For those who worship the sun, love the feel of the sand between their toes, and are ready to cast away, the Philippines will provide you with endless adventures and entertainment. This Southeast Asian country is archipelagic and consists of over 7,000 islands in the Pacific Ocean.
While the country is known for its tropical climate, you’ll still find a touch of Asia with their vibrant green rice terraces. Other breathtaking sights include fiery volcanoes, secluded lagoons, and luscious mountains. Travelers can hop from island to island or explore the grand cities and excite their tongues with traditional Filipino dishes.
Maligayang Pagdating – Welcome to the Philippines
Manila is the capital of the Philippines. The capital is on the island of Luzon and it rests where the Pasig River meets Manila Bay. For the Philippines, Manila is important because it is the central hub for the country’s economy, politics, culture, and customs. Similar to many other Asian capitals, the city has its fair share of dark history but through every struggle, the city has thrived to become a thriving megapolis. While modernity has dotted the city with skyscrapers, you can still step back from the chaos and enjoy the artisan markets, hidden bars, and indie music.
Culture and Language
The Philippines has a long history and elaborate culture that started 30,000 years ago when people traveled from Sumatra and Borneo to the islands. After, Malaysian people made their way before the Chinese and Spanish. In 1521, Spain conquered the Philippines and would rule for the next 300 years. But by 1898, the Philippines were declared as independent.
Once the Spanish were defeated, the US tried to take control and started a war in the 1800s. While the United States didn’t want permanent control, they did want to establish a government and a new educational system. The United States had an issue with their rule and the country was headed towards complete independence.
World War II ruined that plan and saw the Philippines invaded by Japan. With the end of the war, the country became the Republic of the Philippines and started working towards a better future. While some presidents were better than others, the Philippines has come a long way and has secured their status as a developing country.
Even with a troubled history, the Filipino people are carefree, happy, and inviting. Tourists will be welcomed with a smile and encouraged to share in the Filipino culture. While resilience has led the country on, the Filipino people uphold the family – as is customary in Asian culture. Family always comes first and is often a person’s source of pride. But alongside family, religion rules the household and many people will often treasure their religious symbols. Respect also goes a long way and by learning to value another culture, you will always be welcomed to the party.
The Philippines has two official languages – Filipino and English. While many other regional dialects are spoken throughout the country, a variation of the Tagalog language is the most widely spoken throughout the country. Sometimes referred to as Tagalog, Filipino is spoken by about 45 million people. However, many citizens of the Philippines will also have some experience or speak English to some degree. While not all are fluent in English, it is still a common language and tourists will likely encounter it on the streets.
For US tourists who are interested in visiting the Philippines, you will need a valid tourist visa before you can enter the country. But the length of your stay will determine which visa you need for your vacation. All US citizens will need to present a valid US passport and it must be valid at your time of entry into the country. Your passport will also need sufficient space for your entry and exit stamps.
If you are planning on staying in the Philippines for 21 days or less, you do not need to have a tourist visa pre-approved. Instead, you can get a tourist visa upon arrival to the country. You will need to present a return ticket to the US or proof of onward travel when you arrive in the Philippines and are being processed through customs. If your travel plans change and you do want to stay longer, you can seek a visa extension at the Bureau of Immigration and Deportation office.
Any vacation plans that are longer than 21 days will fall under the extended tourist category. This category means that you must apply for a tourist visa through the Embassy. Your application will have to be submitted with your passport, proof of onward travel, proof of your finances, a passport photo, and payment of the visa fee. The fee is currently $60 US dollars. The proof of finances is considered to be a recent bank statement, tax return, or payment stub and is required to demonstrate your financial stability. For entry or exit from the country, there is a $10,000 US dollars restriction.
For your health, it is also recommended that you are up to date on all your vaccines. If you are traveling from countries that are indicated as having yellow fever, you will need to have a current vaccination for yellow fever and proof that you received the vaccine from a doctor. The World Health Organization lists all yellow fever countries on their website, so you can get the most accurate and up-to-date information.
While the visa is required for entry into the Philippines, it is also important that you take the time to budget your trip before you arrive in the country. The Philippines is a country that can be traveled with an affordable budget or you can go all out and lavish yourself in luxury. The most important parts of your budget will be the airfare, accommodation, food, drink, and transportation.
A large portion of your budget will also go towards the airfare because the Philippines are far away, and it costs a pretty price to be able to fly to the islands. Most people will choose to have a layover to reduce costs and travel time, which can be crucial if you do not live close to an airport with direct flights. But don’t expect a huge break in price because flying to Asia is expensive.
