Philippines: A Quick Guide to the 3 Main Islands

Tanya Marie Porras

Tanya Marie Porras

Tanya Marie Porras is the Local Contributing Writer at Global Storybook (Philippines).
Tanya Marie Porras

More than 7,000 islands comprise the stunningly beautiful archipelago called Philippines.  Altogether they come to form the three major groups of islands: Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.  Each of these three bigger islands have come to develop their own unique lifestyles, particular customs, cultural trends, national dishes and even their own set of ethnic languages and dialects.

Below, you will find an overview of the three major islands in the Philippines, as well as a short sample of the top things to see, do and even taste in each region.

1. Luzon: The Central Island

Luzon, the largest island, is the most populous province in the Philippines.  Here, you will find all the thrills of a relatively modern lifestyle.  For example, you can dine at the top-rated restaurants, shop at elite malls, have fun at the world-class casinos, spend a luxurious night at fancy hotel, and so on.

The country’s capital city, Manila is located on this island.  In addition, in Luzon, you will find the main international airport, the Ninoy Aquino International Airport.  This is the central hub from where you can access most other regions of the Philippines.

Top 5 Languages Spoken:

1. Tagalog.  This is an Austronesian language which about ¼ of Filipinos (including those from Visayas and Mindanao) use to communicate.  This is also a standardized local language.

2. Kapampangan.  The Kulitan Script is the basis for this major tongue spoken in Central Luzon.

3. Batangan.  This is another main language found in Luzon.  Usually, only native Batangueño can speak this one well, without making others laugh.

4. Bikol.  In the Bicol region, as well as in the southeastern part of Luzon – Filipinos speak this dialect.

5. Pangasinense.  “On” is a Pangasinense word which means “yes.”  Apart from the natives in the province of Pangasinan, Filipinos living in the west-central part of Luzon usually speak this tongue.

Adobo, Philippines - Global Storybook

Adobo – the dish with the Mexican heritage

Top 5 Dishes to Eat:

1. Adobo.  This recipe has a Mexican origin.  When Filipinos discovered that cooking meat – usually poultry and pork, in garlic, salt, pepper, soy sauce, vinegar, and other spices, helped preserve it better – it instantly entered the national spotlight.

2. Sisig.  When you find yourself in Luzon’s culinary capital – Pampangayou must taste this dish.  Its main ingredients are a pig’s head, liver and cheeks.

Sipaway Island: A Glimpse of a Hidden Paradise in the Philippines

3. Kare-kare – this is an oxtail stew.

4. Pinakbet – Luzon’s favorite.  This platter is usually made of bitter gourd, eggplant, okra, shrimp paste, tomatoes, and squash.

5. Bicol Express – a stew whose main ingredients include pork, coconut milk, and chilies.

Sagada caves, Philippines - Global Storybook

The mysterious caves of Sagada

Top 5 Things to Do:

1. Ride on the majestic Sand Dunes of Ilocos Norte.

2. Walk along the Spanish-inspired villages in Vigan’s Calle Crisologo.

3. Rest in a ginormous rope hammock in Rizal’s Masungi Georeserve.

4. Go canyoneering inside the breathtaking caves in Sagada.

5. Go island hopping and see the mesmerizing beaches, caves and islets in Palawan.

2. Visayas: A Quiet Retreat

Bisaya is what you would call an inhabitant of Visayas.  Unlike in Luzon, the pace of life is quite slow here on this island.  In the Visayas, it is as if the people have all the time in the world and are hardly ever in a hurry.

Moreover, the fact that a Bisaya has time to “smell the roses” is probably the reason why a native from any region of Visayas has a reputation for being gentle, approachable, kind, carefree, and sweet.  If you could use some help with directions to certain landmarks, recommendations on places to stay or tips on local dishes, as well as friendly conversations – you should know whom to reach out to by now.

Top 5 Languages Spoken:

1. Cebuano.  The majority of people in the Visayas speak this tongue.

2. Waray-waray.  This is the most common dialect in the Eastern part of Visayas.

3. Hiligaynon.  “Kamusta” means “Hello” in this language.  If you’re planning to explore the Western regions, learning this tongue can come in handy.

