50 Tips for Traveling in the Philippines
The Philippines is by no means an easy country to travel in. It is sometimes complicated to get around, transport is difficult to book and you will find that “I don’t know” is the most common response to your questions. Many procedures are overly slow and complicated and information is hard to obtain, very often resulting in a lot of frustration to western travelers. It takes some getting used to. But once you adapt to (or at least accept) the Filipino attitude and way of life, you will discover an archipelago of stunning beaches, gorgeous mountains, secluded spots and friendly people who are fiercely proud of their beautiful country. We have just left the Philippines after spending 58 days exploring the vast country, and here we have compiled a list of 50 tips for traveling in the Philippines. We hope that these Philippines travel tips will make your trip a little easier!
Philippines Travel Tips
1. Be flexible
This is the single most important tip in this list. Even if you have spent ages planning your trip, it is likely that you will need to make changes at some point due to fully booked transport, missed connections and misleading information. We changed our itinerary during the trip four times because of all these reasons. Although this may be daunting, if you are open to being flexible you might come across places you’ve never even heard of just like we did!
2. Be tolerant
Filipinos do not always understand your queries or requests due to cultural differences, so you might often be left without your desired/requested service or item leading to some frustration.
3. The food is quite good despite reports to the contrary
Street food especially is tasty and inexpensive. At restaurants you will find that very often many dishes are unavailable so mentally make a second, third and even fourth choice. Sometimes its just worth asking what on the menu is actually available (only 3 dishes out of about 70 were available at a café in Bontoc one time).
4. Local beer is cheap
San Miguel, a pale pilsen is the most popular.
5. Electrical supply is sporadic
There are regular power cuts (called brownouts) throughout the country including cities. Some towns have no electrical supply during certain hours of the day. Check this out before travelling to particular places if power supply is important to you.
6. Internet access is awful and data coverage is often poor
Globe and Smart are the two largest sim providers but data is excruciatingly slow with no service or a 2G service in some areas.
7. Filipinos are very friendly people
They will often want to know all about you which might appear intrusive to travelers who are used to western societies. They often love learning all about your country and way of life – use this as an opportunity to make friends with locals!
8. Filipinos have a very poor concept of personal space
They will often stand right next to you, or even touch you or push you. They are not being rude; it is not uncommon for large families to live in a single room where personal space is unheard of. They will sometimes come sit on your bunk or on your seat. You can politely tell them to move, they are not used to being pushed away.
9. Coffee is mostly available in 3-in-1 packets containing LOTS of sugar
Brewed coffee is sometimes (but rarely) available. Creamer is sometimes offered but milk is very rare.
10. Knives are not used at table, you will be presented with a fork and a spoon
The use of the spoon is not always clear (especially if you have large chunks of meat on your plate), but it is good to remember that in more rural areas, cutlery is not used at all and locals use their hands to eat off their plate.
11. Paper napkins are tiny if present at all.
It’s best to carry a packet of tissues or wet towels with you.
12. Roosters crow all night, all morning and all day
… even in the cities. Bring earplugs if you are a light sleeper.
13. People are generally willing to help you
… with your queries and requests, not all the locals consider tourists to be cash machines (though some do).
14. Burgers are plentiful and cheap
… they are usually bite sized though!
15. Dairy products are almost non-existent in the country
Large supermarkets might stock a small selection of imported (and expensive) milk and cheese, but that’s about it.
16. You should carry a dry-bag around with you
Storms tend to be frequent (even during the dry season as we found out!) and you and your belongings will likely get soaked on boat trips in El Nido, Coron and Panglao (or other places while traveling around the Philippines). Dry-bags in different sizes are widely available on the islands; the cheapest bag we found was in El Nido (350 PHP for 30 L), the most expensive in Puerto Princesa (800 – 1000 PHP for 30L).
17. El Nido smells pretty bad!
Also do take precautions, it is common for people to get sick in El Nido (we didn’t), we heard that this is most likely due to polluted water. DO NOT swim in the bay of El Nido proper. It is perfectly safe to swim around the islands on the various tours though. Furthermore, the nearby beaches of Nacpan and Marimegmeg are pristine as they can get and totally preferred!
18. Sunsets in the Philippines are the best we’ve ever seen
Be sure to have your camera ready!
19. Filipinos can be very noisy especially in large groups
Carry ear plugs around if you intend to sleep on buses, boats etc.
