Country Information


Archaeologists believe the first people to migrate to the Philippines came from Borneo, Sumatra and Malaya. These people intermingled and created the Negritos. They were followed by groups from Indonesia, which brought with them architectural and farming skills. Thus, the rice terraces of North Luzon were built around 2,000 years ago.

The Malays were the main people of the land during the Iron Age, and they were responsible for building the first permanent settlements in the first century AD. Records of trade between China and the islands of the Philippines date back as early as the 2nd century AD. This peaceful trading life lasted until the early 16th century, when Portuguese explorer Ferdinand Magellan first landed on the islands, claiming them for Spain. Later, the Portuguese also claimed the islands as their territory. Magellan’s efforts to convert the islanders to Catholicism, sometimes forcefully, eventually led to his death on Mactan Island.

After Magellan’s death, the Spanish continued to push for the claim of the island. By 1565, they had established this claim, but they struggled to push Islam from the islands. A 300-year long war ensued, but was never fully settled, because in 1762, Britain invaded Manila and began pushing out the Spanish. Two years later, a Philippine resistance pushed Britain out of Manila as well. Spain swooped back in, but the Filipino people had gotten a taste of independence and weren’t willing to give in so easily.

Ongoing battles between Spain and the local people continued until 1897, when a tentative pact between Spain and the Filipino leaders was signed. The Japanese showed their support for the Filipino cause, sending weapons to exiled revolutionary leaders hiding out in Hong Kong. Meanwhile, the colony of Cuba and a dispute with America over Cuban sugar began to demand more and more of Spain’s attention. When the Spanish-American War began, the Americans gave the Filipino leaders enough help that they were finally able to drive out the Spanish. Yet, they still were not free.

In the Treaty of Paris, the United States purchased Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines form the Spanish. This angered the Filipino revolutionaries, who were still pushing for their independence. By 1902, America had silenced most rumblings of rebellion, and the US was able to control the islands until 1935, when the United States peacefully offered the Commonwealth of the Philippines their freedom under a constitution that mirrored that of the US.

Sadly, the young Commonwealth was not ready for the Japanese attacks of World War II. Over 1.1 million Filipinos lost their lives in Japanese attacks of the island. Eventually, the US was victorious in the war, and the Republic of the Philippines was established with their financial and political support.

America continued to hold some control over the Philippines, with a large military base on the islands, until the 1980s. In 1986, the president, Ferdinand Marcos, was driven from the country in a short revolution. When Mt. Pinatubo erupted in 1991, the US military bases at Clark and Subic Bay were no longer usable due to the volcanic ash. The troops finally left the island, and leaders hoped for political stability without US interference.

Sadly, stability was not in the future for the Philippines, and in 2000, yet another president, this time Joseph Estrada, was forced out of office. His vice president, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, was declared president. While her period of leadership was not without its difficulties, it began to bring a bit more stability to the people, and the US was once again welcomed to the land.

Unique Characteristics

  • Because of Spain’s long rule in the Philippines, it is very heavily Roman Catholic, with nearly 81 percent of the people claiming Catholicism.  In fact, it is one of only two predominately Roman Catholic nations in the Asian Pacific region.
  • The Filipino people generally eat six times a day, with the three regular meals and three snacks spread throughout the day. Most dishes include rice in some form.
  • Filipino is the official language of the country, but only about half of the people can speak it. English is generally used for education and government. The Philippines is home to the world’s third largest group of English speaking people.

Fun Facts

  • The Philippines are home to two impressive snakes: the longest snake in the world, the reticulated python, and the most toxic snake in the world, the faint-banded sea snake.
  • The Puerto Princesa Subterranean River in Palawan is the world’s longest navigable underground fiver, stretching 8.2 kilometers in length.
  • The largest known pearl, the Pearl of Allah, was found in the Palawan Sea in 1934 by a Filipino diver. It weighs 40 pounds.
  • Of the over 7,100 islands in the Philippines, only 1,000 are inhabited.
  • The capital city of Manila is the most densely populated city in the world. A population of over 1.6 million people must squeeze into 38.55 square kilometers.

Top Destinations

  • Siquijor –The “Island of Fire,” as the Spanish called it, is so full of fireflies that it literally glows. This is just one of the many features that bring an aura of mystery to this small island. Beach resorts welcome travelers to its shores.
  • Malapascua Island – If you love to go scuba diving, then this is the destination for you. Swim with manta rays, if you dare, while you visit this tiny tropical island paradise.
  • Sagada – A haven for backpackers, this quiet mountain town is a great place to get away from it all and see much of the natural beauty of the Philippines.
  • Banaue – Home to the historic rice terraces, a trip to the Philippines is not complete without a trip to Banaue to see one of the eight wonders of the world.
  • Manila – Wall-to-wall people in the capital city makes it a thrilling place to experience the culture of the Philippines.
  • Donsol – Whale sharks are abundant off the shores of this island, making snorkeling a favorite pastime.
  • Dumaguete – This university town shows you how hip the Philippines can be. it is a great destination to explore the Asian nightlife or grab a bite to eat away from the crowds of Manila.
  • Mt. Kanlaon – Camp in the heart of this volcanic crater, and find yourself surrounded by some of the rarest plant and animal life in the world.
  • Camiguin – This island is known for its lush landscapes, beautiful beaches and breathtaking waterfalls. This is the place to go for some jungle trekking or to climb to the top of a volcano.
  • Boracay – Located off of the tip of Panay, this island is home to the premier beach of the Philippines.

How to Get Cash

  • Money changers are only easy to find in the heavily touristy areas. The larger the amount you are going to change, the better your rate will be, so try to change a lot at once in order to make the most out of the fees you’ll be charged.
  • Avoid stalls located on the streets, as they are often sources for counterfeit bills. Also, avoid the money changers in stores and hotels as they will charge excessive rates.
  • Money can be exchanged at banks, but the hours of operation are limited, unless you visit the Bank of the Philippine Islands.
  • The Philippines has 6,000 ATMs scattered throughout its land. Withdrawal amounts may be limited at some locations. Because of this and the 200 peso charge most ATMs will charge, in addition to your bank’s own charges, the ATM is typically not considered an affordable way to get pesos.
  • Visa, MasterCard, American Express and JCB cards are generally recognized at commercial locations throughout the country, but a minimum payment amount may be charged.
  • Visit a Western Union or similar cash advance location if you find yourself in an emergency.

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