Most flights to the Philippines will cost about $700 US dollars per person, but the cost can skyrocket pas $1,000 US dollars per person. A direct flight from the US to the Philippines will take about 17 hours and there are a few different popular airlines that service the route. Delta, China Airlines, and Etihad Airways all offer direct flights to the country. For budget travelers, it takes a little searching to find the affordable flights, but other factors like when you travel to the country and how far in advance you book your ticket can raise or lower the cost too.
The dry season is the most popular time to visit the Philippines and it runs from November to April. This is the tourist high season and you will find that airlines tickets are the priciest during these months. March and April are usually the most affordable months to travel to the Philippines but be aware that airfare may only be affordable because most people avoid the high heat during those months. The further ahead you book your ticket, the less likely it will cost too. So, don’t lag on making a reservation if you have your heart set on exploring these lush islands.
Similar to many Southeast Asian countries, the Philippines is affordable, and you can find many accommodation options for less than $10 US dollars per night. Hostels are the most affordable and, on some islands, it really does cost less than $10 US dollars per night. Other hostels may cost more with prices being closer to $20 US dollars per night. However, not all islands will have hostels and instead there may be a private room for two people for $20 US dollars or less per night.
Nicer accommodations will be more expensive, and a hotel can easily cost the same price as the US. If you are wanting to stay in a western style hotel, you should expect to spend $30 US dollars or more. While $30 dollars sounds affordable, on most islands the price will actually be closer to $100 US dollars or all the way up to $200 US dollars per night. Resorts in the country will cost even more and can easily have you spending upwards of $1,000 US dollars per night. Again, where you are staying can affect the price and the more touristy equals more money.
Airbnb is another option for nice accommodation options in the Philippines and many locations will have a booking price of $65 US dollars or less per night. Luxury accommodations on Airbnb in the Philippines may cost upwards of $100 US dollars, but you would be likely staying in a posh apartment or renting a private residence. Smaller places like a suite or small apartment may be more affordable and cost $40 US dollars or less per night.
Once you’ve settled on booking your flight and accommodation, the next most important parts of your budget are food and drink. While Filipino cuisine may not be as popular as their Thai food neighbors, it doesn’t mean that you should overlook their savory flavors. Many people will find that Filipino food is delicious, and the country’s cuisine is headed towards being the next big star of culinary crafts.
While Filipino dishes may not be as elaborate as other countries cuisines, they do have a variety of tasty dishes that people love. Adobo is the most famous dish both inside and outside the country, which is a stewed meat with soy sauce and vinegar. Kare-kare is another dish that uses beef cuts like oxtail and serves them with a peanut sauce. Lechon is another famous dish, especially for parties, and it is and full roasted pig. Seafood is also central to the country’s cuisine due to their geographical location and dishes like sinigang are often enjoyed.
Travelers will notice that while chicken, pork, and seafood are common in a variety of dishes, the most dominate form of meat throughout the country is beef. Beef is often cooked into delicious dishes like bistek tagalog or bulalo, which is a slow-cooked soup.
For many locations throughout the country, you can easily eat street food dishes for less than $2 US dollars. Restaurants will cost a few dollars more, but most local eateries about $6 US dollars. Touristy locations will be the most expensive dining options and there are many establishments that will rival US prices. If you are looking for a luxury vacation, you can expect to spend about $20 US dollars at the nicer restaurants.
Other travelers will find that drinking is an important part of their trip and they’ll need to factor in the price of alcohol to their budget. Most local drinks can be purchased for less than $4 US dollars and some options will cost less than $1 US dollar. In nicer hotels and well-established tourist hotspots, drink will usually be about $5 US dollars, though they may cost more if you are in a very touristy location.
Overall, a travel budget to the Philippines has a broad range. A backpacker budget would be spending $35 US dollars or less per day, while most people would prefer to stay in a little more comfort and will spend $100 US dollars or less per day. A nice vacation would have you spending more than $100 US dollars per day, while luxury vacations can easily cost hundreds or thousands per day. It will all depend on where you stay, how you travel, and what type of places you will be eating at for the duration of your vacation.
How to Get Around
The Philippines is one of those countries where your eager to explore, but exploration can be difficult because there are so many islands to visit. While it is unattainable to visit over 7,000 islands in less than 21 days, that doesn’t mean that you won’t want to partake in a little island hopping. But getting around can be difficult and it’s important that you budget the cost of traveling in the Philippines.
If you don’t have a lot of time on your hands but you want to explore more islands in the Philippines, the best way for you to travel would be to book a domestic flight. While flights are affordable, they can still consume a large portion of your budget. Most domestic flights will cost anywhere from $15 to $50 US dollars and are provided by quality companies like Philippines Airlines. The flights are an easy way to get from island to island and will save you on travel time.
