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The Philippines: the complete travel guide

In this guide, you’ll find all you need to know to organize your next trip to the Philippines: what to do, how to get to the different places, the cost of living, the safety of the country, and much more.

corong corong in el nido in palawan at sunset

If you spend some time online reading about the best travel destinations, it seems like recently the Philippines are on the bucket list of many people, especially after Lonely Planet added this beautiful country as one of the top destinations on his magazine.

Sadly the Philippines are often on the news not only the beautiful beaches but also for the crackdown on drug dealers with thousands of people killed. For this reason, many people don’t really know what to expect when visiting the Philippines.

Are the Philippines dangerous? Is it safe to travel there alone? I’ll try to address these and many other questions on my article, but first things first: remember that what you are going to read on this post comes from my personal experience and everyone has different feelings and experiences when visiting one place.

Is it worth visiting the Philippines?

cebu pacific

For most of the people, traveling to the Philippines means flying for many hours and spending quite a lot of money so I think this is a fair question.

From my personal experience, I can definitely say that it was definitely worth every single Euro spent. Why? Well, just look at some of the pictures I took: the Philippines are a true tropical paradise! There are more than 7100 islands divided into three main regions or provinces: Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao and there is so much to see. Mountains, historic cities, beaches, wildlife, etc…

Another good point is that there are fewer tourists than in other Asian touristic destinations such as Thailand (here is my post about Ao Nang) so you’ll definitely find empty beaches.

Last but not least, the Philippines are a rather cheap destination compared to many other touristic destinations.

underground river of puerto princesa in palawan in the philippines

One of the typical boats in Palawan, the most beautiful island in the world, according to Condé Nast

The Philippines are not a paradise for everyone

nacpan beach

If you stop reading my article right now you might wonder: if the Philippines are so beautiful, how come there are so many Philippinos leaving the country and moving abroad? The answer is because obviously, life isn’t that easy if you are born and raised there.

People who move to big cities looking for a better life, often end up on the streets because they can’t afford to pay the rent, and sadly their situation is worse than before moving.

This also means that the criminality rate is much higher in big cities than in remote areas. Of course, there are many people who have a pretty good life but generally speaking the Philippines are a poor country.

This being said, people look happier than in many western countries, especially those who live in the countryside. Is this just a cliche? Well, I spent some time with some Filipino friends who live in a hut with no electricity, nor tap water, and use wood and fire to cook their food, and guess what? They are happier than many people I know in Italy who own expensive cars, big houses, a 1000+€ iPhone and work 24/7 just to pay off their debts.

fisherman village in nacpan n the philippines

A typical fishermen village in the north of Palawan

I think this is an important premise since it’s always good to have a general idea of the situation of the place you are going to visit.

children in nacpan in the philippines

Even if many children have a difficult situation they often smile

How to get around the Philippines

jeepney nacpan philippines

One important thing to keep in mind is that since the Philippines are made up of so many islands, moving from one place to another takes time, sometimes a lot.

Part of the reason is because of the distances and part because of the poor services. Roads are often in poor conditions, flights are often delayed and the traffic in big cities is simply crazy (everybody complaining about the traffic in Hanoi should visit Cebu city during the rush hour!).

If you plan to move from one island to another it’ll probably take a whole day. Sometimes more if you take a long-distance bus or a long-distance ferry.

To move from one island to another there are three options:

  • Airplane
  • Ferry
  • Bus

Getting around the Philippines by Airplane

cebu pacific review

The national low-cost airline is Cebu Pacific but you need to book your flights well in advance (at least 4/5 months) to find really good deals. I flew from Manila to Puerto Princesa for about 15€. Not too bad! Another thing to keep in mind is that almost at every airport you’ll have to pay a fee. Keep some cash with you as credit cards are not accepted (this is a good suggestion every no matter where you go in the Philippines).

You’ll need a valid return ticket (within 30 days if you have a visa-exempt 30-day stay) to visit the Philippines. Cebu Pacific Airlines asked for mine.

The biggest problem with Cebu Pacific is that almost every flight is delayed. Not long ago their official website “boasted” a 55% rate of on-time flights. In other words: one flight out of two is delayed (often one hour or more). This is a very important detail if you have more than one flight on the same day. Most of the flights delayed come or leave from the Manila airport. If you don’t fly to or from Manila most probably you’ll be ok.

