A note: Hi there! I would constantly update this list. If you have been to overcrowded destinations in the Philippines that you want to include in the list, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org—Jona
In April and May, some Filipinos take three showers a day while others suffer from the absence of water on daytime—a polar representation of how our society works.
This is summer for most Filipinos: the drought hits us hard, especially the most marginalized in the country. I’m typing this away in Siquijor where I met a lovely Filipino-European gay couple who has the means to have a second line of water installed in their cute well-kept bungalow. But in my resort room, the water trickled in the shower. Until now the water is still missing like an angry partner who wants to have his head cleared up.
I am a tourist here, the least to experience the real suffering of a place.
For my non-Filipino readers, summer in this so-called tropical paradise (which you may have realized by now as bogus) falls in April and May, which is still spring on the other side of the world. While June is summer out there, it is the official start of the rainy season here.
While two or three universities have shifted their school year for the ASEAN academic integration (from the wildly practiced June-March to August-May), the long school break falls in our own legitimate summer months, which translates to a much larger volume of domestic travelers.
The Philippines may look small in the world map but it is largely unexplored. I wrote this to appeal to both local and foreign travelers who find themselves traveling in this scorching heat: avoid certain places, especially on weekends or long holidays. I am not saying you should avoid these places at all cost but let us all avoid traveling to these places in peak season. Places, just like humans, need to rest.
I am providing alternative places for you to visit. But if we do not stop our irresponsible habits such as leaving our trash anywhere we want or making a bonfire in the middle of drought, no amount of alternative places to visit can change us—we will end up trashing these equally beautiful places, we will end making our own priced Philippines a dumping site.
Mt. Ulap, Itogon, Benguet
Inactive in the mountaineering scene for the past years, I googled Mt. Ulap and hit the images button to have a hint of the hype: a protruding boulder by the cliff overlooking the ranges. The boulder’s surface is scarred: it looks like some idiot vandalized it. Now, the scenery is indeed very instagrammable. Imagine yourself standing on the edge. Imagine having your photo taken there; it gives you and your so-called Facebook friends the illusion that you are living life to the fullest, that indeed you are living the life.
Our fear of missing out at the expense of Mother Nature is saddening. I hope the LGU will put a daily limit of the trekkers allowed in the premises.
Boracay | the Lost Paradise
I know! You see it coming! #Laboracay is fast approaching. I could imagine the undisciplined crowd trashing the beach. I could imagine the beach having Thailand’s Full Moon vibe. Boracay is the ultimate travel destination of the Filipinos. It is the point of reference and comparison to all beaches in the country. The comparison was valid, if we are talking of the Boracay that we used to know, the Boracay that we were so kilig about (Yey! Kilig made it to Oxford English dictionary!). The last time I went there was 2010, and the crowd and the disco were at Station 2. Mornings were mostly quiet; the sand was still soft to the touch. The boyfriend was there last summer, and he said that you know the island is overpopulated when there is a party every night and when the sand feels like a hard floor on your sole
TRIVIA: Dexter Condez, an Aeta activist fighting for their land, was killed in 2013. The Aetas are the rightful and original settlers in Boracay.
ALTERNATIVE: Dahican, Mati, Davao Oriental has one of the longest stretch of white-sand beach in the country. Gumasa Beach in Glan—a jeep and a tricycle away from General Santos—has the beauty of a summer feel.
Whale Sharks, Oslob | Harsh Affairs with the Gentle Giants
The whale sharks are overworked. Despite the price increase of a mere thirty-minute interaction with the tuke or butanding, the number of tourists keeps on increasing. There is a ten-minute orientation on the proper ways of interacting with the whale sharks. I want to chuckle in the use of “proper,” here because the provisioning and the limitless number of tourist every day are rather unethical and far from proper. The LGU should put a daily cap on the number of tourists and end the feeding of the whale sharks.
And yes, where does the money go?
TRIVIA: Lamave, an international NGO, is conducting a thorough research on the whale sharks in Tan-awan, Oslob, Cebu.
ALTERNATIVE: I had my first whale shark interaction in Donsol, Sorsogon. There is also a whale shark spotting in Dahican, Mati. I highly recommend the dolphin watching in Bais, Negros Oriental. Imagine seeing a pod of dolphins, and some even play by the boat! Squealing is inevitable. Oh yeah, they are not fed, you can relish in and brag about your experience without feeling guilty.
Kalanggaman Island | Trashed, Lo and Behold
This used to be a favorite spot for my mountaineer friends who double as beachineers. One defining character of a responsible mountaineer is this: they never leave their trash in remote places they visit. They bring their trash back to a place that has a proper waste management. ( But this also sounds ironic because the Philippines does not really have a proper waste disposal system.) This problem does not solely happen in Kalanggaman Island, small islands especially the habited ones like Malapascua, Boracay, and Isla de Higantes, have the same plight.
Our responsibility does not end in paying our environmental fees; we can all bend and break our irresponsible habits. Consume less. And bring our trash back to the main island.
TRIVIA: The municipality of Palompon, Leyte has put a ceiling on the number of tourist that can stay overnight on this little island. There are many day trips to the island from Malapascua Island for Php1000.00-Php1500.00
ALTERNATIVE: I wanted to divulge all the little islands I have been to, but I know there are so many irresponsible travelers in us that stop me from doing so. But what is out there already: what is happening in Kalanggaman Island might happen in Cuatro Islas in Southern Leyte. Cabugay Gamay in Isla de Higantes might also be a good alternative. Bais, Negros Oriental has Manjuyod White Sandbar. Siargao has Dao Island, Guyam, and Naked Island. Capul Island in Northern Samar, Camotes Island in Cebu, Apo Island in Negros Oriental, Sambawan Island in Biliran, and Siquijor might not be as small as Kalanggaman, but they are worth for a visit or two.
