Finding Your Way Around 7,000 Islands: Planning a Trip to the Philippines
Get a Healthy Dose of Vitamin Sea in the Philippine Islands
Whether it’s swimming, diving, snorkeling, sunbathing, or island hopping, the Philippines has every kind of nautical adventure you could imagine. Between the 7,000 islands there are miles and miles of white sand, spots to snorkel with turtles and whale sharks, hidden lagoons, and volcanoes rising straight out of the sea.
Now that we’ve got your inner beach bum craving a trip to this gorgeous country, here is a guide to planning a trip to the Philippines.
Top Things to Do in the Philippines
With thousands of islands to choose from, it’s hard to know where to start. Try selecting a couple of the following highlights of Philippines destinations and build your itinerary around one or two of the best islands to visit.
Routinely appearing on lists of the world’s most beautiful beaches, Boracay almost needs no introduction. White sand, blue water and a bumping nightlife scene — what more do you need to know?
Bohol is an island of curiosities. There are the chocolate hills, mysteriously uniform mounds of earth that are chocolate-colored in the dry season and bright green in the wet season. Then there are the tarsiers, tiny bug-eyed critters hiding in the trees.
The man-made mahogany forest is another worthy stopping point, with its strangely perfect trees giving off eerie vibes. Panglao Island, a small offshoot of Bohol, is a gloriously beautiful spot with miles of white sand and mind-blowing snorkeling. It’s easily one of the most beautiful places in the Philippines.
Palawan is a province covering several islands, each one more beautiful than the next, but most travelers make their way to El Nido. The town may be overrun with grungy backpacker spots and tour companies offering identical trips, but it still has a unique charm and the beaches just out of town are like nowhere else on earth.
Limestone karsts drop straight into impossibly turquoise water. Opposite El Nido, the smaller island of Coron offers a much quieter experience. The town isn’t as developed, but that means there are fewer people out and about on the water as well. The lagoons and coral gardens around here are pristine, and likely to be some of the most beautiful places you ever visit.
When it comes to what to see in the Philippines, the long, narrow island of Cebu is a great place to spend a few days, or even weeks. From snorkeling with whale sharks in Oslob to canyoning down Kawasan Waterfall to diving with the sardine run in Moalboal, you won’t have the chance to get bored.
What to Know Before You Travel to the Philippines
The Philippines is a unique country with plenty of quirks and surprises. While half the fun of traveling there is discovering these for yourself, it helps to know a few basic details before you set off.
- One of the most important things to remember about travel to the Philippines is that the country is an archipelago. You’ll spend a lot of time getting from island to island, so if you only have a short amount of time, it’s better to focus on one or two islands, rather than trying to see everything.
- Roads are also in poor condition in a lot of places, so driving times are always several hours more than you expect them to be. If you don’t have a lot of time, at the very least go with a lot of patience.
- Most people in the Philippines speak at least some English, plus people are incredibly friendly, so it’s easy to get around.
- Filipinos are likely some of the loveliest people you will ever meet. Making an effort to get to know some locals can be hugely rewarding and leave you with fond memories of your trip, so try to break out of your tourist bubble every now and again. It’s also nice to treat them the way they treat you, and be kind and polite in all your interactions with the local people.
- Most local Philippine cuisine is meat-heavy and not ideal for vegetarians. Non-meat eaters will still be able to enjoy the amazing bounty of fresh fruit and vegetables, though. Simply grab some fruit from a roadside stall as a snack, or indulge in a fruit shake. One to look out for is a buko shake, a smoothie made from coconut flesh. Another highlight is mango shakes — the Philippine mango is exceptionally tasty and this is one of the best ways to enjoy them!
- The Philippines is the largest producer of coconuts in the world, so make sure to try a few fresh ones!
- Traffic can be hectic in the Philippines and navigating the fast and furious public transport is often daunting. Public transport is cheap and plentiful in the form of jeepneys — modified trucks or old US army jeeps – tricycles, and pedicabs. Prices and routes are fixed for jeepneys; just wave them down and jump in, then yell ‘para’ (stop) when you want to get off again. For tricycles and pedicabs you may need to negotiate the price – check with a local if you’re not sure how much to pay and don’t want to be charged the “tourist price.”
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In general, the Philippines is a safe country. When traveling in northern or central areas there is very little risk of violence, but theft and scams can occur, especially in Manila where a large number of people live in poverty. To avoid trouble, keep an eye on your belongings, be wary of strangers trying to befriend you, and take taxis after dark.
You should also avoid traveling to the southern areas of the Philippines, in particular Mindanao. There is a danger of terrorist attacks and kidnapping for ransom in this region.
Budget and Costs
Budget travelers rejoice! It’s possible to travel the Philippines for cheap — you can get by on less than $30 USD a day. This means getting around in jeepneys (10 pesos or around $0.20), sleeping in dorm rooms or simple hotels (400-800 pesos, or between $7 and $15), eating at local food joints (100-600 pesos, $2-$11), and skipping the more expensive tours.
Boracay and Manila are both expensive destinations when compared to the rest of the country, so it can be worth skipping those if you’re on a tight budget.
With a budget of $100 a day, you’ll be able to enjoy comfortable resorts, meals in western-style restaurants, private transfers, and tours and flights between all of the islands.