Heritage & Historical


The Philippines has a rich history beginning from its earliest days as one of the busiest trading posts in South East Asia and later, in the trans-Pacific galleon trade. A period of Spanish colonization spanning three centuries then made an indelible impression on the country. This mercurial era, along with the American occupation, played a vital role in shaping the Philippines and its people. A vivid past has left its mark all over the archipelago in many different forms that present-day visitors to the country are now discovering.

The rich Philippine heritage can be experienced, not only in textbooks and museums, but also in beautifully preserved historical sites across the country. A simple textbook description of a historical event comes to life upon a visit to the place where it unfolded. Isla ng Corregidor, or simply, Corregidor, is now a tranquil island where the epic dramatic Battle of Corregidor took place during the last world war. In a country like the Philippines, where history is kept alive, one doesn't need to go far to travel back in time.


Tubbataha Reef National Marine Park
Location: Middle of the Sulu Sea, 181 kilometers southeast of Puerto Princesa, Palawan
Inscribe in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1993

The Tubbataha Reef Marine Park covers 33,200 hectares including the north and south reefs. It is a marvelous marine wilderness and a special ecosystem much appreciated for its beauty as well as its scientific value.

It is a unique example of an atoll reef with a very high density of marine species, with 80% coral cover of 46 coral genres and 376 fish species. The site is an excellent example of a pristine coral reef with a spectacular 100-meter perpendicular wall, extensive lagoons and two-coral islands.

Tubbataha’s north islet is a nesting site for sea birds of all kinds and endangered hawksbill sea turtles; a diver’s paradise with gorgonian seafans, soft corals, and gigantic sea sponges serving as home to turkey fish, anemone crab, banded seasnakes, nudibranchs, starfish, catsharks, surgeon fish, batfish, and butterfly fish. The rare, unusual looking fox-faced rabbit fish can also be found in the marine park. Marine turtles, including the critically endangered hawksbill and green turtle, nest on some of the beaches.

Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park
Location: Saint Paul Mountain Range on the northern coast of Palawan
Inscribe in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1999

The Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park features a spectacular limestone karst landscape with its underground river. The river is unique because it flows directly into the sea, and its lower portion is subject to tidal influences. The area also represents a significant habitat for biodiversity conservation. The site contains a whole ecosystem --- from mountain to the sea; and protects forests, which are among the most significant in Asia.

A highlight of each visit is a ride through its 8 km-long underground river which runs through a dome of stalactites complemented by stalagmites running the entire length of the cave.

The park is a popular destination for bird watching and is known for regular sightings of threatened bird species of Palawan peacock-peasant and Philippine cockatoo and the endemic birds Palawan scopsowl, swiftlet, hornbill, flyeater and blue flycatcher, tit and flowerpecker. It is blessed to have the Palawan flying fox, Oriental small-clawed otter, stinkbadger, binturong, flying squirrel, mountain tree squirrel and porcupine.

The park also features an exciting Monkey Trail with its series of wooden paths to the forest.

Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras
Location: Ifugao
Inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1995

The 2,000-year old Banaue Rice Terraces – the most extensive anywhere in the world – were carved into the mountains of Ifugao by ancestors of the Batad indigenous people. The terraces are located approximately 1,500 meters (5,000 feet) above sea level and cover 10,360 square kilometers (about 4,000 square miles) of the mountainside.

Known as the “eight wonder of the world,” the terraces were carved with only simple tools and bare hands. They are fed by an ancient irrigation system, an ingenious complex of bamboo pipes and canals, drawing water from streams created by bubbling springs located in the mountain rainforests.

Considered as a monument to man’s genius in turning a rugged and forbidding terrain into a source of sustenance, the rice terraces stand to be the most awe-inspiring man-made landscape in the Cordilleras. They are also invariably called “The Stairway to the Sky.”

