There is nothing like Christmas in the Philippines. For many countries, Christmas is just one day of the year where you get a time-off for holidays. For Filipinos, Christmas is a season. It starts from the 1stof September and ends in January 6 (feast of the 3 kings or the epiphany) – the longest Christmas celebration in the world!
When the “ber” months finally start, Filipinos would start their daily countdown to Christmas. Malls will be decorated with numerous colourful Christmas decorations and shimmering lights, tall Christmas trees will be adorned with creative designs (some even have their own theme) and streets will be lined with star-shaped lanterns called “parol”. The air will also be filled with Christmas carols and the festive ambiance is felt everywhere.
If you are thinking of visiting the country for the holiday season with your family and loved ones, there are numerous destinations where your holiday can be memorable and awesome. Whether you are on a budget, traveling with kids or just celebrating the holiday with your spouse, your Christmas in the Philippines will become one of those moments you will always remember.
Christmas on a budget:
Christmas is more expensive than the rest of the year because it is the peak of the tourist season in the country. It doesn’t mean however, that if you have a limited budget, you can no longer have fun and splurge on other things. The key is to find the perfect destination and activities that suit your budget and there are tons of them waiting for you to discover.
San Fernando, Pampanga:
Pampanga is a province close to Manila. To get here, all you need to do is get on a local bus (from Manila) or hire your own transport and drive for 2 hours. San Fernando is the commercial centre of Pampanga province and they pride themselves as being the Christmas Capital of the Philippines. During the Christmas season, the whole city transforms into a different world full of lights and lanterns.
What to do in San Fernando, Pampanga:
- Check out the giant lantern festival in the city: Usually held on a Saturday before Christmas, the festival is actually a competition between lantern makers. These giant lanterns showcase the local ingenuity with music and lights and you don’t have to spend anything to see these exhibits unless of course, you want to buy one for yourself.
- Catch the procession of “lubenas”- biblical-figure-shaped lanterns– Held for nine consecutive days where they culminate at the main parish church in time for the midnight mass before Christmas.
Manila is usually not the best of places to go to, but during the Christmas season, Manila becomes much less intimidating and more welcoming. It is so festive and beautiful especially at night when all the streets are glimmering with lights and Christmas decors. The roads become quiet (especially in the business districts like Makati and Taguig) during the week before Christmas as most of the corporate offices close for the holidays.
- Visit Policarpio St. in Mandaluyong: Mandaluyong is one of the cities in Metro Manila and during Christmas, there is one particular street that gets everyone’s attention. All the houses in Policarpio St. are adorned with Christmas lights and unique decorations and this entire street just lights up and fills you with awe. You don’t have to spend anything in order to see this.
- Watch the festival of lights at the Ayala Triangle Gardens in Makati City: Makati is heaven during the Christmas week. So quiet and peaceful that you will definitely love it. Every year from November 15 to January 8, the festival of lights run daily at 6 pm to 10 pm with 30 minutes interval. Entrance is free.
Christmas for Families:
Christmas is always for the family. Filipinos love celebrating the holidays with the whole family and so it is common to see swarms of Filipino families going on holidays together either at a beach, the malls or to the mountains.
The malls will surely be overcrowded and busy the entire season. If you want to avoid the cities and just celebrate the season close to nature and off-the-grid, Zambales is perfect for you and family. It is ideal for a family beach getaway where numerous resorts and islands can be explored and kids will definitely love it.
What to do in Zambales:
- Build a camp in one of the coves: Zambales has numerous coves with gentle waters and greyish-white sands dotted with palm trees. Some of the coves to choose from are; Nagsasa, Anawangin, Capones Island, Camara, Magalawa Island and Potipot Island.
- Rent a 4×4 wheel drive to Mount Pinatubo: The Mount Pinatubo crater is a fascinating sight and it is perfect for families because it is easy to get to. You can also rent a boat to go across the beautiful turquoise waters of the Crater Lake.
- Visit Subic: Subic is perfect for families especially with kids. No doubt about that. Here, you can enjoy numerous fun activities like the Ocean Adventure Subic Bay, Inflatable Island Philippines, Zoobic Safari, Dungaree Beach, Boardwalk and Waterfront Road and Funtastic Park.
