There's an incredible chain of tropical islands in the Pacific that is sprinkled with pink, white and black sand beaches, ultra-relaxing luxury resorts, charming countrysides and villages, exotic foods and an enticing nightlife. You know it exists, but you've probably never thought of planning a trip there.
And that's a shame, because, as the saying goes: It's more fun in the Philippines.
While it's true that Manila can feel chaotic and the U.S. government has issued a warning for travel to the country, we found eight stunning reasons this place should stay on your bucket list for when the time is right.
Plan your future trip (or live vicariously) through the pictures below.
1. The Sights:
The Philippines is made up of more than 7,000 islands, only a thousand of which are inhabited. Within those 7,000 islands, there is a mind-blowing collection of natural wonders: more than 1,000 Chocolate Hills, numerous underground rivers and caves, 2,000-year-old rice terraces carved by ancient islanders, many pristine beaches with magnificent limestone formations, crazy-colorful coral reefs, one of the world's deepest ocean trenches and more than 20 volcanoes, including the world's "most perfectly-formed volcano."
We could go on, but we'll let its natural wonder speak for itself:
Chocolate Hills of Bohol
Mount Mayon, The World's "Most Perfectly Formed Volcano"
Banaue Rice Terraces
El Nido, Palawan
2. The Food:
Filipino food might not be for everyone, but if you don't try good quality Pinoy cuisine, you're selling yourself short. Seafood is an obvious staple, as is soy sauce, vinegar, rice, pork and noodles. The tastes can vary from spicy and tangy (try the seafood sinigang), sweet and savory (pork adobo) to crunchy (crispy pata) and even peanut buttery (kare-kare). For dessert, we recommend a tasty deep-fried banana turￃﾳn.
More adventurous eaters can dine on eccentric dishes such as balut -- a boiled egg which contains the fetus of a baby duck -- and dinuguan, aka chocolate meat -- a stew of pig meat with a pig's kidneys, intestines, heart and other organs cooked in pig's blood.
3. The Beaches:
An abundance of shoreline comes with having thousands of islands, and most of the beaches in The Philippines are relatively non-tourist-ridden. There are pink beaches, black beaches and blinding white beaches. Some are surrounded by lush green mountains; others, tall rock formations. If you're into it, there are also world-class surf spots. It's the stuff dreams are made of.
El Nido, Palawan
Caramoan Peninsula, Camarines Sur
4. The Hiking:
It's any outdoor adventurer's dream. Hike up Taal Volcano, up an ancient rice terrace, to the Tukuran waterfalls, or wander through mountains and forests in Cordilleras on the island of Luzon.
"For a country that has often been overlooked by travelers in the past, the beaches and mountain regions are nothing short of spectacular," Nathan Allen, world traveler and creator of the travel blog I Dreamed of This, told The Huffington Post. "There is still an element of rugged adventure that is missing from other more touristy destinations."
North Luzon, Ifugao
5. The Diving:
Philippine waters have a number of unique spots for a tour of the underwater world. Malapascua Island is a diving hot spot with four different shipwrecks to explore, and we hear through the grapevine that Apo Island and Balicasag Island are uncrowded and have incredible reefs and diving. And we can't forget one of the islands' more popular attractions: swimming with whale sharks, the ocean's gentle giants!
6. The Transportation -- for its quirkiness:
While the Philippines is infamous for horrendous public transportation (it once had one of "the world's most hated airports," and metro Manila is known for confusing, rage-inducing traffic), some modes of transportation are worth the unique experience.
Enter the Jeepney. This bus is really a retired U.S. military jeep from World War II, turned into a colorful crowded public bus (sometimes people can be seen clinging to the roof or hanging off the sides), and it has become an iconic part of Filipino art and culture. You can also island hop on a traditional banca boat or outrigger canoe.
7. The World Famous Hospitality:
It's what Filipinos are known for worldwide. Decades ago, the now-defunct New York Tribune described it perfectly: "These people will share with the stranger who comes to their little hut of bamboo and nipa their last bowl of rice and their last little fish, and will make room for him over night on the floor of their house, where all the family sleep side by side."
Today, Filipinos are just as exceptionally humble, modest and gracious, earning kudos for their outstanding hospitality from hundreds of people on travel review sites and bloggers; even President Barack Obama gave them a thumbs up for their cheery and generous nature.
Cordillera tribesmen in traditional costume, Banaue, Philippines
8. This Philippine Mouse-Deer:
Because it's cute/creepy, it looks exactly like the name sounds, and they're prancing adorably around Philippine forests.