Over the course of the last few decades, the Philippines have seen a resurgence in visitor numbers as word gets out of what the archipelago country offers. And it’s the sheer diversity of sights and attractions that keep people coming back for more, from the richness of the landscape to the hospitality of the people, the Philippines tourist industry is thriving.
There’s simply a list as long as your arm when it comes to reasons to visit, including an abundance of UNESCO sights, biosphere reserves and the fact that 90% of the inhabitants speak English. But one of the biggest draws is the country’s fiestas – hugely popular parties and festivals that happen throughout the year, so much so that it’s become known as the “capital of fun.” Let’s take a look and see what all the fuss is about.
In a country with over 7,000 islands, it has become almost impossible to quantify the number of festivals that take place in numerous locations scattered across the whole archipelago. Most festivals either have religious or cultural roots and often both, predominantly Christian in nature and dating back to Spanish colonial times. There are so many parties happening here annually the islands have been dubbed “the world capital of fun.” So, which ones should you not miss?
Taking place in the third week of January, Sinulog is arguably the countries premier festival. This is the granddaddy of Philippine showboating, and if you only see one festival when you visit – make it this one.
A cultural and religious extravaganza, head to Cebu City to catch this explosion of color, costume, music and dance, all in honor of the baby Jesus. The street parades will keep you dazzled for days and there are other concerts and events thrown in for good measure. It’s estimated you’ll be joined by an astonishing 4 million people here too!
On a par with Sinulog (and likely to be the fiesta that kickstarted the region’s love affair with partying) is the Ati-Atihan festival, also taking place in the third week of January. This time, however, it’s located in the Kalibo municipality of Aklan island. This is reputed to be the oldest festival in the country and has become extremely popular with tourists.
Participants dress in outrageous costumes with masks and painted faces, often carrying weapons of some kind while leaping around to high tempo tribal drum beats like they’ve had too many cups of coffee. If there’s one festival you see here – make it this one. And yes, we know we’ve said that already!
Also celebrated at the beginning of the year, Dinagyang is a religious festival taking place in the city of Iloilo, Panay. And once again, much like the large percentage of the fiestas in the Philippines, it looks like a color bomb has gone off with music and dance to match.
In fact, this festival is particularly noteworthy for the competition that happens towards the end of the craziness. Local high schools and tribes come together in what has become a very competitive dance-off, featuring – as you might expect – some insane drum beats, headdresses, and shapes thrown by all participants. You’re going to be exhausted just watching them!
Throughout February and into March, the name of this festival literally translates as “season of blooming.” Yes, you’ve guessed it – Panagbenga is a flower festival, and every bit as colourful as any of the costumes you might already have seen on parade. Hundreds of floats all decorated in brilliant blooms will make their way through the city streets, accompanied by dancers wearing florally themed costumes. Maybe not for those who suffer from hay fever!
A week-long festival dedicated to St Longinus, the Roman soldier who was said to have pierced Jesus in the side with a spear during the crucifixion. Naturally, this takes around Easter, when the event supposedly took place, and Longinus is thought to have converted to Christianity in later life.
The festival, in the Marinduque Province, see scores of people dressing up as Roman centurions and dramatising the search for Longinus after he saw the error of his ways. Expect to see lots of colourful “Morion” masks and helmets as participants roam the streets for a week in search of the elusive Saint. It’s certainly something a little different to all the dancing!
Dancing the Night Away
There you have it then, these are debatably the best (and up there with the most popular) of all of the Philippines festivals. It’s a good job too because it would take years of writing a research to come up with a definitive list, such is the sheer variety and number of fiestas on the islands. And if anyone were to try and visit them all, that would be a very unique achievement indeed! You’d better start now then!
Have you been to any festivals in the Philippines? Let us know what you would recommend!