Visayas Philippines
map of Visayas Philippines
The islands of the Visayas region are the very heart of the Philippines. Making up the central third of the archipelago, the Visayas offer all the fabled allure of sun, sand and sea, collectively offering the best beaches & scuba diving in the Philippines. There are eight major islands - Cebu, Bohol, Guimaras, Samar, Leyte, Panay, Negros and Siquijor - but it's the hundreds of other tiny white sand, coral fringed islands, including the world famous Boracay Island, that make the Visayas the most stunningly irresistible region of the Philippines' archipelago.
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The most convenient point of entry to the Visayas is the city of Cebu. Domestic airlines offer many daily flights from Manila and other domestic airports, direct to Cebu. There are also direct international flights to Cebu from China, Hong Kong, Japan, Indonesia, Korea, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Taiwan. Boracay, Cebu, Panay, Bohol, Negros, Leyte and Samar are all accessible by air. Island-hopping by air to other islands within the Visayas is more difficult, with limited flights, but the extensive ferry network makes inter-island travel easy and inexpensive. Ferries also ply major routes between Manila and the islands of the Visayas.
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Cebu City is the de facto capital and economic hub of the Visayas. It is also the site of the oldest Spanish settlement in the Philippines and offers a great many historic & scenic attractions, as well as a wealth of local handicrafts, furniture, furnishings and produce, all priced to-go. Many visitors choose to stay on Mactan Island, Cebu, where white sand beaches and a choice of beach resort hotels to 5-star standard are located within a few minutes drive of Mactan Cebu International Airport.
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Most of the best beaches, beach resorts and dive sites are to be found on the eastern coast of Cebu Island: Moalboal is the most established of these and offers the greatest variety of facilities and scuba dive operators; Sogod to the North and Argao to the South have excellent wall dives; and, outlaying islands like Malapascua, Badian, Bantayan and Pescador are renowned for their coral formations and big fish action. Sports scuba diving is well developed in the islands surrounding Cebu and popular destinations include: Sumilon Marine Sanctuary, Bohol, Cabilao, Balicasag, Panglao and Pamilacan Islands.
Hotel and beach resort facilities throughout the Visayas vary from international, luxury 5-star beach resort hotels to inexpensive native huts on the beach. Some beach resorts are cozy hide-always with their own beach, or sometimes whole islands, others like those to be found on Boracay simply jostle side by side for their share of beach or sea view, amid an eclectic mix of restaurants, bars, discos, dive shops and watersports operators.
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The tiny island of Boracay is without doubt the place to be for the beach party set. The famous Boracay White Beach, a 4-km stretch of powder-soft white sand, is now as crowded with up-market and not-so-up-market resorts as it once was with coconut trees. But Boracay's coconut trees are still there, as is the white sand and clear, azure waters that first attracted hardy backpackers to its shores back in the early 1980's. Boracay lies at the northwest tip of Panay Island, 350km south of Manila, and while it is just 7km long and 1km wide at its narrowest point there are a total of 30 beaches to be discovered on Boracay Island.
The majority of visitors go to Boracay to chill out & party, but it is also a popular scuba diving, windsurfing and kiteboarding destination. Other Boracay activities include horse riding, mountain biking, kayaking and more partying.
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For more partying still – both Boracay and Aklan share Caticlan Airport; Aklan is home to the annual Ati-atihan festival, one of the oldest and most popular festivals in the Philippines, attracting thousands of revelers each year. Iloilo has its own version of this festival, a smaller, but no less publicised celebration known as the Dinagyang Festival, which translates in the local ilonggo dialect as ‘revelry’, leaving no doubt as to what the festival is all about. Cebu's Sinulog Festival, the largest celebration of its kind in the region, can trace its origins back pre-Spanish pagan rituals that where adapted by arriving priests from Spain to become a Christian celebration of the Sto. Nino, the Child Christ.
Numerous festivals, both big and small, take place throughout the year, celebrating the many aspects of religious worship and daily life in the Visayas. They are always colourful and accompanied by much enthusiasm, food and drinking. Visitors are always welcome and Philippine hospitality is at it highest during these festivals.
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Panay, Samar and Leyte islands have escaped major development, as yet, and the island of Siquijor, long the home of witches and faith healers, still holds on to its mysteries. A trip to the historic towns of Iloilo is a journey back through time, as is a visit to Negros Occidental, once the "sugar capital" of Asia; here old churches, townships and ancestral homes wait to be explored, and the fine craftsmanship of hand-loomed and embroidered fabrics marveled over - and purchased at very reasonable prices. On Negros visitors can golf on the greens & fairways that were once sweeping sugar cane plantations, or walk and swim on quiet windswept beaches. A popular scuba diving destination, Bohol is also home to the natural wonder of the Chocolate Hills; the World's oldest - and certainly cutest – insect-eating mammal, the Philippine Tarsier is found in Bohol.
Bohol also offers the chance for non-scuba divers to whale and dolphin watch on regular boat tours. But regardless of where your trip to the Visayas begins or ends, everywhere you turn there is always another white sand beach or coral reef waiting for you . . . and a ferry to take you there.
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