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THE MAJOR ISLANDS OF THE PHILIPPINES
LUZON is the largest of the Philippine islands. It streches more than 10,000 kilometers, its northernmost tip almost touching Taiwan and its southwestern finger reaching out to Borneo.
Luzon is where Manila, the vibrant national capital, and Makati, the booming financial center are situated. The island is connected by a network of modern roads and bridges that traverse cities like Laoag in the north or Naga in Bicol region with their old churches and modern airports and hotels; small towns like Vigan in Ilocos Sur with horse-drawn carriages, Antillan houses and internet facilities; and rural villages with quaint inns and cellphone sites.
Next to Manila is Bulacan, site of the Barasoain Church where the Revolutionary Congress drafted the first Philippine constitution more that 100 years ago. A little farther north is Pampanga, famous for carved wooden furniture and giant Christmas lanterns. Also next to the capital city are the provinces of Rizal, home to Filipino artists, Cavite and Batangas with their historic towns and museums, and Laguna with its string of resorts and springs with healing powers.
In Laguna, Batangas and Quezon provinces are the enchanting Mount Makiling and mystical Mount Banahaw of the Sierra Madre.
Across Manila Bay stands Corregidor, the island fortress that played a prominent role in the Pacific War.
North of Manila is Baguio City, the cool mountain haven of pine trees and flowers perfect for the dry months of March, April and May. From this "Summer Capital", one can visit the Banaue Rice Terraces, an engineering marvel considered the Eighth Wonder of the World.
South of Manila is Tagaytay, a cool and popular resort city in Cavite with a spectacular view of Taal Volcano, the world's smallest active volcano.
Taal, a volcano within a lake within another volcano, is in Batangas, where the St. Martin of Tours Basilica, the largest church in the Far East, is located. Batangas is also a diver's paradise.
Streching along the eastern coast is Quezon, with its fine beaches and coconut plantations. Farther south in the Bicol region is Albay and its perfect cone-shaped Mayon Volcano.
Southwest is Palawan, the country's last frontier with the forbidding limestone cliffs of El Nido, the subterranean caverns and river of St. Paul, the safari island of Calauit, home to giraffes, impalas and zebras, and Tubbataha reef, the most beautiful dive site this side of the world and recently declared a protected marine area.
THE VISAYAS are emerald and sapphire jewels dotting the land and seascape between Luzon and Mindanao. Centrally located this cluster of islands entices the adventurous, the daring and the lover of nature and beauty to frolic in the sun, sea and sand.
At the very center is the island-province of Cebu, itself ringed by 166 smaller islands. Mactan, one of these islands, has some of the best diving spots in the country and Bantayan, another isle, is famed for its breathtaking coral formations.
Cebu City was the first Spanish settlement in Asia and is the second largest metropolis in the country, rivaling Manila in many ways.
Two hours away from Cebu by Super Cat ferry is Bohol, more rustic but just as exciting for the adventurous and daring. The most popular diving destinations are the islands of Panglao, Balicasag and Pamalican, from where one can also go whale-watching. Its top tourist attractions are the Chocolate Hills, thousands of cone-shaped mounds scattered over 50 square kilometers. Bohol is also home to the tarsier, the oldest insect-eating mammal and smallest primate on the planet.
The Samar-Leyte region in the Eastern Visayas offers a quieter but equally picturesque life of rural Philippines.
The Panay and Negros islands offer a glimpse of the country's Spanish roots. Iloilo boasts centuries-old churches, period houses and fine handloomed farbrics. Negros Occidental was once the nation's sugar bowl and bastion of the old rich landed gentry. Negros Oriental is ideal for land and water adventure sports like trekking, scuba-diving and kayaking.
Off the province of Aklan is Boracay, touted as the Best Beach in the World, with four kilometers of dazzling powder-fine white sand and warm, crystalline waters.
MINDANAO, the second largest island in the Philippines, is simply bewitching. It is picturesque with its stunning land-and-seascapes.
Tiny pearl-shaped Camiguin Island is inviting with its white beaches and seven volcanoes. Misamis Oriental is a trekker destination with its canopy Walk in the rainforest of Claveria. Cagayan de Oro beckons with its white water rafting, kayaking, and the Garden of Malasag Eco-Tourism Village. Bukidnon is Cowboy Country with its cattle ranches and pineapple plantations.
Surigao offers every kind of watersports and has Cloud Nine Break, one of the best surfs in the world.
In Davao is Mount Apo, the country's highest peak. It is home to the rare Philippine Eagle, the world's largest eagle, and the exquisite waling-waling, the queen of orchids. The Garden City of Samal Islands is where one can enjoy dolphin and whale watching.
Zamboanga City has quaint water villages with houses on stilts inhabited by pearl-diving Badjaos. In Lanao del Norte is the Maria Cristina Falls, 100 feet higher that Niagara Falls.
There are fruits and flowers everywhere: durian, marang, mangosteen and rambutan as well as banana, pineapple and various citrus fruits; and countless varieties and species of orchids and other lovely flora.
And then, there are the people of different tribes and ethnic traditions and beliefs who will be more than happy to welcome you.
[photo credit: The FookienTimes. The Philippines Yearbook 2002]
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