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UNESCO Heritage Sites in the Philippines: Six Places You Should Visit

Do you know what are the UNESCO World Heritage Sites in the Philippines? The UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) World Heritage sites are places of significant importance to either cultural or natural heritage around the world.

Since the Philippines’ inclusion to the convention last 1985, the organization has designated six sites in the country. Check the list below:

1. The Baroque Churches of the Philippines

San Agustin Chruch Baroque style

  • Location: Manila, Ilocos Sur, Ilocos Norte, Iloilo
  • Year inscribed in UNESCO: 1993
  • Type: Cultural

As part of the Spanish’s goal to spread Christianity during the 16th century, a number of churches were built in different cities, towns, and provinces. These four churches were among the first religious structures in the Philippines, and are easily identifiable thru their unique European architectural style.

A. San Agustin Church (Intramuros, Manila)

Built between 1587 and 1606, the San Agustin Church is considered the oldest and longest standing church in the entire Philippines. The church was the only structure left intact in intramuros during WWII.

How to get there: The church is 13 kilometers away from the NAIA. It will take you approximately 40 minutes to get there by car.

B. La Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion (Ilocos Sur)

Built in 1765 in the town of Sta. Maria, the fortress-style church sports an exposed brick facade and reinforced walls to protect it against earthquakes.

La Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion’s key features include an 85-step stairway that leads to a carving of the Virgin Mary atop a tree, and a bell tower which was added in 1810.

How to get there: From Manila, take a bus bound for Ilocos Sur. Once there, hop on a bus headed to any of the southern towns. Make sure to ask the driver if it is making a stop by the church as it is located away from the main road.

C. Paoay Church (Ilocos Norte)

Also known as San Agustin Church, the Paoay Church is known for its extravagant coral-block buttresses and ornate stone finials.

The church’s bell tower was said to have been used as a Filipino watchtower during the 1898 uprising against the Spaniards.

How to get there: The fastest way to get to Paoay Church would be to take a flight to Laoag from Manila. From Laoag International Airport, take a jeepney headed towards Paoay Ilocos Norte.

D. Miagao Church (Iloilo)

Founded in 1871 under the advocacy of Saint Thomas de Villanova, the Miagao Church was originally built on the highest point of town to guards against invaders.

In order to preserve the structure, restorations were completed last 1962.

How to get there:  Miagao is approximately one hour and 30 minutes away from Iloilo International Airport. From Manila, book a flight to Iloilo. Then, travelers can take a jeepney headed to Miagao from the Mohon terminal or the Iloilo Terminal Market.

2. Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park

Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park Palawan

  • Location: Palawan
  • Year inscribed in UNESCO: 1993
  • Type: Natural

With over 400 species of fish and 300 species of coral, the Tubbataha Reef is recognized as having the highest biodiversity in the world.

The 97,030-hectare Marine Protected Area is composed of two massive coral atolls, and one smaller coral structure.

Getting there: Since the site is over 10 hours away from Puerto Princesa, it can only be reached via a liveaboard boat. These boats stay out at sea for a minimum of four days.

3. The Banaue Rice Terraces

Rice Terraces

  • Location: Ifugao
  • Year inscribed in UNESCO: 1995
  • Type: Mixed

The Rice Terraces are a prime example of a living cultural landscape and a thriving adaptable agricultural system that can be traced back to over 2000 years.

With just basic tools, the Ifugao were able to create a 10,360 square kilometer masterpiece and an advanced irrigation system that has long been a crucial figure in their economy.

Getting there: From Manila, travelers will need to take a 9-10 hour bus ride to Banaue. You can catch the Ohayami Transit Bus which has a station in Sampaloc Manila. Buses usually leave every evening at around 10pm.

4. Historic City of Vigan

Vigan street

  • Location: Ilocos Sur
  • Year inscribed in UNESCO: 1999
  • Type: Cultural

Famous for its cobblestoned streets and colonial-style buildings, the historic city of Vigan is considered the best example of a preserved planned Spanish town in the entire Asia. It’s the only town in the Philippines that was spared from the World War II bombings.

