If you have been planning on visiting the Philippines for a while now and have finally come around to researching your trip, you will know the internet is saturated with information on this topic.
That’s why my husband Phil and I have created this up to date 2019 Blog Post to help make planning your trip to the Philippines super easy. This comprehensive guide will breakdown the Must See’s and showcase lesser known picture perfect locations ( find out why we DON’T recommend visiting El Nido), explain the myriad of transport options and share where we recommend eating and sleeping, all whilst sticking to a budget.
So lets get started – bookmark this or pin this for later if you are short on time because this post is full to the brim with every ounce of information you will need for your trip!
The Philippines is a country comprised of over 7000 islands based in South East Asia to the east of Vietnam. Its current population sits around 105 million, a majority are of Malay descent. Due to its close proximity to neighbouring Asian countries, it is a melting pot of different cultures. There are over 120 distinct indigenous Philippine languages although Filipino and English are the most wildly spoken.
Why Visit the Philippines?
Over 7000 tropical islands, white sand beaches, snorkelling, diving and surfing, it has something for everyone. Its locals are friendly and welcoming and the islands are varied so it will reward the adventurers out there.
Bonus points if you are a karaoke enthusiast at home because we are pretty sure the Philippines may be the worlds capital. The filipino people have a fun and happy go lucky attitude and the children love to wave and say ‘Hello’ to everyone.
It’s unique wildlife and crystal clear waters will have you booking your next trip to explore more of its many islands as soon as your trip ends.
Fairly new and up and coming on the travellers hit list the Philippines still has a lowkey local vibe on many of its hidden gems.
Planning your Philippines adventure can be difficult………..there is so much to see!
We guarantee that you will always want more time to visit all the areas and islands that catch your eye so we spent a month travelling through the Philippines and hopefully our highlights will help you when planning your island adventure.
When to visit the Philippines?
The Philippines experiences 3 seasons: The Hot Season being between March and May followed by the Rainy Season from June to November and the Cool Season in December til February.
Peak season for tourists is the hot season between March and May. It is generally avoided during the wet season as the countries islands are located in a typhoon rich area of Asia and experiences between 17-19 typhoons through the wet season. Like many countries in Asia the hot season will be around 30-40 degrees so some travellers will prefer the cooler months.
How Long to stay in the Philippines?
We spent 30 days touring the Philippines and you could spend much longer – there is so much to see and do!
Travellers come to the Philippines for many different types of trips, if you want to travel and explore the country and its islands as we did we would recommend minimum 2 weeks and just choose a few of our highlights.
However if you are coming to experience its world class diving and surfing and perhaps not travelling as much you could do it in less as the main dive islands will have many different dive sights on their doorstep.
Short break getaways generally see visitors located at one of the Philippines hotel and beach resort locations such as the newly developed and rebuilt Boracay.
Take note of how long you are allowed to stay in the Philippines depending on the country you are from. We are from the UK and if we wanted to stay longer than 30 days we would needed to have applied for a visa in advance. Check with your local embassy on the visa requirements for your country first.
When you ARRIVE in the Philippines – TOP TIPS
Local Currency in the Philippines
When you arrive in the Philippines make sure you have enough local currency in cash. The currency is Philippines Peso (PHP) and is accepted everywhere. Some of the remote islands do not have working cash machines, even Puerto Princesa Airports cash machines were not working when we arrived. The cash machines can be unreliable and many travellers were struggling to get any cash for their taxis. This is especially important in Palawan if this is your first port of call as many travellers want to head straight to El Nido. If you do not have enough cash before you arrive in El Nido for the duration of your time in Palawan, you are going to struggle to pay for your trip. We recommend calculating the cost of your entire trip in Palawan and ensuring you have enough cash to cover this.
Local Sim Cards in the Philippines
Make sure you have a Local SIM card, we got ours when we transited in Manila Airport. We found that the wifi on your phone was not as bad as many people make it out to be. We opted for the Globe Travellers sim with 8GB of data valid for 30 days. It was around 1000PHP for the data and the sim card.
Health Tips for the Philippines
Food Poisoning is a problem in the Philippines for a lot of people, always read reviews on Trip Advisor for the restaurants that you want to visit. Especially if you are travelling to undeveloped areas.
