White sand beaches, clear blue waters, and amazing marine life – these are just some of the reasons more and more travelers are including the Philippines in their itineraries. With over 7,100 islands, this tropical country is no doubt becoming a sizzling destination to experience summer all year round.
But this archipelagic gem in Southeast Asia is also home to some extraordinary, if not bizarre, experiences. The Philippines is not only rich in natural wonder. This deeply spiritual nation also takes root in mystical beliefs and age-old traditions. Its rich and tragic past also adds depth to many tourist spots in learning how and why the Philippines came to be.
If you’re looking for the hottest spots to visit in the Philippines, look elsewhere. This list brings you a bit of the strange, some of the weird, and all of the cool and unusual things to do in the Philippines.
Mingle with Migratory Birds at Olango Island Wildlife Sanctuary
Cebu is well-known for its many beaches and amazing dive sites. Well-known to the locals but lesser known to foreign travelers is Olango Island, just 5 kilometers away from Mactan, the location of the Mactan-Cebu International Airport.
Bird watching is not exactly a mainstream activity in the Philippines, but avid bird watchers know that there are many prime locations in the country with a large concentration of local and exotic birds. Olango Island Wildlife Sanctuary is known to have the highest concentration of migratory birds in the Philippines.
There are around 100 species of birds on the island, 48 of which are migratory. It’s a great destination on its own, or part of an island-hopping trip together with neighboring islands of Hilutungan, Nalusuan, and Sulpa.
At its peak, there are 40,000 birds on the island, sometime between November and February. The migratory birds usually come from Northern China and Siberia and use the island’s mudflats, mangroves, and grasslands as their temporary home.
See the Hanging Coffins of Sagada
Sagada in the Mountain Province region of Luzon is known for beautiful sceneries atop lush mountains. Far from the conveniences of the modern world, travelers head to Sagada for soul-searching and to be close to nature. It’s not an easy journey, beginning with a 12-hour bus ride from Manila that continues to trekking through the villages with barely any level ground.
But within this region is a 2,000-year-old ritual that lives on till today. The Lumiang Burial Cave houses 200 coffins that have survived for decades. These are the beloved of the Igorot tribe, one of the oldest tribes to have inhabited the Philippines.
Commonly referred to as the Hanging Coffins of Sagada, the burial cave is eerie yet fascinating as it speaks of ancient traditions and how the Igorot tribe revere their dead. The coffins are suspended against the walls of the cave with rope and wire. These coffins are made of hollowed-out logs, which are normally smaller than the actual body. As a result, the corpse assumes a fetus position after a five-day burial ritual. It is said that the higher the coffin, the more revered the deceased.
Rather than burying their dead, the Igorot tribe believe that hanging these coffins bring their dead closer to heaven. As part of the tradition, only those who passed away from natural causes are buried in the cave. Those who died as infants or from illnesses were believed to bring bad luck and are not enclosed in the hanging coffins.
Have a Snake Massage at Davao Crocodile Park
Davao is one of the most progressive cities in the Mindanao region in the southern part of the Philippines. Home to the country’s current President, Davao has become a bustling hub for commerce, political activity, and of course tourism.
One of the city’s most prized destinations is the Davao Crocodile Park. As suggested by the name, it is home to one of the country’s most advanced crocodile farming systems. On exhibit are crocodiles of all shapes, sizes, and ages, as well as a few local and exotic wild animals. There are also animal shows where rescued wildlife have been trained to provide educational experiences to visitors.
But if you’re looking for a unique experience, get yourself a snake massage. Here, visitors lay down on a mat where trained handlers lay different kinds of pythons, including 30-kg Burmese Python. The massage experience comes from the snakes slithering around and on top of the guest, with their varying weight applying different levels of pressure. The only thing left for you to do is try to relax and enjoy the experience!
Enjoy a Sprinkling at Asik-Asik Falls
You’ll never fall short on adventure in the Philippines, and one such worthy expedition is Asik-Asik Falls in North Cotabato.
Translated as “sprinkle-sprinkle” from the local Hiligaynon dialect, the discovery of Asik-Asik falls is a mystery. Some say it was discovered in 2010 after a series of floods and forest fires destroyed a part of the forest that was previously hiding the cascade of water. Other stories talk about a military group finding the falls through their trek in the jungle. It’s also said that the locals in the neighboring village of Sitio Dulo have always known about the falls, but refused to make it public to preserve its beauty.
The location itself is a wonder, nestled at the slope of Mount Ragang or Blue Mountain, which is an active strato-volcano. From above, you won’t hear a raging river cascading down the side of the mountain. The water from the falls comes from a spring covered by rocks and vegetation, cascading down 60-meters of fern-covered walls, and into a shallow rocky pool before flowing into the Alamada River.
Go Ghost-Hunting at the Old Diplomat Hotel
Perhaps just as strong as the Filipinos’ religious beliefs are their beliefs in superstition. Philippine folklore is rich with stories of spirits, elementals, and other-worldly beings that walk the earth. Among the strongest forms of their oral tradition still practiced in the modern world is the passing on of ghost stories.
