If you follow me on my blog, you probably know that I’ve been traveling through Southeast Asia and passed through amazing countries like Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, and more. One of the places I was most looking forward to visiting was the Philippines. I learned a lot there and enjoyed myself.
And while it is true that many travelers design their trip to the Philippines by choosing the best beaches, the truth is that the archipelago has so much to offer that you could also explore its mountains, waterfalls, cities, and of course, its cultural side. Focusing on the latter, in this article I want to tell you about the 10 best festivals in the Philippines.
Perhaps not as well-known as other Asian events such as Songkran in Thailand or Holi in India, Philippine festivals will surprise you with their color, joy, and music. In addition, it is in them where you will notice the result of syncretism in the culture of the archipelago, and you will understand a little better the way of life of the Filipino people.
The first of the most important festivals in the Philippines, and my favorite, is Sinulog in Cebu. This festival is held every 16th January of each year in honor of the figure of the Holy Child of Cebu.
Its highlight is the street nighttime parties and the street traditional dance competition during the daytime. Filipinos from different provinces of the Philippines join this festivity. I could also see some of the most popular Filipino icons during the Sinulog festival.
I enjoyed the festivities with locals and other tourists where banners adorn the streets with their colors. And the air is filled with the smell of Filipino dishes such as dinuguan, Lechon, Lechon manok, and bulalo, among others.
One thing I have to advise is that you should be extremely careful if you join the nighttime parties. Theft isn’t an impossible scenario, especially when you’re drunk. Therefore, leave your wallet and gadgets at the hotel and only bring cash. In case theft does occur, look for police that are roaming around.
2. Ati-Atihan, Kalibo
If Sinulog is one of the best festivals in the Philippines, Ati-Atihan is known as “The mother of Philippine festivals.” Held in the capital of the island of Panay, Kalibo, it is said that this is the oldest of all and the one that inspired others, such as the Sinulog.
This festival happens on the third Sunday of January. I really loved the showcases of the tribal dances with performers wearing headdresses and colorful artworks on their skin. The dances are opposite to the graceful movements of the dancers of Sinulog but are attractive nevertheless. Dances range from acrobatic performances to performances employing the use of advanced props.
Food during the Ati-Atihan is great. The one that I couldn’t miss was the chicken meat cooked with coconut milk and banana pith. This food tastes very heavenly, especially if you eat it with spicy condiments. I also try the local sweets made out of rice.
If you plan to come and enjoy this festival, bring light clothing. In addition, avoid wearing white clothes because it’s a common custom for the locals to pour colored powder or non-permanent paint on spectators. And just like Sinulog, be always on the lookout for theft.
3. Moriones Festival, Marinduque
If there is a Filipino festival that made me feel a bit at home, it is the one in Moriones. This has been celebrated since 1887 in honor of Saint Longinus, a Roman centurion who is said to have pierced the body of Jesus with his spear when he was on the cross to make sure that he was dead. According to the Bible, Longinus was one-eyed, but, receiving a little of the blood of Christ, he regained his vision, so he converted to Christianity, fled to Turkey, and was worshiped as a martyr.
A “morion” is a term used to refer to the mask or visor that covered the face of the soldiers, so the morions are people with huge masks and colorful robes that represent the centurions who were looking for Longinus after deserting from the army. There is a possibility that the word “moriones” derives from “Moors” or “died.” The first suggests that it has something to do with the Valencia Moors and Christians Festival.
Although it is a religious celebration that can be a bit somber at times, the Moriones Festival also has an important part of folklore and fun. In fact, in the processions, the centurions have a great time scaring the little ones.
4. MassKara Festival, Bacolod
Did you know that Bacolod is known as “The City of Smiles”? The reason is none other than the smiling faces on the masks of one of the best festivals in the Philippines held here: the MassKara Festival.
This festival has its roots in an agricultural crisis that the region experienced in the 80s. This region was an eminently sugar-producing area (in fact, I could still visit huge mansions built by the wealth that this crop brought), and at that time, the price of the product dropped so much that its inhabitants lost almost everything. To this was added the sinking of a ferry that brought more than a thousand people from Manila sank on 22nd April 1980, taking about 700 lives. Within the tragedy, inhabitants of this region sought an escape route by creating a festival that would bring their smiles back.
I really enjoyed the Street Dance Competition. That is the street dance contest in which each barangay reveals their dresses and choreographies from the edition.
I stayed until sunset to experience the Electric MassKara. This is another street dance competition in which the participants wear neon lights to distinguish themselves at night. Famous local DJs entertained the guests. Drinks were unlimited though I had to pay. It’s was fun because hooking with other people was very easy. Just grab a drink, give it to someone, and the fun will just start on its own.
