Whether you’re looking to spot endemic wildlife, stroll among lush native flora, or bask in the picturesque views of mountains and oceans, here are four biodiverse spots to visit on your next nature trek.
When one thinks of an exciting nature trek, a safari tour in Africa is usually the first thing that comes to mind. After all, who wouldn’t want to get up close and personal with the continent’s majestic lions, panthers, and elephants? However, travelers need not journey too far to enjoy the wonders of mother earth. According to international sources like the Convention of Biological Diversity, the Philippines is one of 18 mega-biodiverse countries in the world.
In other words, the country holds 70 to 80 percent of the world’s plant and animal species—which is a lot, to say the least. The Pearl of the Orient is the home of numerous endemic flora and fauna that are unique to the country, too.
This is great news for nature lovers who want to go bird watching, take a few wildlife photographs, and simply immerse themselves in a lush landscape. Beautiful and meaningful experiences are only a domestic flight or bus ride away, and here are four spots which offer just that:
Mount Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary
Mount Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary (MHRWS) is a north-south running mountain ridge along the Pujada Peninsula in the southeastern part of the Eastern Mindanao Biodiversity Corridor.
The lush landform is Davao Oriental’s pride and joy, as well as the home of 341 endemic wildlife and plant species, including eight that can’t be found anywhere else in the country or globally. As such, UNESCO declared it a World Heritage Site in 2014, describing it as “a complete, substantially intact and highly diverse mountain ecosystem.”
Given the mountain’s semi-isolation and varying habitats, experts say that it likely contains numerous native species that they’ve yet to discover. Among the sanctuary’s rarer fauna are the Philippine Eagle and Philippine Cockatoo. Altogether, scientists estimate that the area contains 1,380 different species of wildlife. The area is highly protected, due in large part to the efforts of indigenous communities that surround it.
Though the mountain was previously closed to trekkers at the start of the COVID pandemic, it reopened in 2022, as per the Manila Bulletin. Of course, offices managing the sanctuary only permit bookings from its accredited climb organizer, JM Boundless Adventure Tour Assistance Services. What’s more, only 15 trekkers at a time are allowed to tour the mountain.
Travelers can look forward to seeing the mountain’s 225-hectare pygmy forest, which contains a field of bonsai trees that are centuries old according to Rappler.
Samar Island Natural Park
Next up on this list is Samar Island Natural Park (SINP), another buzzing center of biodiversity in the country that hosts “the country’s largest unfragmented tracts of lowland rainforest and contiguous karst formation,” as per its official website.
It also houses 38 species of mammals, 215 species of birds, 51 species of reptiles, and 26% amphibians, with half or more than half of these species being endemic. The park also boasts 1,000 species of plants, around 53% of which are native, as per its official website.
There’s plenty to explore, as SINP covers an area of 333,000 hectares across 35 municipalities, three cities, and three provinces in Samar. So what exactly can tourists do in this vast expanse of nature? Well, for starters, they can explore the park’s array of natural caves, take a torpedo boat extreme ride in its Ulot River, take a dip in its Pinipisakan and Amandaraga Falls, just to name a few.
Candaba Bird Sanctuary
Birdwatchers are in for a treat in Pampanga’s Candaba Bird Sanctuary. Granted, the other places on this list also boast plenty of gorgeous and rare bird species, but people explicitly call this ecological spot a bird sanctuary for a reason.
The Candaba Marshland is a 32,000-hectare area made up of swamps, marshes, and freshwater ponds, as per The Philippine Clearing House Mechanism. As such, it’s the optimal habitat for 5,000 to 10,000 bird species per year.
Experts have recorded 57 species of migratory birds in the area, including the grey heron, black-winged stilt, Chinese pond heron, great cormorant, and black-faced spoonbill (the latter three being particularly rare species in the country).
Since the marshland is a hotspot for various bird species, the government has recognized it as an Important Bird Area (IBA) with code PH007. In 2004, a municipal resolution declared the whole of Candaba, Pampanga as a bird sanctuary—effectively prohibiting the poaching and killing of these wild birds.
Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park
Last but not least on the list is Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park, yet another one of the country’s UNESCO World Heritage Sites. This vibrant park is located at the center of the Sulu sea, and encompasses the Tubbataha and Jessie Beazley Reefs. Travelers looking for an unforgettable diving spot can look no further, as the park covers nearly “100,000 hectares of high quality marine habitats,” as per UNESCO.
Some key species include 13 kinds of cetaceans (whales and dolphins), 11 kinds of sharks and rays, and the endangered hawksbill turtle and green turtle. The park also houses 360 species of coral and almost 700 species of fish. UNESCO added that the reefs are also the home of “one of the few remaining colonies of breeding seabirds in the region.”
Scientists around the world travel to the reefs to study the species they hold, as the park is one of the oldest ecosystems in the country. Besides being a living laboratory, the gorgeous park also welcomes interested tourists, as visitors can help fund conservation efforts.
According to the park’s official website, its dive season is only three months long, running from mid-March to mid-June.To get to the park, one simply needs to take a regular flight to Puerto Princesa. Dive operators will then transport guests to the pier from the airport—however, the trip to the park itself takes 10 hours. Boats often leave after dinner and arrive in the early morning for smoother dives.