Discover the Philippines
With over 7,600 islands, the best word we can find to describe the Philippines is diverse.
Every island has its own landscape, charm, culture, cuisine and adventure that is slightly different from its neighbour. One day you can be lounging on a picturesque white-sand beach, the next hiking a volcanic peak and the day after that discovering stunning rich terraces that never seem to end.
It’s a country that is hard to get bored of, especially when there’s always a friendly local to start a crazy karaoke party no matter where you are. Filipinos love karaoke! And when they’re not singing their hearts out, they’re often welcoming you into their culture with warm hearts and smiles.
We’ve created this ultimate guide to the Philippines to share with you everything that this unique country has to offer.
Is the Phillippines worth visiting?
If you’re a beach-lover, underwater enthusiast or in need of a relaxing holiday then the Philippines will be pretty close to your dream destination. The country boasts over 36,000km of coastline, which is made up of some of the most beautiful beaches you will ever see.
The white sand is powder soft, whilst the turquoise waters are warm and home to marine life like whale sharks, turtles, sharks, thousands of fish and dugongs (also known as sea cows).
Its incredible beaches are what the Philippines is most famous for, but did you know that there are rice terraces just as magnificent as those you’ll find in Bali? Or that the Phillippines have a lush jungle that’s ideal for hiking?
And far removed from all of that is the chaotic and bustling city of Manila. A place that will have adrenaline pumping through your veins the entire time you are there.
The only problem with the Philippines is that there isn’t enough time in the world to explore it all. And, the food isn’t as good as the rest of Southeast Asia, but those countries set the bar pretty high!
Is the Philippines safe?
Generally, the Philippines is considered a safe country to travel to. In fact, it ranked safer on the 2022 Safety Index than Canada, the UK and the US.
Like with every country around the world, petty theft and pickpocketing can occur, especially in busy cities like Manila.
Keep an eye on your personal belongings, don’t flash your valuables about and practice common sense.
Best destinations in the Philippines
Destinations in Luzon (North Philippines)
Destinations in Palawan
Destinations in and around Cebu
More destinations in the Philippines
Top 3 places to visit in the Philippines
7,600 islands is a lot to explore. Where do you even start? That’s where we’re here to help. We’ve narrowed down our favourite islands to just our top 3 places in the Philippines:
Palawan — the epitome of paradise
Palawan is often referred to as one of the world’s best islands. Once you see the stunning beaches surrounded by limestone cliffs, you’ll understand why.
Choosing where to stay in Palawan can be a hard task. Do you want to stay in El Nido with its towering limestone cliffs and turquoise waters? Or on Coron with its crystal-clear lakes, World War II shipwrecks and rich marine life? Port Barton, a coastal village, is a quieter option with incredible island-hopping and snorkelling adventures.
Siargao — world-class surf breaks and too many palm trees to count
Over recent years, Siargao’s popularity has been quickly growing as more and more people heard about the world-class surf breaks and idyllic laidback atmosphere.
Siargao is an island overflowing with palm trees, waterfalls, lagoons and white-sand beaches. It’s the perfect place to hire a scooter for the day and explore this paradise island at your own pace.
See our route on how to get from Manila to Siargao.
Banaue — discover mindblowing rice terraces and charming villages
The rice terraces of Banaue are often overlooked, but actually, they’re probably some of the best that you’ll find in Southeast Asia. With some of the rice terraces dating back over 2,000 years, you can’t even begin to imagine the amount of work that has gone into this stunning human creation.
The local villages are charming and welcoming, and they’re a great escape from crowded travel spots. If you’re interested in trekking, this area offers some amazing trails that will take you from village to village through lush greenery, hot springs and the famous terraced rice fields.
Read our page on how to get from Manila to Banaue.
When is the best time to visit the Philippines?
The Philippines cover a huge area, so it makes sense that the weather isn’t going to be the same everywhere, but generally the country has two seasons, dry and rainy.
