Sustaining happiness: eco-friendly fun in the Philippines

If you know where to go and what to do, sustainable travel can mean less stress and more smiles.

Boracay now offers a cleaner, more eco-friendly experience for travelers. Keeping it that way is how you can sustain happiness while on holiday.
Photograph by GL Shutterstudio, Shutterstock

Sustainable travel has grown in popularity in recent years, but the concept goes way beyond toting your own BPA-free water bottle while you’re on vacation. Eco-tourism is only a small part of sustainable travel — vacationers need to think about their long-term impact on the environment as well as the local population. When you travel sustainably, you have a chance not just to leave a destination as tidy as you found it, but also have a net-positive effect on the area.

Tourism is important to the Philippines, and this Southeast Asian nation is full of opportunities for travelers to practice sustainable travel. If you’re planning on visiting, here are some ways to get more out of travel while giving back to the planet, in three popular tourist spots across the Philippines.

Boracay

Famous for its beautiful white-sand beaches, Boracay has long been one of the top tourist destinations in the Philippines. However, its immense popularity caused officials to close the beach to outsiders for six months in 2018, and there’s now a limit on the number of daily visitors allowed. If you plan to visit Boracay, consider the following activities that have a net-zero impact on the area.

Kitesurfing ­— Kitesurfing harnesses the renewable, natural resource of wind power. Plus, you can get some serious speed when conditions are right. From December to March, try Bulabog Beach; from June to October, White Beach is a great place to kitesurf.

Ziplining ­— Ziplining is a fantastic way to get a bird’s-eye view of Boracay, and it has zero impact on the environment.

Freediving ­— Freedivers learn to hold their breath for as long as possible, returning to the surface only when they need more air. Not only does this reduce the need for equipment and resources, but it is also a natural way for you to experience the wonders of the ocean. Of course, you’ll need to be prepared for freediving, and local companies like Free Dive Boracay can help you learn how to do it safely.

Island Nature Tours ­— A walking tour is a sustainable, hands-on way to learn about Boracay and its flora and fauna while also burning calories. Tours range from casual jaunts to two-hour treks around the island. Either way, you’ll learn about the natural habitat of lizards, monkeys, sea turtles, and more.

Cooking Classes ­— If you learn to cook authentic Filipino food, you’ll be keeping a vital culture alive and taking home a most valuable souvenir: a new skill. Not to mention you’ll be trying something new when you sample the local cuisine.

Manila Bay

Manila Bay is a natural harbor situated in the western part of Luzon, which is strategically located around the capital city of Manila. The harbor is famous for its beautiful sunset, rich history, and commercial activities.

Historically, Manila Bay is global in scope as it played a vital role during the Manila Acapulco Galleon Trade between Philippines and Mexico, for 250 years. Part of the Manila Bay area is also rich in biodiversity – particularly in the coastal cities of Paranaque and Las Pinas which serve as home and breeding grounds for many species of plants, fish, migratory birds, and animals. Pollution, climate change and dumping of waste are just some of the many environmental threats in Manila Bay. Organizations like PEMSEA are helping to combat these environmental problems. You can play your part in protecting the area’s natural resources by picking one of these sustainable activities when you visit.

Bambike Ecotour of Intramuros ­— Cycle around the incredible historic neighborhoods and exciting destinations of Intramuros on a bamboo bike. Guided bike tours allow you to explore various parts of the renowned Walled City in a safe, fun, and informative way. The tours are typically done in small groups of around 5 -10 (max of 15), with a Bambassador making sure guests are taken care of throughout the entire experience.

San Agustin Church and Museum / Fort Santiago ­— A walking tour of the City of Manila is the best way to discover and learn the history and culture of the country. Monuments like San Agustin Church and Fort Santiago are must-see sites for all foreign visitors. The country’s oldest existing church, San Agustin was originally built in 1571. It’s now part of the UNESCO World Heritage List and boasts antiquated ecclesiastical arts and liturgical vestment, furniture, and an 18th-century pipe organ. It even houses the tombs of Spanish and Filipino personages like Governor-General Miguel Lopez de Legazpi. Strategically located at the junction of Pasig River and Manila Bay, Fort Santiago was built in 1571. It served as the military headquarters of the Spanish, British, American, and Japanese regimes.


It’s been declared a National Shrine and restored to its former glory.

Sagada

Sagada is tucked away in the Central Cordillera Mountains — a somewhat remote area of the Philippines. It was left relatively untouched during the Spanish colonial era and is known for its well-preserved indigenous culture and natural beauty. If you’re looking for some sustainable activities, try one of the following four options.

Homestays ­— One of the very best ways to explore a local culture is to stay with someone who actually lives there. You can search http://thecordilleras.ph/ for a Department of Tourism (DOT) accredited homestay. Here you’ll find Sagada residents who are willing to open their homes to visitors. The rates tend to be reasonable, and you’ll be helping sustain the local economy while getting to know the people of Sagada first-hand.

Bomod-Ok Waterfalls ­— Hiking and swimming are gentle on the environment, so try checking out the Bomod-OK Waterfalls, known locally as “the Big Falls”. Bomod-OK is reachable by hike (it should take about an hour each way). At the Bangaan Information Center, you can hire a local guide who can help you find your way there.

Mountain biking ­— The high elevation and mountainous terrain of Sagada makes it perfect for mountain biking. Visitors who want an eco-friendly adventure with amazing views can rent a bike locally and explore the area.

Ziplining ­— Just like in Boracay, ziplining in Sagada is a zero-impact activity that offers great views of the local scenery. Try ziplining over Sagada’s Kapay-aw Rice Terraces or near Echo Valley.

When you travel sustainably, you’re not just leaving a smaller carbon footprint on the planet, you’re putting yourself right in the path of adventure, self-discovery, and meaningful connections with a new culture.