So as you can see, I had a drought in local destinations this year. Some in the list are new, but most are rediscoveries. I have been to almost all provinces in the country except for Dinagat Islands and Batanes (yes, yes), so it's hard for me to find new places. And with work becoming more demanding, it's just hard to travel locally and further away from Manila.
But there was one clear winner for me this year, as I reveal the Top 10 of my Philippine experiences this 2012.
10. The Farm at San Benito
Let's begin the list with a well known resort very near the Metro. Just an hour's drive from Makati is the city of Lipa that holds one of the country's most treasured resorts - and that's not on a beach or an island - The Farm at San Benito. Known as a healing resort, one must descend here for their medical and spa treatments. Those and its gorgeous landscape, secluded setting and luxurious accommodations bring you to a relaxing utopia that the Farm promises you to experience.
9. Bacolod City
It's the first time for Bacolod to land on my list, since I just always associate it with food food and more food. But this time, I got to explore more of Bacolod, strolling down Lacson Avenue on a cool morning and even on a rainy afternoon. It also has new and notable hotels that are very affordable like the Avenue Suites. Bacolod can be the most relaxing and carefree city in the country, and that makes it one of my favorite places this year.
8. Baguio City
It may be also relaxing but Baguio is now more cosmopolitan than ever before. With renovated buildings along Session Road that make it more European in feel, Baguio City continues to charm its visitors. There are still the heavyweights in dining experiences such as the Forest House, Cafe by the Ruins and Oh my Gulay, but new ones have also sprung out, like Eve's Garden and Ocha Asian Cuisine. There's also the new hotel Le Monet at Camp John Hay which was our choice of accommodation this year.
7. Las Casas Filipinas de Acuzar
I've been here before, but my trip with my family last July out this place in one of my most memorable experiences this year. And for a good reason - I finally was able to stay overnight in a casa (Casa San Miguel) and spend idle time in the resort. After doing the standard historical tour, I also discovered how pleasant their beach was as well. And with more plans for expansion and development, Las Casas truly is on the rise as a unique cultural destination in the country.
6. Sta. Ana, Cagayan
It's been high up in my list in 2010, but coming back here this year presented me with more surprises. I got to stay in the most underrated resort in the country, the Cagayan Holiday and Leisure Resort which had a grand casino that rivals those in Macau (if only it was occupied). I also discovered the Avalon Beach Club which was a charming surprise as well.
5. San Juan, La Union
Finally, I got to stay in one of the most popular surfing destinations in the country. And my stay in Kahuna Beach Resort made it even more memorable. San Juan may be 5 hours away from Manila, but it is well worth the travel. It has the chill out vibe that most surfing beaches embody. I want to mention also Sunset Beach Resort in Poro Point, which was another laid back resort that surprised me.
4. Boracay Island
I don't think I've ever put Boracay as an island in my list, so since I stayed here for almost a month in intervals this year, Boracay deserves to be here. I love Boracay, especially now that I've mastered the entire island. From the beautiful Shangri-La to the allure of Bulabog Beach and of course the energy of White Beach, Boracay will always remain special to me - a destination that I am proud to say is definitely THE best beach in Asia.
3. The Calamianes Group of Island, Coron, Palawan
Who doesn't love Coron? With its islands with pristine white sand beaches, it is indeed a sun worshipper's temple. These are the islands that can rival the Maldives, if only those privately owned islands had five-star resorts. I still like the Calamianes the way it is, but I just don't like the high entrance fees to these uninhabited islands owned by the rich and greedy. I still have to explore more of the Calamianes, since I've only been to the regular spots around Malcapuya.
Oh Anilao. You are now my new escape. I am not a diver, but that doesn't matter. In fact, I hate it that I am not a licensed diver, since I know Anilao has more to offer underwater. This year, Anilao becomes the runner up, and I am just so happy that I fell in love with this place once again. When I wrote about my experience last year, I knew there were more in store for me here. So, after traveling back and forth to this Batangas town, I have chosen Vivere Azure and Vista Aplaya as my top choices for accommodations. I can say that the wealth of Anilao is in its jaw dropping sunsets and relaxing atmosphere. No sandy beach here, but who cares.
1. Sipalay, Negros Occidental
The clear winner definitely. I can't stop promoting this relatively uncharted destination three hours away from Bacolod City. Facing the Sulu Sea, it is far from the Filipino tourist radar yet popular among foreign backpackers. From my favorite Punta Bulata Resort, explore the many coves, islands, mangroves and beaches of Sipalay.
Visit Danjugan Island, a protected marine sanctuary that will satisfy your desire for natural raw adventures. Spend a day in Sugar Beach with all the backpackers and marvel at the quirky designs of Taka Tuka Beach Resort.
Or chill out in the quieter Punta Ballo beach and drink while watching the dramatic sunset at Nataasan Beach Resort. This is a huge destination, and I have been back 3 time already this year - and I still haven't seen enough.
So again, Visayas takes the crown this year. And I really can't get over how my amazement with Sipalay. There are really SO MUCH to do here. I just hope it get a more solid spot in the tourist circuit, since it deserves to be visited with all its charm and beauty.
So another year ends, and as usual, I still have a lot of entries to complete 2012. I will be writing about them in my next posts while I begin my journeys in 2013. I am blessed to have traveled a lot in my life, and through this blog, I hope to inspire others to do the same. Travel is the ONLY luxury that can change your life. So save up and travel! Happy 2013!