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The Philippines with Karl Grobl – May 2020


The Philippines, known as Pearl of the Orient, is one of the great treasures of Southeast Asia. Often overlooked by travelers, the Philippines rewards those who go the extra distance to reach and explore it. Because it’s off the beaten path, the Philippines is a great place to escape the multitudes who descend upon other parts of Southeast Asia. The country is the second-largest archipelago in the world, being composed of more than 7,000 islands. The Philippines boasts a fantastic landscape with wonders enough to stagger even the most jaded traveler, such as: the UNESCO World Heritage sites of Banaue with its amazing the Rice Terraces (called by many the 8th wonder of the world) and fascinating reminders of the islands’ rich history in places such as Vigan. But that’s not all the Philippines has to offer. If you’re after palm-fringed, white-sand beaches, the Philippines offers that too, on a scale and beauty that one might have expected to find in Hawaii decades ago.

The Philippines has three major regions; Luzon to the north, Visayas in the center, and Mindanao in the south. Manila, located in Luzon is the capital. The Filipino culture, has affinities with the Spain due to three centuries of colonial rule, and has an American influence, largely the result of a major military presence during World War II. The rich culture and tradition reflect the diverse indigenous groups from its many islands. Roman Catholicism is the predominant religion, being the only Catholic country in Southeast Asia. Tagalog is the official language though English is widely spoken.

Travelers who have been to the Philippines will universally comment that it’s the Filipinos themselves who make the country such a joy to visit. Photo friendly and full of smiles, the people open themselves and their lives to visitors on a scale only matched by places like India and Myanmar. The Philippines truly qualifies as one of the last great frontiers in Southeast Asia. This is your chance to be among the few to explore and photograph this amazing destination.


Day 1 (May 2): Arrive in in Manila, where you will be picked up at the airport and taken to the hotel. This evening around 6:00 pm we will have an orientation meeting followed by dinner at a nearby restaurant. Spend the night Manila.

Day 2 (May 3):  Today, cameras in hand, we set out for a Manila City tour. Some historical landmarks and interesting parts of the city we’ll view include Rizal Park, the country’s premier park and the site of many important events in the country’s history; and Intramuros, the Spanish colonial city. Its historical landmarks include Fort Santiago, the old Spanish military headquarters; San Agustin Church, the oldest stone church in the city which has a museum of religious and secular art; Barrio San Luis, a complex of reconstructed period houses depicting the Filipino lifestyles of the 19th century. The tour also includes Quiapo, a district popular with the locals for its open market and its church which enshrines the black statue of Jesus Christ. Finally, we’ll see the Chinese Cemetery known for its peculiarity of having grandiose mausoleums with a fascinating blend of different religious elements. We’ll spend the night in Manila.

Day 3 (May 4):  This morning about 8:00 we set out in our own private Jeepney to visit and photograph a bustling fish market, and then Manila’s largest flower market. In the afternoon we ride a mini, man-powered train, and explore life along the railroad tracks. We spend the night in Manila.

Day 4 (May 5):  Today  we’ll depart Manila for drive up the western coast of Luzon to the UNESCO World Heritage town of Vigan. We’ll be joined by our trip co-leader for the rest of the tour, Jacob Maentz, prior to departure. Upon our arrival in Vigan we’ll get settled into our hotel then perhaps take a short orientation walk with opportunities for some early evening shooting in Vigan’s old cobblestone street and historic district. In pre-colonial times, Vigan was an important trading post for Chinese junks, trading gold beeswax, and other products from the central Cordilleras for exotic Asian goods. Many Chinese traders settled in the mestizo district, marrying locals and starting new bloodlines. Vigan was captured and settled by the Spanish in 1572, and grew to become a center of Spanish political and religious power in the north of Luzon. We will spend the night in Vigan.

Day 5 (May 6):  This morning we are up early and head out to explore Vigan. We visit the Mestizo District which offers a wonderful glimpse into the Philippines’ colonial past. The ancestral houses were mostly built by Chinese traders using an eclectic mixture of local, Asian and Spanish architectural styles. St. Paul’s Metropolitan Cathedral was built by Augustinians around 1790 and features a unique design intended to minimize earthquake damage; a style that came to be known as “earthquake baroque”. We’ll see a feng-shui inspired bell tower and see Plaza Salcedo, the site of resistance leader Gabriela Silang’s public hanging in 1763. Close by is the Ayala Museum, with Ilocano artifacts and Burgos Memorabilia. After our evening shoot in this historic district, we have a nice, outdoor café dinner and then spend our final night in Vigan.

