Philippines Travel Guide – Everything You Need to Know

Welcome to the Philippines, a tropical paradise of stunning landscapes, vibrant cultures, and warm hospitality. With over 7,000 islands to explore, this Southeast Asian gem offers a diverse range of experiences for every type of traveler. From pristine beaches and crystal-clear waters to lush rainforests and towering mountains, the Philippines is a haven for adventure seekers, beach lovers, and those looking to immerse themselves in rich cultural heritage. Whether you’re exploring the bustling capital of Manila, swimming with whale sharks in Donsol, or lounging on the white sands of Boracay, the Philippines promises an unforgettable journey of discovery and enchantment.

What’s the Best Time to Visit? 📅

The best time to visit the Philippines as a tourist depends on the type of experience you’re seeking and the regions you plan to explore. The Philippines has a tropical climate with distinct wet and dry seasons. Here’s a breakdown of the seasons:

  1. Dry Season (November to April):
    • This is the peak tourist season due to the pleasant and dry weather.
    • November to February: Cooler and less humid weather, making it ideal for outdoor activities and beach vacations.
    • March to April: Temperatures start to rise, but it’s still a good time to visit before the onset of the wet season.
  2. Wet Season (May to October):
    • The wet season brings more frequent rainfall and higher humidity.
    • June to August: Rainfall is heaviest, especially in July and August.
    • September to October: Rainfall starts to decrease, but there might still be occasional storms.

Keep in mind that the weather can vary between different parts of the country. While the dry season is generally preferred for travel, the wet season has its advantages too, such as fewer tourists, lush landscapes, and lower accommodation prices. Additionally, the weather patterns are not always predictable, so it’s a good idea to check local forecasts and be prepared for some variations.

If you’re planning water-based activities like diving and snorkeling, consider visiting during the dry season when the waters are clearer. However, if you’re interested in festivals like the Ati-Atihan in January or the Pahiyas Festival in May, plan your trip accordingly. Ultimately, the best time to visit the Philippines depends on your preferences for weather, activities, and the regions you wish to explore.

What’s the Best Way to Get Around? 🚌

Getting around the Philippines as a tourist involves a mix of transportation options due to the country’s geography and island-hopping nature. Here are some ways to navigate the Philippines:

  1. Flights:
    • Domestic flights are often the fastest way to cover long distances between major islands and cities. Airlines like Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific, and AirAsia operate domestic routes.
  2. Ferries and Boats:
    • Ferries and boats are essential for traveling between islands. There are both fast ferries and slower passenger boats available, connecting popular destinations.
  3. Buses and Vans:
    • Buses and vans are common for traveling within cities and regions. They come in various comfort levels, from local buses to more comfortable air-conditioned options.
  4. Tricycles and Jeepneys:
    • Tricycles (motorcycle with a sidecar) and jeepneys (colorful converted jeeps) are common modes of transportation for short distances within towns and villages.
  5. Taxis and Ride-Sharing:
    • Taxis and ride-sharing services like Grab are available in major cities like Manila and Cebu. Always use reputable services and insist on using the meter.
  6. Hired Vehicles and Tours:
    • Renting a car or hiring a driver is an option for exploring less touristy areas. Guided tours are also popular for exploring cultural and natural attractions.
  7. Motorbikes:
    • In some areas, renting a motorbike can give you more flexibility to explore at your own pace. Ensure you’re experienced and aware of local traffic rules.
  8. Trains:
    • While the train network is limited, there are options like the Bicol Express that connects Manila to the Bicol region.
  9. Hiking and Walking:
    • In certain areas, especially natural sites, hiking and walking are great ways to explore. Guides might be required for more remote trails.
  10. Horse-Drawn Carriages:
    • In some heritage areas, like Vigan, horse-drawn carriages (calesas) offer a unique way to explore.

When planning your transportation, consider factors such as distance, time, comfort, and safety. In remote areas, transportation options might be limited, so it’s advisable to do some research and plan ahead. Also, be prepared for occasional delays and changes in schedules, especially during the wet season.

What’s the Official Language?

