A vacation to the Philippines is for those who want relaxation, ultimate luxury, breathtaking scenery and all at a great price. We spent 16 days there and it quickly became one of our favorite countries in Southeast Asia. However, with over 7,000 islands, planning a trip there can be a little overwhelming. Check out our Philippines travel tips to know what to expect and help make your planning easier!
Absolutely do not be afraid to travel there
The Philippines gets a pretty bad rap in the media, declaring it to be unsafe for foreigners to visit because of mass terrorist attacks and kidnappings. In reality, the Philippines is about as safe as any other place in Southeast Asia. There are certain areas that you should avoid, but they’re not usually on the list for most popular destinations in the Philippines, anyways. Anything Southeast of the Mindanao Gulf should be avoided. Just do a little research here before you go and steer clear of dangerous situations just like you would in any other foreign country and you’ll be just fine!
It’s extremely cheap
*Note: 51 Philippine peso = 1 $USD
I cannot even explain how cheap everything is in the Philippines! Mid range hotels can cost as little as 1,100 pesos (about $20 USD) and a heaping plate of food can be as low as 100 pesos.
Transportation throughout the islands is cheap as well. The main budget airlines are Air Asia and Cebu Pacific and you can snag a deal as low as 1500 pesos for a round trip flight from Manila to an outer island. Getting around by tricycle (see below) will cost you about 50 pesos and ferries will vary from 600-1800 pesos, depending on the trip. This is also a great place to feed your shopping habit! You’ll find deals on just about everything, from clothes to electronics and bartering is a-OK! So make sure to leave room in your suitcase so you can fit all of your new goodies.
The locals are very friendly
Everywhere we went, we were greeted with smiles in the Philippines. And the locals were always willing to help provide tips on the area, organize tours and arrange for motorbike rentals. We found a resort in Mactan, Cebu called “Azure” so of course we had to go check it out. We had drinks at their ocean side bar and then had dinner there and when they found out my name was Azure, they took 20% off of our food bill! How nice is that!
English is widely spoken
While the main language of the Philippines is Tagalog and each island has their own native dialect, the majority of Filipino locals speak English. And they speak it quite well, I might add. And even if you happen to encounter the rare local who doesn’t speak any English, no worries! They’re very patient and as long as you are too, your message will get across eventually!
You will travel by tricycle
There’s no limos or hummers in the Philippines, but who needs those when you have tricycles?! Be prepared to get up close and personal with your travel buddy or even a random stranger. They aren’t the most spacious of vehicles, but they’ll get you from point A to point B (most of the time.) They’re very cheap to hire. A one way ride can cost you as little as 25 pesos per person.
Never go out without toilet paper
If you’ve ever been to Southeast Asia, then you know how important this tip is. In place of toilet paper, you may find a pale and bucket of water to wash yourself after you do your business. You can do as the locals do and adopt this method if you want, but if you’re not keen on that, just carry toilet paper with you everywhere you go. Do note that their septic systems aren’t great, so toilet paper needs to be thrown away and not flushed.
Beware of typhoon season
The Philippines are made up of over 7,000 islands, right in the middle of the ocean far away from any other large land masses. So, it’s very exposed and susceptible to severe weather patterns. The “dry season” is December-April, and “typhoon season” is between June-September, with the worst months being August and September. Keep in mind that typhoons can occur outside of these months, so it’s important to keep an eye on the weather patterns before you leave for your trip.
Overplanning and cramming will only hurt you
As I just said, there are a lot of islands in the Philippines. Traveling in between these islands is slow. Sometimes really, really slow. Don’t try to cram several islands into a 2 week trip and allow your itinerary to have some wiggle room for delayed travel. It’s not uncommon for planes to be delayed and boat trips to be cancelled. You also want to be prepared to completely change your travel plans in the event of a typhoon. The Philippines isn’t as popular as other Southeast Asia destinations such as Thailand, so booking last-minute accommodation shouldn’t be an issue unless you’re traveling during a big festival.
Long layover in Manila? Stay in the airport
The traffic in Manila is NO JOKE. It took us almost an hour just to transfer terminals at the Manila airport. A lot of travelers make the mistake of venturing out into Manila if they have a long layover. I would not suggest this unless your layover exceeds 12 hours, and even that is pushing it in my opinion. You could be stuck in traffic for hours and risk missing your flight. Terminal 3 at Manila airport has plenty of things to keep you entertained, such as shopping, spas, and plenty of restaurants. If your layover is overnight, there several lounges for you to catch some shut-eye and the prices are very reasonable.
Ladies, bring plenty of feminine products
You don’t want your beach filled vacation to be spoiled by the fact that you didn’t pack any tampons. You will have an extremely hard time finding them in the Philippines. This is mostly due to outdated cultural beliefs, but the lack of products remains. You’ll have no problem finding pads, but tampons are mystery items in this country. Pack plenty to get you through your vacation!
There’s heavily armed security guards everywhere
Don’t let them scare you. They’re carrying machine guns and if you don’t see them outside of hotels, shopping malls and airports, you’ll see them casually strolling in the streets. They’re actually a great resource to go to if you are lost or need help, so don’t be afraid to approach them!
It is highly cash dependent
Be prepared to pay cash for nearly everything, or be willing to pay a hefty fee for using your credit or debit card. Get cash out of the ATM immediately when you land at the airport because ATM’s can be hard to come across as well. Some islands only have one, and if they have a “brown out,” aka power outage, you’re out of luck. Normally I wouldn’t be one to recommend that you carry large amounts of cash, but you really don’t have any option in the Philippines. Most of the ATM’s have a withdrawal limit of 10,000 pesos, but you can do multiple transactions. If you get tens of thousands of pesos out, store the majority of it in a safe in your hotel and don’t carry it around on a daily basis.
WiFi is extremely unreliable
Aside from Manila, most of the cities in the Philippines are quite small and remote. Some hotels and cafes will advertise that they have WiFi, but it rarely works. If it’s important for you to have access to the Internet on your vacation, like it is for Shawn since he maintains his job while we travel, get a local SIM card. Note that you must have an unlocked phone in order to do this! Talk to your phone provider to see if your phone is unlocked. Shawn and I got different SIM cards in the event one provider didn’t have as much coverage and it’s a really good thing we did that! Shawn got the Smart SIM card and I got Globe. I had data service almost everywhere we went and Shawn rarely did. A 15 day Globe sim card was 600 pesos.
It’s one of the most beautiful places on the planet
You may have heard this before? I’m here to tell you it’s 100% true. From crystal clear blue waters to impressive limestone rock formations lining white sand beaches and sunsets that will blow your mind, it’s one of the most beautiful places we’ve ever traveled to.
Hopefully our Philippines travel tips have taken some of the stress away that comes with planning a vacation. Or even better, maybe they have inspired you to visit this amazing country. As I said, it’s not as popular as Thailand, so get there soon before word gets out and the serenity is lost.
Have you been to the Philippines? Do you have any additional travel tips? Leave us a comment!