiful and rich Ivatan culture that still hold my interest since the day I first set foot there. Batanes has a special place in my heart and I look forward to revisiting someday soon.
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Visit the author’s travel blog at www.findingmyway.net. Follow her on Twitter and Instagram @iamtanyalara.