Ati-Atihan Festival, January
Moriones Festival, April
Crucifixion Ceremonies, April
Rodeo Masbateño, May
MassKara Festival, October
New Year is a ‘superpeak’ period, and hotel rates can quadruple in resort areas. Away from the eastern seaboard, the weather is usually pretty good – relatively cool and dry, although rain can linger into January.
Procession of the Black Nazarene
A life-size and highly revered black image of Christ in Quiapo Church (Manila) is paraded through the streets in massive processions on 9 January and again during the week before Easter (Holy Week).
The Philippines’ most famous and riotous festival is this weeklong mardi gras in Kalibo on Panay, which peaks in the third week of January. Other towns in the region, such as Cadiz on Negros and Iloilo, hold similar festivals on the weekend nearest 26 January.
The granddaddy of Cebu’s fiestas sees celebrants engaged in sinulog dancing, a unique two-steps-forward, one-step-back shuffle meant to imitate the rhythm of the river.
It’s peak season for foreign travellers, so book ahead. The Christmas winds continue to howl, thrilling kitesurfers, while surf season continues in San Fernando (La Union) and butanding (whale shark) activity picks up in Donsol.
Chinese New Year
The lunar new year in late January or early February is popular even among non-Chinese Filipinos. Dragon dances, street parties and huge fireworks displays take place in Manila.
Panagbenga Flower Festival
During the last week in February, the streets in the northern mountain city of Baguio come alive with song, dance and a grand floral parade with spectacular floats.
Everything shuts down during Holy Week, which leads up to Easter, when sinakulo (passion plays) and pasyon (a recitation of the Passion of Christ) are staged throughout the country. Resort prices again hit ‘superpeak’ levels.
In Bontoc, deep in the heart of the Cordillera of North Luzon, surrounding communities come together for parades, decked out in traditional tribal dress.
Marinduque’s colourful Moriones Festival is a weeklong sinakulo (passion play) during which the streets are overrun by masked locals engaging in mock sword fights and playing pranks on bystanders.
The Easter crucifixion ceremony in San Fernando (Pampanga), north of Manila, presents a macabre tableau, with devotees literally being nailed to wooden crosses. Similar re-enactments of Christ’s suffering occur in several towns.
Lenten Festival of Herbal Preparation
On the ‘spooky’ island of Siquijor, faith healers and witch doctors gather around a big pot on Black Saturday, chanting and preparing a medicinal concoction some say cures all that ails you.
Scorching heat, beaches packed with vacationing locals and light winds can make this an uncomfortable time to travel, although flat seas ease boat travel. Consider cooler highland destinations such as the Cordillera of North Luzon.
Cowboy up for Masbate’s electric weeklong rodeo in late April or early May, with bull-riding, lasso contests and other events that will have you clicking your spurs.
Flores de Mayo
Throughout the country, May sees girls in white dresses strewing flowers around an image of the Virgin Mary in a centuries-old custom known as Flores de Mayo. Makati’s red-light district hosts a somewhat infamous version.
This famous fiesta takes place around 15 May in the town of Lucban, south of Manila, where houses are decked out with colourful kiping (leaf-shaped rice wafers) decorations, which are later eaten.
A street party lasting the entire month of May in Legazpi, Bicol region, with nightly street markets, pop-up bars, music stages, dance performances, chilli-eating contests and more.
The onset of the wet season brings welcome respite from the heat. June also marks the start of typhoon season, so check the radar and reroute if there’s a big red blob heading your way.
This ‘painted festival’ in Tacloban on 29 June celebrates pre-Spanish traditional tattooing practices, albeit using water-based paints for the festival’s body decorations.
In the third week of June, residents of Puerto Princesa, Palawan, flood the grounds of the Provincial Capitol Building in a massive display of merrymaking.
Hugyaw Silay Kansilay Festival
This weeklong festival in Silay, Negros, celebrates the founding of the city, culminating in gaudily dressed dancers parading down the main street and a ‘dance competition’ in the main plaza.
It’s the rainiest month (except for on the eastern seaboard, where it’s the driest), so you’ll get fabulous discounts on accommodation. Durian season begins in Mindanao and surf season launches in Siargao.
Kadayawan sa Dabaw Festival
Davao’s big festival showcases its Muslim, Chinese and tribal influences with parades, performances, and fruit and flower displays. It’s held in the third week of August.
Things start to dry out after the heavy rains of August and September, but typhoons are still common. High-season prices kick in towards the end of the month. Christmas music is already ubiquitous in the malls.
Mischievous masked men stir the masses into a dancing frenzy on the streets of Bacolod, capital of Negros Occidental, during the weekend closest to 19 October.
The northern Mindanao island of Camiguin goes crazy for this small yellow fruit, with parades, dance contests and of course a pageant.
Todos los Santos
Families laden with food gather at the local cemetery to spend All Saints Day (1 November) remembering their departed loved ones. It’s a surprisingly festive occasion.
The Christmas music reaches a crescendo, and the northeast Christmas winds ramp up, launching kitesurfing season in Boracay and surf season in northwest Luzon.
Shariff Kabungsuan Festival
This festival in Cotabato on Mindanao from 15 to 19 December celebrates the arrival of Islam in the region and includes river parades of decorated boats.
What The Fiesta Is Going On?
Nearly every barangay (village or neighbourhood) has one. And there's one nearly every day. Fiestas, an integral part of Filipino life and identity, are generally associated with celebrations during the feast of the patron saint. However, like other facets of the culture, some are best understood as the result of syncretism; older rituals and beliefs related to bountiful harvests and abundant seas have been blended into a Catholic architecture, often at the behest of missionaries centuries ago. There are still festivities strictly concerned with planting and indigenous, pre-Hispanic traditions. Regardless of the origins, they're jubilant affairs, with entire towns spruced up for loved ones' homecomings.