The Philippines has two official languages: Filipino (Tagalog) and English. English is widely spoken and understood throughout the country, making it relatively easy for tourists to communicate. Here are some basic words and phrases in English and Filipino that can be helpful for tourists:

  1. Hello: Kamusta (Hello)
  2. Thank you: Salamat (Thank you)
  3. Yes: Oo
  4. No: Hindi
  5. Please: Paki (Please)
  6. Excuse me / Sorry: Pasensya na (Excuse me / Sorry)
  7. Goodbye: Paalam (Goodbye)
  8. How are you?: Kumusta ka? (How are you?)
  9. I don’t understand: Hindi ko naiintindihan (I don’t understand)
  10. How much is this?: Magkano ito? (How much is this?)
  11. Where is…?: Saan ang…? (Where is…?)
  12. Restroom: Comfort room / CR
  13. Food: Pagkain (Food)
  14. Water: Tubig (Water)
  15. Help: Saklolo (Help)

While English is commonly spoken, especially in urban areas and tourist destinations, using a few Filipino phrases can enhance your interactions and show respect for the local culture. Don’t hesitate to ask for help or clarification if needed, as Filipinos are generally friendly and helpful to tourists.

Where to Stay? 🏨

The Philippines offers a wide range of accommodation options for tourists, catering to different budgets and preferences. Here are some popular types of accommodations:

  1. Hotels and Resorts:
    • Major cities and tourist destinations offer a variety of hotels and resorts, ranging from budget to luxury. You’ll find international chains, boutique hotels, and beachfront resorts.
  2. Hostels and Guesthouses:
    • Hostels and guesthouses are popular among budget travelers and backpackers. They offer shared dormitory-style accommodations and are a great way to meet fellow travelers.
  3. Boutique and Eco-Lodges:
    • Experience unique stays in boutique hotels and eco-lodges, especially in natural and remote areas. These accommodations often offer a more personalized and immersive experience.
  4. Beachfront Bungalows and Cottages:
    • In beach destinations, you can find beachfront bungalows and cottages, offering direct access to the ocean and stunning views.
  5. Airbnb and Vacation Rentals:
    • Airbnb and other vacation rental platforms offer a variety of options, from apartments to private homes, often with local hosts.
  6. Island Resorts:
    • On more secluded islands, you’ll find private island resorts that offer luxury accommodations, personalized service, and privacy.
  7. Floating Villages and Houseboats:
    • In some regions, you can experience unique accommodations by staying in floating villages or on houseboats.
  8. Homestays and Community Tourism:
    • Engage in community-based tourism by staying with local families in homestays. This offers an authentic cultural experience and supports local communities.
  9. Treehouses and Overwater Bungalows:
    • Some destinations offer treehouses or overwater bungalows, providing a unique and memorable stay.

When choosing where to stay in the Philippines, consider factors such as location, proximity to attractions, facilities, and the type of experience you want to have. Popular tourist areas like Boracay, Palawan, and Cebu offer a wide range of accommodations, but it’s recommended to book in advance, especially during peak travel seasons.

What to Eat? 🍽️

Philippine cuisine is a delightful blend of flavors influenced by its history and diverse cultures. Here are some must-try dishes when visiting the Philippines as a tourist:

  1. Adobo:
    • A beloved Filipino dish made with meat (usually chicken or pork) marinated in a mixture of vinegar, soy sauce, garlic, bay leaves, and black peppercorns, then simmered until tender.
  2. Sinigang:
    • A sour soup made with tamarind as the base, often featuring pork, shrimp, fish, or vegetables. It’s a comforting and tangy dish.
  3. Lechon:
    • A whole roasted pig, often the centerpiece of celebrations. The skin is crispy and flavorful, while the meat is tender and succulent.
  4. Kare-Kare:
    • A hearty stew made with oxtail, tripe, and vegetables, cooked in a peanut sauce. It’s often served with bagoong (fermented shrimp paste) on the side.
  5. Adobo sa Gata:
    • A variation of adobo with the addition of coconut milk, creating a rich and creamy sauce.
  6. Balut:
    • A fertilized duck egg with a partially developed embryo inside. It’s a unique delicacy that might be an adventurous experience for some tourists.
  7. Halo-Halo:
    • A popular dessert made with crushed ice, mixed with various sweet ingredients like sweetened fruits, jellies, beans, and topped with leche flan and ube ice cream.
  8. Sisig:
    • A sizzling dish made from chopped pig’s face and ears, seasoned with onions, chili peppers, and calamansi (Filipino lime). It’s often served on a hot plate.
  9. Bicol Express:
    • A spicy dish made from pork, shrimp, or fish cooked with coconut milk, chili peppers, and shrimp paste.
  10. Lumpia:
    • Filipino spring rolls, either fresh (lumpiang sariwa) with a mixture of vegetables and shrimp, or fried (lumpiang shanghai) with a meat filling.
  11. Tinola:
    • A clear ginger-based soup usually made with chicken, papaya or green papaya, and chili leaves.
  12. Pancit:
    • Various noodle dishes like Pancit Canton (stir-fried egg noodles) and Pancit Malabon (thick rice noodles) are commonly enjoyed.
  13. Ukoy:
    • Deep-fried shrimp fritters that are crispy on the outside and tender on the inside.
  14. Longganisa:
    • Sweet and savory Filipino sausages, often served with garlic fried rice and fried egg for breakfast.

