Destination Focus: The Visayas

The heart of the Philippines

By: Mark Edward Harris

the Visayas islands
The group of islands that make up the
Visayas including Panay, Negros, Leyte,
Samar, Masbate, Bohol, Boracay and Cebu
are rich with religious relics.
The Philippines is an archipelago of 7,107 islands. This means miles and miles of pristine coastline for beach lovers and sun worshippers. But this nation in the southwestern Pacific has much more to offer.

The country of 85 million is divided into three geographic zones: Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao arranged from north to south. While Manila in the Luzon region is the gateway to the Philippines, a visit to the group of islands that make up the Visayas including Panay, Negros, Leyte, Samar, Masbate, Bohol, Boracay and Cebu is a must for those who want to explore the physical and symbolic heart of the country.

The diverseness of the Visayas is best exemplified by the islands of Boracay and Bohol and the historic city of Cebu.


Cebu is the commercial and educational center of the Visayas as well as the hub of air and sea travel throughout the central and southern region of the country. It’s the oldest city in the Philippines and it is here where Ferdinand Magellan landed in 1521. Located near the Basilica Minore del Santo Nino is a shrine-enclosed wooden cross which entombs the remnants of the original cross the Spanish explorer planted almost five centuries ago. The Basilica itself houses the Santo Nino de Cebu, the oldest religious relic in the country. A half-hour away on Mactan

Island is the marshland where Magellan was killed on April 27, 1521, by Lapu-Lapu. A huge replica of the Philippine chief stands near a monument erected by the Spanish to Magellan.

Also on Mactan Island is the Shangri-La Mactan Island Resort with Chi, a state-of-the-art spa facility, and a fantastic seaside restaurant named Cowrie Cove. The Shangri-La can arrange for a wide range of off-property activities including scuba diving and golf. Golf is especially popular with Korean and Japanese tourists who take advantage of the relatively low greens fees compared to their home courses. Nestled into the mountains above Cebu is the challenging Alta Vista Golf & Country Club with panoramic views of the city. For the non-golfer, an equally breathtaking view can be attained from the nearby Taoist Temple. For nature lovers, excursions include Central Cebu National Park, Cawasan Falls, Sudlon National Park and the Balok-Balok Mineral Springs.

Bohol rice field
A Bohol rice field

From Cebu there is a fastcraft ferry to Tagbilaran on the island of Bohol as well as flights into the city. The Panglao Island Nature Resort is an excellent choice for travelers who want to be far from civilization and bask in the Philippines’ natural beauty but still have access to world-class pampering, including the resort’s Mit-Hi spa. Many of the thatched-roof villas on this property have great views of the sea and are furnished with private Jacuzzis. An alternate, more rustic

hotel option is the Bohol Bee Farm hotel. Their all-organic al fresco restaurant is open to non-hotel guests and features mouth-watering homemade items. Their carrot, corn and squash muffins are out of this world.

While it would be fairly easy to spend an entire vacation at either resort a day should be devoted to exploring the historical and natural highlights of Bohol. A typical tour, which can be arranged through the hotels, includes the Blood Compact Shrine, a historical landmark commemorating the First Treaty of Friendship between the indigenous people and the Spaniards made by drinking from a vessel with drops of blood from the representatives of both sides in 1565; Baclayon Church; the unique cone-shaped formations of the Chocolate Hills; a lunch cruise from Loboc along a nipa hut-lined river; and a visit to an animal sanctuary to come face to face with a tarsier, the world’s smallest primate.


Sun worshippers and party animals from around the world descend on the small island of Boracay via flights to Caticlan Airport on the nearby island of Panay along with a short boat transfer. A sand path runs between many of the hotels and is trolled into the wee hours of the night by revelers. For those who want to be centrally located in the nightlife, the Boracay Regency is a wise choice. For those wanting to experience Boracay, yet be a little more removed from the energy reminiscent of weekends in South Beach, Discovery Shores is an excellent option. The 88-room resort is a member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World.

The national anthem is called “Lupang Hinirang” in Tagalog, which translates to “Chosen Land.” It’s easy to understand why after spending time in the heart of this island nation.


Alta Vista Golf & Country Club

Getting There:
Flights to Manila and Cebu City depart from Australia, Canada, the U.S., Europe and many Asian cities.

Where to Stay:
Boracay Regency Beach Resort and Convention Center

Bohol Bee Farm

Discovery Shores Boracay Island

Panglao Island Nature Resort

Shangri-La’s Mactan Island Resort and Spa

When to go:
While it’s humid and wet year-round, December to the middle of May is considered the typhoon off-season. Try to avoid the high-traffic weeks of Christmas and Easter. The best time for island hopping is between October and March.