The Philippines is an amazing country with more than 7000 islands to choose from. The beaches are amazing, the tribal culture and history impressive, and nature is rich in surprises. The Philippines is the only Asian country colonized by Spain, and the country definitively has a Latin touch. The people are mainly Roman Catholic, but the culture is a mix of Islamic, Malay, Spanish and American influences.
Filipinos are happy people, they love celebrations and parties. You’ll probably be able to assist to one of the many fiestas or festivals that take place year-round all over the country.
Here is everything you need to know about planning your trip to the Philippines:
- When to go
- What to eat
- Where to go
- Where not to go
- Travel guides
- List of destinations
When to go to the Philippines
There are two seasons in the Philippines: rainy and dry season. The dry season runs from late November to May and the rainy season from June to November. Officially the typhoon season runs from May to October with peaks from June to September. But last year the typhoons and low pressures lasted until February.
Best months to visit is from March to the beginning of May.
What to eat in the Philippines
The Philippines has a large variety of food to offer, such as barbecue, there’s also barbecue and of course, barbecue too, without forgetting the rice. You’ve been warned the Philippines is not a vegetarian-friendly country.
Being more serious, the Filipinos eat a lot of meat (mostly pork and chicken) and a lot of fish, sometimes mixed together in the same dish, yummy! Vegetables in eateries are hard to come by and are often mixed with meat or fish and usually swim in oil.
For vegetarians, your best option is to buy vegetables at the market and cook them yourself. You can also try asking at the eatery to cook something without meat or fish for you.
Eateries are local restaurants where they prepare the food in advance and lay it in a “buffet”. There’s no menu, you just choose what you want from the buffet. It’s usually really cheap and even if the food stays out all day, I’ve never gotten sick from it. Nicer restaurant (with a menu) are not always an option if you travel outside of cities and touristy places.
Among the Filipino traditional dishes are:
- Balut: a fermented duck egg (with an embryo in it).
- Lechon Baboy: roasted whole pork, this one you’ll see everywhere, every time there’s a fiesta or a celebration they roast a pig.
- Chicken or pork menudo: the meat is mixed with potatoes and carrots and is cooked in tomato sauce.
- Bicol express: spicy pork cooked in coconut milk and shrimp paste.
- Monggo beans: usually cooked like a soup the beans are mixed with some herbs and of course pork or fish.
- Mango float: creamy condensed milk mixed with Graham crackers and mangoes.
- Halo-Halo: crushed ice mixed with beans and jelly.
Where to go in the Philippines
In Palawan, a common itinerary would be to start in Puerto Princesa (Honda Bay and the underground river) and make your way to El Nido, up to Coron, if you have time. Palawan is famous for its pristine beaches and amazing rock formations. It’s really crowded but the landscape is just amazing, like you won’t see anywhere else.
Cebu Province also attracts a lot of visitors, especially in Malapascua, Moalboal, and Bantayan, great for diving, and in Oslob, famous for the whale-sharks watching opportunity. Without forgetting the mysterious Siquijor famous for its many faith-healers.
Bohol is on most tourists’ itinerary as well, The island is famous for its chocolate hills and tarsiers sanctuaries. The smaller island nearby, Tagbilaran, is known for its gorgeous beaches and party scene.
White-sanded Boracay used to be the Philippines’ number one destination before it closed down for rehabilitation. It’s supposed to reopen in October if all goals are met.
In Mindanao, the paradise-like Camiguin Island attracts more and more visitors each years, same as its neighbor Siargao, dubbed the surf capital of the Philippines. If you’re in Mindanao, don’t miss the enchanted river.
In Luzon, Taal volcano, Banaue rice terraces and Sagada hanging coffins are must-sees places worth the trip.
Fortunately, many destinations in the Philippines still stay untouched by tourism. The islands of Leyte, Samar, Romblon, and Panay barely see any foreign tourists. These islands have a lot to offer and are home to some of the most beautiful things you’ll see in the Philippines.
Leyte’s coast is sparkled with amazing islands such as Canigao or Biliran, its interior also offers beautiful scenery like in Danao lake.
Samar is great if you like caving, there you’ll find many caves great for spelunking. Off the coast, you’ll find amazing rock formations, like in Marabut or Biri (my favorite).
Panay is famous for Boracay, but most tourists don’t venture farther than the party island. Iloilo province has a lot to offer and is great if you like nature and picture-perfect beaches. Visit Panay’s hidden gem: Isla Gigantes, only known by locals, this cluster of islands is amazing.
Next to Panay is Guimaras, also only known by local tourists, the island is famous for its mangoes and is great if you like island hopping.
In Negros, you’ll also find many places over-looked by tourists. Bacolod and around offer a lot of activities and nearby Silay is really worth a stop. In Silay you’ll find many historical houses, restored and now open to the public. Going south, Kabankalan is famous for faith healers and is home to one of Philippines’ most beautiful waterfall. Nearby Sipalay is the perfect place to enjoy amazing beaches, even though it’s starting to get noticed by international tourists.
