A kalesa (calesa in Spanish) is a horse-drawn carriage which used to be one of the main modes of transportation in the Philippines during the Spanish colonial period. Introduced in the 18th century, the kalesas are used mainly by the illustrados, high-ranking officials and noblemen; they are the only ones who can afford to ride the carriages back then.

The kalesa is made of a wooden cart with a roof, usually made of steel. There are two round wheels, one on each side. Two rows of seats can accommodate four passengers. Present-day kalesas seat only two persons.  The driver seats on the front of the cart, near the horse. A bucket made of steel or plastic is positioned near the rump of the horse to catch his excrement.

At present, kalesas are rare in the city. The streets of Manila are already congested with jeepneys, cars and buses, which makes them dangerous for the horses. Those who want to see or ride kalesas will have to go to Binondo and Intramuros, where a lot of them are still roaming around and taking passengers.

For those who are planning to tour around Intramuros, riding a kalesa is a must. The experience of going around the historical walled city is not complete without boarding one of the carriages. It is also advisable because Intramuros is quite a large area to travel by foot. For an average fee of PHP250, a kalesa will take you around the area, which will usually finish at the Manila Cathedral. You will get to see sights such as the San Agustin Church, the museum and Fort Santiago.

Kalesas are still common in some provincial areas, such as Cagayan, Cebu and Tuguegarao City.


The Philippines’ version of Chinatown is located in Binondo, in the downtown part of Manila. Coming from the Intramuros area, you will immediately know that you are in Chinatown once you arrived in the area. Restaurants, banks and other commercial establishments have Chinese characters in their signs. Bright red and yellow lanterns hang on the doors and sides of buildings. Depending on which part of Binondo you are located, you can also smell freshly-cooked dimsum and pancit wafting through the numerous Chinese eateries.

Before Chinatown was formed, Binondo used to be a wetland area filled with tubers. Over the years, the area was transformed from a plain residential area to one of the busiest trade centers in the country. Ongpin Street is famous for its blinding array of gold from shops that sell original jewelry at low prices. The street is also the place to go to for genuine Chinese tea, traditional medicine, acupuncture services and mah-jong parlors.

Devotees should visit the Binondo Church, an ancient stone structure which houses the Cristo de Longos, a black wooden crucifix which have been known to produce miracles. Buddhists can worship at the Seng Guan Temple, also called The Temple of Ten Thousand Buddhas.

Shoppers should be able to find pretty much everything that they need here in Binondo. There are certain streets in the area that specialize on a particular type of merchandise. Sabino Padilla former Gandara Street is the place for upholstery materials. Carvajal in Nueva Street sells imported vegetables and fruits. Fruits like cherries and pears can be bought here cheaply.

Of course, Binondo would not be complete without the wide variety of talismans, charms, calendars and Buddha images being sold by stores and street vendors. In order to complete your Binondo experience, you must dine at one of the genuine Chinese eateries which promise absolutely gastronomic delight. Feast on hopia, machang, pancit and dimsum after a long, tiring day of shopping.

Honda Bay

Honda Bay in Puerto Princesa, Palawan is a group of small islands considered as some of the most beautiful in the Philippines. The bay is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Palawan, with its clear waters, astonishing variety of marine life and the endless stretches of pure, sugary white sand. Puerta Princesa is also known as the cleanest and greenest city in the country. The natural beauty of Honda Bay is such that tourists from all over the world flock to this part of the Philippines every year. Hollywood celebrities have been known to fly secretly to this secluded spot to enjoy a tropical vacation away from the prying eyes of the public.

The islands of Honda Bay are surrounded by magnificent beaches which are perfect for diving, snorkeling and skiing. Each island in Honda Bay is worth exploring, and visitors discover that it is worth spending considerable time on each island to enjoy its natural wonders completely. Pandan Island is a great place to relax and unwind because there are numerous huts, cottages and hammocks which tourists can use. The island is a great spot for snorkeling because of the delightful array of fishes that will swim with you while you explore underwater.

Snake Islandis another popular spot in Honda Bay. It is a two-kilometer sandbar sandbar is shaped like a snake, thus the name. Food feasting is a favorite activity in Snake Island primarily because of the number of fish that you can catch on its waters. Visitors can arrange for the fishermen to catch fresh fish for them, which can be cooked and grilled right on the beach.

