The Philippines is a beautiful country to explore. How to get around, what to pack, and what to do? These are the best Philippines travel tips.
Traveling to the Philippines is a good idea, it’s a beautiful country with white sand beaches, friendly people, and the clearest water you’ll ever see. This country is especially great for outdoor lovers since you can do lots of outdoor activities, like snorkeling on the gorgeous coral reefs.
Before you go
There are some things to arrange before you even start your trip.
Research your destination
The Philippines has a rich and diverse history spanning thousands of years. The arrival of the Spanish in the 16th century led to the colonization of the Philippines, with the Spanish establishing a colony and converting the population to Catholicism.
In 1898, the Spanish-American War resulted in the Philippines becoming a U.S. territory, leading to a period of American colonization. After World War II, the Philippines gained independence from the United States in 1946.
Throughout the 20th century, the Philippines experienced political instability, martial law, and corruption, but also saw significant economic growth and modernization. Today, the Philippines is a democratic republic with a growing economy and a rich cultural heritage.
Not every place in The Philippines is safe to travel to, so research your destination and plan your itinerary. You don’t have to book everything ahead, but it’s smart to know where you can go and how to get there. Also, familiarize yourself with the local customs and culture. The Philippines is a conservative country, so it’s important to dress modestly and be respectful of local customs and traditions.
Best time to travel to The Philippines
Part of researching the destination is figuring out the best time to visit the Philippines. This really depends on your destination and the activities you have planned. Generally, the dry season from November to April is the best time to travel, with less rain and more pleasant weather. However, it’s also the peak tourist season, so expect higher prices and crowded destinations. The rainy season from May to October offers fewer crowds and lower prices, but also more rain and potentially typhoons.
The best time to visit specific destinations and activities, such as beach destinations, surfing, or island-hopping, may vary. It’s best to research your exact destination and activities in advance and plan your trip accordingly.
Do you need a visa for the Philippines? With most passports (for example EU, USA, Canadian and Australian) you can get a 30-day visa-on-arrival. You just need a passport (for some countries it has to be valid for 6 months after arrival) and show a return ticket (or ticket to another country) within 30 days. On the plane to The Philippines, you will receive a small form, which you have to fill out and give to the employee at the airport. If you didn’t get the form on the plane, you will have to fill it in at the airport. Don’t miss it, because the lines can be pretty long and it’s no fun to stand in line twice.
If you want to stay longer than 30 days, there are different visas for The Philippines. For example, it is possible to get a visa for 59 days (which is not free). You can get it at the consulate or embassy of The Philippines in your country, or in big cities in The Philippines (like Manila and Cebu).
At least a month before you go, you should check if you need vaccinations. When I traveled to the Philippines, I had to get a vaccination for DTP and Hepatitis A and also had to take an emergency set of malaria pills. Check with your doctor if you want to be sure. If you have travel insurance, the costs might be covered.
Invest in travel insurance while you’re making travel plans for the Philippines. This will give your more peace of mind during your trip. Check out Insubuy (general) or Safetywing (for digital nomads and remote workers) to find the travel insurance that fits your needs.
Learn a few words of the language
The local language is Tagalog, but English is widely spoken in the Philippines. However, learning some basic Tagalog will make your trip much more enjoyable and help you connect with the locals. A few words you can learn:
- Hello: Mubuhay!
- Thank you: Salamat
- Yes: Oo
- No: hindi
- How are you?: Kamusta ka
- Goodbye: Palaam
How to get to the Philippines
If you’re traveling from abroad, choose Manila International Airport (also known as Ninoy Aquino International Airport or MNL) as your destination. This is the largest international airport in the country. From here, you can make your way further into the country and it’s pretty easy to reach the most popular tourist destinations. Please note that they don’t like one-way tickets, you need proof that you leave the country as well.
Check WayAway to find the best deals on plane tickets.
In the Philippines
Yes, you finally made it to the Philippines! Here are the best Philippines travel tips for when you’re in the country.
The Philippines is known to be unsafe, but it’s safe on most of the islands. Stay away from the southern parts of the Philippines, though. Check the travel website of your government if you want to know if traveling to The Philippines is safe, they usually can tell you where to go and which areas you’d better avoid.
Like any other country, the Philippines has its share of crime and danger. Take basic safety precautions such as carrying only what you need, keeping your valuables secure, and avoiding unfamiliar areas after dark.