The Philippines are quite cheap but the downside is that almost everywhere you go you’ll have to pay some kind of fee. Island Hopping tour? Environment fee. Airport? Transportation fee. Remote grotto? Fee! Quite annoying honestly. It’s even worse than Italy!

Getting around the Philippines by ferry

animals in the philippines

With so many islands, it’s more convenient to move using one of the many ferries (you’ll obviously have to pay a fee after having bought the ticket).

The interesting thing about using the ferry is that you’ll spend more time with the local people (ferries are generally cheaper than flights) and most probably you’ll see someone carrying a rooster (in the Philippines cockfight is the national sport).

Getting around the Philippines by bus

Finally, you can use one of the many buses. There are long-distance buses that serve meals and have beds and are loaded onto big ferries to travel between islands. I only tried a short-distance bus, so I don’t know if it’s worth using one of them. One thing is sure: you’ll see much more of the country but it will take longer. So if you don’t have many days that is not an option for you.

To get around the cities there are 5 options:

  • Tricycle
  • Taxi
  • Jeepney
  • Bus
  • Motorbike

The advantage of the first three options is the lower cost and the disadvantage is that they are relatively slow.

Getting around the cities in the Philippines: tricycles

puerto princesa

The tricycles are a kind of covered sidecar that can carry 2 to 4 people. They are very common especially in rural areas and in smaller cities like Puerto Princesa but are not allowed in bigger cities like Cebu.

Tricycles are fairly cheap especially if you have never been to Asia and you have never tried anything like that. They are similar to Tuk-Tuk in Thailand.

If you want to use a tricycle contract the price before you get on. Often the drivers ask more than twice the regular price to foreigners.

Getting aroung the cities in the Philippines: taxi

Taxis are common only in bigger cities and before you get inside, be sure that the driver uses the meter. If he doesn’t want to just walk away. He will probably say that the meter is broken or something else. Don’t listen to him because he’s simply trying to rip you off.

If you are in Manila you need to be particularly careful. I read many bad stories about tourists being kidnapped and robbed but at first, I thought these were only exaggerations. So I asked some of my Filipino friends and they all confirmed what I read. Manila is dangerous. That’s it.

If possible don’t travel alone, especially if you are a young girl. If you really have to, while you are in the taxi, pretend you are talking to someone on the phone and take note of the driver’s name and car’s number plate. Am I being overly concerned? Maybe, but it’s definitely better to be overcautious than being naive.

Not many people know that inside the Manila Airport there is a free shuttle that will take you to the next terminal so you won’t need a taxi. The problem with the airport is that up to now the terminals are not connected! So if you don’t know about the shuttle you’ll have to take a taxi: expensive and slow especially during the rush hour.

Getting around the cities in the Philippines: jeepneys

jeepney in palawan

Jeepneys are the cheapest way to get around in the Philippines. They are colorful and crowded, as you can see in the pictures but dirty cheap!

The first Jeepneys were built using what was left of the jeeps used during World War II. That’s where the name comes from. The main difference between Jeepneys and Buses is that Jeepneys will not stop unless someone has to get off or get on.

They run from point A to point B, or run in a circle, and, as you can imagine, if there are many people, it will take forever to get to your destination.

Getting around the cities in the Philippines: bus

There are two kinds of Buses: Air Con and non-AirCon. The price is strangely similar and given the tropical weather in the Philippines, it’s better to use an AirCon bus. The best Bus Company is Ceres Bus. Another problem with the non-AirCon buses is that they are really crowded and two seats can accommodate 4 or 5 people.

Getting around the cities in the Philippines: motorcycle

roads in the philippines

If you like using the motorbike the Philippines are the right place for you. You can ask pretty much anyone to take you where you want to go for a few pesos.

Most of the time you won’t even need to ask someone: you’ll be approached by many who will ask you if you need a ride. Every motorbike can accommodate 4-6 people!
Most of the time the roads are not paved with tarmac but with concrete as you can see in my pictures. Sometimes, even in touristic destinations, they are not paved at all.

Alternatively, you can actually rent a scooter.

Are the Philippines a safe country?

children in nacpan in the philippines

This is a very important question especially these days where it’s getting harder to visit many countries due to safety reasons. It’s often difficult to give a general answer. My standard of safety might be different from yours and a place that might be safe for me, being a Caucasian male, might not be safe for other people.

