7,100 Islands: One For Each Day of Your Next 19 Years

Jun 1, 2002
Outside Magazine

Cliff hanger: a 5.12 at Wawa Gorge in Montalban.

Once the land of pirates and explorers, the Philippines are now luring thrill seekers of an entirely different ilk: Western adventure-travelers in search of a new Shangri-la. With 85-degree weather year-round (beware the July-through-September monsoon season), 34 national parks, 580 bird species, and some 7,100 islands where you can surf, swim, snorkel, dive, kayak, hike, climb, and sweat, the Philippines certainly offer up the goods. And unlike many other parts of Asia, the Philippines make staying healthy easy: Malaria, dysentery, dengue fever, and other tropical woes aren't widespread. Even the tap water's potable in all but a few places. Transportation? It's a matter of hopping a bus, jeepney, ferry, or moped to almost anywhere in the country for the price of a date to the movies. And when you arrive at your destination, a beachside bungalow will rarely cost more than $10 a night.
Of course the news from the Philippines lately has been disconcerting, to say the least. Don't ignore the warnings, but know the difference between danger and paranoia. Statistics show you are more likely to be eaten by a shark or die in a car wreck at home than be a victim of terrorism in the Philippines. There are isolated places, like Jolo and Basilan, where you simply shouldn't go. "But should you write off travel to the Philippines altogether?" says Malcolm Nance, chief consultant for Real World Rescue, a company specializing in high-risk-travel security advice. "Absolutely not." Here's what you shouldn't miss:

The Philippines' best break, Cloud 9, off the tiny teardrop-shaped island of Siargao 500 miles southeast of Manila, suddenly appeared on radar screens around the world when an international surfing competition was held there in 1996. But the crowds are still zilch and the tempers as smooth as the beer back at Snag Miquels beachfront bar in the town of General Luna. The swell remains constant August through March, when waves come cruising in off the open ocean, slam into the shallow reef, and jack up into a green pipeline.
If the risk of splattering yourself across Cloud 9's reef sounds less than dreamy, try the Jacking Horse break, about a ten-minute paddle north of the Cloud 9 curl. The waves—mostly rights—are half the size of those at their more famous neighbor. On those rare days when the surf isn't up, ask around for Pirate Pete, a raucous Aussie, and join him on his daily sail to the surrounding isles. He'll charge you $12 for the entire day.
SEAir now offers direct flights two times a week from Cebu City to Siargao for about $40 one-way (011-63-2-891-8708; Once you're there, head to the town of General Luna, where you'll find the Drop Inn, a five-minute walk from Cloud 9. The surfer hangout has comfortable rooms with bamboo-mat ceilings, patios overlooking a lush garden, and hot showers (doubles, $15 per night; 011-63-32-424-9565).

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