These dishes offer a glimpse into the diverse and flavorful world of Filipino cuisine. Exploring local markets, street food stalls, and traditional restaurants will allow you to savor the authentic tastes of the Philippines.

What to See? 🔍

The Philippines is blessed with breathtaking natural beauty and a rich cultural heritage. Here are some must-see places for tourists visiting the Philippines:

  1. Boracay Island:
    • Known for its stunning white sand beaches and vibrant nightlife, Boracay offers water activities, relaxation, and entertainment.
  2. Palawan:
    • This province is home to two iconic destinations:
      • El Nido: A paradise of limestone karsts, crystal-clear lagoons, and hidden beaches.
      • Coron: Famous for its dramatic lakes, hot springs, and underwater wrecks for diving.
  3. Chocolate Hills, Bohol:
    • A unique geological formation of over 1,000 cone-shaped hills that turn brown during the dry season, resembling chocolate kisses.
  4. Mayon Volcano, Bicol:
    • The symmetrical beauty of this active volcano is captivating, and the surrounding landscape is rich in natural wonders.
  5. Rice Terraces of Banaue:
    • These ancient terraces are a UNESCO World Heritage site and showcase the ingenuity of the indigenous Ifugao people.
  6. Intramuros, Manila:
    • The historic walled city of Manila offers Spanish colonial architecture, churches, and museums that provide insights into the country’s past.
  7. Vigan, Ilocos Sur:
    • This well-preserved Spanish colonial town is known for its cobblestone streets, ancestral houses, and horse-drawn carriages.
  8. Pampanga Culinary Tours:
    • Pampanga is the culinary capital of the Philippines, offering a wide variety of local dishes and food tours.
  9. Cebu and Mactan Island:
    • Explore historical sites in Cebu City, visit Magellan’s Cross, and enjoy the vibrant nightlife. Mactan Island is famous for water sports and resorts.
  10. Donsol, Sorsogon:
    • Swim with whale sharks, known locally as “butanding,” for a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
  11. Siargao Island:
    • A popular destination for surfers and beach lovers, Siargao offers laid-back vibes, beautiful beaches, and the iconic Cloud 9 surf spot.
  12. Tubbataha Reefs Natural Park:
    • A UNESCO World Heritage site, this marine sanctuary is one of the best diving spots in the world, teeming with marine life.
  13. Batanes:
    • The northernmost province offers stunning landscapes, including rolling hills, rugged coastlines, and traditional stone houses.
  14. Sagada, Mountain Province:
    • Known for its hanging coffins, caves, and trekking opportunities, Sagada offers a unique cultural and natural experience.

These are just a few highlights, and the Philippines has much more to offer. Whether you’re seeking adventure, relaxation, cultural immersion, or natural beauty, you’ll find a wide range of experiences to enjoy in this tropical paradise.

What to Do? 📸

The Philippines offers a plethora of exciting and enriching activities for tourists. Here are some must-do things to consider during your visit:

