Everything you need to know.
Everything you need to know when it comes to traveling to this beautiful country, Philippines. Having been born and raised in the Philippines, I decided to put together this ultimate resource to help travelers plan a trip of a lifetime to my home country.
With over 7,107 islands to choose from, the Philippines has a little bit of something for everyone. Home to many stunning white sand beaches, crystal clear waters, lush rice terraces, world-class surfing, and diving, the Philippines is slowly becoming a must-visit destination.
Located in South East Asia, the Philippines is not so common for backpackers to travel too, due to its lack of land connections to neighboring countries. Despite this, everyone who goes ends up falling in love with both its stunning landscapes and warm people.
Get to know the Philippines
The Philippines that consists of over 7,107 islands is also a host of around 170 languages + dialects. Isn’t it amazing? At present, Filipino and English are the official languages of the country. However, for many centuries and until the early half of the 20th century, Spanish was the official language of the country. Due to colonial influence, English made a way into the schools and curriculum of the country, but in 1937 steps were taken to develop a national language based on the existing native languages.
Widely spoken Tagalog was made the base language, and in 1973, Filipino became the combined official language of the country along with English. Want to know more about the languages of the Philippines? Here, we tell you about the top widely spoken languages of the country.
Tagalog is the only Filipino language that can generally be spoken and understood around almost every part of the country. Mainly spoken in Manila area and neighboring provinces like Batangas, Nueva Ecija, Laguna, Cavite, etc. this language is spoken by around 28 million people in the country.
Cebuano is the second most spoken native language of Philippines. Majorly articulated in Cebu City and other areas like Butuan, Mindanao, Davao, General Santos City and Cagayan de Oro, around 21 million people are presently using it for discourse.
Ilocano or Ilokano is a blend of several other languages from different countries like Indonesia, Hawaiian, Malay, Tahitian, Samoan and Chamorro of Guam. Mostly used in the Northern part of the country, Ilocano is crowned to be the third most spoken language here with 9.1 million native speakers.
Waray is also one of the most spoken regional language of the Philippines. The name waray-waray comes from ‘waray’ means ‘none’ or ‘nothing.’ It is broadly oral in provinces like Biliran, Eastern Samar, Northern Samar and Eastern Visayas. The language is also used in local government, television and, radio broadcast.
Also known as Ilonggo, Hiligaynon is articulated in Iloilo, Panay Islands, Antique, Bacolod, North & South Cotabato in Mindanao and Aklan. This language is marked by its sweet intonation, and around 9.1 million people speak in all over the country.
Pampangan or Kapampangan is spoken in the province of Pampanga, Southern Tarlac, Bataan, Central Luzon. Kapampangan is one of the major languages of the Philippines that is taught formally in schools and universities. The name of the language has been derived from the root word pampang which means ‘river bank.’
Although the Philippines is rich with hundreds of languages and dialects, at present, the main language used is Taglish that is a combination of English and Tagalog.
Tagalog and English. The Philippines has many different dialects which vary according to region, but English is also predominantly spoken which makes traveling around easier.
The Philippine Peso is the currency of the Philippines The most popular Philippines Peso exchange rate is the USD to PHP rate. The currency code for Pesos is PHP and currency symbol is ( ₱). Check conversion here:
Climate and Weather
The Philippines has five types of climate: tropical rainforest, tropical monsoon, tropical savanna, humid subtropical and oceanic (both are in higher-altitude areas) characterized by relatively high temperature, oppressive humidity and plenty of rainfall. There are two seasons in the country, the wet season and the dry season, based upon the amount of rainfall. Based on temperature, the warmest months of the year are March through October; the winter monsoon brings hotter air from November to February. May is the warmest month, and January, the coolest.
Recommendation: Before you plan to visit the place, it’s better to check the weather first so that you will definitely enjoy it.
Nationals from 151 countries may enter the Philippines without a visa and stay for a maximum of thirty (30) days, provided they are holders of a passport valid for at least six (6) months beyond the period of stay in the Philippines. They must also present a return or outward bound ticket to their country of origin or their next country of destination. (They are quite strict with showing an outbound ticket so plan accordingly.)
Always do your own research for visa guidelines as they continuously change.
The Filipino People
Those who have had the pleasure of traveling around the Philippines can attest to the warm and friendly vibe that most Filipinos exude. Known for our penchant for being hospitable, giving out smiles and loving karaoke, don’t be surprised if you find yourself drinking shots with locals singing Bon Jovi (or some version of it) at the top of your lungs.
No matter how simple their meal is, regardless if all they have to eat is a plate of rice, you will always hear Filipinos inviting you to eat by saying the words, “kain tayo.”
The disparity between the rich and poor is so widespread that while visiting the country, you can find yourself in modern and trendy places in Manila while the provinces are still full of local fishermen and farmers working hard, trying to make a living.