The Old Diplomat Hotel is found in Baguio, known as the Summer Capital of the Philippines. At 1,400 meters above sea level, the air in Baguio is cool throughout the year, which is a welcome respite for the hot days of the country. This, of course, adds to the eerie atmosphere that hangs over the Old Diplomat Hotel.
The structure was built in 1913 as The Dominican Hill Retreat House. During World War II, it became a hiding place for people escaping the Japanese army. However, it was eventually invaded by the Japanese secret police, and subsequently became a horror house of atrocities and brutalities inflicted by the Japanese on the Filipino people.
It was rehabilitated in the 1970s as the Old Diplomat Hotel but eventually shut down in the 80s. It’s been abandoned since then, and the deteriorating, dilapidated building has become infamous for being one of the most haunted buildings in the country. Visitors report sightings of decapitated apparitions, hearing screams and cries, and feeling a presence following them around as they explore the ruins.
Due to the influx of visitors seeking supernatural thrill, the national government is in the process of rehabilitating the site as a Heritage and Nature Park.
Explore the Japanese Tunnels of Baguio
When speaking about World War II, Manila and Corregidor take the spotlight. Both locations were bases for the American troops, ultimately becoming the targets during the Japanese occupation. Baguio, however, also had its fair share of action. Due to its cold climate, American troops were drawn to Baguio to escape the heat. Due to the heavy American presence, Baguio became a prime target for the Japanese during World War II.
Underneath Baguio are a series of tunnels where the Japanese militia hid their supplies. One of the openings of the tunnels is found in the Baguio Botanical Garden, hidden beneath a cascade of foliage. The national government claims that the whole tunnel system has been mapped out. However, many explorers believe that there are still hidden caverns and pathways left undiscovered.
A popular urban legend is that the tunnels hide the fabled gold of the Japanese General Yamashita. There are many rumored sites for the hiding place of Yamashita’s Treasure, borne out of the massive looting of the Japanese during the time.
In 1945, the Japanese Imperial Forces made their formal surrender in Baguio.
Pay Respects at Paco Park
Even more significant than the Japanese occupation is the 300-year Spanish reign in the Philippines. The Spanish influence is very strong in Filipino culture, from cuisines to names to historical structures. The most popular site for learning about the Spanish era is Intramuros, the former seat of power of the Spaniards in the Philippines.
A few kilometers away, however, is a grimmer homage to the heroes of the past.
Paco Park was a circular cemetery built-in 1807 as a final resting place for the Spanish elite. In 1822, the park was extended to accommodate the victims of the devastating cholera outbreak, resulting in a second wall built to house the new graves. The park’s most significant residents, however, are four of the Philippines’ most revered heroes, all hidden away in unmarked graves.
In 1872, three Filipino priests, Mariano Gomez, Jose Burgos, and Jacinto Zamora, collectively known as GomBurZa, were executed due to treason and mutiny. The three were buried together in an unmarked grave in Paco Park. Today, however, a cross stands as a marker on the grave.
This tragedy triggered the awakening of the Filipino people, including Jose Rizal, the country’s National Hero. When the Spaniards captured Rizal for treason through his books Noli Me Tangere and El Filibusterismo, he was executed in Luneta Park and also buried in an unmarked grave in Paco Park. When Rizal’s sisters discovered his grave, they bribed some guards to etch “RPJ”, Rizal’s initials backward, to hide the spot from the Spanish. While Rizal’s body has since then been moved and entombed in Rizal Park, his grave with his initials remain at Paco Park.
Trek Through, Above, and Within Nature at Masungi Georeserve
For those stuck in Manila and in need of a quick adventure, Masungi Georeserve is a great destination. Only 1.5 hours from Manila, this natural playground is a welcome respite from the bustling city.
Masungi Georeserve is located in Baras, Rizal, and is a conservation project situated along the Sierra Madre mountain range. The forest is 600 million years old, still lush and very much alive. The excellent preservation efforts show as, despite the influx of tourists for the activity, many parts remain untouched and unspoiled. Trees are set against limestone rocks and cliffs, altogether creating a home for over 350 documented species of plants and animals.
The guided tour includes a trek through forests, caves, stone trails, rope courses, and a hanging bridge. While the trek is not particularly harrowing, there are rope courses that require descents over cliffs and crossing bridges and nets suspended several meters above the forest floor.
Swim With the Sardine Run in Moalboal, Cebu
If you are into diving and want to take things to a new level, then the Sardine Run at Moalboal in Cebu is definitely one of a kind. Sure, you can also dive with sharks and swim next to turtles, but being immersed in a school of thousands of fish is something you can’t do everywhere in the world.
And because the sardines gather right off Panagsama Beach, just in front of Savedra Dive Centre, you can even give it a shot just with a snorkel on. Just be aware that the sardines are also usually 30m from shore, so you need to be a decent swimmer, or have a boat nearby to get you there. The Savedra Dive Centre can help you with all of that in any case.
Cebu is also a great place in general to go diving so you can combine this dive with many others, or just enjoy the island and all that it has to offer.
About the author: Anna was born to travel the world having studied languages all her life. Although she has traveled the world, she now calls Switzerland home and spends her time writing about her experiences on Expert World Travel. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest.