The Visayas are a major island and cultural grouping in the midsection of the Philippines. Nearly every part of the region has some fine beaches along its coasts, some fine diving areas including many coral reefs teeming with life, 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, most of them volcanic in origin though few are active now.
The country's best-known resort island, Boracay, is in the northwestern corner of the region. Diving destinations include Malapascua in Cebu Province, Panglao Island 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.
For Wikivoyage purposes, we divide the region up by islands and provinces; see the Administrative divisions section below for how the Philippine government divides it. For interesting places that are not separate provinces, see the Cities section and the Other destinations section of the article.
Some of the most important provinces consist of one main island plus a few smaller ones nearby. These are:
- Cebu Province, a large island and a populous province, transport hub of the region, 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.
- Bohol, a mid-sized province with a booming tourist industry. Attractions include the resort area Panglao Island, the scenic Chocolate Hills, and a forest reserve with Tarsiers, one of the world's smallest primates.
Some of the larger islands have more than one province:
- Panay with Aklan, Antique, Capiz, and Iloilo provinces. The main tourist draw is the highly developed beach resort island of Boracay.
- Negros with Negros Occidental and Negros Oriental. Tourist draws include the tallest peak in the Visayas, the semi-active Kanlaon Volcano near Bacolod, the tourist town and retirement destination Dumaguete, and diving destinations such as Apo Island.
- Leyte Island with Leyte Province and Southern Leyte
- Samar Island with Samar Province, Northern Samar and Eastern Samar.
The region also includes several small island provinces, each one main island plus some smaller ones nearby:
- 1 Siquijor — between Bohol and Negros, known for legends of witches and sorcerers.
- 2 Guimaras - between Panay and Negros, famous for mangoes.
- 3 Biliran - between Samar Island and Leyte Island
Some provinces that are linguistically and ethnically connected to the Visayas are not covered here because they are administered as parts of other regions, To the north, Masbate and Romblon are under the political jurisdictions of Bicol Region and Mimaropa in Luzon respectively. To the south, Camiguin is part of Mindanao.
The Philippine government divides the Visayas into three regions for administrative purposes:
|Western Visayas (Region VI) |
Panay (Aklan, Antique, Capiz, and Iloilo provinces) plus Guimaras and Negros Occidental
|Central Visayas (Region VII) |
Cebu Province, Negros Oriental, Bohol (including Panglao Island) and Siquijor
|Eastern Visayas (Region VIII) |
Leyte Island (Leyte Province, Southern Leyte), Samar Island (Samar Province, Northern Samar, Eastern Samar) and Biliran
This division is at least partly based on language. All these provinces plus some areas outside the Visayas speak Visayan languages, but all the areas designated as Central Visayas speak Cebuano while Hiligaynon and others are important in the west and Waray in the east.
- 1 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 and second in the Visayas.
- 2 Calbayog — the capital of Samar.
- 3 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 nicknamed the 'Queen City of the South".
- 4 Dumaguete — the provincial capital of Negros Oriental, with a clean sea-front boulevard and several universities. This "City of Gentle People" is a popular destination for both tourism and retirement.
- 5 Iloilo — known as the "City of Love" in the Philippines. Known for its festival, the Dinagyang.
- 6 Ormoc — main ferry port of its region
- 7 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.
- 8 Tagbilaran — the provincial capital and main transport hub of Bohol.
- 9 Roxas — the capital of Capiz. Seafood of assorted kinds is popular in this midsized coastal city.
- 4 Apo Island — a diving destination near Dumaguete; has a large, protected coral reef
- 5 Boracay — a major resort island at the northwest corner of the Visayas.
- 6 Olango Island in Metro Cebu - a popular destination for bird watchers, also has a large protected coral reef area
- 7 Panglao Island in Bohol Province — a major resort area near the provincial capital.
- 8 Sipalay - a quiet off-the-beaten-path area with fine beaches
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 of these theories take the view that the migration 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.
- 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.
- 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. Both are official languages for the country and are taught in all schools, but neither is indigenous to this area. A few locals will also understand various other languages 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.
The port in Cebu City is the main hub for sea travel. It has boats to many destinations in the Visayas, several in Mindanao, and Manila. Other port cities such as Dumaguete and Iloilo also have many ferries.
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.
- 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)
- Tarsier of Bohol (see picture on the right)
- 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)
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.