Another characteristic that Filipinos are known for is their admirable trait of resiliency. Often caught in the most horrific of natural disasters, the Filipino spirit is waterproof and is able to bounce back with smiles on their faces despite challenging times.
The Best Things to Do in the Philippines
One of the things people struggle with the most is figuring out where to go which is why I wanted to summarize the best things to do in the country, as well as recommendations on where to go.
However, with that being said, the Philippines is a HUGE country.
There are so many places to visit and things to do so I am merely making this list based on personal suggestions and tourist hotspots. If you prefer to go off-the-beaten-path.
Scuba diving is one of the main highlights in the Philippines. In fact, more and more people come to the country to experience even just a glimpse of the incredible marine life. Given the popularity of scuba diving in the Philippines, liveaboard trips are also on the rise.
Suggested places to go for diving are:
- Cebu (Malapascua, Bantayan, Moal Boal)
- Apo Island
If you want to relax in beautiful beaches, the Philippines has no shortage of those. Everywhere from Palawan to Cebu, there are tons of stunning coastlines to travel.
Listed below are the islands/places I recommend you visit:
- Caramoan (Bicol)
Due to our vast coastline, there are loads of great surf spots in the country, with a large majority catering to beginner surfers. Listed below are a few of my top suggestions on where to go.
- La Union
Although the Philippines is relatively a flat country, there are a few great hikes and treks that are worth visiting.
- Banaue Rice Terraces (keep reading this article as I have a full section on it)
- Manila (Taal volcano, Mt. Pulag, Pico de Loro, etc.)
Where to Go When Traveling Around the Philippines
Now, the fact that you have started to entertain the thought of going to the Philippines means you’re on the right path! With over 7,000 islands to choose from, naturally, one can wonder.
Listed below are a few of the most popular tourist spots. They are all relatively easy to reach, offer countless accommodation options, and many things to do.
Some of these places, such as Cebu for example, are also a gateway to more remote islands where you can enjoy beautiful beaches and exciting attractions all to yourself. That said, there are many islands which are completely off the beaten path, containing some of the most beautiful hidden gems of the Philippines such as Camiguin, Dinagat, Caramoan, Vigan and Batanes to name a few.
As the Philippines is made up of multiple islands, the hardest part is getting around. If you have time, you can take your time and take buses and ferries from island to island.
However, if you’re only there for a month or less, your best bet would be to fly. If you book early enough, you can find Philippine airline tickets through Tajawal, to take you to the main island hotspots.
Palawan, for me, is the epitome of paradise on earth. Dotted with many idyllic islands with tropical palm trees and crystal clear waters, every photo that you take in this beautiful spot comes out postcard-worthy.
Imagine yourself sailing through their many turquoise-colored lagoons as limestone karst mountains surround you.
Sounds too good to be true? I promise a visit to Palawan is a must for anyone planning to go here.
Places to visit: Although Palawan is comprised of many islands and lagoons, the three main places to visit are Puerto Princessa, Coron, and El Nido. There are also many notable places like Port Barton and San Vincente which travelers opt for instead of going to Puerto Princess.
Short on time? Stick to traveling around Coron and El Nido.
Known as the official city of Palawan, Puerto Princessa is often visited due to its highly popular Underground River. The Underground River was recently declared to be part of the New 7 Wonders of Nature. In our opinion, Puerto Princessa is very touristy (so is the underground river).
The small sleepy town of Coron is an underwater haven for dive enthusiasts and those keen to explore marine life. World War II shipwrecks dot the shores of nearby islands, making them ideal dive spots to explore.
If diving isn’t your thing, island hopping around the many beautiful islands and lakes is a good way to spend your time. You can also rent a motorbike and drive up the coast, or even pay a visit to a local safari in the Northern most part which is home to many zebras and giraffes.
Don’t miss: Siete Pecados Marine Park (it’s like snorkeling in an aquarium!) and a visit to Cayangan Lake to take the iconic Coron shot.
Declared one of the “World’s Best Beaches” by CNN, El Nido is home to many uninhabited islands where relaxing Robinson’s Crusoe style is possible. Situated in the Bacuit Bay, spend your days exploring hidden islands, sailing through lagoons, and enjoying the stillness of island life.
Don’t miss: Enjoy the many island hopping tours, go overnight camping on a deserted island (can be arranged through a tour operator), and take a drive to Nacpan Beach. A visit to stunning Black Island is also a must do while here.
Insider Tip: Rather than joining the boat tours, try to gather a group together and charter a boat yourselves. The tour groups take you from one place to the next, without giving you ample time to laze around and enjoy. Trust me, this is the way to truly enjoy the beauty of the islands. Approach a local boatman or arrange it with local tour agencies.