5. Pahayas festival, Lucban
On every 15th May, the town of Lucban, in the province of Quezon, becomes alive with the celebration of the Pahiyas Festival. This is a thanksgiving celebration for a bountiful harvest.
I arrived in the town around 9:00 AM to catch the morning procession, which takes place on a chosen street. I was told that every year the route is changed so that different houses can participate in the annual festival. And to be honest, I loved the beautifully decorated houses. The decorations range from homemade beads, garlands, lanterns, and chandeliers made out of local materials, specifically rice stalks.
What surprised me is that all houses also serve free food regardless if the homeowners are familiar with the guests or not. Out of all the food, I tried the Lucban sausage, which had a distinct fatty, sweet, and salty taste.
6. Panagbenga Festival, Baguio
Baguio City in Benguet Province is known as the main producer of flowers in the Philippines. This potential is then used to attract tourists to visit this city. Every last Sunday in February, the Baguio people hold the Panagbenga Festival (flower season). The festival is an attraction for tourists and locals alike.
During this festival, I saw locals busy making flower costumes and arranging various flowers. In addition to introducing the flowers that are typical of the city of Baguio, this festival is also held as a way to rise from the devastation of the earthquake that hit Luzon Island in 1990.
The Panagbenga Festival is considered one of the most visited festivals in the Philippines. What’s interesting about this annual flower festival is the Street Dance Parade, bazaar, night market, marching band, and the Grand Float Parade featuring colorful vehicles all covered in flowers. The Panagbenga Festival was closed nicely with a fireworks display at night.
7. Higante festival, Angono
This is another of the Philippine festivals that I was honored to attend. This festival is held in Angono, Rizal Province, as an expression of gratitude and thanks to the patron saint of fishermen, San Clemente. This festival features hundreds of Higantes of various sizes and shapes. Higantes are paper dolls in the form of a man/woman wearing a variety of outfits. The height of a Higantes can reach 3 meters.
This festival stems from the Angono people’s protest against the Spanish colonial government. At that time, the Spanish colonial government only allowed people to hold one festival a year. The Angono people then took advantage of this prohibition by making puppets out of paper pulp to ‘make fun’ of the government at that time. They learned the art of making dolls from paper pulp from Spanish monks and missionaries.
8. Kadayawan festival, Davao
This countrywide festival was held as an expression of gratitude for the abundant natural harvests. The festival started as a local government-initiated program called “Davao Development Project” in 1986, which served to unite the Davao people. In 1988, the festival was renamed “Kadayawan festival” by Mayor Rodrigo Duterte to celebrate the uniqueness of this city which is packaged in a festival of flowers, fruits, and culture.
Kadayawan festival consists of several events such as Virtue of Glory (a beauty contest which is participated by ten indigenous Davao tribes). There are also exhibitions of artifacts, goods, and performances of the Davao people. Other events include street dancing and a three-week market that showcases some of the best local cuisines in Davao City.
9. Lechon Festival, Batangas
The Philippines have close ties with the Lechon. It’s undebatable that countries can imitate the Lechon at some point. However, none can compare to the Lechon that comes from the Philippines. That crispy glistening skin and savory meat, which comes from a balanced mixture of seasonings shoved on the pig’s stomach before cooking it in the spit and open fire, is simply phenomenal.
And if you love Lechon like me and want to taste it non-stop, then I advise you to go to Batangas every 24th June. Batangas commences the Lechon festival during this time and showcases a Lechon contest. This festival decorates the streets of Batangas with the glistening red skin of Lechon. There’s even a competition to see who cooked the best.
The experience here was good, and I even had a chef who sold me his unique recipe that I’m yet to try.
10. Mango Festival, Guimaras
I finished my tour of the Philippine festivals by attending the Mango festival. This is perhaps not one of the most important or lavish, but one of the most curious. And it is well known that the mango from the Philippines is the best in the world (you will understand me when you try it). But, if you are looking for the best of the best, you have to go to the island of Guimaras in May, the month in which the sweetest ones are collected.
Guimaras, located between Panay and Negros, is a small orchard of mangoes. Wherever I went, I found lush mango trees that, in midsummer (April-May), turn a succulent yellow color. This festival is celebrated at the time of its harvest with the aim of giving thanks for much abundance and to make the culture of the island known. For this reason, each barangay (smallest administrative division in the Philippines) prepares activities such as concerts or plays with a theme related to the star product.
When night falls, nothing like getting lost among the town fair (seriously, I was blown away by the attractions, which seemed to be decades old). And, of course, trying the mango and cashew pizza.
I hope that this list of the 10 best festivals in the Philippines has caught your attention and that you can enjoy some of them on your trip. If you want to know a little more about the country, do not hesitate to take a look at some of my articles in this country.