Historic Town of Vigan
Location: Vigan, Ilocos Sur
Inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1999

The 16th century town of Vigan is “an exceptionally intact and well-preserved example of a European trading town in East and East Asia.” Its architecture reflects the fusion of cultural elements from the Philippines, China and Europe, resulting in a culture and townscape that has no parallel anywhere in East and Southeast Asia.

Seemingly impervious to time, spared from rebellion and the ravages of war, Vigan has remained unchanged and its many preserved historic sites – more than 180 edifices – make it look like “a piece of Spain.” With its grand cathedral, massive mansions with red-tile roofs and spacious balconies, narrow cobblestone streets, horse drawn carriages, and friendly faces peering out of large windows, Vigan is a place where “time stood still.”

Baroque Churches
Inscribed in the UNESCO World Heritage List in 1993

San Agustin Church in Intramuros, Manila
Built in 1587, the San Agustin Church is the oldest stone church in the Philippines, the only one that remains as the original evidence of the 16th century Spanish architecture. It has defied several earthquakes and the heavy shelling of both Japanese and American forces in 1945 and now stands as a reminder of the grandeur of the past.

The structural design of the church is extraordinary. It boasts of the only example in the country of a barrel vault, dome and arched vestibules, supporting its choir loft, all made of stone. Its façade is notable for its two pairs of columns – the lowest pair in Doric style, the upper pair in Corinthian topped by a pediment surmounted by a Cross. The main door, carved out of Philippine molave, has a bas-relief of St. Augustine and his mother, Santa Monica. San Agustin Church represents the art and technology of Spanish, Chinese, and native cultures fused together “to suit human sentiments and faiths that found expression in customs and traditions that were evolved through the centuries.”

As the best-preserved example of an urban ecclesiastical complex in the Philippines, the compound serves not only as a historical document of the Spanish colonial heritage but also as a repository of the most important works of art and literature of the period.

Miag-ao Church in Iloilo
Built in yellow-orange sandstone, the large fortress-church of Miag-ao was completed in 1797. It served as a fortress against raids of marauding Moro pirates.

The church is amazingly beautiful because of its two asymmetric pyramidal towers and its finely sculptured, yellow sandstone façade. Its façade’s carving is the pinnacle of Filipino naïve art, in which craftsmen abandon all restraints to interpret Western decorative styles in the local folk idiom. The central element in the façade is Saint Christopher, clad like a Filipino farmer with rolled-up trousers. He carries the Christ Child on his back while holding on to a lush coconut tree for support. Beside him are guava and papaya trees, flanked by ornamental urns. The scene merges Western Catholic iconography with a folk interpretation of coastal Iloilo countryside.

San Agustin Church in Paoay, Ilocos Norte
Photo by Anna Buenaventura.

Paoay’s San Agustin Church, built in 1604, is one of the most outstanding variants of “earthquake baroque” in the Philippines, where the primary consideration was to design the structure for earthquake protection.

The façade of San Agustin Church is astounding but its most prominent feature is the phalanx of buttresses that juts out perpendicularly from the sidewalls, purposely to strengthen the walls – and the entire structure – against earthquake damage. Fourteen massive S-shaped buttresses rise in rhythmic cadence from the ground to the roofline.

The church is an eye-catcher as it emerges from a beautiful open space, unlike many other churches located within urban settings.   

Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion in Santa Maria, Ilocos Sur

The Church of Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion in Santa Maria is unique for its utter disregard for the traditional Spanish urban plan of constructing the church to face the plaza, and less imposing religious and official buildings grouped around. It also has a citadel appearance as the church, with its convent and bell tower, stands alone on the crown of a solitary hill encircled by a stonewall, with stone stairways leading to the church.

It is the only church in the Philippines exuding the ambience of a Mediterranean hill town with its convent built parallel to the church façade and its bell tower detached from the main church. Evoking a Chinese pagoda, the bell tower of octagonal shapes of decreasing diameter is crowned by a small dome, tapering to the sky with an oriental grace.