If you’re in Cebu and want to escape from the crowd, go to Camotes, this remote island has a lot to offer. Just rent a bike and explore.
Where not to go in the Philippines
Unfortunately, not all of the Philippines is safe to visit. Tensions with Muslim separatists and the government still perdure and ISIS is still present in the country. In the past, there have been several foreigners kidnapped. But don’t worry most places are really safe.
You should avoid Mindanao, things are getting better with the government finally getting a hold on the Marawi situation but it’s still best to avoid the island if you’re a foreigner. The East part is ok though, places like Davao, the enchanted river, Camiguin, and Siargao are safe with many tourists going there. The west part could be ok if you’re traveling with locals and easily blend in.
Sulu is definitely a no-go. Officially the government has a strong hold over Sulu, most Filipinos doubt that and are pretty clueless about the situation there. Sulu is the state where ISIS is the most active. There are frequent kidnappings of locals going on there.
South of Cebu is unadvised by many countries because of kidnappings that took place a couple years back. It’s now full of tourists and there haven’t been any kidnappings recently so I would say it’s ok to go there.
West of Palawan is also unadvised by many countries. There haven’t been any incidents in the last years and the situation seems to be under control. Many local tourists go there, but few foreigners. If you want to go, the best way to do it would be to join a group of Filipinos, just to be on the safe side.
Getting around in the Philippines
Tricycle: tricycles are the Filipino adaptation of tuk-tuks. They are mostly found in cities and are shared, there’s no itinerary, you just stop one (even if there are people in it), tell the driver where you want to go and if it’s on its way he’ll take you there. The first 3 kilometers are usually 8 pesos per person. You can also hire one for a special trip and then you’ll have to negotiate the price with the driver. In more remote islands they are also used to go from one town to another, the shared ones usually wait near the public market. You’ll have to wait for it to be full before it goes.
Jeepneys: jeepney is the perfect way of transportation if you like human contact, because there’s always room in a jeepney, you’ll be impressed by how much stuff and people you can fit in there. Of course, you understand that it’s not for people who like comfort. For those you don’t mind, jeepneys are perfect to get around big cities or to get to the next town. Usually, jeepneys don’t do long distance, maybe 60 kilometers max.
Habal-Habal: habal-habal are moto-taxi that can accommodate about 4 to 5 people, good for short distances.
Bangka and Ro-Ro: boats are the easiest way to get from an island to another, the routes and schedules are numerous making it super practical. Bangkas are the traditional Filipino boats with bamboo on each side to balance the boat. Ro-Ro (roll on – roll off) are ferries but locals tend to call any big boats ro-ro.
Buses and vans: the best option for longer trips, it’s super easy to catch a bus or van on the main road or at the terminal. Unless in a really remote island, the schedule is frequent, with some lines running 24/7. Buses are cheaper but vans go faster. Not every island has vans, and some don’t have buses
Planes: there are airports almost everywhere in the Philippines, if you don’t have much time it’s the best way to get around. It’s better to book in advance as the prices usually triple during the last week.
Planning your budget for the Philippines
Food: In the eateries, you can eat for less than a dollar, in nicer restaurants the prices are usually around 5 USD. Fruits in season cost usually around 50 cents per kilo.
Drinks: Large beers are around 1 USD, cocktails 3 USD and fruit juices between 1 and 2 USD. You can refill your water almost everywhere for free, even in eateries and restaurants, they often offer service water.
Accommodations: the price of a bed in a dorm usually varies between 5 USD to 10 USD, a budget double room cost around 6 to 20 USD, depending on the location. They all tend to fix the same prices as their competitors. If you’re on a budget, the cheapest accommodations won’t be online so you’ll have to ask around when you arrive at your destination.
Activities: prices for activities vary depending on where you are. Island hopping is from 20 USD to 100 USD for a small boat, joiner tours start at 10 USD and up. Renting a van for a day trip is around 100 USD and a tricycle between 20 to 40 USD. Entrance fees are usually really low, 5USD maximum and it’s for the most expensive ones.
Transportation: really cheap in the Philippines, in the cities you pay around 8 pesos for the first 3km in the jeepneys and shared tricycles. The municipality fixes the prices. Long distance buses and boats are also super cheap, maximum 10USD unless you go really far. People usually don’t cheat you on the prices.
Philippines general travel guides:
Tiny volcanic Apo Island near Dumaguete is famous amongst divers. Home to Philippines’ first and most successful marine reserve, the reefs can be counted as some of the most beautiful reefs in the country.
Negros Island, also called Sugarlandia, is known to be covered with cane plantations. Bacolod, its capital, is famous for its many cakes, a paradise for sugar addicts. But don’t worry if you’re already diabetic, there’s plenty of other things to do apart from eating cheesecakes and chocolate pastries...
Nestled inside a jungled crater, the two lakes, Balinsasayao and Danao, offer the perfect retreat. Just close your eyes, listen to the birds singing and feel the fresh air on your face.
