The Visayas are a major island and cultural grouping in the midsection of the Philippines. The whole region is well-provided with beaches (many with pristine white sands), diving areas (including many coral reefs teeming with life) and historic buildings (many going back to the Spanish colonial period).
The country's best-known resort island, Boracay, is in the northwestern corner of the region. Diving destinations include Malapascua in Cebu Province, Panglao in Bohol Province, Apo Island in Negros Oriental, Danjugan Island in Negros Occidental, and many others. Other tourist draws include Metro Cebu which is the main urban center of the region, the Chocolate Hills of Carmen, Bohol, and whale watching in the Tañon Strait off Bais City, Negros Oriental.
Nearly every part of the region has some fine beaches along its coasts and some interesting historic buildings, mostly from the Spanish colonial period, in the cities and some towns. Most of the larger islands have mountains near the center, many of them being volcanic in origin.
|Western Visayas (Aklan, Antique, Capiz, Iloilo and Guimaras)|
The island of Boracay in the region's northwest part is one of the nation's best-known tourist destinations, and other places in Western Visayas also have postcard-perfect beaches and coral reefs.
|Negros (Negros Occidental and Negros Oriental)|
The major sugar-producing island of the Visayas, also an upcoming organic food bowl. Home of the tallest peak in the Visayas, the semi-active Kanlaon Volcano, which attracts mountaineers and hikers. Its main air hub is the Bacolod-Silay International Airport.
|Central Visayas (Cebu, Bohol and Siquijor)|
Has the largest urban center in the Visayas, Metro Cebu, with Mactan-Cebu International Airport, a major air hub and the Philippines' second busiest airport. Many visitors enter the Visayas via either this airport or the sea port in Cebu City. Also has the scenic Chocolate Hills, situated in central Bohol.
|Eastern Visayas (Leyte, Southern Leyte, Biliran, Samar, Northern Samar and Eastern Samar)|
This region consists of two large islands, Samar and Leyte, joined by the spectacular San Juanico bridge, the mid-sized island of Biliran, and assorted smaller islands. Eastern Visayas is the least touristed part of the Visayas, meaning that there's more to discover and explore.
The Philippine government's administrative system divides Negros, with Negros Occidental in Western Visayas and Negros Oriental in Central Visayas. In 2015, they formed a separate Negros Island Region, joining the two Negros provinces together as one region, but in 2017 they reversed that decision and reassigned both provinces back to their former regions. We treat Negros as a separate region here since everything is on one island with good transport links all over it.
Although linguistically and ethnically connected to the Visayas, Masbate and Romblon are under the political jurisdictions of Bicol Region and Mimaropa in Luzon respectively, so neither are included in this article.
- Bacolod — the provincial capital of Negros Occidental and home of the MassKara Festival where it got its nickname "The City of Smiles". It is the center of the Metro Bacolod urban area, the largest in Negros.
- Calbayog — the capital of Samar.
- Cebu — the capital of Cebu Province and the regional center of Central Visayas. It anchors the sprawling Metro Cebu urban area. It is home of the famous Sinulog Festival and the ages-old Magellan Shrine. It is currently nicknamed the 'Queen City of the South".
- Dumaguete — the provincial capital of Negros Oriental, with a clean sea-front boulevard, Protestant University and gentle people where it got its nickname "The City of Gentle People".
- Iloilo — known as the "City of Love" in the Philippines. The first Queen('s) City in the South. Known for its festival, the Dinagyang.
- Tacloban — the regional center of Eastern Visayas and the capital of the province of Leyte. It is home of the famous Pintados Festival and the San Juanico Bridge that connects Leyte to Samar. The city was badly levelled by Super-Typhoon Haiyan/Yolanda (with winds of over 300 km/h!) in November 2013.
- Tagbilaran — the provincial capital of Bohol.
- Roxas — the capital of Capiz. Seafood of assorted kinds is popular in this midsized coastal city.
- Apo Island — a diving destination near Dumaguete; has a large, protected coral reef
- Boracay — a major resort island at the northwest corner of the Visayas.
- Panglao Island in Bohol Province — a major resort area near the provincial capital.
- Siquijor — a midsized island province southeast of Negros; it has many beaches, and abounds with legends of sorcery practiced by its islanders.
- Popular beach resort areas in Cebu Province include Malapascua and the Camotes Islands.
The history goes back to prehistoric times; the largest migration was of the Austronesian peoples, who are the ancestors of most modern Filipinos and related peoples, such as Indonesians, Malaysians, Micronesians and Polynesians. There are several different theories which differ greatly on the details, but all agree that this took place several thousand years BCE.