  1. Island Hopping:
    • With over 7,000 islands, island hopping is a quintessential activity. Explore different islands, beaches, and snorkeling spots.
  2. Snorkeling and Diving:
    • Discover vibrant coral reefs and marine life in some of the world’s best diving spots, such as Tubbataha Reefs and Apo Reef.
  3. Whale Shark Interaction:
    • Swim alongside gentle giants in Donsol or Oslob, where you can have a unique encounter with whale sharks.
  4. Explore Underground Rivers:
    • Visit the Puerto Princesa Underground River in Palawan or the Hinagdanan Cave Pool in Bohol for unforgettable subterranean experiences.
  5. Climb a Volcano:
    • Hike up the majestic Mount Mayon or trek to the summit of Taal Volcano, located on an island within a lake.
  6. Try Water Sports:
    • Engage in water sports like surfing in Siargao, kiteboarding in Boracay, or paddleboarding in calm lagoons.
  7. Visit Local Markets:
    • Immerse yourself in local culture by exploring markets like the Dangwa Flower Market in Manila or the Dapitan Arcade in Quezon City.
  8. Attend Festivals:
    • Join colorful festivals such as the Sinulog Festival in Cebu or the Panagbenga Flower Festival in Baguio to experience Filipino culture.
  9. Taste Street Food:
    • Indulge in street food delights like balut, isaw (grilled chicken intestine), and fish balls for a taste of local flavors.
  10. Zipline Adventures:
    • Experience exhilarating ziplines, like the one over the chocolate hills in Bohol or the longest dual zipline in Dahilayan, Bukidnon.
  11. Explore Caves and Waterfalls:
    • Discover natural wonders like the Sagada caves, Sumaging Cave in Sagada, and Kawasan Falls in Cebu.
  12. Immerse in Cultural Villages:
    • Visit cultural villages like the Kalinga Village in Buscalan or the Tam-awan Village in Baguio to learn about indigenous cultures.
  13. Try Filipino Cooking Classes:
    • Learn to cook Filipino dishes and discover the unique flavors of the country’s cuisine.
  14. Watch Sunset and Sunrise:
    • Enjoy breathtaking sunsets at popular spots like Manila Bay, and catch sunrise views from Batanes’ rolling hills.

These activities offer a mix of adventure, cultural exploration, and relaxation, allowing you to experience the Philippines from various angles and create unforgettable memories.

Culture and Safety 🦺

When traveling to the Philippines, it’s important to respect the local culture and customs:

  1. Respect for Elders: Show respect for elders by using “po” and “opo” (words of respect) when speaking to them.
  2. Religious Sites: When visiting churches or religious sites, dress modestly and behave respectfully, especially during Mass or ceremonies.
  3. Removing Shoes: Remove your shoes before entering someone’s home, especially in rural areas.
  4. Public Displays of Affection: While hand-holding is generally acceptable, avoid excessive public displays of affection, as they might be considered inappropriate in certain places.
  5. Greetings: Greet locals with a smile and “hello” or “kamusta.” Handshakes are common, especially in more urban areas.
  6. Conservative Dress: Dress modestly, particularly in rural areas and when visiting religious sites. Wearing revealing clothing might be considered disrespectful.

Safety in the Philippines:

While the Philippines is generally safe for tourists, it’s important to take safety precautions:

  1. Tourist Areas: Stick to well-known tourist areas, especially at night. Be cautious in less touristy areas, especially after dark.
  2. Valuables: Keep your belongings secure and avoid displaying expensive items like jewelry and electronics.
  3. Transportation: Use reputable transportation services, and be cautious when using public transportation in crowded areas.
  4. Natural Hazards: Be aware of weather conditions, especially during typhoon season. Follow local advice and evacuation procedures if needed.
  5. Health Precautions: Stay hydrated, use insect repellent to prevent mosquito-borne diseases, and be cautious when consuming street food.
  6. Travel Insurance: Have comprehensive travel insurance that covers medical emergencies and unexpected incidents.
  7. Scams: Be cautious of common scams targeting tourists, such as overcharging for goods or services.
  8. Local Laws: Familiarize yourself with local laws and customs. Drug laws are particularly strict, and penalties for violations can be severe.
  9. Emergency Numbers: Know the local emergency numbers and have contact information for your embassy or consulate.

By being respectful of local customs, staying aware of your surroundings, and following safety guidelines, you can have a positive and safe experience while traveling in the Philippines. It’s also advisable to check travel advisories before your trip and stay informed about any local developments.

Conclusion

In conclusion, a visit to the Philippines promises an unforgettable journey through stunning landscapes, vibrant cultures, and warm hospitality. With its diverse islands, pristine beaches, and rich history, the Philippines offers a wealth of experiences for every traveler. From the white sands of Boracay to the lush jungles of Palawan, and the bustling streets of Manila to the serene rice terraces of Banaue, the country’s natural beauty and cultural treasures await exploration. By embracing the local customs, savoring the unique flavors, and engaging in thrilling adventures, you’ll create cherished memories that will last a lifetime in this tropical paradise.