Drink Bottled Water – especially when visiting El Nido. They have an ongoing problem with their water source not being clean. We made sure to brush our teeth with bottled water also, and found many travellers who didn’t were ill.
How to get to the Philippines
The Philippines has 3 main international airports – Manila, Puerto Princesa and Cebu. There are some smaller airports that serve international flights but the ones mentioned above will likely be the most affordable and available.
We opted to fly from Vietnam (Ho Chi Minh) to Puerto Princesa as it landed us on Palawan island which is a great place to begin your Philippines adventure and avoid the big capital of Manila. (Cebu is also a great alternative to avoid Manila)
Getting around the Philippines
There are many transport options available for exploring the Philippines and Island Hopping. We mostly used flights for hopping between major islands and a few ferries for the shorter distances.
Flight prices between islands were reasonable and due to the duration of some ferry trips definitely more comfortable.
Once on your island of choice you are often choosing between tourist minibuses, jeepney’s, local buses, tricycles and taxi’s. During our month long stay in the Philippines we used all of these and some are definitely interesting.
While taxi’s and minibus transfers are the more comfortable options, travel like a local and you can save some Peso’s for a cocktail on your tropical beach paradise of choice.
The Jeepney’s are unmistakable…brightly coloured and painted, loud and often pieced together from 3 different vehicles, these are the local workhorses. These will often link local towns and only leave once they are packed with locals, deliveries and even motorbikes. Air conditioning is not an option here but open sided windows do the trick and you get to experience local life while rumbling around for a fraction of the price of other transport options.
If you have travelled in Asia before you will be familiar with the Filipino Tricycles – also known as Tuk Tuk’s in Thailand and Rickshaws in India, these are the most common way to travel short distances.
The minibus or minivan transfers receive a mixed bag of reviews online but are very common on certain islands and generally not too expensive – one popular trip for these companies is Puerto Princessa on Palawan to Port Barton or El Nido. We chose to pre-book with SBE as they received the best reviews (even these were not too good). Often companies (Recaro in particular get very bad reviews) will over pack the minibuses past legal limits and drivers will drive at crazy speeds so it pays to check a few reviews prior.
For popular ferry routes such as El Nido to Coron we would advise pre-booking your ferry tickets online. These ferries get full quickly and we opted for the popular Montenegro fast ferry which takes between 3-4 hours rather than the 6 hour normal ferry.
TOP TIP: Grab App – this is similar to Uber and has been operating in the Philippines for the last couple of years. Only readily available in main cities such as Cebu and Manila, we loved using this app. You can choose to pay your driver in cash so no credit card is needed and they will give you a price prior to ordering your ride.
For short distances they have a fixed rate which was always cheaper than normal taxi’s and also there is no hassle from the usual Taxi Meter Scams. We used this to get to the airport in Manila from our hotel and it was much cheaper than any airport transfers from hotels in the area.
What to bring to the Philippines
Waterproof Dry Bag – keep your valuables dry and away from sand on those island hopping tours you will surely be enjoying.
Reef Shoes – this is for all those occasions when you need to wade in shallow reef covered water to go snorkelling or climb over rocks on your island hopping trips.
Suncream – this is not readily available for sale as the locals do not wear it. If you are lucky to find it in a store it is extremely expensive. Make sure you bring plenty as you will need to apply it constantly if you plan on being in the water for a majority of your trip. Try and get a reef friendly option when possible.
Waterproof camera case or Go Pro – with so much snorkelling to be had you will want to be able to capture the turtles and tropical fish. Especially if you visit Moalboal to see the Sardine Run – imagine hundreds of thousands of fish!
Snorkel Mask – for said snorkelling above
Bum Bag – keep all your valuables close by on nights out so you don’t need to bring a big bag with you everywhere you go.
First Aid Kit – anything can happen when on holiday – reef cuts, food poisoning, dehydration, insect bites. Make sure you have a go to kit of essentials.
Where to visit in the Philippines?
