Now, 2011 was my least travelled year. Looking back, I haven't been to someplace truly new. So you may not see a lot of new places in this list. It was more of a year of rediscovery for me. I went back to my favorite places in the country, like Sumilon Island. I've also been to Misibis Bay, Antulang and Pagbilao in Quezon this year, but those experiences didn't live up to my expectations to merit a entry in this list.
I was also more out of the country this year, hence, my domestic experiences were limited. Coincidentally, I have come up with this year's list based on one criteria, FUN. It is FUN in the Philippines!
10. Dumaguete City
Let's start off the list with probably one of the funnest cities in the Philippines, Dumaguete. Though laid back, Dumaguete has that youthful charm and vibrant character that will give you a certain high. Wander off the narrow streets and discover Siliman University, one of the country's oldest universities. There are a lot of cafes and restaurants that will tempt not only your taste buds, but also your desire for great interiors.
9. 8 Suites, Tagaytay City
I would never have put Tagaytay on this list, if it weren't for this quaint guest lodge on the edge of a cliff. The view from Suite 3 in 8 Suites in Tagaytay made me feel I wasn't in Tagaytay at all. It gave a fresh and breathtaking view of beautiful Taal Lake especially in the early morning. Though I may experience the same view in some other boutique hotel, 8 Suites magically made me feel that it was my first time in Tagaytay. And I go to Tagatyay 2x a month on the average.
8. Zamboanga City
Despite having bad press during the last part of the year because of a series of bombings, Zamboanga City still remains to be one of my favorite cities in the Philippines. This year, I was able to visit Asia's Latin City three times, and every visit has never been tiring or boring. Even though I never made it to Sta. Cruz Island, I managed to enjoy another visit in Pasonanca Hills, exploring further up the Stations of the Cross to get the best view of the city. From the Spanish era city hall to the vibrant bay walk, to the walled history of Fort Pilar, Zamboanga dishes out great sights for its virgin visitors. And with the Paseo area expanding, Zamboanga will definitely be more fun in the coming years. Now this is a city who knows how to build its tourism potential. Viva Zamboanga!
7. Siaton, Negros Oriental
My trip to Antulang was uneventful, up until I began exploring outside Antulang. I took a hike along the shore and ended up in a secluded cove, without a soul in sight. I laid on the sand, set up my Jambox and chilled out for the entire afternoon. I was even able to take a nap. I woke up, with the sun setting, with nothing changing around me but the rising tide.
6. Banana Island, Calamian, Palawan
Mention Coron and you think of the stunning limestone formations and lakes. But further out of Coron, in to the Calamianes, white sand fringed islands are the main attractions. I was frustrated at how some of the islands were "privately owned", hence off limits to the public, even though there are no establishments on those islands. For me, the closest and most accessible island gem is Banana Island. It is already a popular lunch picnic venue for island tours from Coron, and with its gleaming white sands and turquoise waters, it's just so tempting to stay the entire day.
5. Anilao, Batangas
My surprise destination for the year was Anilao. The last time I was in Anilao was 10 years ago, so I was pleasantly surprised when me and my friends took over a vacation house of a friend for a night and explored its surrounding islands. I never thought Anilao can give you that castaway feeling. Maricaban Island has a lot of potential for adventure, and I would definitely be back to explore more.
4. Baguio City
I don't know why I haven't written a lot about Baguio City. Probably because it's another regular destination for me (been here 8x this year). But this year, I came to love Baguio, and forget about how overcrowded and polluted it has become. It was also this year that I spent more nights in guesthouses and inns, since our tita's house has been rented out. I've discovered great accommodations such as PNKY, Casa Vallejo, the Forest House Inn and even Citylight Hotel (which has great value for money). The Bencab Museum is one of the country's best museums, while the Hill Station, the Forest House and Cafe by the Ruins offer great dining experiences.
3. Shangri-La Boracay
My top luxury destination of the year is no doubt, Shangri-La Boracay. Despite the obvious cliche, Shangri-La raised the bar of luxury standards in the Philippines. If Asya Premier wowed me for its exclusive seclusion in party island, Shangri-La made me feel I wasn't in Boracay at all. And this experience was made unforgettable with an overnight stay in a Loft Villa. Top notch service, a wide range of amenities and luxurious accommodations make Shangri-La Boracay a true 5-star experience.
2. Villa Angelina, Nasugbu, Batangas
Located in the Maya-Maya area of Nasugbu (after Terrazas but before Punta Fuego), Villa Angelina is an unassuming house from the outside. But as soon as we entered its gates, I was already jumping in excitement. A Tuscan inspired terrace provided sweeping views of the Nasugbu coastline. A 6-bedroom house with a garden that can accommodate up to 100 people. One night is never enough at Villa Angelina. You may not even want to go home at all. I began to envy the rich who can build stunning villas like these. Villa Angelina is the best venue for fun with all of your close friends.
It was definitely worth the wait. I had to admit, after so many failed attempts to get to Camotes, being there made me apprehensive. I had high expectations, and the trip was really unplanned. But this goes to show that the best experiences are really spontaneous, and well, a Visayan island will never let you down. Camotes was the most fun I had on a weekend escape. From swimming in caves, boating in lakes, basking on white sand beaches and biking on the countryside, Camotes is a relaxing haven for those in dire need for a true holiday escape.
Camotes Island tops this year's list, and I'm glad the crown finally went to Cebu. I had so much fun, that I wouldn't care if I go back next week and do everything all over again. To think I only explored a fraction of the island's area. So, in the spirit of FUN, let's see more of our beautiful country. Happy Island Exploring!