Taking its name from Philip II, King of Spain during the Spanish colonisation of the area during the 16th century, the Philippines became an independent state in the early 1900s. Following 333 years of Spanish rule, the Spanish influences on their culture left a unique legacy, from ancient buildings to words used to describe certain areas to historic landmarks in the Philippines.
The Philippines is an island country consisting of around 7000 island and islets. The landscapes are beautiful and dangerous, with some of the most active volcanoes in the world on its islands. Filled with a vast and varying history, and beautiful hidden treasure natural landmarks, the Philippines is an incredible country to explore. Here are 20 Philippines landmarks you must visit when exploring this amazing country.
- 20 Landmarks in the Philippines
- Natural Landmarks in the Philippines
- Historical Philippines Landmarks
- Landmarks in Manila
20 Landmarks in the Philippines
Natural Landmarks in the Philippines
1- Chocolate Hills
The Chocolate Hills in Bohol Province number at least 1260 almost symmetrical hills. Their name derives from their appearance following dry spells, where the green grass turns brown.
The hills, of which there are believed to be as many as 1776, are spread across an area of roughly 50 square kilometres.
The hills vary in height and size, but their rounded dome peaks make them appear from a distance identical.
Legend has it that the hills were made following a feud between two giants.
The giants threw rocks, boulders and sand at each other, and what was left on the landscape became the Chocolate Hills.
2- Banaue Rice Terraces
On the island of Luzon, the Banaue Rice Terraces are in the Cordilleras area.
The fields have been of great importance to the Ifuago (wet-rice growers) since around the 1st century when they began to build the terraces.
The terraces resemble steps which have been carved into the side of the mountains.
The steps form part of an elaborate irrigation system, allowing the rice to grow in precisely the right environment.
The terraces themselves cover approximately 4000 square miles of land and make for a spectacular landscape to visit.
3- Mayon Volcano
Mayon Volcano, or Mount Mayon, is in the province of Albay in Bicol Region of the island of Luzon.
The volcano is famous for its perfect cone top and almost symmetrical shape and is still active, last erupting in 2019.
Despite this, people flock to Mayon from all over the world to get a glimpse of this powerful volcano.
Mayon is one of the most active volcanoes in the Philippines and is feared by locals for its destructive powers.
The last major eruption in 1993 left many dead and homeless in its wake.
The volcano stands at 2462 meters high, and its crater consists of a gigantic chamber filled with molten rocks.
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4- Puerto Princesa’s Subterranean River
Within the Puerto Princesa park lies a hidden river, which flows underground and much of the park’s landscape sits on a limestone bed.
The river runs through the limestone and directly into the sea, making parts of this subterranean river tidal.
Due to its location, the river and surrounding parkland are part of a diverse ecosystem which encompasses both the mountains and the sea, giving it some of the most important forestry systems in Asia.
Boat tours take tourists through the subterranean river where they can see underground waterfalls and crystal-lined caves.
5- Taal Lake and Volcano
Taal Lake and Volcano is in the province of Batangas.
The Taal Volcano is the second most active volcano in the Philippines, after Mayon, and has recorded 34 historical eruptions.
Taal Lake is freshwater and was formed from a volcanic eruption between 500,000 and 100,000 years ago.
The lake is the third-largest lake in the country, and its waters can range from deep blues to greens, making it a spectacular sight to see.
As the volcano sits in the middle of the lake, part of the lake covers the Taal Caldera, filling it with water.
6- Tubbataha Reefs
The Tubbataha Reef Marine Park covers an area of approximately 100,000 hectares of marine habitats.
The reef is in the Sulu Sea and lies 50km southwest of the mainland, making it an excellent area for conservation.
Due to its sheer size, the marine park offers many diverse habitats including reefs, deep-sea trenches, and islets where nesting birds and turtles head.
Within the reef itself, more than 600 species of tropical fish, 50% of all coral species in the world, tiger sharks and endangered species such as green sea turtles can be found.
