Articles Special Article UNESCO Heritage Sites in the Philippines

UNESCO Heritage Sites in the Philippines

There are 9 sites in the Philippines inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List. How many have you visited?

The Philippines is a country filled to the brim with natural treasures and cultural landmarks, nine of which have been identified as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. From the well-preserved Spanish churches in Ilocos region to the natural conservation sites in Palawan and Davao Oriental, the Philippine islands do not skimp on heritage and environmental charm. How many have you been lucky enough to visit?

Church of Santo Tomas de Villanueva in Miag-ao, Iloilo

Facade of Church of Santo Tomas de Villanueva, a UNESCO heritage site in the Philippines

One of the four Baroque Churches of the Philippines, the Church of Santo Tomas de Villanueva stands at the highest point of the coastal Iloilo town. Known for the stone carving of patron saint St. Christopher carrying Jesus Christ while holding a palm tree in local dress, adorning the front façade of the structure - the Miag-ao Church is a beautiful demonstration of the marriage between Baroque church architecture and local sensibilities.

Church of San Agustin in Intramuros, Manila

Centered interiors of San Agustin Church in Manila, Philippines

The San Agustin Church in Intramuros, Manila is one of the most famous and widely-used Baroque Churches on the list, and for good reason. The property owned by the Agustinian Order is located at the center of the Philippines' most historic city, is very well-maintained despite being the oldest stone church in the country, and boasts grand testaments of high Baroque style in its construction.

The intricate retablos/ altars are particularly Baroque, and the wall buttresses separating the criptocollateral chapels even more so. The bell towers attached to the main church are constructed in the classic Baroque style, and the tromp l'oeil style ceiling is European colonial in its disposition.

Paoay Church in Ilocos Norte

Paoay Church facade showcasing earthquake baroque architecture

The San Agustin Church in Ilocos Norte, better known as Paoay Church, is another of the four Baroque Churches of the Philippines built between the 16th and 18th centuries - at the height of Spanish colonization. Specific Baroque features such as the buttresses (contrafuertes) and the pyramidal finials of the outer walls and towers are seen in the stone-and-lime-consolidated sacred structure of the North. These same features of the religious build have been well-preserved and remain intact, making the Paoay Church - like the other three - a compelling cultural piece of Philippine history.

Church of Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion in Santa Maria, Ilocos Sur

Side profile of Nuestra Senora de la Asuncion Church in Ilocos Sur

Initially constructed in 1567 and rebuilt in 1765, the Santa Maria Church in Ilocos Sur is a classic example of Baroque architecture in the Philippines. Similar with the other 3 Baroque churches, European church design and construction are reinforced with local materials and native motifs to create a new church-building tradition that's uniquely Filipino.

The Church of Nuestra Señora de la Asuncion in Santa Maria in particular boasts a defensive wall and a separate church bell tower that highlight Baroque elements and other intricate styles.

Historic City of Vigan in Ilocos Sur

3 people riding a kalesa in the middle of Calle Crisologo, Vigan

The Historic City of Vigan in Ilocos Sur is undoubtedly the most marvelous time capsule to a Spanish colonial town dating back to 16th century Filipinas. Lined with ancestral homes and structures that reflect the coming together of Spanish, European, and Chinese influence in Ilocos, Vigan and its historic streets are not only a sight to behold but is also a bustling area of commerce and culture. Stores and museums fill the heritage houses, while restaurants and bars crowd the ancient buildings.

While the construction is remarkably Spanish colonial, the goods sold and organizations supported on Calle Crisologo and the like are influenced by local cultures as well as Chinese practices. Inabel fabrics from heritage weavers are aplenty and Chinese clay jars from local traditional factories are particularly popular among the tourists that visit.

Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras in Ifugao Province

Zoomed out picture of Banaue Rice Terraces

Traced as far back as pre-colonial Philippines, the Rice Terraces of the Philippine Cordilleras is a living cultural landscape that follows the natural grooves of Ifugao's mountain ranges. The five mountain terraces, with Banaue as the most popular, are regarded as sophisticated and intricate agricultural systems thanks to the painstaking work of the Ifugao tribe and their ancestors over the past 2000 years.

The heritage of the ancient civilization behind the rice terraces showcase a stark contrast to the modern world, and is a great symbol of the Ifugao community's sustainable and communal system of agriculture and social life.

Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park in Palawan

Colorful reefs in front with diver at the back

The stunning Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park is a protected marine area off the shores of Palawan island, in the middle of Sulu Sea. Spanning almost 100,000 hectares of quality marine habitats, the undisturbed reef ecosystem is home to over 700 fish species and 360 coral kinds - 90% of all coral species found in the Philippines.

A demonstration of ecological balance in marine wild, the reefs support the presence of predator species like tiger and hammerhead sharks, along with the continued growth or large fauna like green turtles and barracuda. Critically endangered species such as the Napoleon wrasse and Frigatebird from Christmas Island are also known to regularly visit the marine ecosystem.

Mount Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary in Davao Oriental

Close up photo of the Philippine Eagle looking upward

The Mount Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary is a naturally significant UNESCO heritage site located along the Pujada Peninsula of Davao Oriental. With an elevation range of 75-1,637m above sea level, the mountain range sanctuary is a critical and safe haven for various flora and fauna in the Philippines. It represents a highly diverse mountain ecosystem, and is considered home to a large number of endemic species such as the Philippine Eagle and the Philippine Cockatoo.

Aside from the animalia that is known to reside in the area and those still waiting to be discovered, the Mount Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary also boasts colorful and lush forestry. There is a tropical "bonsai" forest that crowns the property, and a number of trees that are endemic to the area - Shorea polysperma, Shorea astylosa, and the orchid Paphiopedilum adductum. All in all, the Mount Hamiguitan Range Wildlife Sanctuary is home to at least 418 plant and 146 animal species.

Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park in Palawan

Group of people in life vests and helmets entering the cave in Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park by boat

Located on the mid-western coast of Palawan island, the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park is an impressive display of karst landscapes and old-growth forestry and wildlife. The national park features a long underground river spanning 8.2 km and flows directly to the sea, as well as a limestone cave with dramatic stalactite and stalagmite rock formations.

These unique features make the Puerto Princesa Subterranean River National Park a beloved tourist destination, but it's also thanks to these resources that outstanding biodiversity such as rich tree flora and endemic birdlife thrives in the area.