Osmeña Peak | Too Crowded It Feels like a Beach
I will use the words of Sir Ice here, a good mountaineer friend. Because he has been one of those humans who brought me to this place and obviously he has been to OPeak long before I started trekking.
I have been climbing OPeak (Osmeña Peak’s nickname) since my high school days, more or less 20 years have passed since I first witnessed the beauty it possess. Over the years, I have seen how, little by little, people stole what once was a treasure. Roads were carved on what was filled with grass. Houses have sprouted more than trees. Gates were built and later destroyed. The first picture I took a few years back, and I was happy and hopeful that finally OPeak is taken good care of. Last year, my last OPeak climb, I saw a number of people and I told myself that it would be my last because what I saw made me worry about its future. And then I saw the 2nd picture, the most recent one taken at OPeak, and this was worse than what I thought would eventually happen. It saddens me because I have grown to love this place, it feels like home away from home. I am not blaming people, I just hope that to those who understand how nature works, please do help in educating people about the impact we bring. Save OPeak.
And let me add, save OPeak by not visiting it during long weekends or during holidays and by always coordinating with responsible travel guides or mountaineers, not the pseudo ones, because there are plenty of them out there.
ALTERNATIVE: Summer is generally the ideal time to trek (OPeak, however, has become one of those places that we can say “Been there, Done that.”) For trekking in Cebu City, there is Mt. Babag and Mt. Kan-irag.
Mt. Pulag | The Problem with Tour Operators
There are two famous trails in Mt. Pulag: Akiki and Ambangeg. Akiki they said is for the hardcore mountaineers, Ambangeg for the tourists and selfie-loving. Well, there is some truth to it, but one lesson I learned from Myand—an experienced and very humble mountaineer friend/ climbing mentor—never ever discriminate a trail. So yes, I have tried Ambangeg, but it was those years when the group picture was a trend and selfie stick was not popular in the group. In a travel group on Facebook, there are a lot of tour operators, legitimate and not, promoting their climb tours anywhere Luzon. Be wary of these groups. Always go with the legitimate one.
With the existing and paralyzing heat, wildfire is highly possible on Mt. Pulag. Irresponsible climbers were the cause of the fire on Mt. Apo and Mt. Kanlaon. It was wildfire that caused damage on Mt. Kitanglad.
ALTERNATIVE: You want something challenging? Last month, with six mountaineers, we climbed Mt. Guiting-guiting in Sibuyan Island, Romblon—must be the toughest climb in the country and said to be the training ground for Mt. Everest climb. Was it tough? Very! And I am not exaggerating! But it is very rewarding, indeed.
Sagada | Do Not Blame the Movie, Blame Ourselves
You might think it was because of the movie That Thing Called Tadhana that made Sagada overcrowded. I would say it is our fear of missing out, a character of a pop culture. It has now become a trend in the local film industry to include a place in the narrative—how shallow it may contribute in the story. There is Flotsam, Every day I Love you, and more are coming. It does not solely happen in the Philippines, copycat as we are, it is patterned after Hollywood. Bali’s tourists tripled after the tremendous popularity of Elizabeth Gilbert’s Eat Pray Love, and Ko Phi Phi became popular after Leonardo di Caprio’s The Beach. The thing is we seek these places because their serenity, their unhurriedness makes them beautiful, which cease to exist once they become part of mass tourism.
Sagada—though I lost all my photos from an unreliable external hard drive—remains dear to me. Those who have been there before the hype, we are all lucky. Those who want to visit the place after the movie, do so, but try traveling on weekdays, so you would experience the quietude this place is known for.
ALTERNATIVE: I keep on dreaming to go back to Batad Rice Terraces and its neighboring villages. I want to exchange sex jokes with Whang Od and her tribe once again. Here in Cebu, we have two mountain resorts [West 35 Eco Mountain Resort in Talamban, Cebu and Sun Xi Mountain Resort in Alegria, Cebu] that have the luxury feel and touch yet are detached to e-toxicity. Yes, all these places do not have Internet.
Hinatuan River | Enchanted No More?
Mindanao is largely misunderstood. We all hear news on killings and terrorism. Yeah, they exist, but we must not forget that Mindanao is the largest landmass in the Philippines, and the horrendous murders happened in some remote places, mostly in southernmost parts of the land. From a traveler’s point of view, Mindanao is highly travelable. Tourists, mostly local, explore the northern part. Must be the reason why Hinatuan River is too populous for its smallness. It used to be so blue, enchanted, and less crowded. Now it has become too crowded especially locals seek refuge in its cool waters.
TRIVIA: Cebu Pacific Airlines has now routes to Tandag, which is a lot closer to Hinatuan, Surigao del Sur. Another route is via Butuan. Back then, I mistook Surigao del Sur for Surigao del Norte. I had to endure an eight-hour bus ride to Bislig, Surigao del Sur’s tail.
ALTERNATIVE: The fresh water of Aliwagwag Falls in Cateel, Davao Oriental should be more than enough to quench our thirst for freshness in this rather humid and hot summer. Or the beautiful Lake Sebu might not have blue waters, but it has some of the amazing views you can find in the country.
The act of modern traveling has a lot of questionable practices that can be considered unethical. Flying, for example, contributes to the burgeoning nasty carbon footprint, which is one of the many factors why we are experiencing this drought and the unbearable summer heat.
Let us consume less. Let us support sustainable products. Let us support ecotourism projects. Let us be responsible with our own trash. Let us bring our own water bottle. Let us turn off the tap when we are brushing our teeth. Let us turn off the lights when we head out.
I know, it is easier said than done. But let us all strive for it. We are not changing the world. We are putting a stop to our wrong ways.