The Philippines is an archipelago in South-East Asia, at the very eastern edge of Asia, and consists of more than 7000 islands located between the Philippine Sea and the South China Sea. It would take about 20 years to spend a day on every island! The wonderful beaches form part of one of the world's longest coastlines.
We spent two months visiting the Philippines during 2019 and we've really only yet scratched the surface of this magnificent destination. We visited the islands of Luzon, Coron, Palawan, Cebu, Bohol, Siquijor, and Negros and we will definitely be back for more!
Since Spanish colonial times, the Philippines has been Asia's largest Catholic country with 76% of the population currently identifying as Roman Catholic. It is, however, also home to over a hundred ethnic groups, a mixture of foreign influences, and a fusion of culture and arts which enhance the uniqueness of the Filipino identity.
Needless to say, the characteristic Filipino traits are a confluence of many cultures put together. Filipinos are famous for the Bayanihan or spirit of kinship and camaraderie took from Austronesian forefathers. They observe very close family ties which are said to have been passed on by the Chinese. Religion comes from the Spaniards who were responsible for spreading the Christian faith across the archipelago. The genuine and pure expression of hospitality is an inherent trait in Filipinos, especially those that reside within the countryside who may appear very shy initially, but have a generous spirit, as seen in their smiles.
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PHILIPPINES QUICK FACTS
- Currency: Philippine Peso (₱) - Current conversion rate here.
- Electricity: 220V AC electricity. Power outlets are both flat and small round two-prong sockets (type A and type C) as well as flat three-pronged (type B). Downtown Baguio (northern Luzon) uses 110 V, so ask first if you are in this area! Be sure to carry a universal travel adaptor so you can still use all your electronic devices. If you are from a country with 110V as a standard be aware that you will need a voltage converter.
- Visa: Traveling to the Philippines is easy; the Philippines grants 30-day visa-free entry to passport holders of certain countries while requiring a visa application for others. Most visitors who qualify for visa-free entry can also apply for an extension of the visa waiver of an additional 29 days after arrival. We found this a simple, same-day process in Puerto Princesa but you should avoid the Manila office if possible. Be sure to check online for the latest visa requirements, allow enough time for processing of your visa and note that you may need to hold a valid ticket for either a return journey to your country of origin or your next country of destination. Also, make sure your passport is valid for at least 6 months after your entry. The latest entry requirements are available here.
- Safety: Most parts of the Philippines are very safe to travel to, however, the whole of the far south is a no-go zone: The areas of Mindanao, the Sulu Archipelago, and the Zamboanga Peninsula are all considered extremely dangerous due to terrorist activity. Petty crime such as pick-pocketing and bag snatching is a common issue, especially in public crowded places like bus and train stations and the bigger cities, so keep your belongings close. In some areas where the party scene is big, drink spiking (known as the Ativan scam) is a common problem. Also, be wary of police officers who may attempt bribery scams. The Philippines is at high risk from cyclones, earthquakes, floods, landslides, tsunamis, volcanic eruptions, and wildfires. Keep a keen watch for any warnings particularly if you are there during the typhoon season, or better yet, try to avoid it! During our two month stay in 2019, twice there were tropical storms which disrupted all boating and ferry activities and even saw airport closures lasting days.
- Drugs: Marijuana, shabu (crystal methamphetamine), and all other drugs are very much illegal. Penalties for drugs are very harsh and resisting the police may result in death. Whatever you do, don’t travel without travel insurance! We would suggest checking out World Nomads, for travel insurance as they have the best coverage for active travellers.
- Language: English and Filipino are the two official languages of the Philippines, with English being the second most widely spoken language in the country. There are also about 8 other major languages, about 77 major language groups, and more than 170 distinct languages. That being said, English is widely spoken and easy to get by with.
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PHILIPPINES PUBLIC HOLIDAYS
8 February, Constitution Day
25 February, People Power Day (not banks)
9 April, Day of Valor (Bataan Day)
1 May, Labor Day
12 June, Independence Day
24 June, Manila Day
Last Sunday in August, National Heroes Day
1 November, All Saints’ Day
30 November, Bonifacio Day
30 December, Rizal Day
Business openings and work schedules may be significantly affected by Chinese New Year, Christian holidays, especially during Holy Week, and Islamic holidays and festivals.