We have made separate blog posts for each of our favourite destinations – just choose one or all of them below:
**A note on Oslob
Yes you can swim with Whale Sharks in Oslob, but should you? This is a top activity in many guide books and on internet guides, however it has come under fire recently from environmental groups and government organisations.
Tourists are led to believe whale sharks live wild in Oslob and the tours there take 100’s of tourists a day to view them in their natural habitat.
The official conservation status for these whale sharks is vulnerable and declining. Naturally these sharks are migratory and mobile – now picture 100’s of tourists in the water swimming and touching these animals which are fed by locals to keep them in the small bay for the purpose of tourism.
Not quite the life the whale sharks are used to – the unregulated practises here have lead to behavioural changes in the sharks who now rely on feeding by the fisherman while associating the tourist boats with food and will probably never venture into the open ocean.
According to studies by independent groups up to 95% of the boats and swimmers here fail to abide by the rules that stop close interaction with the species. As thoughtful travellers we should be aware of these practices and do our best to avoid them or at least until they are properly regulated with the animals wellbeing and sustainability being the priority. There are many travellers who are aware that the practices are not right but might really want to experience it anyway so will put their conscience aside. However there are many other ways to experience the Philippines amazing ocean wildlife in their natural habitat with accredited companies.
**A note on El Nido
We haven’t included El Nido in our must see sights and here’s why. Although it is often included on many lists as a must do and see, we found the opposite, especially after spending time in Port Barton prior. A friend of ours who lives in the Philippines advised us to avoid it and we didn’t listen due to the overwhelming love for it on Instagram and the internet. This is truly a representation of how the internet (Instagram/Pinterest) does not give a truthful outlook on popular destinations.
Tourism has well and truly hit the small town and we found it overly busy, overpriced and chaotic. It would be a good place to party and many people visit for it’s boat trips similar to Port Barton and Coron, however after our idyllic boat trip in Port Barton we were struggling to pay far more for an overpriced trip in El Nido with 3x the amount of people to a boat. I’m sure the boat trips here have many beautiful sights but after speaking to travellers who have done tours in Coron and Port Barton they all preferred those over El Nido.
Instead, ever the adventurers we opted to head for Corong Beach in search of a kayak for hire. From here we paddled around the coast to Lapus Lapus and Papaya Beach which are also on the boat tour routes, but we had these perfect beaches to ourselves after the boats left and only paid 500php total for the day. The views here are beautiful and well worth doing if you are a strong paddler. (make sure you get a kayak that stays afloat- ours was almost underwater the entire time haha)
El Nido’s beach by the town is nothing to write home about and I’m sure not the reason people come to visit. We did like Las Cabanas beach, but there was A LOT of construction underway building a huge shopping centre directly on the beach. Not the most peaceful place listening to cement being drilled all day long. Before long this place will become a tourists nightmare and the reason many came to visit will have disappeared.
If you want to stay in El Nido – make sure you stay in Nacpan Beach. We stayed in El Nido for 4 nights and seriously regretted it. Accommodation books up early so if you do feel the need to visit El Nido, i would only recommend staying 1 or 2 nights maximum in the town. There are certainly some beautiful and photogenic spots here but the quiet, idyllic charade that the internet portrays will leave you a little disappointed if you weren’t expecting it. Check out the Nacpan Blog Post here.
We have listed some accommodation options for places that you may need to transit in between your main destinations.
Casa Arrieta Hostel – 10/10 for value and the accommodation! This was a great find located in Dumaguete town on Negros. Super clean and modern it felt more like a hotel than a hostel. This place is perfect if you need a night to stay somewhere before you catch a ferry to Siquijor.
At check in we were given all the local information we needed along with recommendations and maps to explore the university town of Dumaguete. Also our hosts gave us a slice of Dumeguete’s famous ice cream cake which went down a treat! For dinner or lunch try Lord Byrons Backrib’s just across the street.
Lub d Makati– we were flying out of Manila so had a few days to explore the city. The Lub d in Makati is in a great location – a popular hostel chain, this place had everything with funky decor, modern facilities, spacious rooms and free popcorn!
This felt like luxury after a couple of weeks travelling. The malls and shopping are close by and a large movie lounge and bar area is great for catching up on emails.