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Subic Bay, Philippines

Visiting or living in the Philippines would not be complete without checking out Subic Bay.

Bounded on three sides by a mountain range, and endowed with a deep natural harbor, Subic Bay was once the home base of the U.S. naval forces in the Pacific. It was America's largest naval installation outside the United States, until it was turned over to the Philippine government in 1992.

All that sand and sea have not gone to waste, as Subic Bay is now a premier holiday destination for visitors from all over the world. They come for its pristine beaches, first-rate amenities and friendly services. In fact the waters and beaches of Subic Bay feature attractions for all types of folks: miles of fine sand and calm waters for beach lovers and picnickers, spectacular corals and underwater fauna for divers and snorkelers, mysterious sunken wrecks for history aficionados, and even choice spots for a relaxing afternoon of fly fishing.

But there's more to Subic Baythan sun-drenched shores. Its blessed location at the foothills of the Zambales mountain range has given it lush tracts of preserved tropical forest, which have become favorite venues for eco-tourism activities and sports events. U.S. Marines used to hone their jungle-survival skills in these mountains, trained by local indigenous people called the Aetas who have learned to live in harmony with their natural environment

These days, the forest trails of Subic echo with the awed murmurs of tourists and visitors who come for some serious communing with centuries-old trees, crystal clear brooks and one of the most extensive collections of animal species found in the country. Its triple-canopied rainforests, which are among the very few remaining in the country today, teem with colorful birds, butterflies, bats, monkeys, lizards and many other creatures. You have a choice of seeing them in their natural habitat, or coming face-to-face with them in well-maintained animal zoos and sanctuaries, another prime attraction of Subic Bay.

If your kids and youare into adorable sea creatures like whales and sea lions, for instance, make sure to check out Ocean Adventure, the first marine park and aquarium in the country. Here, sea lions will dance, patter around and even paint for you, while magnificent whales do their tricks.

Other recreational facilities also provide many options for athletic activities and outdoor adventures, all kinds of water sports, from yachting to parasailing to windsurfing as well as riding stables, ball courts, golf courses and firing ranges. There's boot camp right in the middle of the jungle if you're up to it.

There's even romance of history in Subic's storied forts and parks, where important political and social events are remembered with tours and walks designed to be both entertaining and educational. Grande Island, the site of former Fort Wint, a heavily fortified and armed outpost guarding the entrance to Subic Bay, still holds interesting war-era vestiges such as anti-aircraft battery bunkers and cannons. Don't miss this one.

For the sedate traveler, there are spectacular views to be had from any of the numerous vantage points in the city like Hill 394, Subic Bay's most popular peak. Picnickers would find ideal spots for an afternoon repast in one of its many picnic groves. Or those up to the challenge can wend their way to the top or through forest labyrinths.

But, at the end of the day, there's always a cozy, relaxing room to retire to. Subic Bay's self-contained environment offers an array of inns, hotels, restaurants and shopping centers to suit practically every whim and budget. Here, five-star accommodations stand side-by-side with rustic, country living. Simply choose whichever tickles your fancy.

And the food! The Philippines has always been known as a food haven, but Subic Bay has taken this distinction further by gathering in one place a delightful array of world-class restaurants and bars that offer everything from home-cooked Filipino staples to the most elaborate continental dishes and cuisines, or even fast-food stuff if you're on the go.

Sampling the nightlife of Subic Bay always presents surprises. There are videoke bars, casinos and arcades among others. After a day of climbing mountains or swimming in blue waters, a relaxing stroll at the Harbor Point Mall - abuzz with enthusiastic shoppers is certainly a fun, invigorating experience.

Subic Bay as part of the country's first free port enjoys excellent security and cutting-edge emergency system hooked up to a network of police, fire and medical teams who are ready to answer 911 calls. As a result, hardly any crime has been recorded in years. Even traffic violators - or even commuter traffic - are a rarity.

Definitely what you get in Subic Bay is the best of all possible worlds - a holiday destination where unspoiled environments co-exist in well-planned harmony with modern amenities and attractions, assuring a great time for everyone in the family. It's the perfect hideaway getaway and for memorable vacations!