FESTIVALS IN PHILIPPINES
The Philippines is a fully multicultural country, celebrating a range of Christian, Muslim and Chinese holidays - as well as a few secular holidays in between! The renowned hospitality of the Filipino's is most evident during major fiestas when even virtual strangers are welcomed and invited to partake in the feasts that most, if not all, households have during the occasion. Fiestas in the Philippines can be religious, cultural, or both and the Philippines has traditionally been known as the Capital of the World's Festivities.
- Ati-Atihan: Dubbed as the Mother of All Festival in the Philippines, Ati-Atihan is the oldest festival in the country and is best celebrated in Kalibo. It's a two-week merriment that culminates on the 3rd Sunday of January. This festival honours the Santo Niño (Baby Jesus) as well as the legendary meeting of the island’s aboriginal people with settlers from Borneo. During the celebration, people dressed in costumes blacken their skin to represent the early settlers known as "ati" and dance in the streets to the beat of drums. Chants of "'Viva! Santo Niño!" and "Hala Bira! Pwera Pasma!” (a plea not to get sick under the sweltering heat of the sun) can be heard along with the rhythmic cadence of tribal music. This is also known as the festival of Sinulog in Cebu.
- Dinagyang: Exactly a week after Ati-Atihan, on the 4th Sunday of January, Iloilo City holds the same cultural and religious festivity in honour of the Child Jesus. Dinagyang consists of a fluvial procession, colourful parades, and a competition for the most intricate costume and impressive choreography.
- Easter: Not just Easter Day, but rather the entire Holy Week is a significant religious observance for the country’s Catholic majority. This begins on Palm Sunday and continues through to Easter Sunday and numerous precessions are held over this time. The days of the Easter Triduum (Maundy Thursday until Black Saturday) are considered statutory holidays and it can be challenging to travel over these days. Easter itself is marked with joyous celebrations.
- Pintados: If you're into tattoos and body art then you might enjoy the yearly celebration of Pintados festival in Tacloban when locals dance around the streets with inked bodies to symbolize the brave warriors of the past. This June 29th festival provides a glimpse of how the native people lived prior to the Spaniard's arrival.
- Kadayawan: Davao City's Kadayawan Festival is held annually every 3rd week of August. This festival is primarily to give thanks for a plentiful harvest, so the streets are decorated with freshly picked fruits and vegetables and colourful floats laden with fresh produce and flowers are paraded down the street. Besides the usual street dances, the city also hosts horse fights, beauty pageants, and boat races.
- Masskara: This renowned Visayas festival is held in Bacolod. The 20-day street party is all about food, drinks, dances, and a bevvy of wild contests like chasing after a pig and downing coconut milk. It is held on the weekend closest to the 19th of October and was conceptualized to show the local resilience despite a hard life. To represent this, participants wear paper-mâché or clay masks depicting a huge smile.
- Christmas: This is undeniably one of the biggest holidays of the country and the Philippines are known to celebrate the world's longest Christmas season, with Christmas carols heard as early as September and easily lasting until the Feast of the Black Nazarene on January 9, or even the Feast of the Santo Niño on the third Sunday of January. It's hard to miss the enthusiasm with which Christmas is celebrated and you should not be surprised decorations and Christmas music in shops from as early as October!
BEST TIME TO VISIT PHILIPPINES
The climate of the Philippines is tropical, with March to May being both the hottest summer months and the busiest. The Easter holy week usually also falls within this time and is considered to be part of the super peak season for most beach resorts which tend to get overcrowded at this time. The best time to visit for both cooler and drier weather is from mid-January to the end of February. Average temperatures range from 25°C to 32°C and the humidity is around 77%.
The rainy season starts in June and extends through to October with high possibilities of strong typhoons which can not only negatively influence travel plans but also frequently cause great destruction and loss of life. Locations exposed directly to the Pacific Ocean have frequent rainfall all year round. The coolest months are from November to February and are also a great time to visit.
