Me and my Philippines: Fina Joven

    Annset Holidays president Fina Joven talks about the top Philippine destinations for 2016 and some of the best places to stay in the country

    By Monica De Leon

    Kulasa beach, one of El Nido's sandy beaches enveloped by towering limestone cliffs. Photo by El Nido Resorts
    Boracay in Aklan, El Nido in Palawan, Bohol, Cebu, Manila are the top destinations for 2016.

    Boracay is a total destination. It has a beautiful beach, bargains, international cuisine, nightlife, activities. Our guests love Boracay’s watersports and sunset cruising. 

    Some of the most popular high-end resorts for the European market are Shangri-La’s Boracay Resort & Spa, Discovery Shores in Station 1, and the newly opened The Lind Boracay, also in Station 1. Shangri-La is a favorite because it's very private and offers almost everything. It has its own beach and a shuttle to take guests to the more touristy part of Boracay. Discovery Shores is preferred for its location in the quieter area of White Beach and its service. The Lind is fairly new and any hotel that’s new always tends to be attractive. We’ve been receiving good feedback about the hotel. It’s also favored for its location.

    Cebu is another important travel destination and we usually combine it with Bohol and Boracay in our tours.

    One of my favorite resorts in Cebu is Plantation Bay Resort and Spa. It has huge salt water swimming pools and its rooms have character. 


    BD Bucket List #296 - Sumilon Island, Cebu, Philippines (by @jaypeeswing)

    A photo posted by Jeremy Jauncey (@jeremyjauncey) on

    Sumilon in Cebu has a lot of old churches, a grotto of Our Lady of Fatima, and a quiet, fine white-sand beach. It also has a lake nearby. Bluewater Sumilon has beautiful rooms and is a good place to stay. It now offers glamping, which includes meals, free bar drinks, and barbecue right by the beach. Sumilon is close to Oslob, popular for its whaleshark interaction tours

    El Nido has fantastic lagoons, swimming and kayaking, beaches, limestone rock formations, and caves. At El Nido Resorts, even if you're not a water person, you'll still enjoy the scenery. 

    Bohol's Chocolate Hills. By Mike Alcid
    Bohol is one of my personal favorites because of its varied attractions—the Chocolate Hills and a place in Carmen called CHAP (Chocolate Hills Adventure Park) where you can engage in Fear Factor-like adventures. In the town of Corella, you can go on a river cruise and see the tarsiers in their natural habitat at The Philippine Tarsier and Wildlife Sanctuary.


    Doin tricks. #travel #bohol #philippines #chap

    A photo posted by rynebustamante (@rynebustamante) on

    I had an eerie and memorable experience in Bohol's Lamanok Island, which has mountains and caves but not quite ready yet for tourism. The locals apparently felt they needed to offer a sacrifice to the spirits of the island to ensure our safety while on the island. The sacrifice involved killing a pig.

    The waters surrounding Bohol's mystical Lamanok island
    One of the caves at Lamanok island
    In Bohol, some of the top-end resorts we usually book for our guests are Amorita, which has beautiful garden set rooms and villas; and Henann Resort and Bohol Beach Club, beachfront resorts in Panglao. There are also small dive resorts along Alona beach that we book our clients who are into diving.

    The Banaue Rice Terraces. By Joel Garcia

    Tours from Manila to the north, including Angeles, Subic, Banaue, all the way to Laoag and Pagudpud in Ilocos Norte are always popular. Banaue remains a favorite destination because it offers both leisure and adventure. We usually offer a five-day trip to Banaue, and now, have included stops in Laoag and Pagudpud in Ilocos Norte, and Vigan in Ilocos Sur. To book, visit, call +632 354 4101 to 04, email [email protected] 

    Sta. Rita in Pampanga, my hometown, is most beautiful at Christmas. No other place in Manila comes close to how it looks during the holiday season when they decorate the town plaza with all these lanterns and lights. Every second week of December, Sta. Rita also celebrates the Duman Festival so the town plaza gets a really festive vibe. On regular days, you can watch locals making turones de casuy (nougats with cashew nuts wrapped in edible paper), a local delicacy which you can also buy, at the town plaza.

    There is one place in Sta. Rita that is good to visit for a glimpse of the province’s history: the mega dike area. There you can see on one side the damage caused by the lahar flow brought about by the catastrophic eruption of Mt Pinatubo in 1991, and on the other a beautiful rural scene.

    I've actually started a tour already that includes a visit to Betis in Guagua, home of St. James the Apostle Parish Church, also known as Betis church, a Baroque church remarkable for its intricate hand-carved designs and wooden floors. The tour also includes a stop at Betis Crafts, one of the biggest furniture makers in Pampanga, exporting to the Middle East, Europe and the US. I’ve also included Sta. Rita, my hometown, in the tour. To book, visit, call +632 354 4101 to 04, email [email protected] 

    One of the unique tours that we’ve organized in Pampanga is a visit to Cutud during Holy Week. Cutud, a village in the inner part of San Fernando, still sees penitents practicing flagellation and undergoing an actual nailing on the cross. We only do the Cutud tour on request.

    In Pampanga, my favorite restaurant is Matam-Ih in Angeles City, which serves Kapampangan cuisine. The restaurant employs local aetas or tribal people as wait staff. I love Matam-Ih’s betute, stuffed frog that’s deep fried until crips. I also like Abe’s in Magalang but it’s a little bit far..

    About our insider

    Serafina “Fina” Joven is the president of Annset Holidays which specializes in inbound tours for the European market. The company has been operating for the past 21 years. Prior to founding Annset Holidays, Joven was vice president and assistant general manager of Anscor Travel (now Anscor-Casto Travel) where she oversaw operations, marketing for inbound tours and finance.

    Read about El Nido's best beaches.

    Read about Banaue, Bohol's Lamanok Island, and El Nido's off-the-beatean beaches on Experts' top 18 backpacking holidays in the Philippines

    Read about Cutud's reenactment of Jesus Christ's crucifixion

    Read about Pampanga's Giant Lantern festival

    By Monica De Leon

    Published June 2016