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The Philippines are an ideal location for outdoor activities with numerous mountains to hike and dozens of volcanoes to explore. At 2,954m, Mount Apo is the tallest mountain in the country, but day-hikes can be done on the easier peaks near Manila in the Batangas and Rizal provinces. There are also opportunities to go caving, sailing, surfing and whitewater rafting in the Phillipines. Other sports that are extremely popular in the Philippines include basketball and boxing.

          Of the many annual visitors to the Philippines, the majority are attracted by the pristine opportunities for scuba diving. The quality of dive schools and impeccable dive sites makes the archipelago of the Philippines one of the most attractive destinations for diving in the world.

Scuba Diving

          With year-round diving opportunities available in the magnificent archipelago, it's easy to understand why diving is one of the Philippines's most popular activities. February to June is the period for the warmest water, but surface water temperature is fairly consistent throughout the year at 25–28°C with lower temperature of 22°C on deeper dives, which means that wet suits are still essential. Typhoon season runs from June to November and it’s not uncommon for dive boats to be grounded during this time when a major storm hits the islands. Water temperature and wind direction influence visibility on a dive, it typically lies at 10-30m, which is equal to elsewhere in the world. Among the most popular sites for diving you can find the coast of Palawan, Puerto Galera, Padre Burgos, Anilao, the wrecks surrounding Coron Town and the breathtaking reefs of Tubbataha and Apo.

          Most of the dives will set you back approximately PHP1,800 to PHP2,000 (approximately US$40-50) while more technically demanding or night dives will cost about PHP500 more. Most package deals, however, include two dives a day.

Courses

          Resorts that are PADI-accredited tend to offer a variety of courses run by professional and certified instructors. Novice divers are advised to try one of the light discovery dives that lasts 20 minutes and is led by an instructor for approximately PHP1,500 or a longer PADI course for PHP3,000. When you’re sure that you want to do a full-fledged dive course, start with the PADI Open Water Diver Course, which will cost around PHP18,000 and will prepare you for dives of up to 18m depths. It may be worthwhile to do the written tests and pool sessions in your home country and then do the final dives for the certification at PADI-certified resorts in the Philippines as this will save the time on your vacation. Be sure to take all the necessary documents with you on your trip if you choose to take this route. Becoming a certified diver gives you freedom to dive anywhere in the world so consider doing an advanced course, too. Some options for advanced courses include: Advanced Open Water Diver (from PHP14,000), Emergency First response (from PHP6,000), which can also be done by non-dives, and Rescue Diver (from PHP18,000).

Liveaboards

          Liveaboards are boats that serve as movile hotels. Two of the biggest benefits in diving from a liveaboard is that they enable access to hardly found locations and provide accommodation in such places. Examples of amazing locations that you can explore with liveaboards are the Apo Reefoff Mindoro’s coast and Tubbataha in the Sulu Sea, which many people consider to be the best location for diving in the Philippines. Package deals vary from place to place, but typically include meals and dive. Trips in Tubbataha generally run between US$1,200 – 1,600 for a week day trips in Coron that start from US$130. Boats generally provide en-suite cabins for two people sharing with air-conditioning. The advantage of package deals is that diving while onboard is usually unlimited with all costs included.

Positive and Negative Sides of Diving

          Experienced divers know that they can cause irreparable damage to corral reefs. To avoid causing unintentional damage to the reefs, pay attention to your fins so that they don’t strike the coral heads or stir up sediment that can kill coal. Similarly, don’t use the coral to re-balance yourself and try to maintain control of your buoyancy.

          Do enjoy the beauty of the aquatic life during your dive and take photos, but leave the coral, shells and relics in the wrecks where they are. The only thing you should ever remove from the ocean is garbage.

          Don’t ride the marine life. It’s not right, in any situation, to climb onto or hang onto sea life such as manta rays or turtles. Admire these creatures by all means, but treat them with respect.

          Spear-fishing is not permitted in the Philippines and offenders will be reported to authorities by several environmental rights groups who seek prosecution of illegal spear-fishing.

          Physical contact with aquatic creatures is something that should only be done by experienced professionals. Handling marine line is traumatic and can injure the creatures despite your best intentions.

Trekking and Climbing

          There are numerous opportunities for trekking and climbing in exquisite areas such as the Sierra Madre in Luzon and the Balbalasang-Balbalan National Park in Kalinga, which both offer mesmerizing treks through thick tropical forests and over peaks of dizzying heights – with few tourists to crowd them. For volcanic climbs, head to places like Mount Mayon and Mount Isarog in Bicol or Mindoro, Palawan and the Visayas for a variety of national parks, waterfalls and other breathtaking scenes of the archipelago’s spectacular wilderness.