Getting there: Vigan is an 8-10 hour car ride from Metro Manila via the MacArthur Highway. Travelers can choose to fly to the Laoag International Airport, which is an hour flight away from Manila.

5. Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park

Puerto Princesa Underground river Palawan

  • Location: Palawan
  • Year inscribed in UNESCO: 1999
  • Type: Natural

The Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park boasts towering limestone karst cliffs and an eight kilometer long underground river.

This site in Palawan has one of the richest ecosystems in the country and is home to one of the most treasured forests in Asia.

Getting there: First, travelers need to fly to Puerto Princesa. From the city, travelers need to take a two-hour drive to Sabang Beach. From there, the boat ride to the Subterranean River will only take a few minutes.

6. Mount Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary

  • Location: Davao Oriental
  • Year inscribed in UNESCO: 2014
  • Type: Natural

This Mindanao gem is the only heritage site in the region, and the latest Philippine addition after a five-year drought. The wildlife sanctuary’s diverse number of endemic species and large number of flora and fauna are among the top reasons for its inclusion in the list.

Getting there: From Manila, book a flight to Davao. From the Ecoland Bus Terminal in Davao City, take a bus to the Municipality of Governor Generoso. The trip will take approximately 3.5 hours.

Heritage Site Nomination Process:

The country’s National Commission for Culture and the Arts in collaboration with other heritage agencies are the designated bodies in charge of nominating sites for the Philippines.

A site can only be officially declared as a UNESCO heritage site once the official step-by-step nomination process has been followed. Here’s how:

  1. Tentative List – After countries have pledged to protect their cultural and natural heritage, they must list down an inventory of all important sites located within their boundaries. This inventory will then be known as the “Tentative list” which may be submitted for inscription for the coming five to ten years. The list can be updated at any time and should include clear details on how the country will manage the upkeep of the submitted locations.
  2. The Nomination File – From the Tentative List, the designated body can now decide which sites to submit for nomination. The World Heritage Center is available to provide advice in preparing the nomination file which should be as exhaustive and as complete as possible. Once done, the World Heritage Centre will send it to the appropriate Advisory Bodies for final evaluation.
  3. The Advisory Bodies – Two Advisory Bodies are in charge of evaluating the natural and cultural sites submitted: the International Council on Monuments and Sites (ICOMOS) and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). A third Advisory Body will then provide the committee with expert advice on conservation of cultural sites.
  4. The World Heritage Committee – Once a site has been evaluated, it is up to the intergovernmental World Heritage Committee to decide on its inscription. The committee only meets once a year to come up with an official list of newly added heritage sites.
  5. The Criteria for Selection – To be included on the list, the site must pass at least one of the ten criteria provided by the committee.

Philippines Sites in the Tentative List

The Philippines currently has 19 sites on the tentative list, these include various cultural and natural wonders around the archipelago. The government has yet to submit an official nomination file for each site.

  • Baroque Churches of the Philippines (Various locations)
  • Apo Reef Natural Park (Sulu Sea)
  • Batanes Protected landscapes and seascapes (Batanes)
  • Butuan Archeological Sites (Agusan del Norte)
  • Chocolate Hills Natural Monument (Bohol)
  • Coron Island Natural Biotic Area (Palawan)
  • El Nido-Taytay Managed Resource Protected Area (Palawan)
  • Kabayan Mummy Burial Caves (Benguet)
  • Mayon Volcano Natural Park (Albay)
  • Mounts Iglit-Baco National Park (Mindoro)
  • Neolithic Shell Midden Sites in Lal-lo and Gattaran (Cagayan)
  • Northern Sierra Madre Natural Park (Isabela)
  • Paleolithic Archaeological Sites (Cagayan Valley)
  • Petroglyphs and Petrographs of the Philippines (Various locations)
  • The Tabon Cave Complex and all of Lipuun (Palawan)
  • Turtle Islands Wildlife Sanctuary (Tawi-tawi)

Tick these sites off your list by booking your flights and hotel with Traveloka today!