4. Ati.  This dialect is widely spoken in the Panay region, where you can also find spectacular beaches.

5. Karay-a.  This is the main Visayan language spoken in different parts of Visayas (e.g. Antique, Aklan, and Capiz).  If you speak this one – chances are, you can understand Hiligaynon as well (#3).

La Paz Batchoy, Philippines - Global Storybook

La Paz Batchoy – the delicious beef and pork noodle soup

Top 5 Dishes to Eat:

1. Inasal.  Since this is one of the city’s signature dishes, a visit to Bacolod City suggests that you have tried this grilled favorite.

2. Cansi.  This traditional plate’s main ingredient is bone-in (broiled) beef shank.

3. Humba – salty, sweet and sour, stewed pork.

4. Kinilaw.  If you want to know what raw fish in vinegar tastes like, this Visayan favorite is worth trying.

5. La Paz Batchoy.  This is a noodle soup with beef loin, pork cracklings (crushed), and other pork organs.

Kawasan Falls, Philippines - Global Storybook

The stunning natural oasis of Kawasan Falls

Top 5 Things to Do:

1. Explore islets (including those with a sandbar and saltwater lagoon) in Iloilo’s Islas de Gigantes.

El Nido, Palawan - Welcome to Paradise!

2. Go scuba diving and explore the bounties of the underwater world in Dauin’s Apo Island.

3. Go spelunking and enjoy breathtaking sceneries in Cebu’s Kawasan Falls.

4. Visit century-old churches, ride motorbikes, go cliff diving, and explore an entire city (in just a few hours) in Siquijor.

5. Take pictures with life-sized superheroes, ride an air bike, and enjoy a fun day out overlooking Bacolod, Talisay and Silay in Talisay’s Campuestohan Highland Resort.

3. Mindanao: A Liberal Heaven

Did you know that the current Philippines president’s humble home is on the island of Mindanao?  Yep, the 16th leader of the country, President Rodrigo Duterte, lives in Davao, which is one of the top cities on this island.

Alongside the abode of the country’s fierce leader, you can find a plethora of colorful traditions, the Mindanaoans’ conservative behavior, and a variety of delightful touristic attractions here.

Top 5 Languages Spoken:

1. Western Bukidnon.  This is an Austronesian language widely spoken in the Northern Mindanao.

2. Agusan.  In Mindanao’s Northeastern region, the locals get by with this dialect.

3. Ata.  In Mindanao, there are about 27,000 native speakers of this tongue.

4. Tagabawa.  The mountain people of Mindanao speak this language.

5. Binukid.  When someone tells you: “Maayad ha adlaw” in this language, that person is wishing you to have a nice day.

Nasi Lemak Rice, Philippines - Global Storybook

The delicious Nasi Lemak Rice

Top 5 Dishes to Eat:

1. Amik.  This is a native food to nearly every part of Mindanao.  Its main ingredients, coconut milk and powdered rice, allow it to take a form of a coconut shell.

2. Nasi Lemak Rice.  This is a popular dish made of milk and Pandan leaves.

3. Tiyula Itum.  If you want to taste some burned coconut – this food is worth ordering.

4. Lokot-lokot.  Also called “ja”, this meal is just water blended with pounded rice flour.

5. Baulo.  This is a baked rice delicacy served during major festive seasons in Mindanao, such as the Hari Raya.

Siargao, Philippines - Global Storybook

Escape it all on the charming island of Siargao

Top 5 Things to Do:

1. Go swimming, snorkeling and bird watching around Zamboanga City’s pink sand beaches.

2. Have a picnic in the blue lagoon and be captivated by Surigao Del Sur’s Hinatuan Enchanted River.

3. Ride some waves and enjoy the island life in Siargao.

4. Visit a crocodile farm in Davao City.

5. Go hiking in the country’s tallest mountain, Mount Apo.

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