Otherwise known as the “winter wonderland” and the “summer capital of the Philippines”, Baguio is an all-time favourite because of its cool temperature all year round. In December, the normal temperature can be as low as 8 degrees and is the closest thing you can get to experience the winter chill in other countries.
What to do in Baguio
- Explore the city: Baguio city is not like any other city. It is cool and hilly and it has its own laidback vibe despite being a city. Every Christmas season, the Baguio Country club sets up a Christmas village complete with artificial snow and a life-sized nativity scene. Session Road is also lined with lanterns and there is a giant Christmas tree as well.
- Visit Burnham Park: Kids will have plenty of options in Burnham Park. They can ride a boat and cruise along the lagoon, ride a bike or have a picnic.
- Pick some strawberries at the strawberry farm: Kids love strawberries and they can have a first-hand experience into picking strawberries in a farm.
- Experience local Christmas in a local village: Tam-Awan village is a popular spot for community immersions and it would be nice if the kids and the whole family can experience the life of the locals and their Christmas traditions.
- Take a side trip to Sagada and Banaue: If you are in Baguio, it will be a waste not to venture further into the mountains. Banaue Rice Terraces are world-famous and awe-inspiring and Sagada is a magical place much like Baguio before it was turned into a city.
Christmas for couples and luxurious travellers:
There is really no limit when you have no budget restrictions. You can do what you want and go wherever – the sky is the limit. So whether you are a couple, family or a solo traveller, as long as you have the money, the options are endless. Here are a few that you may want to consider:
Boracay is not only a summer destination. For luxury travellers, Boracay is a great place for all seasons. It gets busier and crowded during the holidays but it is because the vibrant and festive Christmas feel is all over the island. There are tons of luxury resorts to choose from like the Shangri-La, Discovery Shores, The Lind, Movenpick Resort and Spa, Monaco Suites and Hennan Chain of Resorts.
What to do in Boracay:
- Attend the “Simbang-gabi”: Simbang gabi is a nine-day church masses held either in the evening or very early in the morning (3 am).
- Try the delicious traditional Christmas foods like “puto bumbong” (purple-coloured rice cake cooked inside a bamboo topped with sugar and coconut shreds), “bibingka” (sticky rice cooked under clay pots with coconut shreds), and chestnuts.
- Check out restaurants and bars for their themed parties and festive menus.
- Bring your kids to Happy Dreamland theme park and Trick Art Museum
- Have fun on the powdery white sands and try out water sports and activities.
- Enjoy Boracay’s night life.
Philippine’s Last Frontier is a go-to destination during the holidays. You can splurge all you want but Palawan will leave you asking for more. There is no better way to celebrate the Yuletide season than simply being on paradise. If you want to splurge, El Nido and Coron are the two best options. Huma Island Resort and Spa in Coron will give you the ultimate Maldives vibe while El Nido’s Pangulasian, Miniloc, and Lagen Islands are the best eco-resorts on the island. If you want ultimate exclusivity and luxury, nothing beats Amanpulo.
Palawan is one of the most beautiful places in the world, and the private island resorts there offer a truly all-inclusive experience. Since it’s so popular though, you would do well to book your stay in advance. During super peak seasons such as Christmas, prices for these luxury hotels can soar to as high as a 1000$ per night – so consider booking through a local agent who offers premium deals for all-inclusive resorts in Palawan.
What to do:
- Indulge in a luxurious spa treatment with your family or loved one.
- Treat your kids or loved one to a nice day tour with the animals at Calauit Sanctuary.
- Commune with the underwater life in El Nido and Coron
- Participate in shipwreck-diving in Coron
- Enjoy the sun and lounge at the beautiful beaches of El Nido
- Attend the Puerto Princesa City Fiesta on December 8 and witness colourful street dances and check out a great variety of local delicacies.
- Watch the Paskuhan at Kantahan sa Kapitolyo every 15thof December at the Capitol in Puerto Princesa inclusive of parades and musical shows.
- Don’t forget to drop by the Subterranean River and cave system in Puerto Princesa.