Q: I would like to visit the Philippines but how long do I need to see the country properly? I have two weeks and want to see as much as possible off the normal tourist trail, and include visits to cities, islands and other remote areas. Can you suggest an itinerary which is not too rushed, and includes the best sights and places to stay?
A: There is certainly much more to the Philippines than the usual stops in Manila and the beach resort of Boracay. Between 12 and 14 days should be enough for you to have the trip of a lifetime. After flying into Manila, you could base yourself for three days in the north-western city of Vigan, which has a Unesco-protected, 16th century centre. It's the centre of colonial-era Philippines, with a blend of Chinese, Spanish and native influences. You could stay in one of a small group of wood and stone villas at Sitio Remedios, a reconstructed village in the town of Currimao. Nearby Batac is home to the embalmed body of Ferdinand Marcos.
Next, spend two to three days in the nearby Cordillera region, home to the 2,000-year-old rice terraces of Banaue and several indigenous peoples including the Ifugao and Kalinga. Go on long hikes and stay in a homestay in Batad and experience life in an early 20th-century wooden house, with rice farmers.
Move on for another two days to the Batanes Islands in the far north of the country, where the Pacific Ocean meets the South China Sea, for a completely different side to the country seen by most beachgoers. Here you can ride horses across deserted beaches, walk over rolling hills and sleep in nature lodges such as Fundacion Pacita, in Basco. The landscape here is full of dramatic jagged cliffs topped by lighthouses.
From January to May, Bicol province in the centre of the country is the place to go for swimming with whale sharks. It's also a volcanic landscape, with the still-active Mount Mayon slowly fuming. Misibis Bay Raintree is a new all-villa beach resort in Albay.
Finish your trip with a few days on the white powder beaches of Palawan. The water is crystal-clear, and there are also pristine mangroves and inland lakes to explore. For a real blowout, stay at Amanpulo, a private island resort on Pamalican Island.
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