The Philippines Travel Guide
With 7,107 islands to choose from, the Philippines seem to have it all. The endless variety of scenery and activities caters for a smorgasbord of travellers and tourists; those with backpacks and those with Louis Vuitton compact purses. Lush, emerald rice terraces, immaculate beaches, a seething, graffiti scrawled city, tropical jungles, active volcanoes and stunning mountains; the Philippines will lure you in, ensnare and captivate.
So why should you visit the Philippines?
A country where East and West blur together in a colourful and unique melting pot. A country where the streets are lined with multi-coloured, honking jeepneys. A country where catchy music and (wonderfully terrible) karaoke filters out from the majority of street corners. All this combined with the beaming locals leave visitors with a skip in their step and a permanent pop song stuck in their head.
The Philippines are marine life lovers’ paradise
World-class diving opportunities are in salty abundance throughout the Philippines and as the Philippines make up part of the “coral triangle”, there are more marine species here than anywhere else in the world. Exquisite, rainbow corals and reefs teeming with glittery, silvery fish, set the underworld backdrop for life below the turquoise waves. From gigantic, migrating whale sharks to teeny-tiny bioluminescent plankton, the waters are abounding with marine magic. Thresher sharks, pygmy seahorses, giant manta rays, grey and white-tipped reef sharks, sea turtles and a colourful potpourri of fish varieties are here in glorious abundance.
Not only are the gorgeous marine life reason enough to try one’s hand at diving, but competing for divers’ attention, are many reefs, walls and wrecks. WWII shipwrecks, Spanish era gunboats and Vietnam era jet fighters are among some of the coral-covered historical wrecks that can be explored. A true delight for ocean devotees, professional and amateur divers, and underwater photographers.
The Philippines are home to one of the longest white sand coastlines in the world
We have travelled extensively around the Philippines and we have taken thousands of photographs. We have filled notebooks with excited scrawls about our own personal experience, and heartbreakingly enough, pixels and ink just cannot do justice to the beauty of the beaches. We swear we walked around with our jaws on the floor for the first two days of arriving in Coron.
The country also prides itself on having one of the longest white sand coastlines in the world. Warm, crystal clear water and white powdery sand make you feel as if you are casually living out your dreams on the front of a postcard. Exotic, pristine and magnificent, the beaches of the Philippine’s are every beach bum’s utopia. With local rum priced cheaper than Coca-Cola, seaside cocktails are affordable and commonplace. Seafood lunches are the order of the day and many beaches offer relaxing massages right on the sand.
The Filipinos are unbelievably friendly and hospitable
Not only does the natural scenery astound and bedazzle, but the local people are what one remembers most fondly from the trip. Genuine, warm and unbelievably friendly, the people walk around with toothy smiles and hearts brimming with kindness and hospitality.
The fact that English is widely spoken throughout the Philippines results in an almost zero language barrier and opens up narratives through which to engage authentically with the people who live there. Humble and enthusiastic storytellers, Filipinos readily and animatedly share their lives and thoughts with one another and visitors alike. They are eager to invite you onto their porch and into their houses and are generous and forthcoming with their anecdotes and stories. Sit down, get comfortable and enjoy. Children excitedly greeting you in the street and parents encouraging you to hold their babies are commonplace and frequent encounters and something to treasure.
The nature beauty of the country is awe-inspiring
From dense, tropical rainforests to the stunning emerald rice terraces of Batad and Banaue, the diverse scenery and panoramic viewpoints of the Philippines will leave you wide-eyed and speechless.
Awe-inspiring hiking trails along the Filipino mountains and volcanoes offer exquisite sites and cooler mountain air. Travellers craving adventure and those wanting to exert themselves physically, will not be short of unique trekking options.
However, one does not need to don a pair of hiking boots to enjoy the beautiful landscape. Masses of humbling ocean views of the coast can frequently be found just by driving one’s rented moped down the road in almost any direction.
And the waterfalls! Oh my goodness, the waterfalls! Kawasan Falls in Oslob, Cebu has a fairy-tale pool of milky, blue water under a thunderous cascade of foamy spray. Tamaraw Waterfalls in Sabang, Palawan; Mimbalot Falls in Iligan City, Mindanao; and Tappiya Falls in Banaue are also majestic and well worth a visit.
Travelling around the Philippines is affordable
Another reason to visit the Philippines, is that your money will go a long long way. Accommodation and transport are very well priced and easily affordable for most tourists and backpackers.
If one is looking to travel on a budget, then visiting the Philippines is a definite economical option. Staying in accommodation just outside of the heart of most tourist hotspots, dramatically reduces the prices of Filipino lodging preferences.
Additionally, something to consider when backpacking around the islands is that the most affordable places to rest for the night are often not found on the internet. Taking a wander around upon arriving, and not pre-booking a room, can offer great savings for the determined and dedicated tourist.
With all the markets and abundant street food, eating cheaply is not only a realist alternative to dining out, but is tasty and culturally rewarding.