Dry season (November to April)
The best time to visit the Philippines is during the dry season which lasts from November to April. If you want the ultimate best time to visit, then this would be between December and February when temperatures are around 24°C to 31°C.
After these months, the temperatures start to heat up with humidity hitting around this time too.
Rainy season (May to October)
The rainy season runs from May to October but doesn’t prevent you from visiting most of the Philippines. Monsoon rains usually occur in the afternoon, leaving you the rest of the day to explore and have fun.
One thing that you’ll need to watch out for during this season is typhoons. Every year, more than ten typhoons sweep across the Phillippines. These are more likely to happen between June and September, but some can hit as early as May.
Every year, up to ten typhoons sweep across the Philippines. The typhoon season lasts from June to September, but some typhoons can hit as early as May.
Make sure to stay up-to-date on the weather forecasts when planning your trip here.
How to get around the Philippines
Due to the size and the number of islands, the majority of your long-distance travel will be on domestic flights, boats or ferries.
While on the islands, you have plenty of options to choose from for travelling from place to place such as; jeepneys, taxis, vans, motorbike taxis (habal-habal) and tricycles.
Here are the best ways to get around the Philippines:
Travelling by plane is one of the most popular ways to get around the Philippines. It’s convenient, often not too expensive and can save you a lot of time.
It’s a country that’s set up for air travel, with a number of islands having their own domestic airports.
The most popular Filipino airlines are Philippine Airlines, Cebu Pacific and AirAsia.
It’s important to keep in mind that taking a short-haul flight can be up to 10 times more polluting than taking a more environmentally-friendly option like a bus.
Where you don’t want to take a plane, there is often a ferry or boat alternative. However, this option tends to be a lot more time-consuming and boats in the Philippines aren’t always the safest.
On the bright side, taking a boat in the Philippines is likely to reward you with stunning views and an adventure.
Boats range from large ferry-style boats with rooms to small pump boats, also known as bangkas. The main ferry companies are 2GO Travel and Ocean Jet, which run regular schedules to popular destinations including Cebu, Bohol and Palawan.
Buying a boat ticket in the Philippines
Where a body of water doesn’t need to be crossed to get to your next destination, buses can be a good way to get around the Philippines, but it depends on the length of your journey.
The buses that cover shorter journeys tend to be more local-style buses with no air conditioning, uncomfortable seats and not enough seats for everyone. On the plus side, it can be a great way to have a chat with locals.
Premium buses can be found covering longer distances. They have air conditioning, comfortable sits which sometimes recline, and normally there’s a toilet onboard. Some might even have Wi-Fi.
Buying a bus ticket in the Philippines
Inner-city bus tickets can be bought once you board the bus. For inter-city buses, you can buy the ticket from the bus terminal beforehand or book online. Bookaway and 12Go.Asia are two great websites to book on.
Jeepneys are an icon in the Philippines. They’re a cross between a truck and a jeep which are often brightly coloured and packed full of people, with some even riding on the rooftop.
They are the main form of transportation in major cities like Manila and Cebu and certainly offer an adventure to anyone brave enough to ride one.
How to ride a jeepney
The jeepneys have their routes painted on the side of them or on a signboard in the window. Even so, they often divert from their routes, picking up and dropping off passengers here, there and everywhere!
To hop on a jeepney, you simply have to stand on the side of the road and flag one down! Make sure to have small denominations of cash on you.
Taxis in the Philippines come in many different forms — cars, tuk-tuks, tricycles and moto-taxis. You’ll be able to find one at least of these everywhere you go.
Make sure to agree on a price before getting in. Or, if you want to avoid the hassle of haggling, you can use the popular ride-hailing app, Grab. Although, Grab is only available in Metro Manila, Cebu City, Davao City, Iloilo City, Bacolod City, and Baguio City.
Entry requirements and visa for the Philippines
Travelling to the Philippines is an easy task for the majority of the world. Citizens from around 160 countries are able to enter the Philippines without a visa. These include all countries in the EU, the UK, the US and Australia.
Most visa-free visitors are able to stay in the Philippines for up to 30 days.