SPORT & ACTIVITIES
HIKING & CYCLING IN PHILIPPINES
The Philippines dry season is from November to April, but always be prepared for some rain! There are plenty of stunning hiking trails throughout The Philippines and the best time for hiking is November to February as March and April can get very hot.
BEACH OPTIONS IN PHILIPPINES
The Philippines is an idyllic beach destination and it's always hot enough for the beach. Just note that May to October are very wet, monsoon and typhoon months, so the while it will be cheaper, the weather won't be at it's best! You will enjoy much better beach weather from November to April.
SURFING IN PHILIPPINES
While you can enjoy good surf in The Philippines all year round, the best months for big surf are August to November when the coast gets typhoon swells and best winds for surfing. May, June and July usually have less consistent swell but conditions can be ideal. From December to April the swell is usually nice and big with strong and cross shore winds.
KITESURF IN PHILIPPINES
The most consistent winds for kite and windsurfing in The Philippines blow from November to April. These are monsoon trade winds though, so check out the local conditions and be aware of any monsoon warnings!
For more details on kite surfing in Philippines expand this section!
HEALTH RISKS IN PHILIPPINES
Be aware of possible health risks in
Zika Virus - Zika is spread mostly by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. These mosquitoes bite during the day and night. Zika can be passed from a pregnant woman to her fetus. Infection during pregnancy can cause certain birth defects. There is no vaccine or medicine for Zika.
Malaria - Malaria is a serious and sometimes fatal disease caused by a parasite that commonly infects a certain type of mosquito which feeds on humans. People who get malaria are typically very sick with high fevers, shaking chills, and flu-like illness. Although malaria can be a deadly disease, illness and death from malaria can usually be prevented.
Dengue - Dengue is spread mostly by the bite of an infected Aedes species mosquito. These mosquitoes bite during the day and night. About one in four people infected with dengue will get sick. For people who get sick with dengue, symptoms can be mild or severe.
PHILIPPINES TRAVEL COSTS
Travel in the Philippines is pretty affordable. One of the up and coming popular destinations in Southeast Asia, the combination of incredible beauty and affordability are no doubt the reason why. If you’re happy sleeping in a hostel and eating street food, you can easily get by on $20-25 a day. If you want to stay in slightly nicer accommodation (simple double en-suite style) but are happy to eat local food, up your budget to $30-50 per day and if you prefer to splurge on a fancy hotel or a few restaurant meals, you might want to up your budget to $80 or $100. Local food is generally cheap and delicious, with BBQ chicken with rice costing about $2. Small restaurants on the streets offer adobo and lechon for about $2 - $3. Beer is very cheap, with a big bottle costing only $2 and small bottles less than $1.
Note that ATM withdrawals are generally limited to 10,000 pesos. Only the HSBC ATMs in Manila, Cebu and Davao let you take up to 40,000 pesos per transaction. However, the norm is 20,000.
PHILIPPINES TRAVEL TIPS
Getting around the Philippines involves travel by land, sea, and air. No matter how you choose to travel, it will no doubt take longer than you expect! Transportation between larger islands is possible by air, although the low-cost domestic airlines are notorious for running late and canceling flights. There are numerous ferry companies with regular timetables, and although these may be cheaper than flying they may take significantly longer. There are also long-distance buses and limited train routes available.
The cheapest way to get around for short distances is by means of local Jeepneys, Traysikels, and Pedicabs. Metered taxis are also available in most cities (just be sure to insist that they do use the meter!) and taxi applications such as Grab Taxi and Uber are becoming more popular. We made this video on how we had to use five different modes of transport in one day! We recommend using BookAway or 12Go website to view bus and boat schedules ahead of time as these are often sold out well in advance, particularly in the busier seasons.
SIGHTS & HIGHLIGHTS OF PHILIPPINES
The Philippines is one of the largest archipelagos in the world and offers everything from relaxing on white-sand beaches, scuba diving in crystal clear warm waters or just experiencing the cultures and traditions across the many islands and regions. The Philippines is a fantastic destination for both the old and young, the adventurous and the culture seeking.