          Despite the vast number of protected areas and national parks in the country (there are over 60 of these), the Philippines simply doesn’t have the funds to manage them with the infrastructure to which many western tourists are accustomed. However, this does not mean that they are not worth visiting. Mount Apo in Mindanao and Mount Pulag in Mountain province are among the most popular locations for climbing and have easy-to-find trails, but be advised that most of these trails are not well-maintained and that the trails usually have little to marking. Any existing accommodation will be only the bare minimums while some national parks merely offer administrative buildings with dorm beds for hire or space to sleep on the floor. Some of them may provide basic facilities for cooking, but expect a bucket and water for a shower. If you’re deep inside the parks, you will be lucky to find shelter in a basic wooden shack.

          With such minimalist facilities available, hiring a good guide is essential. The best place to do this is the municipal hall of the closest town to the trail you’re looking to hike. Day fees tend to be PHP800 – PHP1,500 per day plus meals and water, which you must prepare prior to setting out; there is nowhere on the trail to buy food.

          Basic frame tents are available for around PHP3,000 and sleeping bags for PHP1,500 from some outdoor stores in large cities – particularly in Manila. You will also be able to buy items like lanterns, backpacks and cooking gear, but rentals tend to be rather limited in most stores.

Caving

          The Philippines has an abundance of caves – especially in northern Luzon – where the Sagada and Cagayan provinces have the largest caves and are ideal for spelunking. The Peñablanca Protected Area near Tuguegarao is the best location with 300 caves, many of which are still to be explored. The Sohoton Natural Bridge National Park in Samar is also a good option.

Whitewater Rafting

          Like spelunking, whitewater rafting is gaining popularity – especially in Mindanao on the Cagayan de Oro River and northern Luzon’s Cagayan and Chico Rivers. Ziplines have also appeared on many islands, but the best ones are near Cagayan de Oro and Davao. Cagayan de Oro also offers exhilarating microlight rides.

Surfing

          Another sport that has gained popularity is surfing. Eastern Bicol, Catanduanes, Siargao island and Tandag in eastern Mindanao, and around San Fernando in La Union are all excellent locations with good waves for surfing. Some die-hard surfers also favour Baler in northern Luzon or borongan in eastern Samar, but these are more remote locations in the archipelago and difficult to reach.

Basketball

          Like so many other American traditions that have been adopted by Filipinos, basketball has been embraced enthusiastically to the point that there is a court in every town and barrio in addition to informal hoops in the church plaza. Founded in 1975, the Philippine Basketball Association is the local equivalent of the NBA. All 10 teams are sponsored by large businesses and use the names of their sponsors for their team name, which means that you’ll be watching games where the Powerade Tigers tackle San Miguel Beermen or the Talk ‘N Text Tropang Texters play the Meralco Bolts. Of the 10 teams, the San Miguel Beermen is the most successful, but the most popular team is the Baragay Ginebra Kings. Like NBA players in America, the names of the star players of the teams are well known to most Filipinos.

Boxing

          Since the beginning of the 20th century, boxing has been a widely popular sport in the Philippines. The name that stands out in the sport is the poor Mindanaoan boy who has since become the world champion: Manny “the Pacman” Pacquiao. While it’s rare to see him in one of the weekly fights, don’t let this deter you from heading to Caloocan and Mandaluyong in Manila, Cebu City, Tagaytay City, Taytay in the Luzon province or Victoria in Negros, which are all major venues. Tickets tend to sell out quickly because they are cheap. The more important spars are always broadcast though.

          Other Filipino world champions include: Nonito “The Filipino Flash” Donaire, Gerry Peñalosa, Donnie “Ahas” Nietes and Brian “Hawaiian Punch” Viloria.

Pool

          Pool is another popular pastime, so you’ll easily find some type of billiards hall in every town or city. Some of these may be rundown tables outside of buildings where locals meet for casual games played by gas lamps. While the cost and accessibility of the sport are major reasons for its popularity, it has also grown in popularity due to Efren Reyes and Francisco Bustamante’s success in the game. Born in Clark, located north of Manila in the Pampanga province, Reyes regularly played pool on weekend nights in the bars around his hometown. As part of Team Philippines, he and Francisco “Django” Bustamante participated in and won the first World Cup of Pool in 2006 after defeating Team USA, which they did again in 2009.

Cockfighting

           This is not one of the popular activities for westerners who seldom understand it or get to watch fights in this rather violent sport on which spectators make bets. A fight starts once the two roosters face each other in the pit – each with a three inch razor blade attached to their leg. Matches don’t last long and the roosters literally peck each other to death. It’s not a sport for anyone who loves animals.

          However, watching one of these fights, known as sabong in Tagalog, allows you to experience the rawest aspects of Filipino culture and those that have not been touched or influenced by American influence. Start at one of Manila’s large cockpits or ask for suggestions at your hotel. It is largely a man’s sport; women can attend the larger venues in Manila, but are advised to have male company when attending one of the cock halls in the smaller provinces. Entrance fees are low.


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