People are naturally curious and are just itching to explore different cultures around the world. According to the United Nations World Tourism Organization (UNWTO), it’s why world heritage sites such as the Banks of the Seine in Paris, the Statue of Liberty in New York, the Acropolis in Athens, and the Great Wall of China attract many tourists from all over the world.
In the Philippines, we have nine properties in the UNESCO World Heritage List of our own. (Four of these properties, however, are grouped under one name, Baroque Churches of the Philippines.)
These sites are “of outstanding universal value” and meet at least one out of 10 selection criteria. They are as follows:
Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras (Cordillera Administrative Region)
Inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1995, the Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras showcase Ifugao industry. It is one of the few places in the country that show no evidence of being influenced by colonial cultures.
UNESCO describes it as a living cultural landscape of unparalleled beauty “epitomizing the absolute blending of the physical, socio-cultural, economic, religious, and political environment.”
The entire landscape itself is quite extensive, and are located in the remote corners of the Cordillera mountain range. But UNESCO only has its most intact and impressive clusters inscribed on its list:
(1) the Nagacadan cluster in the municipality of Kiangan, which appears as two distinct ascending rows of terraces bisected by a river; (2) the Hungduan cluster, which resembles a spider web; (3) the central Mayoyao cluster, where the terraces are woven into traditional farmers’ houses and granaries; (4) the Bangaan cluster that backdrops a typical Ifugao traditional village; and (5) the Batad cluster, which features amphitheater-like semi-circular terraces with a village at its base.
The most popular to tourists are the Bangaan and Batad clusters in Banaue. Traveling to these terraces requires hiking or trekking, and the best months to visit are from June to July, or October to November.
Trip Quest Travel and Tours offers a two day-one Night Banaue Package, which includes a hike to the Batad cluster and Tappiyah Falls. You can also visit the Banaue Rice Terraces view point where you can also buy local souvenirs and delicacies.
Before heading home, you will also visit the Kiangan Shrine, a native Ifugao house-inspired shrine that commemorates the surrender of General Tomoyuki Yamashita to the Filipino-American forces. He was the highest commander of the Japanese Imperial Army in the Philippines.
You will also get to go to the Ifugao Museum, which houses the notable local works from woodcarvings to Ibaloy artifacts.
This 2D1N Banaue Package costs Php8,400/head for a group of five (5) persons. It includes overnight accommodation at Banaue Hotel with breakfast, all applicable fees, a DOT-accredited tour guide, travel insurance, and roundtrip transfers to and from Baguio. Roundtrip transfers to and from Manila can also be requested for an additional charge of Php850/head.
If you wish to include a visit to Sagada and explore its mountain valleys, rice fields, limestone caves, and waterfalls, there is also a 3 Days-2 Nights Banaue-Sagada tour for Php11,000/head for a group of five. For other options and customized tours, Trip Quest Travel and Tours can be reached via email at email@example.com or through these numbers +639178555685 and +639985814025.
How to get there:
Take a bus from Manila to Banaue, which is an eight to 11-hour ride. You can also take a flight from Manila to Cauayan Airport in Isabela, which takes only a little over an hour. But from this airport, you will need to take a 3.5-hour land journey to Banaue. Transport can also be arranged with your local tour operator.
Paoay Church (Ilocos Norte, Region I)
Among the country’s properties inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List is called the Baroque Churches of the Philippines. A group of four centuries-old churches, their style of building and design was adapted to the physical conditions in the country.
Inscribed in 1993, the UNESCO cites the four churches as outstanding examples of the Philippine interpretation of the Baroque style. They “represent the fusion of European church design and construction with local materials and decorative motifs to form a new church-building tradition.”
One of the properties is the Church of San Agustín in Paoay, Ilocos Norte. More commonly known as Paoay Church, it looms large because of its 24 enormous buttresses on all sides—a feature that makes it earthquake-proof.
Its facade is a mix of gothic and baroque, a fusion of Spanish, Chinese, and Filipino influences. The niches on top of the pillars and buttresses suggest Javanese influence.
To the right of the church is a three-story belltower made of coral stone. It used to be the Katipuneros’ observation post during the revolt against the Spaniards and by the Filipino guerillas during World War II.