Weather in the Philippines
It’s smart to check the local weather report every now and then. The Philippines is located in a typhoon-prone region, so you might find yourself in some severe storms. The wet season in the Philippines is usually from June to November. However, I visited the Philippines in December (in the dry season), and had only one or two days of sunshine. There was so much rain! As you can see, it can get wet during the dry season as well, so be prepared for all types of weather.
Tip! Make sure to always carry a dry bag to store your valuables that you don’t want to get wet (like your electronics, passport, etcetera).
The local currency in The Philippines is the Philippine peso (PHP). One USD is around 54 Philipine peso (February 2023). You can also pay with credit cards in many places, but not everywhere. It’s always smart to bring plenty of cash, especially when you’re visiting the smaller islands.
In major cities like Manila and Cebu City, you’ll find plenty of ATMs you can use to get cash. Please note: there usually is a maximum of how much cash you can get from the ATMs. Most of the time, I could not get more than 10.000 PHP.
If you plan to travel to rural areas and more remote islands, you probably won’t find working ATMs, and most places will only accept cash. So bring enough! You can also bring US dollars or Euros, there are quite a lot of places to exchange money.
Please note: while the Philippines is not as expensive as Europe and the US, it’s still a little more expensive than other countries in Southeast Asia. If you’re on a budget, make sure to book flights and hotels in time. That will save you a lot of money, especially when you plan on traveling to the more popular places.
Food & water
Filipino food is not as famous as the local food from Southeast Asian countries, but overall it’s good and fresh. Filipino cuisine is a delicious mix of Spanish, Chinese, and indigenous flavors. Try traditional dishes like adobo, sinigang, and lechon. The food mostly contains rice, chicken, and fish.
There are not a lot of vegetables, but fresh fruits are widely available. There are restaurants everywhere, but you can also try street food. Check the street vendors with the longest lines, they’re usually good (and have the freshest food).
For most tourists, it’s not advised to drink tap water, as you can get very sick from the water. Some places in The Philippines are known for food poisoning (especially in El Nido, Palawan) because they wash vegetables and fruits with tap water. If you want to avoid it, it’s better to drink from cans or bottles (like cola and beer) and avoid eating salads.
You can buy bottled water everywhere, but you can also bring your own reusable water bottle. You can fill your bottle in many places, saving some money and it’s a lot better for the environment than buying plastic bottles that you throw away after each use.
Internet in The Philippines
If you regularly keep the people you love updated while traveling, you need to prepare yourselves: wifi in the Philippines is rarely available and spotty at best.
If you want a good connection, I advise you to buy a local sim card. Good providers are Globe and Smart. You can buy those at every airport and for 999 PHP you can use up to 12GB in 30 days (price 2023). Connection in the larger cities is great but can be spotty in small towns.
The standard plugs used are type A (common in the United States) and type I. Sometimes you can also use type F (European). Bring a travel adapter that supports both A & F.
Keep in mind that some rural areas experience frequent power outages. Therefore, it’s smart to bring a power bank, so you can at least charge your phone.
Bargaining is common in the Philippines, especially in markets and street stalls. Don’t be afraid to negotiate a better price for your purchases.
Fee, fees, fees
They love to charge small fees in the Philippines. Sometimes you have to pay a small entrance fee to get to a certain attraction or beach. You also have to pay a fee at airports and before you get on a boat. Bring some small change everywhere you go, you’ll need it.
The toilet situation
I know, it’s never fun to talk about the toilet situation, but it’s good to know what to expect. Luxury hotels will have the flush toilets that you’re used to, but it will be different on the islands and more remote locations.
Sometimes the toilet is just a hole in the floor, but there are many “regular” toilets as well, but they usually miss a toilet seat. Flushing can be a challenge sometimes, you might need to use a bucket to do this. Also, sometimes you can’t flush toilet paper. If that is the case, you need to throw it in a trash bin.
It is smart to bring some hand sanitizer since you won’t always be able to wash your hands after you’re done.
How to get around in The Philippines
The Philippines exist of thousands of islands. To get from one place to another, there are multiple options: by air, overland, or overseas.
If you don’t have a lot of time, air travel is the fastest and the best way of transportation. Almost all the islands have (multiple) airports. There are several airlines that can take you from island to island, I can recommend Philippine Airlines and Cebu Pacific. Check WayAway and Skyscanner to find the best deals on air travel. Book your trips in advance, as they can get really expensive when you get closer to your departure date.
There are many ways to travel overland. You can take a jeepney (the local bus, usually completely full), a tricycle (for short trips), or a minivan.
