How do I love thee? Let me count the ways — and, believe me, we cannot count them enough in the Philippines. Let’s bask in the afterglow of a tropical sunset under the quivering shade of palm trees at the beach. Let’s row about in the mystical stillness of a volcanic lake. Let’s climb the stairways of the gods at the Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras. Let’s swim with whale sharks in the ocean. Let’s join ancient cultural communities in their hypnotic rites and rituals. Let’s chase each other in the ruins of the walled city of Old Manila. Let’s get lost in the dark with fireflies flittering all aglow around us. And let’s say it with flowers — and eat them up in an earthen bowl of organic honey-dribbled mountain flower salad. In the Philippines, the only answer to all that loving is sweet yes yes yes….
Romancing in the
In the company of fireflies
The Spanish conquistadores of long ago took to calling Siquijor Island in the central Philippines “Fire Island.” That’s because when evening came, the island glowed with the incandescent flight of its innumerable fireflies. Such an otherworldly glow contributed to the island’s reputation as a place of mysticism, mystery, and magic. Today, Siquijor banks on such a reputation in wooing travelers looking for a place to meditate and re-center their lives in a tropical island far from the madding crowd. The nighttime firefly tours in Siquijor are an out-of-this-world experience — and a perfect way to enjoy the dark with your special someone. Buzzing on different frequencies, the fireflies twinkle with heartbeat serendipity, casting a spell on all your hearts. Other notable firefly tours: at the mangrove forest in Donsol, Sorsogon; at the nearby Ogod River, also in Sorsogon; at the Iwahig Firefly Watching station in Puerto Princesa, Palawan; at the Abatan River in Bohol, right smack in the centuries-old Postan Forest; at Laoay, also in Bohol, where you can enjoy dinner as part of a river cruise organized by the local government; at Magdiwang town in Sibuyan Island, Romblon; and at the Kingfisher Park in Coron, Palawan.
Say — and eat — it with flowers
At the Bohol Bee Farm in Tagbilaran, Bohol, you can do some extraordinary wooing through flowers — arranged crisply on your platter of organic salad dribbled with freshly harvested honey. This homey organic-food diner offers healthy beverages, too. While here in this island-province, you can go chase each other in a butterfly farm. Or hold each other’s hands as you both pet the smallest primate in the world (yes, the tarsier can fit into each of your palm). And why not luxuriate in the many flowers and herbs in the jungles and chocolate hills and islets and coves that make Bohol an all-in-one adventure dating island for those who love the great outdoors?
Whether it’s high tide or low tide, the Philippines has many islands you can go to by plane, boats, or car — or even kayak or outrigger canoe. In Lingayen, Pangasinan, in the northern Philippines, you can enjoy a smorgasbord of the Hundred Islands. Local tour packages include lunch picnics, with options for your own “private island” to spend the night on. Much pricier are the island-hopping tours in Palawan, consistently named the best island destination in the world by international glossy magazines. At the central Philippine beach haven that is Boracay, island tours are easy to come by.
This is probably the best-kept secret among wedding destinations in the world. At the National Arts Center in Mount Makiling, an hour’s ride south of Metro Manila, there is a chapel whose backdrop is a ravine that plunges into a virgin forest almost a stone’s throw from the mighty Laguna de Bai. This non-denominational chapel has no walls. Its architectural signature — and structure — is a cross whose horizontal plank serves as the roof and whose vertical rise becomes the focal point as the altar. Churchgoers sit on smoothened rocks where ferns grow at the cracks. Running through the rough stone floors are rivulets of water signifying the quiet joys of life’s many blessings. To book the chapel, contact the Cultural Center of the Philippines.
Intramuros, also known as the Walled City of Old Manila, has stone-block churches and Hispanic houses and cobblestone streets and forts and battlements that can lend your wedding a unique historical twist. Horse-drawn carriages complete the picture. Fine-dining restaurants in the area offer catering services, even inside their premises, which are splendorously cinematic, too. The legendary Manila Cathedral sits at one of the entry points of Intramuros.
At the Monastery of the Transfiguration in Malaybalay City, in the southern Philippine province of Bukidnon, you can have a quiet, transcendental wedding in between the community prayers of Benedictine monks. The church has an austere power in its simplicity, with a breathtaking view of the agricultural plateau and the mountains beyond. There are bed-and-breakfast amenities in air-conditioned comfort.
Named after a mangrove species, Siargao Island is at the easternmost reaches of the Philippines. It straddles the maelstrom between the Pacific Ocean and the Philippine Trench off the Mindanao mainland, treating visitors to awesome waves that have brought joy to surfers from all over the world. Beyond surfing, Siargao is the perfect destination for couples off to start or rekindle romance. The island cluster, after all, is a seascape and landscape national park teeming with mangroves and uninhabited white-sand islets and tidal rock pools that trap crystal-clear seawater and secret labyrinthine coves where you may sometimes chance upon sea lions splashing about, bellowing with too much happiness.
The majesty and treachery of Mayon Volcano, revered for its almost perfect cone, define both the physical and cultural landscape of the Bicol region in the southern tip of the main Philippine island of Luzon. Imbibe history and ecology at the national park around Mt. Mayon. Check out neighboring Mt. Isarog and Mt. Bulusan, also active volcanoes. Explore the Cagsawa Ruins, the remains of a 16th-century stone church and belfry in Albay province built under the supervision of the Franciscans in 1587. Go on a pilgrimage to the Peñafrancia Basilica in Naga City. Go wakeboarding in this city, and surfing in Daet, Camarines Norte. Swim, snorkel, dive, and go kayaking at the Calaguas Islands in Camarines Norte or at the Caramoan Peninsula in Camarines Sur, where a survival reality show was famously filmed. Check out the whale sharks at the Donsol Whale Shark Interaction Center in Sorsogon province. Take a break with your family at the Lola Sayong Eco Surfing Camp in Sorsogon. Enjoy the nightlife at the boardwalk along the coast of Legazpi City. Pray at the picturesque Daraga Church, built in 1772 with a most dramatic backdrop: Mt. Mayon in the shimmering distance.
Built by the Americans as the summer capital of the Philippines, Baguio is a postcard-pretty mountain city in the northern Philippines. Its pine-scented cool air welcomes visitors as they wind up the narrow highlands passes to arrive at Session Road. It’s the main strip that’s abuzz with restaurants known for homey steaks and fresh vegetable platters. Camp John Hay, the former American military station, is now a golf resort offering scenic vacation rental homes. Homey and reasonably priced accommodations are available at Teachers’ Camp. On weekends, visitors are welcome to watch the Philippine Military Academy cadets do their routines at the parade grounds at Fort Pilar. Culture lovers should visit the arts village called Tam-awan (Perch), the brainchild of Baguio-based artists such as National Artists Ben Cabrera and Kidlat Tahimik.