So my answer to the question is: it depends. It depends on where you are and what you do. The impression I had was that if you are in a city you’ll have to be more careful than if you are in the countryside. Always keep an eye on your wallet, backpack, and smartphone but these are common-sense rules that apply to any place in the world. I don’t think it would be a good idea to walk alone in the suburbs of Manila, or any other city, late at night though.

I didn’t have any problem while I was in the countryside nor did I have the impression that the place wasn’t safe. Actually, I walked around a lot with all my camera gear and the only “danger” for me was the many smiling kids trying to see how they looked on the screen of my camera.

Generally speaking, Filipinos are friendly and easy-going. There is only one area in the Philippines that it’s really unsafe: the southern region of Mindanao where, due to Muslims Terrorists, foreigners are advised to avoid some places. Apart from that, the Philippines are generally safe. Using common-sense is important in the Philippines just like anywhere else.

Regarding health these are some suggestions (especially if you are in remote places) you should keep in mind if you don’t want to spend too much time in the toilet:

  • Avoid drinking from the tap water (don’t even brush your teeth)
  • Avoid drinks with ice. Most probably they used tap water to make the ice
  • Always bring some hand sanitizer to use before eating
  • If you buy a bottle of water be sure it’s new and hasn’t been just refilled (it happens sometimes)
  • Buy some repellent for the mosquitoes. Don’t bring your own from home! It probably won’t work. The best brand is Off.
  • Use common sense when eating street food. I personally love it and want to try almost everything but this might not always be a good idea
  • Bring a good tripod to photograph the amazing landscapes of the Philippines

The cost of living in the Philippines

Sunset at Corong Corong beach, El Nido, Palawan in the Philippines

I lived in Asia for a while, so I’m used to spending not much on food, transportation, and accommodation. Since the Philippines are a poor country (definitely poorer than Taiwan), I thought they were much cheaper, but they are not. Don’t get me wrong: the Philippines are cheap compared to western countries, as I said at the beginning of the article, but not as cheap as you would think.

Just to give you an example: unless you want to eat chicken adobo every single day you can expect to spend around 5/6€ per person per meal. I know that’s not much, but in Taiwan and in China, I could spend half of that and the food would be better (food in the Philippines is not particularly delicious especially compared to the rest of Asia).

Transportation, especially in remote areas, is quite expensive. I spent 700 pesos (about 15€) on an 18 km ride on a tricycle! At first, I thought I was being ripped off but later I asked my local friends what was the regular price and they confirmed that what I paid is the regular fare. With the same amount of money, I paid for the ferry from Cebu to Bohol!

Accommodation prices are, for now, quite cheap. I stayed in Corong Corong beach, El Nido, in a nice bungalow on the beach with the view you can see in the picture above, for about 35€ per night. Keep in mind that it was January, high season, so it wasn’t too bad!
You can find some great deals on Booking.com or, alternatively, on Agoda.

I think the prices will keep rising in the future as the Philippines will attract more tourists. For example, not long ago for an Island Hopping Tour in Palawan, you would have paid 600 pesos but now it’s 1200 pesos (don’t forget to add 200 pesos for the Environment fee valid for 10 days).

islands in palawan

The 1200 pesos to see the Big Lagoon in El Nido are definitely worth

It’s still cheap if you keep in mind that the lunch it’s included but you better go now to the Philippines before they get too expensive.

The Philippines: when to go?

beach in el nido in palawan

When is the best time to visit the Philippines? The best time is the first months of the year from January to April. After that, it gets too hot and the rainy season begins.

From June to October (but recently also November and December) is the typhoon season. Palawan is generally less exposed to typhoons. Obviously, the prices are cheaper during the rainy season. One suggestion: avoid the period of the Chinese New Year and Christmas Holidays: too crowded.

Sunset at Corong Corong beach, Palawan, Philippines

These were some general suggestions if you want to visit this beautiful country.

If you are thinking about moving to the Philippines or any other country in Asia check out my guide.

Here you can see some more pictures I took in the Philippines. Here is a post about Bohol and here I talked about a great experience you can do in the Philippines: swimming with the Whale Sharks. Here is my travel guide to Phi Phi Island.

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