The Visayas are a major island and cultural grouping in the very centre of the Philippines. The whole region is well-provided with beaches (many with pristine white sand), dive areas (including many coral reefs) 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, Apo Island in Negros Oriental, Panglao in Bohol Province, and many others. Other tourist draws include the Chocolate Hills of Carmen, Bohol and whale watching in the Tañon Strait off Bais City.
|Western Visayas (Aklan, Antique, Capiz, Guimaras, Iloilo, Negros Occidental)
The island of Boracay is one of the country's best-known tourist areas, and other places in the region also have postcard-perfect beaches and coral reefs.
|Central Visayas (Bohol, Cebu Province, Negros Oriental, Siquijor)
Has the largest urban center in the Visayas, Metro Cebu, with a major air hub, Mactan-Cebu International Airport, and the country's busiest seaport. Many visitors will reach the Visayas via Cebu.
This region consists of two large islands, Samar and Leyte, joined by a spectacular bridge, the mid-sized island of Biliran between them, and assorted smaller islands.
The Philippine government's administrative system formerly divided Negros as we do, with Negros Occidental in the Western Visayas and Negros Oriental in the Central Visayas. However, in 2015 they created a separate Negros region, Region 18, so our divisions no longer match the official ones.
In the government system Palawan (not on the above map, off to the west) is considered part of the Visayas, but there have been proposals to administer it as part of Luzon instead. Wikivoyage just treats it as a separate region, not included in either the Visayas or Luzon.
- Bacolod — the capital of Negros Occidental and home of the MassKara Festival where it got its name "The City of Smiles"
- Calbayog — the capital of Samar
- Cebu — the regional center of Central Visayas and the capital of Cebu Province. It anchors the sprawling Metro Cebu urban area. It is home of the famous Sinulog Festival and the Magellan Shrine. It is nicknamed the 'Queen City of the South"
- Dumaguete — the provincial capital of Negros Oriental, with a clean sea-front boulevard and protestant University
- Iloilo — known as the "City of Love" in the Philippines. Once named 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 island to Samar Island. The city was leveled by Typhoon Haiyan (with winds of over 300 km/h!) in November 2013.
- Tagbilaran — the capital of Bohol province
- Roxas — the capital of Capiz province
- Boracay — a major resort island at the northwest corner of the region
- Panglao Island in Bohol Province — a major resort area near the center of the region
- Siquijor — a small island province in the south; it has many beaches, and legends of sorcery
- 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 Austronesian peoples (related to Malays, Indonesians and Polynesians) who are the ancestors of most modern Filipinos. There are several different theories which differ greatly on the details, but all agree 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 mass in the Philippines was held. Magellan himself did not complete the trip; he was killed fighting Filipinos in Lapu-Lapu, Cebu Province.
There are three major local dialects in the Visayas group of islands; Waray, Cebuano, and Hiligaynon (the language of the Ilonggo). Waray is widely spoken in the Eastern Visayas, from Samar Island to the northern part of Leyte, and parts of Biliran. Cebuano is widely spoken in the Central Visayas including Southern Leyte, parts of Biliran and the eastern part of Negros island. It is also the main language in large parts of Mindanao. Hiligaynon is widely spoken in Panay, Guimaras and Negros Occidental. There are other local languages in the Visayas such as Inabaknon in Capul Island and Karay-a in some parts of Panay.
Despite differences in local languages, most Visayan people speak and understand Cebuano, English and Tagalog. Many locals will also understand other world languages such as Arabic, German, French, Russian 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! Waray: Maupay nga aga! Cebuano: Maayong buntag! Ilonggo: Maayong aga!
English: Good afternoon! Waray: Maupay nga kulop! Cebuano: Maayong hapon! Ilonggo: Maayong hapon!
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)
- Dinagyang Festival (January)
- Sinulog Festival (January)
- Pintados Festival (June)
- MassKara Festival (October)
- San Juanico Bridge
- Magellan's Shrine
- Magellan's Cross
- Chocolate Hills
- Langun-Gobingob Caves
- Sogod Bay
- Danao Lake
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.