Insider Tips for Traveling the Philippines on a Budget
A Million Dollar Experience Waiting to Be Had
The Philippines is home to some of the most beautiful islands and beaches in the world. If it’s sunbathing and swimming you want, the Philippines has got it. To sweeten the deal, you can get million-dollar experiences for cheap in this island paradise.
It might not be as cheap as other southeast Asian destinations, but budget-friendly travel in the Philippines is still very doable. Knowing the ins and outs of a few local quirks and steering clear of tourist traps can help you save your money where it counts, so you can splurge on halo-halo and cocktails.
Here are our best tips for traveling the Philippines on a budget.
Traveling around the Philippines isn’t easy as you’ll be constantly island hopping, but the good news is there is no shortage of cheap transport options.
- Flying: There are two budge airlines flying around the country: Cebu Pacific and Air Asia. Both have great flight deals which make getting from island to island easy. Booking in advance and staying flexible with the dates and times you fly is the best way to score cheap tickets.
- Ferries: Ferries are a cheaper option than flying, and for longer distances you can also book overnight travel to save on a night’s accommodation. For shorter distances, you can usually choose whether you want to sit inside in the air conditioning or outside in the breeze — opting to go outside on the upper deck can save you 100 pesos or more and often has a better view!
You have several options for getting around towns and cities in the Philippines. Taxis are the most expensive choice, so save a few dollars by opting for public transport.
- Jeepneys: Jeepneys act like public buses. They are old US army jeeps that have been converted into public transport trucks designed to get a lot of people around for less than 10 pesos ($0.20 USD). There are many advantages to traveling in jeepneys — they are cheap, frequent, fun (each one more colorful than the next) and you can catch them from anywhere. Just stand on the side of the road and wave one down, then let the driver know where you want to hop off by yelling ‘para,’ which means stop. They are also fairly quick, flying around the streets at a breakneck speed. The only hard part is knowing exactly which one to take; in the bigger towns there are often hundreds of different routes and the only indicator of which route a jeepney is taking is a hand-drawn sign displayed in its front window (good luck trying to read it as it flashes by).
- Tricycles: A rickshaw-style motorbike with a sidecar for passengers, tricycles are slightly more expensive than jeepneys, costing around 10 pesos for shorter trips and up to 300 pesos ($6 USD) for journeys out of town.
- Pedicabs: Pedicabs are another cheap option for short distances, costing between 10 and 30 pesos.
Outside of the main tourist centers, hostels aren’t common in the Philippines. You’re more likely to find small hotels that call themselves ‘resorts’. For the solo traveler, they can get expensive as there are no shared room options. For couples or friends traveling together, though, they offer great deals so it’s worth teaming up with a fellow traveler.
It’s also worth bearing in mind that the cheapest places to stay in the Philippines can’t be found on the internet. If you’re game, you can simply turn up and ask around — locals will be able to lead you to rooms that are rented out at rock bottom prices. They are typically a little removed from the center of town and run by families, but that’s all part of the experience.
Filipinos are incredibly friendly and welcoming, plus most people speak at least some English, so you’ll find it easy to make instant friends and get the low down on where to go for cheap accommodation.
The cheapest way to eat in the Philippines is to grab a bite at one of the places locals go.
Roadside Food Stalls
You’ll spot stalls or stands by the side of the road where big metal pots are lined up next to each other. To order you can just ask what they have and they will put a scoop of whatever you want into a plastic bag, with each scoop costing around 20 pesos.
Market Food Stalls
Market food stalls are often the best places to get the freshest food for the lowest prices. This will also give you a true taste of Filipino cuisine.
You can find small local joints where you can get a sit-down meal for cheap. They might not have the most luxurious decor but these are great spots to sample Filipino fare.
To eat meals such as pizza, pasta or other European-style options, you can expect to pay much more as they are often geared specifically toward foreigners. To manage the Philippines on a budget, try to limit the number of times you eat in these restaurants.
Most activities in the Philippines are very reasonably priced.
Swim with Whale Sharks
To swim with the whale sharks in Oslob, for example, you’ll pay around $25 USD, whereas in Australia you would pay more than 10 times as much.
In places such as El Nido and Coron, you’ll find standard package tours with set prices, designed to prevent competition between tour operators. The amount you pay includes the boat, gear, a guide and lunch. They aren’t cheap compared to the rest of the Philippines as Palawan is a tourist hot spot, but they still provide incredible value for what you get.
Meanwhile, some of the best things to do in the Philippines are free or only cost a few dollars. Going to the beach or visiting waterfalls is either free or costs a small entrance fee. Snorkeling will only be the price of renting gear, which is usually only a few dollars. Renting a scooter for the day usually costs less than $10 and can give you the freedom to explore dozens of beaches.
All in all, you’ll be able to have plenty of unforgettable experiences without breaking the bank!