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10 Classic Philippine Destinations to Revisit When It’s Safe to Travel Again

I am often asked where I’d like to travel to when the pandemic is over, and the first thing that comes to mind is how it might not be over for a while. Realistically (and according to experts in the travel industry), people will be better off exploring in their own backyard — literally, as well as in a broader sense, with domestic travel being a safer and more sensible option, at least for now. The local tourism and hospitality industry have taken a big hit, and willfully supporting them seems like the right thing to do. Besides, if being a travel writer has taught me anything, it’s not to sleep on our own attractions. What I’ve been missing most while being homebound for over two months are the simple and incredibly accessible things that I’ve taken for granted, or dismissed as cheesy or baduy, just because they’ve become so familiar. So to answer the question, I’d probably indulge in a lot of local “comfort travel” — that is, revisiting the old favorites, rediscovering the well-loved, and seeing these places through more grateful eyes. Here are my top 10 picks:

Baguio

It’s all over the news for all the right reasons: sharing best practices on contact tracing as part of the city’s effort to wipe COVID-19 off the face of Session Road and beyond. That should inspire confidence in the road-tripping public. If that’s not enough to convince you, here are two words that might: strawberry taho. Personally I look forward to having Baguio Country Club’s famous raisin bread on a picnic table somewhere in Camp John Hay, enjoying a foggy evening at the hotel, and then making Baguio longganisa for breakfast. Find hotels in Baguio here.

Tagaytay

I fully expect an alarmingly huge part of Metro Manila’s population to drive to Tagaytay once the lockdown is completely lifted. I myself would happily brave southbound traffic to have a nice, sunrise breakfast at Bag of Beans, merienda at a coffee shop overlooking Taal Lake, and dinner at Leslie’s Bulalohan. Don’t you just miss that? 

Bohol

Photo via https://www.bohol-philippines.com/tarsiers.html

The province is being praised for its “impressive management against COVID-19” and is being eyed as a model for business and tourism reopening. They’ve done a great job at preserving the Philippine tarsier and the Chocolate Hills; clearly they’ve got their priorities straight. I haven’t been to Bohol in seven years and I wouldn’t mind revisiting it sometime in the COVID-free future. 

Boracay

Despite the fact that Boracay, keeper of the best sunset in the world, is currently going through its second lockdown, the island (and all of the local businesses on it) are keeping it sunny. Most of them have learned a lot from the first closure, and are facing this upcoming reopening prepared for the best and the worst. The first thing I’ll do when I finally visit Boracay? Eat at Sunny Side Café, buy an avocado shake at Jonah’s, and just bake on the sand. I hear it’s really clean now. [Wink]

Pampanga

Speaking of food I miss: Aling Lucing sisig, amirite? No egg, no mayo, just unadulterated pig face, pig brain, chicken liver, and highway fumes. I’m guessing Aling Lucing (and all the other awesome sisig places in Pampanga) are going to have to reconfigure their kitchen conditions by a lot, but I’m confident that the sisig quality won’t be compromised. Razon’s is another must-visit. I know they have branches everywhere now, but it’s different when you’re actually there, having their famous halo-halo while sweating under Region III heat. 

Catanduanes

The road less traveled is paved with unexplored wonders. Catanduanes’ capital, Virac, is a small town that serves as a gateway to tourist attractions such as the Sea of Clouds seen from an overlook in Viga (come before sunrise, eat suman with the local guides), and the Cagnipa Rolling Hills (a sunset hike serves the best golden view). A flight from Manila to Virac takes two hours, but you can also drive and then take a ferry to the island, which will take 15 hours in total.

Baler

A six-hour drive from Manila, Baler, the capital of Aurora on the Eastern part of Central Luzon is the original surfer’s paradise. It is famous for its long, black-sand beach, and swells for both beginners and experienced surfers. I’ll always remember it for its misty beach winds, laid-back restaurants, and the scenic drive. Best to go between October to April.

Ilocos

Ilocos is a roadtripper’s dream. Calle Crisologo in Vigan, Ilocos Sur will always be an interesting place to stay, with its Spanish colonial architecture, cobblestone streets, and baroque cathedrals. One of my favorite roadtrip memories is riding in a van for eight hours with 12 other family members and our dog, eating Fariñas Ilocos empanada as soon as we arrive in Vigan, and then sightseeing, ube sorbetes in hand. A three-hour drive to Ilocos Norte through Laoag leads to the windmills of Bangui — another very recognizable image I’d like to see again. 

Subic

A recent work trip to Subic introduced me to all the fun things one can do there. Fine, all the things one can eat there. I truly miss Meat Plus, a Subic institution and local favorite. The plan is to find a resort with a decent beach front, and drape my body on a hammock for an entire weekend. Oh, and of course, go to outlet stores for really inexpensive drugstore beauty products. 

Gigantes

This is where you go to really get away. Accessible via the Roxas City in Capiz, island hopping around Gigantes Group of Islands (in Carles, Iloilo) has gained popularity over the years. I remember seeing it when it was all still so unknown and just about to go viral thanks to a group of foreign Coast Guard volunteers that went on a relief mission after Typhoon Ondoy. I’ve visited often since, staying at Cabugao Gamay island, where I always make sure to avail of the fresh seafood dinner, served around a campfire under the stars.

* * *

As the country slowly reopens, hotels in particular are looking forward to hosting travelers again. RedDoorz, which has multiple locations in the Philippines, is currently offering a P799 Sale for bookings between May 14 to 31, 2020 (check-in period until Dec. 2020). Check their website for details. Follow #LetsTravelAgainSoon #RedDoorzPH for updates and more travel ideas. All photos by Chonx Tibajia (@pineapplechonx) unless otherwise specified.

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