Other islands worth checking out are Lu-Li Island, which sinks during high tide; Senorita Island, which is a breeding site for Lapu-Lapu fish and Starfish Island, with its abundant population of starfish in its clear waters.

Honda Bay is very accessible from Puerto Princesa city. From Barangay Sta. Lourdes Tagbanua, which is around 12 meters away from the town proper, one can simply hire a boat to take them to the island of their choice.

Puerto Galera

Puerto Galera is often hailed as “The Poor Man’s Boracay,” because the accommodations in Galera are definitely cheaper than the ones in Boracay. But this does not mean that  staying in this tropical gem in Oriental Mindoro is less satisfying. On the contrary, Puerto Galera became one of the most popular beach spots in the country because of its close proximity to Manila and very active night life.

Galera has several beaches, with Sabang Beach and White Beach as the more famous ones. Sabang Beach is more popular with foreigners, while most locals head to White Beach. Both beaches are filled with hotels, resort houses, restaurants and bars, which are always filled with local and foreign tourists all year round. The number of tourists in Galera escalates especially during Holy Week, when people from Manila flock to the nearest beach for a quick weekend getaway.

If you prefer a more peaceful stay in the island, head for smaller beaches like La Laguna, which is less crowded compared to Sabang and White Beach.

Aside from beautiful sunsets and exciting night life, Puerto Galera is also a favorite destination for divers. The Sabang area is known for its excellent diving spots. There are approximately 30 dive sites near the Sabang Beach, which are easily reachable by boats. Diverse marine life and several shipwrecks have made Puerto Galera into a diving paradise. Because of this, the island became a technical diving destination in Asia, and offers basic and advanced diving courses.

Galera is also a great place for various water sports and activities, such as jet skiing, windsurfing, kayaking, snorkeling and sailing.

For golf enthusiasts, Puerto Galera has a nine-hole golf course located on the hillside, just above White Beach.

One can never run out of places to stay in Puerto Galera. Aside from the pricey hotels and resort homes, the island is filled with cheap lodgings for individuals or groups. Food and drinks will never be a problem for those with limited budgets; there are many restaurants and bars by the beach that serve reasonably priced meals and cocktails. And while you are in Galera, do not forget to try the island’s most famous concoction, the lethal Mindoro Sling.

Chocolate Hills

The Chocolate Hills is the most famous tourist attraction in the province of Bohol. More than 1,200 perfectly-shaped cone hills are scattered around the municipalities of Batuan, Carmen and Sagbayan, the hills range from 40 to 120 meters in height. The hills are covered in green grass which turns to brown during summer. This is how Chocolate Hills got its name.

There are several theories regarding the formation of the numerous hills. One states that it could be a product of limestone weathering. According to the bronze plaque located at the viewing deck in Carmen, the Chocolate Hills was formed “by the uplift of coral deposits and the action of rain water and erosion”. Another statement from the plaque reads “the grassy hills were once coral reefs that erupted from the sea in a massive geologic shift. Wind and water put on the finishing touches over hundreds of thousands of years”.

Of course, Filipinos have a legend to explain why the hills were formed. It involves a handsome giant named Agoro, who fell in love with an ordinary mortal girl named Aluya. Agoro kidnapped Aluya before her wedding to another mortal man. The girl cried and cried with sadness until she died. Arogo mourned her death and cried himself for months. The hills were the result of the giant’s tears, which fell to the ground and hardened.

The Chocolate Hills is considered as one of the prime tourist destinations in the Philippines. Two of the hills have been developed into resorts. The government created The Chocolate Hills Complex, which has a hostel, a swimming pool and an observation deck which gives a spectacular view of the hills at 210 feet above the ground.

Another mountaintop resort worth visiting is the Sagbayan Peak, which also offers a 360-degree viewing deck for visitors. It has a hotel, a restaurant, swimming pool and children’s park. Plans are in progress to add a golf course, tarsier sanctuary and butterfly dome.

Manila Hotel

The Manila Hotel is not just a luxurious, five-star hotel; it is also a historical site going way back in World War II. The sprawling property is near the Rizal Park and boasts magnificent views of the Manila Bay and its surrounding areas. It is famous for being the residence of General Douglas Arthur from 1935 to 1941.

