MANILA, Philippines – In an effort to promote sustainable development and eco-friendly travel options, the Philippines (www.experiencephilippines.ph) offers environmental tips, socio-cultural activities and a selection of hotels and resorts ideal for the eco-friendly traveler.
The Philippines has adopted eco-tourism as an important aspect of their economic development plan. Palawan, the second largest province in the Philippines (in land area), has become the prime eco-tourism destination of the county and the new “buzz” among the green travel community. Tourism not only helps to raise the standard of living for the remote island’s scarce population, but also reinforces programs that protect the environment. In response, tourists walk away with a memorable vacation, as well as the satisfaction that they are contributing to making the Earth a greener place to live.
Packaging tourism that is a spin-off from the traditional definitions, Bohol’s eco-tourism has made it a model for the country. It is home to the tarsier, the world’s smallest monkey, and to an enigmatic geological formation, the Chocolate Hills. Its coral reefs are home to enchanting varieties of marine life. Wetlands, caves and forests dot its terrain, while mangroves and palms grow abundantly in its coasts and swamps.
The ecotourism program has clear aims: to put in place mechanisms that are environmentally sustainable, economically viable, and socially equitable; accelerate development for the benefit of local communities; and spread tourism benefits to rural areas in terms of employment generation and improve the standard of living.
WHERE TO STAY
Following is a list of hotels and resorts throughout the Philippines which offer eco-conscious vacationers the opportunity to explore the marvels of the region while doing their part in respecting and restoring Mother Nature.
El Nido Resorts, Palawan
Lagen and Miniloc Island Resorts of El Nido Resorts believe in recognizing natural resources through responsible tourism. The resorts also work closely with the local community in the prevention of illegal fishing, promotion of coastal clean-ups, environmental education campaigns, monitoring of snorkeling sites and dive sites, and installation and maintenance of mooring buoys.
Club Noah Isabelle, Apulit Island, Palawan
Club Noah Isabelle is located on the island of Apulit on the northeastern coast of Palawan. Situated in a cove surrounded by a large marine reef, Club Noah Isabelle has been designed to be a model-case for eco-tourism. With administrative authority over a one mile radius of the island, Club Noah has slowly brought the reefs of Isabelle back to life. The presence of the white breasted eagle, grey reef egrets, and kingfisher attest to the abundance of fish in the water.
Bohol Bee Farm
The Bohol Bee Farm is a secret cherished and kept by visitors. Hidden, safe, and unexploited, it is a sanctuary where one can escape from the complexities and trappings of modern life. The farm has evolved into a popular tropical retreat, encouraging agricultural development through organic farming and introducing an alternative and sustainable lifestyle in harmony with nature. Almost everything at the resort – from the food to the furniture – is made on premises.
The Philippines is what those “I-can’t-wait-to-tell-you” vacation experiences are all about. Offering a great diversity of appeals, the 7,107 island archipelago boasts some of the most extensive eco-tourism offerings of any destination.
Following is a list of various activities for vacationers throughout the region:
One of the big reasons for heading to the peaceful village of Donsol in Southwest Luzon, is an opportunity to rendezvous with whale sharks measuring from 18 to 35 feet in length and weighing some 20 tons. Locally known as “butanding,” whale sharks are considered to be the largest fish in the world’s seas. Part of the beauty of this adventure is the opportunity to interact with the creatures in their natural environment instead of man-made captive areas. The best time for divers or snorkelers to swim alongside these gentle creatures (or to watch them from small boats) is from November to May.
If bird-watching is on the vacation agenda, the national bird of the Philippines, the Philippine Eagle, will surely impress (as will the rest of the country’s unique bird life). The rare Philippine Eagle is said to be the world’s largest, and those lucky enough to venture to the Philippines for a first-hand encounter will remember it as one of the most breathtaking experiences of their lives.
When it comes to thinking “small,” the Philippines offers special interest as well. The smallest hoofed mammal on the face of the earth – the mouse deer (locally known as Pilandok) – can be seen on Balabac Island, south of Palawan, standing a mere 15.7 inches at shoulder level.
The scenic and lush oval island of Bohol is the comfortable residence of the Philippine tarsier – the smallest primate in the world. Aside from fitting in the palm of one’s hand, the Philippines tarsier is also the oldest surviving member of the primate group at an awesome 45 million years old. An endangered species, the tarsier can be found in several areas within the Philippines, but the most common encounters are on the island of Bohol.
Beneath the surface of the warm and inviting waters of the Philippines one can find Pisidum, the world’s tiniest shell, less than a millimeter in length (the country is a seashell lover’s delight with some 12,000 species), and the world’s shortest freshwater fish – the colorless and nearly transparent dwarf pygmy goby (males have an average length of only .3 inches).
Vacationers who come to the Philippines will also discover that the archipelago is home to 488 of the 500 known coral species in the world including seahorses, five distinct species of marine turtles (the Green Turtle, Hawksbill, Leatherback, Olive Ridley, and Loggerhead), and seven of the world’s eight known species of giant clams.
Aside from the tarsier, Bohol boasts a wide range of enticing tourist attractions including the dome-shaped Chocolate Hills – 1,268 hills rising 98-394 feet above the surrounding plateau, reaching as far as the eyes can see. The uniformly-shaped hills dry to a crispy brown in March resembling miles of oversized Hershey Kisses.
Vacationers will not want to miss the chance to see the picture-postcard island of Taal, known to have the world’s smallest active volcano. Taal Volcano is an island on a lake about 30 miles south of Manila. Most notably, the volcano contains a lake of its own within its center known as Crater Lake. What makes this volcano even more novel is the tiny island inside Crater Lake – Vulcan Point – which is an island within a lake on an island within a lake on an island.
Camiguin Island, a volcanic island in the Bohol Sea, where waterfalls create both hot and cold springs, is often referred to as the Philippines’ Garden of Eden.
Subic Bay, located two hours northwest of Manila, offers rich wildlife with distinctive species of birds, bats, monkeys and butterflies. Journey through the Subic Forest Watershed Reserves where the local monkeys are known to be extremely friendly in their interactions with visitors. At Jungle Environment Survival Training Camp, natives offer instruction on how to drink from a water vine, make fire out of bamboo shavings and twigs, cook in a bamboo steamer, and eat on a bamboo plate under a century-old tree.
Mount Pinatubo, also in Luzon, is notable in history as the second largest volcanic eruption in the 20th century, back in 1991. Spa facilities make use of hot springs and volcanic ash for their treatments, which results in a very soothing, mineral-rich experience.
PUERTO PRINCESA SUBTERRANEAN RIVER NATIONAL PARK
Palawan’s Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park is the longest in the world. Visitors can explore the UNESCO World Heritage Site’s cavernous interior and various rock formations via outrigger boats through the underground river. Although only one third of the river’s length of more than five miles is navigable, it emerges into a crystal-clear lagoon, where visitors can continue their exploration of the park by leisurely hiking the Monkey Trail lined with 40,000 tropical flora and fauna.
IFUGAO RICE TERRACES
The Ifugao Rice Terraces in Banaue, another UNESCO World Heritage Site, is an agro-architectural marvel. Travelers will be in awe of the extensive natural irrigation system the indigenous Ifugao rice farmers were able to accomplish by hand more than 2,000 years ago.