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The Visayas

The Visayas is a group of islands between Luzon and Mindanao. The main islands are Samar, Panay, Negros, Cebu and Leyte, the latter famous as the island first sighted by the Spanish explorer Ferdinand Magellan in the 16th century and as the landing point for the American liberation forces in 1944. Samar and Leyte are linked by the San Juanico Bridge, the longest in the country.

Cebu City: Cebu City is the main resort of the Visayas. Cebu is the most densely populated island, a commercial centre with an international harbour, and the Philippines' second city. Sights include Magellan's Cross, a wooden cross planted by Magellan himself over 450 years ago to commemorate the baptism into the Christian faith of Rajah Humabon and his wife Juana with 800 followers, and Fort San Pedro, the oldest and smallest Spanish fort in the country, which was built on the orders of Spanish conquistador Miguel Lopez de Legazpi in 1565.

Carcar: Carcar town, south of Cebu City, has many preserved Castillian houses, gardens and churches. The Chapel of the Last Supper in Mandaue City features hand-carved life-size statues of Christ and his apostles dating back to Spanish times. The Magellan Monument on Mactan Island was raised in 1886 to mark the spot where Magellan died, felled by the fierce chieftain, Datu Lapu-Lapu, who refused to submit to the Spanish conquerors. There is also a monument to Datu Lapu-Lapu honouring him as the first Filipino patriot. Maribago is the centre of the region's guitar-making industry. As well as many historical sites there are popular hotels, beach clubs and resorts.

Iloilo: Iloilo on Panay is an agricultural province producing root crops, vegetables, cocoa, coffee and numerous tropical fruits. The attractions include beach resorts and, in Iloilo City (reached by air), the 18th-century Miagao Church, a unique piece of Baroque colonial architecture with a facade decorated with impressions of coconut and papaya trees. Sicogon Island is a haven for scuba divers, and has mountains and virgin forests to explore. Boracay Island is another such island paradise, accessible by air via Kalibo, followed by a bus or jeepney ride to Malay, and finally by ferry or pumpboat to Cataclan. A survey considered its powdery-fine white-sand beach to be amongst the best in the world.

Bohol Island: Bohol Island, just across the straits from Cebu in Central Visayas, is the site of some of the country's most fascinating natural wonders; hundreds of limestone hills, some 30m (100ft) high, that in summer look like oversized chocolate drops, earning them the name 'Chocolate Hills'. Covered by thin grass that dries and turns brown in the summer sun, they are a strange spectacle with mounds rising up from the flatlands, and are situated about 55km (34 miles) northeast of Tagbilaran City, the island's capital. Bohol also offers handsome white sand beaches and pretty secluded coves, accessible via good roads. The island is a coconut-growing area and its local handicrafts are mostly of woven materials: grass mats, hats and baskets. Baclayon Church merits a visit, as it is probably the oldest stone church in the Philippines, dating back to 1595. The island can be reached by plane or ferry. The air journey from Cebu to Tagbilaran takes 40 minutes. Ferries go from Cebu to Tagbilaran or Tubigon, another port north of the capital.

Mindanao & the South

Mindanao is the second-largest and the most southerly island, with a very different feel from the rest of the country. A variety of Muslim ethnic groups live here. In the southwestern tip of Mindanao is Zamboanga City, considered by some as the most romantic place in the Philippines and a favourite resort amongst tourists. The city is noted for its seashells, unspoiled tropical scenery and magnificent flowers. Zamboanga was founded by the

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