Paoay Church is included in most Ilocos Tour packages under the Laoag City Tour. Northbound Gems Travel and Events offers a three-day-two night package for a rate of Php3,799/head for four persons based on joiners, or Php2,699/head for 12 persons. The package includes tours to Laoag and Pagudpud as well as two-night accommodation with breakfast in a hotel in the former, round trip transfers from Manila to Ilocos, gas and toll fees, travel insurance onboard, and driver as guide during the tour.
Highlights of the package include visit to Paoay Church; adventure ride in the sand dunes; visit to Cape Bojeador Lighthouse, which marks the northwestern-most point in Luzon; the Bangui Windmills, Ilocos Region’s largest wind farm and the first windfarm in Southeast Asia; and the Blue Lagoon, or otherwise known as Maira-ira cove, among others.
How to get there:
Take a plane from Manila to Laoag International Airport, which is about 1 hour and 10 minutes. You can also take a bus from Manila to Laoag, which is approximately 10 hours travel.
Historic City of Vigan (Ilocos Sur, Region I)
Vigan was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1999 for its unique culture and townscape. It is described as “the most intact example in Asia of a planned Spanish colonial town, established in the 16th century.”
Its main architecture is Hispanic but infused with Chinese, Ilocano, and Filipino elements, which is unique to the region. In 2014, Vigan was also selected as one of the New 7 Wonder Cities of the World.
The whole of Vigan was inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage Site covering 28.88 square kilometers, three major plazas—Plaza Salcedo, Plaza Burgos, and Plaza Trese Martires—and a total of 246 ancestral houses and structures.
Its major attraction is Calle Crisologo, which is lined with cobblestone and preserved ancestral houses of affluent Filipino-Chinese families. Located on the ground floor of these grand houses are shops that offer Vigan’s best products. These include crafts and delicacies like hand-woven abel textiles, and jewelry.
Some of the old houses have also been converted into restaurants and accommodations.
Other sites to explore in Vigan include the St. Paul’s Cathedral; Plaza Burgos, which was built to remember the martyrdom of Father Jose P. Burgos; Father Burgos Museum; the Syquia Mansion of President Elpidio Quirino; the Crisologo Museum; and the Plaza Salcedo, the site of the execution of Gabriela Silang, which is now an elliptical plaza with a lagoon and fountain display.
You can also discover the heritage arts and crafts of Vigan by visiting the local communities that make them, such as the damili-makers or red-clay craft; the potters who make Burnay jars; and the weavers of the traditional inabel cloth.
There are several packages available, like Happy Juanderer Travel, Inc.’s Vigan Heritage Tour. It lasts about five to six hours, and includes sightseeing at Vigan Cathedral and Bantay Bell Tower, Hidden Garden, Syquia Mansion, Calle Crisologo, Pinakbet Farm, Baluarte Zoo, Bicentennial Park, and National Museum.
This costs Php2,355/head for a group of six persons. Rates are inclusive of private transportation, tour facilitator and tour guide, and entrance fees.
How to get there:
You can take a flight from Manila to Laoag International Airport. Just make sure you rent a van ahead, as there’s still no public transportation available from Laoag to Vigan. The whole trip will take around three hours.
You may also take a bus from Manila to Vigan Manila to Vigan. Take a Partas bus from its terminal in Pasay or Cubao. Travel time is about 8-10 hours.
Santa Maria Church (Ilocos Sur, Region I)
The Nuestra Señora dela Asuncion Church is another of the baroque churches that was declared as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is more commonly known as the Santa Maria Church, located in the municipality of the same name in Ilocos Sur.
The construction of the church started in 1765. Its thick walls made of bricks and mortar were reinforced with huge buttresses. Beside it is a belfry that was also used as a watchtower in the Spanish colonial period.
The church is situated on top of a hill and can be reached through a stairway of 85 steps. The first thing you will notice on your way up is a relief of the Our Lady of Assumption atop a tree.
This is a retelling of the story of how the statue of the Virgin Mary would periodically disappear in its former location. It would then be found on a guava tree perched on the knoll where the church now stands. Once on top, you will have a sweeping view of the town.
When visiting the Santa Maria Church, consider including other nearby destinations in your itinerary. Happy Juanderer’s Ilocos Sur Adventourismo is a six to eight-hour day tour package that will bring you to the Santa Maria Church.