20. Karaoke seems to be the national pastime
You will find people singing along to karaoke (called videoke in the Philippines) everywhere at all hours of the day which is not necessarily pleasing to the ear.
21. Take your own food and water if you intend spending a long time on the beaches
Tourist hotspots tend to be expensive.
22. You will be asked for an entrance fee to access some of the beaches
Trike drivers will typically take you to a resort entrance where you will be asked to pay the fee. There is usually an entrance for locals just a few metres away from the resort where access to the same beach is a lot cheaper (think 25 PHP vs. 250 PHP from the resort).
23. Mask and snorkels rental fee costs anything from 100-200 PHP
That’s 100-200 PHP each time, and the equipment can be quite dirty. It might make more sense to buy your own if you have the space, and carry it around while traveling around the Philippines.
24. Hiring your own scooter/bike is the cheapest mode of transport
… on most islands.
25. Hidden fees are very common
See point 22 above of our Philippines travel tips for a textbook case.
26. Carry sunblock around with you.
You will get burnt if you don’t use it.
27. Gatorade is your new best friend
28. Carry water around with you all the time
You will need it and as already mentioned above, it can be expensive if bought from tourist hotspots.
29. Filipino people rarely seem to stress out or worry
Think “oh yes we are waiting for a large earthquake that will destroy Manila in the coming months… if it has to be, then let it be”.
30. The Philippines still has a few paradise islands which are off the tourist trail
Sibuyan island is one of them.
31. Filipino people tend to eat a lot of fatty and sugary foods without seemingly putting on much weight
If you have a Mediterranean type of body, do not indulge in the same manner. You will most likely get fat.
32. For the ladies – if you are backpacking around the country, forget makeup and hair products
Bring hair ties/bands and a hat/cap instead… and sunblock. The heat and humidity will frizz out your hair and melt off your makeup!
33. We suggest you carry alcohol gel/rub around with you
Some places can be very dirty and it helps to at least clean your hands whenever possible .
34. Filipino people tend to litter and throw dirt on the street
Do not contribute. Find a trash can (although this can be difficult to find at times).
35. If you are taking a ferry and are unsure which company to use …
… 2GO’s service is way better than Montenegro’s.
36. Take jackets/fleece, long-sleeved tops, long trousers and socks for long bus rides and ferry rides
The a/c is kept at a very cold setting. Blankets are a good idea if you’re carrying any.
37. Vegetarians and vegans might have a difficult time finding food in the Philippines
Even vegetable dishes often contain fish sauce or meat stock. Rice and fruit are widely available though.
38. Filipino people do not seem to be the least concerned with time
Never expect a Filipino to rush!
39. Carry toilet paper around with you
It is often unavailable.
40. Filipino people are not often accommodating even in relatively “easy” situations
“Can I have my eggs fried?”, “no sir/ma’am, only scrambled”.
“Can I have more vegetables instead of egg?” “no sir/ma’am, only egg”
41. Scrambled eggs are usually an omelette.
42. “Comfort Room” is a toilet/loo
Often marked as ‘CR’.
43. Bring lots of mozzie repellent
The bugs are everywhere!!
44. Health and safety procedures are almost non-existent in the country
You need to watch out for yourself while traveling around the Philippines. Don’t expect something to be safe just because it’s for tourists.
45. The bright purple coloured food items you will come across contain Ube
Ube is a purple yam which is included as an ingredient in breads, cakes, ice-creams, halo-halo.. you name it! It has a very subtle taste, and you can’t really avoid it if you’re in the Philippines.
46. All food items are very sweet
This includes breads, coffee, sauces, sausages, drinks. People suffering from diabetes take note! Whilst on the subject, diabetes medication is often available in pharmacies (with no prescription necessary).
47. Use GRAB and UBER for city transport
In Manila and Cebu City in particular. They are cheaper than regular taxis and very convenient as you get to avoid having to ask the taxi driver to put on the meter!
48. Manila traffic is horrendous
It is sometimes faster to walk if distances are not long (but the heat is also horrendous).
49. It is not uncommon for dogs and other animals to be present in restaurants
They are somehow all well behaved and seem to be of little bother to clients.
50. Filipinos do not understand certain concepts such as …
… holding the door for another person or waiting for someone else to pass before you do. Put this down to cultural differences, not rudeness.
And… Bonus Tip on Philippines Travel Tips!
Take it easy! The Philippines are incredibly beautiful and it is worth taking your time to enjoy the islands! We can almost guarantee that you will not want to leave 😉