To enter, your passport much be valid for at least 6 months and they may ask for proof of exit from the country.
If you don’t know when you’ll be leaving the Philippines, you can ‘rent’ a plane ticket for $12. Best Onward Travel book a real plane ticket for you that is valid for 48 hours. It’s 100% legal and safe.
For more information on visas for the Philippines, view the Republic of the Philippines Bureau of Immigration website or the Department of Foreign Affairs website.
Must-try Filipino food
The Philippines isn’t known for having the best food. It’s a lot of meat and not a lot of vegetables, but there are still plenty of dishes that will get your mouth salivating.
Here are our favourite dishes in the Philippines:
- Adobo — is said to be the national dish of the Philippines. What makes this dish so special is the sauce which is normally served over meat, either pork or chicken, with a side of rice.
- Lechon — is a roasted pig. A suckling pig is skewered on a bamboo pole and roasted over charcoal. It’s then eaten right off the carcass with a side of garlic fried rice or used in other dishes. Lechon is particularly famous in Cebu.
- Pancit Guisado — found in almost every restaurant, these are essentially fried noodles that come in three different varieties, thick noodles, thin vermicelli noodles, or a combination of the two.
- Balut — may not be for everyone. Balut is fertilised duck eggs that have been left until a semi-developed duck embryo forms inside. The best way to eat them is to not think about what you’re eating too much.
Essential travel tips for the Philippines
Here is a selection of the best tips and pieces of information to make your trip to the Philippines that little bit easier:
Paying with Philippine peso (PHP) in The Philippines
The Philippines uses the Philippine Peso (PHP).
While card payments are becoming more popular in big cities and popular tourist destinations, it’s good to always have some cash on you just in case. You’ll need cash for things like taking the bus, markets and tips.
The only fee-free ATM in the Philippines is HSBC which has a withdrawal limit of 40,000 PHP. But don’t worry, the other ATMs do charge withdrawal fees but they’re minimal, ranging from $0.20-30 per withdrawal.
When using an ATM, it might ask you which conversion rate you would like to accept. Always decline the ATM conversion rate. Your bank will always give you a much better exchange rate than the ATM.
Buying a sim card in the Philippines
While a lot of cafes, restaurants and hotels offer free Wi-Fi, it’s likely that you’re going to want internet whilst out and about. We recommend getting a local sim card.
The four main mobile providers in the Philippines are Smart, Globe, Dito, and Airalo. You’ll be able to buy a sim card from one of these providers at most international airports in the Philippines or at a mobile provider’s store.
Whilst it’s convenient, buying a sim card at the airport is often more expensive.
You’ll need to make sure that your phone is ‘unlocked’ which means that you can put any sim card in your phone, rather than being locked to a specific provider.
The Philippines’ language cheat sheet
The two official languages in the Philippines are Filipino and English.
If you want to practise your Filipino, here are a few words to get you started:
- Hello – Kamusta
- Thank you – Salamat
- Please – Pakiusap
- Sorry – Pasensya na
The perfect packing list for the Philippines
The Philippines’ climate is mainly hot all year round, so bring loose-fitting clothes because you’ll want to stay as cool as possible. If you’re travelling during the rainy season, then a raincoat is a must!
Aside from the essential travel gear, here are some that have become permanent fixtures on our packing list:
- Reusable water bottle – they’re better for the environment and can save you money on water.
- A portable charger – there’s probably going to be a time when your phone’s battery is on red, at a time that you desperately need it.
- An adaptor – The Philippines mainly use the same plugs as the US (A&B), which is different from European plugs. A universal travel adaptor is a great buy if you’re travelling between different continents.
Check out our full packing list for Southeast Asia.
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Kate is a writer, (ex)Management Consultant and avid traveller. She recently returned from a 2-year career break exploring the world and decided corporate life wasn’t for her. She’ll soon be testing life as a digital nomad. She’s visited over 40 countries and fell in love with Latin America in particular. Her travelling has inspired a passion for yoga, salsa, hiking and Spanish.