By Pepper Marcelo
Experiencing the country in different ways. That is the mantra that local tour operators and the Department of Tourism (DOT) are conveying to foreign and domestic tourists interested in exploring the archipelago. The “Philippine Travel Mart,” was held recently to showcase prime destinations, special tour packages and other travel opportunities to prospective buyers and consumers. It was co-sponsored by the Philippine Tour Operators Association (PHILTOA) and the DOT.
Whether it be touring the city of Manila by boat on the Pasig River, or partaking in an exotic, culinary-themed tour of Pampanga, or engaging in more physically-oriented activities in typical relaxation areas such as Boracay, repeat clients and visitors are being offered a more adventurous, unique tourism experience.
“Yung ganda ng bansa is everywhere,” says Tourism Secretary Joseph “Ace” Durano. “However, what has been happening in the last three years is that a lot new places have been developed. A lot of new places are part of the mainstream tourism traffic of the country already. People want to get new information before exploring, and this is the place.”
In 2008, the DOT and PHILTOA formulated a National Ecotourism Strategy Initiative to provide an assortment of new activities to entice tourists and to promote the protection and conservation of the environment as well.
“We’re proudly showing to the world that we’re taking care of the environment,” says Cesar Cruz, general manger of PHILTOA. “Eco-activities are nature based. You have to have good rivers, good forests and a good habitat for wild animals and flora and fauna.”
In 2009, the DOT and PHILTOA developed 24 adventure tour packages, also called modules, with specialized themes and concepts building on what each province and region can to offer. For example, for surfing and kayaking enthusiasts, there’s “Paddle & Surf” in Pangasinan’s Hundred Islands, as well as in La Union and Pagudpud, Ilocos Norte. On kayak boats, tourists could go explore coves and islets. And though the country is not known to be a premier destination for surfing, the coastal towns of La Union offer several spots promising consistent “waves and breaks.”
For those that want both a land and sea escapade, “Crawl & Row” offers spelunking (or cave exploring) at Nueva Vizcaya’s Capisanan Cave System, as well as whitewater rafting at the Chico River in the Cordilleras. Then there’s Sagada in Mountain Province with caves so deep they appear to extend down to the ends of the earth. Also up north in Tuguegarao is the famous Callao cave, and down south, in Palawan, there is the St. Paul National Park with its caves that can be explored through the underground river.
Also popular among trekkers and trail-hikers is Mt. Pinatubo, which traverses the provinces of Pampanga, Tarlac and Zambales, where one can view the spectacular landscape. The area is also very popular among 4X4 enthusiasts who enjoy riding through creeks, dunes and rocks.
For a more immersive, cultural experience, there’s “Every Island, an Adventure,” with a wide assortment of activities the whole family can enjoy. Unique activities include oyster gathering in Calamianes Group of Islands and a safari tour of Calauit Game Reserve and Wildlife Sanctuary, both in Palawan.
Not for the faint-hearted, there’s “Tuna, Tubing & Tibolis” in Sarangani province with its local version of the bouncy, soaking, white-water rafting, called “tubing” (where instead of a traditional raft, the passengers sit on recycled rubber tires).
For its part, Cebu has a number of beautiful islands to explore. Famous beaches like those in Sumilon, Malapascua, Camotes and Bantayan islands present a variety of physically-oriented prospects, such as jet skiing, parasailing, snorkeling and banana boat riding. With ample attractions, beach front Cebu hotels, adventures and restaurants, Cebu invites travelers for enjoying a remarkable vacation.
Farther down south, Davao is a popular locale for extreme sports, with activities like hiking, trekking, snorkeling, diving, bungee-jumping, bird-watching, island-hopping and camping. There’s the “Highlands to Islands” tour, which consists of a tuna dinner, Philippine Eagle and wildlife tour, mountain biking and zip-lining on the longest zipline in the region.
Other specialized-theme activities for tourists include, but are not limited to, “Rafting & Rappelling,” which encompasses whitewater rafting, zipline and cultural immersion in Cagayan de Oro and rappelling in Camiguin; “Hike & Wave,” which consist of wakeboarding in Camarines Sur and climbing Mt. Mayon in Albay; the “Bicol Xpress,” which also includes wakeboarding in Camarines Sur, but with the added bonus of a whale-shark interaction tour in Donsol; and “Rock & Surf,” which consists of rock-climbing in Atimonan and surfing in Daet.
Activities are not limited to sports. There are also special educational opportunities for visitors to interact with local residents and learn about indigenous cultures such as that of the T’boli tribe of Lake Sebu in Mindanao.
“Tourists can have the chance to do a cultural diversion, to live with the natives and learn from them,” says Cruz. “It’s a very educational and positive activity.”
Durano says he has sampled every tour adventure module and thoroughly enjoyed them. “I like being outdoors and experiencing nature in different ways. Whether it be spelunking, rappelling, or kayaking, I enjoy experiencing things with some physical activity.”
Cruz says that it’s not only foreigners that are getting into these activities, but the locals as well. “More and more of our countrymen are beginning to appreciate them. Even surfing, it used to be an unknown activity here. But now, you go to places like La Union, you see Filipinos conducting surfing clinics.”
With rural provinces and islands naturally getting most of the attention due to their exotic and relaxing atmosphere, Metro Manila has been gradually losing its appeal. To prop up its touristy draw, the government and the private sector have teamed up to introduce the Pasig River Travel Cruise, a unique way of touring the metropolis aboard air-conditioned boats that cruise the Pasig. Besides providing a different view of the city, peripheral tours corresponding to each station destination have been developed. At the Binondo station, for example, tourists can embark the boat and go on a culinary walking tour of Chinatown. In historic Sta. Ana, there’s the Heritage Tour, where visitors can explore archeological finds and heritage structures. On Lawton, there’s the “Manila Madness Tour,” where shoppers can visit the nearby tiangges and malls. Last, but not least, there’s the Walled City of Intramuros, with its own distinct historical walking tour.
No matter the location or one’s preference — whether to relax and simply enjoy the view and breeze, or engage in the most strenuous of physical adventures — the Philippines has it.
“A lot of our kababayans abroad, when they left the country, the tourism industry in the country was still in its infancy stage,” says Durano. “It’s not in their minds that if they want to have a good experience during a vacation, they can do it here in the Philippines. Today, they can do that. In the past, people would just come home to visit their friends and family. You can do that and at the same time have some ‘R and R.’ There are so many places and things you can do here.”