During my trip, I mostly used minivans for long distances. You can buy tickets for the minivans pretty much everywhere. They have a time schedule but get there on time. They can be either 30 minutes early or 30 minutes late. You can reserve a spot on a minivan on 12go.asia.
A tricycle is similar to a taxi, but for short trips. Negotiate a price with the driver before you hop on.
Other options are taxi rides, the white taxis are usually cheaper than the yellow taxis. In addition, you can also use the Grab app. This is app is similar to Uber and a very cheap way to get around. Payment is usually in cash.
If you have plenty of time, it’s fun to travel from island to island by ferry. For example, the boat trip from El Nido to Coron is a very popular route. You can book ferries at the harbors or online on the 12go.asia website.
What to pack for the Philippines
Pack whatever you like, but some items are unmissable when you plan on traveling in the Philippines. I’ve mentioned some of the items before, but here is a complete list of the items that are smart to pack for the Philippines.
- Drybags – as I mentioned before, it can get very wet in the Philippines.
- Bug spray – there are a lot of mosquitos, especially in the jungle areas.
- Sunscreen – always wear sunscreen.
- Ear plugs – the walls are thin and it can get quite noisy. In remote areas, there will be a lot of loud roosters, that start making noise around 4 or 5 am.
- A sweater – although it’s usually really warm, it can get cold in air-conditioned places.
- A power bank – so you can always charge your electronics when there is a power outage.
- Water shoes or flip flops – especially if you have a larger shoe size, they only sell small sizes in the streets.
- A travel adapter.
- Snorkeling gear – you can also rent them or they provide them for free if you book a tour, but if you plan to do a lot of snorkeling, it’s wise to bring your own.
Where to stay?
In The Philippines, you can find accommodation for every budget. From luxury resorts with infinity pools to a basic beach hut, anything is possible. I found all my accommodations for the Philippines on Booking.com and Agoda.
Keep in mind, not every accommodation has a hot shower or air conditioning so read the descriptions well. Also, make sure to book a place that either has a fan or air conditioning since it can be really warm at night.
The best things to do in the Philippines
There are a lot of great things to do and beautiful places to visit in the Philippines.
El Nido, Palawan
Located in the Bacuit Archipel, El Nido is one of the most popular places in The Philippines. And for good reason, the place is stunning and you can go on so many great island-hopping day tours! It’s situated in a bay with clear blue water (great for snorkeling) and it is surrounded by steep cliffs. Very scenic!
Looking for the best places to eat? Check out The 5 best places to eat in El Nido
The Underground River, Palawan
The Underground River is a stunning natural wonder and a UNESCO World Heritage site located not too far from Puerto Princesa. The river is approximately 8.2 kilometers long and flows through a series of stunning limestone caves and cliffs, forming an underground ecosystem that is home to a diverse range of flora and fauna. A great way to explore this natural wonder is by booking a boat tour.
White sandy beaches and many palm trees: Siquijor Island is the perfect tropical island if you’d like to relax for a couple of days. Besides relaxing on the beach, there are many other things to do on Siquijor Island, like hiking to the waterfalls.
Chocolate Hills, Bohol
On Bohol, you’ll find one of the most special landscapes in The Philippines: the Chocolate Hills. As far as you can see, you’ll see small hills. They are usually green but turn brown during the dry season.
Tip! If you don’t feel like visiting the Chocolate Hills on your own, you can also book a Bohol excursion from Cebu.
Banaue rice terraces
The Banaue Rice Terraces are an iconic UNESCO World Heritage site located in the northern Philippines. The terraces were carved into the mountains by the Ifugao people over 2,000 years ago and are considered to be one of the most impressive feats of agriculture in the world. The terraces are fed by a complex irrigation system and are still used to grow rice today.
This is only a small selection of all the amazing sights in the Philippines. You can find more beautiful places in a Philippines travel guide.
Relax and enjoy!
Traveling in the Philippines is fun, but it can be a challenge. Be prepared for delays, as they are quite common. Be flexible and open-minded. If it doesn’t go according to plan, embrace it and make the most of it. Relax, you’re in paradise!
More Philippines Travel Tips
Are you excited to visit the Philippines? These travel guides provide plenty of useful tips.
Insight Guides Philippines (Travel Guide with Free eBook)
You can also read more about traveling in The Philippines on this website. You might like to read these articles as well:
- How much does it cost to travel in The Philippines?
- Perfect 2-week itinerary Philippines
- 13 Best things to do in El Nido Palawan
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This article was published in January 2018. Last update with more useful Philippines Travel Tips: February 2023.
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