With 81 provinces scattered over more than 7,600 islands, the Philippines plays host to thousands of festivals — or fiestas — every year. Each village keeps its own calendar of events, including religious gatherings, harvest festivals and cultural celebrations.
Trimming that itinerary of excitement down is quite the task, but if you’re coming to the Philippines to experience the country’s colorful festival culture, we suggest starting your journey with these 10 standouts.
This is by far the most celebrated festival in the Philippines. Locals and tourists fly to Cebu to commemorate the feast of Santo Niño de Cebu, a Roman Catholic icon given to the islanders by the Spanish upon their arrival in 1521.
Every Feast Day of Santo Niño (or the third Sunday of January), the weekend event is marked by the Sinulog Fluvial Parade on Saturday and the all-day Santo Niño Procession right after Sunday Mass. Don’t mistake this procession for a mundane trot down the street — it’s more like a Philippine Mardi Gras filled with merriment, dancing and elaborate costumes.
Make sure to pick a hotel along the procession route, which gives you a great vantage point to watch the colorful action. As much as you would like to dance in the streets, this is a watch-on-the-sidelines kind of festival.
Sinulog is usually an all-day drinking party, so when locals offer you a shot of gin or brandy, the best response is “bottoms up!”
Considered the mother of two popular Philippine festivals (Sinulog in Cebu and Dinagyang in Iloilo), this roughly 800-year-old celebration pays homage to the original settlers of Panay island, the Aetas — hence the name “ati-atihan,” which means “to act like Atis” (another spelling of “Aetas”). Once the Spanish arrived, the festival took on a religious bent.
Today, Kalibo’s Ati-Atihan festival happens every Feast Day of the Santo Niño (third Sunday of January), but the street dancers and performers are still adorned with brightly hued tribal outfits reminiscent of those worn by island’s indigenous inhabitants.
Don’t be afraid to join in on the party. Sing and dance along with the crowds, share a drink or two with locals and step it up by coming in your best Ati-Atihan look.
On the fourth Sunday of January, Iloilo City takes the reins with its own gathering to honor Santo Niño. Despite the busy festive season, most locals and tourists would agree that this is the best time to experience this Panay island metropolis.
Dinagyang literally means “merrymaking” in the local dialect, but around the country, it is (unofficially) hailed as the queen of Philippine festivals. The weekend is divided into three parts: Friday’s Fluvial Procession, Saturday’s Kasadyahan Cultural Competition and Sunday’s Ati Tribe Competition.
Unlike Sinulog and Ati-Atihan, Dinagyang events have five performance stages around town and only those with tickets can watch. In a way, it’s more organized, but the fun is still top-notch. The streets are usually closed to vehicles, so it’s the best time to put on your comfortable walking shoes and explore the city on foot.
This month-long flower festival takes place in Baguio City, the “summer capital of the Philippines” four hours north of Manila. Named after the Kankanaey word for “season of blooming,” Panagbenga began as a way to honor the strength and resilience of the people of Baguio after a devastating earthquake in July 1990.
The local government releases a schedule of the month’s festivities, but the most highly anticipated feature is the Grand Float Parade along Session Road on the last Sunday of February.
Thousands of visitors flock to Baguio for this annual event, so make sure you book your accommodations well in advance. Since Session Road (the city’s main thoroughfare) is closed for parades and there’s a high influx of visitors, the whole city can become congested, so expect heavy traffic.
Commemorated every May 15, Pahiyas is one of the best fiestas to experience, especially for those looking for an adventure just a few hours from Manila.
Honoring the patron saint of farmers San Isidro Labrador, this thanksgiving festival sees locals in Lucban and the neighboring town of Sariaya adorn their houses with brilliantly colored decorations made of grains and leaves called kiping — the intricate designs are a sight to behold.
It is said that precipitation during Pahiyas is considered a blessing, much like rain for the fields and farms. So pack accordingly and, if it does rain, you can still dance and celebrate with the locals.
Parada ng Lechon (Roasted Pig Parade)
Filipinos know that the best way to honor a revered saint is through a gloriously roasted pig.
Every June 24, the town of Balayan in Batangas Province remembers St. John the Baptist with an outlandish parade of lechon (roasted pig) and a town-wide water fight, or basaan. Often the pigs are not just stuffed with mouth-watering herbs and spices, but each lechon is also decked out as a famous celebrity or personality for the procession.
The parade usually starts at 9 a.m. and ends around 1 p.m., but the water fight continues throughout the day with people in balconies often dousing passersby on the street with ice water. So, if you’re planning on taking part in this deliciously fun festival, make sure you bring extra clothes, rubber-soled shoes and waterproof pouches for your gadgets.
Just like Pahiyas in Quezon Province, this thanksgiving festival observes the bounty of Davao, the largest city by land area in the Philippines. But rather than a religious holiday, Kadayawan is a cultural fiesta honoring the island’s natural resources and varied cultures — the urban area is home to 11 different tribes, after all.
Set the third weekend of August, the gathering features a vibrant array of costumed performers taking part in a lively street dance called Indak-Indak sa Kadalanan, followed by the colorful Kadayawan floral parade.
This is a harvest festival, so make sure you fill up on Davao’s freshest fruits and vegetables. One of the best views in the city can be found at Marco Polo Davao, the sister hotel of Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star Marco Polo Ortigas Manila.
Known as the City of Smiles, Bacolod is home to one of the most artistic gatherings in the Asian archipelago: the MassKara Festival. The name itself is a portmanteau of “mass” (group of people) and “cara” (Spanish word for “face”).
Held the third weekend of October, the cheerful festival began in the 1980s as a way to raise people’s spirits during a regional recession. Today, MassKara is basically a huge street dance party with colorful masks and costumes that runs along Lacson Street, Bacolod’s main thoroughfare.
One of the country’s many art hubs, Angono plays host to an annual spectacle you just have to see to believe.
On November 22 and 23, the town’s best artisans create 12-foot-tall papier mâché and bamboo effigies — or higantes — to honor San Clemente, the patron saint of fishermen. Every year, these higantes are marched through the streets as part of the joyous town fiesta.
This unusual attraction draws hordes of tourists and locals to Angono to witness the parade of giants, often clad in colorful outfits. Despite being near Manila (about an 80-minute drive), it is best to travel early to avoid traffic and scope out the best spot to enjoy the parade.
Giant Lantern Festival
In the Philippines, it isn’t unusual to find Christmas lanterns or parol displayed in windows as early as September.
In the city of San Fernando in Pampanga, for instance, people flock every second Saturday of December to witness Ligligan Parul (or the Giant Lantern Festival). At nearly 20 feet in diameter, these giant displays feature intricate light shows set to classic Christmas tunes, culminating in a fierce competition between lantern makers.
The illuminated spectacle makes for a fun family holiday experience. To make the most out of your trip, get VIP tickets in advance so you can be awed by the showdown in the comfort of the sitting area.
The province of Pampanga is also known as one of the culinary capitals of the Philippines, so plan to drop by a few of the many iconic restaurants for the ultimate gourmet tour as well.