Luzon is the Philippines’ largest island and is composed of a lot of provinces, regions, cities, towns, cultures. As such, it is home to the country’s best festivals. Most of Luzon may be reached via land travel, unlike the Visayas, which is comprised of several islands and islets. If you live in Luzon, make it a point to see these six festivals in your lifetime. You can even do it in a year, as it seems that the best of Luzon festivals are spread out throughout the year and a major one is held almost every month.
The top six Luzon Festivals are:
1. The Pahiyas Festival
Held on May 15 of every year, the Pahiyas Festival is carried out to give thanks to San Isidro Labrador for the good harvest. It is one of the country’s oldest festivals tracing its origin way back to the 16th century. Back then, farmers bought food to the foot of Mt. Banahaw as a sign of Thanksgiving, but eventually this tradition — done in the hopes of having a good harvest year — was modified to make the church the central offering place.
The Pahiyas is commonly associated with Lucban, Quezon, but it is also celebrated in two other Quezon towns: Sariaya and Tayabas.
Why you should be there: Pahiyas is one of the most lively, most colorful and the most elaborate festival in Luzon. The whole place comes alive in color and music. Not to mention Lucban food that includes Lucban’s world famous longanisa, broas and kiping, the star of the pahiyas.
It used to be that February was Baguio City’s least favorable month, experiencing a doldrum in the number of visitor arrivals that usually peak in December (for the holiday season) and March or April (for the Lenten Season), on top of the summer months. However, with the introduction of the Panagbenga Festival, February became a time of pageantry, fun and merrymaking in Baguio City as the city becomes covered with the most beautiful flowers in the region.
Together with its blooms, Panagbenga also showcases the different cultures of its 11 tribes such as the Igorots and the Ibalois. In fact, the street dance of the Panagbenga features dances that are inspired by these cultural tribes.
Why you should be there: Simultaneously get a taste of Baguio’s tribal culture and the Tournament of Roses parade.
3. Fertility Dance at Obando
Couples who wish to have a child flock to Obando, Bulacan, and every May 17 to 19 to join the street dance in Honor of Santa Clara. The street dancing is said to be a prayer made by the couple. The belief stems from early practice and is said to be effective, as some have been miraculously blessed with an offspring soon after they joined the dancing.
Why you should be there: The benefits are obvious if you are childless, but for other people, the Obando dance is only one of the very few religious Luzon festivals that featured street dancing on a major part of the area.
4. Bangus Festival
The bangus, or milkfish, festival pays tribute to the City’s biggest industry and features various activities that center on the fish. From deboning to eating, from the longest to the heaviest and even to the most beautiful, each year attempts to put out a record with its bangus competitions.
Why you should be there: Aside from being there while the City or its citizens bag a possible Guinness World Record, the festival also features street dancing contests, the search for the Bangus Queen (a beauty pageant), fluvial parades, and a citywide sale for the shopaholics on a budget!
5. Pagoda sa Wawa
The river festival is held every July, when a barge carrying a huge decorated float is released along the Bocaue River. This is where dozens and possibly hundreds of people partake on good food and great music. The floating feast actually commemorates Wawa’s Holy Cross, which was first found floating on the Bocaue River.
Why you should be there: Experience a one-of-a-kind river feast. After a tragedy left dozens of people dead a few years ago, the Wawa festival has been closely scrutinized to ensure the safety of future pagoda riders.
6. Bacao Festival
If Dagupan has its Bangus Festival, Isabela’s folks hold their Bacao festival in honor of St. Joseph for their good harvest of corn. Like the Bangus Festival, activities are more provincial featuring street dancing, rodeos, float competitions, and other contests. Held for five days starting on March 15.
Why you should be there: The Bacao Festival parade’s carabao dressed in costumes, and has a contest for the best-dressed beast of burden.
Festivals are a fun way to discover the culture of a people. And the islands of the Visayas are hosts to a variety of festivals that deserve any traveler’s attention. The many islands of the Visayas come alive every so often with festivals and fiestas that are marked with merry-making, color, pomp and pageantry, so much so that these events have come into world-wide acclaim.
Festivals are also a time when natives now living abroad come home to relive their pasts and re-experience their roots. Tourists from other areas or countries also visit to get a taste of the best of Philippine culture. The influx of tourism became the very fuel that made organizers think of new activities to spice up and differentiate their festival and attract more tourists.
However, there are five festivals that have stood out in recent years. Here are the Top Five Visayan Festivals that you should not miss in your lifetime!
1. Sinulog Festival
Location: Cebu City Philippines
The Sinulog Festival is held in Cebu and lasts well over a week, culminating in the street parade or Mardi Gras that falls on the third Sunday of every January. The feast venerates the Senyor Santo Nino de Cebu. For many years, Cebu’s Sinulog has featured different activities such as the Miss Cebu beauty pageant, the fluvial procession, the solemn street procession, the film-making contests, the arts contests, among others. But most people, especially non-locals, equate Sinulog with the Grand Parade.
During the Grand Sinulog Parade, dozens of contingents representing the different locales of Cebu City and Cebu province take part in different categories: free interpretation dance, traditional Sinulog dance, best float and best “higantes”. In the recent years, guest contingents have been allowed to participate and join the Cebuanos in the fun dancing, including contingents from Manila, other provinces and even other countries. Major thoroughfares of the city are closed for this parade, as people flock the streets and the Abellana Sports Complex to watch the pomp and pageantry, the burst of color and the lively beat of drums.