Journeying to the reef should only be attempted between March and June, however, the 10-12 hour boat journey does make for spectacular diving opportunities.
7- Tinuy-an Falls
A hidden treasure of the Philippines, Tinuy-an Falls cascades over three levels from heights of 55 meters.
The falls are popular with swimmers, who take advantage of the cool waters on particularly humid days.
Rafts are available to take tourists closer to the falls.
The name Tinuy-an translates to ‘intentional act’ in the local dialect and is linked to folklore.
It is said that tribesmen from Agusan captured people living on the Magdiwata Mountain and enslaved them.
They were forced to make small boats and then row their masters along the river.
The slaves used this as an opportunity to guide the boats to the falls, and push their masters over the edge.
Historical Philippines Landmarks
8- Leyte Landing Monument
One of the Philippines many monuments commemorating moments during WWII, Leyte Landing Monument represents a fulfilled promise.
In 1942, when Japanese forces occupied the Philippines, General Douglas MacArthur from the US Armed Forces infamously said “I shall return”, meaning he would return to the country and free the people from Japanese occupation.
In 1944, MacArthur landed back on the Philippines by boat and fought to regain control of the country, by pushing the Japanese out.
The site where he returned is marked by statues of American soldiers, and General MacArthur, standing in a shallow pool of water.
Two commemorative plaques have also been laid, retelling the story.
9- Fort San Pedro
Now partly ruined, Fort San Pedro was built in 1565 upon the orders of Miguel Lopez de Legazpi, who conquered the Philippines during the 1500s.
The fort served for many years as an army garrison, prison camp and even acted as the cities zoo for a time.
What is left of the fort dates to the 18th century and features a decorated arched gateway and small ramparts.
Within its walls, a walled garden has been built, allowing locals and tourists a place to escape the hustle and bustle in Cebu.
10- Basilica del Santo Nino
In Cebu stands the Basilica del Santo Nino, the oldest basilica in the Philippines.
The building was constructed in the 1700s and was built with the intention of being able to survive earthquakes.
The façade is simple in its design, taking influences from Muslim, Romanesque and Neoclassical architectural styles.
Inside, ceilings are decorated with elaborate paintings depicting biblical scenes.
It is however the holy relic of Santo Nino that draws people to this beautiful basilica.
The relic is a gem-festooned statue of the holy infant Jesus and was a gift for Queen Juana for her baptism in 1521.
It is said that during a fire that destroyed much of Cebu, and indeed the church itself, the relic remained undamaged.
11- Cagsawa Ruins
Cagsawa Ruins in Albay, with views over Mayon Volcano, are the centrepiece of a park with the same name.
The ruins are of a church built in 1724 by Franciscan friars and was originally built to replace a church that had been destroyed by Dutch pirates.
Cagsawa was however sadly buried, along with the town and surrounding landscape during an eruption of nearby Mayon Volcano in 1814.
Townsfolk fled to the church for protection, but sadly around 1200 of those who sought refuge from the volcano here died.
Today only the church’s belfry remains and has stood stable despite other natural disasters hitting the country.
12- Aguinaldo Shrine
One of the most important historical landmarks in the Philippines is Aguinaldo Shrine.
The shrine is in Kawit and is where the Philippine Declaration of Independence from Spain in 1898 was signed.
The shrine is actually a house and was built from wood and thatch in 1845.
Within the shrine is a dedicated museum containing important artefacts from the first President including car plates, chess pieces and epaulettes.
The shrine has many secrets housed within its walls.
From furniture with hidden compartments to secret tunnels leading away from the shrine to the church, there is a lot to explore.
13- Fort Drum
Fort Drum is a heavily fortified island in Manila Bay.
The sea fort, built from reinforced concrete is shaped like a battleship and was built by the American Armed Forces during 1909 to bolster harbour defences.