With an abundance of water provided by the Pacific Ocean, the Philippines if often traveled by boat or ferry. Most boats and ferries will be more affordable than taking a domestic flight, but if you are going longer distances, it will take you longer to reach your destination. A RoRo ferry is a larger ferry size option and usually costs less than $20 US dollars for long distances. A Banca ferry is more popular for short distances and will cost $1 to $2 US dollars.
Other ways to travel the country include buses, jeepneys, and motorbikes. Buses are a great way to explore a specific city and will usually cost $1 US dollar or less but can cost up to $4 US dollars if you use the point-to-point system. Jeepneys are a more colorful travel option and they have the most eccentric look out of all the transportation vehicles. While they may seem odd, traveling by jeepney is affordable and most short rides will cost about $0.20 US cents.
Taxis are another option, but they have a rather negative reputation amongst tourists. Many taxis are notorious for over charging, not returning the correct amount of change, or simply lying about fares. While most taxis should cost $0.08 US cents per 300 meters, you shouldn’t take them unless you’re willing to spend a lot more.
In Manila, there is a public train system that can be used throughout the city and is affordable. Most journeys will cost $0.50 US cents. But be aware that weekday rush hours from 7-9am and 5-9pm are the most frustrating times to travel. Any other times, the trains can be of great assistance for your travel plans.
Finally, another transportation option would be to rent a car yourself. In big cities, it may not be worth the stress or you may feel up to the challenge. An economy priced car usually cost about $26 US dollars per day, but a roomier option would be an SUV, which would cost about $53 US dollars per day.
Top Places to Visit: Cities
While Manila is the most popular city in the Philippines, there are a lot of other places to visit too. Here, we will give a brief overview of the top city destinations in the country.
A non-stop energy makes Manila a popular tourist destination, where you can experience the local life and take a ride in the country’s famous jeepneys. While Manila is also the capital of the country, you will find that it offers a unique spread of the local cuisine, markets, and celebrations. The San Augustin church is a focal point for many worshipers and is an amazing site to visit as it was built in the 16th century.
With 12 beaches, Borocay is a small island is the Visayas region that is famous for its pristine white sand and clear water. White Beach is the most popular destination on the west side, but other popular beaches include Puka Shell, Cagban, and Diniwid. You can also take a day trip to Mount Luho from Borcay, which will provide you with a panoramic view.
Located on the island of Cebu, this is the top diving destination in the Philippines. There are sea caves in the area that you can explore and a wide variety of aquatic wildlife. While Cebu City has a metropolitan feel with museums, shopping, and dining, you can escape into the beauty of nature just outside the city at the Sudlon National Park. The park is just an hour from Cebu City and offers many unique snorkeling and diving locations.
A blend of Chinese and Spanish influence makes Vigan one of the most visually stunning locations in the country due to the colonial architecture. An old-world feel fills the city and you can take a horse drawn carriage through its streets. The Calle Crisologo is a walking district, while the Bantay Bell Tower and St. Paul Metropolitan Cathedral are popular tourist attractions.
Davao City is located in the Mindanao region and it is a metropolitan hub for shopping, dining, and sightseeing. The Museums of History and Ethnography is a popular location, while the Abreeze Mall draws in tourists looking for some souvenirs. But nature is incorporated into this urban landscape too and you can visit the Eden Nature Park or Philippine Eagle Center to see its beauty.
Sagada is a tribal region in the Philippines, which is known for being the site of the world-famous Hanging Coffins. The coffins are located in the Cordillera Mountains and are best experience with a guide. The coffins are not an official tourist site, but have become popular with dark tourism.
Points of Interest
While cities are often a magnet for tourists, you may also find that there is a specific point of interest that you want to visit.
Located on Coron Island, the Coral Garden is a dive site where you can experience sunken shipwrecks, colorful coral, vibrant fish, and other aquatic wildlife. The area is very popular for snokelers and divers with many tours offered daily.
For the more athletic and extreme travelers, you can take a hike up the Mayon Volcano, which is located on Luzon island. The volcano is active, and it is strenuous to climb with steep trails and gases at the top. But it is still a unique sight to behold and is home to stunning scenery.
The Chocolate Hills are a World Heritage Site, which is filled with hills that cover a large area. The hills emerged over time in an area that was once covered by the ocean and are now a big tourist attraction where they change color from green to brown in the dry season.
Batad Rice Terraces
Located in Banaue, the Batad Rice Terraces are stunning paddies that have been carved and stacked into the local mountains. Rice and vegetables are grown throughout the terraces and they remain a vibrant green color. Their unique beauty makes them one of the most photographed locations in the country.
Get Out and Go
Whether you’re ready to be a beach bum or want to island hop for days, the Philippines will entrance you with its beauty. This country is unique not only in its landscape, but the people as well. With a happy and carefree vibe, travelers fall in love with these tropical islands and the Philippines will surely be an unforgettable vacation.