Scuba Diving & Snorkelling - The Philippines is one of the best scuba diving destinations in the world with the best part being that diving in the Philippines is generally cheaper when compared to neighbouring countries. With so many islands and dive sites, the Philippines offers blue, tranquil waters and abundant reefs which all make for good diving. While there are loads of fantastic dive destinations all over the Philippines, a number of sites stand out including the sunken shipwrecks dating from WWII in Coron, Apo Reef off Negros, Pescador Island close to Moalboal, and Malapascua in Cebu which is famous for the thresher sharks. If you want to venture out further to remote dive sites like Tubbataha Reef, you should consider doing a Philippines liveaboard diving trip to help you reach these largely untouched sites. With so many islands and shallow reefs, the Philippines offers warm, blue, tranquil waters perfect to while away your days snorkelling.
Island Hopping - Considering this is a country made up of thousands of islands, it couldn’t really be a Philippines trip without hopping a couple of islands! Most hostels and hotels will offer some island hopping trips. One of the best things to do in the Philippines is to simply go with the flow and head off on any one of the many epic island-hopping adventures. Coron and El Nido is the best know for this activity for a good reason, but you will find no shortage of islands to explore in the Philippines.
Local Festivals - Each municipality, town, city, and province has its own festival, either religious or in honour of the city or a historical reason. Be sure to look out for opportunities to join in the celebrations and make friends with the locals.
National Parks - The Philippines is home to about 60-70 National Parks, which include both mountains and coral reefs.
Rock Climbing - Apo Island, Atimonan, El Nido, Puting Bato, Wawa Gorge have the best sites in the archipelago for rock climbing. El Nido is one of the most spectacular places in the Philippines to climb with cliffs overhanging the ocean (which even beginner climbers can enjoy) offering incredible views.
Tours Around the Philippines - If you prefer traveling with a group tour, we highly recommend G Adventures. They are a reputable company that has been running tours around the Philippines and the rest of Southeast Asia for decades. This Island Hopping Tour looks particularly interesting as it covers all the highlights of the Philippines and features stops in Bohol, Panglao, Siquijor, Moalboal the beautiful Palawan. G Adventures has loads of different tour types that cater to all travellers such as well as wellness tours, tours for 18-30-year-olds, and even tours that take you all over Southeast Asia, allowing you to explore a little bit of everything on one trip. If traveling by yourself isn’t your thing and you like the idea of traveling in a group and make new friends, check out the variety of tours that G Adventures has and the details and dates of each trip.
WHAT TO PACK FOR PHILIPPINES
The Philippines is somewhat less conservative than its neighboring countries of Malaysia, Indonesia, and Taiwan when it comes to clothing. As tourism grows dress code is turning more towards the western style we are used to. However, venturing into the less tourist and rural areas it is best to dress more conservatively. A pashmina or the like can be handy f you need to cover up to visit that random temple or just need a break from the sun
The biggest thing to remember when packing for the Philippines is that it is going to be hot, humid, and possibly wet. Bring lightweight, comfortable walking shoes, breathable clothes, and pack a poncho! In addition to this, you will most likely be wearing your swimming gear most days, lazing on beaches, and enjoying island-hopping boat trips.
Do not forget to pack your mosquito repellent! The humidity of the Philippines brings with it many mosquitoes! While most of the Philippines is considered low malaria risk, there are higher risk areas (such as Palawan), so check this and take the necessary precautions before you go.
If you have space, bring your own snorkelling gear as you will definitely want to be spending as much time as possible with your head underwater! Compact reef shoes can be super handy to protect your feet from sharp edges or sneaky stone-fish.
A lightweight jacket or sweater is always a good idea, especially when the freezing cold air-conditioning in overnight ferries or busses feels like a refrigeration chamber compared to the heat outside!