The fort is now abandoned, however rusting guns are still in place around the concrete structure.
Following the Spanish-American War, the American military wanted to have a strong defence system in place in Manila Bay.
By levelling El Fraile Island, and building a fortress designed to look like a battleship, the island appeared intimidating.
The fort was abandoned after WWII but makes for a stark reminder of the conflict for those visiting.
14- Corregidor Island
Located at the entrance to Manila Bay, Corregidor Island is strategically placed as a military fortress.
The island itself is comprised of many abandoned military buildings.
The oldest building on Corregidor is the lighthouse, which dates back to 1853.
Below ground is a series of tunnels that were used to move munitions and soldiers around the fortress.
The tunnels are rumoured to be haunted by Japanese soldiers who took their own lives before being defeated by Americans and Filipino soldiers.
The island now serves as a war memorial to all soldiers who fought and lost their lives there.
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Landmarks in Manila
15- Fort Santiago
Now a national landmark of the Philippines and shrine to the freedom of the country, the 16th century Fort Santiago is a must-see landmark in Manila.
The fort is a stone structure designed in an Italian-Spanish architectural style and reflects key moments in the countries history.
The fort once served as a prison for the hero of the Philippines Jose Rizal before he was executed in 1896.
Now, a museum has been built to share his legacy with visitors.
Look out for Rizal’s footsteps in bronze on the floor, which marks the route he took from his cell to the firing squad that would end his life.
16- San Juan Del Monte Bridge
The San Juan Del Monte Bridge played a key role during the Spanish and American colonisation of the Philippines.
The bridge spans 40 meters and forms the boundaries between San Juan and Santa Mesa in Manila.
San Juan Del Monte was a key battleground in both the revolution against the Spanish and the Filipino-American War.
The bridge was where the first shot of the revolution was fired. An American soldier shot at a Filipino soldier, leading to the Battle of Manila.
17- Rizal Monuments
Within the Jose Rizal Memorial Protected Landscape, sometimes called Rizal Park, are many important statues commemorating Jose Rizal.
The park stretches over 60 hectares and is gilled with lush lawns, ponds, wooded areas and ornamental gardens.
It is however the statues of Filipino heroes that are the gardens biggest draw.
The park is where Jose Rizal was executed by Spanish colonial authorities, and so has great historical importance within the countries culture.
That’s why the Rizal Monument is a must-visit landmark when in the park.
Within the monument are the remains of Jose Rizal, a national hero. Sentries in full regalia stand guard.
18- San Agustin Church
San Agustin Church in Manila is a landmark to tick off your list when visiting the city.
A simple, Italian-style facade greets visitors as they approach the church inside the walled area of Intramuros.
The church was completed in 1607 and is the oldest stone church in the Philippines.
In 1993 the church was given UNESCO World Heritage status.
The church itself has a tumultuous history.
In 1762 during the Seven Years War, the church was looted by British forces and was the only public building left standing after a strong earthquake destroyed much of the city in 1863.
Binondo, Manila’s Chinatown, is the oldest Chinatown in the world and was established in the late 16th century.
The name Binondo comes from a Tagalog word meaning ‘mountainous’, due to its hilly landscape.
Within Binondo are many historical places of worship, all richly decorated in bright colours, gilded carvings and traditional Chinese architecture.
The area was designated as a settlement for Catholic Chinese people during the Spanish colonial period. Today, Binondo is a centre of commerce for Manilla which attracts locals and tourists alike.
20- Malacanan Palace
The official residence of the Present of the Philippines, Malacanan Palace is a must-visit landmark in Manila.
The palace has been owned by the government for nearly 200 years, during which the buildings have been remodelled and added to numerous times.
The palace was originally owned by a Spaniard involved in the Galleon trade, who built the palace with a bathhouse on the river and lush gardens.
Inside the palace are grand and lavishly decorated rooms, each telling unique stories and encapsulating important moments in the countries history.