The Portuguese adventurer Ferdinand Magellan led a Spanish expedition that made the first circumnavigation of the earth in the 1520s, and visited the Visayas. Limasawa in Southern Leyte, is where the first Christian mass in the Philippines was held. Magellan himself did not complete the trip; he was killed by a Visayan warrior-ruler named Lapu-Lapu on Mactan Island, Cebu Province.
There are three major local dialects in the Visayas group of islands; Cebuano, Hiligaynon and Waray. Cebuano is widely spoken in the Central Visayas, as well as Eastern Visayas. It is also the main language in large parts of Mindanao. Hiligaynon (also known as Ilonggo) is widely spoken in Panay and Guimaras, as well as in the central southwestern part of Mindanao. In Negros, it is both, Hiligaynon (in its western portion) and Cebuano (in its eastern portion). Waray is widely spoken in the Eastern Visayas, from Samar Island to the northeastern part of Leyte, and parts of Biliran. There are other local languages in the Visayas such as Capiznon, Aklanon and Kinaray-a in some parts of Panay and Porohanon in Cebu's Camotes Islands. All are related, members of the Visayan languages group. In Capul Island close to Samar, a non-Visayan language called Inabaknon is spoken.
Despite differences in local languages, most Visayan people speak and understand English, as well as Filipino. A few locals will also understand other languages such as Arabic, Chinese, German, Japanese, Korean, Russian, Italian, French, Portuguese and Spanish, since the Visayas are home to many of the overseas workers that keep the Philippines afloat economically with their monthly remittances and then come home to retire and build a house with their savings.
English: Good morning! Cebuano: Ma-ayong buntag! Hiligaynon: Ma-ayong aga! Waray: Maupay nga aga!
English: Good afternoon! Cebuano: Ma-ayong hapon! Hiligaynon: Ma-ayong hapon! Waray: Maupay nga kulop!
English: Good evening! Cebuano: Ma-ayong gabi-i! Hiligaynon: Ma-ayong gab-i! Waray: Maupay nga gabi!
The region's main air hub is Mactan-Cebu International Airport. It has domestic flights to most airports in the Philippines, international flights to many in the Asia/Pacific region, and a few to places beyond that.
There are ferries nearly anywhere in the Visayas, with the port in Cebu City as the main hub and smaller ports all over the region. There are also lots of buses, many of which ride ferries for parts of their routes. See the "Get in" sections of destination articles for details.
- Ati-atihan Festival (January, Western Visayas)
- Dinagyang Festival (January, Western Visayas)
- Sinulog Festival (January, Central Visayas)
- Pintados Festival (June, Eastern Visayas)
- MassKara Festival (October, Negros)
- San Juanico Bridge (Eastern Visayas)
- Magellan's Shrine (Central Visayas)
- Magellan's Cross (Central Visayas)
- Balinsasayao-Danao Lakes (Negros)
- Chocolate Hills (Central Visayas)
- Kanlaon Volcano (Negros)
- Langun-Gobingob Caves (Eastern Visayas)
- Sogod Bay (Eastern Visayas)
- Danao Lake (Eastern Visayas)
The area has significant risk of typhoons; travellers should check weather reports regularly and either take precautions or, even better, get out of the area when a storm is expected.
The Visayas were hit extremely hard by Typhoon Haiyan, one of the largest tropical storms on record, in November 2013. Thousands were killed and whole towns flattened. Cleanup and rebuilding were almost done when they were hit again by Typhoon Ruby in December 2014. Damage this time is not nearly as severe but travellers should expect disruption of various services, especially in the Eastern Visayas.
As for most travel, it is worth checking with your doctor and possibly getting some vaccines before setting out. The area is tropical, so see also tropical diseases.
Taking precautions against mosquitoes, including insecticide treatment for clothing and gear, is a good idea anywhere in the region. Dengue fever is fairly common and the dengue vaccine should be considered. Zika virus is quite rare throughout the country, but it is not unknown so women who are or may become pregnant should be especially cautious about mosquitoes. Unlike some other areas of the country, the Visayas have no risk of malaria.
The region has lots of stray or feral dogs and cats, and some rats and mice, so rabies vaccinations may be a good idea.
The obvious places to go next are the other parts of the Philippines — north to Luzon, south to Mindanao, or west to Palawan. There are flights and ferries to some of those from most major cities in the Visayas. The main hubs are in Metro Cebu, Mactan-Cebu International Airport for flights and the port in Cebu City for ferries. Iloilo also has a ferry to Palawan via the Cuyo Islands.