FFE Magazine

Philippine Geography: Description of Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao

Did you know that before the Spaniards came to the Philippines in 1521, there wasn’t really a Philippines to speak of? We were just a bunch of islands in the Western Pacific Ocean consisting of states and kingdoms headed by leaders under different titles. The Kingdom of Tondo was one of the most prominent and wealthy kingdom states in pre-colonial Philippines with the title “Lakan” styled by their king.



It was Ruy Lopez de Villalobos who named the islands of what are now Samar and Leyte Las Islas Filipinas, after King Phillip II of Spain, when he arrived in the Philippines in 1543. The name was extended to the entire archipelago in the 20th century. It was during the mid 20th century, the American colonial authorities began referring to the country as the Philippine Islands, and later on Philippines; the Philippines became the country’s common name ever since.


Map of Southeast Asia.

The Philippines that we know now is an archipelagic country in Southeast Asia that lays in a total area of 300,000 sq. km. That makes it approximately the same size as Italy but comparison stops there because when it comes to population, there are almost twice as much people in the Philippines.


Its neighbouring countries include Malaysia and Indonesia to the south, Taiwan to the north, and Vietnam to west; the massive Pacific Ocean is located to the west of the Philippines.



The 7,107 islands and more than 90 million people in the Philippines are subdivided into three geographical divisions namely Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. In fact the name Luzviminda, popular among Filipino women, is a portmanteau of the three island groups.



When travelling around the country, one would notice that these divisions have distinct characteristics with the religions, languages, and customs of the people residing in each. Not only that, all three also boast of rich and diverse natural that you can’t find in other countries. Did you know that only in the Philippines does the geographical phenomenon of a lake within an island within a lake within an island, exist?



The Taal volcano

Mayon Volcano

The Taal volcano island is in the middle of Taal Lake that is situated in the island of Luzon. The crater of the volcano creates another lake with an islet protruding from it. Indeed, topographic uniqueness is something Luzon doesn’t lack. The Mayon Volcano in the Bicol region is also famous for having the most symmetric conical shape of any volcanoes in the world, and one of the most picturesque sights in the country.


Luzon Map

Luzon stemmed from the Tagalog word Kalusunan which means the northern most part. True to its name, the island group of Luzon is in the northern most part of the archipelago; it comprises of Luzon Island itself, the islands of Batanes, Babuyan, Romblon, Masbate, Catanduanes, Marinduque, Mindoro, and Palawan.


Makati City at night

Politically and economically, Luzon is the most important geographical division among the three for reasons that the nation’s capital Manila, and Makati, the main economic and financial hub, are both part of the National Capital Region (NCR) in Luzon. The NCR is also considered the political, economic, social, cultural, and education center of the Philippines.



People in Luzon are divided into ethno- linguistic groups and the most prominent languages include Ilocano (predominant in the regions of Ilocos and Cagayan Valley), Kapampangan (in Central Luzon) Pangasinense (in Pangasinan) Bicolano (Bicol region), and Tagalog (Bulacan, CALABARZON, and Metro Manila).



Luzon has eight of the 17 administrative regions of the country that functions mainly to organize the provinces. It is not only the largest by land area with almost 110,000 sq. km. but also has the biggest in terms of the population distribution. Reasons for this include Quezon City, the largest city with a population of 2.76 million, and Cavite, the largest province with 3.09 million people, are both part of Luzon. In the international scale, Luzon is the fourth most populous island in the world, just behind Java, Honshu, and Great Britain.



Despite Luzon’s land area, it is not the first place Ferdinand Magellan landed on in 1521.



Map of Visayas

Ferdinand Magellan landed on the island of Homonhon on March 16, 1521. Homonhon is now part of Samar, one of the major islands that make up Visayas. Panay, Negros, Cebu, Bohol, and Leyte are the other big islands that are scattered in the Visayan sea and together, with smaller surrounding islands, make up the central division of the Philippines.



According to some scholars, the name Visayas is derived from the powerful Malayan Srivijaya Empire, where parts of the region had been under the rule of the ancient empire. Whether true or not the Visayas is very still rich in history.


Sinulog Festival of Cebu

A proof of Visayas’ rich past is its festivals. The Dinagyang, Ati-atihan, and Sinulog festivals all depict religious events that took place in the islands in the past. Known for their colorful and vibrant costumes and pulsating street dancing, these festivals have been drawing large crowds ever year (both locals and foreigners), making these cultural celebrations a trade mark of the region.


Cebu City, one of the venues for the Sinulog festival, is the regional center of Visayas and also the oldest city in the Philippines. It’s situated in an island of the same name and almost a million people are living in the city alone. Cebuano is the main language of the people and is one of the three major Visayan languages that the people speak in the rest of the region, the other two being Hiligaynon and Waray.

The Chocolate Hills of Bohol

the world- famous Boracay Island

Tourists flock the islands of Visayas not only to see its cultural attractions. The Boracay Island, part of the province of Aklan in the island of Panay, has garnered international recognition for its pristine waters and white sand beaches. The chocolate hills in Bohol are also a top destination in the region.


When it comes to population and land area, Visayas is the smallest of the three geographical divisions with only over 11 million people living in 61,077 sq. km.