How to get there: There are many different ways to get to Palawan. The easiest way is to fly to Puerto Princessa and take a 5/6 hour shuttle van to El Nido. From there, you can take a boat to Coron. Another alternative but is usually a lot more expensive is flying to Coron (Busuanga Airport) and traveling from Coron to Puerto Princessa.
Transport Tip: 2GO Travel Ferry offers an overnight boat to Busuanga but only runs once a week. Best to check their schedule ahead of time if flying is out of your budget.
Where to Stay in Palawan
Given the wide variety of accommodations in Palawan, we decided to do all the work for you by compiling our recommendations and top picks on the best places to stay in Palawan that would suit every type of travel budget.
Although known to be very touristy, Boracay for me still has magic and charm.
Popularly known for its vibrant nightlife and powder white sand beaches, Boracay Island is still paradise for many. Some of you might know but this place was my home for three and a half odd years back when I was still working as a teacher.
Spend your days sipping $2 rum cokes and $1 beers in the palm-fringed coast while laying in the softest whitest sand you’ve ever seen.
If lying on the beach is not your thing (is that even possible??) get your adrenaline pumping by taking part of the many water sports available on the island. From kiteboarding to windsurfing in Bulabog Beach to scuba diving, the possibilities are endless.
The nightlife in Boracay is not to be missed; beach parties can often be found everywhere. Pay a visit to Bom Bom Bar for some live reggae music, Exit Bar (our local watering hole), and keep your eyes peeled out for some of the full moon parties at Area 51 in Bulabog Beach.
Don’t Miss: Ride a Paraw (sailboat) and head to Puka Beach for a picnic, pay a visit to Spider House in Diniwid Beach, and feast on local seafood in the Talipapa Seafood Market.
Insider Tip: Station 1 is dotted with high-end luxury resorts while station 2 can get very busy. Head on over to Angol Beach in station 3 and catch a glimpse of the old Boracay vibe.
If you have loads of time on your hands, get away from the tourists and consider making the trek to Gigantes Island in Iloilo (a long bus and boat ride away but very worth it!) A trip to mainland Antique is also a great side trip as you enjoy whitewater kayaking and soaking yourself in giant cauldrons.
How to get there: From Manila, you can find relatively cheap flights to Kalibo. From Kalibo, you can take a shuttle bus (2 hours) and a boat crossing to the island. Alternatively, you can book a flight directly to Caticlan and just cross over to Boracay on a boat.
*Please take note that because the airport in Caticlan is smaller, only small planes can land here. Flights are often rerouted to Kalibo due to weather disturbances.
Where to Stay in Boracay Island
Boracay’s White Beach can be split into 4 different parts: from Station 3 all the way to Diniwid Beach. There are also accommodations and places to stay in Bulabog Beach.
Being that these provinces are so large and there are so many things to do, I will only be highlighting the best of the best as there is literally so many things to see.
Cebu is a busy metropolitan (they also have an international airport) that has many beaches and mountains close by.
If you’re a diving enthusiast, pack your bags and head towards Malapascua to get a chance to see the magical thresher sharks. Scuba diving in Moal Boal and Pescador Island are also noteworthy experiences!
You can also head on over to Oslob to swim with whale sharks although there is much controversy to this as many oppose their “domestication” and disruption of their migratory routines so make sure you read up on the issue before booking anything..
Don’t Miss: A visit to Tumalog Waterfalls in Oslob, Canyoning in Mt. Matutinao, Boating to the South or North Sandbar in Mactan while indulging in Cebu Lechon (roasted pig) and some sinugba and puso (grilled meat/seafood with rice)
Insider Tip: Islands like Bohol, Dumaguete, and Siquijor are all close by. Check boat schedules and make your way around these islands to laze around sandbars, go dolphin watching, and see the Philippine Tarsiers and the Chocolate Hills.
How to get there: Cebu is a central hub which has an International Airport to fly to directly (Mactan International Airport). From there, traveling between the neighboring islands is relatively easy as there are regular ferry schedules to help you go from one place to the other. T
Where to Stay in Cebu
To help you plan on where to stay in Cebu, here are our top picks for each area! See our picks for Cebu City, Mactan Island, MoalBoal, Oslob, and Malapascua. Click on the link below to read our personal suggestions.
Banaue Rice Terraces
This 2000-year-old terraces carved into the mountains by the indigenous people of the region are truly a sight to see. Marvel at the lush greenery and the cool climate which is a great break from the rather intense heat that the rest of the Philippines tend to have.
The crops are watered by an ancient irrigation system from the rainforests above the terraces. If you go further than the Banaue rice terraces, you’ll hit Batad. This tiny remote village is only accessible by foot. The rice terraces by Batad are stunning and lush but is physically demanding to reach.
Don’t Miss: Pay a visit to the nearby town of Sagada to enjoy a couple of days caving, spelunking, and hiking. You can also visit a place where you can see hanging coffins which are based on ancient burying rituals.
