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The Philippines and Nicaragua: 8 Unexpected Similarities

Papaya Beach in Palawan, Philippines

When you think of Southeast Asia, what’s the first thing that comes to mind? White sand beaches? Elephants and tigers? Temples? You’re not alone. Most people think only of mainland SEA when thinking about the region but it actually a much larger area, including the Philippines.

I spent two weeks in Bohol and Palawan last year and I was expecting those white sand beaches but what I wasn’t expecting were the similarities I kept finding between the Philippines and Nicaragua, where I’d visited in 2016. I guess it makes sense as both were claimed as Spanish colonies within a decade of each other and remained for around 300 years. Despite being so geographically distant the two countries are more culturally similar than you might expect. Filipinos are ethnically Malay-Polynesian but after all this time, they are fundamentally different from their Southeast Asian neighbours and have a lot more in common with Latin America.


One of the most obvious similarities is religion. While there is a large Muslim population on the south islands of the Philippines, the vast majority of the country is Catholic. It’s a unique and particular devout kind of Catholicism but you’ll find churches anchoring Filipino towns not unlike Nicaraguan towns like Granada, Leon, and San Juan del Sur. It’s a big departure from Buddhist temple filled Southeast Asian countries like Thailand and Cambodia.


Just look at a map of the Philippines and you’ll find plenty of Spanish names like El Nido, Puerto Princesa, and Valencia. Or take roll call in church and you’ll likely find a Rodrigo Santos, Maria Reyes, or Angel Mendoza. The Spanish influence is strong.

There are also many words in Tagalog that are derived from Spanish words. For examples, shoes in Tagalog are ‘sapatos’ and ‘zapatos’ in Spanish.

English: school. Tagalog: eskwela. Spanish: escuela.

English: street. Tagalog: kalye. Spanish: calle.

The list goes on and on. Basically, if you can speak Spanish you’ve got a fighting chance at learning Tagalog. While in Laos, French would be your backup language, but if you’re in the Philippines, you’d be thankful for those high school Spanish lessons instead.

Big Families

Big families aren’t the sole domain of Spanish influenced countries (my Newfoundland parents were each from big families: 13 and 9), but the strength and importance of family is common both in Nicaragua and the Philippines compared to North America. Birthday parties would be full of tiyo, tio, tiya, tia, lolo, abuelo, lola, and abuela, not to mention scores of pinyan and primos. Uncles, aunts, grandparents, and cousins galore.

Coming of Age Ceremonies

Girls in Nicaragua celebrate their Quinceanera when they turn 15, and while girls in the Philippines don’t celebrate until their 18th birthday, the intent is similar. There is a big party to celebrate the transition from childhood to young adulthood, complete with fancy prom-like dresses and hoopla.

Grills by the Cathedral in Leon, Nicaragua

Typical meal in Leon, Nicaragua


Rice, rice, and more rice. I went 8 meals in a row in El Nido eating rice before I broke down and had a burger. Nicaragua was very similar. Rice with every breakfast and every supper. The Philippines were lacking the beans of Nicaragua but otherwise, breakfasts of rice and eggs were common.

Lechón, a slow roasted suckling pig, is a holiday staple on both sides of the Pacific. While the tamales of the Philippines are more closely related to the Mexican-style, the basic idea of the dish is something they share with Nicaragua and other Latin American countries. And, because I’m a sucker for anything wrapped in pastry, the fact that empanadas are popular in both countries made me very happy.


Manny Pacquiao…Román “Chocolatito” González…what these two athletes have in common is the sport of boxing, loved by both of their home countries. The Philippines may have produced more champions than Nicaragua but there’s no denying the importance of the sport in both countries.


Nicaraguans and Filipinos have another similarity… they both have a tendency to not be too bothered about punctuality. Perhaps it’s us North Americans who are too uptight and clock-obsessed but if you’re visiting either place, slow your roll and go with the flow. It’s just part of the culture and fighting it will just stress you out.

Granada, Nicaragua

The main square in Granada, Nicaragua

Underestimated as a Vacation Destination

I got similar reactions when I announced that I’d be visiting the Philippines as I did when I said I was going to Nicaragua. “Why would you want to go there? Is it safe?”

Despite suffering some travel woes in both countries, I wouldn’t hesitate in returning to each for another visit. Before booking any trip though I would always check in to get the latest reports as there have been some increased threats in the Philippines.

Both had great outdoor activities, were very affordable, and gave me experiences that I would never have had by staying at home.

Have you ever discovered unexpected similarities in two places you’ve visited?


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