Oh, the Philippines! How interesting. Where is that again exactly?
It is a reaction I am all too familiar with. Whenever I'm abroad, it amuses me how people – especially those from the Western hemisphere – would say this instead of simply "From where?" It amuses me even more that with today's communication, information, and transportation systems that make our planet very small, accessible and predictable, there remain places such as the Philippines that are largely unknown to the world. The country has had its moments in the global spotlight – World War II, the eruption of Mt. Pinatubo, Manny Pacquiao's 8th world title – but for the most part the Philippines has stayed below the radar of the rest of the world's history and popular culture. This relative anonymity is what makes the country so appealing to a certain type of traveler.
Over the past two decades, the Philippines has gained considerable international tourism attention for its beaches and scuba diving spots. However, the majority of the country's most awe-inspiring treasures are still way off the beaten tourist track. While it is definitely worth visiting its most famous beaches and experiencing the glory of its established dive sites, it is away from four-star hotels and beach-side bars where one finds the Philippines' true wonders. In these little-known places, coastlines of sheer rock display countless cascades that tumble into the ocean. Extensive cave systems contain bizarre landscapes that are as close as one can get to setting foot on an alien planet. Mountains covered by old-growth rainforests teem with life and harbor indigenous communities that have retained their traditions since pre-Hispanic times. And, not surprisingly, some of the most spectacularly pristine beaches and marine ecosystems on Earth remain unknown to all but a few. What's amazing is that many of these gems are not too far away from the main tourist digs and urban areas. Most are remote not in terms of actual distance but in terms of awareness.
It is only a matter of time, of course, before the Philippines, with all its exotic attractions, find its way into global tourism's mainstream. Until then, my country will always remind me of a magazine ad that I saw a couple of years ago. The ad showed a picture of an idyllic nature spot (I can't even remember what the spot was; it could have been at a mountain lake or a forest stream) that was obviously a special discovery, and not a person was in sight. It read:
You want to tell everyone about this place. You want to tell no one about this place. As you read about our adventure tours, you will notice that we are at times vague, secretive, or even downright protective of certain pieces of information regarding our destinations. If an Uncharted adventure appeals to you, then you are the type of person who appreciates our discretion. To you, friend, we offer the most special places in this special country.