Also, for those looking for the ultimate souvenir, you may consider paying a visit to legendary Whang- Od, a 95-year-old tribal tattoo artist, who is the last of her tribe to tattoo using traditional Filipino methods (bamboo stick and thorns).
Insider Tip: Depending on what you want to see, plan your trip to the terraces accordingly. If you want to see them at their greenest, then April-May or October-November would be the best time to go. June and December is harvest time in Batad so the terraces will be a nice golden color during those months.
How to get there: Buses are the most common means of transport to the North. You can even take overnight buses as the trip lasts 8-10 hours. Take note that the buses heading up North are COLD. Pack a hoodie and a scarf as they crank up the air conditioner really high.
Where to Stay in Banaue
In Banaue, especially the further north you go, most of the accommodation choices are small mom-and-pop run places. Very basic but it would still have everything that you need.
The choices online are quite limited but are still worth checking out if you’re looking for something more comfortable than your basic room.
Either a flight or a (really long) bus ride away from Manila, Bicol is home to the world’s perfectly shaped volcano. Catch the stunning views as you watch the sunrise set the perfect scene to this sight to see.
Please take note that the Mayon Volcano is an active volcano so take heed when planning to hike it.
The 2,460m volcano last erupted in May 2013, and has erupted more than 40 times since records began. After you’ve seen the volcano, islands like Calaguas and the Caramoan Islands (where the Survivor series was shot) are relatively nearby. Uninhabited islands for you to relax on? Who can say no to that?
Don’t Miss: Watch the sunrise Mayon Volcano, go camping in Calaguas Island, pay a visit to Tayak Lagoon, swim with whale sharks in Sorsogon, and go island hopping around Caramoan group of islands.
Insider Tip: If you’re tired of relaxing in pristine beaches, you can head on over to Camsur Watersports Complex. A popular place to enjoy wakeboarding and other extreme sports. If you’re heading to Bicol to catch the whale sharks, make sure that you are looking at the right season as they are not there all year round.
How to get there: If you are heading to see the Mayon volcano, you can either fly from Manila to Legazpi City or take a bus from the Pasay, Cubao, or Ermita bus station. Alternatively, if you are going to the wakeboard park (CWC) or Caramoan islands, you can fly or take a bus directly to Naga City.
Where to Stay in Bicol
The tourism industry in Bicol is booming, and along with that is the rise of many beautiful yet still affordable places to stay. However, there are still loads of small places to stay that don’t have a large online presence.
Getting Around the Philippines
I could literally go on and on about the many places around the Philippines, but the places listed above is a good start. When planning your trip, just take into consideration that the Philippines is not built up for tourists.
Because the Philippines is spread out among so many islands, it is best to check boat schedules and flights ahead of time. Transportation can be difficult… flights, buses, and even boats are often delayed.
But hey, that is all part of the adventure!
Lastly, when traveling around the Philippines, it would be useful to know some Tagalog phrases. Even if everybody speaks English, they would love it if you bust out a few words or two!
Accommodation in the Philippines
The prices of accommodation vary depending on where you are and how touristy or built up the place is. There are loads of hip hostels that have opened in Manila that are good bases for when you first get there.
When you do go to the other places though, hostels are not very common (although nowadays, there are a couple in both Boracay and Palawan). For budget travelers, you can get a basic bungalow by the beach for around $10 for a fan room and a clean air-conditioned room for $17-20.
Airbnb Travel Tip: If you prefer to stay in apartments for your trip to the Philippines, we recommend Airbnb.
Popular Day Trips from Manila
Alternatively, there are also a couple of popular day trips that you can do. You can head on over to Mt Pinatubo trek to the volcano, do one of the many day hikes in Batangas like Mt. Batulao and Pico de Loro for the more avid climbers.
A visit to Tagaytay to see the Taal Lake and Volcano is also a good alternative. All of these places are accessible by local buses.
For those interested in history, a day trip to Intramuros and Corregidor is a must!
For Surf Enthusiasts
The Philippines is a great hub for surfing as we have both beginner and intermediate waves spread out across the country.
For the water babies and surf enthusiasts there, you can head on over to well-established surf spots like La Union, Baler, Pagudpud and the legendary Siargao for all year round barreling waves.
Best Filipino Food: Know What to Eat
In the travel world, Filipino food isn’t as popular as it is hard to find relatively healthy and affordable meals on a limited budget. There is a lot of good Filipino food but most of it will be found in someone’s home as home-cooked meals are our forte!
In a nutshell, the Philippines is a great country to travel to. Don’t spend too long in Manila and head out to the islands as soon as you can (although there still are a few fun things to do there if you are a city person).
When traveling around the Philippines, don’t forget to interact with the locals, be willing to step out of your comfort zone, enjoy the many magical sunsets, and most of all, relish in every experience that comes your way!