Where to go in the Philippines
With all the wonderful destinations on offer in the Philippines, the most challenging aspect of the trip is trying to choose which places where must-see material. Expect a lot of research involved. A lot of word-of-mouth. A lot of trial and error.
You have not seen the Philippines without visiting...
Banaue and Batad in Luzon
Though we can to some extent agree with the travellers who tend to skip Manila using it just as a hub on their way to the islands, we are still absolutely sure that failing to include Luzon into your travel itinerary is a huge mistake.
And we are 100% sure that after all you will confidently tell us that the rice terraces in Banaue definitely make the cut. Described as the eighth wonder of the world, these glistening, emerald stairs create a spectacular sight that is unique in all the world. Banaue, and nearby Batad, offer hiking trails that greatly reward the sweaty efforts of visitors with astounding viewpoints and beautiful waterfalls. Since visiting, we have never quite looked at the pre-packaged rice that adorn supermarkets world-wide, in quite the same way.
Puerto Princesa in Palawan
With its delicious food, white sandy beaches and jaw-dropping coastal viewpoints, Puerto Princesa, the capital city of Palawan, is always an exceptional experience. Sunrise dolphin tours, ethical snorkelling with wild whale sharks, evening bioluminescent plankton and firefly kayaking excursions – this city is a sheer delight. Do not be surprised if you decide to extend your stay in Puerto. Maybe even twice! The subterranean river is now also included in the new Seven Wonders of Nature. An all-round excellent experience!
With its impeccable beaches, crystal clear ocean (one can view sunken Japanese War ships when snorkelling), and almost untouched natural environment, Coron is also not to be missed. Voted by Forbe’s Traveler Magazine as one of the top diving sites in the world, this natural gem offers unique treasures for divers, snorkelers, island-hoppers, beach-bums, hikers and foodies. From professional photographers to selfie-stick wielding YOLOers, this exceptionally gorgeous setting is inspiring for all.
Where to go in the Philippines if you like...
Diving and snorkelling
No matter what your interests, passions or pastimes; the Philippines have you covered. With the wealth of marine life present in even the shallow waters, snorkelling is a delightful way to spend one’s leisure time when holidaying or travelling within the Philippines.
For intimate and frequent sea turtle encounters one should head over to Apo Island for a daytrip, or ideally for a couple of nights. Many destinations within the Philippines are famous for their whale shark encounters but our personal favourite whale shark snorkelling spot is in Puerto Princesa. It’s ethical and isn’t overly commercialized.
If you love shipwrecks, vivid corals and stunning fish head to Coron. Matinloc Island in El Nido and Balicasag Island in Bohol are also top snorkelling locations.
Another thriving water-based activity in the Philippines is diving and fortunately enough spotting Nemos and Dorys can be enjoyed year round. Wonderful for professionals as well as beginners, the deep waters abound with flourishing sea life. Thresher sharks, hammerhead sharks, giant mantas and sunken WWII shipwrecks are yours for the viewing.
Diving highlights include the UNESCO World Heritage site of Tubbataha, the photographic wrecks of Busuang and thresher sharks at Monad Shoal, Malapasqua.
At the coral-encrusted deep wall in Yapak, Boracay; one can also dive with white and grey-tip reef sharks, eagle rays and synchronized schools of tuna. Also, the world-renowned sardine run occurs in Moalboal, Cebu and fortunately enough, can be experienced year round.
If being submerged in sea water for extended periods of time isn’t really your thing, fear not. Hiking is another popular activity to satisfy your adventurous heart. From the rice terraces of bountiful Banaue to the active Mayon Volcano on the island of Luzon, one can take out a pencil and tick items boldly off your traveling bucket list.
Straight off the set of Jurassic Park, is Mount. Manalmon, situated in San Miguel, Bulacan. This is an excellent hike for beginners or those with limited time, as it only takes an hour to conquer the picturesque summit. A more challenging climb is Mount. Tibig, found in Lobo, Batangas. This hike promises a resplendent sunset and camping options are available at the top too.
World famous island-hopping tours are scattered in great masses across the Philippines. Spend a day out at sea stopping to admire the many views, snorkel with fish and multi-coloured corals at various stops, grab a fresh coconut on an island stopover and enjoy a tasty, local lunch with sand between your toes.
Island-hopping with Filipino tour operators is a tropical delight. Palawan, Coron and El Nido offer excellent island hopping packages with bewitching lagoons, prehistoric caves, towering cliffs and mangrove forests. Siargao Island offers more than just spectacular surfing. One can visit Naked Island, Daku Island, Guyam Island and even Sohonton Caves on an island hopping adventure just off the coast.
Festivals, fiestas and celebrations! Oh, what a spectacle! The local people show constant gratitude to their patron saints and generous harvests by celebrating with elaborate style and sparkling pizazz. Lasting anywhere from a day to a month, Filipinos take their festivals very seriously. Since there’s at least one festival going on somewhere every month, timing your holiday to collide with one of them is of little concern. Music, costumes, dancing, face-paint, confetti and glitter move in a pulsing wave down streets and alleys, inviting all to participate in the glitz and glamor.