Ati-Atihan Festival in the Philippines

The Philippines is the perfect destination for anyone looking for some post Christmas winter sun. Temperatures are high in the eighties and local prices make for an affordable holiday. January also sees the biggest and best Mardi Gras in the Philippines, the Ati-Atihan Festival in Kalibo, Aklan Province on Panay Island. It is a festival that has grown in popularity through word of mouth and one that really shouldn’t be missed.


Running through the third week of January, Ati-Atihan is essentially a week long street party. Dating back to the 13th Century, it celebrates the history and settlement on the island and is held in honour of Santo Nino. The highlights of this fun and colourful festival are the tribal dance competitions. Here people dress in elaborate headdresses and masks and dance to the infectious beat of traditional music which is played throughout the festival. There are also parades featuring even more elaborate costumes and face painting. The best thing about this festival is that everyone is encouraged to join in and get involved, regardless of if you’re a local or a tourist. The festival peaks on the final Sunday, starting with a mass first thing in the morning, followed by a religious parade later that afternoon.

If you’re staying for the festival, be aware that many of the hostels and hotels put up their prices during Ati-Atihan. However, I recommend Ati-Atihan County Inn which is a good value hostel which doesn’t raise their prices to cash in.

Around Kalibo

Travelling to Kalibo couldn’t be easier, with frequent flights from Manila arriving daily into Kalibo International Airport. During festival season, there are more flights scheduled than usual into the main airport which is just 10 minutes from the main plaza. There is a tricycle network in operation in Kalibo, as this is the most popular form of transportation in the country. It is certainly an effective way to get around, with each tricycle seating up to eight people.

Obviously, the festival isn’t the only reason to visit Kalibo, which is the capital of the Aklan Province. If you’re yearning for the western world, Gaisano Mall is filled with shops, internet cafes, a cinema and restaurants. If you want to revisit the wonder of Christmas, then you’re definitely in the right place. Take a trip to Sampaguita Gardens, where it is Christmas every day. Here you’ll find lots to keep you entertained with circus rides, an aquarium and oriental gardens. The highlight however is the Christmas Cottage, which will certainly fill you full of festive spirit.

Natural wonders of the Philippines

The Phillippines is renowned for being a natural beauty and Aklan Province has some fine examples of this. Most notably is the Bakhawan Eco-Tourism Centre and Mangrove Park. Just 5 minutes from New Buswang Town, the centre is a monument to the natural world and it’s preservation. There are tours by the conservationists and you can take a walk along a bamboo bridge through the mangroves and out to the sea. Open from 8am to 5pm, admission to the centre costs just 20 Philippine Pesco.

I would also recommend visiting Jawill Falls and beach which is located 30km from Kalibo town. Here majestic waterfalls tumble into seven basins, surrounded by limestone rocks. You can swim in the crystal clear water or just enjoy the view. Make sure you take the time to visit the nearby beach, which is every bit the beach of a tropical island. White sands, palm trees and a gentle surf make this the perfect place to relax.