WHAT TO EAT IN PHILIPPINES
Filipino cuisine has developed from the many different cultures that have shaped the Philippines history. It is a wonderful melange of Indian, Chinese, Malay, Spanish, European and American influences. Its cuisine may not be as renowned as many of its neighbours, but Filipino cooking is distinct in that it is possibly the least spicy of all South-East Asian cuisines. Don't make the mistake of thinking that Filipino food is bland, though - instead of spices, Filipino food tend to depend more on garlic, onions and ginger to add flavour to dishes. Vegetarians and vegans will find it difficult to find a Filipino dish which is wholly vegetarian as most of the Filipinos love to add meat to every single dish they eat.
Adobo - This is arguably the national dish of the Philippines. It consists of chicken or pork (or both), served in a garlicky stew with vinegar and soy sauce as a base. Although the perfect adobo might be a matter of taste, it lies in the delicate balance of soy sauce, vinegar, garlic and spices (bay leaves and fresh ground peppercorns).
Silog - Usually eaten at breakfast, the silog is the Filipino cousin of a typical American breakfast of egg, bacon and pancakes. The word silog is slang and a contraction of the words Sinangag (fried rice) and Itlog (egg). You will find variations of silog not only sold in Filipino eateries and stalls but also in restaurants and even fast-food chains such as McDonald's. You can find the following variations of Silog:
- Adosilog - either chicken or pork.
- Longsilog - has longganisa or local pork sausage.
- Tapsilog - with tapa or cured beef.
- Tocilog - with tocino or cured pork.
Lechon de Leche - Slow-roasted baby pork usually served during larger occasions. The crispy skin is delicious and is often the first part that is consumed. Especially on weekends, you will find Lechon stalls popping up with whole pigs on display ready to be carved! They are more often than not found near churches (ready for the congregation after service) and in areas that were located far from the wet market. Different areas flavour Lechon in different ways. When you open the roasted belly, you can smell the lemongrass, the spring onions and Bermuda onions, cloves, black pepper.
Filipino Spaghetti - Possibly brought to the Philippines by the American-Italians during the American colonisation, this is unlike any Italian version of spaghetti! Filipino spaghetti can best be described as a local adaptation of Italian spaghetti served with Bolognese sauce which has a distinctively sweet taste, usually made from tomato sauce sweetened with brown sugar or banana ketchup. It is typically topped with sliced hotdogs or smoked longganisa sausages, and grated cheese. It is regarded as comfort food in Philippine cuisine and typically served in almost any special occasion, especially on children's birthdays.
Balut - A fertilised egg (usually duck) which is incubated for a period of 14 to 21 days depending on the local culture and then boiled or steamed and eaten directly from the shell. Balut that is incubated for longer periods have a well-developed embryo and the features of the duckling are recognisable. The partially-developed embryo bones are still soft enough to chew they are usually eaten with a sprinkle of salt and vinegar. Popularly believed to be an aphrodisiac, Balut is also considered a high-protein, hearty snack and you will find it mostly sold by street vendors late afternoons or at night.
Halo-Halo - Halo-Halo means mix-mix in Filipino. This is a refreshing dessert made with a mix of sweetened beans and fruits, such as sweetened bananas, red and white beans, sago, crushed ice and milk. Usually, it's topped off with some leche flan, ube jam and/or ice cream.
LGBTQ IN PHILIPPINES
Although The Philippines does not offer any legal recognition to same-sex marriage, civil unions or domestic partnership benefits, it is ranked as one of the most gay-friendly nations in Asia.
The majority of Filipinos agree that homosexuality should be accepted by society. Despite this, LGBT people in the Philippines still experience discrimination and disadvantages in comparison to the heterosexual population.
WHERE TO STAY IN PHILIPPINES
From $7 hostels to $100 hotels, the Philippines has a huge variety of accommodation options. Competition can be fierce and if your dates are flexible and you can stay for a longer period there are plenty of bargains to be had. If you plan on travelling during peak season or holidays, it is best to book your accommodations well in advance. We recommend checking sites like Booking.com or Agoda.
We stayed in 13 different accommodations over the 55 nights spent in the Philippines during 2019 and for the most of it, did not find accommodation in the Philippines to be particularly good value nor cheap! Our average nightly cost came to $30 and although this is not necessarily expensive, the choice and quality of accommodation were not great compared to other Southeast Asian countries. You can see our full budget report here.
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