You will also get to visit Pinsal Falls, an 85-foot waterfall whose natural pool is said to be the footprint of Angalo, the legendary Ilocano giant. A visit to Abel loom weavers are also included as well as glamping at Santiago Cove.
The day tour package costs Php2,015/head for a group of six persons and includes private transportation, lunch, tour facilitator and tour guide, and entrance fees.
If you wish to visit the two UNESCO Heritage Sites of Ilocos Sur, Happy Juanderer has a 3 Days-2 Nights Ultimate Ilocos Sur Tour that costs Php10,267/head for a group of six persons. This is inclusive of visits to Vigan Heritage City and Santa Maria Church, among other sites; accommodation at Hotel Luna in Vigan; breakfast and lunch; private transportation during the entire Ilocos Tour; DOT-accredited local tour guide; all entrances and government fees.
Other tour packages and customized itinerary can also be provided by Happy Juanderer. You may contact them at +639177999566 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
How to get there:
Upon arrival at Vigan City, take a bus at the terminal just across the Vigan City Public Market. Alight at the Santa Maria bus stop, which is at the foothill of Santa Maria Church. Travel time is around 45 minutes.
Transport via van can also be arranged with your local tour operator.
San Agustin Church (Manila)
Officially known as the Church of the Immaculate Conception of San Agustin, this is also included in UNESCO’s list of Baroque structures. It is situated inside the walled city of Intramuros in Manila.
The church made of adobe stones was completed in 1607. It used to have two bell towers, but the one on its right side collapsed during a strong earthquake and was permanently removed after.
The church was witness to many significant events in history, especially since Intramuros was the seat of political and religious power during colonial times. During the Battle of Manila in 1945, the church remained standing even as other structures in Intramuros were reduced to rubbles.
What sets it apart from the three other Baroque churches is its interior, particularly the intricate retablo or altars and the tromp l’oeil style paintings on the ceiling. The church also houses a museum of Spanish artifacts, statues, church ornaments, and paintings.
A visit to San Agustin Church and its museum is part of many Intramuros tour packages. Rajah Travel Corporation’s The Walls of Intramuros tour package will bring you around Intramuros through a Bambike (bamboo bike) or Calesa ride (horse-drawn carriage).
Aside from San Agustin Church, sites to explore include Fort Santiago, Manila Cathedral, Casa Manila, and Rizal’s Bagumbayan Light and Sound Museum.
The package costs Php3,748/head for a group of 10 persons, and includes private airport transfers, choice of Bambike or Calesa ride experience, English speaking tour guide, and applicable entrance fees during the tour.
How to get there:
Intramuros is about 30 minutes to an hour away from the NAIA International Airport, depending on traffic. The fastest and most convenient way is to take a taxi or a van care of your tour operator.
Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park (Palawan, Region IV-B)
The Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park is famous for its 8.2-kilometer-long underground river that goes through a limestone cave filled with stalactites and stalagmites. UNESCO even goes as far as saying that the experience of viewing the magnificent rock formations on a river cruise is “unequalled by any other similar experience elsewhere in the world.”
But there is more to this natural heritage that made it to the UNESCO World Heritage List.
The 22,202-hectare property contains globally significant habitat for biodiversity conservation. It is a full mountain-to-sea ecosystem that has eight of the 13 types of forests, and home to about 800 plant and 254 animal species. This includes the critically endangered Philippine cockatoo and hawksbill turtle, as well as the endangered green sea turtle.
The Underground River Tour offered by El Mundo Travel and Tours costs Php2,700/head for a group of six persons. This is inclusive of licensed tour guide, buffet lunch, shed rentals, audio device, cave permits, boat transfers, and van transfers.
The Underground River tour lasts around 45 minutes. There are other activities to try, such as riding the Sabang X Zipline, caving, spelunking, or visiting Puerto Princesa’s beaches, like Sabang beach, Panaguman beach, and Marta Fe beach.
You can also take the Puerto Princesa City Tour that will bring you to some of the best spots in town. These include Puerto Princesa Baywalk, Plaza Cuartel, Butterfly Eco Garden and Tribal Village, Palawan Wildlife Rescue and Conservation Center, and Crocodile Farm, among others. It costs Php900/head for a group of six.
You can explore other tour options with El Mundo Travel and Tours, just contact them via phone at +639278547210, or email at email@example.com.