It was designed by New York architect William E. Parsons, who envisioned a grand but comfortable hotel, just like those in California. When General MacArthur accepted the job of supervising the creation of the Philippine Army during the 1930s, he was given a suite in the Manila Hotel as his residence. MacArthur was given the honorary title of General Manager, partly to make it appear that the general is a hotel employee entitled to housing. MacArthur did not just stay at the hotel; he took over the management of the facility.

The hotel became a base for Japanese troops during World War II. The building survived the destruction wrought by the bombing of Manila, although it was later reconstructed.

After the war, the prominence of Manila Hotel is such that it became a favorite of political leaders. Ferdinand Marcos used the hotel for a convention. Corazon Aquino delivered a speech during her presidential campaign. Imelda Marcos became a frequent visitor, and she was given the red carpet treatment during her numerous stays. In 1999, the former first lady celebrated her 70th birthday at the Manila Hotel, which was attended by more than a thousand of the city’s elite.

The hotel is known for its main lobby, an impressive marble-floored area with white columns, crystal chandeliers and handsome mahogany furniture. The 570 guestrooms are all about contemporary luxury, with elegant furnishings and modern equipment. The MacArthur Suite, the one used by the general, can be booked for USD650 a night. Guests can enjoy the use of a private swimming pool and expansive views of the ocean, Rizal Park and the ruins of Intramuros.

The Manila Hotel has a truly enviable list of local and foreign guests. John F. Kennedy, Michael Jackson, Sammy Davis Jr., Ernest Hemingway, John Wayne and The Beatles are only some of the illustrious names who have stayed in the historic hotel.

Mount Makiling

Mount Makiling in Laguna is one of the most popular hiking destinations in the Philippines. This inactive volcano stands 3576 feet and takes around four to five hours to reach Peak 2, the summit. The mountain is placed under the care of the University of the Philippines, Los Banos.

The legend behind Mount Makiling is well-known. The mountain is said to be named after Maria Makiling, the most widely-known diwata (fairy) in Filipino mythology. She is known as the guardian of the mountain, and the legend claims that the whole contour of Mount Makiling is in fact that of the diwata in a reclining position.

UPLB has preserved the pristine condition of the mountain’s forests. The wonderful array of flora and fauna are well taken care of, considering the number of visitors that Makiling has every year. The mountain is easy to climb and there are trails that do not require you to have guides.

There are several sites that you should visit as you go up the mountain. First stop is the Mudsprings, considered as the crater of Mount Makiling. Pools of boiling mud produce a strong sulfuric smell in the vicinity. You must also go to the Flatrocks, a river dotted with slabs of smooth, flat rocks.

The UPLB trail is the easiest way to climb the mountain and can be used all year long. If you want a more challenging climb, you can take the Sto. Tomas trail, which is on the south face of Makiling. It will take you around seven hours to reach the summit. You will enter cogon fields, dense forests and several landscapes until you reach the Peak 3, which connects to Peak 2. This trail is considerably dangerous compared to the UPLB trail and therefore not recommended for novice climbers.

Other places of interest in the area include the Jamboree Site, a campsite managed by the Boy Scouts of the Philippines and the National Arts Center, which is adjacent to UPLB.


This pear-shaped volcanic island in the northern coast of Mindanao is a land of unspoiled beauty. Unlike the popular beach destinations in the Philippines, Camiguin is not yet destroyed by real estate developments that dominate practically every beautiful spot in the country. Everything in Camiguin seems virginal and pristine. The island is widely regarded as one of the country’s most beautiful.

Surrounded by Bohol Sea, Macalajar Bay, Gingoog Bay and Butuan Bay, the province has seven volcanoes within its territory. Among them are the still active Mt. Hibok-Hibok, Mt. Vulcan and Mt. Mambajao. The volcanic eruptions shaped the history of the province and formed Camiguin’s mystical beauty.

This spectacular island is a secluded paradise made of lush forests, white sand beaches, natural springs, waterfalls, majestic mountains and diverse marine life. Going to Camiguin is the perfect therapy for those who long to take a break from their harried, polluted lives. Here in Camiguin, each day is a serene, refreshing experience.

