For tens of thousands of Hawaii Filipinos, the Philippines is a second home to them where they’d visit grandparents, cousins and siblings.
It’s also a time to reconnect with their heritage and expand their worldview. When Hawaii-born Filipino teenagers see stark poverty in the Philippines, they talk about getting a better understanding why their parents are so driven. Immigrants return to the places of their carefree youth
If you’re planning a last minute family summer vacation this year or looking ahead, it’s safe to add the Philippines to that list of must-see places to visit in your life time.
Ilocos and Northern Philippines
Fifty-three year old Jaime Ramos of Pearl City remembers his summer trip to the Philippines when he was a senior in high school. His parents took the family to visit his grandfather, Nicolas. Like many elderly Filipinos who came to stay with their children for a few years in Hawaii, Nicolas returned to his home country the Philippines to spend his golden years.
“My grandfather left Hawaii when I was 10-years old. He used to babysit me while my parents worked. I wear glasses; the only one in my family. My parents joked that I wore glasses because my grandfather would have me on his lap whenever he’d watched TV too close to the screen.
“So I was eager to meet the man who turned me into a geek,” Jaime laughs. “Seriously, I was excited to see him, and as young as I was, I remember him feeding me and playing with me,” said Jaime.
Nicolas (now deceased) lived in Narvacan, Ilocos Sur, Philippines
“I remember landing in Manila. At that time there was no flights to the Ilocos so we had to drive hours to get to grandpa’s house. It was rainy season so the trek was brutal. Finally, we arrived in Narvacan, the rice fields were flooded, acres upon acres. The fields resembled a shallow lake.
“I was impressed by how much land my grandfather owned. When the waters cleared and the sun came out, it was so beautiful and tranquil. I see why grandpa wanted to return to the Philippines,” said Jaime
Narvacan is about 233 miles from Metro Manila, and about 20 miles from the region’s provincial capital Vigan City. Narvacan has a population of about 40,000.
“It’s a small farming community. My grandfather grew rice, tobacco, and corn, depending on the season. The place was full of wildlife – owls, large colorful parrots, the kind that costs thousands at a pet store in the U.S., and domesticated animals like water buffalos that were used to till the soil, the old-fashioned way.
“The reunion was great. I have so many memories. Narvacan and the entire North, including Vigan City is an incredible summer vacation destination. There are open markets, impressive Catholic churches built by Spanish colonizers, and beaches along the coast. It is a place of simple, idle beauty. In certain times of the year, you can also attend town fiestas.”
Some of the popular tourist destinations in Northern Philippines include: Saud Beach (known for its powdery white sand and blue clear waters), Bangui Windmills (a windmill farm), Dansulan Falls (impressive waterfalls and picnic area), Balear (one of the Philippines best surfing spots), Mt Pinatubo, Bolinao (in Ilocos Sur, known for beaches, rock formations, caves, waterfalls), Subic Bay (former U.S. Navy base), Ilocos Norte (once known as the Northern Capital of the Philippines during the Marcos-era), and Baguio (known as the Summer Capital of the Philippines because of its cool climate and high altitude).
Two world famous places in Northern Philippines are 1) the Banaue Rice Terraces in the Cordillera Region (a UNESCO world heritage site). It’s 2000 years old rice terraces that were carved into the mountains without the use of modern machinery; and 2) Vigan (another UNESCO World Heritage Site) that is one of the few places left in the world where centuries-old Spanish structures remain intact. It’s a place that feels like going back in time where they still have horse-drawn carriages.
Aileen Balesteros of Maui is from the Philippines. She immigrated to Hawaii at 8-years old and has been back to the Philippines a few times.
She loves the Ilocos region. “It is rich in culture and you can see the remnants of Spanish architecture everywhere that were mostly built during the time the Spaniards colonized the islands hundreds of years ago. Vigan is like a portal to the past. I also liked Paoay where there are breathtaking sand dunes. The place is even more stunning during sunset.”
Balesteros visited the Philippines the first time for a family reunion. The second time it was a celebratory trip after she graduated from college.
“Going back felt like a homecoming after years of being away. I returned to my roots. One memorable moment was visiting the graveyards of my ancestors. I thought about how grateful I was to them and imagined all that they had gone through to help me get to where I am today.”
Cebu (Central Philippines)
Located in Central Philippines, Cebu is the number one visited tourist destination in the country. Like the north, Cebu has Spanish-colonial heritage sites, pristine beaches and waterfalls. It is also known for world-class resorts. Some of the best known beaches are Malapascua, Bantayan, Moalboal, and the Camotes Islands. Well known waterfalls and hiking places are Badian (Osmena Peak), Samboan, Ginatilan, and the highlands of Cebu City.
Cebu is the oldest city and first capital of the Philippines. Metro Cebu is the second largest metropolitan area in the Philippines, only after Metro Manila.
Boracay is home to some of the best beaches in the world. Long stretches of white sandy beaches surround the island. Many hotel bars and restaurants front parts of these shores. It is known as the Ibiza of Asia because of its party atmosphere.
Tourists scuba dive and enjoy the rich diversity of marine life found in reefs. Wind sailing is a popular water activity. Or tourists simply bask in the sun and walk barefooted on soft white sand.
The international travel magazine Travel Leisure awarded Boracay as the best island in the world; in 2014, the famous Conde Nast Traveler magazine named Boracay as its Top destination for Best Islands in the World.
The island was closed recently from April to October 2018 to address environmental conditions such as high algae growth. It has since reopened.
New clean water laws have been enacted to address tourist and sanitation impacts on the beaches. Since Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s administration, more attention has been placed in preserving beaches so that Boracay can remain a top tourist attraction.
Boracay is 196 miles south of Manila, located in the Western Visayas region.
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