Tourism is on the upswing in the Philippines following the dramatic rise to power of Corazon Aquino last year. The fact that most Filipinos speak at least some English means many tourists can enrich their experience by getting to know the country's people. But any visitor has a difficult choice about what to see among 7,100 islands. Here's a recommended list:
In sprawling Manila, focus first on the 400-year-old Spanish fort of Intramuros. A stroll along the walls and through Fort Santiago reminds one of the city's past, and its three museums give a sense of the way things were one or two centuries ago. Curio and antiques shops abound, and Silahis Crafts presents export crafts from all over the country.
Malacanang, the presidential palace, is now a museum. It's most famous as a showcase for Marcos-era excesses such as Imelda Marcos's 1,000-plus pairs of shoes.
World War II buffs enjoy Corregidor Island across Manila Bay, where American and Filipino soldiers made a last stand against the Japanese.
An hour's drive south of Manila are Pagsanjan rapids and falls, where banqueros pull your raft upstream over rocks, and the super-volcano of Taal, whose collapsed crater is perhaps the only site in the world with an island in a lake in an island in a lake in an island.
About a day's journey by car or bus northeast of Manila, and well worth it, is Banawe, known for the spectacular rice terraces, built some 2,000 years ago, that climb high among the mountains of northern Luzon, the main island.
Beyond Banawe is Bontoc, home of an interesting museum describing the sturdy, feisty mountain tribes, collectively termed Igorots, who still live in villages clustered among the terraces. Farther on is Sagada, whose pine trees and limestone rock formations give respite from the tropical heat and provide pools where visitors can hike, explore caves, or swim.
Fabulous scuba diving and isolated beaches attract many visitors. The talcumlike beach of tiny Boracay is world famous and thus both popular and populous.