Camiguin has several attractions which never fail to enchant tourists. The most famous perhaps is the White Island, a sandbar located two kilometers off the Agoho coast in Mambajao. The long stretch of fine, white sand, which is said to rival those in Boracay’s, is totally devoid of trees. This gives tourists an unhampered view of Mt. Hibok-Hibok and Mt. Vulcan. The sandbar is in the middle of the sparkling blue ocean, so from a distance, it looks like a stretch of white floating in the water.

Another must-see is the Sunken Cemetery. It is a large cross built on solidified lava in the middle of the water to commemorate those who died on the numerous eruptions of Mt. Vulcan. The Sunken Cemetery has also become a great diving and snorkeling site.

You can reach Camiguin by taking a plane to Cagayan de Oro City in Misamis Oriental. From there, you can take a bus ride, or hire a van for a two-hour trip to the port of Balingoan. Then from Balingoan, you will take a ferry which will take you to the island.


This coastal resort town in Ilocos Norte is a haven for tourists who prefer to steer clear of crowded, commercialized beach resorts. Pagudpod’s postcard-pretty sceneries give the town its quaint charm; it’s beauty is not yet marred by rampant real estate developments, unlike other popular beach destinations in the country. Pagudpod is often called “The Boracay of the North” for its clear blue waters and fine white sand. Unlike Boracay however, the hills and the mountains in the island are relatively untouched and the beaches are not filled with people partying in the sand.

There are three large beaches in Pagudpod. The Saud beach, which is considered as the main beach, is the location of most of the hotels and resorts in the area. Maira-Ira is known for having the whitest sand in Luzon. Pansion beach, which is the farthest of them all, is located near the border of Cagayan.

Those who prefer a more peaceful retreat from the city life should check out the Blue Lagoon, a secluded beach located at Maira-Ira Point. Blue Lagoon is an oasis of swaying coconut trees and crystal blue waters.

The shores of Pagudpod are dotted with inexpensive resorts that provide safe and comfortable accommodations for visitors. You can rent a cottage for as low as PHP500.00. Those who prefer more luxurious surroundings and fully air-conditioned rooms can stay at the Saud Beach Resort. For those on a lower budget, you can stay at the Polaris Beach Resort, which offers lower rates but offer practically the same level of service. You can book a room for as low as PHP1000 during off peak season.

Those who do not mind roughing it out can stay at the numerous transient houses in the area. There are many house owners in Pagudpod who offer their own houses for visitors to stay in.

There are many ways to get to Pagudpod. By air, you can take a Philippine Airlines or Cebu Pacific flight from Manila to Laoag. Once you get to Laoag, you can take a bus or a jeepney which will pass through Pagudpod. If you are traveling by land, there are bus trips that will take you directly to Pagudpod. Traveling by bus will take around ten hours before you get to the town proper.

Mount Banahaw

Mount Banahaw, which rests on the boundary of Laguna and Quezon, is known not only for its majestic beauty but also for its sacredness to Filipinos. The grandest of the mountains in Southern Tagalog, this inactive volcano is considered as a holy mountain, and draws thousands of visitors and climbers every year. Some even made it their pledge to climb Banahaw every Holy Week.

The mountain is a favorite among mountaineers from Manila because it is the closest one where they can have a challenging climb. It takes around six to seven hours to reach the summit, which is a rim encircling the caldera, also known as ilalim. There are various caves, pools and waterfalls that can be explored as you go up the mountain. There are several hot or warm springs within Banahaw: Tiaong-San Pablo, Bakia, Sampaloc, Mainit and Cagsiay.

There are several trails leading to the summit. From Cristalino, it will take an average of nine hours to climb to the top. From Tatlong Tangke, it will take around five hours.

The mystic quality of Banahaw is such that the sites in the mountain were given religious names. There is a cave called Kweba ng Diyos Ama (Cave of God the Father). There is a spring at Barangay Kinabuhayan with waters that are said to have curing powers. The village is also known for selling all kinds of amulets, healing herbs and magical stones, which all came from the mountain.

The continuous climbing activities on the mountain over the years have taken its toll on the surroundings. Unbelievable amounts of garbage have accumulated in many parts of Mount Banahaw. Because of this, the mountain is recently undergoing massive cleanup and the government has suspended any hiking activity, except for mountaineers who are part of the cleanup efforts. The trails are scheduled to reopen in 2010.