It is rare that an entire city joins in the celebration of one festival, but Cebu has always primed its citizenry to celebrate as a whole during Sinulog. No wonder that even as 20 years have gone by, Sinulog is still the most looked-forward event for all Cebuanos.
2. Ati-Atihan Festival
Location: Kalibo, Aklan Philippines
Aklan plays host to the annual Ati-atihan festival, coinciding with the third Sunday of January. Like the Sinulog Festival of Cebu, the Ati-atihan celebrates the many miracles of the Child Jesus or Santo Nino.
The festival is probably more well-known for the black paint that most participants put on their bodies. The black paint that covers the whole body contrasts starkly with the colorful costumes and ornaments.
The Ati-Atihan, though honoring the Santo Nino, has tribal and pagan origins. But together with the city’s Christianization, the festival has taken a new meaning.
3. Dinagyang Festival
Location: Ilo-ilo City Philippines
If you have the Sinulog or the Ati-atihan on your travel itinerary to catch the colorful Visayan Festivals in January, then surely your next stop would be Ilo-ilo, where the Dinagyang Festival is held on the fourth Sunday of January.
The Dinagyang Festival still venerates the Child Jesus, but also commemorates the conversion of Filipino tribes to Christianity.
Today’s Dinagyang Festival is much anticipated with several events serving as highlights, including the search for Iloilo’s prettiest ladies in the Miss Dinagyang pageant, the Atis street dancing, and the Kasadyahan street dancing. Like the Sinulog and Ati-atihan, prayers, drum beats and colorful costumes litter the streets of Iloilo for the Dinagyang.
4. MassKara Festival
Location: Bacolod City Philippines
Bacolod City holds its Charter Day on the 19th of October every year. Coinciding with its Charter Day is the MassKara Festival, a week-long activity that is currently dubbed as the Festival of Smile, a take on Bacolod’s own monicker as the City of Smiles.
Unlike other festivals in the Visayas, however, the MassKara is not religious or tribal in nature. Instead, the Festival ironically traces its roots on tragedy. The festival was first held in 1980, at a time when sugar cane and sugar prices plummeted and the livelihood of Bacolenos suffered. It was also during that year that a terrible maritime tragedy left more than 700 Negrenses dead when the Don Juan and the tanker Tacloban City collided with each other and sank.
To eclipse the tragedy and the sorrow, Bacolod held its first MassKara Festival. The term MassKara was coined by Ely Santiago, meaning many faces. It also became the festival’s trademark: smiling masks worn by the participants.
Today’s Masskara features the search for the festival queen, street carnivals, competitions, food fests, sports and music events, garden and agricultural shows and other activities.
5. Pintado-Kasadyahan Festival
Location: Tacloban City Philippines
Lasting a whole month, Tacloban City holds the Pintados-Kasadyahan Festival culminating on June 29. The current festival also includes the Leyte Kasadyaan Festival of Festivals, the Pagrayhak Grand Parade, and the Pintados Ritual Dance Presentation. The festival commemorates and fleshes out how the Spaniards saw the early Filipinos when they arrived in Leyte: bodies filled with tattoos and holding weapons which were previously heated in open fire. In fact, pintados is how the tattoo-covered natives were called, and that’s how the festival got its name.
Few beach destinations in the country offer more than the crystal-clear water and the sand. There is only one island perhaps than can transport one from the tropical paradise of the beach and into a time-warp right into the heart of Spanish Catholic Philippines. That island is Bantayan.
Bantayan got its name ater its role in during the Spanish time, a guard post for marauding Moros attacking Christian towns in the Visayas. Aging watchtowers can still be seen especially in some parts of the island.
Now sitting peacefully surrounded by progress and modernity, Bantayan continues to lay back to its old Philippine charm and the embrace of the warm people of the island, while welcoming the throng of tourists out to experience the unique offering of its one-of-a-kind island.
These days, perhaps Bantayan is known for its “fiesta” during Good Friday – a traditional solemn day for pious and mourning for Christians. It is not actually a celebration. Not in this solidly Catholic island. Pope Leo XII gave a special exemption for the people of Bantayan so they can eat pork on Good Friday at the end of the traditional religious procession. As fishermen refuse to go out to sea for religious considerations, there is no fish and therefore nothing else to eat but pork. Known for his conservatism, Pope Leo XII did this one thing right. In fact, a copy of the order can still be seen inside the museum in the Peter and Paul Church in the heart of Bantayan town.
The procession on Good Friday is an event on itself. Old families from the island own one carriage depicting a point in the life of Jesus Christ and on Good Friday, this old neighborhood rivalry comes out into the open (in a good way, of course) as families try to outdo each other for the brightest, most colorful (and most followed by the crowd) carriage. Children are also dressed by their parents into the traditional garb of saints, to ask the saint to watch over the child. This is a sight to see indeed. The feast follows after the procession.
Economically, Bantayan is known as the egg basket of Cebu with its huge poultry farms. The famous danggit (dried fish) of Cebu is also produced en masse in the island.
For many travelers and beach lovers, Bantayan is a special island where relaxation, culture and history are rolled into one.