If you have more time, you can visit other Palawan destinations, like El Nido, Coron, San Vicente, or the other UNESCO heritage site in Palawan, the Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park.
How to get there:
Travel from Manila to Puerto Princesa via plane. Proceed to San Jose Terminal, where you can take a jeep or bus en route to Sabang Port, which is the access point to the park. Travel time is around 1.5 to two hours.
Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park (Palawan, Region IV-B)
The Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park was one of the first properties in the Philippines to be inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1993.
Located in the center of the Sulu Sea, it covers a vast area of 96,828 hectares, including two coral atolls, the North and the South. It also has the Jessie Beazley Reef, a smaller coral structure about 20 kilometers north of the atolls. The property is considered part of Cagayancillo, a remote island municipality of Palawan inhabited mainly by fisherfolk.
UNESCO cites it as an “excellent example of pristine reefs with a high diversity of marine life,” with over 360 coral species, 600 species of fish, 11 species of sharks and rays, 13 species of dolphins and whales, and 100 species of birds. The North Islet serves as a nesting site both for birds and the green and hawksbill turtles, which are both endangered.
Tubbataha Reefs is popular with scuba divers, with its Delsan Wreck as a go-to dive site for many. Here, you will have the chance to meet several shark and ray species, such as white tip shark, tiger sharks, whale sharks, hammerheads, manta rays, devil rays, and eagle rays.
Diving here can be quite costly, however, and most sites are only recommended for seasoned or certified advanced open water divers. It is also only accessible to tourists between March and June when diving conditions are best, with clear skies, calm seas, and visibility between 30 and 45 meters.
The only way to reach Tubbataha is through a liveaboard and trips are usually between five and seven days. Liveaboard packages range from Php100,000 up to more Php200,000 per person. There are also other expenses, such as park fees, diving gear and equipment rental, travel and dive insurance, and flights to and from Palawan.
Discovery Palawan’s 7 Days – 6 Nights Tubbataha Package costs Php125,536/head for a standard twin room inclusive of all meals and snacks. The itinerary includes 3-4 dives per day for Days two to six to explore the various dive sites.
How to get there:
Take a plane from Manila to Puerto Princesa. Dive operators usually transport their guests from the airport to the pier, just minutes away, where their boat awaits.
It takes around 10 hours to get to the Park from Puerto Princesa. Depending on the speed of the vessel, dive boats leave in the afternoon or after dinner to arrive at Tubbataha by first light the next day.
Miagao Church (Iloilo, Region VI)
The last of the four baroque structures on the list is Miagao Church. It is officially known as the Church of Saint Thomas of Villanova.
Following the Baroque-Romanesque style, the church is found in the Municipality of Miagao in Iloilo. It sinks six meters deep into the ground with walls one-and-a-half meters thick and buttresses thrice thicker.
What makes it unique from the three other baroque churches in the UNESCO list is its façade that is almost like a retablo because of its intricate design.
The topmost part shows a relief sculpture of St. Christopher carrying the child Christ amidst coconut, papaya and guava shrubs; the center has a large stone image of St. Thomas of Villanova, the parish patron saint; and each side of the main entrance has carved life-size statues of Pope Pius VI and St. Henry of Bavaria.
It has two huge unequal bell towers directly attached to the main church. A prominent element inside the church is the gold-plated retablo.
A visit to Miagao Church is part of the itinerary in Iloilo and Countryside Tours. Through this tour, you can also discover other historical and cultural sites in the city, such as Calle Real Heritage District, Camiña Balay nga Bato, Molo Church, and Museo de Iloilo.
Amazing Trails Travel Co. Ltd offers a 3 Day-2 Night Iloilo New Normal Package Tour at Php5,500/head for a group of six persons. This is inclusive of accommodation (twin-sharing), tours, van, entrance fees, and DOT-accredited tour guide. You may contact them via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or through these numbers (033) 5088178, +639209284638 and +639177724389.
How to get there:
Fly from Manila to Iloilo International Airport. Take a Miagao or any south-bound jeepney from Mohon Terminal in Molo District or from the Iloilo Terminal Market in the city proper. The Miagao Church is 45 minutes to one hour away from Iloilo.
Mount Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary (Davao Oriental, Region XI)
The latest property in the country to be included in the UNESCO Heritage List is the Mount Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary in Davao Oriental.
