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This proud nation is made up thousands of islands and more than a hundred different languages, and it tempts visitors with beautiful tropical beaches, outstanding coral reefs, volcanoes, mountains, caves and vibrant cities. Its Spanish colonial past has left its mark in a unique culture that mixes east and west. Like to know more? Here are six facts about the Philippines that’ll make you want to book a flight to Manila now.

It’s spread across more than 7,000 islands

The Philippines is composed entirely of islands, and with more than 7,000 of them to explore and a tropical climate to soak up along the way, what’s not to love? They range from tiny, palm-fringed specks in the ocean like Malapascua in the Cebu archipelago, a fully paid-up paradise famous for its idyllic white-sand beaches and diving, to the likes of Luzon, the country’s largest island. It’s home to the capital, Manila, as well as mountains, waterfalls, paddy fields, beaches and coral reefs.

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It has a highly distinctive culture

Filipino culture is very different from other Asian countries. Most obviously, it’s deeply Catholic – the result of more than 300 years of Spanish colonisation. Spain actually delegated the governing of the islands to New Spain – as Mexico and other parts of Central America were then known – resulting in many shared customs and traditions between Mexico and the Philippines. Spain then ceded the Philippines to the US in 1898, adding a heavy dose of American culture into the mix.

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It has some outstanding colonial remnants

The colonial past comes alive in the historic UNESCO-listed town of Vigan, with its cobbled streets and Spanish-style buildings. And in Manila, the church of San Agustin managed to escape the World War II destruction of much of the surrounding area. Packed with ornate original decorative detail, including a trompe l’oeil ceiling, it’s one of a collection of four Spanish-era churches listed by UNESCO as the Baroque Churches of the Philippines.

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It’s home to volcanoes galore

There are 37 volcanoes in the Philippines, of which 18 are active. Mount Mayon on the island of Luzon, known for its perfect conical shape, is probably the most famous. Surrounded by the flat plain of the Mayon Volcano Natural Park, it’s an iconic sight. It’s also a popular climb when there’s no sign of volcanic activity (the last recorded eruption was in 2009, with more activity in 2014). Taal, also on Luzon, is the country’s second most active volcano, with a picture-postcard setting on an island in the middle of a lake.

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It’s surrounded by coral reefs

The 7,000-plus islands of the Philippines are surrounded by 26,000 square kilometres of coral reef, with probably the most biodiverse marine habitat on the planet. This makes for some brilliant diving and two of the country’s best dive spots are also UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Apo Reef, in the waters of Occidental Mindoro and the West Philippine Sea, is the largest atoll-like reef in the country (and the second-largest complete coral reef system in the world), with a huge variety of coral and marine life. Tubbataha Reef, off beautiful Palawan Island in the waters of the Sulu Sea, is home to no less than 600 species of fish.

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It’s an outdoor paradise

Its dramatic natural environment makes the Philippines a great destination for outdoor activities. Aside from diving, trekking is hugely popular, with the UNESCO-listed terraced rice paddies of Banaue in the Cordillera mountains of Luzon and the country’s many volcanoes exciting places to explore. Not extreme enough for you? Get the adrenalin pumping with white water rafting on the Cagayan River near Cagayan de Oro on Mindanao, surfing galore, or caving and cave diving on Samar.

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