Day 6 (May 7): Today we take a long scenic drive along the amazing, photogenic road through a Philippine National Park to Sagada. Sagada is a small town nestled in the middle of a valley at the upper end of Malitep tributary of the Chico river about 1,500 meters above sea level. It’s a lofty little town, dirt-free air, with the smell of towering pine trees. The journey is one of the prettiest drives in Luzon and takes about 6 hours due to sharp bends & bumpy roads through the Cordillera Mountains. We pass the highest point in the Philippine highway system and pass some amazing terraces which we will stop and photograph along the way. Spend the night in Sagada.

Day 7 (May 8): Today we rise early to photograph rice terraces in and around Sagada, then set off to explore the famous hanging coffins. Hanging coffins are an ancient funeral custom. Coffins of various shapes can be seen hanging either on beams projecting outward from vertical faces of the mountain, are placed in caves in the face of cliffs, or sit on natural rock projections. We spend the night Sagada.

Day 8 (May 9): After breakfast, we board our bus for a 250 kilometer trip to Baguio, a city on the Cordillera mountain range in the middle of the island of Luzon. Due to its cool mountain weather, Baguio is considered the summer capital of the Philippines. Because of its many pine trees, it is also called the City of Pines. In the afternoon we do a bit of photo-wandering in Baguio, then have dinner and relax at our hotel. Spend the night in Baguio.

Day 9 (May 10): We’ll rise early this morning and travel by private bus from Baguio to NAIA airport in Manila where we’ll catch our flight to the island of Cebu. We’ll stop along the way, as time permits, to take photos of workers in the vegetable fields. Spend the night in Cebu.

Day 10 (May 11): Today we’ll photograph a bustling local fish market and then boxing at a local gym in an impoverished part of Mandaue. (Boxing is only 2nd to Basketball as the most popular sport in the Philippines.) If time permits, we will visit and photograph preparation of Cebu’s famous Lechon at a local restaurant. Spend the night in Cebu.

Day 11 (May 12): Today we’ll visit a starfish processing plant on an adjacent island. In the evening, we’ll make our way into Cebu City to photograph the “Sinulog dancing candle ladies of Santo Nino Basilica. Spend the night in Cebu.

Day 12 (May 13): After breakfast at our hotel in Cebu we’ll board a ferry to the neighboring island of Bohol. After checking in at our resort hotel, there will be time for a quick swim, relaxing or photographing on the beach. At sunset we walk the beach photographing the seascape, fishermen and children frolicking in the water. This evening we enjoy photo sharing and an open-air dinner overlooking the ocean. Spend the night in Bohol.

Day 13 (May 14): This morning we rise early and head to the Tarsier Research and Development Center to photograph the Tarsier, a strange, tiny monkey with large eyes. After photographing Tarsiers, we take a boat ride through the local jungle, and on the way back to the hotel make a short stop to photograph the Chocolate Hills. The Chocolate Hills are a rolling terrain of nearly symmetrical limestone mounds. During the dry season, the grass-covered hills dry up and turn chocolate brown. This transforms the area into seemingly endless rows of “chocolate kisses”. We spend the night in Bohol.

Day 14 (May 15): Today we’ll do a portfolio review, relax at the beach and/or arrange optional excursions throughout this tropical island. We spend night in Bohol.

Day 15 (May 16): Group will return to Manila Airport to connect with flights home, or begin the trip extension.

**Optional Extension to El Nido**

Day 1 Ext. (May 16): Today we’ll have free time in Manila.  Spend the night in Manila. 

Day 2 Ext. (May 17): After a quick breakfast, we’ll head to the airport to board our charter flight to the island of Palawan and the spectacularly beautiful El Nido Resort on Miniloc Island. We should arrive mid-afternoon, giving you time to settle in before we gather in the evening for dinner and an introduction to El Nido and what we’ll be doing while in the area. We’ll spend the night in El Nido.

Day 3 Ext (May 18): Today we’ll explore the waterways of El Nido. The diversity of wildlife in this protected area is astounding. You’ll have the option of snorkeling, kayaking or scuba diving. We’ll spend the night in El Nido.

Day 4 Ext (May 19): We’ll explore the area away from the water. You’ll have a chance to capture beautiful vistas from the hilltops. We’ll have the afternoon free to enjoy the beauty of the area. In the evening, we’ll wrap up the extension with a dinner on the beach. We’ll spend the night in El Nido.

Day 5 Ext (May 20): We’ll return to Manila for you to connect with your flights home.