It was inscribed in 2014 for representing a complete, substantially intact and highly diverse mountain ecosystem. It hosts a diverse range of animal and plant species, at least 28 of which are found nowhere else in the world but in Mount Hamiguitan. It is also home to critically endangered trees, plants as well as both the Philippine eagle and cockatoo.
The property, which stands at 1,620 meters above sea level and covers an area of 26,652.83 hectares, is located in the municipalities of San Isidro and Governor Generoso, and the city of Mati, all in Davao Oriental.
It is best known for its pygmy forest that covers its highest peak. This forest is composed of centuries-old trees—indigenous hardwood such as almaciga, cedar, lokinai, yakal, dapdap, and bitanghol—that were stunted to an average height of only 4.5 feet due to the mineral-rich volcanic soil. Other attractions in the property include the Hidden Garden, Tinagong Dagat, Twin Falls, and Black Mountain.
At the buffer zone area in San Isidro, there is the Mount Hamiguitan World Heritage Park. This is an interactive facility that showcases the wonders of the property.
It has an interpretation site, a natural science museum, research center and cabin, bird-watching viewdeck, a hanging bridge, a nature trail for leisure hiking, sunset viewdeck, and a cafe. All trails to Mount Hamiguitan lead to this facility. It’s also the perfect way to explore Mount Hamiguitan for those who don’t have the time and energy to do the trek.
Prior to the pandemic, 30 trekkers are allowed in every trekking duration of three days. But in the new normal, only 15 trekkers shall be allowed in the property, pursuant to MHRWS-Protected Area Management Board Resolution No. 2021-14.
The trail in San Isidro is open all year round while the one in Governor Generoso can only be accessed through special bookings. The Mati Trail is indefinitely closed until assessed and ready. Once all trails are available, they will all be accessed through special bookings.
Interested trekkers may contact +639387612886 or message Forester Daryl Jane Bordios on Facebook Messenger. The official page of Mount Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary administered by the DENR XI could also be messaged for inquiries and application requirements.
These include two valid IDs, a pre-climb certificate explicitly stating that the visitor is fit to do extreme activities such as mountain climbing, duly signed by the Municipal/City Health Officers of Origin locality, waiver, certificate/s of climb experience (if applicable), Davao Oriental QR Code, 2×2 Photos to be attached to Trekking IDs and other supporting documents as may be deemed necessary by the MHRWS-PAMO.
The trekking fee is Php3,000/head (Php1,500 only for Davao Oriental residents). The ecoguide fee at Php 500/day for group of five, porter fee at P500/day (maximum of 15kg baggage) for group of five, van rental at Php10,000 (Davao-San Isidro-Davao). You will also have to shoulder the food of your ecoguide and porter.
There are also available trek packages that cover all these for your convenience. Trail Adventours’ package is at Php8,900/head for the 3 Day-2 Night hike. It includes, roundtrip vehicle (Davao City-Mt.Hamiguitan), all registration, DENR, and barangay fees, tent accommodation, camp meals (from dinner on Day 1 up to lunch on Day 3); adventure guide/coordinator; local guide, and porters for group equipment. You may contact Trail Adventours via email at email@example.com or through these numbers +639178116654 and +639985887611.
Other sites to explore in Davao Oriental are the Welcome Park in Banaybay, Sunrise Boulevard in Baganga, Dahican Beach and Subangan Provincial Museum in Mati, Cape San Agustin in Governor Generoso, Aliwagwag Falls in Cateel, and Pusan Point in Caraga.
How to get there:
Take a flight from Manila to Davao City. From Davao City, ride a bus to the Municipality of San Isidro, which will take around 2.5 hours. Buses are also available from Davao City to Mati, with a travel time of 4 hours.
Each of these sites are governed by rules from their respective local government units (LGUs). Travel requirements and restrictions vary per LGU, so make sure to contact the concerned LGU or coordinate with a DOT-accredited travel agency.
All these tourist destinations have health and safety regulations in place to protect locals and visitors. Everyone is encouraged to wear face masks and shields, wash their hands often, and maintain proper physical distance.
Visit www.philippines.travel/safetrip or download the Travel Philippines app on app.philippines.travel or on Google Playstore for the most up-to-date information about re-opened local destinations as well as the safety protocols and requirements.