Quiet and remote Bantayan is famous for its amazing white sand beaches and its waves, making it a kite-surfing paradise.It’s the perfect place to relax on the beach for a couple of days and enjoy the sun.
Biliran off Leyte’s north coast is a nice island to explore for a couple of days. You’ll get a taste of the real rural Philippines without many tourists and even much less foreign tourists. Biliran has a lot of natural wonders to offer...
Off of Samar’s north coast, Biri Island is famous for its thousands of years old rock formations, carved by the strong waves of the Pacific ocean. The rocks are spectacular and the scenery breathtaking.
Bohol and its neighbor Panglao Island are getting more and more visitors each year due to their beauty and their many natural wonders. They offer amazing snorkeling experiences with whale sharks and dolphins watching, relaxing moments in white sand beaches...
Quiet and remote Camotes Islands have a lot to offer for nature lover. These 3 islands see little tourists and people evolve in a laid back pace. You'll find there many waterfalls, springs, cave and beaches...
Canigao Island is definitely my favorite place in Leyte, first because the island is beautiful and second because it’s super easy and super cheap to go there. Canigao truly is a virgin island. The island is just perfect, white sand, clear water, super clean.
Catanduanes used to be called the Land of the Howling Winds, it has now rebranded itself to become the Happy Island to represent its inhabitants and the warm welcome you’ll get there. Most of Catanduanes tourist spots are still pretty wild and left untouched, perfect if you have the soul of an explorer.
Dumaguete is a small but busy city. There’s not much to do there apart from visiting old colonial buildings or enjoying the sparkling nightlife, but Dumaguete is a good base to visit its enchanting surroundings...
Guimaras Island, located between Negros and Iloilo, is the mango capital of the Philippines.They produce the tastiest mangoes of the country. The island offer some nice snorkeling and island hopping opportunities as well as a couple of intersting spots on the mainland.
Honda Bay is one of Puerto Princesa main attraction thanks to the many beautiful islands present in the bay. Island hopping in Honda Bay is on most tourists bucket list when visiting Palawan and makes a perfect day trip from Puerto Princesa.
Iloilo, located on Panay Island has a lot to offer for nature lovers, there are a lot of mountains to climb, treks to take on and also many wonderful islands sparckled alond the coast line. It’s also a good place to admire the many churches and ruins of the Spanish era.
Isla Gigantes is a quiet and really laid back paradise, the water is crystal clear, the sand as white as it gets and the people super friendly. The island is actually made of two islands, Isla Gigantes del Sur and Isla Gigantes del Norte, both surrounded by small islands, most of which are uninhabited.
Quiet and tiny Kabankalan is definitely an off-the-beaten-path tourist destination. As a matter of fact, I was probably the first foreigner they had seen in a while. The city in itself has not much to offer but that’s what’s around that’s interesting. It’s the perfect place for nature lovers.
Albay district is famous for being the home of the Mayon volcano, easily recognizable thanks to its almost conical shape. LegaZpi is the gateway to the province and a good base-camp to explore the surroundings.
Malapascua Island in the Philippines is a diving paradise and has recently become an important tourism destination. The diving there is amazing but unfortunately tourism is destroying the island...
Marinduque Island is often overlooked by foreign tourists which makes it the perfect place if you don’t like touristy destinations. Marinduque has a lot to offer, the vegetation is lush and the beaches white-sanded...
Lake Danao is a hidden gem only 20 km away from Ormoc. Surrounded by nature, the lake offers a peaceful retreat from the busy city. It’s the perfect place for a day-trip, enjoying nature and fresh air.
Oslob has become quite famous for its whale-sharks watching, only a couple of meters away from the shore. These mammals are impressive, seeing them swimming around is just a wonderful experience.
Port Barton, like so many other places in Palawan, is incredibly beautiful. It offers spectacular island hopping opportunities as well as a few hidden treasures just a couple of kilometers away from the village. Another good side is that it’s way less touristy than El Nido but just as nice.
If you’re looking to enjoy totally deserted beaches away from tourists, then Romblon is the right island for you. The beaches here are amazing, the people are super friendly and best of all, you can easily end up being the only one on the beach.
This remote island is part of the Romblon group and will please the most adventurous travelers. Being so isolated, it sees almost no tourists. It offers a large range of mountains and waterfalls trekking options through a luxurious vegetation.
Negros is famous for its numerous sugar cane plantations. The island was home to many rich Europeans farmers during the 19th and 20th centuries. Silay used to be one of the main cities, where colons lived and mingled with locals. Today, many historical houses have been restored and are open to public.
Unspoiled beaches, pristine water, and a diverse marine life make Sipalay a must-go destination if you enjoy beaches and diving. The city is bound to become a top destination in the Philippines in the years to come.
Sohoton National Park truly is a gem. Famous for its cave system and natural bridge, the park is a must-see in Samar. Samar is a unique island and you won’t see similar landscape anywhere else in the Philippines.
The underground river in Sabang is not part of the UNESCO world heritage sites for nothing, it’s one of Philippines’ most beautiful feature. A trip to Palawan is not complete without visiting this impressive limestone karst cave.