If you’re trying to get a new hot destination, The Philippines is gaining ground as a travel spot in Asia.
A growing number of Kenyans are travelling to the Philippines to study or for leisure. By 2020, about 800 Kenyans were in the Philippines, including 100 students.
"Many Kenyans who study in Philippine universities take up nursing, medicine, biology, dentistry, and related fields. They are enrolled in universities across the country, and not only those located in Metropolitan Manila," says Marie Charlotte G. Tang, the Philippines ambassador in Kenya.
She tells BDLife that the Philippines is not just interesting for its Telenovelas, and soap operas loved by mostly Kenyan women, but there are beautiful attractions worth adding to your bucket list.
How was your first experience in Kenya
Actually, this posting was my first time in Kenya and in Africa too. It’s all like a new adventure. I’m a career diplomat, so going from place to place is part of my life.
But I was interested in Africa because for the Philippines, Africa is conceptually very far away and I desire to bridge the divide and see what can be promoted and enhanced in terms of the relationship between the two countries as well as the consciousness of each other.
For instance, Philippines Telenovelas are popular over here but that’s just one aspect of the Filipinos that does not reflect its totality as it is sometimes romanticised.
But you get snippets of who the Filipinos are and the touristic places in the country.
What have you learned about the country so far?
I’ve been here for one and a half years and what’s exciting is that there are similarities more than differences. For instance, we both speak English and we are both predominantly Christians.
I also find Kenyan's sense of humour very similar to ours whenever I check out the social media like the memes and how you craft the jokes and when you post it, we, as the Philippines in the country, also laugh. We are also both democracies in progress.
Have you tried out any Kenyan foods?
Yes, I have. We found out that though we have tilapia, we have different strains as the Kenyan one is bigger than the Philippines.
The ugali is an acquired taste as it has to go with stew or veggies just like our rice which is our staple food. Philippines also enjoy the fried chicken from Jolliebee which I hope will one day come to Kenya.
In the Philippines, fried chicken has to be served with rice, unlike here where I noticed you serve it with French fries.
I also like the mandazis which look like doughnuts in the Philippines and I’ve tried out mukimo and I liked it a lot. There are some parts of Philippines that also have corn and cassava, arrow roots but they are not pounded.
We also have plantain but I think our version is small and flat which is much better and it's eaten as a snack unlike over here.
Which places have you toured in Kenya?
I have been to Masaai Mara, Amboseli, Tsavo, Nakuru, Naivasha, Olpejeta. I aspire to go to the Northern parts like Samburu and the Coast region because I’m curious to see how different the culture and the beach experiences are.
The difference is that in the Philippines, our coastal area is dominated by Christians, yours is mostly Muslim.
What is the Philippines renowned for?
The Philippines is an archipelago which is maybe strange for a country like Kenya that shares borders with many other countries.
We are completely surrounded by water, which means that we have beautiful beaches as a result and also some of the richest marine biodiversity.
Before the pandemic, in 2019, the Philippines had 8.26 million international tourist arrivals and in 2022, we had 2.65 million tourist arrivals. This year, we're targeting tourist arrivals of 4.8 million in 2023.
Which are the best places, festivals, and cultural experiences to explore in the Philippines?
The Philippines is a wonderful tourism destination all year round. The country has a lot to offer, regardless of what you are looking for.
We have over 7,000 islands, and we have a lot of amazing beaches, diving and surfing spots, beyond the usual destinations known to tourists, so there is always a lot to explore in the Philippines.
We also have the famous world-class white sandy beaches and the Siargao Island in the south which is known for its waves that are perfect for surfing.
Tourists also often go to Cebu to get up close with a variety of marine species, including the whale shark, the world’s biggest fish.
Up north in the mountains, we have the Banaue Rice Terraces, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, and Baguio City, a chartered city that we like to refer to as the “Summer Capital of the Philippines”.
The Philippines is also known for its geological wonders and rich flora and fauna.
There is the St. Paul Subterranean River National Park in Palawan, an underground river that was listed in the so-called “New 7 Wonders of Nature”.
Bohol Island is known for the Chocolate Hills, over a thousand limestone mounds that is truly unique.
Davao is where you can find the Philippine eagle, one of the world’s biggest birds of prey that is also the country’s national bird, and the Mount Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary, which is a designated UNESCO World Heritage Site hosting thousands of endemic and threatened plant and animal species.
The Philippines is also part of the Coral Triangle, and Verde Island Passage has earned the distinction of being the “centre of marine biodiversity” on the planet.
Metropolitan Manila, home to over 13 million people, is a bustling metropolis that is also a great destination at any time of the year.
If you are interested to learn about the Philippines’ rich history, you can visit the walled city of Intramuros, which served as the seat of the Spanish colonial government for centuries; as well as our museums and the many old and intricately-designed Catholic churches across the city.
Manila is also an incredible destination for shopping of handicrafts, pearl accessories, and other local products. Of course, Manila is known for its vibrant food and party scene.
Filipinos are fun-loving and creative people and you would see this in our fiesta or festivals, which every town in the country has. Fiestas are usually held to honour patron saints (as a majority of Filipinos are Roman Catholics), but they are also about harvests and showcasing the local products and unique traditions of each town or city.
Among the most famous festivals is the Pahiyas Festival in Lucban, Quezon Province in May honours the patron saint of farmers during which locals decorate their houses with “kipings (a thin leaf-shaped wafer made from rice paper), various fruit, vegetables, flowers and other produce.
We also have the Sinulog in Cebu City, Ati-Atihanin Aklan province, both held every January; the Panagbenga or Flower Festival in Baguio City every February, Kadayawan Festival in Davao City every August, and Masskara Festival in Bacolod City every October.
There is a fiesta somewhere in the Philippines on any given day, so tourists will definitely have a chance to take part in the celebrations.
The Christmas season is among the best times to visit the Philippines and it lasts to the first weeks of January.
We often say that we have the longest Christmas season in the world. On the first day of September or the start of the “-ber months”, it is not unusual to already hear Christmas carols and see Christmas ornaments in our shopping malls.
The festive atmosphere builds up to December and guests are captivated by the colourful and distinctive parols or lanterns that light up the homes, buildings, and various public spaces.
What does a Kenyan traveller need to explore the Philippines?
Kenyans can go on a holiday in the Philippines, for up to 30 days, visa-free. All you need are a round-trip airline ticket, confirmation of accommodation, a copy of yellow fever and Covid-19 vaccination certificates, and other relevant supporting documents.
There are a variety of accommodation options in the Philippines, from luxurious five-star hotels to comfortable hostels, and in some provinces, you could even go for a homestay to truly experience the life of the locals.
In terms of inter-island connectivity, there are several flights from Manila to other parts of the country, while you can also take a ferry to hop across islands.
Most Filipinos speak English, so Kenyan visitors, will not have any problem communicating or making friends while in the Philippines. Filipinos are also always eager to share more about their country with foreign guests.
Is there a direct flight?
There are no direct flight connections yet between Manila and Nairobi, but there are multiple options for travellers from both countries.
Travellers can transit through Dubai, Doha, Addis Ababa, and even Bangkok or Guangzhou. Perhaps, as we increase the volume of travel between our countries, we will be able to open direct flights in the future.